To begin this review I feel I must pose a very important question: When is Kid Ramos going to be given his just due as one of the blues world's most refined guitar warriors? I thought his last two very fine releases, Kid Ramos and West Coast House Party (both on Evidence), would bring him the accolades and national notoriety as a solo artist that this dynamic guitarist so richly deserves.
If his latest, Greasy Kid Stuff (Evidence), doesn't end up high on every blues sales chart, every critic's best albums of the year list and the winner of one or two Handy Awards, then my feeling is that there really is no Santa Claus, Easter Bunny and Great Pumpkin, and the world as we know it has it's priorities bass ackwards!
This latest masterpiece is a bit of departure from his last two releases. Gone are the extensive casts of guest guitarists, singers and other musicians found on those recordings. For those of you who are disappointed with that information, relax, this album still holds a few surprises which we'll get to later. Ramos instead chose to go with a highly polished group of supporting LA session men, consisting of the multi-talented Jeff Turmes on both acoustic and electric basses, rhythm guitar and all saxes, the flight-fingered Tom Mahon on piano, and one of the blues' master drummers, Richard Innes.
The original intention of this album was to do a stripped down, basic blues album. Guitar, bass, drums, some piano and lots of harmonica, sort of in the same vein of The Wolf's Memphis sessions and early Chicago blues sides, when you could still hear the Delta flowing through the music. Well .... according to this album's liner notes, some of that survived and the rest just sort of took it's own form, due in part to the dazzling lineup of harp players that contributed not only their musical talent, but their vocal and songwriting prowess as well.
The program opens with the instrumental title track, finding Ramos and sax player Turmes trading off licks to an upbeat shuffling bop. This one gives way to the first of three numbers with James Harman, entitled "Chicken Hearted Woman." Harman's vocals and harp are also at the forefront of "Low Down Woman," a rather funny but bizarre tale of a lady with rather unusual drinking habits consisting of vanilla extract and Pine Sol.
Charlie Musselwhite contributes his own "Charlie's Old Highway 51 Blues," along with a down and dirty cover of "Rich Man's Woman (On A Poor Man's Pay)," and joins forces with Rick Estrin for the album's humorous closer "Harmonica Hangover." Mr. Estrin is at his jiving best on "Its Hot In Here" and at his mellowest and moodiest best with the instrumental "Marion's Mood," both original pieces.
The rambunctious harp and vocals of Paul deLay grace two of his original numbers, "Say What You Mean Baby" and "Ain't Gonna Holler," both of which sound like they could have easily fit onto deLay's new release.
Rod Piazza drops by, bringing with him a pair of original numbers that are quickly becoming personal favorites. The first is the bright and bouncy instrumental "Devil's Foot," featuring a swing flavor to it, and the second is the jumping "That's What She Hollered."
No Kid Ramos album would be complete without an appearance by gigmate, producer, vocalist, harp player and longtime collaborator Lynwood Slim, adding his unique style to Willie Dixon's "I Don't Care Who Knows."
Oh yeah, I almost forgot ... there is a guitar player on this album and that's Kid Ramos. There isn't a guitar lick on the 17 tracks that doesn't belong to him on this outing, with his execution on every number being nothing short of masterfully brilliant. Whatever style of blues you can think of, this cat plays it like he was born to play it. Whether it's screaming high pitched solos, mellow tonal runs up and down the fretboard or bright jazzy fills in support of his fellow players' solos, Ramos plays with an absolute passion for his music that is becoming harder to find nowadays.
It would be a difficult choice to single out any particular tune or solo on this album that he shines on because he shines on the whole damned thing from start to finish. Producing yourself I'm sure is not an easy task, but Ramos once again rises to the occasion for the third straight time, delivering a razor sharp package due in part to the recording and engineering expertise of Jerry Hall.
Greasy Kid Stuff was supposed to be a very basic blues album. What emerged, if listened to closely, and regardless of how it may have come to be interpreted by the artists that made it, is exactly what it was intended to be, in my opinion ... a brilliant, well-formulated blues album that burns with the passions of it's musicians' performances in respect to their chosen art. By far one of the year's best release.
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