Bernard Allison hadn’t quite developed his own style at the time of this recording Hang On! (Ruf Records). Still the suave exhibition bears enough to foreshadow the contemporary blues brilliance that was to come. Chicago-born Bernard apprenticed under blues heavyweights Koko Taylor and Willie Dixon before relocating to Paris. While overseas, he triumphantly toured with his father, Luther, while making a name for himself. He returned to the States in the late '90s and quickly became modern blues’ best crossover artist. The 12 track, 63 minute disc was recorded live at Ferber Studio, Paris in 1992 using most of his father’s European band. Young Bernard wrote four of the songs and another two with Luther. On this re-release, BA tackles everything from blues standards ("Cadillac Assembly Line") to today’s pop ("Voodoo Thang") and everything in between. All throughout he adds a little blues to his rock and roll playing. Since an audience cannot be heard on any of the tunes, the listener presumes this to be a live-off-the-floor recording. Heavy electrics ignite on opener "Mai" and "Looking Beyond The Past". The popular rock anthem "Going Down" gets funkified thanks to the tone of BA’s guitar and pulsating horns. No one is credited with performing horns so perhaps they were synthesized. In either case, Michel Carras’ keyboards are impressive. "Voodoo Thang" rolls with the force of a freight train. Here, Thierry Menesclou’s harp rocks. This time the keyboards sound too pop and take the raw edge off of the song. Don Torsch adds snarling fills with his Hammond organ on "Action Speaks Louder Than Words". The song showcases Bernard’s expressive vocals which also emerge on the romantic ballad "You’re Hurting Me". With the aid of his proud papa, BA honors the artists that got him enthused about the blues on "Idols In Mind". Further influences loom on the outright storming rock and boogie number "Rockin Robin" via an impromptu jam of Deep Purple, Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin riffs. His flair for Jimi Hendrix presents itself on a couple tracks. The title tune sounds as if it could have been penned by Jimi and includes lyrics such as ‘Jimi still lives on’. "Voodoo Chile Medley" combines 4 tunes and is the cure for a Hendrix fix. As if trying to say, ‘hang on a wild storm called Bernard Allison is coming’ the cover depicts Bernard hanging onto the fretboard of his now infamous map of the U.S. guitar. Although he gets labeled as blues due to his royal bloodline, this six-string sorcerer won’t be pigeon-holed into any one genre. If you want to experience the aggressive energy of today’s blues youth which appeals to a new generation, check out Bernard Allison and Hang On! For more information contact: Ruf America, 162 North 8th Street, Kenilworth, NJ 07033 USA Phone: (908) 653-9700 Website: www.rufrecords.de Artist website: www.bernardallison.com.
Live AA (Eastlawn Records), from Alberta Adams, is Detroit’s Queen of the Blues at her boisterous best, live! The CD’s seven songs were taken from two gigs at almost opposite sides of North America. Recorded in Birmingham, MI and Salmon Arm, BC throughout 2001 and 2002, the 40-minute rambunctious disc features regular numbers, including three originals from two rousing performances. The five songs from Birmingham were recorded on tape, while the two Salmon Arm songs were recorded on a mini-disc player that was plugged into the soundboard. Unlike the royal heritage of the blue blood monarchy, this grand lady did not become a Blues empress overnight. In a laborious and ambitious career that spans seven decades, Ms. Adams has sung with everybody who's anybody, including Big Joe Turner, LaVern Baker, Louis Jordan and Duke Ellington. Her two previous Cannonball releases stirred up plenty of momentum. With the collapse of Cannonball, Adams’ manager did not want to lose any of this established driving force. So he put out this live disc independently. It is only available off the bandstand. That, combined with hissy sound, are the only pitfalls of this CD. AA begins with "Say Baby Say," where keyboard player Shawn McDonald is at his rollicking best. "He May Be Your Man" is one of her signature tunes. Here, she boldly states, "...I’m a dirty old lady..." while singing about a no-good man. The rejoicing mood becomes somber as Alberta recalls being on tour in San Francisco at the time of John Lee Hooker’s passing. She then dedicates "Reconsider You" to the fellow Detroit legend. Throughout, the Queen is very appreciative of her stellar backing band, the Rhythm Rockers. She introduces them repeatedly and demands the crowd to applaud after their exquisite solos. One such deserving member is guitarist Paul Carey. He plays melodically and ferociously smooth licks throughout. The rest of the group is made up of RJ Spangler on drums and Tim Marks and Dale Jennings, both on bass. Alberta Adams has always had the gift of interacting with her audience and making them feel and participate in her performance. This is a traditional blues disc with plenty of focus on Alberta’s commanding and definitive voice. Let the good times begin, as AA is in the house! For CDs, booking and information, contact Eastlawn Records, P.O. Box 36487, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI 48236, or Spangler Blues Productions, phone: 313-881-3005, e-mail: email@example.com.
