Read Mark Gallo's special section on Detroit
native Michael Burks is best known for winning the Blues
Foundation's Albert King Award. Never has an award seemed more appropriate
for its winner. From the first note of Burks' new CD, Make It Rain
(Alligator), it's obvious that King was a big influence vocally and
instrumentally, down to the Flying V Burks is wielding on the cover.
Burks' first release, From The Inside Out, was a fine CD, but
suffered from limited distribution. (There may be a few still floating
around out there on Vent Records. Find it, if you can. It's worth the
hunt.). Luckily for blues fans everywhere, Alligator signed Burks,
paired him with noted producer Jim Gaines (Luther Allison, Santana, Lonnie
Brooks), former Allison bandmates Steve Potts (drums), Earnest Williamson
(keyboards), and David Smith (bass), along with Katie Webster sideman
Vasti Jackson. The result is a blistering set of blues that could be as
good a CD as you'll hear this year. Burks really stands out on guitar, as
he plays with intensity unmatched by few since, well, Albert King. His
gritty, but soulful vocals (particularly on the gospel-shaded "What
Can A Man Do?" and "Don't Let This Be a Dream") are just
the right mix for his high-energy guitar. Song selection is uniformly fine
and the standouts, in addition to the two previously mentioned, are
"Hit the Ground Running," "Got A Way With Women,"
"Beggin' Business," and the closer, "Voodoo Spell." The
best song is Burks' tribute to King, "Everybody's Got Their Hand
Out," which should be a contender for Blues Song of The Year, with
its lyrics about people who want a little extra in exchange for helping
out their fellow man. It sounds like King himself could have recorded it
for Stax. One neat thing about CDs has always been that if you didn't like
a particular song, you could skip to the next one. You won't find yourself
doing that on this disc. All of these songs are keepers. As stated
above, this could easily be one of the best releases of 2001. Thanks to
Alligator Records for, hopefully, exposing Michael Burks to the wider
audience he deserves.
Based in Sacramento, Aaron King and the Imperials, show a strong affinity for the jazzy urban blues that defines the West Coast sound. Their release, Solid (Royal-T Records, distributed by Pacific Blues), is exactly that, a solid mixing of urban blues, jump, and rhythm and blues. The 20-something King is an excellent guitarist mature beyond his years, with traces of Albert Collins and Charlie Baty in his approach. He tackles several covers from different genres (including Otis Rush's "All Your Love," Tony Coleman's "I Didn't Know," "Wahoo," and "Funny How Time Slips Away") and acquits himself very well on all of them with his tasteful, efficient fretwork. In addition, he has a better than average vocal range and handles all the vocals on this CD. The Imperials are a talented bunch who really lock into a groove (check out the title cut) and stay there. For an added bonus, wait a few seconds after the end of the scorching closer, "Bop, Skip, and a Jump," for the hidden track, a cover of Magic Sam's "Give Me Time." Fans of traditional 50s style urban blues will surely appreciate this CD. Remember the name Aaron King, because we should definitely be hearing more from him in the future. This CD can be ordered at www.pacificblues.com.
Swedish bluesman Sven Zetterberg has built a loyal following in his homeland with his tasteful guitar work, harp work, and smooth, expressive vocals. After being the frontman in the Swedish band, Chicago Express for about ten years, Zetterberg struck out on his own in 1996. Over the years he has learned from and played with such greats as Jimmy Rogers and Sunnyland Slim as they passed through Europe while touring (and when Zetterberg visited Chicago). Listening to his latest release, Let Me Get Over It (Last Buzz, distributed by Pacific Blues, www.pacificblues.com), it's apparent that he lists southern soul/blues artists like Bobby Bland, Tyrone Davis, and Z.Z. Hill as influences. It's also apparent that he learned well from all of his influences. Zetterberg and the band Blue Weather recorded 14 tracks over two years, covering such classics as Davis' "Can I Change My Mind" and "Turn Back the Hands of Time," "Take Time to Know Her," "You Name It, I've Had It" (listed here as author unknown, it was done by Willie Walker for Chess), "He's Too Old," and Bob Jones' "Leaning Tree" (first done by Artie "Blues Boy" White). The band is excellent in their interpretations and their work alone almost makes the disc worth purchasing, but this was clearly a labor of love for Zetterberg, as he really does an excellent job on the vocals. Some of his songs, particularly the mournful numbers "Let Me Get Over It" and "You Took Off With My Life," the loping "My Sweetest Touch," and "Dangerous Lonesome Soul" stand up well against the covers. Zetterberg's vocals (no trace of an accent whatsoever) and lead guitar are first-rate, particularly on the slower numbers. On some of the songs, he reminds me of former Wet Willie vocalist Jimmy Hall, with a hint of Delbert McClinton. If you didn't read the liner notes, you would never know he (or the band) was from Scandinavia. If you're one of those people (like I used to be) who think that the blues is exclusively an American item, check out this CD and prepare to be enlightened.
