Blues guitarist Willie King was born in rural Noxubee County, Mississippi. He has lived just across the state line in equally rural Pickens County, Alabama for most of his life, except for a brief stay in Chicago in the
1960s. Both counties are among the poorest in their respective states. From that environment, King and his band, the Liberators, has produced what might be one of the best blues CDs of 2000 in
Freedom Creek (Rooster Blues). Recorded live at Bettie's Place, a juke joint located in nearby Prairie Point, Mississippi, it captures the blues at its rawest. Owing something musically to the steady, rhythmic style of Burnside and Kimbrough (but with more adventurous guitar work), lyrically, King brings a little something extra to the table. In the excellent liner notes by Rooster Blues Records founder Jim O'Neal, King reveals what was given to him as the hidden code of the blues, which was actually a hidden form of protest. He says that although the old blues players talked about women in their songs, they were actually talking about "the boss man" and how he treated them. According to King, "…back then you couldn't come out and say, 'Well, my boss man treated me mean,'…'Cause somebody'd a' been hung or dead or killed quick back then, around here. I know that for a fact." Armed with that knowledge, King began writing what he called "struggling
blues," and this CD is comprised of several of these tracks, though O'Neal reports in the liner notes that enough material was recording during this session for another CD of less political music ("sweet" blues, as King calls it). Let's hope that Rooster Blues doesn't sit on it too long. Listening to this CD will show you that King is a powerful composer and performer, and his songs bring to mind something of a reggae influence with their incessant rhythms and protest-oriented lyrics. King is the type of artist who doesn't care if he's popular or not, as long as his message is being heard.
Although he borrows from several different blues styles ("Uncle Tom" uses the melody of "Pretty Girls
Everywhere," "Pickens County Payback" borrows from James Brown, "Twenty Long Years" from Eddie Boyd), King manages to maintain his originality. This is due to his songwriting and his band,
whose ragged but right approach represents the blues in its most down-home phase. The most distinctive approach is the use of a second vocalist (Willie Lee Halbert), who echoes King's lyrics and sometimes interjects his own. Due to the response and enthusiasm of their audience, it's obvious that, despite the political tone of the lyrics, the band knows how to make the audience move. Any fan of the blues should have this CD in their collection.
--- Graham Clarke
Each new Marva Wright release is anxiously awaited by her legion of fans, then lovingly and slowly enjoyed like a fine meal, every morsel savored. Maybe that analogy is a bit of an exaggeration, but each of her releases have produced a few classic tracks that will appear on compilations of great soul tracks for years to come. Marva (Aim) is the tenth release by this New Orleans native. For the occasion she is ably assisted by such fine musicians as Charmaine Neville, Bo Dollis and Terrance Simien. It is interesting that Wright also recorded Dylan's "Gotta Serve Somebody" (see the Etta James review in this issue) and his classic "Knocking On Heaven's Door". There must be a Dylan resurgence going on. In the same vein is The Band's "The Weight," ably done by Wright and her three guests. "Difficult Woman" and "You Broke A Beautiful Thing" are two Paul Kelly songs that add to the overall high quality of the songs chosen for this release. My two favorite tracks are the deep soul "Love Away The Pain" and a killer version of the Jesse Belvin classic "Guess Who." A solid release where every track is enjoyable. Recommended.
Etta James' last few releases have been met with mixed reviews. Most of the criticism arose from the rock overtones of those releases and a gradual drifting away from her roots of R&B and blues. Matriarch Of The Blues (Private Music) will swing the pendulum back to her bluesier side. The people that have heard this new CD have had positive things to say about it. Basically it is an album of Etta's renditions of cover tunes by Bob Dylan, The Rolling Stones, Elvis, Otis Redding and Big Mama Thornton to name a few, and surprisingly it works. With a crack band, excellent production and her wonderful distinctive voice, such tunes as "Gotta Serve Someone," "Miss You," and "Born On The Bayou" work well even though their roots are far from R&B. Closer to home are fine versions of "Hound Dog" and "Try A Little Tenderness," and an excellent version of Little Milton's "Walking The Back Streets." My favorite track is the great version of the Ray Charles/Mitty Collier classic "Come Back Baby." An enjoyable release that should win over new fans even if it doesn't reach the heights of her "Tell Mama" Chess days.
