Chicago-based guitarist Steve Freund has appeared on a lot of blues albums over the years, and even released a long out-of-print record a decade ago. Based on the strength of "C" For Chicago (Delmark), Freund really ought to step to the front of the stage more often. This is a fine Chicago-style blues disc, with guest appearances by superstars Boz Scaggs, Kim Wilson and Dave Maxwell. But it's Freund's powerful guitar work, and not the guest stars, which makes this a great album. Scaggs gets most of his time on the disc on the opening cut, "Please Love Me," contributing one of the guitar solos to this solid blues number. Wilson's harp playing is spotlighted on the title cut, a rhythmic mid-tempo blues, and on the slow blues "Everytime I Get To Drinking." The best cut is the last one, "Cool Dreams," a slow instrumental which showcases both Freund's tasteful, smoky guitar work and Maxwell's sterling piano accompaniment. Highly recommended!
Little Arthur Duncan is one of the many "corner tavern" Chicago blues musicians, playing their music for decades on end with little recognition outside of their own neighborhood. But now, at the age of 65, he's got his first full-length album, Singin' With The Sun (Delmark), a pleasant, albeit not overly original, collection of Chicago standards. Duncan is a Jimmy Reed-style singer and harmonica player, with some Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter and Slim Harpo influences thrown into the mix. The highlight of the album is the consistently strong guitar playing of Rockin' Johnny and Billy Flynn. The latter especially contributes nice rhythm guitar on the Duncan original "Leaving Mississippi." Fellow Delmark artist Rockin' Johnny plays very good T-Bone-style guitar on the Pee Wee Crayton original "Blues After Hours." You might argue that nothing on Singin' With The Sun is very original, and that Duncan's style is too derivative. But that's not the point. It's still a fun album with a lot of fine performances. Sometimes that's enough to make an album worthwhile.
I'll always remember that Lurrie Bell's new CD, Blues Had A Baby (Delmark), was the first blues album I heard in the year 2000. It was in the early morning hours, and we were sitting around our Y2K command center at work waiting for the computer systems to fail. Of course, nothing was happening, so I popped this CD into one of the CD drives, and soon everyone in the room was grooving to the Chicago blues. This disc is comprised of 15 solid Chicago blues numbers, a mix of standards and originals. Bell has always been a strong guitarist with a long blues heritage, and one of the best numbers is the autobiographical "Raised On The Blues." I also liked his playing on the urgent version of Arthur Crudup's "Mean Ole Frisco." Equally good is the rhythmic, mid-tempo shuffle "Got My Eyes On You." For a change of pace, Bell goes solo for the last few cuts, including a sparse, solo version of "If I Had A Hammer." It's a nice tune, but at six and a half minutes, goes on just a little too long. More effective is his guitar work and haunting vocals on the closing "Rollin' & Tumblin'."
The last of our quartet of Delmark releases is a re-issue of 1970s-era recordings produced by Ralph Bass, previously unissued in the USA until Delmark acquired their rights. Smile On My Face features the amazing Chicago piano player Sunnyland Slim, along with friends Lacy Gibson and Lee Jackson. This is a GREAT album! It's a little more electric than some of Sunnyland's other recordings, highlighted by the guitar work of Gibson and Jackson. The best number is "Cryin' For My Baby," featuring fantastic soulful vocals from Gibson. Sunnyland's booming voice comes out well on the slow blues "Soft And Mellow Stella." Both guitarists get to shine on the Sunnyland originals "Bessie Mae" and "Depression Boogie." If you don't already have these wonderful recordings in your collection, get this CD immediately!
Johnny Sansone is what you might call a "back door Cajun" ... raised in other parts of the country, but someone who has so assimilated himself into the culture of Louisiana that he fits right into the neighborhood. With Watermelon Patch, this vastly underrated artist's second CD for Bullseye Blues & Jazz, Sansone proves that he's now as much a part of Louisiana as filé gumbo. This delightful disc serves as a road map through all parts of Louisiana, with zydeco, swamp pop and blues numbers all stirred into the mix. Sansone's original instrument was the harmonica, and he shows his proficiency on the instrumental numbers "Quagmire," "Pig's Feet and Tail Meat" and "Stink Bait." But, over the years, he's become a fine accordion player. Just listen to his instrumental work on the hot zydeco number "Mon Fleur." Another powerful, Louisiana-flavored song, one of the best of the CD, is the slow weeper "The Bridge." Sansone takes it back to New Orleans for the second line brassy tune "Loveline." All songs on Watermelon Patch are Sansone originals. This guy keeps improving as an artist, so his next disc should be an absolute killer. I can't wait!
