Scott Bradbury, a.k.a. Badboy Scotty, is a harmonica player/vocalist
from Chicago where he learned his musical craft on the streets. Best
known for his association with Chicago blues great Jimmy Rogers, he also
worked with John Brim, Floyd Jones, Eddie Taylor, and Sam Lay for 25
years, touring the US and Europe. Even without knowing his credentials,
by listening to a set of his music, it's obvious he's hard-working and
dedicated, not a rocker wanna-be. It's time for Bradbury to be leader,
with his own CD, Callin' All
Blues (Teardrop), released in
mid 2004. I have good news and bad news. First the bad: there is a hint
of discomfort, detectible only in the first minute or so of the opening
title cut, as the vocal and drumming don't mesh well with the groove of
the band. For sequencing purposes of an album, the opener should be the
second-strongest of all, with the closer the strongest. Other than that
it pains me to comment that Scott is not a strong or authentic blues
vocalist. But he deserves high marks for tackling this duty with
confidence as frontman. Let us remember the list is long of gifted
musician/leaders who became vocalists out of necessity, and then strong
singers as their careers flowered. Stevie Ray Vaughan, Kim Wilson and
Buddy Guy are three.
With that out of the way, here's the good news. Scott Bradbury's
harmonica playing is superb, reminding me of Charlie Musselwhite's best
earlier recordings. Take that to mean qualities of Big Walter Horton.
Bradbury's vocal in range is comparable to Darryl Nullish. The words
jump out and tell the truth. The production and balance of the recording
is excellent. The taste of the guitar solos by "Tre'" (a regular on the
Chicago scene) are very good, never showy or overdone. At one point he
uses octaves, two-strings in unison, if you will. The rhythm of Frank
Bandy, bass and Marty Binder, drums, cook and anchor the session
Shuffle rhythms seem to dominate for a few until the slow "Life Story,"
then the funky "Be Careful What You Wish For." A slow and jazzy "Things
is perhaps the most relaxed for not just the leader's vocal, but the
entire band. "Light Fuse Get Away" is the only instrumental of the disc,
a jump rhythm, really showing off the caliber of the group, the
harmonica out front hinting toward William Clark.
"Third Eye" is medium/slow, with an attractive, alternative chord
progression on the turnaround just enough to make it stand out. All
selections are originals by Bradbury, with the exception of the closer,
Johnnie Otis' "Country Girl," and as I hoped for, the strongest cut was
indeed saved for last. It feels like Jr. Wells "Snatch It Back" and
rocks with abandon.
I can just imagine seeing Scott Bradbury live. He's holding court at the
apex of the right Saturday night, the band kicks into overdrive fueled
by inspiration. I take advice from the lyrics he's singing: "Come on
let's go baby, let's go out on the town, to the late night spot, where
everybody's gettin' down."
Just like a cup of Tim Horton’s coffee, The Downchild Blues Band is authentically Canadian. They emerged in 1969, and since then, the band has played close to 7500 gigs. Only Donnie Walsh (harp/guitar/songwriter) survives from the original lineup. Many years after inspiring the Blues Brothers, Downchild is as active as ever, celebrating their 35th anniversary. These non-traditional, jump blues specialists have always combined danceable, lovable music with witty lyrics. Part of their staple stomping sound includes a punchy horn section which knows, how and when, to blast effectively. The band has been a constant, revolving door, for more than 75 musicians who benefited from the band as a training ground. The 62-minute, 13 track collection, Come On In (Downchild Music), is their first album of all-new material in seven years. 