Wet Willie frontman Jimmy Hall's new CD, Build Your Own Fire
(Zoho Roots) is a tribute to the late tortured soul singer Eddie Hinton.
The disc, consisting of covers of 11 of Hinton's compositions, is so
enjoyable that it had me scurrying to my blues room to dig through my CD
shelves to reacquaint myself with the enigmatic Hinton.
Hall is backed on this disc by a group of stellar musicians referred to
here as the Muscle Shoals Rhythm Collective (Clayton Ivey - keyboards,
Larry Byrom - guitars, David Hood - bass, Jonathan Dees - drums). Also
participating on some cuts is Kentucky Head Hunters guitarist Greg
Martin, and Delbert McClinton adds his vocals to the opening cut, "Still
Want To Be Your Man."
For my money, this CD is a winner just on the strength of the two
versions of "Salty," which was a hit for Bobby Womack. It's a strong
soul number filled with catchy pop hooks and great vocals. Martin's
guitar work is dubbed onto the second version to give it more of a
contemporary sound, as well as including a few chords on the Indian
stringed instrument, the sitar. Martin's contribution makes a wonderful
song even better. Also adding to the mix is the nice background singing
of Kira Small.
"Poor Old Me" is catchy, bluesy tune with good harmonica by Hall and
driving Allman-style slide guitar. Hall is at his best vocally on the
pleading soul tune "Cover Me," a song that Hinton wrote for Percy
Sledge, and the gospel-tinged slow number "Watchdog."
For a complete change of pace, there's the sparse and hypnotic "Coming
After You," which is the other song that shows up a second time after
the overdubbing of Greg Martin's guitar.
Hinton's music wasn't all doom and gloom, as evidenced on the feelgood
blues/soul shuffle of "I Found A True Love."
A final bonus track on Build Your Own Fire presents a portion of
an interview with bassist David Hood on which he provides insight into
the troubled career and life of Hinton.
Build Your Own Fire comes highly recommended. There's something
here for every fan of soul, blues and/or Southern rock.
--- Bill Mitchell
singer Tad Robinson raised the bar for himself with his superb
2004 Severn disc, Did You Ever Wonder? (see
March 2004). That previous effort topped my Top Ten list for the
year and appeared as a favorite of several other Blues Bytes reviewers.
Could Robinson capture the magic of Did You Ever Wonder? on his
new Severn release, A New Point Of View?
Not quite. It's a good CD and has some great moments. The horn
accompaniment is especially good. But while Did You Ever Wonder?
was in the "download to the mp3 player AND burn a couple of extra copies
to play in the car" category, this new disc is classified more as "file
away on the CD shelf and pull out occasionally." While it's enjoyable,
the disc doesn't rise to greatness as often as its predecessor.
The always excellent Alex Schultz returns on guitar. This is a man whose
guitar playing can make your knees buckle, and I admit that I swooned
during Schultz's solo on the blues number "Broken-Hearted Man" and
thoroughly enjoyed his jazzy playing on "Back For More."
I liked the Tyrone Davis-style upbeat soul song "You Get To Keep The
Love," which was followed by the slow "He's Moving In (To Her Life)," on
which Robinson's voice soars.
Perhaps my expectations for this disc were too high after Did You
Ever Wonder? I've listened over and over to A New Point Of View
and it's grown on me a little more each time. While it hasn't yet bowled
me over, I've enjoyed it more each time. OK, I've changed my mind ---
I'll burn a copy to carry in my car. By the end of the year, it'll
likely have a spot on my Top Ten list.
--- Bill Mitchell
The late John Fahey probably would enjoy being remembered as
misunderstood. John Fahey Tribute, for example, released in August 2006,
would leave a first-time listener scratching his head. What’s with the
vintage 78 RPM closing track? Are these all really different artists,
they all sound the same. Is it folk, blues, punk or all combined?
I’m very grateful to be a recent Fahey subscriber. Until around the time
of his death in early 2001, he was thought of only as an obscure
acoustic guitarist. I got to him through his best-known protégé, Leo Kottke,
who is conspicuously absent from this tribute disc. Again, something
both men would probably appreciate. It was at a Kottke concert,
listening to stories lasting longer than musical selections, that Fahey
anecdotes kept coming up. The crowd was on the same crazy wavelength as
the storyteller, and now it’s obvious all was traced back to the mindset
and inspiration of John Fahey.
