2003 was a good year for Bobby Rush. Long in need of more
exposure, he stole the show from B. B. King on “The Road to Memphis”
episode of Martin Scorsese's recent Blues miniseries and he formed his own
record label, Deep Rush Records. Just out from Deep Rush is this highly
entertaining CD/DVD set, Live At Ground Zero, which was recorded and
filmed at Morgan Freeman's establishment in Clarksdale, Mississippi. For years,
Rush has been the undisputed King of the Chitlin' Circuit, and this set
shows why. A typical Bobby Rush live show features a great band, dancing
ladies of all shapes and sizes who all know how to shake what the Good
Lord gave them, lots of suggestive humor, and of course Bobby Rush, who
should take the Handy Award for Entertainer of the Year home every year.
The DVD captures all of this perfectly, with excellent sound and picture
quality. Rush's band is incredibly tight, particularly lead guitarist
Stephen Johnson. The dancers are .... well .... whew, pretty impressive too.
However, Bobby Rush is the real star of the show. The songs that are
identifiable with Rush are here ("What's Good For The Goose is Good For
the Gander," "A Man Can Give It," "I Ain't Studdin' You"). Rush has
always been underrated as a songwriter, but he continually puts together
some of the wittiest lyrics in the blues. It's obvious from the DVD that
the audience had a blast. You simply must watch the end, where Rush straps
on a pink guitar and plays his classic "Chicken Heads" and Ground Zero
owners Freeman and Bill Luckett take the stage and shake a leg. The CD,
basically a soundtrack of the DVD, also features two extra cuts: Rush's
best-known song, "Sue" and "That Thang," which could be considered a
funky reworking of Willie Dixon's "The Same Thing." Bobby Rush, now in his
51st year of entertaining, has been trying to break into a larger market
for years. With this release and his recently released studio effort, he
could have the breakthrough he deserves. For ordering information on this
great CD/DVD set, go to www.bobbyrush.net. If you don't have any Bobby
Rush in your collection (shame on you), this is the place to start.
--- Graham Clarke
The second CD review I ever wrote in my life was for a great record entitled I’m Here and I’m Gone, by a then 23 year old guitarist from Compton, California named Kirk Fletcher (Blues Bytes Sept.’99). At the time I wrote that review, I called Mr. Fletcher “one of the most brilliant guitarists to come on the blues scene in quite some time.” My opinion of this intensely original player has not changed. In fact, it has only grown in tremendous leaps and bounds in the four years that I had to be satisfied with just watching him perform in Kim Wilson’s Blues Revue, Charlie Musselwhite’s band, The Janiva Magness Band, and with a few other artists in various Los Angeles blues venues, while anxiously awaiting the release of what is only his second album, Shades Of Blue (CrossCut Records). Now at the ripe old age of 27, Kirk Fletcher leaves no doubt, he is one of the masters of contemporary blues guitar and is on the road to probably being one of the best of all time. Pretty big statement to make, I know, but one listen to the 14 numbers contained within and I think you’ll agree. Kirk is one of those 'oh so rare' guitarists that blends every element --- speed, chording, melody, structure --- along with pristine phrasing and the slightest hint of downright hard edged flash, flawlessly into a style that is cutting edge. This gentleman has few peers and if comparisons must be made ... combine T-Bone Walker with B.B. King, mix in Jimmy Dawkins and throw a pair of Alberts, Collins and King, into the mix, and you have the explosive, original, unmatched essence that is Kirk Fletcher. Backing him up is an all star band that is comprised of the piano and B3 majesty of ‘Brother’ Red Young, former Nightcat and current Fabulous T-Bird Ronnie James Weber is on board on bass for the bulk of the album, with Jeff Turmes sitting in for three tracks. Drum duties fall to veteran shuffler Richard Innes for nine cuts, with Kenny Sara keeping time on the other five. Fletcher does not sing at all, so the vocals are split between three tremendously talented voices: Kim Wilson (who also adds his harp) for five numbers, the sassy and emotion filled stylings of the lovely Janiva Magness for three tunes, and the gritty shout of Finis Tasby for four cuts. The style of these 14 tunes are steeped deeply in the blues of the ‘50s and ‘60s without sounding retro-ish or dated, but with a highly modern and up to date polish. But let’s get to the good stuff, shall we? The grooving original instrumental, “Blues For Boo Boo,” opens the show with Kirk strolling melodically through the fretboard before tweaking off a pair of stinging solos on this tune that is dedicated to his little girl Elaysia. A cooking cover of Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy” swings to the harp phrasings and vocals of Kim Wilson, with Fletcher plucking out a brain bending solo that will have you pulling your jaw off your chest. Get used to doing that, because this young man makes a habit of doing this all over this album. A hip shaking version of “Little By Little” features the commanding