12 of the tightly arranged songs were written by Walsh while singer/harpist Chuck Jackson contributes one. Instantly, you are attracted to the new songs. The title track is a standard Downchild song that bops, is fun, makes you dance, and has a catchy rhythm. On it, Walsh’s exhilarating slide guitar is steeped in southern blues while Jackson’s deep voice entices you to ("Come on in, out of the blues.") The positive effects of listening to blues is proclaimed on "There’s A Blues Band There." Travel back in time, to those high school gym dances, on "Tonight I Want To Dance With You." "How Long" contains a twirling organ solo plus a joyous alto sax solo. "Cotton In My Ears" showcases Walsh’s mastery of the harp. When you hear their upbeat, lighthearted music, you may be fooled into thinking life has been a wild party for these guys, especially Walsh. This is not so, as "Scars" attests to with a melancholic melody and pensive lyrics like: ("No pain no gain I’ve heard it said / If that were the truth I’d be better off dead.") "Droppin’ Like Flies" is also out of the band’s usual character. It is a song that confronts death with a mysterious and frightening sounding organ. Although the words do not mention the deaths of former band members Jane Vasey, Hock Walsh, Tony Flaim, and John Witmer, these and other tragic casualties are detailed. With an ultra-funky organ, "Now You’re Hooked" sounds like Booker T. & The MG’s. The song is reprised as the instrumental, "Cruisin’," at the disc’s conclusion. Come On In features a few friends the band has made over the years, including Tom Lavin and Pentti Glan. You don’t need to read the credits to know which songs the guests appear on. James Cotton’s wailing harp is instantly recognizable on the independent album’s most bluesy song, "Sad Sad Day." It sounds just like Ivory Joe Hunter’s "I Almost Lost My Mind," and was recorded in 1999 whereas all others were made in 2004. Gene Taylor wildly sways his keys during "Jump Right Up." Jeff Healey lays down heavy guitar licks while David Gogo rocks out on "A Garden In Her Front Yard." The secret ingredient to the band’s enthusiastic sound on this album is Michael Fonfara’s swaggering piano/organ. Like good punctuation, he is always there, filling out the sound by keeping the rhythm and momentum going. This isn’t 12-bar blues, it’s blues-based rock and roll. Walsh’s song writing tends to favour sounds that make you want to dance, laugh, and party. So come on in, listen, have a good time, and relax. Take away your troubles and cares. That’s all that matters to these guys.
Eric Noden's Midwest Blues (Diving Duck) proves acoustic music can be upbeat, and fun. With occasional washboard, harp, and bass support, Noden performs guitar, vocals, and piano. His guitar work is heavily influenced by the Delta masters. Noden emulates the finger-picking styles of his influences, Mississippi John Hurt and Reverend Gary Davis, on a couple covers. The majority of songs were written by himself. "Shelby County Bound," "Cincinnati Flow Rag," and "Key To The Highway" showcases the supreme picker that Noden has become at age 35. His barrelhouse piano shakes on "Take A Chance" and "Chi-town Breakdown." The Latin rhythm on "Black Cat Bone," courtesy of bongos, congas, and guiro, doesn’t fit in with the rest of the vintage album. Ironically, the song has the most commercial appeal. Ohio-born Eric Noden is a solid guitar player who performs country blues that came to the city. On his second release, he exhibits a mastering of the pre-war, acoustic craft.
The Breeze Kings, voted Atlanta’s top blues band four out of the past six years, feature a sound deeply rooted in 1950s Chicago blues, but they also sneak in a healthy helping of Delta blues and R&B into the mix as well. Their recent release, 2003’s You Got To Bring Some To Get Some (Veritone Records), showcases their considerable talents well on 14 tracks that groove from start to finish. There’s plenty of vintage Chicago material here with well-done covers of “Hidden Charms” and “I Love The Life I Live,” along with some very good originals that have that Chicago feel as well, such as “Up The Country,” “Casanova Man,” and “How‘s It Feel To Be Rich.” “Sorry That You Put Me Down” has a Mississippi Hill Country groove to it and “Going To Decatur” has some great Delta type slide guitar. Another notable cover is Charlie Rich’s “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave,” which features a great vocal by charismatic frontman/harpman Carlos “Breeze” Capote. Guitarist Jim Ransone’s fretwork is also a standout, as is the rock-solid rhythm section of Dave Roth on bass (and occasional vocals) and Mark Yarbrough on drums. The disc closes with a smoking rendition of, of all things, “The Pink Panther Theme.” The Breeze Kings are also supported on several tracks by the Gimme Dolla Orchestra. You Got To Bring Some To Get Some is an excellent disc of great blues that should not be missed. Go to www.breezekings.com for purchasing information and for more information on this up-and-coming band.