I was having a hard time deciding whether I liked the new CD from Gary, Indiana bluesman Big Daddy Kinsey. At first, I thought it was too low-key, and that, with lots of great players on the CD, the end result didn't measure up to the collective parts. But I finally realized that Ramblin' Man (House of Blues) really is closer to understated elegance, and is an enjoyable listen. Among the backing musicians are Big Daddy's guitar-playing son Donald, Chicago guitarist John Primer, legendary pianist Johnnie Johnson, harmonica ace Carey Bell, The Memphis Horns, and other Windy City stalwarts. Koko Taylor shows up to do a duet with Big Daddy on the urban, soulful number "Nothing's Too Good For My Baby." The strongest number here is the original "Dancing Shoes," featuring excellent harp playing from Bell. Another Big Daddy composition, "Bloody Tears," is a strong slow blues highlighting Johnson's always excellent piano work. Don't give up on this album if it doesn't strike you at first .... it's sound grows on you the more you listen to it.
Jazz guitar fans will want to check out the new collaboration of Duke Robillard & Herb Ellis, Conversations In Swing Guitar (Stony Plain). This album contains seven tasteful, jazzy instrumentals showcasing the fine guitar work of jazz veteran Ellis and one of his main disciples. Their rendition of the Al Jolson number "Avalon" is excellent. "Blue Brew" was an original number written by Ellis, Robillard and his band for the session, and it's a beautiful nine-minute slow blues.
Stikman (aka Vince Warren), from St. Petersburg, Florida, claims to be the first and only bluesman to feature the Chapman Stick, a ten-stringed instrument that is like having a bass and lead guitar all in one instrument. I first saw someone play this instrument nearly ten years ago in a blues club, but I don't remember hearing that individual playing much blues, so Mr. Warren may be right in his claim as "the first." Sweet Toof (Ramesh Productions) contains ten songs written by producer Ramesh, with one Count Basie / Jimmy Rushing cover ("Going To Chicago"). Warren obviously has mastered this instrument, which I would suspect is harder to learn than a conventional guitar. He generally plays in a jazzier style, and is also a good singer with decent range. I enjoyed the CD for the first few cuts, but the sparser and cleaner sound of the Chapman Stick then just didn't appeal to my personal tastes. There's a web site dedicated to this instrument if you want more info.
--- Bill Mitchell
Fools In The Blues (Crossroads) from Blues Fools is a fine CD from a band from Hungary with a great blues sound. Once you get past the fact that the accent is fairly different on the vocals, there are some really good blues on this CD. The band actually started in 1989, and was originally called Dobokocka, and over the years they have played a number of blues festivals in Europe, mainly in Germany & Austria. The CD opens with "Bad Weather Blues," a good driving beat and some excellent harmonica from Matyas Pribojszki Jnr. This sets the scene for a good variety of blues styles throughout the CD, although I must admit that track two, the title track, didn't set me alight. There are some slow grooves, some funky blues, some rocking blues, and some jazz boogie, but my favourite track of the lot was "My Baby Caught The Train." This is an absolutely fantastic version with a slow moody feel to it and some haunting harp. If you like blues harp, then there are also some other great tracks here as well. "Mattack" and "Daddy Was A Boozer" really showcase the harp playing of Matyas. This is the first time that I've listened to a blues band from Hungary, and I liked it.
--- Terry Clear
Morgan Davis enjoys life. What other conclusion could you possibly come to upon hearing his latest release, Blues Medicine (Electro-Fi), which starts with a great ode to one of life's little pleasures, "Reefer Smokin' Man" (don't worry, he never mentions inhaling...), and ends with a cover of Big Bill Broonzy's "Good Time Tonight," with this great line "... We don't need sunshine, we got moonshine tonight..." Davis left his native Detroit for Canada in the 60's to avoid going to Vietnam, and he's been a busy session guitarist since. Contrary to most modern guitar players, he prefers to play grooves and nice fills instead of going into long (and empty) electric solos. This means that his latest CD should please fans of acoustic blues guitar, though he mostly plays electric. His playing is consistently excellent, never flashy for the sake of it. His singing is just perfect for this type of album, recorded mostly solo (or with a few friends helping out when needed), with a feel of coziness or closeness. The guy seems to be playing right there in your living room. Davis' feel for a song is to be commended. If he hits a good slow groove, he'll keep at it and won't mind going on for more than six minutes, like on "That's Why." If he figures he's only got a good riff and a few funny lines, he'll cut a song in two minutes (like the hilarious "Older and Dumber"). All around happiness-inducing, this record is well worth placing a special order at your favorite music fixer.