Blues fans can thank Fahey for being the one most responsible for
bringing people like Skip James out of retirement in older age just in
time for the early ‘60s blues revival spreading overseas. Guitarists
especially can thank him for creating a style of hard-hitting
irreverence on the acoustic. And he definitely had vision for the
alternative and non-commercial potential of underground music as far
back as the late ‘50s, beginning at the end of the 78 RPM era.
Then came reissues of various Fahey albums on CD, mostly for the Takoma
label (which he practically founded, and on which this tribute appears,
distributed by Fantasy). Another reissue appeared on the Vanguard label,
home of Joan Baez and others. Updated liner notes were particularly
helpful, walking us thru the decades of recordings, explaining John
Fahey’s idiosyncrasies and speculating at his personality and musical
motives from a posthumous angle.
This tribute disc arrived with no cover, just the selections and artists
printed on the CD. Armed with adequate Fahey experience, it was welcome
just to look at. And the sound from note one is as soul-satisfying as
any Fahey recording. Each guitarist, mostly acoustic, attacks the guitar
just as hard. There is a George Winston piece that sounds like a solo
stereo harmonica with bagpipe drone effect and one of two band tracks,
“Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Phillip XIV of Spain” by
Canned Rish, is the epitome of folk, blues and punk combined.
Otherwise we have a lot of guitar, whether solo or duo. There is six-
and twelve-string, with sufficient and satisfying slide. Very rarely is
electricity used. Everything is instrumental. The various artists
include Dale Miller, Michael Gulezian, Alex deGrassi, Charlie Schmidt,
David Doucet, Country Joe McDonald, Peter Lang, Terry Robb, Sean Smith,
Henry Kaiser & John Schott (sounding like a guitar and drummer). There’s
Nick Schillace, Stefan Grossman , Rick Ruskin, Phil Kellogg, Andrew
Stranglen, Nels Cline & Elliott Sharp, and Pat O’Connell, all before the
concluding “vintage” track. It seems that most, if not all, of these
remakes were performed and/or recorded by the man of tribute. Each one
seems to restate the same recurring musical theme, as in a solitary walk
down an unfamiliar country road. A Saturday at daybreak. And thru it
all, an undercurrent of rebellion.
A web search is as mysterious as the disc’s nakedness. The submitted
review CD lists only 14 tracks but what we have are the same 20
selections as on Revenge Of Blind Joe Death (the John Fahey Tribute
album). This could be another catalogued tribute CD on-line with no
album art available, but a very close issue number. Let’s call this the
promo version of the “Revenge/Tribute” album.
Track 20 is by “Blind Joe Death.” Aware of Fahey’s first album ever,
self-produced and under that title in the late ‘50s, it is safe to
assume this is the man, the Fahey mystique. Let me further speculate
that this “Blind Joe Death” track was actually from that first Fahey
session, either a real 78 RPM or a convincing replica.
The statement this CD makes is seamless. All artists are channeling John
Fahey and leaving the listener with the same message that any of the
man’s albums would.
Which means it wouldn’t be a bad first impression of the artist himself,
and he doesn’t appear, at least not listed by name, on the disc.
--- Tom Coulson
Howard and the White Boys are making a name for themselves and spend a
lot of time on the road and playing festivals. They recorded their last
CD of mostly originals six years ago. With this new release, Made In
Chicago, they tackle more standards and familiar popular blues.
The first impression from track one is not profound. It’s a good tempo
for openers, slick, a little over-produced, perhaps slightly
watered-down for popular consumption. The vocals aren’t exactly
right-on, there is a featured fancy guitar slinger as the main soloist,
the drummer doesn’t stick to a backbeat.
Allman Brothers rock and slide guitar permeate the slow track two within
a blues base. Average inspiration so far.
By “Good Booty And BBQ” we finally have something. Maybe it’s the hook
in the chorus, maybe the rhythm. Calypso and hot guitar continue the
party. You can’t lose with the minor-key “Phone Booth,” associated with
Robert Cray and Albert King, always fun. But “Yonder Wall” (used as a
sample for the group’s website) has lost something along its journey
from Mississippi. This really isn’t an over-done tune à la "Stormy Monday"
or "Mustang Sally," so why does this version feel that way? Authentic
shuffle is implied but mushy. “Cold Cold Feeling” is well-placed but is
another that many are covering more and more.