Ben Harper and the Blind Boys of Alabama first joined forces on the Blind Boys’ last album, Higher Ground. The Blind Boys covered a couple of Harper tunes on their previous release, Spirit of the Century, and Harper contributed to two tracks on Higher Ground. Last year, during Harper’s tour of Europe, the Blind Boys appeared on the last three dates as the opening act. Coming off the tour, it was decided that they would team up again for a couple of tracks on an upcoming Blind Boys album, but the couple of tracks snowballed into a full session, then into two sessions, then into a full-blown album, There Will Be A Light (Virgin Records). The album has the feel of a loose, relaxed session where the musicians are obviously playing music that they enjoy. Harper wrote seven of the 11 tracks and provides the lead vocals on all the tracks, with the Blind Boys lending stellar support. The opener, “Take My Hand,” has a Memphis groove with some nifty keyboard work. “Wicked Man” is another great track and would be a smooth fit on an Allman Brothers disc. The interplay between Harper’s and the Blind Boys’ vocals is just incredible and is in full display on songs like “Church House Steps,” “Mother Pray,“ and “Church On Time.” Harper’s band provides sympathetic backing. I was not familiar with a lot of Harper’s music before listening to this disc, but I plan to become more familiar with it soon. This disc is highly recommended to all and hopefully these two entities will team up again soon.
--- Graham Clarke
Fuel 2000 has out a trio of recordings by bands from the classic rock era back together in reunion form for new recordings. First up is The Hollies' Reunion, complete with Graham Nash and Allan Clarke from a 1983 tour. The keyboard does not sound too hot in this live event concert recording, but The Hollies basically keeps to its strength as a vocal group and sticking the original formula does well with such highpoints as "Look Through Any Window" and "Teach Your Children." The Wet Willie Band also goes for a live document with High Humidity. The funky rock band here led by guitarist/vocalist Ric Seymour does not disappoint. With a prominent horn section, this excellent album delivers on such songs as "Grits Ain't Groceries" and the risqué "Babyfat." With an approach not unlike The Ventures, Vanilla Fudge entertained with psychedelic sludge renditions of pop hits. On Then and Now the group ups the ante by not only sampling the era of its own prominence ("You Keep Me Hangin' On" and Marvin Gaye's "Ain't that Peculiar") but also having more or less success with more contemporary targets. The group uses "Tearin' up my Heart" ('NSync) and "I Want it that Way" (Backstreet Boys) as a canvas to paint its hard rock pictures. The powerhouse drumming of Carmine Appice makes this a pretty solid record overall, but the rap treatment of the Appice co-authored "Da Ya Think I'm Sexy?" is misguided.
The New Guitar Summit CD (Stony Plain Records) from the combination of Jay Geils, Duke Robillard and Gerry Beaudoin is a cool, hip CD to put on in nearly any setting. The swinging blues album will be impressive to your grandmother that lindy hopped with "our braves boys" at WWII USO events and will also work with your young friends that went through punk rock and then transformed into neo-swing and are now ready for the jazz blues on this excellent CD. The mix is mostly instrumentals from the guitar trio with a few songs thrown in for variety and good measure. Light and bouncy, this is an uplifting, feel good album with hour of listening enjoyment contained therein. This is a great meeting of friends and comrades that are also a veteran blues rock guitarist (Geils), a contemporary blues guitarist (Robillard) and a trained jazz guitarist (Beaudoin). Stony Plain has also released a DVD of the trio, entitled New Guitar Summit: Live at Stoneham Theatre. While the guys are snappily addressed, it is hard to find what the visual plus is to the DVD. Seeing as the "Swing with Dr. Jake" is a video on the CD, there is not much to add to what they are like live from track to track. The real difference and reason for having both formats is the facts the two recordings do not cover the same songs. The DVD has fewer but has some not on the CD: "Broadway," "Flying Home" and "Lonely Boy Blues." "Lonely Boy Blues" is a standout vocal Jay McShann number sung, with extemporaneous Jimmy Witherspoon visitation, by Duke Robillard. Also, the DVD has an excellent group interview that tells how it all came together and the group explains each song and why it is on the DVD.
NRBQ self-releases the Dummy CD (Edisun) while celebrating its 35th anniversary. Putting the CD next to the DVD One in a Million (Creem/MVD) shows two different sides of the diverse band that has become a musician's band and garnered praise from Hendrix, Paul McCartney, REM, Iggy Pop and more. Admittedly, some of the sound seems dated. ("Call of the Wild" could be from the Huey Lewis and the News soundtrack. "Imaginary Radio" could be classic Elvis Costello). The charm of this band on record is part of that. And, talk about catchy. There are choruses here you will be humming instantly and for a long time. It seems a miniature music box containing the joys of pop rock and underground rock from The Fleshtones to The Pretenders. Breaking out of the pop rock topic mold for such lowbrow, punkish topics as those on "Do the Primal Thing," "Hey Punkin Head" and the title track just adds to the cultish appeal. Combine that with excellent production and technical ability and you have a record that will win narrow but zealous appeal. Also, this is one you can enjoy again and again. The DVD has a bonus video of "Dummy," featuring exclusively the lifelike ventriloquist dummy representations of the band featured on the CD cover art. The rest of the DVD is a hard rock performance by the band from 1989. It is a quintessential rocking show. I can just picture some movie filmmakers mulling over how to place a hard rock concert scene in their movie and make it so "with just a few seconds of footage the movie viewer will know the scene takes place at a kick ass rock 'n' roll show." A normally quiet production assistant increases the angle of his career's ascent as soon as he utters: "I know what we need, just a few frames from the NRBQ One in a Million DVD!"