The CD cover of Pain (WIT Records), from the Luck Brothers, is simple and basic, but the musical arrangements contained within are intelligent and complex. Since the 1980s, session musicians Tim Gleeson (lead guitar/keyboards/vocals) and Art Austin (lead vocals/percussion) have been performing, writing and recording together throughout Philadelphia. For their sophomore release they are assisted by Bob Allen (bass) and Kathy Sledge/Donnel Farrow (background vocals). "That’s Life" deals with the harsh realities of living. Here, a rebellious youth is subjected to his father’s advice, only to end up giving the same guidance to his son many years later. The liberally played piano is essential to the tune. The title track has an adult contemporary jazz feel and a soothing sensation. The background vocals are heavenly. A string section and a xylophone can be heard. The credits do not list anyone on strings, so it is assumed to be the work of a synthesizer. The same goes for the drum tracks. The sexy and steamy guitar on "Like I Never Did Before" warrants airtime on late night pillow talk radio. "Shake Your Boom Bottom" is very danceable. Here, the vocals are skillfully used as another instrument. The disc’s most interesting timing and drum sequence features on "Comin’ Back Home." The acoustic "Little Things" has the feel of the Delta. On the song, Art’s harsh and scratchy voice contrasts with delicate and moving lyrics. There is plenty of blues guitar on the deep funk groove "The Train That Never Comes In." On, "I Can Never Win", the tune has a different title and arrangement, but it is really a reprise of "The Train." You won’t find 12 bars on this 43-minute disc, but you will encounter sensual rhythms and soulful vocals. The lyrics speak volumes concerning how to feel good about oneself and why it’s important to have hope. All 10 songs (nine are originals written by Tim/Art) are radio-friendly, but not in a commercial way. Musically, the guitar and piano work impresses the most but never in a flamboyant fashion. These brothers stand out because their rhythms are not typical for either blues or soul. It is refreshing to hear a group whose music is difficult to classify. Blues purists and contemporary blues fans may not be attracted to their genre-bending ways. However, if you enjoy accomplished musicianship, touching lyrics, bounteous vocals and borderless grooves, come and feel the pain. For CDs, booking and information, contact: WIT Records, 456 East Third Street, Moorestown, NJ 08057, phone: 856-231-1251 website: www.luckbrothers.com, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rock and Roll Needs A Kick In The Eye is a five track genre-bending EP featuring 16 minutes of country-fried boogie from Kick In The Eye. The band consists of a husband and wife team based in British Columbia, Canada. They bill themselves as a good time country rock band. Donnie Lochrie (guitar/vocals) and Marian Lochrie (bass guitar/vocals) combine honky tonk shuffles with Beach Boys vocal arrangements. The EP comes with three original songs, two covers, and drums courtesy of Jerry Adolphe. There is plenty of energy to be found on the opening number, "Shake Yer Hips," where Donnie’s guitar rocks. However, the Cyndi Lauper-tyled vocals don’t befit the tune. With one listen of "Hurricane," images of surfing will come to mind. And I’m not talking about surfing the Internet! Here, Donnie’s vocals are reminiscent of early '80s punk. This feel continues on "Stop Messin My Heart Around." On this catchy rhythmic tune, the couple’s vocal harmonies mesh nicely. "No Depression" is real boppy with some twang. The vocals have a country flavour, but they don’t sound natural. Like most independent released debuts, this one appears to have been funded on a low budget. The cover and liner is in black and white and the CD itself is a Maxell CD-R. Still, Donnie and Marian are to be applauded for their creativity, which required thinking outside of the box. Blues music fans will not find anything to be attracted to here. The EP will appeal to roots music fans who like to try anything once. For booking and information, contact: www.kickintheeyemusic.com, 604-878-5425, PO Box 3192, Mission, BC V2V 4J4.
--- Tim Holek
Quick, name the two biggest cities in Connecticut. The Connecticut Blues Society, you’ll note, lists the whole state in its proud banner. The musicians gathered for this 17-track sampler Local Flavor (Silk City), presumably represent areas beyond just Hartford, Bridgeport or New Haven. From the first bars of Blues Steele’s “Hold On My Soul,” it’s apparent that this is not blues backwoods by any stretch. An electric blues band with a bite, they open the door to the quick shuffle of Sweet Daddy Cool Breeze’s “Sweet Tooth Mama,” the Patty Tuite Band’s Sunday afternoon jazzy blues groove of “Red Light” and Johnny Vibrato & The Razorbacks’ surfy sounding “Vibrato” (look out Dick Dale). Before it’s over we’re introduced to the big band groove of The Hornets’ “Ain’t Done Yet,” one of the highlights of the set, along with Garry & The Moondogs’ “Too Close for Crying,” a harp-driven breakup song that benefits from fine vocals. Better Off Blue brings a Bo Diddley beat to their “Ain’t Your Business” and D. Smith Blues Band utilizes a greasy organ groove on the evil “Playing In The Dark.” Dan Stevens has a fine acoustic Allmans-style feel on “Drivin’ Fool,” Gina Gunn & The Bullets do the well-written environmentally-conscious “Nuclear Blues,” XY Eli Band incorporate a modern edge, Ryan Harris and the Blue Hearts play a straight ahead blues harp version of “She May Be Yours,” and the Pete Schelps Band’s “Time Will Tell” is a piano-led original blues. Johnny & the East Coast Rockers’ “’55 Chevy” is a rockabilly raveup that’s pretty fun. Bluzberry does a 12-bar “Crying In My Keyboard,” that has to do with computers and not a B3, Chili Blues Band’s “Am I Wrong” has a jazzy groove and the final number from the Cobalt Rhythm Kings is a piece of down and dirty back alley blues. As you might expect from a collection that attempts to introduce so many different artists, delivering a number of styles at varying levels of proficiency all in one place, the results are mixed. Still, I’m a big fan of independent blues and this is no doubt a pretty fair representation of what’s going on in Connecticut. And you can’t beat the $10 price. Get it from the Connecticut Blues Society (www.ctblues.org) or Silk City (www.silkcitycd.com).
