Blues Bytes


February 2021

Nora Jean Wallace

Severn Records

Nora Jean Wallace

Nora Jean Wallace was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and was raised around music, notably the blues. Her father and uncle were both blues singers, while her mother sang gospel and her grandmother ran a juke house where she would sneak down on weekends to hear her family singing. Upon moving to Chicago, the youngster began performing in local clubs with encouragement from family and many Chicago musicians. In the mid-’80s, she joined Jimmy Dawkins’ band, appearing on a couple of his recordings as well as a couple of her own (as Nora Jean Bruso).

Wallace dropped off the blues circuit not long after her 2004 BMA-nominated release, Going Back To Mississippi, to take care of her ailing mother, but she returned to the scene in 2020 with a brand new release, BluesWoman (Severn Records), that’s an even better listen than its predecessor. Wallace sounds fabulous on these ten tracks and she’s in good company with the Severn “House Band” (Johnny Moeller – guitar, David Earl – guitar/producer, Steve Gomes – bass, Kevin Anker – organ, Robb Stupka – drums, Steve Guyger – harmonica, and Stanley Banks – keyboardist) with guest harmonica legend and Kim Wilson, who plays on one track.

BluesWoman offers four tracks written by Wallace, four by Banks, and two covers. Wallace’s contributions include the splendid slow blues, “Victim,” where she gives a strong, heartfelt performance backed by Earl’s tasteful fretwork, the Windy City shuffle “Look Over Yonder” (with scorching harmonica from Guyger), the mid-tempo soul ballad “I’ve Been Watching You,” and the up-tempo “Dance With Me.”

Banks wrote four songs for Wallace, including “Martell,” a funky shuffle about drinking to forget, the declarative “I’m A Blues Woman” (“from my wig down to my shoes”), “Rag and Bucket,” which features Wilson on harp as Wallace sings of cleaning her house of her man and the memories that go with him, and the slow burner “I Don’t Have To Beg You To Love Me,” which closes the disc with fine guitar backing from Moeller and Earl.

The album’s two covers are fine choices. On Syl Johnson’s “I Can’t Stop,” the band slips into a nice greasy, Memphis groove and Wallace gives a spirited performance. She also gives a soulful reading of George Jackson’s “Evidence” (originally done by Candi Staton in the early ’70s), giving it a more blues-oriented feel.

She might have been off the blues scene for a few years, but Nora Jean Wallace serves notice with BluesWoman that she’s back and raring to go --- which is good news for blues fans.

--- Graham Clarke



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