vocals of Janiva Magness and the flammable organ of Red Young blending together with Fletcher for a bouncing workout. A cover of B.B. King’s “Country Girl” will shake you to your very soul via Kirk’s fiery soloing and Wilson’s throaty vocals and gutsy harp licks. Finis Tasby belts out a masterful take on Jimmy Dawkins’ “Welfare Blues,” a tune that is disarming in the fact that gently lulls you with its easy rhythms and 'smooth as glass' production, while exploding at the same time. Willie Dixon’s “Don’t Go No Further” swings and sways under the skillful guidance of Janiva Magness’ 'twinkle in the eye' vocals and a string-breaking solo from Kirk. The only other original, “Club Zanzibar,” a blistering instrumental on which Fletcher and Wilson let it all hang out for three and a half frantic minutes, is planted right in the middle of this treat of a record. Finis Tasby steps up to the plate again and tears things loose with a volcanic version of “Down Home Woman,” before pulling back on the reins for a lovely rendition of Percy Mayfield’s “The River’s Invitation,” and also contributes his own high energy “Worried Man’s Blues.” I’m undecided as to whose performance is harder hitting on a cover of Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Cryin” --- Janiva Magness’ or Kirk Fletcher’s. The raw heartfelt emotion that pours forth from Ms. Magness’ vocals will undoubtedly tug a heart string or two, while Fletcher’s piercing phrases will turn your senses inside out. Magness turned in a great cover of this tune on her own album, Use What You Got, earlier this year but somehow manages to outdo herself with this one. A bit of juke joint funk is laced throughout the smoky grind of Don Robey’s “Stranded,” before wrapping things up with a spiffy rendering of Booker T & The MGs “Hip Hug Her” that allows Red Young to strut his stuff to the absolute fullest. A big hats off is in order to Randy Chortoff, who produced this magnificent work (and is, in his own right, a pretty damned hot harp player) and Joe Bellamy, who engineered and mixed. Between the two of them, they have turned out a future classic that is absolutely gorgeous to listen to and bursting with incredible performances. I once said that Kirk Fletcher's star will burn brightly for years to come in the blues community. With Shades of Blue, that star has reached super nova status. Whether he is playing simple fills or scorching leads, Kirk Fletchers music shoots from the very depths of his soul and transfers into pure blues magic, exuding a musical presence and sense of commanding fun to every note. They say the true masters, the Kings, Collinses, Walkers and Vaughns only come along once; the same will be said about Kirk Fletcher. It’s been my pleasure to have a front row seat to the evolution of this extraordinary musician, and can highly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of Shades Of Blue and find out for yourself. This masterwork is released on a German label and might be a little difficult to find, however, it is easily available through www.bluebeatmusic.com.
Houston, Texas has always been home to great blues music. A gentleman that has been making some big noises down there as of late with his album, Live At Miss Ann’s Playpen (Doc Blues Records), is harp player and singer Terry Jerome aka Sonny Boy Terry. Terry migrated to Houston in the early ‘80s and became a mainstay on the Houston blues scene as a sideman playing with guys like Johnny Copeland, Joe ‘Guitar’ Hughes and Jerry Lightfoot, and also founded The Houston Blues Society. Three years ago he released a wonderful album, Breakfast Dance, on his own label which has since been reissued on Doc Blues Records, the same label that brings you the terrific album I am about to tell you about. Recorded at the now defunct Miss Ann’s Playpen in Houston’s Third Ward, this energetic nine track live set opens with an homage to the club entitled “Let’s All Go Down To Miss Ann’s Playpen.” This tight shuffling original number is a slick play on words that sets the tone for the rest of the set, with Terry ripping off a couple of wicked solos alongside some fancy fretwork from Little Ray Ybarra, whose chops are superb. The following two tunes pay tribute to a pair of harp legends, Big Walter Horton and Little Walter, with sharp as tack versions of “Let’s Have A Good Time” and “Too Late,” respectively, which allows Terry to show off some pretty impressive vocal pipes in addition to some hot harp licks while capturing the spirit of these great artists. “PhD Of The Blues” is a piece written by bassist Benny Brasket that cooks along to a chugging beat and is highlighted by a piercing solo from guitarist Ybarra. One of the most talented guitar players it has ever been my pleasure to hear, Jeffrey P. Ross, sits in on the original instrumental “Holman & Dowling,” and a swinging cover of George Harmonica Smith’s “Tight Dress,” which has Terry donning the chromatic harp very effectively for one of the album’s best tracks. The tongue in cheek humor of Louisiana bluesman Silas Hogan is featured on a cover of his “Rats and Roaches.” While the subject matter might make some people’s skin crawl, this is a fun number that slows things down a bit and allows the