--- Tom Schulte
This Is The Blues Harmonica, Vol.2 (Delmark) is a fine collection of Chicago-style blues harp from the archives from one of the premier blues labels. Included are selections from both historic and contemporary artists. What's impressive with this compilation is that the contributions from the younger harp players, such as Mark Hummel ("I Got My Brand On You") and Tad Robinson ("Coming Home") hold up well next to the masters of the genre, such as Junior Wells ("Tomorrow Night"), Little Walter ("Rollin' & Tumblin' Pt.2") and Big Walter Horton ("Back Home To Mama"). Most cuts were previously released on earlier Delmark albums, although there are three previously unreleased cuts that make this disc a "must have" for harp freaks: a Sleepy John Estes / Hammie Nixon number, "Love Grows In Your Heart," Carey Bell's "Carey's Rhumba," and one from the very obscure Walto Pace ("Fox Chase / Lost John"). Other performers on this CD are Shakey Jake, "Mad Dog" Lester Davenport, Louis Myers, Alfred "Blues King" Harris, Little Sammy Davis, Little Mack Simmons, Big Wheeler and Eddie Burns.
Philadelphia-area jump blues band Melissa Martin and the Mighty Rhythm Kings has the retro-swing formula down right on their independent CD On The Mark (self-released). In one respect, they are indistinguishable from many other similar bands around the world ... a comely lead singer, band members dressed in dark suits, and a catalog of material right out of the 1940s. The players are all decent, although none of them spectacular instrumentalists, and Martin is a nice singer with a style somewhat reminiscent of Big Mama Thornton. She acquits herself well on the Louis Jordan standard "I Want You To Be My Baby," firing out the lines with machine gun efficiency; Paul Matecki provides strong piano accompaniment here. Matecki is the featured vocalist on a strong cover of Wynonie Harris' "Lovin' Machine." The Mighty Rhythm Kings don't stray far from the original versions of the 11 numbers on On Mark, but that doesn't mean they won't take you on a fun ride. I'm sure they're a great band to see in person.
Fans of Chicago favorites Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials, not to mention all lovers of back alley, west side Chicago blues, owe it to themselves to check out Stompin' At Mother Blues (Delmark), containing great recordings from Lil' Ed's uncle and mentor, J.B. Hutto. Most of the cuts were recorded in 1966 at the Chicago blues club Mother Blues, albeit not in front of a live audience, and nearly all of these recordings have not been previously released. Another six cuts were taken from a 1972 session, including alternate takes from some of the songs recorded in 1966. This is "no holds barred, balls to the wall" blues, with enough excellent slide guitar to meet your minimum daily requirement for the next year. Having seen Hutto perform on several occasions in the latter stages of his career, I can say without any hesitation that this cat was a great, great showman; that energy comes across on this disc. Especially hot are the Hutto standards "When I Get Drunk," the instrumental "Turner's Rock," and the incendiary "Alcohol Blues." This one's an absolute must!
The completists at Austria's Wolf Records are intent on insuring that every blues recording known to mankind will eventually be released to the public. Chicago's Best West- and Southside Blues Singers, Vol. 2 (Wolf) is now their 60th collection of various Chicago blues sessions. This one covers the period between 1987 and 1995, with songs from Lovie Lee, Foree "Superstar" Montgomery, Larry Taylor, Hip Linkchain, George Baze, Johnny Laws, Eddie Taylor Jr., and Lefty Dizz. The major problem with trying to issue every single known recording is that the quality can fluctuate. There's nothing bad here, but just that it really doesn't blaze any new trails. The highpoints for me were the three cuts from Larry Taylor ("Bad Boy," "My Baby's Gone," "Yes, I Love You"); he brings an energy to his songs that aren't as evident on the rest of the CD. It's all decent Chicago blues, but just not an essential purchase.
--- Bill Mitchell
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