Unbeknownst to the outside world, there has been an interesting blues scene emerging in Montreal these last few years. Some of the best players of the area turn up to give a hand to J.D. Slim, who self-produced his brand new CD, Slide Guitar Man (info at firstname.lastname@example.org). J.D. is an excellent guitarist, and he doesn't see himself as strictly a blues player.In fact, his clean, smooth voice is probably better suited for folk than it is for blues. Listen to the mandolin-driven "Let it Rock" for proof. All in all, his CD has a pleasant, bluesy pop feel that might make it a good choice for newcomers to the blues, with the slide and harp showcase "Sick and Tired" being the most hardcore Chicago-style blues song .
With Matt Frenette (of Loverboy fame) and Pat Steward (of The Odds) taking turns on drums, and with Barney Bentall and fellow Legendary Hearts member Colin Nairne producing, Change of Pace, David Gogos latest release on Cordova Bay Records, is definitely not short of big names from the Canadian pop-rock world. It's also quite a guitar showcase, and that's all Mr. Gogo's doing, including a beautiful lap steel solo in the CD-closing, organ-heavy 'Butterfly Tattoo." Although the album is definitely more rock than blues, and some of it is nothing but pure 80's arena rock fare (see "By Your Side"), open-minded blues fans should find a few tracks worth more than a listen.
--- Benoît Brière
Star studded 'super session' guitar albums are nothing new to the blues world. Alligator's Showdown brought Albert Collins, Johnny Copeland and Robert Cray together for one of the most memorable recordings in the past twenty years. There have been a few others since --- some good, some bad --- but none have matched the dynamic intensity of Showdown. Until now, that is ..... Grand Union (Valley Entertainment) is a musical experience that should not be missed! Three W.C. Handy Award winners, Anson Funderburgh, Otis Grand and Debbie Davies, have put their collective creative energies together to produce a gem of a CD. Pick any style of blues that you enjoy and you're guaranteed to find at least one number here that fits the bill. The diversity here is top notch. What makes this album so extraordinary are these three ultra-fine guitar players feeding off one another's talents to produce a singular feel to the whole project, while managing not to step on each others toes in the process. "Bone Tones" is a superior example of this, as is the CD's opening piece "Guitars On Fire." Listening to these three musicians work together may give you the impression that they may have just rolled tape on a few informal jam sessions, that's how relaxed this album sounds. Conceived and produced by Otis Grand, this album was recorded over a ten day period with first rate sidemen. Sugar Ray Norica (who seems to be playing with everyone these days!) lends his vocal talents to six numbers and his blazing harp to two of those six. Ike Turner sits in on piano on "Westside Bossman," Tony Coleman and The Bee Horns (B.B. King's horn section) drop in for two tunes, and "Sax" Gordon Beadle pops in for three. The "house" bandmembers are not lightweights by any means either. Neal Gouvin and Michael "Mudcat" Ward appear on drums and upright bass, and Anthony Geraci on piano and Hammond organ. For those of you who like extensive liner notes (personally I do) this CD is a treasure trove. Each number is noted with who is playing what solo and in which channel it is being played. There is also a brief bio on each artist, as well as a list of guitars each used in the recording of this masterpiece. Start your new year off right with one of the hottest recordings I've heard in recent months. I think you'll agree it richly deserves to be considered in the top ten of 1999.
Blues in the 1990's will be remembered as the decade that female guitarists received their just due. Deborah Coleman, Sue Foley, Debbie Davies and Susan Tedeschi are the names that will come to most people's minds first. Kris Wiley is a name familiar to patrons of the Southern California blues club circuit, but unfamiliar to most folks outside of the region. Her debut release, Breaking The Rules (JSP), should change that. Stylishly produced by Jimmy Morello, the eight originals and two covers contained on this toe tapping CD are beautifully paced and expertly arranged. Wiley's subtly sharp, twangy, well-structured guitar chops are augmented by her husky-voiced, straight ahead, determined vocal delivery that melds into a very pleasurable listening experience. Her song writing is off the cuff storytelling infused with the heartaches and trials that life can throw at you. "Working Late" and "Bad Situation" are the standouts in that department, the first featuring a deliciously nasty solo and the second serving up some food for thought. Two instrumentals show the wide extent of this lady's guitar talent ... "Two Long Leg" is a happy shuffle with some wonderful B3 riffs courtesy of Arlan Schierbaum, and "Iceman - One For Albert" is a tribute to one of Kris' major influences. The accompanying musicians on this album are pretty much the same as on labelmate and rhythm guitarist Kirk Fletcher's recent release --- Tom Mahon on piano, Paul Fasulo on drums, and the red hot horns of Jonny Viau, Troy Jennings and Robbie Smith on tenor, baritone and trumpet. The only knock I can give this collection is its length. Ten numbers are a bit skimpy by today's standards, and personally I wanted more. Other than that minor detail, this is an excellent first effort from a very talented guitarist whose hard work and persistence is finally paying the dividends. I knew they would the first time I saw her perform live four years ago. Kudos again to the folks at JSP for bringing another fine musician into the spotlight.