band, as well as the audience, to catch its breath after six blistering tunes. The R&B-flavored “I’ll Be Your Fool” opens with Terry’s harp laying the groundwork for a very funky groove that is hard to sit still to while listening to it. Another original, “Take Your Time,” wraps things up on a somewhat frantic pace with Terry blazing away on the chromatic and the whole band just as tight as can be. But that’s not all folks ... included is a bonus studio track, a cover of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breakin’ Down,” that is only Terry on vocals and harp and Harlem Slim on slide. After listening to this delightful record I can honestly say Sonny Boy Terry is probably one of the best kept secrets in the blues these days. He plays a very authoritative harp and can stack up against any harp player in the business. His vocals are clear and confident, with just a hint of Texas twang to them and a whole lotta soul and feeling behind them. Live At Miss Ann’s Playpen is one of those feelgood albums that you’ll want to play over and over again. It’s the sort of record that you don’t realize just how good it is until it’s over and you find yourself reaching for the play button again. I see a very bright future for Sonny Boy Terry if he continues to put out records like this, as well as Doc Blues Records which is quickly turning into the 'little label that could' from the quality of recordings I have heard so far. If you can’t find this red hot release in your local music store, visit their web site www.docbluesrecords.com. This is an excellent recording of no frills blues played the way it ought be played by a very tight and thoroughly enjoyable band.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
For those of us that fondly remember the early career of Maria Muldaur, Classic Live! (Dig Music) is a real treat. Recorded at two different San Francisco concerts in 1973 and 1975, Classic Live! contains 13 versions of the songs that made her famous. She's backed by a couple of tasty ensembles, including the likes of guitarist Amos Garrett and New Orleans drummer Earl Palmer. Muldaur's biggest hits, including "Midnight At The Oasis," the ultra-sassy "Don't You Feel My Leg" (this one gets quite a 'rise' out of the audience) and "Sweetheart (Waitress In A Donut Shop)." The real keeper here is the late night jazzy weeper "Lover Man (Oh Where Can You Be)"; she's never sounded better. Muldaur takes the audience to church on the rousing "An Eagle Stirreth In Her Nest." She closes by leading her backing musicians in a stirring a cappella number "Travellin' Shoes." These recordings were lost for many years, making this release extra special. Don't miss this one!
Veteran Blues Bytes readers are aware of our unabashed enchantment with the music of Pittsburgh-based blue-eyed soul singer Billy Price. This wonderful singer can now be seen as well as heard on their band's first DVD release, Funky ... Funky Soul (BRBF). This 90-minute show was recorded live at the Belgium Rhythm & Blues Festival in July of 2003. Reviews indicate that Price and his band stole the show from several more heralded blues acts. Just one viewing of this disc will show you why. Price is one of the hardest working performers in the biz and the ultimate showman. He leads his tight band through several of his own classics, including his signature tune "Eldorado Cafe." Price is at his best when he's covering deep soul singers Tyrone Davis and O.V. Wright; among the soul chestnuts on this show were Davis' "Can I Change My Mind" and Wright's "Nickel And A Nail" and the superb "Ace Of Spades." As always, Price's band provides excellent accompaniment. I just have one word to describe this DVD --- 'Wow!' For more info, visit www.billyprice.com.
Official Bootleg - Live in L.A. (Riatsala Music) is an independent disc from Southern California, featuring a live performance from The Alastair Greene Band. These blues-rockers obviously know how to put on a good show, as evidenced by the recording of this live gig in October 2002. Bandleader Greene is a good guitarist, firmly based in the blues and not too rocked out, and a passable singer. Steve Utstein is a solid contributor on Hammond B3, actually stealing the show on the opening cut, "Ramblin' Mind." The band does a nice version of "One Way Out," borrowing more from the Allman Brothers version than Elmore James' original. Greene gets to stretch out on the slow blues "Love Too Strong." Jack Kennedy (bass) and Tom Lackner (drums) provide a steady rhythm throughout the album. Overall, a decent effort.
Big Bill Broonzy was one of the true pioneers of the blues. No blues collection is complete without this influential guitarist / singer's work. One won't do much better than getting a copy of His 23 Greatest Songs - 1927-1942 (Wolf). It is just what the title indicates --- all of the songs for which Broonzy is best known. The oldest recordings are barely listenable due to the scratchy recordings, but sound quality improves significantly after the first three numbers, which all date from before 1930. Broonzy's best-known song, "Key To The Highway," from 1942, is here, as are countless other classics. This is seminal music from one of the greatest bluesmen ever.