“Black Cat Bone” is a stodgy funk, feeling as if the studio zapped some
of its soul. But then there’s a wonderful summation of the whole program
with a simple, repetitive instrumental to close the disc, “Coming Home.”
This too utilizes the slightly-southern rock flavor but now to good
advantage. And credit must go to the producer for keeping the album
length reasonable. This is in good taste, you always want to leave ‘em
This album was indeed made in Chicago, Buddy Guy’s Legends is the
group’s home base. But the website also lists gigs in the suburbs when
the band is home. After all they met at Northern Illinois University
before moving as a group to Chicago, which should stand as a testament
to their blues commitment. But Made in Chicago doesn’t necessarily
sound grown in Chicago.
--- Tom Coulson
Well, it's hard to believe that it's been two years since I reviewed
Denise LaSalle's last release in our April 2005 issue of Blues Bytes.
I've been a fan of her's for so long now that I await each new release
with the hope it delivers a new LaSalle classic.
Pay Before You Pump (Ecko Recods) does just
that. The new single release is an excellent gender reversed remake of
Floyd Hamberlin's "Mississippi Boy," obviously titled "Mississippi
Woman." It was a Southern market hit for Charles Wilson, but I predict
it will be a bigger hit for LaSalle. It appears here in a regular mix
and also a Delta Blues mix with added harmonica and blues guitar that
will make it on a lot of blues stations that do not normally play
southern soul. I much prefer this mix to the regular one.
A few other memorable tracks are "Hell Sent Me You," with the classic
lines, "I wanted a man, someone honest and true. So I prayed to heaven,
and hell sent me you." Also the unforgettable "Walking On Beale Street
and Crying," with Denise finding out her man just left B.B. King's with
some woman on his arm, she wails "I'm just walking up and down Beale
Street crying, better get the jail cell ready, I just might have to do
me some time." Of course there's the double-entendre title song, "Pay
Before you Pump," which is sure to get a lot of Southern soul radio time.
The self penned ballad "Hold on Tight" is another standout, as is "You Don't Live Here Anymore," where she tells her man's female caller to
call him on his cell phone cause as of today, he doesn't live here
I want to give accolades to Ecko Records for the great recorded sound
and all those wonderful live musicians. Hats off to Harrison Callaway
for his excellent horn arrangements. There's no one better than him, and
of course thanks to the "Queen" for continuing her long line of great
recordings. Pay Before You Pump ranks right up there among the best.
--- Alan Shutro
Well, shades of the bluesy side of The Allman Brothers, was my first
thought upon first listening to this extremely enjoyable CD, Looking
For A Brighter Day (Jomar Records), from Ken Tucker. There is
Tucker's driving guitar, Josh Hammond's soulful harmonica and 12
original well-written songs that run the gamut from rock to country to
blues with a touch of spirituality thrown in. That's an awful lot to ask
from one CD, but it all comes together so well here.
The opening title track, "Looking For A Brighter Day," has all the hooks,
great guitar and vocals to give it "hit" possibility. The second cut,
"Call Me Up," is the kind of club track that gets everyone up to dance.
(You know what I mean, as soon as "Mustang Sally" starts, even the most
decrepit get up to dance).
The third cut, "The Sun Also Shines," made me
think of Stevie Ray Vaughn. The excellent "Walking Cane," with its
rockabilly mentality swings, as does "Guitar Man" with its Bo Diddley
beat. The soulful "Lord You're All I Need Tonight" and "The King Is
Coming" take us in a different direction, as does the slow blues of "Tin
Cup Blues." Another notable track is the upbeat "Why Do You Hurt Me,"
which starts of with a killer guitar and bass and sort of epitomizes
what Southern rock is all about. This track reminded me that credit
needs to go out to Sarah Sue Kelly and Hannah Bushong for their great
background singing. They add to the full sound of this project.
In closing, the CD offers a fine version of the old folk chestnut
"Wayfaring Stranger," done here with a guitar and harmonica, supporting
a fine vocal and given a slow haunting arrangement. This track took me
back to my youth where our household had this song on an old Eddy Arnold
C&W album. I always thought his version was definitive, now I'm having
second thoughts. All in all a strong release that has universal appeal.
Let's hope this labor of love does well.