--- Graham Clarke
Give Michael Burks credit. Perhaps because he himself had to wait some 20 years before a label noticed him, when he covers a song, he goes for the obscure, poorly-known artist. It's his way of helping out other starving bluesmen. On his Alligator debut, entitled Make It Rain, he covers songs from Jackie Payne (the lead-off "Hit the Ground Running"), Travis Haddix ("Beggin' Business"), Canadian harp legend King Biscuit Boy ("Mean Old Lady") and even Sven Zetterberg & Chicago Express, a Swedish group (the gospel-like "What Can a Man Do?"), while the title track itself was previously done by Sherman Robertson and Charles Walker. You won't get any Albert King or Luther Allison or Muddy Waters songs here, though at times this powerful guitarist and emotional singer may remind you of them. (Actually, the Muddy reference is only apparent on the final song, the solo "Voodoo Spell," which recalls some early Muddy hit - is it "Still a Fool" or "Rollin' Stone?"). The Luther Allison analogy is not accidental; the producer, Jim Gaines, and musicians Ernest Williamson (keyboards), David Smith (bass) and Steve Potts (drums) have all been associated with Allison (and/or James Solberg), and indeed musically there are many moments where Make It Rain is related to latter-day Allison records like Reckless. Where there is a marked difference between Burks and Allison, it's in their singing voice. Burks has a relatively big voice, though he rarely sounds like he's confident enough to really push it (a definite exception being the title track). Instead, you often get the impression that Burks is the only person in the world to doubt his voice, which makes it somehow sound strong and restrained at the same time, almost shy … kind of like Albert King, I guess. (Listen to "Everybody's Got Their Hand Out" and you'll see what I mean). But enough with the similarities, lest you think Michael Burks is merely a copycat, which I don't think he is. But it would have helped him somewhat to establish a stronger individuality if co-producers Jim Gaines and Bruce Iglauer had not tried so hard to replicate the (very successful) recipe they used with Luther Allison. So, is this a good record? Yes, it is, with every musician giving an absolutely top-notch performance, and some tracks are in fact downright excellent, like the previously mentioned "Voodoo Spell" and the title track, or the slow churchy "Got a Way with Women" ... "He sure got a way with women/He got away with mine…"). It's just that I cannot help but feel that this CD would have been even better with fresher ideas.
I've never seen Elvin Bishop perform live; I was too young to experience the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and anyway I didn't know who Elvin Bishop was when he was at the peak of his popularity in the
70s. In recent months, though, I've gotten a healthy dose of live Bishop on disk. Reviewed here in
October 2000, That's My Partner brought us not only Bishop, but also his mentor Smokey Smothers, as they performed a recent set in San Francisco. Last month, I also happened to purchase
The Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Tour, a 1993 release (I know, I know, I'm a bit late) that features Elvin Bishop, among other Alligator artists, recorded in early 1992. And now I am lucky enough to hear, 25 years later, what Bishop sounded like when he was a rock
star. King Biscuit Flower Hour Presents Elvin Bishop (King Biscuit Records) is not just a window to the past, it's also a fantastic live album with almost perfect sound (save for a couple of instances of ear-stinging feedback). Recorded in April 1976 in Sacramento when Bishop was a Capricorn recording artist, this gig was broadcast on the King Biscuit radio program. Besides the funky bass (Fly Brooks is quite amazing), the soulful vocals
(Leni Slais and Mickey Thomas are the back-up singers, the latter also singing lead vocals on the then-current hit "Fooled Around and Fell in Love"),
and the excellent dual-guitar work of Bishop and Johnny V, if there's one thing you can definitely hear on this CD, it's the tremendous fun everyone was having that night. Through
11 songs and 74 minutes of excitement, the listener is invited to a real party (let's hope this evening was
videotaped!). Interestingly, even though Bishop was at the time associated with the Southern rock thing, the material on this album is not very different from what he now does as a blues artist with Alligator. In fact, the major difference, besides an understandable tendency to stretch the jams a little too long, is the stronger, funkier groove-oriented rendition of these songs. Simply put, and without putting down his more recent live recordings mentioned above, this is the live Elvin Bishop record you want if you need to start uncontrollably nodding your head and tapping your feet.
