Blues Bytes

January 1998

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Johnny Rawls - Louisiana WomanJohnny Rawls is quickly becoming a hot property in the blues world. In addition to his two recent CDs on JSP, he's also been producing other artists' efforts for the same label. Rawls' latest CD, Louisiana Woman (JSP), is a strong collection of 11 soulful blues tunes, starting out with the uptempo declaration "I Don't Want No Woman Tyin' Me Down." The title cut is dripping with Southern soul, and gives the excellent three-piece horn section a chance to shine. "Can't Nobody" is another soul/blues gem which will have you boppin' your head in time as you listen to it. And if you prefer a straighter blues, "The Blues (Good As Gold)" is a slow, after-hour number featuring Rawls' guitar work. Johnny Rawls is ready to move up to the next level of contemporary blues artists.

Lou Pride - Twisting The KnifeIn the same style as Rawls is another singer with that deep Southern soul sound in Lou Pride. Twisting The Knife (Ichiban) shows Pride to be a good vocalist with decent range and a smooth, silky voice. Unlike some other contemporary blues/soul releases, the accompaniment on this disc doesn't sound canned. Pride comes across best on a couple of numbers which could have come out of the Tyrone Davis songbook, the great title song and "Breaking Up With You (Don't Make It With Me)." Most of the numbers on Twisting The Knife were written by either Pride or producer/saxophonist Bob Greenlee.

Another Ichiban release in the same style is not quite as successful as the Pride CD. But Willie Hill's Leavin' Won't Be Easy is still a decent album. Hill is a pleasant singer, but a little more limited in his range. I'd also like to hear a little more fire in his voice. Hill finally cuts loose on the closing number "Can't Leave Your Love Alone."

Still another artist who straddles the line between blues and soul is Percy Strother, sometimes known as "the Muddy Waters of Minneapolis." Strother's music leans more heavier to the blues side than that of Rawls, Pride, and Hill. It's My Time (JSP) blends straight Chicago blues and '60s soul to make a very palatable album. The assertive sounds on "I'm Doing Fine Without You Baby" and "Don't Let Your So Called Friends Come Between You And Me" best show the artist's soulful side, while "It's My Time Baby" is a snaky blues featuring excellent guitar work by Strother. It's My Time was produced by the aforementioned Rawls.

Pickin' da Blues (Hot Fudge Productions), a compilation of Iowa Blues Bands, shows that there's more to do in that state than watching the corn grow. This latest collection is Voume IV of the series, and appears to be a joint production of Iowa's four blues societies. I once assembled a similar compilation of Arizona bands, and know how hard it is to bring together a wide collection of songs by many diverse artists. The producers have done a good job of mixing and matching the 17 tunes into a cohesive, well-flowing groove. None of the artists are ready to become big international blues stars, but there aren't any embarrassing moments either. The strongest cut is a deep, slow blues by pianist/harmonica player Patrick Hazell ("Blue Blood"). Other nice singers include Effie Burt and J.C. Anderson.

You can hear more of Patrick Hazell's work on Blue Blood (Blue Rhythm Recordings), with 14 songs of mostly acoustic blues piano and harmonica. Besides the title cut, which we heard on the Pickin' da Blues compilation, the best number is the uptempo "Hot Cakes," featuring very good harmonica work by Hazell.

Being released early in '98 is the latest major label release by Lucky Peterson, Move on Verve Records. The former child prodigy's voice has matured over the years, giving it a gravely texture and a bluesier sound. And while he gained his reputation as a keyboard player, it's Peterson's guitar work that has really come on strong over the years. He plays some nice licks on an extended version of "Tin Pan Alley," although at times he gets a little heavy-handed with the effects. "Play Dirty" is a catchy tune with a strong New Orleans beat. Peterson's best guitar work comes on the Albert Collins-influenced instrumental "Pickin'."

--- Bill Mitchell

Big Nick and the Gila MonstersHigh, Wide & Handsome (Monster-Tone Records) is the second release from Phoenix, Arizona faves Big Nick & The Gila Monsters. As good as their debut disc was, this one is even stronger. Although they've lost their keyboardist since the first CD, the sound of the band as a whole is tighter, punchier, and more self-confident. The soulful vocals and harp of frontman John "Big Nick" Samora, together with the Vaughan-ish lead guitar of Mike "El Rey" Lewis, combine with the powerful rhythm team of bassist James Mason and drummer Bobby Whiteshoes for some of the toughest blues in the Southwest. Four of the disc's ten tunes are originals. The five-man horn section from fellow Phoenix band The Groove Merchants helps out of a few tunes, but it's a Gila Monsters show all the way.

--- Lee Poole

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