--- Bill Mitchell
Singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Matt Minglewood is a living Canadian music legend. His nation-wide popularity is a testimony to his timeless appeal. He combines southern rock, country, Celtic and blues into each and every performance. Hailing from Cape Breton Island, he is a great story-teller, is full of humour and has a light-hearted approach to life and its challenges. With 10 previous albums out (dating back to 1976), he has just released his first live CD, Live At Last (Norton Records). Just prior to its release, he made these comments: "People have been torturing me forever to put out a live album. They said my studio albums are great but they’re not the same as seeing it live. You try real hard to capture that (in the studio) but it's hard. This live one actually does capture it. Its got energy up the ying-yang and I’m really happy with it. When I heard the rough stuff I said I’m gonna mix this – this is the live album people have been bugging me for." Minglewood’s description of the new CD was very accurate. Recorded in front of a very lively and enthusiastic Sydney, Nova Scotia crowd in September 2002 at ‘Minglefest,’ the 74 minute set includes a few guest artists. Most prominent is virtuoso guitarist Jeff Healey, who appears on all 13 tracks. Only five are covers and there are two songs never recorded by Matt before. Needless to say, there is lots of interplay and weaving between these two Canadian guitar greats. It's done as a complementing affair rather than a competing one. Matt’s solos are more harsh when compared to Jeff’s smoothness. However, Healey gets downright screeching at times, as on "Night Creeper." Other guests used more sparingly include Michael Pickett (harp), Billy Joe Green (guitar), and three backing vocalists. Grant Leslie and Neil Robertson tackle the bottom and pulse, while Jim Ralph performs wonders on keyboards. In the studio, Matt added his acoustic guitar and Hammond organ to several cuts. The signature Minglewood sound and storytelling abounds on this disc. For a prime example of those catchy fervent rhythms, aggressive piano fills, zestful vocals, choruses with east coast jigs and changing melodies, listen to "Whiz Kids." Here, Jimmy’s quick-paced, orchestral solo precedes equally fast wailing from Jeff. "Let Somebody Else Drive" is an old-time rock 'n' roll song which denounces drinking and driving. "Hughie T. & Annie Lizzie" is an emotion-laden instrumental where you feel compassion in every sweet note Matt plays on crying slide guitar. These names are the way his parents were affectionately addressed by people who were close to them. For a rocked up version of the blues, listen to "Somebody Help Me." Ralph’s keyboards are haunting while Matt’s shrieking and wailing guitar is played methodically. Things are tamed down on the almost entirely unplugged, country folk number "Me & The Boys." Sometimes music can express more than words. Sometimes words can express more than music. "Travelin’ Man" equally says 'I Love You' via both. The song is so from the heart, so down to earth and so loving that it gives hope that not all blues-rockers may be womanizing drunks. "Cape Crusader" suffers a bit from the absence of studio wonders. This is the only song the boys do not recreate effectively live. "Can’t You See" is such a staple of Matt’s live performance, it is too bad that it fades out before the song was completed by the band. Minglewood has spent most of his life on the road. It won’t surprise you that he regularly sings about it, and most tunes come with a rolling down the highway attitude where caution is thrown to the wind. He plays blues-based rock with heavy doses of Southern rock. If you enjoy a high energy, double-barreled attack that rocks your blues, you’ll love this CD. Its crisp Minglewood production makes you wish you were there. The ashes left in your CD tray will confirm just how much this CD smokes! For CDs, booking and information, contact: 757 Main Street, Glace Bay, NS, B1A 4Y7 Canada, E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, Website www.mattminglewood.com.
