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April 1999

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Order these featured CDs today:

Ruth Brown

Count Basie

Eric Sardinas

Chuck Roberson

Tiny Bradshaw

Van Morrison

Boozoo Chavis

 

What's New

Ruth BrownRuth Brown is still as elegant as ever, and A Good Day For The Blues (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) is very good. Her vocals are generally restrained, never taxing her vocal chords too much, and showing good taste. Several styles are presented. The title songs gets the CD started with a slow blues, and she gives you a taste of soul, jazz and plenty of humor blended with the blues. The slow ballads are where she really soars, including "A Lover Is Forever and True," where she wonderfully cuts loose with her vocals. But "The Richest One," a beautiful sad song about being the object of mistreatment, is the high point. The ballads are balanced by humorous songs including "Can’t Stand A Broken Man," "H.B.’s Funky Fable," and a cover of Professor Longhair’s "Cabbage Head." The backing musicians do a great job accompanying her throughout, and create moods and images. The song that I think should have been left off is the Michael Jordan theme song, "I Believe I Can Fly," which added nothing.

The swing revival has generated many new swing bands, and exposed a new generation to this music. It’s a great style of music, but too many bands eschew the blues for a pop sound. But the worse thing is many put style above substance. Many new listeners are being shortchanged if zoot suits, a stage swagger, and loud, fast and danceable tunes are the only messages being delivered. Roulette released this compilation of songs from Count Basie, Atomic Swing, dating from 1957 to 1962. From the master of swing, and there is no question that it’s all about the music. It’s not about speed or sheer volume. The music creates moods with dynamics and tempo, where soft notes from a single instrument are as important and carry as much emotion as loud notes. And loud is done well. Hearing horn sections come into a song is glorious, and this band features sections of saxophones, trumpets and trombones, and great musicians including Frank Wess, Frank Foster, Thad Jones, Al Grey, Snooky Young, Gus Johnson, Sonny Payne, Freddie Green and Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis. The CD features songs by Neal Hefti, Quincy Jones, and five co-written by Count Basie. I hope this is the beginning of the re-release of the albums recorded for Roulette. Atomic Swing features instrumentals exclusively, and should appeal to fans of Roomful of Blues, Porky Cohen, and The Johnny Nocturne Band.

--- Tony Nowicki

With his black leather, tattoos, long, curly, rock star hair and leading man good looks, guitarist Eric Sardinas startled me at first glance. "This guy can't be serious," I thought. "He's gotta' be another Stevie Ray clone ... Lord knows there's too many of 'em out there already." But then I noticed Sardinas's electric National resonator guitar, and the bottleneck on his finger. After reading his press bio, it became clear that Eric Sardinas was not your average SRV imitator. Upon first listen to Treat Me Right (Evidence), it was obvious that Sardinas had about as much in common with Stevie as did my Italian grandmother. In other words, nothing! And thank goodness for small favors. Sardinas and his tight little rhythm section are one of the baddest new blues discoveries this writer can remember. Indeed, if Robert Johnson and Son House were alive and playing electric today, this is what they might sound like. Sardinas is a first-class, rip-roaring slide guitarist, who sticks exclusively with the National slide guitar, and openly displays his debt to Delta blues, naming not only Johnson and House as influences, but Bukka White as well. This is about as dirty, wild and feral as blues gets these days. This ain't no slick, well-produced, dignified affair; it's the nastiest, hair-raising slide guitar blues this writer has heard in ages. There's a good mix of original and covers, and there's not a bad cut to be heard. Suffice to say, Eric Sardinas's Treat Me Right  is the devil's music personified.

Editor's Note: The following CD was reviewed previously in Blues Bytes, but here's another writer's perspective.
Sherman Robertson isn't a household name yet. But after blues fans hear Going Back Home (Audioquest), he just may be. Although his two previous Code Blue albums failed to break Robertson, it could happen this time, given this high quality of this recording from beginning to end. With keyboardist Bill Payne and drummer Richie Hayward, both of Little Feat, session bass veteran Bob Glaub, and saxophonist Joe Sublett, Robertson lays down one great blues after another, with this all-star backup band providing sympathetic accompaniment. Robertson's aggressive, fiery lead guitar and sincere, heartfelt, B.B.King-inspired vocals are the real star, and tracks like "Me, My Guitar and the Blues," "Driving All Night," Albert King's "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong," and the soulful title cut should secure Sherman Robertson's rightful place in the ranks of up-and-coming blues guitarists. Going Back Home  is simply one of the better unfettered, straight blues releases this writer has heard in months.