Pat Brown-Burning Hot And Heavy-Tapna Records Pat Brown rose to prominence back in 1995 when she set Willie Clayton straight with the hit track "Equal Opportunity." She followed that release with two CDs, one on Ace and another on Avanti. With the death of Avanti owner Johnny Vincent, and the apparent demise of that label, Pat's back with Burning Hot And Heavy (Tapna Records). The successful formula of her first two releases carries forward to this, her third release. On "If It's Good For You," the theme of "Equal Opportunity" resurfaces and gives us an enjoyable follow-up to her earlier hit. Brown reaches back to the early 70s with a remake of the Tommie Young deep soul classic "Do You Still Feel The Same Way," a good version, but one that fails to reach the classic proportions of Young's original. Clarence Carter's "Keep On Searching" is fun, as so many of his songs are. It's when she attempts to venture into more contemporary material, like the rap verses on "Don't Let Nobody Make A Fool Of You," that you scratch your head and wonder why this was included. All in all this is an enjoyable release with some fine moments, but hardly an essential purchase.
--- Alan Shutro
At last, the long awaited follow up to Ernie Hawkins' Blues Advice is ready to hit the streets. Ernie's new CD Bluesified (Say Mo' Music) is a great mix of originals and covers, with most of the covers being Ernie Hawkins arrangements rather than straight copies. As it says on the CD cover, this is "acoustic guitar and vocals in the old blues, gospel and ragtime fingerpicking traditions that range from the East Coast Piedmont to Texas." That statement just about describes this CD exactly --- it's great stuff. The title track is an Ernie Hawkins original and features Marc Reiman playing some nice harmonica alongside Dave Pellow and George Heid. This is a lovely laid-back blues, with a nice driving backbeat ticking along --- it makes compulsive listening. The Reverend Gary Davis (with whom Ernie studied in the past) and Blind Willie McTell are obviously great influences on Ernie Hawkins, and he has included some excellent covers of tracks by both of these past greats. McTell's "Broke Down Engine" really shows off the superb guitar work that Ernie Hawkins is capable of, and Gary Davis' "I Belong To The Band" is an absolute winner, with Maria Muldaur helping out on the vocals. The track was actually recorded in Muldaur's living room. Incidentally, Ernie will be guitarist on Maria Muldaur's spring 2001 tour. Each time that I get a new CD to review, I play it constantly for about two days to try and pick out a favourite track. With this CD, that was no easy task. In fact it was probably one of the most difficult that I've had. Eventually, I picked the last track on the CD, "Amazing Grace/Tribute to Blind Willie McTell," which is a masterpiece of slide guitar work. If you, like me, are a lover of acoustic slide guitar, then buy this CD just for this track and play it to death!
Recorded live at “The Wooden Nickel” in Appleton WI, Michael "Big Dog" Murphy's Live & Blue (Catch 22) is full of the atmosphere of the club. The music features two original Murphy written tracks and a dozen covers including tracks by Willie Dixon, Ray Charles, Leadbelly and Lennon / McCartney. There is some good music to listen to here. Both of the tracks penned by Murphy are excellent, and I’m left wondering why he didn’t include more of his own material. The lyrics of “Big Fancy Car” really bring a smile to your face. Right in the middle of the album are three absolute crackers --- “Mary Ann” (a Ray Charles number), “Drowning On Dry Land” (nearly as good as the Roy Buchanan version) and a top-notch cover of Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” which is jam packed with feeling. I'm ashamed to admit that, before I heard this CD, I didn’t know that “Black Betty” was a Leadbelly number. I’d previously only heard the 70s rock version by Ram Jam. Murphy’s version shows how it can be done well without losing the blues flavour. The only criticisms that I have don’t relate to the music at all. One is that the editing of the tracks could have been a little better, and the other is that a couple of the tracks are listed in the wrong sequence on the CD cover. Neither of these criticisms should stop anyone from buying this album --- the music is there and it’s good!