With 54 original albums, John Mayall has had a prolific recording career. He is best known as a British blues-rock pioneer who turned on new generations to the blues especially white America. Now, advocates from that movement can relive all the glory and new fans can be exposed to it for the first time thanks to the double live CD and DVD, 70th Birthday Concert (Eagle Vision). It was recorded on July 19, 2003 at Liverpool’s King’s Dock in honour of his 70th birthday, which ironically did not occur until November 29. In the video, John looks great (you’d never guess his age) and proves he is still capable of performing jaunty piano, earthy guitar and melodic harp. His singing is still weak and lacks punch. However, being a bandleader and mentor remains his forte. He is backed by the poignant Bluesbreakers (Buddy Whittington on guitar, Joe Yuele on drums, Hank Van Sickle on bass and Tom Canning on organ), who all hail from the U.S.. The two dauntless guest guitarists (Mick Taylor and Eric Clapton) make it feel like a night of 1,000 guitarists. Whittington may not be as well-known as the other guitarists, but he holds his own with them and occasionally exceeds their skills. Although he can give his fretboard carpet-burns, he regularly drops the dramatics in favour of precise guitaring. With 16 tracks, the DVD lasts for 137 minutes. Thanks to three additional songs, the CD clocks in at 151 minutes. The concert was filmed in widescreen, and cameramen are occasionally caught on stage. Mick Taylor was never one to steal a show with his stage antics or wardrobe. Here, he physically appears disheveled and drab. However, musicians will enjoy the camera close-ups of his hands during his solos. With so many albums to chose songs from, how was the set list selected? All in all, the set includes selections from eight albums (from the ‘60s, ‘90s and the current decade) and features two songs never recorded by Mayall, namely the ragtime jazz "Please Mr. Lofton" and Sonny Thompson’s "I’m Tore Down." Most of the songs are hearty jams coming in, on average, at eight minutes, however, some are as long as 18 minutes. "Grits Ain’t Groceries" has a driving rhythm laid down by the Bluesbreakers like a midnight train rolling down the track. Eight of the songs are Mayall originals. The contemporary numbers, like "Kids Got The Blues," are blues-rock which contain heavy, pulsating grooves. Mayall’s modern blues will appeal to youth because they come with punch, action and the absence of 12 bars. The autobiographical "Blues For The Lost Days" tells about John’s start in the music business. "Walking On Sunset" is old-style traditional blues with a soul groove. The song is used to transition to the blues portion of the program. "Oh, Pretty Woman" has a trance like rhythm where Taylor emulates the guitar tone of Albert King. Throughout his section, Mick Taylor delivers smokin’ slide and plays with a raw, rough, rock edge. "Hideaway" sounds more polished and mature as compared to the Beano album. "All Your Love" was already a blues classic when Mayall and EC recorded it in 1966. Back then, EC sounded more like Otis Rush, but now Clapton draws on his own experience. "Have You Heard" gets lowered a few keys so John can hit the notes vocally. This is definitely the jam song of the album. On it, Canning attacks his organ, Whittington plays hot rockin’ Texas blues, Barber blows his heart and soul into the punchy trombone while Clapton plays jiggling soft to banging hard. All in all, the brass section and Tom Canning fill more potholes than the Ministry of Transportation. Little Walter’s "It Ain’t Right" features John performing a harp and mouth solo with thumping gusts similar to his famous rendition of "Room To Move." "California" is a blues / jazz / rock fusion in the mode of the Allman Brothers Band. This is so unlike modern Mayall, it's refreshing and one of the most memorable cuts. The entire cast takes the stage for J.B. Lenoir’s "Talk To Your Daughter," where they culminate into a rousing, rocking, blues romp. On the downside, the concert’s first half isn’t exactly blues, his reverent band gets a bit upstaged by the guests and the modulated vocal harmonies from recent discs are not re-created live. There are no special features on the DVD and nothing new is revealed in the bonus interview. Most of John’s CDs lack the quality of his ‘60s releases; however, John Mayall is still relevant today. He had brought his blues into the new century while continually introducing audiences to the masters of yesteryear. This disc doesn’t feature his historic ‘60s style. However, it's an excellent showcase of his modern sound, which has been refined to near perfection. The producers (David Z and Mayall) have captured the raw and rock heavy blues from this monumental concert. If you enjoy guitarists who rock the blues, you’ll enjoy every minute. If you haven’t bothered with Mayall lately, 70th Birthday Concert is one to add to your collection. For DVDs and CDs, contact: Eagle Rock Entertainment Inc., 3110 American Drive, Mississauga, Ontario L4V 1T2 905-364-3248, www.eaglerockent.com, Artist website: www.johnmayall.com.