--- Alan Shutro
A true veteran on the music scene, Eugene Smiley Sr.'s career began in 1968
as a member of a group called the Visitors. They were label mates of
Tyrone Davis back in the early days of soul. After that group folded, he
was on the road for much of the following three decades. In Eugene's own
words: "I've performed with artists such as Albert King, Johnny Taylor,
Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Bobby Womack and all Green. When I put this
CD together, I was thinking of them. I can't give up on their style of
music. This is my generation and remembering where I came from, this is
my passion". You can see how the title of this CD, Legends
(K. City Records), was chosen.
All the tracks are originals with real musicians. It would be so easy to
cover songs by the artists he worked with, so the originality is
appreciated. The tracks are mostly mid-paced and shuffles such as the
excellent "Love Lifted Me Up," "Straighten Up Women," and the lamenting
"You're Gonna Miss Me." The show stopper though is the slow ballad "The
Dream," a heartbreaker about life, love and death. A great deep soul
This is the kind of CD I love to review. It's a heartfelt message from a
senior musician who has learned his trade, has become a true
professional, and now is sharing all those years with us. Three deep
bows for Eugene Smiley Jr. We will look forward to following his career
from this point on.
--- Alan Shutro
I have been a fan of Roscoe Shelton since I heard my first Excello track
by him. His 1961 Excello album "Roscoe Shelton Sings" was one of my
prized possessions in the golden age of vinyl. I remember buying several
of his early singles on John R's Sound Stage Seven label and then came
that great LP on SS7 with "Easy Going Fellow." I think I wore out the
first copy I had of that LP.
The years progressed but not without problems. As Fred James' liner
notes read, "The late nights and long hours were taking their toll
though. By 1967 Roscoe was tired. His marriage had broken up and he was
drinking too much. After the death of his two close friends, Otis Redding
and Sam Cooke, Roscoe decided to take a few steps back and to get a
handle on his life. By 1970, he was all but retired from the music
business and took a job as a college dorm administrator in Nashville."
The '90s brought a resurgence in blues music and Fred James' Appaloosa
Records began recording the Excello legends, namely Earl Gaines,
Clifford Curry and Roscoe Shelton. They made several albums and they
toured Europe where the Legends were a tremendous success at the Blues
Estafette Festival in Holland. That was in 1995, and in 1998 Shelton
signed with the Black Top label and it appeared his career had been
resurrected. The resulting album Let It Shine although highly praised
was soon forgotten when Black Top went out of business. He later toured
with Earl Gaines and they recorded a duet album for Cannonball Records
in 2000, but unfortunately Cannonball went out of business, too. Soon
after Roscoe began having health problems. Always a heavy smoker, he
succumbed to cancer in 2002.
Save Me (SPV - Germany) has three new tracks recorded before he got sick. That's
all that remains since he could not complete the session. One of the
three is a remake of "It's My Fault," an earlier hit, and "A Step in The
Right Direction," a song he had hoped old friend Tina Turner would record.
other tracks are are remakes or older tracks long out of print. A duet
with Mary-Ann Brandon, "He's Cool, She's Hot," is from her 2002
and really smokes. The included duet with Earl Gaines, "Someday Things
Are Gonna Change," is an alternate take from their Cannonball release. My
personal favorite is Ivory Joe Hunter's "Blues At Midnight," a steamy
slow blues that rivals the original, but every track is really a winner
due to Shelton's impassioned singing.
Many thanks to Fred James for making this release available. I
understand there's an Earl Gaines release to follow.
--- Alan Shutro
Mojo Watson’s first release, 2002’s Inheritance, featured tracks written
by his father (’50s R&B singer K.C. “Mojo” Watson). His second CD,
2004’s Black Beauty, featured his own compositions. His latest release
on his Watashea label, 18th & Agnes, is a mixture of songs written by him
and his father, along with several other choice tunes, some familiar and
some not so familiar.
Watson’s reproductions of three of his father’s works, including the
jumping “Big Fat Mary,” and the two slow blues numbers “I Can Tell By
Your Actions,” which features some inspired string-bending by Watson,
and “So Broken Hearted” show that Dad definitely had the goods as a
composer as well as a performer.