Gary Primich is a superb harmonica player and expressive vocalist who writes intelligent, well crafted and tantalizing music. From the hipster-rockabilly opener on Dog House Music (Antones), “Mr. Lucky,” to the full-throated harp work on the closing instrumental, “Texas Love Kit,” this latest offering satisfies and sometimes mesmerizes. The appeal of Primich has always been that refusal to be pigeonholed. Based out of Austin, Texas, one of the most musically diverse chunks of real estate on the planet, he just naturally believes that music doesn’t have to come with labels like Blues or Jazz or Country stamped on it. If it’s good music, it’s good music. Gary Primich and mates play damn good music. There’s not a lot of commercial potential worked into the game plan. There are jazz flourishes here and there, shades of classic soul (“That’s What Love Was Made For”), some swamp, and even a bit of Tex-Mex (“Angeline”). Still, the blues is the anchor. Our hero was born in Chicago, after all, and even hung a bit on Maxwell Street before moving to Austin. Chicago’s in the tone (Big Walter looms large), but the attitude is all about those miles and miles of Texas. The late night barfly meets the swamp groove of “Brown Derby Liquor” is chilling. The stark honesty of “I Know It’s Wrong,” with its New Orleans shuffle beat, is scary. “Elizabeth Lee” is a hard strummed slice of wild jealousy gone awry. “I Can’t Stand You When You’re Drinking” (“...and I can’t please you when you’re dry...”) has the uncomfortable feeling of walking into the middle of an argument that you can’t comfortably extricate yourself from. Primich wouldn’t know a cliché if it bit him. Gary Primich is a fine singer and an awesome harmonica player. Fortunately, he’s surrounded himself with an ace band, too. Chris Masterson’s guitar shines throughout, and Randy Glines (bass) and Jim Starboard (drums) bring the solid rhythm to every tune. Guitarist Jon Moeller sits in on a few, and organ, piano and horn fills spice up a few more tunes. Basically, this is barebones Texas blues, Gary Primich style. That’s about as impressive as it gets.
--- Mark E. Gallo
I have to say that, previously, I've always been a bit ambivalent when it came to the Vargas Blues Band. I've liked some of their stuff, but never enough to go out and buy a CD. However, I'm always open to change, and this CD, Last Night (DRO East West) is absolutely superb --- it just has to be the best thing that they've done. Not only that, but it comes packaged with a DVD, too!! Although the release date was in 2002, the CD set was recorded live at Buddy Guy's Blues Legends back in November of 1999, and it was the band's first live appearance in the USA. The 12 tracks on the CD feature a nice mix of originals and covers (six of each) --- just the way I like it --- and there are some special guest appearances sprinkled in as well (Larry McCray and Sugar Blue). Amongst the covers, there are excellent versions of Albert King's "Can't You See" (with both Larry McCray & Sugar Blue guesting), Jimmy McGriff's "All About The Girl" (a real rocker of a track with Sugar Blue making another appearance), and Little Walter's "Last Night" (one of the best covers of this track that I've heard --- full of emotion). Javier Vargas' own "Black Cat Boogie" is an absolute cracker. If you don't tap your feet to this one, then you shouldn't be listening to music at all. Bobby Alexander's vocals hit the spot every time. It's very difficult to place any one track above any other, but if forced into it I would pick "Last Night" as king of the covers and "Make Sweet Love 2 U" as best original. However, I'm not finished yet --- there are another 13 tracks on the DVD!! The only track that appears on both CD & DVD is "Black Cat Boogie" and probably deservedly so. The DVD gives you the chance to see the band in action, and there is also the opportunity to see the band perform with flamenco singer Elena Andujar on two of the tracks, "Back Alley Blues" and "Illegally." There are 10 originals and two covers on the DVD, the covers being "Mannish Boy" and John Lee Hooker's "Chill Out." The DVD opens with the band playing "Mannish Boy," whilst the movie sequence shows a cab ride through Chicago to Buddy Guy's Legends Club, and then goes into a live session at the club with the band faultlessly playing their own "Black Cat Boogie." From then on it's just great blues all the way through, with the two tracks featuring Elena Andujar showing just how close flamenco and blues can be. This set has completely sold me on the Vargas Blues Band, and I'll be watching out for live dates from them in Spain!