In this age of wonderkid Stevie Ray Vaughn clones, some really mediocre young guitar players are being given accolades, while truly talented young musicians are ignored. May I introduce Ross William Perry from Minnesota. Ross has released his first independent CD, It'll All Make Sense. And what a CD it is! This young man doesn't miss on any of the tunes he has chosen for this album, nine out of ten of which are original compositions, and are brilliantly written.The style is definitely Texas roadhouse blues without sounding like everyone else who is trying to sound like they're from Austin. His playing is crisp, tasty and fast, without falling into the category of being repetitious and monotonous as other young guitarists I've heard lately. "Keep Moving," "Lonely Road" and "Boogie Time" are the outstanding numbers here. The licks this young man rips through on these pieces will certainly perk up your ears, and "Cold Wind" features some exquisite acoustic picking and slide work. The one problem I have with this CD are Perry's vocals. While he indeed sings from the heart, on some of this material a slightly more mature, perhaps deeper voice is needed, which is not to say that Ross won't develop his own vocal maturity with time. Hey, he's only 19! But, aside from that, this is a wonderful album full of raw, gutsy songwriting and guitar playing. It can be ordered directly from the artist at www.rosswilliamperry.com . This is a very solid and entertaining first effort that really should see wider exposure. In this writer's opinion, with the right label and promotion, people will be saying Johnny Who? very shortly. It'll All Make Sense? It certainly does!
--- Steve Hinrichsen
As most of my friends and readers already know, I'm a Deep Soul junkie. I've tried to describe the feeling that the music invokes. It is music that takes you to church and raises goose bumps on your skin. Jo Jo Benson is the epitome of just that kind of Deep Soul singing. Jo Jo and his 1960's partner, Peggy Scott, had a string of hits back then with "Lover's Holiday," "Picking Wild Mountain Berries" and "Soul Shake." When that era of soul music ended they both fell into relative obscurity until Scott, now Peggy Scott-Adams, had a monster1996 hit "Bill" that resurrected her career. Since then she has recorded several excellent albums. Hopefully it is now Jo Jo's turn. This new release, Reminiscing In The Jam Zone (Gulf Coast), has no originals, all covers, but what covers they are. The over-recorded "Dark End Of The Street," a duet with his old partner Scott-Adams, tops any previous version I have heard, and I have heard many. This includes the version from the legendary James Carr. (I never thought I would ever say that since I bow at just the mention of James Carr). Listening to this track absolutely defines the term Deep Soul. The rest of this fine release is just one superlative song after another. Give a listen to Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" or "Nothing Can Change This Love," and you will have a difficult time deciding which you like better, Cooke's version or Benson's. Chuck Jackson's "I Don't Want To Cry" and Brook Benton's "Rainy Night In Georgia" are both wonderful. What more can I say? This is one of 1999's finest release. What a way to begin the new millenium. A CD to cherish forever. (To contact Gulf Coast, call 706-327-1836).
HERE'S JOHNNIE !!! Welcome back to the Johnnie Taylor we all love, the soulful, gospel Johnnie, not the Disco 2000 Johnnie on his 1998 release Taylored To Please. That release did not meet it's title's expectations, but this new one, Gotta Get The Groove Back (Malaco), certainly hits the mark. Johnnie's got his groove back. Somewhat reminicent of his early days at Stax, but with a decidedly contemporary sound, this release will spend a good deal of time on my CD player and should be quite successful on the sales charts. The title track takes us back to 1965, naming many of the tunes that helped establish the groove in the first place. What could come off as sadly lamenting the good old days, actually turns out to be a happy danceable song with a great hook. "One In A Million" and "Ease Back Out" both are vintage Taylor, and prove that J.T. hasn't lost anything, his voice as smooth and soulful as ever. The final track on the CD, "Soul Heaven," is about a dream he had where he attended a concert in heaven, and proceeds to name about 25 departed greats, from Pearl Bailey, Z.Z. Hill and Sammy Davis Jr., right up to Tupac Shakur. Fans of Johnnie Taylor rejoice. HE'S BACK !!!
--- Alan Shutro
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