There is no other band that fuses soul and R&B and gospel and blues influences quite like
The Holmes Brothers. For their first record on Alligator (in Canada, with only minor differences in the type-setting, this album appears on the Stony Plain label), called
Speaking in Tongues, this New York-based trio is helped by the production team of Joan Osborne (producing and singing back-up) and expert engineer Trina Shoemaker. It is a crisp-sounding record, making use of some (unobtrusive) rhythm loops to heighten the already red-hot energy level generated by one of the best rhythm sections in the business. Though musically its mix of R&B and funk and blues and gospel beats is somewhat similar to that found on other Holmes Brothers records,
Speaking in Tongues differs from the rest by virtue of its emphasis on religious themes. Even the secular material shows strong spiritual
beliefs. The soulful "Love Train" calls for all peoples of the world to unite, while Bob Dylan's "Man of Peace" repeatedly warns that
"... sometimes Satan comes as a man of peace..." But then again, we find
four song titles containing the word "Jesus," a cover of Sister Rosetta Tharpe's "Can't No Grave Hold My Body
Down," and three Ben Harper tunes (all from 1997's The Will to
Live) that show his religious side (no "Burn One Down" here). All in all, this is the most spiritual record ever from The Holmes Brothers. (A note, and maybe an explanation: the CD is dedicated to Sherman Holmes, Sr.). It is also, probably as a consequence of this, a very joyful and happy-sounding record. It helps that most of the time the songs are so funky your shoes start to dance by
themselves. But the overall message in itself, uplifting and confident, cannot be
ignored --- we are not alone, and "King Jesus Will Roll All Burdens
Away," as Wendell Holmes sings with utmost conviction. (Wendell sings half the songs, while Popsy Dixon and Sherman Holmes share the rest of the lead vocals
duties). All in all, a very upbeat record (in more than one way) that is sure to chase the blues away.
--- Benoît Brière
One of the joys of reviewing new releases is finding one like Guilty Of Loving You (Bob Grady Records). Oscar Toney Jr. is one of my all time favorite deep soul artists and a legend among the admirers of James Carr, Spencer Wiggins and Southern Soul. In February 1999 I reviewed the wonderful reissue of his 60s material on Westside Records. In the 70s he cut some sides in England, but since then we have not had any new recordings ... until now, that is. Recorded and produced in Atlanta by Bryan Cole, Edd Miller and Jimmy O'Neill (who were responsible for Francine Reed's excellent Shades Of Blue CD) with a true knowledge of what deep soul is all about. After marveling over Oscar's incredible voice, the next things you notice are the REAL musicians and excellent production. The album opens on an upbeat note with the excellent "Back In You Arms." By the time you get to the remake of Eddie Floyd's Stax hit "California Girl," with an excellent vocal guest in Wilson Meadows, you realize that something special is going on. But wait....the best is yet to come. The title track of the CD, "Guilty Of Loving You," is deep soul heaven. Oscar's own song "I'm Sorry" takes this release to an even higher level. I understand it is the first single released off this CD. Some other excellent songwriting by the veterans Chuck Armstrong and Dave Williams keep the quality of songs at a level that leaves this release with no throw away cuts. How many new releases can that be said for? A special thanks goes out to Bob Grady who believed in Oscar and knew how wonderful his voice still is. This release is without a doubt my number one of 2001 and it is unlikely that it will be topped for quite some time. Five deep bows to Oscar Toney Jr. for an unparalleled effort.
One of the unique facets of soul and R&B music has been the answer song. In a previous review I mentioned Shirley Brown's "Woman To Woman" as being one of the songs answered many times. In recent years Peggy Scott-Adams' song "Bill" had at least a half dozen answer songs released in just a few months after her initial release. This is not a new phenomenon, as even back in the late fifties Smokey Robinson & The Miracles answered The Silhouettes do-wop classic "Get A Job" with their own "Got A Job." That brings us to this fine new release by Quinn Golden, A Little Sumpin' Sumpin' (Ecko). The connection to the music just mentioned is that Golden answers the latest song to have numerous replies, Ronnie Lovejoy's "It Sho Wasn't Me" (also discussed in a previous review). In this new release, his third for Ecko and his finest by a long margin, his answer is "I'm Gonna Be A Man About It," where he finally admits his guilt to cheating on his woman. This is a great song with a catchy hook and the one that stands out above the rest. But the title song and the album opener, " I Was Cheating On You," are both excellent, too. If the Quinn Golden Show comes to your town, catch this seasoned veteran, as I know it will be enjoyable. This is a release that will appeal to lovers of Contemporary Southern Soul.
