Telarc's come up with another anthology concept, drawing from previous and current releases to create a themed collection, Bar Room Blues. This one's supposed to be particularly suitable for bars. It is. You've been to bars. You know what kind of blues sounds best in blues. So does Telarc. This is a good multi-artist teaser that might interest listeners in buying the individual act releases from which these cuts are culled. Many of the label's best players are here -- Tommy Castro, Tab Benoit, Charlie Musselwhite, Kenny Neal, Bob Margolin, Tinsley Ellis and Luther Johnson. Others, living and dead, are also represented here. Buy it for your neighborhood tavern. It will be popular. It won't be as good for personal enjoyment as the complete releases from which the tunes are borrowed, but it will be good. We might as well learn to live with Telarc's anthology addiction. They're a heavy-hitting blues label with a somewhat annoying marketing strategy. The good generally outweighs the bad on these things.
Sisters & Brother (Telarc Records), featuring Eric Bibb, Rory Block, Maria Muldaur, is not an anthology. It's related to an anthology, featuring multiple artists, but they work together on every song instead of separately, so it's a "super session" rather than an anthology. Hard users of blues will know that these three names do unarguably make this a super session. Maria Muldaur is a respected interpreter of torch blues, Rory Block is a devoted rural blues/gospel historian and performer whose familiarity and delivery of Son House material is acknowledged as the world's best. Eric Bibb, in a nutshell, is the black Van Morrison. Putting this trio together in front of a drums/upright bass/keyboard rhythm section guarantees an earthy, fertile synthesis, one as good for the head as for the feet, and very, very good indeed. It's the kind of record that reassures jaded listeners that blues is alive, well and growing. Sound wise, it's that warm, tube-saturated retro approach that the big boys are all trying to wrap themselves in these days. Many readers will be familiar with the film, "O Brother, Where Art Thou," from a couple of years ago, and remember its down-home Mississippi mythos soundtrack. Well, here's a ready-made soundtrack for an "O Brother" sequel. Every song is a highlight. Some remind, some remake, some rebel. If there is a "best" here, it's "Bessie's Advice," in which Maria Muldaur convincingly portrays a woman who's experienced the real, rough, woman's blues in quantity, found her solace and counsel in Bessie Smith, certainly one of the strongest women the blues ever produced, and who's drinking alone in dim candlelight and going over her Bessie Smith catechism.
--- Arthur Shuey
The recordings that consistently excite me are those that sneak outta the blue and blindside me. I’m sure those moments come for all music lovers, irrespective of genre. It doesn’t happen often, but the impact is always long-lasting. Danny Gatton and Ernie Hawkins bowled me over from the first listen. Kinzel & Hyde and Fiona Boyes had that effect last year. Sean ‘Wood Dog’ Hernandez has released such an album in Blues True, Stories Told (Quixotic Records). Stripped bare, acoustic blues guitar and vocals, with the occasional harmonica. No guest artists. No electricity. As Fred McDowell would say, just the sweet and natural blues. The 21 songs that comprise this brilliant recording are mostly done in the Piedmont style by a modern-day itinerant blues master. Hernandez has lived in Chicago and New York, worked a number of day jobs and lived on the streets. He absorbed all the blues he could in Chicago and, according to the brief liner notes, “went back to the country and have not been back since.” Outside of the covers of Blind Blake’s “Rope Stretchin’ Blues” (“I caught a stranger in my house/I busted his head with a club”), Pink Anderson’s “She Knows How To Stretch It,” Jazz Gilliam and Big Bill Broonzy’s “I’m Gonna Get It,” and a couple other obscure covers, the performances are of original material. It is transportive music. It could have been recorded in the 1930s just as well as last week. His original compositions -- “Fishin’ Time” (“when you find the blues starin’ up from your plate each night, it’s fishin’ time”), the wonderful instrumental of “It’s a Shakedown,” “God’s Timin’,” on which he plays guitar and harp together, “She Backs Me Up” (“She ain’t always sweet, she’ll turn on a dime/you mess with me, better watch your behind because she backs me up”), “Young Girl Blues” (“what makes a young girl go around lookin’ like that?”), and “A Tree Grows In My Junkyard” -- are all mini-masterpieces. The guitar playing is absolutely wonderful, the vocals unique and poignant. Fans of acoustic picking will find this to be a big treat. Call (315-287-2852) or email (email@example.com) Quixotic for ordering info.