--- Bob Cianci

Put Me In The Mood is a new release from the "Little Company That Could", Ecko Records, their 20th release to date and featuring one of the great voices of soul. Bill Coday has been singing for 30 years and had a hit with "Get Your Lie Straight" back in 1971. Put Me In The Mood is enjoyable in parts, but suffers from a sameness in the programming of the songs, most of which are mid-tempo dance tunes. Only one, "You Changed," really rises above the rest. Tunes such as "She's In A Midnight Mood In The Middle Of The Day" are fun the first time through, but don't really cry out for repeated listens. I understand the economics in a company using it's own team of writers. But as I've said in the past, a cover of a great song will add to the overall listenability of an album, allowing for the elimination of some of those throw away tracks that plague most albums of all original or new material. Bill Coday has a great album in him. This one doesn't quite soar to those lofty heights.

I've been listening to Chuck Roberson since the late 80's when he released two excellent albums, one for the Traction label in 1987 and one for Vision Records in 1988. Roberson's albums have a funkier and more explicit sexual composition than his labelmates at Ecko Records, although Barbara Carr's recent Bone Me Like You Own Me might challenge that statement. Roberson's albums bring Marvin Sease to mind, and that is definitely intended to be a compliment. His "Lollipop Man" from 1988 and re-recorded on his second Ecko release is a close cousin to Sease's quite popular "Candy Licker." On this, his third Ecko release, Love Power, Roberson grooves along a funky path once again, this time by introducing a new dance, the fun tune "Booty Scoot," an excellent upbeat "Love Power," and a funky "Make It Sweet." The album is also graced with two wonderful blues tunes, "You Ain't Cheatin' By The Rules," which reminded me of Z.Z. Hill's classic "Down Home Blues," and the excellent "I Don't Know Why You Treat Me Like You Do," a slow burner that could end up as a regular on any blues show format. I guess by now you realized I enjoyed this new release. Way to go Chuck, and keep on lickin'.

--- Alan Shutro

With all the new bands jumping on the so-called swing revival bandwagon (even though most of what’s being revived is really more accurately "jump blues"), it’s nice to see attention being paid to a pioneer. And that’s certainly what Tiny Bradshaw was. On the compilation Walk That Mess! The Best of the King Years (West Side), we get 24 tracks of first-rate tunes and red-hot playing. Myron "Tiny" Bradshaw began playing drums for dance bands in the 1930s and modeled his stage persona after that of Cab Calloway. He organized his own band in 1933 and played steadily (including a stint in WWII leading a 25-piece orchestra as a major). Things slowed down after the war until 1949 when he signed with Syd Nathan’s King Records which was having great success with jump blues artists like Bull Moose Jackson and Wynonie Harris. Bradshaw fronted a hot septet and his first release for King was "Gravy Train." He continued to turn out the rockin’ numbers featured here until he suffered a stroke in 1954. He made a few more recordings and died of a heart attack in 1958. As Neil Slaven writes in his liner notes to this great-sounding collection: "At the time [Bradshaw died], he was largely forgotten but the intervening years have reinstated his reputation. The reasons for that are displayed here." I second that emotion.

Blue-eyed soul doesn’t come any better than Van Morrison, and that reputation is enhanced with his latest release, Back On Top (Pointblank). The title is accurate, after a number of recent albums exploring jazz influences, he has returned to the soul/blues that formed the basis of his earlier work. This is a foot-tapping, crank-up-the-volume-while-driving-too-fast-with-all-the-windows-down collection of great songs. They are so good that after one listening I felt that these were old favorites. And on repeated listenings (of which there have been many), they have ingrained themselves into my brain. As usual, Morrison runs the gamut from slow numbers with beautifully expressive piano ("Philosophers Stone") or organ ("In the Midnight") to raucous shouters like the title cut (with gritty harmonica from Morrison) to "Goin’ Down Geneva" to the soulful Hammond organ-driven "Precious Time." No doubt about it, Van the man!