--- Alan Shutro
Eric Clapton's first solo effort, Reptile
(Warner Brothers), since the success of Riding with the King is something of an amalgam. Take one part from that album, add one part of
From the Cradle, throw in a dash of Pilgrim and you'll have a good idea of the sound on
Reptile. The overall mood is laid back and relaxed. Clapton starts and ends the album with original instrumentals: the Latin tinged "Reptile" starts off the record, while the beautiful "Son &
Sylvia," a tribute to his late uncle closes out the set. In between, Clapton puts together some solid covers. On the laid back "Got you on my
Mind," JJ Cale's quirky "Travelin' Light," the slow blues of "Come Back Baby and "I
Want A Little Girl," and James Taylor's "Don't Let Me Be Lonely
Tonight," Clapton sounds in fine form. His voice has never been better, his playing relaxed, with the Impressions sweet background vocals. The originals are more of a mixed bag. "Superman Inside" is the only rocker on the album, a solid collaboration between Clapton and Doyle Bramhall II. Clapton's "Believe in Life" has much in common with the hit "Change the
World," and includes some of the worst lyrics Clapton has written. "Find Myself" is
a decent slow shuffle, with good piano work by Billy Preston. "Second Nature" is a Clapton/Simon Clime original that could be an out take from
Pilgrim. Overall, Clapton has crafted a bit of a disjointed album. The bluesy covers are the definite highlights of the set, especially Ray Charles' "Come Back
Baby." The originals are likely more a matter of taste. If you liked the Clapton of
From the Cradle and Pilgrim, you will enjoy every bit of this record.
Greatest Hits, Vol. One: The Duke Recordings (MCA) is a compilation of the best of
Bobby "Blue" Bland's 1957-1969 hits. Bland is one the few blues greats who does not play an
instrument, nor has he ever crossed over into rock. Just sweet, perfect slow blues and ballads with simple R&B backing. There are no bad songs
here ... Bland can make any song sound great. Of particular note are his fantastic versions of "Farther
Up The Road" and "Stormy Monday Blues," both with great guitar work by the backing band. But it is Bland's voice that stars here, and makes this a great introduction to the work of a master.
--- Joseph Sherman
I knew some while ago that the CD, Sitting In (Crying Tone Records)
from Blind Dog Smokin' with Miss Blues, was on the way, and I had been waiting for it, hoping it would be as good as the promises...........it's better!
15 seconds into the first track I thought I'd left a window open --- it was like the temperature had dropped by 10 degrees and I had goosebumps. That's just what Dorothy Ellis (Miss Blues) can do to you with her voice.
The question that I want answered is this ... Why the hell has it taken 54 years of singing professionally for this woman to get her voice recorded? It's a tragedy that there aren't dozens of CDs featuring Dorothy Ellis
in every blues lover's collection. She should be recorded with every great blues band that exists.
Having said all that, Wyoming-based Blind Dog Smokin' certainly do her justice on this album, giving her some great support.
I read an article somewhere by Carl Gustafson where he describes Miss Blues' voice as being like a locomotive coming through a tunnel.
I honestly can't think of a better metaphor to beat this --- he got it right first time.
This woman can cover everything from a junkyard dog growl upwards. After hearing her low notes, you can't imagine how she gets up to the high ones, and she makes it sound easy. This is Texas shouting as it should be, not a cheap imitation.
The album mixes original songs written by Miss Blues with tracks by Earl Hines
and Billy Eckstine, Memphis Minnie, James Oden and Carl Gustafson, and there are some real masterpieces here.
A couple of tracks aren't to my personal taste, but friends that I played the CD to loved them, so I guess there's something for everyone.
For me, the first and last tracks really stand out: James Oden's "Going Down Slow" is a particular favourite of mine anyway (I've been treated to two good versions of it this month) and it opens this CD. This is the one that gave me
goosebumps and I had to struggle to get past it, I just wanted to keep playing it over and
over. The guitar and harmonica work here are just superb, the vocals out of this world.
The closing track is a Dorothy Ellis original called "Cold
Mountains," and it winds down nicely to leave you just wanting more. In between you can find "More
Jelly," "Black Rat," and five other tracks. No blues collection is complete without this CD. If you haven't heard of Dorothy Ellis, then buy this CD and open your mind. The woman will leave you breathless.
At last, the long awaited CD from Albuquerque guitar maestro Stan Hirsch is available. Entitled No Room To Reason, the CD features 13 original tracks, all written by Stan, and all good. This is acoustic blues at its best, and the CD is available direct from Stan and can be ordered from his web site at www.cdbaby.com/cd/stanhirsch. Stan is clearly his own man, but he lets the influences of his roots shine through loud and clear --- influences like John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt, Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters. This album could almost be a tribute to these luminaries, even though it is so original, with Stan taking the influences of 50 years ago, and more, forward to the present time. There's a nicely balanced mix of different tempos here, "something for everyone," to quote a much used cliché, and this man's talent on the guitar is obvious. It's easy to see why Stan Hirsch has won awards, and had praised heaped upon him, for his guitar playing. His songwriting is up there too. I absolutely loved track six, "Toss, Turn, Cry Your Name" --- it's almost as though John Hurt had come back to life. This track has a lovely, gentle feel to it, and lyrics that could have been written by Hurt himself. Just when I thought that I'd nominate that track as my favourite, I had to re-think and consider "Slow Down Satan." But then I kept playing "I Play It All The Time" (what an appropriate title!), which is pure 1950s Hooker. In fact I think Stan should send this one to the great John Lee for him to listen to and maybe play himself. This CD deserves to be in the collection of everyone who loves acoustic blues, as much for the lyric content as for the guitar playing. It's one I'll be playing for a long, long time.