Based out of Memphis, Di Anne Price combines the sass of Alberta Hunter with the come-on of Jeannie Cheatham on a disc that’s enjoyable top to bottom. Backed by the superb saxophonist Jim Spake, drummer Tom Lonardo and bassist Tim Goodwin, the excellent pianist/singer offers a program steeped in classics on Reekin' With Love (Jazznoid). Think Sippie Wallace and Memphis Minnie. On the opening “Key To The Highway,” she reminds of Ann Rabson, both with her deft touch on the keys and vocally. Her voice is a treasure. Ever so slightly raspy and smoky (if she ever traveled, one might call it road-weary), it lends itself superbly to the bar room quality of the tunes at hand. On “Keep Sittin’ On It,” as classic as the double-entendre form gets (“If I can’t sell it/I’ll keep sitting on it/before I give it away”), she plays magnificent piano. Spake shines here, as well. “If You’re A Viper,” a “hit” for Fats Waller sound-alike Bob Howard more than half a century ago, is a getting’ high song (“I dreamed about a reefer five feet long”) that sidesteps political correctness. Her original, “You Better Help Your New Woman” (“High-tail it out of town/She better not be caught in Memphis/After the sun goes down”) is steeped in that same 1930s style. Her version of Champion Jack Dupree’s “Waitin’ and Drinkin’” is loads of fun, and I’ll bet when she plays “I Want to Be Seduced” live, there are lines of suitors. Other highlights include a bawdy take on the classic Smoky Hogg/Big Bill Broonzy-penned “Too Many Drivers,” a killer version of Jimmy Liggins’ “I Ain’t Drunk, I’m Just Drinkin’” and a bluesy/sexy “Goin’ Down Slow.” The title cut is one of the standouts on the disc, and is the most upbeat with its rolling piano reminding of Jeannie Cheatham a bit. Loads of fun, this one just hates being taken out of the CD player. More info at www.dianneprice.com.
Boston-based vocalist and harper Dave Hannon assembled an all-star team of Dave Specter, one of the finest guitarists in the business, drummer Marty Binder (Coco Montoya, Albert Collins), bassist Harlan Lee Terson (Lonnie Brooks, Jodie Williams, Steve Freund) and pianist Tom West (Susan Tedeschi, Duke Robillard), and took them to Delmark studios. The results on Blues Canon (Damasaca REcords) are largely successful. The opening “LP Hi Fi” (“45 got all the hits/16 just too slow/CD never did it for me/I like that 12” daddy-o”) is an ode to the big black circular things that we used to play. Being a recovering record collector, I can dig it. The territory covered throughout the rest of the disc is familiar, with shuffles mixed in with straight-ahead Chicago grooves. Hannon is a solid song writer and an enthusiastic singer and harp player surrounded by a crew of stellar musicians. Specter shines on “How Long.” West rips it up on the New Orleans-soaked “Telephone.” On “Tears of Blue,” Specter and West both shine and Hannon offers an impressive harp solo. His intro to “Bad Girl” is more impressive. On “Sugar Daddy,” the drumming sets the bluesy mood, and the piano boogie that drives “Little Blue Lies” is superb. The disc is dedicated to Hannon’s late brother Mark, a well-regarded Chicago blues singer who recently passed. I’m sure brother Mark is looking down with a grin ear to ear. The CD is available at www.cdbaby.com/hannon.
Green Bay-based guitarist and vocalist Rockin’ Jimmy Crimmins is a monster player. The opening “Making Such A Fuss,” on Keepin' It Real (Bluzone Records), is as high octane as it gets. Sometimes a blues fan needs to hear some loud in-yer-face kick ass blues. This one sure do fit the ticket. The finesse of the following number, “Footsteps,” with Tom Reynolds’ greasy organ underpinning, offers contrast. Indeed, Crimmins is a dexterous player capable of rock-based blues, straight ahead numbers and the occasional ballad. Throughout, the guitar work is dazzling. There are plenty good guitar players out there, but few with as dazzling a command of the instrument. On “Educated Fool,” he takes the band through a mid-tempo shuffle replete with understated fluid guitar work. Reynolds’ piano work on this cut is wholly impressive, as well. The jazzy ballad of “Baby, Don’t You Leave Me” owes more to his early obsession with players like George Benson, and the closing “Mr. Friendly,” back to that contrast thing, breaks out in a slick jazzy rockin’ instrumental that caps a first-rate set. Again, Reynolds cooks, and the rhythm team of bassist Jim Denk and drummer Craig Panosh set the pace. Rockin’ Jimmy has a series of instructional videos, but it’s gonna take a player with big chops to get close to what he’s laying down. This is hot stuff.