As far as the other covers go, Watson takes on Buddy Guy (“Ten Years
Ago”), Muddy Waters (“Long Distance Call”), and a couple from the
Excello catalog (Lightnin’ Slim’s “I’m A Rollin’ Stone” and “You’re Old
Enough To Understand”), pretty much a Murderer’s Row of legendary
performers, with equally satisfying results. “Rollin’ Stone” features a
jaw-dropping solo that combines Jimi Hendrix with Guitar Gable.
Watson’s own compositions include the R&B ballad, “From My Heart,”
“Something In My Head,” which sounds not unlike a pop tune from the ’60s
with its catchy rhythm, and the humorous closer, “Make Up Your Bed,”
which features more Hendrixian licks.
Watson produced the disc, sings and plays guitar, and gets superlative
support from his band (Brian Deckebach – bass, David Petry – drums, Paul
Harrington – Harmonica, Paul Rebholz – saxophone, William “Fat Willie”
Whittaker – Hammond organ, Tom Capek – piano/clavinet).
All in all, it looks like another winner from Mojo Watson, who continues
to improve with each release. 18th& Agnes will be available in stores
nationwide, or you can go to
www.cdbaby.com and check it out.
--- Graham Clarke
Florida guitarist Ernie Southern has dazzled listeners for years with
his impressive songwriting, his skills on National Resophonic, Delphi,
and Tricone guitars, and his expressive vocals. Southern’s latest
release, Prozac Blues, will certainly please acoustic blues guitar fans.
A music veteran who played bass in various rock, jazz, and fusion bands
over the years, Southern took up the blues in the early ’90s and
competed in the International Blues Foundation’s competition in 2004,
making the finals in the acoustic division.
Prozac Blues is a nicely mixed set of originals and classic tunes, which
include a sharp reworking of Robert Johnson’s “Hellhound On My Trail.”
Robin Trower’s “Whisky Train” (from his Procol Harum days) is also a
highlight, as is Harmonica Frank Floyd’s “Rockin’ Chair Daddy,” which
features some inspired harp work from Bruce Johnson.
The originals give us a look at Southern’s humorous side, including the
clever title track, the potential middle-age male anthem, “Ain’t Goin’
Bald Jus’ Getting’ Mo’ Head,” and “Youth Is Wasted On the Young.” (ain’t
it the truth). “Just The Way You Say Goodbye” is a pretty tune that
shows Southern’s more serious side, and “Train Gone Dead” features some
stellar guitar/harp interplay between Southern and Johnson.
Well-produced by Bobby Day, Prozac Blues is an impressive release.
Southern is a highly original songwriter and a first-rate guitarist and
singer. Acoustic blues guitar fans will find plenty to like here. To
purchase this disc, and for more information about Ernie Southern, visit
his website www.erniesouthern.com.
--- Graham Clarke
In 2006, we bid farewell to several musicians who had been a part of the
blues practically since recording began. Within a period of a few months
last year, Henry Townsend, Homesick James Williamson, Robert Lockwood,
Jr., and Snooky Pryor all passed away, all of whom had been playing the
blues since the 1930s or early ’40s. These losses make the surviving
patriarchs, like Pinetop Perkins, all the more valuable. Now 93 years
old, the revered pianist shows no signs of slowing down, still wowing
blues fans at multiple festivals around the country.
Though Perkins had been on the scene for years, backing other musicians
(most notably his lengthy stint with Muddy Waters, but also Earl Hooker
and Robert Nighthawk) and recording four songs as a frontman for
Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series in the ’70s, he didn’t venture
out on his own until the late ’80s, releasing his first solo effort on
Blind Pig in 1988. Since then, he has been very prolific, releasing over
a dozen albums of quality material. In fact, he’s been so good for so
long that it’s sometimes easy to take him for granted.
Given his extensive career, it would be fairly obvious that Perkins
would be a prime candidate for the documentary treatment, and the new
Vizztone Label Group has rectified that with Born in the Honey: The
Pinetop Perkins Story, a DVD/CD set that gives an excellent recitation
of the legendary piano man’s career.
The DVD features a 60-minute documentary produced by Peter Carlson
(who also produced the recent Junior Wells documentary, Don’t Start Me Talkin’) that mixes recollections from Perkins, snippets of
performances, and tributes from many fellow musicians, including Bobby
Rush, Bernard Allison, Kim Wilson, Hubert Sumlin, Ike Turner, Lonnie
Brooks, Bob Margolin, Sam Carr, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Perkins
relates plenty of details about his life, such as how he started out as
a guitar player (and the misunderstanding that ended his guitar playing
days), how he lost nearly 50% of his hearing in an explosion during an
Earl Hooker performance, and his replacing the great Otis Spann in Muddy
Waters’ band for 12 years.