--- Terry Clear
Joe Beard is not your average flashy blues guitar warrior by any means. He tends to favor tone and melody over speed, with his sound rooted squarely in the mid 50s to early 60s of Chicago. His latest album Dealin' (Audioquest) is a prime example of this. Offering up 13 tracks that are equally divided between originals and great covers of a few tunes that might not be all that familiar to most folks, Dealin' will appeal to anyone with a taste for traditional Chicago blues regardless of familiarity. Backing Beard is the same solid lineup from his last release, For Real. Duke Robillard (who is showing up on everyone’s recordings lately) trades off a few riffs and licks with Joe, the harp mastery of Jerry Portnoy is present on six numbers, tickling the black and whites is Bruce Katz, with Rod Carey and Per Hanson on bass and drums. Joe and company tend to burn the house down on the well-chosen covers such as Muddy Waters' "My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble," which has Joe’s slightly nasal but soul-drenched vocals taking center stage, while his rolling guitar style is at the forefront of a very unusually arranged (and possibly mis-titled) version of “You Don’t Love Me Anymore." Jerry Portnoy tears loose with a smoldering blast of harp magic on the stomping "Just Like A Fish" and Al Smith’s "Give Up And Let Me Go." In the originals department Beard proves himself to be quite the accomplished songwriter. "Life Without Parole" is a mellow groovefest featuring the swirling B3 work of Bruce Katz and a hot solo from Joe himself. The heartaches of weekend romances are inspected on "Three Day Love Affair," with the singer stating his frustration with the whole situation on the following tune, "Making A Fool Out Of Me," serving as a sequel of sorts. The album’s closer, the moody "If I Get Lucky," is just the man and his guitar and might bring to mind singular efforts in the vein of Lightnin’ Hopkins or John Lee Hooker. Joe Beard is a very talented guitarist and fine vocalist that got a late start on his professional musical career in lieu of raising his family, but is making up for lost time. More than likely Dealin’ will be overlooked in favor of splashier "marquee name" releases this year, but is a palatable album that is flawless in performance and production, and would make a welcome addition to any collection.
When you put two great talents together in a recording studio the resulting product is sometimes good and sometimes bad. Sometimes they are so exceptional that your jaw sort of just hangs open like a nutcracker off of its hinges. Such is the case of the appropriately titled release from Kenny "Blue" Ray, Soulful Blues (Tone King), featuring the captivating vocal talents of the great Jackie Payne. Both of these guys bring a list of musical accomplishments to this album that reads like a who's who of the blues and r&b world. As a guitar player Kenny is severely under appreciated in commercial circles, but is held in the utmost regard by his peers, having released a dozen albums in the past seven years, recorded with Stevie Ray Vaughn and Marcia Ball in addition to appearing on over 40 or so albums and CDs. Ray is well versed in just about every style of blues, and brings a stylistic freshness and purity to all of his endeavors. What can you say about Jackie Payne that hasn’t been said before? He has performed or recorded with just about everyone, but is probably most well known for his work with Johnny Otis. I have yet to hear a blues/r&b singer that puts more emotional intensity or feeling into his work than this man. If you're looking for originals here, forget it, because this album is 11 covers of very recognizable tunes. Cutting right to the chase with the best number, Hendrix’s "Voodoo Chile," presented here as bluesy grind with Payne’s growling vocals augmented by Kenny's stinging licks in all the right places. The Hendrix and Vaughn versions are classic recordings, but this version just plain blows them right out of the water. Howlin’ Wolf’s woeful tale of abandonment due to someone “Who's Been Talkin” is heart wrenching blues at its best, followed by the easy to identify classic "Blue Monday." Ray’s mellow side blossoms on T-Bone Walker's "Mean Old World," with Jackie's vocals sounding like he is expressing a personal issue at times, which only goes to prove what a totally convincing singer this cat is. "A Man Needs His Loving," Earl King's shuffling anthem to man's primal instincts, opens this elegant collection with an energetic blast courtesy of Carl Green on sax and John Middleton on trumpet, with the principals wailing right along with them. Respects are paid to both Albert King, with a stunning cover of "Lonesome," and to Albert Collins with the album's only instrumental piece, "Hot And Cold," which gives the band some leg room to stretch out. This is one of those albums that grabs your ear on the first listen and just gets better with every repeated playing. Both guys turn in first class performances, with no weak spots to be found anywhere and a continuous flow to the music that leaves you wanting more. "Soulful Blues" is quite possibly one of the best albums you'll hear this year. If I may be allowed to borrow somewhat from a quote in the liner notes.... "If you can't dig this album then you must have a hole in your soul." Ray's album is available from his web site.