J.B. Lenoir was widely acknowledged as a master blues man, and as the vintage cuts from the early 1950s on The Parrot Sessions (V.I. Music) prove, the mantle was appropriately bestowed. The 13-song collection includes a few rarities, including the previously unreleased “I’m Gonna Die Someday” and an alternate take on “Eisenhower Blues,” which closes the set. Opening with his most popular song, the often covered “Mama, Talk To Your Daughter,” recorded in 1954, there is also a sequel in “Mama, Your Daughter’s Gonna Miss Me,” on which he sings “you can kill my body but you sure can’t kill my love.” The liners (white print on pink background – get those glasses cleaned up) indicate that the personnel on at least “Mama Talk To Your Daughter” and “Eisenhower Blues” was Lorenzo Smith (tenor sax), Joe Montgomery (piano), and Al Galvin (drums). The personnel on the majority of the tunes were Willie Dixon (bass), Ernest Cotton (tenor), Alex Atkins (alto), with Gavin presumably still on drums. It isn’t clear who plays where. “Eisenhower Blues,” also from 1954, was one of the most popular protest songs of the era. The record was actually taken off the shelves due to some well-placed government pressure. Parrot owner Al Benson can be heard introducing the second take on “I’m In Korea’,” to signal the tapes rolling for this other well-known blues protest song. JB was not shy about letting his feelings be known about the state of affairs in the world any more than the state of his love life. “Sittin' Down Thinking,” another of Lenoir’s most popular tunes, with Little Brother Montgomery’s brother Joe playing piano, is a well-paced bit of lovelorn introspection on which he plays his trademark guitar, somewhere between a slow Chuck Berry and one of his inspirations, Big Bill Broonzy. Parrot closed shop in 1956 and Lenoir moved over to Chess for a bit. To these ears, this is where he reached his peak. This was previously released on Relic in 1988, but fell out of print shortly thereafter.
--- Mark E. Gallo
Jimmy Rogers, Muddy Waters’ first rhythm guitarist, and one of the unsung heroes of the Chess Records catalog, has another collection of the songs he cut for Chess in the 1950s in the racks. This collection, titled His Best (MCA/Universal), is indeed that. In 1997, MCA released a double CD set of all of Rogers’ work at Chess, but it also featured several alternate takes of songs, so this is actually a more streamlined set that will be pleasing to both longtime fans or beginners. All of the songs that are identifiable with Rogers are present, including “That’s All Right,” “Ludella,” “Money, Marbles, And Chalk,” “Chicago Bound,” “Sloppy Drunk,” “You’re The One,” and Rogers’ only hit record, “Walking By Myself.” There are 22 tracks in all, and not a bad one in the bunch. Of course, Rogers’ band is an All-Star group in itself, with such Hall of Famers as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann, Henry Gray, Fred Below, Odie Payne, S. P. Leary, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Jody Williams, Mighty Joe Young, and Francis Clay. How could you go wrong with a lineup like that backing you? Despite his reputation as a top sideman, Rogers proves that he was very much his own man with these recordings. He wrote most of his own songs and his warm, relaxed vocal style combined with his immaculate guitar work should have made him a star in his own right. He never became a big star though, but after a decade away from the music he returned to recording and performing in the '70s and showed he had plenty of game left, continuing as an elder statesman of sorts until his death in late 1997. This set is 1950s Chicago blues at its finest, and if you don’t have any Jimmy Rogers in your collection, this is the place to start.
In the world of country blues, Blind Lemon Jefferson has long been recognized as one of the most highly-regarded bluesmen, influencing such Texas legends as Leadbelly, Lightnin' Hopkins, and T-Bone Walker (who, as a child, led Jefferson from bar to bar as he played for tips whenever he visited Dallas). He enjoyed tremendous popularity in the 1920s and was one of the first blues artists to gain popularity as a solo act, accompanied only by his guitar. From around 1925 until his mysterious death in 1929, Jefferson recorded nearly 100 songs, mostly for the Paramount label. He was one of the top sellers of his time, with such songs as "Matchbox Blues," "Black Snake Moan," and "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean." Unfortunately, the records pressed by Paramount at the time were made of the cheapest materials, which affected the sound terribly in most cases, especially for long term listening. Ironically, many of the most renowned bluesmen of the time (Skip James, Charley Patton and Son House being notable examples) recorded for Paramount, so, like Jefferson, their early recordings often require listeners to have tremendous patience. Jefferson's work has been issued on many labels since the late '50s, with the recordings on the Yazoo label probably featuring the best sound, until now. World Arbiter Records, a non-profit label out of New York, has re-produced 26 of Jefferson's classic songs, complete with what might be considered the best transcription of his song lyrics presented thus far. The CD, titled Long Lonesome Blues: Lemon's Text Revealed, is nothing short of a revelation for country blues fans. The label was granted access to the late folklorist Harry Smith's archives; using Sonic Depth Technology, the label has removed much of the annoying static that has marred previous releases, so Jefferson's vocals and deft guitar work are much clearer. However, be advised that there is still some background noise, but anyone who owns an earlier release of Jefferson's songs will notice the improvement immediately. Although "Matchbox Blues" is not on here, listeners will recognize a lot of Jefferson's lyrics as lyrics that were carried over into future songs (such as "C. C. Rider" and "Black Cat Bone"). This is an excellent collection for new and old fans alike. Old fans will want to replace their inferior sounding discs and new fans will be able to appreciate Jefferson much more than previously. Hopefully, World Arbiter will release more Blind Lemon Jefferson tracks in the future, and maybe even tackle some other deserving artists such as Patton or James.