On her impressive 2001 debut, Yugoslavia’s Ana Popovic exposed her blues roots. On her styled sophomore CD, Comfort To The Soul (Ruf Records), she has had them colored and highlighted. Now, they have all but disappeared. The pop/blues princess returns for 43 diverse minutes of rock, R&B and blues/rock. Five of the 11 tracks were penned by the young songstress with the remainder being covers of Howlin’ Wolf, Steely Dan and Delbert McClinton. Like the latest craze, the tunes quickly grow on you. The starlet’s vocals and guitar have matured since her debut. However, her apathetic vocals are not yet her specialty. Cleverly, they are always second fiddle to the overall song and are well masked by her cultured guitar playing and suave song arrangements. Once again the foundation is laid by Steve Potts (drums) and Dave Smith (bass). Jim Gaines returns as producer but this time shares the duties with David Z. Their styles (heavy and hip respectively) sharply contrast with each other. You’ll easily tell which producer was responsible for which songs. However, this is distracting at times as you’ll wonder if you are listening to the same album. Regarding the producers, the 26-year-old states, "I just wanted a little different thing – get into loops and stuff like that." About the new CD, she says, "It is different. It is not a copy of Hush. I just wanted to really do what I felt. It’s all about me. I wanted to do a couple of blues songs. I have some 7/4 rhythms. It’s just groovy." The opening bars of the power-chorded rocker "Don’t Bear Down On Me" hit you hard. You’ll sit up and take notice as the sexy guitarist lets rip on a fierce guitar solo and is driven by the rhythm guitar of Jack Holder. "Sittin’ On Top Of The World" is given a blues/rock arrangement. The only thing it shares with the original is the title and lyrics. Here and on another track, the guitar babe plays wicked slide. Heavily-produced, adult-oriented pop and contemporary R&B exudes on a few numbers such as "Night By Night" and the title track. "Navajo Moon" is an intoxicating instrumental in the vein of Stevie Ray’s "Riviera Paradise." "Fool Proof" is kickin’ and crankin’ with a catchy rhythm that is repetitive. Its backing vocals and vocal harmonies are pure pleasure. Ana reveals her potential to write award winning songs on "Recall The Days." It has an unforgettable melody with the added touch of Reese Wynans’ Hammond organ. Ana Popovic has released her second consecutive strong CD, but it isn’t blues and shouldn’t be packaged as such. When she sings, her thick European accent prevents succinct pronunciation of English words. Since she is on a blues label, the large rock / pop audience may not be aware of her or the strengths displayed on this album. They include: musical growth from her first CD, using her guitar wisely (not for sensation or filler), wide appeal and David Z’s ultra-cool and hip production. Like the sultry photos in the liner, this vixen has got what it takes to turn heads. Her music will stop you in your tracks long enough to remember her name. 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.anapopovic.com.
Canada’s Downchild Blues Band are a musical institution and as authentically Canadian as a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee. They emerged way back in 1969. Now, only Donnie Walsh (harp/guitar/songwriter) survives from the original lineup. More than 25 years after inspiring what became the Blues Brothers, Downchild is still as popular and active as ever. These non-traditional, jump blues specialists have always combined danceable, lovable music with witty lyrics as their defining trademarks. Part of their staple stomping sound is due to the ever-present punchy horn section. The band has been a constant, revolving door for musicians. The 71-minute, 20-track collection of previously-released material, Body Of Work - The Downchild Collection Vol. 2 (Blue Wave Records), features 29 band members but only three covers. Eight of their 12 releases (not including numerous best of’s) are represented spanning 1974 to 1996. With a bedrock blast of the brass from "Bop Til’ I Drop," you know these guys delve out blues to party to. Out of the four featured vocalists, Tony Flaim’s vocals are the most throaty, while Chuck Jackson’s are the most harsh and pensive. Check the latter out on "Wednesday Night Blues," where the ferocious tempo builds in conjunction with the dramatic lyrics. Both boil over at the moment of betrayal. A somewhat traditional blues rhythm exists on "When The Morning Comes" thanks to Gary Kendall’s heavy bass. Here and throughout, Donnie’s cryin’ guitar licks add extra punctuation. "I’m Alone" is a ‘50s rock ballad that teenagers would have grooved to at a high school dance. James Bond meets the country hills on "Where Have You Gone." With a commanding and authoritative voice, Hock Walsh sings "A Talk With My Heart." Pat Carey’s exhilarating sax will have you strutting across the ballroom dance floor on "Last Chance To Dance." The tune’s title is an oxymoron when it comes to the music this ambitious band produces. Shedding light onto what Louis Jordan would have sounded like in the late 20th century, you can’t sit still through this retrospective set of Downchild music. Donnie’s screeching harp and Gene Taylor’s swaggering and wildly swaying piano will push even those with two left feet onto the dance-floor. Although many elements and rhythms exist in their sound, African-American blues is not one of them. With Donnie Walsh as their prime example, Downchild is a complete and equally talented band of stalwarts. No one member has to showboat nor carry the weight of others. Despite the absence of new material, when combined with the first collection that appeared in 2000, this is all the Downchild you’ll ever need. They are perennial favourites in Canada. After listening to this ultra-lively compilation, you’ll understand why. So let your hair down, sing along, be yourself, relax and have a good time because that’s all that matters here. For CDs, booking and information, contact: Blue Wave Records, 3221 Perryville Rd., Baldwinsville, NY 13027 USA, Tel (315) 638-4286, Website: www.bluewaverecords.com, Band’s website: www.downchild.com.