Legacy (APO) from Jimmy D Lane was recorded back in 1997 and released in 1998. I don't know how I missed it first time around, and I only got it now because of the kindness of one of my radio listeners, who sent it to me. However, now I've got it, I can't stop playing it. This is good blues from the son of the great Jimmy Rogers (why is he Jimmy D Lane and not Jimmy Rogers Jr.? --- because Lane is Jimmy Rogers' real family name), and Dad appears on a couple of tracks too, adding some vocals and guitar to "One Room Country Shack" and the Muddy Waters song "Another Mule Kicking In My Stall." Incidentally, "One Room Country Shack" was the last recording that Jimmy Rogers ever made before his death in December of 1997. There are two other guest artists (Hubert Sumlin and Sam Lay) to boost an already top flight band, which includes Carey Bell on harmonica. Of the 13 tracks, only four are covers, the rest being written by Jimmy D Lane, where his Dad's influence shines through as does the influence of the musician friends of Jimmy Rogers who used to jam at his house when Jimmy D was in short pants --- people like Muddy, Wolf and the Myers brothers. The other two covers are "Four O'Clock In the Morning" and "Big House" (from Memphis Slim and Howling Wolf respectively). All four covers are given exceptional treatment here and don't disappoint one bit. However, it's in the tracks written by Jimmy D Lane that the magic of this album comes through, especially songs like the slow, moody "In This Bed" and "Pride," which has some beautiful, haunting keyboard work from David Krull. Mentioning David Krull, the highlight of the whole album for me is his piano playing on "Another mule Kicking In My Stall" --- the Jimmy Johnson of the New Millennium! If you haven't already bought this CD (and most of you have probably beaten me to it), buy it now!
--- Terry Clear
If you go and buy the four-disk boxed set SRV (Epic/Legacy) thinking that it's a sort of Greatest Hits retrospective of Stevie Ray Vaughan's career, you'll be disappointed. This is clearly not what the compilers had in mind (need I remind you that last year saw the release of The Real Deal: Greatest Hits Vol. 2, which is a good starting point, for those who do not know Vaughan's music). Instead, SRV is intended for those who already own everything that Stevie Ray Vaughan ever did. It's a real fan's dream come true. A simple look at these numbers will tell you what I mean. There are three audio disks, totaling four hours of music, plus a fourth disk, a DVD containing footage filmed during Vaughan's second appearance on Austin City Limits in 1989. None of the performances on this disk were ever aired, and they weren't included on the VHS Live from Austin, Texas. (Unfortunately, I can't tell you more about the DVD portion, as I do not own a DVD player…). The three CDs include 49 tracks, 30 of which are issued here for the first time. (There is a 31st track, a live version of "Love Struck Baby" taped during SRV's first appearance on Austin City Limits, which is listed as "Previously unissued," but which was in fact released on the compilation album Big Blues Extravaganza: The Best Of Austin City Limits, on Columbia/Legacy.) In addition, five of the previously issued tracks were culled from albums featuring Stevie Ray Vaughan, but not under his own name --- a track each from Johnny Copeland's Texas Twister, A.C. Reed's I'm In The Wrong Business, Lonnie Mack's Strike Like Lightning, the Vaughan Brothers' Family Style and last year's In Session featuring Albert King with SRV. The idea is simple --- offer the maximum to those who thought they had everything. Is it all worthwhile? If you are a die-hard fan, the question is pointless --- you'll want this boxed set no matter what, especially since it is also visually appealing and features interesting articles, especially Margaret Moser's review of the early stages of Vaughan's career. Even if you are not such an absolute fan, there is plenty of the new material that stands very well on its own. For example, the historical value of the first three tracks, pre-dating the 1980 recordings that became Live at the Beginning, is obvious. Similarly, the last three tracks of Disk 3, recorded on August 25, 1990, on Vaughan's second-to-last day on Earth, are a worthy addition. There are also three tracks recorded during Vaughan's appearance on MTV's Unplugged (only one of which made it on the compilation album The Unplugged Collection, Volume One), which offers a rare chance to hear Stevie play an acoustic 12-string guitar, and two more recorded during his first appearance at the Montreux Jazz Festival, when he was booed by a large part of the crowd (for being too electric, too rock). His version of "Texas Flood" recorded at this event is still, to my ears, his best ever (it was previously on a couple of Atlantic "Various artists" compilations). So there you go. Do you need this boxed set? If you don't mind having five different versions of "Pride and Joy" or "Texas Flood" in your record library, chances are you'll say yes. I know I'm quite happy with it.