Sometime member of the George Thorogood band, Jim Suhler has released his first solo album, Dirt Road (Top Cat Records), although he has previously released three albums with his own band, Monkey Beat, and one with Alan Haynes. The album is a very laid back mix of acoustic country roots blues, very different from the Jim Suhler who plays tremendous guitar licks with the Thorogood band. Amongst the 15 tracks on the CD are five covers sprinkled in with the Suhler originals. The mix of covers ranges wide, from Leroy Carr to Johnny Winter via Leadbelly. There's also a track claimed as a Suhler original, "High Cotton," which is fairly obviously based on Tampa Red's "Things 'bout Coming My Way." If you like gentle country blues, then you certainly won't be disappointed by this offering, and Jim Suhler gives some nice insights into just what a superb guitarist he is. I found it very difficult to decide whether I liked the covers or the originals the most. One thing's for certain though, this is all good music. I always try and pick a favourite from a CD, and on this occasion I originally picked "Trying To Get Back Home," one of the Suhler written tracks. However, it was a close run with Johnny Winter's "Dallas" almost coming out on top, and "High Cotton" right there, too. Then I listened to the album again and found a huge lump in my throat whilst playing the track "My Morning Prayer" (shades of Ry Cooder). this number is so full of emotion that I just had to promote it to favourite track! This CD is one that deserves a good day with the headphones on.
--- Terry Clear
Long associated with B.B. King,
Calvin Owens has
made a name for himself with several wonderful releases of brassy urban
blues since the mid '90s. Owens’ career in music dates back to the mid
'40s, when he started his own seven-piece band in Houston. He also played
with Puma Davis in the early '50s. Davis’ band later backed Gatemouth
Brown for his quintessential Peacock recordings, and Davis himself penned
“Okie Dokie Stomp” and later appeared on Bobby Bland’s Two Steps From The
Blues album. Owens played off and on with B.B. throughout the '50s and
also served as Peacock’s A&R man. He returned to play with King and also
served as music director from 1978 until 1984, even directed the Royal
Philharmonic Orchestra horn section during that time. Tired of the road,
Owens moved overseas to Belgium, got married, regained his health, and
started playing again. In the mid '90s, he released True Blue, with a
massive 24-piece band and guest stars like Johnny Clyde Copeland, B.B.
King and “Fathead” Newman. Subsequent releases, all for his Sawdust Alley
label, have featured that same big band sound with the occasional modern
touch thrown in. His latest release, The House Is Burnin’, is another
great effort. It opens with an instrumental, “Opus In Sawdust Alley,” then
quickly segues to a slow-tempo burner with passionate vocals by Trudy Lynn
(“Don’t Walk Away”). Ms. Trudy returns and threatens to kick somebody’s
behind in “Stop Lying In My Face” (I honestly don’t think there’s anybody
out there right now who brings everything she’s got to every song like
Trudy Lynn does). Owens takes the mike for “Coffee Man” and adds a hot
trumpet solo. Owens sings on four of the 12 tracks here, and his vocals
have a gruff, but charming quality. He doesn’t overstep his boundaries. He
has no boundaries on the trumpet, however, going from swing to jazz with
no problem. Other contributors to the fun include Houston local legend
Gloria Edwards who sings the title track (with assistance from Grady
Gaines on tenor sax), a zydeco romp. Another Houston legend,
singer/guitarist Leonard “Low Down” Brown, lends his pipes and
string-bending talents to the next two tracks, B.B.’s “Please Love Me”
and Guitar Crusher’s “Message To Man.” Closing out the festivities is
another instrumental, “Woman Hollering Creek,” the jazziest number on the
disc, and two Christmas songs, the Charles Brown chestnut, “Merry
Christmas Baby,” and Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song,” both featuring Owens
on vocals and trumpet. Guitarists Charles Davis and Corey Stoot also deserve
a moment in the spotlight, along with the monstrous horn section. The
house may be burnin’, but this disc is definitely smokin’. It can be
purchased at www.calvinowens.com, along with the rest of Calvin Owens’
--- Graham Clarke
Shootin the Groove is the self produced debut CD from Little Luke and the Loose Cannon Band, a tight, polished band from Casper, Wyoming. This isn’t blues in the classic sense, but blues lovers will find a lot to like in the funky grooves driven by the capable work of Jeff Lucas on the Hammond B3 and keyboards and punctuated with the unmistakable tenor sax of guest “Sax” Gordon Beadle. Six out of eight cuts are originals penned by either Lucas or bassist Amy Gieske, or both, and offer a nice taste of originality. Lucas and Gieske also handle most of the vocals and offer two very different moods to the music. Lucas’ timbre, like aged bourbon, goes down smooth, then kicks ass, and Gieske’s sultry, smokey voice is a sweet tease that can grab ... well, you know where. As a debut CD, this offers a lot of promise. There are some technical shortcomings, however. A couple of songs get cut on my copy, and the sound quality is a bit rough, causing the vocals to sound like they are coming from behind the music. But all in all, Shootin the Groove is on target. Send inquiries to email@example.com or www.littlelukeband.com.