He also candidly discusses leaving Waters, along with the rest of the
band, to form the Legendary Blues Band in 1980, a move Perkins says
broke Waters’ heart and eventually contributed to his death. He also
talks about his struggles with alcohol abuse, which spiraled out of
control in the mid ’80s, and his reputation as a ladies’ man. The
performance footage includes Perkins playing at various venues with Margolin, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Calvin “Fuzz” Jones, Ann Rabson, and
Curtis Salgado and, except for a couple of minor sound glitches,
captures Perkins in top form.
The accompanying CD is a live performance from Chicago, and features
Perkins with Smith manning the drum kit, Bob Stroger on bass and
“Little” Frank Krokowski on guitar. The set is typical Pinetop,
consistently entertaining. Apparently, Perkins was in his late 80s when
this set was recorded, and this set shows that he hasn’t lost a step at
all over the years. It’s even more incredible that, half a decade later,
he’s still going strong. There’s also a previously unreleased studio
track, “Rather Quit Her Than Hit Her,” that teams Perkins with Bob Corritore (harmonica), Chico Chism (drums), Johnny Rapp (guitar), and
Paul Thomas (bass).
Born in the Honey: The Pinetop Perkins Story is a wonderful tribute to
one of the unsung heroes of the blues. Pinetop Perkins has seen a lot of
great musicians and played a lot of great music over the years, and it
looks as if he’ll be doing it for years to come.
--- Graham Clarke
Randy McAllister first gained notice after releasing three well-received
CDs for John Stedman’s JSP label. The Texas native has firmly
established himself as a top-notch singer and harp player, but also has
developed a knack for writing standout tunes as well. Having parted ways
with JSP several years ago, McAllister has subsequently released three
discs, including the Grammy-nominated Givers & Takers. His most recent
release, Flying High While Staying Low Down, is a compilation of the
best tracks from his last two releases (Temporary Fixes and A Little
Left of Center), plus a few previously unreleased gems intended from an
upcoming disc, Dope Slap Soup.
Flying High While Staying Low Down consists of 16 tracks, all
composed by McAllister, who also supplies plenty of gritty vocals and
harp. Joining him on this collection are a stellar group of musicians,
including guitarists Mike Morgan, Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones, Jim Suhler,
and Stephen Bruton.
Standout tracks include the opening cut, “The Girl Ain’t Right,” one of
several songs that includes the soulful backing vocals of Benita
Arterberry-Burns, “Take Me Out of New Orleans,” the funky “That Chicken
You’re Fixin’,” and the zydeco number “Stronger Vice/Better Hobby.”
McAllister also specializes in “story songs,” narratives such as
“Drinkin’ To Prevent A Killin’,” and “Man Who Went For Cigarettes,”
which features a strong guitar solo by Morgan. Other highlights include
the intriguing “Baptist Church Van,” “What Moves You,” and the pop-rockish
“Clear My Head,” which features strong vocal interplay by McAllister and
Chances are that you might have missed most of these songs the first
time around because some of McAllister’s more recent work has seen
limited distribution. That being said, you should most assuredly check
out Flying High While Staying Low Down to see what you might have
missed. A gifted songwriter and performer, Randy McAllister deserves to
--- Graham Clarke
What evolved into Wolf Records began in 1974, when 20 Austrian blues
fans created the Vienna Blues Fan Club. It was transformed 25 years ago
into what is now Wolf Records. The label was formed with two primary
objectives in mind. Those were to re-release original country and blues
recordings of the '30s and '40s, and to emphasize the blues style of
Chicago. The first four years were difficult. Then in 1982 they released
a recording by Chicago's Magic Slim and the Teardrops. It was an instant
success. Now more than 20 years later, Wolf has released their sixth CD,
Tin Pan Alley,
from the genre’s greatest living proponent.
Originally born in Torrence, Mississippi, Morris Holt received his
nickname from lifelong mentor, guitar great Magic Sam. Slim moved to
Chicago in the ’60s and by 1972 he had replaced Hound Dog Taylor as the
house band for a prominent South Side blues club. The country is still
in Slim’s heart and soul, it just comes out in an urbanized electric
manner. Slim’s instantly recognizable guitar solos are abrasive and his
vocal chords have been scratched with sandpaper. He has a unique guitar
sound, as can be heard on "Texas Flood," thanks in part to his picking
hand having sustained damage in a cotton gin accident many years ago.