Joy and Pain - Live in Europe (Ruf Records) is not exactly a new recording. It came out in 1998, with identical artwork and track listing, on the German Crosscut label. Recorded in the Fall of 1997, it features Mighty Sam McClain (who's never been more deserving of his nickname, as he is positively awesome!) and his band performing at the Bluesfestival in Detmold, Germany, with one track recorded two days earlier in Bremen. The album has just been re-released. You should have better chances of finding it on the Ruf label, and you owe it to yourself to get it if you love soul music. Whether he slows things down to get all emotional à la Bobby Bland, or whether he gets funky and sweaty à la James Brown, McClain sings with a passion (with a mission?) that makes him irresistible. This is truly the soul of man talking and singing to us. It helps that he is backed by one of the best bands in the business. The rhythm section of Zac Casher and Tim Ingles is brilliant, Ingles' bass particularly shining on "What You Want Me To Do?." The horn arrangements, especially on "Where You Been So Long," are very effective. Peter Giftos' solos on guitar are beautifully restrained and aching, and George Papageorge shines on B-3 and piano, showing great empathy when he accompanies McClain during his ad-libbed half-spoken, half-sung comments. Oh, I know, this is not a perfect record. The between-song applause are way too long, there are a few noticeable drops in sound quality here and there, but the energy level is consistently high. I missed my chance to see Mighty Sam McClain last summer. I never thought I'd regret it so much. Now that I've heard what he can do live, I know I'll never find peace until I get the chance to attend one of his shows, because, man, he made a believer out of me! Yes, truly, this man is mighty.
As I checked my mail recently, I was pleased to find a promotional CD entitled Big Boy - The Jazz/Blues Instrumental Sessions (Big Reed Records) from Canadian harmonica wizard Carlos del Junco. As a promotional item, it's one of those objects that is not for sale anywhere, not even on the artist's homepage (www.carlosdeljunco.com). So why do I mention it? Well, since we at Blues Bytes have never reviewed Mr. del Junco's work, this is my chance to introduce his work to you. The Big Boy promo CD contains eight tracks, seven of which are culled from his latest release, 1998's Big Boy (also on Big Reed Records, del Junco's own label), subtitled "Some blues and other somewhat related stuff," which pretty much explains the whole thing. You see, Carlos del Junco is one of those virtuoso musicians who can play pretty much everything he chooses --- blues, jazz, old timey tunes, classical pieces and free form explorations. (He was also featured on three tracks on folk-rock poet Bruce Cockburn's recent Breakfast in New Orleans, Dinner in Timbuktu album.) Using the overblow technique, his technical skills are simply astounding. There is simply no end to his imaginative and interpretive skills. (The guy was voted Hohner World Champion in Diatonic Jazz and Diatonic Blues Harmonica categories, which tells you something about his talent). But no matter how good you are, if you play harmonica, you will be considered a blues player, simply because of the fact that the Mississippi saxophone is forever associated with this type of music. And so it is with del Junco. His Big Boy album alternates between inventive instrumental tracks and songs done in a more typical blues or roots vein. As a singer, del Junco reminds me of a less intense John Hammond Jr. Musically, the highlights are the instrumental tracks, daring, veering towards jazz, ska and some other kind of avant-garde roots (!?), with nice work by versatile guitarist Kevin Breit (of Holly Cole's band), but they have little to do with the blues. If you prefer to hear del Junco live, performing almost exclusively blues standards from Robert Johnson, Howlin' Wolf, T-Bone Walker and Little Walter, you can try 1995's Just Your Fool - Live (on Big Reed Records, too), whence one track went onto the Big Boy promo thing. In the end, you'll find that del Junco plays blues harmonica as good as anybody… but that's just one of the many things he does.
