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April 2010

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The Mannish Boys
Shake For Me
Delta Groove

Mannish Boys

I had to hear only the first 30 seconds of The Mannish Boys' new CD, Shake For Me (Delta Groove), to realize that I was listening to what could be the best album of the year. It's been five years since Randy Chortkoff founded the Delta Groove label. One of his best moves was the brilliant idea to team up a host of veteran blues singers with some of the best session cats around to form The Mannish Boys. Shake For Me is the fifth CD from the ensemble; while the others have been good, this one ascends to new heights.

There's an all-star cast of supporting musicians on Shake For Me, with names like Nick Curran, Rod Piazza, Mike Zito, Lynwood Slim, Mitch Kashmar, and others showing up in the credits. But the show still belongs to the stalwart vocalists that have been a regular part of The Mannish Boys' lineup over the years: Finis Tasby, Bobby Jones, Johnny Dyer, and now Arthur Adams.

I mentioned having fallen in love with this CD in the first 30 seconds. Give credit to Curran's incendiary guitar intro on the album opener, Johnny "Guitar" Watson"s "Too Tired." He captures all of the rawness and energy of the original version, with Tasby keeping the good vibes going with downhome vocals that provide a nice contrast to Curran's frenetic guitar work.

Based on the quality of this opening cut, you will already consider the purchase of this CD as money well spent.

But wait! There are 15 more cuts to go!

The intensity level is ratcheted up a few more notches with the Bo Diddley medley, "Mona / Willie And The Hand Jive." If the rhythmic drumming and primal beat of this pairing doesn't get your blood moving, nothing will. Zito summons the spirit of Bo with his guitar work, as well as sharing vocals with Jones.

The mood changes on the third cut with the more uptown sound of Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby," featuring the charcoal vocals of Tasby and tasteful guitar playing of Frank "Paris Slim" Goldwasser. Tasby later returns for the slow, slow blues of Little Walter's "Last Night," with Piazza blowing some fierce harp; the pair work very well together.

One of most stirring numbers features Jones' raspy vocals, accompanied only by pianist Rob Rio, on Jimmy Oden's "Half Ain't Been Told." This one just plain oozes the blues. I also really like what Jones does on Ray Charles' "Hey Now," this time in front of a full-sounding band; David "Woody" Woodford and Lee Thornburg do a great job with each covering multiple horn parts.

Jones later does Howlin' Wolf almost as well as Wolf himself on "You Can't Be Beat." Kirk Fletcher adds great fuzzy guitar with Chortkoff coming in with a Wolf-style harmonica solo. This one's an absolute keeper!

There are several smokin' instrumental numbers of Shake For Me; the one that stands out is "The Bullet," a high energy romp with Fletcher and Curran exchanging incendiary guitar solos.

Arthur Adams makes his only appearance on the disc with his own "Raunchy," on which he smoothly handles the lead vocals as well as trading guitar duties with Goldwasser.

There are just too many good cuts here to mention all of them, but I'd be remiss if I didn't give props to my old pal Johnny Dyer for his version of Muddy's mid-tempo blues, "Champagne & Reefer." Johnny sounds as good as ever, with Kashmar coming in with just the right amount of harmonica accompaniment behind the vocals.

Shake For Me gets better every time I listen to it. It's been a while since I've gotten so much repeated joy out of a CD. Pick it up so that you can share the pleasure.

--- Bill Mitchell

 

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