--- Margaret Flowers
One of the best albums I've heard in the past year isn't really a blues disc. But Khronos (Ossia Records), from Seattle techno soul band Maktub, will appeal to many blues fans. In short, these cats can do it. Reggie Watts is a fantastic soulful singer in an Al Green kind of way, and has the best afro seen since 1977. If you liked the early incarnation of the Bone Shakers, back when Sweet Pea Atkinson was singing with the band, then you'll dig Maktub. They're just a little further out there, but with a real hip sound. Khronos is Maktub's second album, coming on the heels of their 1999 release Subtle Ways, which was voted the Northwest's soul album of the year. Part of what makes Khronos so special is the original composition "See Clearly." Just like a 'perfect storm' is formed when all meteorological conditions come together at one time in one place, all elements combine on "See Clearly" to form the 'perfect song' ... Watts' vocals, sometimes smooth, sometimes growling, but always packed with soul, Davis Martin's complex rhythmic drumming, Chava Mirel's beautifully ethereal backing vocals, Thaddeus Turner's funky guitar riffs, Kevin Goldman's roaming bass accompaniment and Daniel Spils' keyboard and synthesizer fills, the latter growing to a crescendo near the end of this five minute and 45 second masterpiece. I've played it over and over nearly every day for the past month. Another favorite on Khronos is Watts' opus to lost love, "Just Like Murder"; the pain from the singer's heart just flows out of his voice on this slow, heavy soul number until it builds into a display of anger. The singer does his best Al Green impersonation on the album's funky opener, "You Can't Hide"; Watts does his own backing vocals using an old, resonant microphone he calls the regg-a-phone The only cover on the CD is an extended version of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter," which takes the listener on a psychedelic trip back to the '70s. If you're just the tiniest bit adventuresome, then you'll enjoy your travels across the musical map with Maktub. Check them out at www.maktub.com.
Forrest McDonald may not be a household name to blues fans around the world, but maybe he should better known. He certainly puts out a red hot blues sound on his latest disc, Forrest McDonald Live (World Talent Records), recorded before a live audience in Australia, far from the band's Georgia home. Guitarist McDonald is joined by the fine singer Raymond Victor, and on these recordings the band is "introducing" another very good guitarist, Andrew Black. The sound quality is good and the enthusiastic crowd of 20,000 is quite obviously into what they're hearing on this night in May of 2002. Victor is at his soulful best on the opening number, a cover of Jimmy Thackery's shuffling "Anchor To a Drowning Man," which also features nice guitar work from McDonald and good piano from Victor. The piano takes the lead on the next cut, an up-tempo original about Victor's second marriage, called "Work Work." McDonald contributes some incendiary guitar licks through the middle of the cut. Black shows his stuff on guitar on the 13-minute slow blues, "Blues In the Basement." If this truly is Black's "introduction," then I look forward to hearing more from him. Forrest McDonald Live is a fun party disc; you'll undoubtedly enjoy it as much as the 20,000 Aussies in the crowd.
Another smokin' live CD, Soul Be It! (Blind Pig), comes from contemporary blues guitarist Deborah Coleman. The Virginia native is one of the more dynamic performers on the scene today. Her studio releases to date have covered a lot of different musical styles, but this one, recorded live at the Sierra Nevada Brewery in California, is all blues. For that reason, I like it better than her other recent stuff. The up-tempo opening number, "Brick," shows why Coleman is quickly earning a reputation as one hot guitar player. She then launches into a slow original blues, "My Heart Bleeds Blue," that is reminiscent of both B.B. King's "Thrill Is Gone" and Robert Cray's "Phone Booth"; the guitar solo here is absolutely incredible. Another nice original composition, "I Believe," shows Coleman into a more jazzy mood, but it's still wrapped into an up-tempo blues shuffle. Coleman doesn't try to break any new musical ground on Soul Be It!, but it sure sounds like she was having a good time. So will you when you pop this one into your CD player.
--- Bill Mitchell
As tribute albums go, From
Clarksdale to Heaven – Remembering John Lee Hooker (on Blue Storm Music, a
division of Eagle Records), is not bad. It suffers from the usual
weaknesses of the genre (lack of unity in sound and performance quality,
unwieldy mixture of too-reverent covers and oddly modified re-creations),
but has enough strong moments to warrant a recommendation. Among its
special features is the final, so-called bonus track, a previously
unreleased version of Jimi Hendrix’ “Red House,” performed in 1989 by
Hooker with a band featuring Booker T. Jones on organ and ex-Spirit founder
Randy California on rhythm guitar, which was planned for a Hendrix tribute
that never saw light of day. Needless to say, that song is somehow
transformed into pure Hooker meditation. Other goodies include a track by
Hooker’s daughter, Zakiya, with Johnnie Johnson on piano, and a new song,
“The Business”, that was written by Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter
and intended for an album Hooker never had time to record before his
death; that song is performed here by a band called Greg’s Eggs (unknown
to this writer). Still, the bulk of the record features well-known
musicians, mostly British, paying tribute to John Lee Hooker by
interpreting his songs, most of them two apiece. Jack Bruce (ex-Cream)
teams up with Gary Moore for “I’m in the Mood” and “Serve [sic] Me Right
to Suffer,” with Bruce singing lead on the former song and Moore on the latter,
which is a little weaker because of a little too much stiffness in the
groove. Still, Bruce’s trademark ultra-heavy bass is ideally suited to
Hooker’s material. Procol Harum keyboardist Gary Brooker is backed by a
band that features guitarist Andy Fairweather-Low (longtime cohort of Eric
Clapton) on a rumba-tinged “Baby Lee” that is quite catchy, as well as on
an ordinary reading of “Little Wheel.” (As you can see, he gets an extra
point for choosing the most obscure songs in the Hooker canon). The only
acoustic guitar track is “Ground Hog Blues,” by T.S. McPhee, whose band
in the '60s was called The Groundhogs in tribute to that same song.