John Campbelljohn's latest CD, entitled Under the Blue Covers (Nood Records), is a collection of, well, blues cover versions. The 14 tracks featured here were recorded in 1995 but have never been released
until now. This means the material herein contained is older that that of Hook Slide & Sinker (reviewed here in
October 1999). I suppose this is the reason for the fairly predictable song selection ("Key to the
Highway," "Baby Please Don't Go," "How Blue Can You Get,"
etc.). Campbelljohn was probably still some time away from coming up with his own material. Nevertheless, this CD is quite entertaining, especially when Campbelljohn picks up that slide of his and works up his magic, as he does on his Elmore James-sounding take of Louisiana Red's "30 Dirty
Women." Still, coming on the heels of Hook Slide & Sinker, it's a slight
disappointment. If you ask me, the latter record is vastly superior, and should be your first choice. These 1995 tracks could have stayed under the covers, and the world would have kept on
--- Benoît Brière
OK, I know what you purists out there are thinking --- what's a review of the new four-CD retrospective collection of Los Lobos' 1977-2000 recordings doing on a blues society web site? Well, the simple answer is, these guys are not only one of (if not the) premier roots-rock / rockabilly / traditional Mexican folk music / psychedelic-experimental bands on the planet. They are unquestionably one of the best blues bands as well, as I'm sure that anyone who is remotely familiar with their music will confirm. Within the grooves on El Cancionero, Mas Y Mas (Rhino), alongside the cumbias, movie soundtrack tunes, and everything else they do so well, you'll hear this band from East L.A. tackle classics by the likes of Bo Diddley, Little Bob ("I Got Loaded"), Fats Domino, Little Richard, Jesse Belvin, James Brown, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles and Clarence "Bon Ton" Garlow. Then there's also their own original 'destined to be classics themselves' like "I Can't Understand" (written by band member Cesar Rosas with the late, great Willie Dixon, no less). If Los Lobos' blues is good enough for Willie Dixon, then it certainly is for me, and I'm sure that it will be for you as well. This set is unreservedly recommended, for both long-time fans and first-timers.
--- Lee Poole
This reissue of Tip Of The Top (KingAce) by the late great William Clarke is one of the best CDs to be released all year. William Clarke was one of the best modern blues harp players around, and he had a very unique style of his own. This reissue adds four bonus tracks that are very much appreciated. Some of the highlights on this CD are "Chromatic Jump," "Hot Dog and a Beer" with Ronnie Earl on guitar, and "Drinkin' Beer," William's tribute to his favorite beverage. There is not a clunker on this CD, and William and his band mates are playing their hearts out. This is a CD every blues harmonica fan should have.
--- Kris Handel
Chicago guitarist Jimmy Johnson has always been one of those musicians who has never gotten his due recognition. The man is a good guitarist and a solid soulful vocalist. Pepper's Hangout (Delmark) takes us back to a mid-1970s Chicago, a time when the blues was struggling to gain recognition outside of the Windy City. Recorded for producer Ralph Bass in 1977, Pepper's Hangout was originally intended to be Johnson's debut album. Fortunately, this fine set is finally seeing the light of day, although it's a little short in length with only seven songs. But Johnson, 48 years old at the time, is in fine form, especially on the slow number "Married Woman Blues." "Looking For My Baby" is another hot slow blues, highlighted by Bob Riedy's tasteful piano accompaniment. Johnson shows his guitar versatility on the title cut, an instrumental, as his style gets a little funkier than on other cuts. Pepper's Hangout is an album that should not be missed by Jimmy Johnson fans, or any other lover of good Chicago blues.
Blues harmonica fans will NOT want to miss out on the wonderful collection from Delmark Records, This Is The Blues Harmonica. Included among the 15 cuts, each featuring a different harp player, are a few previously-unissued gems amidst the recordings from various Delmark albums. The highlight is a Junior Wells tune from the 1965 Hoodoo Man Blues session, "This Is The Blues," which included Buddy Guy on guitar. Another unreleased track is "Deep Down South," from Carey Bell, which featured great guitar work from Hubert Sumlin and Eddie Taylor. Of course, any anthology of Chicago blues harmonica would not be complete without contributions from the two Walters. Little Walter is represented on his 1950 recording of "Red Headed Woman," a raw blues on which he's backed by Muddy Waters, Baby Face Leroy and Jimmy Rogers. Big Walter Horton's number, the 1954 slow blues "Hard-Hearted Woman," is, of course, great. I could continue, but just believe me when I say that everything on this CD is top quality. Get it!