These aggressive 12 songs, including six originals written by Magic
Slim, were recorded between 1992 and 1998. Half are studio cuts and half
were recorded live. The latter tracks, which include alternating guitar
solos from John Primer and Magic Slim, prove Slim sounds the same on
stage as in the studio. The Teardrops were at their best when unheralded
guitarist Primer was in the band. He features on nine of the tracks.
Other band members include Nick Holt (bass), Earl Howell and Alan Kirk
(drums), and Michael Dotson (guitar).
Bluesmen from Slim’s generation knew the music was all about the song
and its rhythm. It wasn’t about a blistering and never-ending guitar
solo. "She Was Walking Down Through The Park" is a prime example. The
Teardrops instantly lock into a groove that you can dance to on "Tell Me
What You Got On Your Mind." Here, Slim’s vocals are as gruff as his
gritty guitar. On "Please Don’t Leave Me," the band maneuvers like a train
clanging down a track. Like the shrill blast of a trumpet, the guitar’s
notes are sharp and piercing on "Close To You." "Cold-Hearted Woman" is a
brilliant slow blues as well as a defining moment for recorded blues in
the late 20th century. Listen as Slim pulls the strings like a madman
shooting at the world to remove all the evil. On "Goin’ To California," he
makes his strings pulsate with a rattle while squeezing a bit of Jimmy
Reed into his playing.
Ironically, the title track is the weakest on the album. The song’s well
known melody and arrangement is replaced with a standard Slim shuffle.
Thus the song sounds like any other ordinary blues song as opposed to
the classic that it is. The slower songs, e.g., "Born In The Country," are
more fulfilling because they deeply define what blues is, that Slim was
born into them, and continues to live them.
Musically the songs, which are mainly about male and female relationship
problems, do not feature much that Slim hasn’t done before. In fact,
after the first few shuffles and basic boogies, you do not hear a lot
more that’s new or different. That doesn’t matter because you’ll enjoy
the feeling made by the unrefined music. It’s the straight up, pure, and
rough blues that Magic Slim is well known for.
Along with Delmark, Wolf is recording more Chicago blues artists than
any other current blues label. European fans may be able to find Wolf
releases easier than their North American counterparts. As a result
Canadians and Americans may find this CD hard to locate in their local
CD store, but it is well worth seeking if you are a Magic Slim fan.
--- Tim Holek
It has been six years since Shawn Kellerman's last solo release and a year since his
joint effort, Raw To The Bone, with Bobby Rush. Anyone who heard either of
those CDs or has seen him perform with Michael Pickett, Paul Reddick, or
Carlos del Junco, may think Shawn Kellerman is either an electric guitar
sorcerer or a country blues purist. He tends to get classified as blues,
but there is more that than in Kellerman’s arsenal. Fans of many music
styles will enjoy this varied CD, Land of a 1000 Dreams Flaming
Cheese). On it, Kellerman
proves to be an accomplished guitarist, arranger, songwriter, and band
leader. There are 11 offerings that contain rock, funk, hip hop, soul,
gospel, and blues. Kellerman handles all guitars, lead vocals, as well
as contributing bass on half of the mostly original CD.
The lead-off title track – co-written by Shawn’s Mississippi pal Mark
Whittington – is a throw back to 1970s Allman Brothers southern rock.
The song even features twin lead guitars. The vocals are mixed beyond
the point of distortion, which inadvertently disguises their
deficiencies. Brawny horns are prominent on the funky "Big Time," which
reveals Shawn’s reverence for the southern U.S. The Canadian guitarist
spent five years in Mississippi, where he lived, played, and toured with
such notable blues artists as Bobby Rush.
