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October 2001

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Rhythm Room Blues

Rhythm Room BluesBlues fans from around the Southwest know that the place to go to hear the blues when in Phoenix, Arizona is the Rhythm Room, which just celebrated its 10th anniversary. Through the years a number of shows have been taped by Clarke Rigsby, one of the top recording engineers in the Phoenix area. The result is the excellent album Rhythm Room Blues (Hightone Records), with 13 live recordings featuring seven different artists. 

The album opens with a smokin' harmonica tune from Kim Wilson, who sounds just like Sonny Boy Williamson on "Eyesight to the Blind." Wilson also closes out the disc with an extended version of the slow blues "Five Long Years," highlighted by Wilson's chromatic harmonica and hot guitar solos from Rusty Zinn. 

Other keepers include piano legend Henry Gray, with the intense, raw blues of "Sinner's Prayer," featuring nice harp from Rhythm Room owner and album producer Bob Corritore, and the romping piano number "Henry's Houserocker." 

Mississippi Delta guitarist R.L. Burnside is represented by four solid cuts, all recorded in 1994 before he had become the darling of the alternative blues set. Burnside sums up the atmosphere at the Rhythm Room by introducing one of his songs with the proclamation, "If the Budweiser lasts, I think we'll make it." 

A hot Texas blues shuffle from Sonny Rhodes, "Livin' Too Close to the Edge," is another highlight, with better than expected guitar work from Rhodes. A special moment occurred during Rhodes' set when veteran blues shouter Nappy Brown just happened to be in the crowd, and joined Rhodes on stage for his signature bawdy tune, "Lemon Squeezin' Daddy." 

Sam Lay gets real raucous with a version of Snooky Pryor's "How'd You Learn to Shake it Like That?" 

The sound quality on Rhythm Room Blues is impeccable, and the crowd noise never interferes with the music. Despite the presence of so many artists recorded on different nights, the album flows well. You could imagine that this is really an all star band on stage all at once. Rhythm Room Blues truly captures the atmosphere of this fine blues venue, without the accompanying cigarette smoke. Let's hope for more recordings like this in the future. As Burnside says at the end of "Goin' Down South," "...the party ain't near about over..."

--- Bill Mitchell

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