Michael Coleman is a veteran soldier of the blues in Chicago, best known for his years of service as guitarist for James Cotton's band. He also recorded a strong cut for Alligator Records' New Bluebloods anthology that was released in 1988. To the best of my knowledge, Do Your Thing! (Delmark) is Coleman's first domestic release. Regardless, it makes you wish that Coleman had been recorded more frequently over the years. He's always been known for his stinging guitar, but he's also a good singer, usually hitting more into a higher range. One of the best cuts comes early in the CD, with a rousing version of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me," as Coleman, pianist Mary Sammon and harp player Matthew Skoller all tear it up on their respective solos. Another killer tune is an instrumental version of "Black Magic Woman," with tremendous interplay between Coleman's guitar and Sammon's B-3 work. Coleman only wrote a few of the songs on the CD, but he gives everything his own unique sound. A case in point is the version of "Cold, Cold Feeling," which is played at a different tempo and bass line. Overall, Do Your Thing! is a strong album, and a good representation of the contemporary Chicago blues scene.
Another regular band on the Chicago circuit is Howard and the White Boys. Their new CD, Live At Chord On Blues (Evidence), was recorded at one of their regular spots in St. Charles, IL, 30 miles out of Chicago. The live recording starts out well with the spirited "Havin' a Good Time is a Full-Time Job," a basic blues shuffle with good guitar from Dan Bellini. Howard McCullum shows himself to be a good singer, with not a lot of range but a pleasant tone. I also liked the extended version of "Bo Diddley," in which the guitarist throws in a few bars of the "Green Acres" theme. (Now that took me back to 8th grade shop class!). The album really starts to cook when Bellini puts down the guitar and starts blowing on the harmonica on the mid-tempo shuffle "The Barber." The guys should have quit while they were ahead, as the closing number, James Brown's "Sex Machine," is too long and a bit overdone. But otherwise, Live At Chord On Blues is an good disk to toss into the CD player at your next party. Even better, try to catch Howard and the White Boys when they come to your town.
While this section is reserved for new releases (generally anything released within the last six to nine months), sometimes an older disk comes our way that we just need to include. One such CD is Live at the Grand (Rampat), a 1999 release from Memphis-based Pat Ramsey & The Blues Disciples. Ramsey is an excellent Chicago-style harmonica player, with his skills demonstrated on this live recording on the mid-tempo shuffle "Got Love It You Want It (Texas)" and the greasy slow blues "Love Her With A Feeling." Guitarist Dave Renson gets his chance in the spotlight on the Johnny Winter shuffle "One Step At A Time." The album ends with the rockin' boogie "Allergic To Work," which then segues into a cover of Robert Johnson's "Dead Shrimp Blues." Ramsey really tears through the chords on this medley. This is an album worth searching out. You can read more about this fine band at www.patramsey.com.
Jimmy Smith is better known in the jazz world as one of the world's premier B-3 players. On his latest album, dot com blues (Blue Thumb), Smith teams up with some of the best-known blues singers on the scene today to make a very enjoyable album. Present here are names like Etta James, Dr. John, B.B. King, Taj Mahal, and Keb' Mo', but it's Smith's silky smooth organ playing that makes this disk. My favorite number is the soulful "Over & Over," with Keb' Mo' singing better than he's ever sung before. Sweet Pea Atkinson and Sir Harry Bowen add great gospel-style background vocals. This session also brings out the best in Etta James. When she sings "I Just Wanna Make Love To You," well, I'm not embarrassed to say that I got a little excited, if you know what I mean. There are a pair of real nice jazzy instrumentals, the title cut and "8 Counts For Rita," both featuring exquisite guitar work from Russell Malone. As I am writing this review, I'm trying to figure why this disk wasn't included in my Top 10 List for the year. It sure is a sweet one! But its official release date isn't until the year 2001, so I guess I've got a head start on next year's list.
--- Bill Mitchell
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