Blues Bytes

January 1997

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Taj Mahal's An Evening Of Acoustic Music (Ruf Records - Germany) was recorded before a live audience in Bremen, Germany in June 1993. While Taj doesn't cover any new territory here, it's always good to have another collection of this wonderful artist's music. The sound quality is excellent, and we get good versions of Taj Mahal standards like "Dust My Broom," "Big Legged Mamas Are Back In Style Again," "Candy Man," "Cake Walk Into Town," and "Ain't Gwine To Whistle Dixie Anymo'." An added treat is provided with the guest accompaniment on several tunes by Howard Johnson, playing tuba and penny whistle. ...a worthy addition to your Taj Mahal collection.

If you look in the dictionary for the term "journeyman of the blues," you're likely to find a picture of Magic Slim. And I mean that in a complimentary way. Slim has been a major part of the Chicago blues scene for over 30 years. While never reaching the stardom of counterparts like Buddy Guy, Junior Wells or Lonnie Brooks, he's released a slew of excellent recordings and always puts on a fine live show. His latest CD, Scufflin' (Blind Pig), is no exception, as Slim leads his band through a dozen examples of raw Chicago blues. The best number here is the title cut, "Scufflin'," a Hound Dog Taylor-influenced original.

As much of a journeyman as Magic Slim is Aron Burton. Like the Son Seals disk reviewed on the Pick Hits page, Aron Burton Live (Earwig) was recorded at Buddy Guy's Legends. Burton is best known for his work as bassist with blues legend Albert Collins, but as you'll hear on this disk he's no slouch as a bandleader. With a solid band consisting of guitarist Michael Dotson, keyboardist Allen Batts, drummer Kenny Smith, and harpist "Mad Dog" Lester Davenport (the highlight of this set are his two vocal numbers), Burton runs through an excellent set of Chicago standards. Liz Mandville Greeson joins the band for several numbers, although I prefer the core band's straightahead gritty Chicago blues.

I really dig it when veteran blues guys who have been out there scrappin' for years finally get a chance to go into the studio. One such artist is Johnny Yard Dog Jones, a Detroit harmonica player/singer who has been playing the blues in the Motor City for the past 25 years. Going back further, Jones got his musical education playing in the Sanctified and Baptist churches with his family group.His new CD, Ain't Gonna Worry (Earwig), shows Jones to be a fine singer and harpist in a pure, unordained Chicago style. One listen to this disk and you'll be wondering why it took a quarter of a century for someone to record him. Jones also gets to solo on guitar on a couple cuts, and shows himself to be a tasteful, although not flashy, guitar player. Otherwise, guitar chores are taken are of by Chicago veteran Johnny B. Moore. Another longtime Chicagoan, Detroit Junior, guests on piano. The spirited "Goin' Home," the final cut on the disk, is the best here.

The Ford brothers have been part of the Northern California blues/rock scene since the early 1970s. While guitarist Robben has since gone on to stardom, drummer Patrick keeps the family band going with a new release by The Ford Blues Band, entitled Ford & Friends (Blue Rock'It). Brothers Robben and Mark and special guests Lowell Fulson, Charlie Musselwhite, Fenton Robinson, Chris Cain, and the late Luther Tucker join the current band on 12 cuts with mixed success. There are some good cuts here as well as some not-so-great ones. The best features Cain doing a Patrick Ford original, "Another Fine Day," which the composer describes as a "happy blues song."

Lil' Ed (formerly of The Blues Imperials) joins forces with former bandmate Dave Weld and his band The Imperial Flames for Keep On Walkin' (Earwig), his first new album in over two years. This disk is quite a departure from Ed's previous "houserockin'" Alligator albums. Actually, the best cuts are the five acoustic numbers; Ed's raw, gruff voice is perfectly suited for that type of blues. Dave handles the vocals on about a third of the tunes, but those numbers don't match up to when Ed is behind the mic. But if you think that there's none of the old houserockin' sound here, you'll be proven wrong when Lil' Ed sings "Let's Boogie Baby."

Spencer Bohren has never gained the recognition he deserves as one of the finer purveyors of traditional blues today. Dirt Roads (Zephyr Records) contains 12 mostly traditional recordings featuring the artist on a variety of stringed instruments, accompanied by buddy Jab Wilson on harmonica. In the liner notes Bohren says, "Recording this album was like putting on an old pair of boots. Very comfortable." You'll feel the same way listening to it.

Another nice traditional CD, although containing more good time blues than the Bohren disk, is by Portland, Oregon artist Terry Robb. Stop This World (Burnside Records) includes guest appearances by Maria Muldaur and Eddy Clearwater. I prefer his two covers of Muddy Waters tunes, "I Want To Be Loved" and the haunting "Feel Like Goin' Home."

Prestige Records has released four more volumes in their continuing series of The Bluesville Years series, including an early 1960s set by Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry. But my favorite of this quartet is Blues Sweet Carolina Blues, with cuts by Pink Anderson, Baby Tate, Sonny Terry, Rev. Gary Davis, Larry Johnson, and Brownie McGhee. Beautiful music.

--- Bill Mitchell

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