Lightnin' Moe is back with another scorcher, Undercover Lover (Last Buzz). Formerly Lightnin' Moe and His Peach Disturbers, this Danish band's latest release is a keeper. Front man Morten "Lightnin' Moe" Stenbaek, a charismatic singer and harp blower, wrote all the tunes here and his vocals are even more confident this time around, with that soulful swagger that only the best blues vocalist can carry. Guitarist Kasper "Lefty" Vegeberg will really get your attention with his tasty solos and fills, and the rock-solid rhythm section, drummer Tim Lothar Petersen and bassist Peter "The Planet" Dunvad, are outstanding. The songs range from the classic soul sounds of the title cut and "Nobody But You," the loping shuffle of "Someday I'll Be Gone" (hats off to the rhythm section on this track), "Summer Girls," which sounds like a lost track from an old Fabulous Thunderbirds album, the slow blues of "Devil In Disguise" (with some great guitar by Vegeberg), the rocking "Hard Working Man," and the swampy beat of "Low Budget Show Business." All in all, this is a very impressive set of original songs. According to the liner notes, this band has been burning it up on a tour of Northern Europe, and if they make it across the big pond any time soon, they'll do the same here. They're that good! Be on the lookout for this CD at www.lastbuzz.se/order.html. You'll be glad you did.
--- Graham Clarke
I have always looked forward to new Bill Coday releases, Take Me being his sixth for Ecko Records, but I have to say I was not really moved by these last two releases. I loved the Johnnie Taylor tribute on his Memories CD, but was quite surprised with this newest opening track "If Johnnie Were Here Today." It's not a song about Johnnie Taylor, but a song about relationship argument. I kind of felt that it was using Johnnie Taylor's name to try and put over a rather weak song. To compound matters, the track is reprised at the end in its long version, really making this a 35-minute CD. What ever happened to the good old 12 track release. Today's technology allows for 80-minute CDs, so 35 minutes or even 40, if you want to add back the duplicated track, is pretty skimpy timing. Of the better tracks, "It Was A House Until You Made It A Home" is a fine mid-tempo tune with a nice message, and the slower "I Want You" is a rather nice but unmemorable track. The other tracks are run of the mill. As I'm sitting here writing this after just listening to this CD, I cannot for the love of me remember what the other tracks even sounded like. Someone should do the fans of Bill Coday a great favor and reissue the great LP of his great late 1960's Willie Mitchell-produced Crajon/Galaxy releases that came out only in Japan.
It's good to see Lee Shot Williams back with Ecko Records after he left for a release or two on other labels. It seems that Ecko and Lee Shot is a combination that works well every time. Get Down Tonight is his fourth release for this label and perhaps his best. Before I forget, I'd like to recommend a recent release on the French (?) Famous Groove label, covering all his early 45s going back to 1963-1964 for the Federal label and for other labels such as Tchula, Shama, Foxy and Palos released throughout the '60s and early '70s. It includes his early classic "Drop Your Laundry Baby (I Believe I'm In Love)." In 1994 he recorded a CD that was released only in Japan on the Vivid Sound label that was titled A Shot Of Rhythm and Blues. In 1995 he released his second CD, Cold Shot, a set of straight blues on the Black Magic label out of Holland. It was produced by Dick Shurman and was voted the best blues album of 1995 by the Living Blues reader's poll. Since that time, Lee has moved back into the soul/blues vein with these four outings on Ecko. All the tracks on Get Down Tonight are medium or up-tempo, with a mix of several different songwriters and an occasional real musician added to the programmed tracks. "Somebody's Changin' My Sweet Baby's Mind" is an excellent track reminiscent of early Tyrone Davis. It features a nice sax solo by Jim Spake, who plays on many new releases these days. "Give Me All Your Love" is a memorable Marshall Jones/John Ward track that deserves some airplay, as does the "Down Home Blues" sounding "Back Door Lover." A fine new release by this blues veteran and worthy of your attention.