This version of “Ground Hog Blues” is one of the most interesting blues
tracks of the millennium so far --- a solo acoustic guitar track, save for
jazzy (bop, almost) punctuation by saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith, with
no other instrument. (McPhee and Heckstall-Smith, backed by a full band,
also try their hand at “I’m Leaving,” but fail, mostly on account of
horrendous vocals). The only guest who manages two hits in two at-bats is
Jeff Beck, who offers a jazz fusion cum gospel version of the traditional
“Will the Circle be Unbroken” and a “Hobo Blues” full of low-volume
feedbacks; it helps that he’s got the best vocalist of the whole album,
Earl Green, who normally sings with Paul Lamb & The King Snakes. Other
guests include ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor (with Max Middleton, who
played with the Jeff Beck Group, on piano) and Peter Green (with his band,
Splinter Group). As you can see, the British blues boom is well
represented; after all, John Lee Hooker was, with the exception of Bo Diddley, the biggest influence of British blues musicians in the
nice to see that some of these musicians, even many years after making it
big, still think so highly of the original boogieman to pay their respects
to Hooker, forever the untouched master.
--- Benoît Brière
It is rare for blues to fuse with world music. It's a huge musical challenge and it's tough to think of lyrical themes appropriate to such a stylistic merger. Clarence Bucaro does it naturally, smoothly, and to the delight of this critic on Sweet Corn (Burnside Records). He's a real mutt, a blues guy, but largely laid back country, with some ragtime thrown in. He sounds like Paul Simon, and then he sounds like Ray Davies. He sits at his kitchen table and writes about sitting at his kitchen table. Yup, it's formica dinette kitchen table, splintery front porches, warped rocking chairs, some friends with mandolins and washboards, the smell of a lumber mill down the road, sink and tub enamel permanently yellowed from all the sulphur in the water 'round here, and that old, cataracted hound that hasn't moved for hours. Then, suddenly, it's Latino ballad, dusty throated, too hot even for sex "Streets of Juarez," with flamenco flourishes and a hint of classic Dylan in both lyrics and delivery. After awhile, after a couple of beers and maybe a shot of George Dickel bourbon, it's back to the porch where the friends feel a little guilty about all this hellraising on a Sunday, so they do a short spiritual, Son House's "John the Revelator," and then they feel better. It's stuck windows and blowing, unraveled screens letting fat, lazy flies in and some other chores he'll get to as soon as he runs out of E strings and excuses. When the house gets so ratty that something absolutely has to be done, it's a trip to New Orleans with a frantic, trumpet-driven parade beat, where folks party like mad even though their houses are in even worse shape and the flies are even fatter. Oh yes, and Bucaro never gets far from social commentary during all these rambles and shuffles down the dirt roads of America. "Ol' Gutbucket" is as thoughtful and ambitious a use of a musical toolbox as one can find outside major label recording budgets. Playing's solid throughout, too, and Sweet Corn will remind you of that local songwriter you admire so much and think should have made it in Nashville or L.A. long ago.
Hmm mm. You know that brassy, sorta coarse, lotsa fun blues bitch that comes to your town every couple of months? Like Janis Joplin if Janis had stuck to blues and booze instead of branching out into rock and heroin? The real belter? Well, that's what Duffy Bishop has sounded like through several records. Outrageous and outrageously entertaining the way we like our bandstand blues mamas to be. The kind of performer that would invite a friendly reviewer like me into the ladies' room for a shot of Jose Cuervo between sets. The Queen's Own Bootleg (Burnside Records) is different. It's got some of that banter, some of that larger than life thing that the best blues performers have, but it's also got one of the best captures of live music I've ever heard. In addition, it reveals the secret that takes a local blues scene to the next level --- some of Ms. Bishop's players are jazz players. I remember when I was hipped to the trick of incorporating jazz players into a blues act. I learned that bassists and drummers could solo, too. Duffy Bishop seems to be attempting to share the feel of one of those discovery nights with her audience on this "bootleg," and she comes very, very close to succeeding. Very, very close. Honestly, there are two problems. First of all, she too often relinquishes the audio spotlight to the jazz-competent players, and no blues singer of her caliber ever needs to do that (let me refer you to Bobby "Blue" Bland). Second, CDs are sterile --- they're digital, and they have X number of increments per second. Humans can almost hear the little bits of silence between the little bytes of sound on a CD. Similarly, houseflies, with their compound eyes, can almost see the strobe effect of AC (alternating current) light bulbs, and it confuses them, and a household hint from this reviewer is that flies are easier to swat if you turn your kitchen lights on. The Queen's Own Bootleg is an outstanding record that would have been better had it been recorded with the technology of a quarter century ago. Recording live is one thing; capturing live is another. I know of few acts that could perform Duffy Bishop's live set list, ranging as it does from Charlie Christian to Willie Dixon to Johnny Adams to Johnny Mercer, and I know of no other act that could come as close to capturing live sound with digital technology as Duffy Bishop. This release comes mighty close. You can almost smell the stale beer and Winstons. This one's for blues musicians and primary users of live blues. All of you.