On The Michael Wilson Group’s The Blues in Black & White (Greasy Pig Records), Wilson shows off his songwriting ability and guitar chops with a collection of eight original tunes (plus three others). They range from the bluesy ballad "Forever and a Day" that features some nice horn work from Greg "The Hammer" Haugesaug (trumpet) and Merlin "Bronco" Brunkow (sax), to "Saturday Night Romance," which rocks with a Professor Longhair-influenced beat and the piano of John "The Living Legend" Beach. Minneapolis session musician Wilson contributes all the vocals. He has a distinctive style, sometimes sounding as if he’s singing through clenched teeth.

While not strictly speaking a blues CD, Leon Russell’s Face in the Crowd (Sagestone) certainly has its blues moments among the 12 original songs written or co-written by the former L.A. session pianist who rose to fame for his work in the '70s with Joe Cocker and later solo albums of his own. Among them are the CD’s opening and closing cuts: "Love is a Battlefield" and "Don’t Bring the Blues to Bed." The former, a slow number with a persistent beat, would have benefited from eliminating the annoying machine-gun sound effects that punctuate it. Russell has the kind of voice that I suspect one either likes or can’t stand. That said, I admit that I enjoy his singing and the years haven’t changed him.

---Mark K. Miller

Boozoo ChavisBoozoo Chavis is one of the great old-time zydeco musicians, and he seems to be getting better with age. His latest CD, Who Stole My Monkey? (Rounder) is a pure delight. Just pop this one into your stereo system and close your eyes .... you'll swear you're sitting in a genuine South Louisiana dancehall. "Dance All Night" is a great number which kicks off the album and sets the tone for the remaining 15 cuts. He also does a couple of zydeco classics, the traditional "Allons a Lafayette" and a positively X-rated version of "Uncle Bud." The latter tune is flagged as not suitable for airplay. In fact, this song and "Deacon Jones" earned this disc a Parental Advisory sticker on the cover. Even my eyes popped out when hearing the language on these tunes. But don't let that turn you off ... this is a marvelous zydeco album. Just keep it away from the children.

For a nice mix of blues and folk, be sure to track down the latest album, Deep River Anthology (Flyin' Cloud Records) from North Carolina singer/songwriter Bruce Piephoff. The CD consists of 20 tunes, all original compositions, and features Piephoff's nice fingerpickin' guitar work. I especially liked his playing on the very creative "Writer's Block" and the Piedmont-style blues "Sun Dog's Blistered Blues." Piephoff also plays good blues harmonica on the John Prine-ish "Ballad Of Ricky Lee Sanderson." If you have trouble finding this CD, send an e-mail to Flyin' Cloud Records at mediaman@vnet.net.

House of Blues SwingsJust when you think that there's no room in the stores for yet another retro-swing collection, along comes House of Blues Swings! (House of Blues), featuring a variety of bands from around the USA. It's a decent compilation, although for my tastes I'd much sooner be listening to a Louis Jordan or Tiny Bradshaw (see above review) CD. Among the best are Bay Area band Lavay Smith & Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers with a version of "Blue Skies." L. A.'s The Swingin' Deacons do a cover of the Schoolhouse Rock educational kids song "Conjunction Junction," which of course far surpasses the original. Other bands featured include Indigo Swing, Big Sandy and his Fly-Rite Boys, and California youngsters The Savoir-Faire Pistol Pocket Dance Band.

Hailing from the Silicon Valley, The Rossi Brothers sound like a fun band on their new CD, Rain Of Tears (R&B). Brothers Mike and Angelo handle the guitar work, while Mike is the main vocalist. "You're Gonna Lose It All" is a strong slow blues, with tasty lead guitar from Angelo Rossi and nice B-3 acccompaniment from Jon Garfinkle. "Mean Man" is an uptempo blues shuffle with decent harp from Doug Burns.

My favorite CD of 1997 was the debut album, Book Of Spells, from The Boneshakers (see original review). While it was a stretch to call it a blues album, Book Of Spells contained a heavy dose of good, hard-drivin' soul. The Bone Shakers are also a great live act, although on their earlier tours they had to stretch their material a bit thin to make it through three sets. While their second CD, Shake The Planet (Pointblank) contains some decent material, it doesn't quite measure up to the earlier effort. There just aren't the killer tunes like those found on the original. Vocalist Sweet Pea Atkinson, one of the finest singers I've ever heard, is never turned loose on any soul ballads, something at which he excels. The strongest tunes are the uptempo "Pouring Gasoline On A Burning Man," with nice blues guitar from Randy Jacobs, and the funky "Don't Change Horses (In The Middle Of The Stream).

--- Bill Mitchell

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