As a writer of CD reviews a lot of independent releases get sent my way. Some of them, to be perfectly honest, are just plain awful for one reason or another. But every so often I receive one that I feel the need to crow about. So crow indeed I will over Kimberly "KC" Allison's Old, New, Borrowed And Blues (Starliner), a masterfully self-produced album from a very versatile guitarist who should be ranked right up there with the likes of Coleman, Davis and Foley. Now that's not to sound sexist, but the fact of the matter is that unfortunately our society still discriminates when it comes to male and female musicians (especially guitar players) . This lady is as good, if not better than, some of her male counterparts. Originally from the Kansas City area, Kimberly graduated with a degree in jazz guitar from USC and now makes Southern California her home. Ms. Allison's style is one that can best be called eclectic, blending the grittiness of Albert Collins, the stinging sweetness of B.B. King and the melodic jazziness of Kenny Burrell or Joe Pass. The ten tunes are evenly divided between covers and originals at five apiece, with an original jazzy shuffle "Grill You Own" starting things off that quickly establishes her own unique signature. Providing vocals and keyboards to the slow blues of "Open House At My House" and Jimmy McCracklin's "Got To Know" is a forty year veteran of the Los Angeles blues scene, "Mister Blues" Leshun, who also adds his remarkable talents to the strolling bop of "Next Time You See Me." The covers chosen for this superlative album are quite good, but it's Kimberly's originals that allow her to stretch out and strut her stuff as both player and composer equally. "Turn Up The AC" features a stuttering funky soul beat anchored by the horn section of Phil Morris on trumpet and Jennifer Hall on sax, with Allison laying down some piercing licks. A smoldering piece of blues entitled "Four Down Jump" features some savory harp licks from James Murphy, while "Portland Boogie" recalls a bit of the swing era with its upscale bouncy arrangements. The closer, "I35 South," wraps thing up nicely with a Texas style Stevie Ray-ish grind to it that finds Kimberly just plain wailing and picking to beat the band. Speaking of the band, Ron Battle is on electric bass, Mike Easely sits in on upright for three numbers and Mike Lopez handles the drums. Old New Borrowed And Blues is a well-executed and brilliantly-paced album that leaves you wanting more. If you can't find this splendid recording in your local record store, it can be ordered directly from Ms. Allison's website: www.kimberlyallison.com. It would be surprising if one of the major labels didn't scoop this lady up soon because she is so very fine to listen to. Take a chance and treat yourself to this one soon.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Big Bill Morganfield's follow up to his debut CD Rising Son, entitled Ramblin' Mind (Blind Pig), is just as good, if not better, than the first disk. Ramblin' Mind has a little bit more of a swing feel to it and is more diverse than Rising Son. The CD starts off with a great cover of John Lee Williamson's "Mellow Chick Swing," with some great harmonica work by Bill Lupkin ... just as its title says, it swings. The next song, "Strong Man Holler," done with Taj Mahal and Billy Branch, is a great piece of sparse, angry delta blues. "People Sure Act Funny" is a song about people getting a lot of money and acting different than before, which happens quite often. "Dirty Dealin' Mama," written by Paul Oscher, is a wonderful Chicago blues song that would have fit perfectly on "Rising Son." This song has Paul Oscher on harmonica, Bob Margolin on guitar, Pinetop Perkins on piano, and Bob Stroger on bass. The next six songs are all written by Big Bill. The standouts of these are "My Doggy's Got The Blues," "Highway 69" and "You're Gonna Miss Me." The latter has Taj Mahal and Billy Branch on guitar and harmonica, respectively. This CD is one of the best releases so far this year, and should be in everyone's collection.
Hellhound On My Trail:
Songs of Robert Johnson (Telarc) is a collection of some
of the bigger names in the blues paying tribute to one of the best. The
disc starts off with Taj Mahal doing a version of "Crossroads," which he puts
a new spin on while sticking to the classic version. Next up is David
"Honeyboy" Edwards, who knew Johnson when he was alive. Edwards sticks
to the original version of "Traveling Riverside Blues," which he plays by the
book. Next is Chris Thomas King, who does a version of "If I Had Possesion
Over Judgement Day," where he adds freshness and youth to a song to the best
effect. The same can be said for his version of "Come On In My
Next is the possible stepson of Robert Johnson, Robert Lockwood Jr., who
does a wonderful version of "I'm A Steady Rollin' Man." Other
highlights include two songs done by Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins, "Kindhearted Woman
Blues" and "Sweet Home Chicago." Both the singing by Bob Margolin and
playing by both are done with conviction. Carl Weathersby does a
great job with "Stop Breakin' Down Blues," with some great guitar work. The
surprise on the disc is Robert Palmer of "Addicted to Love" fame doing a
version of "Milkcow's Calf Blues," which is not as bad as you would think.