Telarc, Telarc, Telarc . . . What is it with this label's obsession with anthologies? They have a stupendous catalog and as good a talent roster as any blues label. Their single-act releases are reliably fine. They're just hooked on themed collections. They're so hooked on themed collections that Now This Is What We Call Blues actually includes material that's been released before on other themed collections. This one's supposed to present songs that really nail the essence of the blues. Most of the artists contributing to this 13-cut release do that perfectly well on separate records of their own. Many of the backing musicians (including Double Trouble, Levon Helm and David Maxwell) do that perfectly well on separate records of their own. Colin Linden's version of the Beatles' "Blackbird," included on this record, does not. No offense intended to the Beatles, who demonstrated understanding of the blues on many tracks, but "Blackbird" does not belong on an anthology called Now This is What We Call Blues, because "Blackbird" is not what we call blues. It's here because it is in the Telarc catalog, and its presence there makes it probable that it will appear on an anthology. Similarly, Annie Raines and Paul Rishell, who deserve even more awards and accolades for sharing the blues than they have received, should not be represented by the spiritual, "I Shall Not Be Moved," on a blues anthology. The other 11 cuts are good, but not as good on this sampler as they would be in the context of separate artist releases.
--- Arthur Shuey
Upon a quick glance while
passing through your local record store's blues section (if they have
one), you'll notice a compilation that seems to stand out as being
misplaced since the cover accurately depicts the NOW series of all-pop
tunes (currently in it's umpteenth incarnation) that demand our hard
earned bucks. On closer scrutiny the word BLUES, in the usual big block
format, materializes along with the volume number as an outrageous #420.
Then the tag line, "13 songs that never went near a chart," appearing on
the bottom clearly proves the tongue-in-cheek attitude Telarc has taken
for their latest blues collection assembling all the truly fantastic
releases from the past year. Now This Is What We Call Blues - Vol.420
(Telarc) is power packed with every style and nuance of blues you can
think of and more. Telarc takes quite a progressive and intelligent stance
in signing their blues artists, mixing strong, seasoned, generation
defying legends with contemporaries that are changing the way we think of
the blues, both of which are represented here. All songs are highlights.
But to mention some of my favorites, we find Tab Benoit coupled with Jimmy
Thackery on a remake of a Benoit tune, "Nice and Warm," showing off their
incomparable guitar talent. One of the best from the past year include Joe
Louis Walker's blend of soul/gospel blues-inspired music that makes me
glad I'm alive on every listening, nicely supplied with the title track
from In the Morning. Harmonica purists take note, two of the greats
show up here with Charlie Musselwhite's cover of Johnny Cash's "Big
River," beautifully rendered, and James Cotton's sprightly bouncing
instrumental, "The Creeper." Acoustic lovers look no further, with
wonderful tunes by the likes of duo Annie Raines and Paul Rishell's church
standard, "I Shall Not be Moved," and Colin Linden's melodic-laced version
of the Beatles (dare I say McCartney's) "Blackbird." Genre crossing
guitarist Ronnie Earl plays the blues on his self-penned instrumental
"Twenty-Five Days." Now This Is What We Call Blues is
definitely one collection you do not want to pass by. Available in most
stores in late January.
--- Bruce Coen
Many years ago Sam Phillips proclaimed “If I could find a white man that sings with the negro feel, I’ll make a million dollars.” In later years everyone assumed he was talking about Elvis Presley. Phillips, who had always had an ear for what was then termed “black music,” had recorded guys like Howlin’ Wolf and other non-mainstream acts long before he recorded Elvis. Personally, I think the gentleman he was looking for when he made that statement went by the name of “Harmonica” Frank Floyd, who cut some sides for Phillips in 1954, then vanished. He resurfaced in 1979 to play a few shows at Memphis area schools that were fortuitously recorded by Jim Dickson and Memphis International co-founder David Less. Harmonica Frank who? My reaction was the same when I first heard his name, having no idea who he was until I had the pleasure of hearing this fantastic recording entitled The Missing Link (Memphis International). These recordings are a combination of those live performances, some studio takes and one of those original sides he cut for Phillips, entitled “Rocking Chair Daddy,” that starts this record off and gives you a tremendous insight into the sound Phillips was striving for at the time. Frank Floyd was born in 1909 Toccopola Mississippi, raised in the backwoods of Arkansas and left home at the age of 14 to explore the world. He often sang for his supper and spare change at carnivals and county fairs, slept in ditches, barns and any place that was relatively dry. In other words, he lived the life of a hobo or wandering minstrel, however you choose to define it. Along the way he absorbed every musical style and tune he could find, like a sponge, which is highly evident throughout this superb record. ”Harmonica” Frank lives up to his name on his own “Married Mans Blues” and a distinct cover of “Sitting On Top Of The World,” allowing his prowess on the harp to say it all. Floyd touches on some traditional blues such as “Deep Elum Blues,” and a scorching rendition of “Howlin Tomcat Blues,” letting his country persona shine through by introducing the latter as “blues, like colored people used to play.” Keep in mind this was 1979 and political correctness hadn’t been invented yet. An appealing mixture of traditional country, bluegrass