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January 1999

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Bobby Bland

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Lil Ed Williams & Willie Kent

 

What's New

Bobby Blue Bland - Memphis Monday MorningWith Memphis Monday Morning being his 10th release for Malaco, Bobby "Blue" Bland continues along the successful path he has chosen for his last few albums. With Malaco's excellent staff of writers you can always expect songs of quality, with an occasional classic thrown in. The 'Z.Z. Hill Downhome Blues Groove' is quite apparent on the album's second track, "I Don't Want No Kickin' In My Stall," a two-snorter (more on that in a minute), and a great "cheating" song penned by a fine songwriter and soulful singer in his own right, Billy Ray Charles, entitled "There's A Rat Loose In My House." This track is a seven minute six-snorter. Those who have advised Mr. Bland that numerous snorts throughout his songs are attractive have seriously misled him. It becomes almost comical listening to each new release and counting the number of snorts as they appear. I think I stopped counting at about fifteen. In spite of this, Bobby Bland is a national treasure, and each new release anxiously awaited by his legion of fans worldwide. Another soulful ballad is "The Truth Will Set You Free," a throwback to those wonderful 1960's releases on Duke Records. It made me want to put on Two Steps From The Blues, Playboy, and all those classic releases from that golden era in his recording career. Add to that songwriter George Jackson's "Memphis Monday Morning," a nine minute slow cooker that works even at its long length, and Z.Z. Tops's "Lookin' For Some Tush," a track he recorded at his first Malaco session in 1985. Bland is backed by a real band on nine of the ten tracks, and not with the synthesizers and drum programming commonly used on many recent releases. All in all, Memphis Monday Morning is a welcome release. But there's no trophy awarded for this outing.

Every so often you come across a CD that, after you hit the play button, it grabs you and holds your attention. Toni Green's Mixed Emotions (Soul Trax Records) is one of those. I had high expectations when I saw that the producer was Quinton Clauch, who was responsible for so many classic James Carr tracks. Though this release is not at that exhaulted level, it certainly is the equivalent of recent releases by Shirley Brown and Denise LaSalle, two artists this release brings to mind. Mixed Emotions has a better collection of memorable songs than many releases that have passed this way recently, and this is most definitely where Mr. Clauch plays a major role. "Tired of Being Good," "Keeping Up With The Joneses" (also a highlight on the Ollie Nightingale CD reviewed last month),  and the touching "Bare With Me Children (I'm Trying To Get Your Daddy Back)," are all tunes that will stick in your mind. The album closes with a fine blues track, "How Do You Want Your Thrill," one of the many highlights on this classy new release. Recommended for lovers of Southern Soul/Blues. Watch this lady in the future.

--- Alan Shutro

There have been plenty of CDs lately from Chicago blues journeyman and bassist Willie Kent, but I think his latest, Make Room For The Blues (Delmark), is by far his best. Kent's vocals sound so much stronger here, with his resonant baritone voice carrying over the steady Chicago blues sound of the tight backing band. The band is led on most cuts by veteran guitarist Billy Flynn, who especially gets to tear loose on some strong solos on the title cut. Kent's singing is at its best on the opening original "Do You Love Me?" and the slow blues "Teach Me How To Lie," written by Flynn. If, like me, you never get tired of hearing solid Chicago blues, then be sure to pick up a copy of Make Room For The Blues.

Lil Ed Williams and Willie KentFor more of the same good Windy City back alley blues, don't miss Who's Been Talking (Earwig), from Lil Ed Williams & Willie Kent (yeah, him again). Williams and Kent each do vocals on five songs apiece. They're also joined on guitar by the excellent Eddie C. Campbell, who gets to really strut his stuff on the opening title cut. Kent belts out a very nice version of Fenton Robinson's "As The Years Go Passing By." Pianist Allen Batts shines on Lil Ed's original "Going Shopping." Who's Been Talking gets a big "thumbs up" from this reviewer.

I'll never be able to get enough recordings from the great Chicago piano player Sunnyland Slim. With Slim gone now, there can't be too many more unreleased recordings, which makes She Got A Thing Goin' On (Earwig) such a welcome treat. The tunes here were recorded at various sessions throughout the 1970s, and were actually originally released by Sunnyland on his Airway label. These recordings feature guest appearances from three of Chicago's top female singers: Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah, and Zora Young. We also get a few vocal tracks from Sunnyland himself, Kansas City Red, and Floyd Jones. The latter two appearances were unreleased recordings, "Darling, Yes, I Love You" and "Goin' Down Slow," from the 1979 Earwig album Old Friends. I particularly liked Big Time Sarah's boisterous rendition of "Rockin' My Blues Away," with great trombone from Beau Bailey. Ms. Young's best cut is the X-rated "Bus Station Blues" --- not recommended for young ears. This is classic Chicago blues at its best!