Fans looking to hear other version's of Johnson's songs will be very pleased
with this disc.
--- Kris Handel
Another Shade of
Blue(s) is what guitarist
Bobby Manriquez named his first solo CD and that's what he delivers. There are some traditional-sounding blues on this collection of 13 original songs, as well as some numbers that seem to be 21st century blues with sound effects and synth. Manriquez, a native of Washington, DC, started playing guitar professionally in the early 1970s. He later toured with Nils Lofgren (well before his E Street Band days). Later stints included lead guitarist for Wilson Pickett in the mid-1990s. This is a journeyman guitar picker who shows on this CD that he's also no slouch on keyboards, bass and drums as well. He plays each of these on different cuts and all of them on some ("Devil Heart" features Manriquez on guitar, bass, drums and synth. Oh, yeah, he sings as well.) He's interspersed four short cuts and some of these are the album's bluesiest. "Smokehouse," a live track is an excellent slow blues with simmering guitar work that's just
1:44 ... too bad it wasn't three times as long. "How We Start" is a hard-driving number that appears in sharp contrast to the next cut, "B2K," with guitar and synth sounds that the liner notes describe as "conjures up locusts." The CD is available at
--- Mark K. Miller
If you like your blues with tons of horn mixed with a swinging, jumping, boogie beat,
then Tim Casey and the Bluescats could rock your world. Hailing from Seattle,
Casey can definitely take the chill out of any rainy northwest day. Considering Brian Setzer's success with big band, swing, and jump music in the past couple of years, Casey and his band should find an audience. Casey's pretty capable singing and lead guitar are backed
on Swing Shift by a storm of horns featuring both tenor and baritone sax wonderfully played by Jeremy Smith and Brad Chatfield, respectively, with Bret Jacob rounding out the brass with trumpet. That all important swing rhythm is provided by Chris Kliemann tingling the black and whites, Mike Fish filling the bottom beat and Don Montana hitting the skins. Highlights include
"Everything," a nice departure from the swing feel of the CD which allows Casey to play some nice guitar licks. Real smooth. Pure swing tunes include "Rockin" and "House of Blue
Lights," embellished by the response and call between Casey and his Bluescats so often found with this style of music. Casey penned half of the tunes which is always a nice bonus.
--- Bruce Coen
Rounder Records and subsidiary label Bullseye Blues & Jazz has released a plethora of fine albums from New Orleans performers, many of them piano players. Keep It Rollin': Blues Piano Collection is a wonderful set of 17 songs recorded between 1982 and 1999. My favorites here are the three 1982 numbers from the late, eccentric pianist James Booker. His "All Around The World" is one of the best versions of this standard I've ever heard, given Booker's distinct "over the top" vocals. The best pure "chops" on the piano come from the youngest cat represented on the disc, Davell Crawford, who delivers a pair of great instrumentals, the spiritual number "A Closer Walk With Thee/Amazing Grace" and the uptempo boogie woogie "Keep It Rollin'." This album isn't just all about the keyboards, as Eddie Bo delivers some fine singing on "I'm Through Dealing." A song which I had never heard before is the incredible, dirge-like "Nobody Knows The Trouble I've Seen" by Charles Brown, completely different than any other version ever recorded. Other artists represented on Keep It Rollin' include Willie Tee, Tuts Washington, Booker T. Laury (the only non-New Orleans guy), and Art Neville. This album gets my highest possible recommendation ... it's that good!
I've always had mixed feelings about Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson. I've seen some very good performances by him and others that were kind of boring. The same applies to his recordings. But his latest, Talkin' About Soul (Telarc), is a fresh, enjoyable CD. Johnson steps out of his blues comfort zone, doing, as the title suggests, more of a soul thing here. It helps that he's backed by a hot band, most notably the always excellent pianist David Maxwell, harmonica player Jerry Portnoy, and the horn section of Crispin Cioe and Tom "Bones" Malone. The album opens with the title cut, a James Brown-style soul romp written by Johnson. Maxwell is superb on the Ray Charles number "I've Got A Woman"; Johnson's voice is well-suited to this song. He then goes out on the limb by trying to cover Sam Cooke's "Somebody Have Mercy," sometimes straining his voice trying to put the same depth into it as the original. But Johnson still gets a lot of emotion into his singing, and Portnoy's harmonica gives it a little more of a blues touch. Backup singer Catherine Russell adds a nice touch to another soulful original "Crazy Over You." The album shifts direction completely when Johnson picks up the acoustic guitar and duets with Portnoy on the back porch-sounding "Ramblin' Blues." Johnson's best electric guitar work comes on the funky blues "No Worry No More." Talkin' About Soul is a worthy addition to Luther Johnson's extensive catalog.