Looking for real blues? I mean low down, dirty blues? One of the best ways to experience this is live in concert. But live recordings don’t always capture the essence of the performance. This is not the case on Snooky Pryor’s first ever live recording called Mojo Ramble (Electro-Fi Records). The 65 minute Delta-rooted disc was recorded at the Blues On The Eastside Benefit Concert in Cambridge, Ontario on November 4, 2001. This Mississippi native doesn’t tour much any more, so those in the audience experienced one of the last surviving pioneers of Chicago blues. Now you can, too! Backed by Mel Brown (guitar) and the Homewreckers: John Lee (keys), Leo Valvassori (bass) and Jim Boudreau (drums), they stomp through eight tracks that range from slow to mid-paced. Half of them were selected from previous E-Fi releases and two are covers. All are authentic, old-style, sweaty blues with Mel’s smooth tone complimenting Snooky’s Chromonic harmonica. Pryor’s heavily weathered voice sounds its best from his recent recordings. The music will move you the most as you’ll find the words and lyrics don’t seem to matter. The 82 year-old gives the band lots of room to jam, with tunes ranging in length from six to nine minutes. On "Dirty Rat," the army veteran encourages the band like he is their personal trainer. With the pride, authority and confidence of a chairman of the board, Mel plucks each note of his solo precisely with a small touch of showmanship. Throughout the disc, he plays succinctly as he isn’t one for sensationalism. The same goes for John Lee, who will likely end up on the Handy and Maple Blues Awards ballots for his bewildering piano / organ performance. Pryor achieves some high notes via his harp’s chords on "Shake My Hand." These notes emit a screeching pitch. For the best example of Snooky’s muscular harp style, listen to "I Learnt My Lesson Well." In the liner Snooky says, "you’ll know when you get the blues, don’t nobody have to tell you." Although well into his senior years, the harmonica wizard wails and sings with so much excitement on "Let Your Hair Down Woman," it sounds like he is going to jump right out of his chair. This song emits the essence of blues music which includes: expressing inner feelings, being unpretentious, outbursts of emotion and painful truth. A video of "Headed South" was filmed for Bravo’s Talkin’ Blues TV program. The video features live footage interspersed with scenes from the deep South. This works well since Snooky & Co. do not exhibit a lot of stage presence. This authentic recording is a pleasure to find amongst a sea of false blues releases that should be classified as rock 'n' roll. Although the songs are too similar and some may be too slow-paced for today’s impatient world, e.g., "It Hurts Me Too," this is post-War (uh, Iraq War that is), electric Chicago blues at its finest. The musicianship is stellar and the production is raw. You won’t hear finer or more authentic blues in a Mississippi juke. Surprisingly, there isn’t a lot of harp to be found. The guitar and keyboards are the prime instruments. Thus, it's just as much a Mel Brown and the Homewreckers CD as it is one for Snooky Pryor. This CD (his strongest E-Fi release) is sure to be a strong contender for best traditional blues album of the year. For CDs, booking and information, write to: Electro-Fi Records, PO Box 191, LaSalle Station, Niagara Falls, NY 14304, Tel (416) 251-3036, E-mail: email@example.com, Website: www.electrofi.com.
--- Tim Holek
Amorata (Metal Mind Productions / Music Video Distributors) is a DVD of a concert filmed and recorded in Poland in 2003. Bassist and vocalist John Wetton gets his best material in this concert from time spent with Asia ("Heat of the Moment," "Sole Survivor") and King Crimson ("Red," "Easy Money," "Starless") from his varied prog rock career. He also uses material recorded with UK ("In the Dead of the Night", "Rendezvous 602"). This is the debut DVD concert release for John Wetton.
Back in the '80s, Candye Kane was a stripper and magazine model with a few X-rated videos to her credit. With a background like that, it may be easy to suppose she would be a novelty act with little to offer musically. However, In Concert (Inakustik / Music Video Distributors) is a 1997 concert that shows Kane to be a bold blues singer with ability and style. Her bold and shameless sense of pansexual fun combined with a disarmingly direct and honest charm makes her the modern Mae West of the jump blues. This swinging concert with the Swingin' Armadillos includes a cover of "These Boots are Made for Walkin'," as well as such fun and overt tunes as "Great Big Woman" and Kane's own "All You Can Eat." Blues, rock and swing have always mixed well with sex. It is her brassy, fun blend of those as well as real singing ability that has kept her post-porn career as a musician alive since her debut in 1993 and on to last year's all-star live recording, Whole Lotta Love (Ruf Records). 1997, when this concert was recorded, is generally seen as a banner year for Candye Kane and the Swingin' Armadillos.
