Blues Bytes

March 1997

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Ann Rabson CDAnn Rabson, on original member of Saffire - The Uppity Blues Women, has now taken her music to another level with her first solo release, Music Makin’ Mama (Alligator). While best known for her piano work with Saffire, Rabson’s vocal skills have matured considerably in the past few years as has her guitar playing. All three of her talents get to shine on this disk. Among the special guests are John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, sister Mimi Rabson on violin, Greg Piccolo, Bob Margolin, and Big Joe Maher. Music Makin’ Mama is bluesier than the normal Saffire material, and contains a mixture of oldtime blues classics and Rabson originals. I really liked the funky Huey "Piano" Smith cover "Baby, Every Once In A While." An excellent album!

Gary Primich CDAustin, Texas-based Gary Primich moves over to Black Top Records for his newest, Company Man. This is a good one. What distinguishes Primich from the countless other harmonica players and singers out there today is that his music comes across as fresh and original, not derivative of every other artist before him. "The Briar Patch" is a smokin’ instrumental, with Primich soloing on the chromatic harmonica. "Ain’t You Trouble" is an entertaining, lighthearted jazzy shuffle. Another strong disk from a great artist.

Blues legend John Lee Hooker, who keeps announcing his retirement, is back in action with Don’t Look Back (Pointblank). As on his other recent albums, this one features a host of big name artists like Van Morrison, Charles Brown, and the members of Los Lobos. Hooker’s sound has now shifted from his hard-driving boogie sound to more of a late night, after hour blues. The presence of Brown and his excellent band provide solid backing, especially on the wonderful "Ain’t No Big Thing." The octogenarian shows he’s still got some spunk by tackling Jimi Hendrix’s "Red House," turning it into a slow blues. This is the best Hooker album in quite some time.

Big Jack JohnsonThe Jelly Roll Kings (Big Jack Johnson, Frank Frost, and Sam Carr) have been playing together for nearly 40 years. Off Yonder Wall (Fat Possum/Capricorn) shows that this veteran Clarksdale, Mississippi trio still has it, as they go through a selection of 10 tunes, highlighted by another version of "Have Mercy Baby," which they also covered on their 1979 Earwig Records album. These guys are the real thing.

Larry Johnson’s 1971 album Fast and Funky was originally released on the Blue Goose label, and is long out of print. Now, thanks to the Baltimore Blues Society, it’s available once more. Fast and Funky is a fine example of East Coast ragtime country blues, and fans of acoustic music will definitely want to add this disk to their collections. Especially nice is Johnson’s own spiritual number "Lordy Good Lord."

Dorothy Moore CDDorothy Moore’s soulful blues song "Misty Blue," released by Malaco Records in 1976, was one of the biggest blues hits of the ‘70s. Nominated for two Grammy awards, "Misty Blue" became a number one R&B and pop hit, and sold over two million copies. Malaco has now released Misty Blue and Other Greatest Hits, a retrospective of Moore’s long recording career. In addition to her big hit, there’s also a version of another big seller, "Funny How Time Slips Away."

A lesser known vocalist in the same style as Moore is Oregon songstress Korla Wygal. Her new CD, Perfectly Korla, shows Wygal to be a very good singer performing a variety of styles ranging from blues, R&B, jazz and pop. I preferred the bluesier songs "Damn Your Eyes" and "Bad Ain’t So Good." I’d now like to hear Wygal tackle a full album of blues tunes.

--- Bill Mitchell

When you think of the blues, what state comes to mind? Why, South Dakota of course. That’s where Scotty Spenner hails from, and where he recorded The First Thing Smokin’ (Grover’s Choir). This 13-song collection of acoustic guitar pieces features numbers written by blues legends ranging from Sonny Boy Williamson ("Frogs For Snakes") to Willie Dixon ("Red Rooster"). But it also includes five originals from Spenner. He’s a versatile musician, handling the steel guitar/slide challenges of Elmore James’ "Bleeding Heart" and "Sunnyland Blues" with aplomb, and has a good voice. These live cuts how an artist enjoying himself, especially on the uptempo numbers like "Diddy Wa Diddy" and his medley of "Deja Vu Rag" and "Slippery Ice Rag." Hot stuff from a cold state!

If you like "over-the-top" slide guitar, you should check out Dave Hole’s Ticket To Chicago (Alligator). This guitar slinger from Perth, Australia is paying homage to the Windy City with his latest CD of 13 original compositions. He’s backed by a rhythm section and horns from Chicago. This is a high-energy set that blisters the strings. Unfortunately, Hole’s vocal ability isn’t a match for his guitar playing.

--- Mark Miller

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