It took me a while to get around to listening to the new CD from Mike Henderson & The Bluebloods, Thicker Than Water (Dead Reckoning). Something in the back of my mind told me I didn't like his previous stuff. But I'm glad I finally tossed this sucker into my CD player, because it's pretty darn good. The Bluebloods are one hot quartet, playing primarily funky Southern blues. Henderson kicks off the first number, "Keep What You've Got," a rockin' uptempo thing with some solid harp work. This tune is later punctuated with a fiery piano break from John Jarvis. The best cut is a New Orleans-style "Mr Downchild." Everything comes together well here, especially Jarvis' superb piano work and Henderson's nasally vocals. The original "Angel of Mercy" is another great funky number; it's very noticable that Henderson's voice gets stronger the further you get into the disc. Maybe I now better dig out that earlier CD to see what I thought I didn't like about it. I might again be pleasantly surprised.

Preston Shannon has been playing guitar behind other singers for many years. But based on the showing on his third CD for Bullseye Blues, All In Time, Shannon has secured a well-deserved spot at the front of the bandstand. He's a good, soulful singer and a hot guitarist. I especially like the funky blues sound of "Jail Of Love" and the more R&B/soul sound of "That's The Way I Feel About Cha." Shannon displays his best blues guitar licks on the party song "Cold Beer Good Time." All In Time isn't due out until the beginning of February, so you'll have to wait a few weeks until it goes retail.

I love a good independent release. The accompanying letter from The Screaming Bluedogs (I just love that name!) explained that their self-titled CD was actually released in 1997. But because of the disc's limited distribution, they felt it still qualified as a new release. These young cats must be fun to see in person, because they sure seem to have a blast playing their music. The Screaming Bluedogs play a mix of rough raw blues with a New Orleans twist to it. The slow blues "Winners and Losers" is a nice tune. Singer Marc Suwanski seems to be the star of the band, with his raspy vocals, decent harmonica work, and Professor Longhair-style piano. The latter talent is demonstrated on the raucous instrumental "Shake It, Don't Break It!"

A trio of local Arizona boys, The Top Cats, have also released their own self-produced disc. What started out as a trip to the studio to cut a demo tape resulted in nine strong recordings, including a few creative originals. Guitarist T.C. Dustin is featured on a real good version of "Don't Want No Woman," while Steve Fasano handles the vocals on the original number "Thunderbird Wine." As with many three-piece bands, the sound is a little thin at times, and the vocals are occasionally too far down in the mix. But otherwise, this CD is a promising start for The Top Cats.

Kansas City guitarist Lonnie Ray was captured "live" at one of his performances last year, and the result is a pleasant album entitled Live at BB's. Ray is a hot guitarist in the K.C. style, and he really displays his talent on a version of Louis Jordan's "Caladonia." Bassist Debbie Fugett contributes nice vocals on Memphis Minnie's "Why Don't You Do Right?" As with the Top Cats CD mentioned above, the use of a three-piece band gives the disc a thin sound, but this is still an enjoyable album.

Richard Pryor (no, not that Richard Pryor) is the son of blues harmonica legend Snooky Pryor. "Rip Lee," as he's known around his home territory of Southern Illinois, is attempting to follow in Dad's footsteps. But unfortunately he's not veering away from the senior Mr. Pryor's style at all. Pitch A Boogie Woogie contains 11 numbers, most of them covers of covers of Snooky songs done in basically the identical stye of the originals. While the album is a loving tribute to his father, it invites an unfair comparison to the original classic tunes. Which is a shame, because Rip Lee has some talent. He plays all of the instruments, except for piano, on ten of the 11 songs. I like Bob Pina's piano work on the version of Henry Gray's "Cold Chills." The best cut is a live recording of "Sloppy Drunk," with a full band. Here's hoping that Rip Lee develops his own style, and does a complete album with a full band.

If New Orleans-style swing strikes your fancy, then check out the mostly-instrumental album from Dmitri Resnik, It Ain't Rocket Science, on Rusty Nail Records. Resnik is backed by a good band of fellow New Orleans musicians, with a nice horn section.

--- Bill Mitchell

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