Lucky Peterson continues to put out good CDs, although he's never achieved the blues stardom that I once predicted for him. His most recent disc, Double Dealin (Blue Thumb), is another strong example of contemporary blues, an "in your face" album that holds nothing back. Peterson is a triple threat, as he displays his prowess on guitar, keyboards and vocals. The hottest number is a slow, intense blues in the style of the late Luther Allison, the original "When My Blood Runs Cold." Jon Cleary introduces "Smooth Sailing" with strong gospel piano before Peterson launches into a funky Albert Collins-style beat. Cleary also plays well on the pleasant blues "Ain't Too Bad" and another heavy slow blues "Where Can A Man Go." Peterson best demonstrates his soulful voice on "3 Handed Woman." Lucky Peterson fans will enjoy this album.
Hammond B-3 aficionados will enjoy Three Feet Off The Ground (Audioquest) from The Bruce Katz Band. It contains 11 instrumental numbers from the East Coast keyboardist Katz, all showcasing Katz's excellent B-3 work. But for most listeners, there's not enough variety to carry a full album of instrumentals. Most of the songs are in a funky, jazzy style. Katz switches over to New Orleans-style piano on "You're It." Julien Kasper plays good guitar throughout, most notably on "Wrecking Ball." Your interest in this CD will depend on your personal tastes.
Another all-instrumental album with more variety comes from a group of veterans of the Austin, Texas scene. No Sleep (Prevatt Records) was recorded by a conglomeration known as Larry DC Williams with Clarence Pierce & The East Side Band featuring Martin Banks --- whew, that took a lot to say. This CD kept my interest throughout the nine numbers covering territory from Texas blues to soul and funk. While Williams' sax playing is very good, especially on his original "One Night Stand" and King Curtis' "Soul Serenade," it's the trumpet players in this ensemble that steal the show. Martin Banks shines on the soulful "Either It Is" and the aforementioned "One Night Stand," while Mark Patterson plays tasteful muted trumpet on the smooth, funky soul number "Sassy." The best guitar work is heard on the "close to the original" version of "Honky Tonk," with Timothy Lee McDaniel tossing in snaky riffs to this well-worn classic. For more info, check the Prevatt Records web site at www.prevattrecords.com.
Elmore James was arguably the most influential blues guitarist of all time. His licks have been copied by thousands of blues and rock guitarists over the years. For those of you needing an introduction to James' music, a good place to start is the recent collection Shake Your Money Maker: The Best of the Fire Sessions (Buddha). These recordings were made between 1959 and 1961, with James backed by a variety of excellent musicians, most notably pianists Johnny Jones and Johnny "Big Moose" Walker, guitarists Jimmy Spruill, bassist Homesick James, sax players J.T. Brown and Paul Williams, and drummers Odie Payne and Belton Evans. Classic numbers include the title cut, "The Sky Is Crying," "Done Somebody Wrong," "Look On Yonder Wall," and "Dust My Broom." Essential music ... if you don't have these recordings in any form, get this CD!
California-based pianist Mitch Woods and His Rocket 88's have been swinging the blues for almost 30 years. They expand the band for their latest disc, Jump For Joy! (Blind Pig), and the result is one of the most enjoyable party albums of the year. Sure, the material here is all pretty derivative. But who cares? Just pop it into your CD player and get ready to swing dance to the dozen original numbers, most notably the hot instrumental "Swingin' At The Savoy" (with superb guitar from Danny Caron and steady upright bass from Joe Kyle), the Cab Calloway-ish "Golden Gate Jump," and the humorous "Not A Bad Part Of My Life (To Be Good," which is probably one of the few blues songs to mention Lorena Bobbitt. (Remember her?). Hi de hi de ho!
I, personally, can't get enough Zydeco music in my life. While Whiskey-Drinkin' Man (Right On Rhythm) from Roy Carrier and the Night Rockers isn't an essential purchase, it's still a fun album. These guys are regulars on the South Louisiana dance hall circuit, most often at Carrier's own Offshore Lounge in Lawtell. "Bad Luck" is a good time tune, with a little bit of talkin' blues in it. "I Found My Woman" is a great uptempo Zydeco tune, which must certainly fill the Offshore's dance floor, while "Ti Garcon" slows down the pace with a pleasant traditional waltz. The only song that I could have done without is the version of "My Toot Toot" ... I guess I've just heard that one way too many times.
--- Bill Mitchell
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Revised: March 31, 2001 - Version 1.00
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