--- Alan Shutro
Underground Highway - Blues Jam, Vol. Two is a commendable compilation from Southern Records Group, presenting unsigned blues acts from around the USA (as well as Australia and Denmark). It gets the best of these hard working blues bands into better circulation than they can achieve on their own and gives the listener a chance to hear the best of local bands from somewhere else. The best known band here is East L.A.'s Delgado Brothers, who present their funky Latin-flavored blues on "Mama's Crying," from their recent A Brother's Dream CD. Two other acts represented here, Atlanta's Delta Moon and Australia solo performer Fiona Boyes, have gained some notoriety in the blues world due to winning the International Blues Challenge. Ms. Boyes' energetic "Devil Says" is one of the highlights of this collection. Another strong offering comes from Oklahoma City guitarist Garrett "Big G" Jacobson, who sounds as much like James Brown as permitted for a white performer; his Jimmy Nolen guitar riffs on "That Funky Thang," the title cut from his indie release are especially effective. The Fremonts, from San Diego, play solid blues on "Ghetto Boogie." Pat Pepin, from Maine, is a strong, sassy female singer, struttin' her stuff on the funky blues of "Left Me Lonely," with good sax accompaniment. Other performers on Underground Highway - Blues Jam, Vol. Two include The Rounders (Oklahoma City), Chef Chris & His Nairobi Trio (Detroit), Watermelon Slim (Oklahoma City), Little Toby Walker (New Jersey), Eric Hughes Band (Memphis), John Earl's Boogieman Band (Las Vegas), Dan Klarskov (Denmark), and Patrick Vining Band (Atlanta).
The Fremonts, mentioned as contributors in the above compilation, are featured on their own full-length disc, No More Doggin'. These cats are a good, basic blues band; nothing real original, but all listenable tunes. Singer "Mighty" Joe Milsap has a deep, throaty voice, reminiscent to that of Sam Myers, although he's a little short in range. The CD starts out a little slow, and you start to crave a little more energy out of the band; it sounds like they were just going through the motions until they caught a collective spark on the best cut, "Ghetto Boogie" (the song selected for the Underground Highway compilation). Troy Sandow pushes the band along with great driving harmonica. Milsap then does his best vocal work on the band original "I've Been Watchin' You," a shuffle that also features Sandow's nice harp work. The band presents a starker sound on Jimmy Reed's mid-tempo classic "High and Lonesome." Closing out the disc is an original instrumental written by guitarist Tony Tomlinson, featuring tasteful jazz guitar work. This album shows a band with potential, but perhaps still not enough zip for a full album.
I've always believed that Mike Morgan & the Crawl never got their due credit as one of the hottest and consistently solid bands from the many blues ensembles coming out of Texas in the last 20 years. They are a hot band to see live, so it's nice to have this latest CD, Live In Dallas (Severn). This set was recorded at Bootlegger's in Dallas during the summer of 2002, and features the four-piece group of Morgan on guitar and vocals, Chris Zalez on guitar and vocals, Rhandy Simmons on bass, and Kevin Schermerhorn on drums. Morgan keeps the energy level at a high level throughout the show, the sound quality is studio quality and they are playing before an enthusiastic, receptive audience of home folks. Morgan, as always, is a great Texas blues guitar player, mixing in a few rock 'n' roll and Louisiana influences along the way, most notably on the ultra-hot "Those Lonely, Lonely Nights." The extended slow blues instrumental "Blues For Al & Peg" is both incendiary and tastefully restrained at the same time. There's a lot of spirit in the classic "Mother-In-Law Blues," on which Morgan's vocals sound a little stronger. Simmons does a nice job of 'beatnik vocals' on the novelty song "The Wino Song (part 1 and 2)." The night ends with an up-tempo version of Jimmy Reed's "Shame, Shame, Shame," which suits Morgan's voice to a T. On that note, it's the vocals on Live In Dallas that knock this album down a notch, as the band is lacking former lead singer Lee McBee's raspy yet incredibly soulful vocals from past albums. I'm sure that Morgan is tired of hearing that comment, but it's like Abbott without Costello ... Gehrig without Ruth ... Sonny without Cher. The Morgan / McBee combination was just plain magic, and it's going to take a while for the rest of us to get used to The Crawl without McBee. But don't let that fact turn you away from this CD ... it's a good, solid set of red hot Texas blues played by one of the best.
--- Bill Mitchell
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