Jay McShann is doing the jump blues sound form on Goin' to Kansas City (Stony Plain), with his piano work aided by rock 'n' roll originator Johnnie Johnson, premier folk pop vocalist Maria Muldaur and contemporary blues guitarist Duke Robillard. The 87-year-old, still active, keeps the Kansas City R&B flame alight on this album, which features Johnnie Johnson with McShann on two barnstormer two-piano tracks: "Kansas City (Revisited)" and "Some Kinda Crazy." McShann's 1941 song "Confessin' The Blues" remains a classic; Muldaur appears to duet with Jay on this song. The album also includes an entertaining and enlightening 18-minute interview with Jay.
The world is full of blues compilations. Even blues compilations that have such songs as "Dust my Broom" and "Stagolee." Heck, I bet many are given away free with a tank of gas. But nowhere else are you going to get the real deal recorded in the field by Alan Lomax himself. By its very nature, and even with digital transfer technology, Blues Songbook (Rounder Records) is a warts-and-all compendium, meaning there is a recording hum behind Pete Johnson doing "Roll 'Em" (1938), and is that a blown jug or over-modulated percussion buzzing on "Kokomo" by The Memphis Jug Band? Who cares what recording imperfections lie on the surface when underneath is such a primary source as Memphis Slim, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Bill Broonzy together doing "Life is Like That" or Mississippi Fred McDowell with Fanny Davis and Mile Pratcher on "Goin' Down the River?" Check out this trio closing out the second disc of this two-disc set --- Leadbelly with Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee doing "How Long Blues." Always generous and complete on documentation, Rounder provides this set with a thick booklet detailing every track, its performers as well as place and time of recording. Featuring previously unreleased Lomax recordings, Blues Songbook includes Son House, Blind Willie McTell, Muddy Waters and more.
For reviewing The Lady Has The Blues (Tomato), I relied heavily on my resident Nina Simone expert, my wife. Both of us agree that blues albums from Simone are the exception rather than the rule for this jazz and pop singer and pianist. That alone makes the recording worthy of taking notice. However, my wife tells me that recordings in her collection of the same songs tend to be of better quality than those found here. Still, this collection offers some real standouts, like "House of the Rising Sun" which really heats up, as well as "See Line Woman." It is also interesting to hear Simone's take on "Please Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." This was one of several Bennie Benjamin numbers Nina recorded for 1964's Broadway-Blues-Ballads (Philips). The pop version recorded by The Animals the following year is better known, but lacks the depth and expressiveness Simone gives the song on this album.
Live '69 (Tomato) is a newly unearthed Albert King concert recording. This king of the classic Texas blues guitarists is in excellent form, both on righteous guitar leads ("Why Are You so Mean to Me?") as well as soulful vocals ("As the Years go Passing by"). Combined with the slow blues ballad "Please Come back to Me," which follows, this is the two-song heart of this six-song live set. The set closes with rocking versions of "Crosscut Saw" and "Personal Manager." Albert King was the bellwether that power blues rock would follow in the next decade. Aside from the rough introduction track, each piece here is worthy of the standout, culminating episode of a later live concert featuring such blues-inspired expressive guitarists as Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page.
Duke Robillard's Exalted Lover (Stony Plain) features the classic Bennie Benjamin-penned heartache ballad "I'll Never be Free," done as a vocal duet with Pam Tillis. Combined with the rootsy Robillard originals "Down Home Country Girl" and the piano-fueled "Real Live Wire," these numbers give the album a nostalgic, blues roots feel. However, the arrangements and recording is crisp and contemporary, perfect for the modern blues fan. The title track has a jazz and blues feel featuring horns and a sultry French narration by Aimée Hill. This is a good song that Robillard really does not have the vocal chops to exalt to its deserved level. In trying too hard, he trips up the album's flow.
--- Tom Schulte
I usually like to listen to a full collection of tunes to truly understand an artist and their musical journey. There are the exceptions. I recently received a CD single from a fairly unknown singer of incredible talent by the name of Monica Dupont. Dupont hails from Oakland and did all her recording in the '80s but just surfaced with re-released material on Hoddyman Records. The CD single features two titles, the slightly upbeat "Meet Me At the Deluxe Inn" and the slower paced "Try to Find Another Man." What makes these songs stand out is the unique vocal style of Dupont. Jazzy in feel but drenched in emotional shades of blues, Dupont just takes you along for a nice musical ride. If interested in Ms. Dupont and other reissues of Oakland blues artists from the '80s you can contact owner Griff Hoddyman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
--- Bruce Coen
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Revised: December 31, 2003 - Version 1.00
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