and, of course, some downhome blues are vividly represented on traditional pieces such as “Moonshiners Daughter,” “Step It Up And Go” and “Sweet Farm Girl.” All of these are made to sound like original works which can be attributed to this man's feel and passion for his material. Speaking of originals, they are more than plentiful and infused with a wit and humor that brings to mind what type of songwriter Mark Twain might have been had he chosen another profession. A few prime examples of this can be found on Floyd’s “What Are You Squawkin’ About,” the somewhat silly “Shoop-A-Boop-D-Doodler,” the hilariously funny “Swamp Root,” and a special mention to “The Great Medical Menagerist.” A smoothly executed cover of Roy Acuff’s “You Don’t Know My Mind” wraps things up rather nicely and is somewhat biographical. Floyd’s guitar work is concise and clean throughout, alternating between finite picking and chording, blended fluidly with plain old harmonic back porch strumming and wailing country harp licks that quite possibly might set your mind to wandering along those same roads that the artist you are listening to traveled. To give Frank Floyd one musical label such as blues, country, bluegrass is damned near impossible to do as his music is all of those. So I guess he’ll just have to fall into that all-encompassing and vast category of “American music,” but, then again, how else do you categorize a truly American original? If the rest of those sessions from Sun Records exist anywhere, I would surely like to hear them, as I am sure they are as dazzling as this fine collection. It’s evident that Mr. Phillips had what he sought the whole time.
The musical community has seen many great front men throughout its history but none more electrifying or more fun to sing and dance along with other than Peter Wolf of The J. Geils Band. Though labeled a rock and roll / boogie band, they started out and remained (if you listen very closely) a powerhouse blues band. When they disbanded, Wolf embarked on a solo career that has never quite achieved him the fame and fortune that he realized with his former compadres, but has been just as musically exciting and his to call his own. His latest release, Sleepless (Artemis), continues in that same vein, with Wolf exuding a more mature poise as a songwriter, At times it's stunning yet not surprising, as his last two releases exhibited the same quality, only to a slightly lesser degree. Wolf cleverly paces the 12 mostly original tracks brilliantly, with a combination of styles that stir your musical taste buds in several different directions at once, but never quite settles into the one genre that would give it definition. While this classifies as a blues recording, it is much more than that in the sense that it incorporates a bit of rock, Motown, Memphis, country and soul into a very tight fabric that fits Wolf like a satin glove around his versatile throaty vocals. The interesting title of the album's opening number, “Growing Pain,” sets the tone of what’s in-store with its thoughtful reflective observations set against tight and subdued, yet flowing, rhythms and soft harmonies that quickly suck you in. Following up is a duet with a fellow front man by the name of Mick Jagger, entitled “Nothing But The Wheel.” Wolf explains in the liner notes that this tune reminded him of something that could have been on Exile On Main Street. One listen to its country-ish flavor and drawling harp, fiddle and pedal steel licks, coupled with the two different vocalists, and you will agree. “A Lot Of Good Ones Gone” is a moving ballad that pays tribute to the many blues greats that Wolf has felt himself fortunate enough to have shared a stage with in days past, but is really dedicated to John Lee Hooker. The boogie machine gets switched on directly into high gear, with a sparkling cover of William Bell’s “Never Like This Before” that finds Peter letting his R&B influences tear loose alongside the blaring brass of The Uptown Horns and soul-soaked harmonies. Otis Rush’s “Homework” is no stranger to Wolf, as he recorded it with The J. Geils Band; this version happened by accident, as it was originally intended as a level check in the studio and tape was rolling. Wolf had to be convinced into using the resulting track, but is glad he did. The funny thing is it’s one of the albums best numbers. Wolf’s alter ego, “Woofer Goofer” from the Geils Band days, drops in for a visit on a slick take of Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Too Close Together” that is old home week, with former fellow band mate Magic Dick supplying his distinctive harp chops and Keith Richards contributing some jazzy guitar runs and vocals for a number that starts off cooking and hits the red hot boiling point very quickly. “Oh Marianne” is a completely enjoyable number that lulls you with it’s soft, almost calypso-ish, rhythms and tight harmony that is augmented by the big bass voice of Milt Grayson. The title tune closes this finely constructed album and is heavily influenced by Roy Orbison ballads, and seems to pour right from the depths of Wolf’s artistic soul. This is by no means the high energy, explosive Peter Wolf album that one might expect from him. It is way more eclectic than anything he has ever done before, and is more of an arrival album of a very intuitively deep songwriter whose emergence bears close watching. Oh, the bad boy of old is very much present, but he has grown up quite a bit and co-produced an album that satisfies on many different levels mainly because of its flowing arrangements and thought provoking lyrics. While not a pure bred blues album, the roots run very deep and wide here. Peter Wolf has never failed to deliver a good time, and this album delivers just that. It ranks as his best to date in my opinion. Don’t miss out on this one.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
The Tall Cool One
--- Tony Engelhart
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