The ultimate funk is delivered
on "Whipsnap," which sounds like an updated version of "Heatin’ It Up" from
Shawn’s debut disc, Take Note. The lyrics are minimal, so the entire
focus is on the groove, and it’s intensified by stratospheric horns, rockin’ guitar, and hot-plucked bass. This song will become a living
legacy to James Brown. "Wash My Back" is a slow blues with too much
attention on unproven vocals. The song was written by Lucky Peterson,
who traveled to Canada to perform with Shawn at a series of standing
room only CD release parties. At those concerts, Kellerman performed
these songs equally well live, proving that his magic is not a phenomenon
of the recording studio. "Never Give Up" is the kind of blues they dig
down south. On it, Kellerman’s guitar whips you into shape like the look
your woman gives you when she disapproves your actions. Based loosely on
"I’ll Play The Blues For You," "Bug and Shawn" is a merger of rap and blues,
and it works real well. I was astounded the first time I heard Kellerman’s instrumental version of the old spiritual
"Pass Me Not, Oh
Gentle Savior." If you have found salvation in sacred steel (the Campbell
Brothers have been performing the song for years), you’ll hear the glory
in this song.
Yes, there are some shrill and kickin’ guitar solos, but they aren’t
cranked and wailed to excess. The debonair guitarist burns with control,
and resists blasting off notes like a moon-bound rocket. Though it is
aggressive, the guitar playing is urbane. Using an impressive array of
guest musicians, such as Douglas Watson and John Lee, may have injected
some inconsistencies among the songs.
Land of a 1000 Dreams displays all
aspects of Kellerman’s many talents and musical styles. He is so much
more than a hot shot, lightening fast blues/rock guitarist. Using a
vocalist as good as this CD’s positive qualities could elevate Kellerman to the big time.
--- Tim Holek
Lady Sunshine and the X-Band took top honors at the Motor City
Blues Challenge of 2004. They almost repeated the fete at the IBC in
Memphis in spring ‘05, where they were judged to be the second best band
in the land. A listen to Live At Last (LSX Records) makes clear
that these were well-deserved honors. This band is simply fantastic.
Lady Sunshine and the fellas have been fixtures on the metro Detroit
scene for a decade. This live set, recorded at the Firefly Club in Ann
Arbor, with three cuts from Memphis Smoke in Royal Oak, is on fire from
the bell. Behind Geno Leverett’s thick James Jamerson-style bass intro,
Lady Sunshine sets the scene for her tale of “Man Trouble” in front of
Slick Rick Humesky’s funky fat guitar and the great X-satiable Horns
(Patrick Padilla, tenor; David G. Maki II, alto and bari; and Ken
Ferry’s trumpet). Add propulsive drumming from Kito Pardo and killer
keys from Tom Fosselman and the sum is a band as full of chops as fire.
Lady Sunshine’s original tunes fit her considerable vocal range to a
tee. “Somebody’s Tippin’,” a classic southern soul tune out of the ZZ
Hill tradition, the soulful “Losin’ Track of Time,” with greasy organ
backing, the ultra funky horn driven “Mr. Man” (“I’m gonna tell your
wife on you”), “My Husband Don’t Love Me,” (“he only wants what’s under
my dress”) with call and response from the band, the pensive “I’m Just
So Tired,” the flavorful (you’ll have to listen!) “Freaky Tonight” and
her signature “Thang For You,” a tune that would have done Otis Redding
proud, are superbly composed and performed, marking Lady Sunshine as far
more than a local treasure.
This is the work of an artist and a first rate band of musicians that
deserves to step up to the national stage. Somebody out there needs to
pay attention and snatch this band up. This is one of the standout
recordings of 2007.
--- Mark E. Gallo
Bob Seeley and Boogie Bob Baldori’s Boogie Stomp! (Spirit
Records) is the second collaboration that Detroit-based Bob Seeley, the
internationally-lauded boogie woogie maestro, has been part of in the
past year. Unlike the earlier effort with Mr. B, which showcased the
players taking turns at the piano, these are performances recorded on
Boogie Bob, a Lansing-based attorney by day, has been rockin’ the pearls
since the 1960s when he was a member of the rock and roll Woolies, who
had a regional hit with a very cool cover of “Who Do You Love.” He also
recorded with Chuck Berry and played alongside Muddy, Hooker and Luther
Allison among others. Like Seeley, his resume is impressive. Bob Seeley
tours the world on a regular basis and is considered by fans and
scholars near and far as perhaps the finest boogie pianist performing
Put these two together and the results are as exciting as any piano
recording to come down the pike in years. The opening title track sets
the stage. Though both players contribute two unaccompanied tunes, the
real magic happens when they share the mic. Highly recommended to fans
of fiery piano.
--- Mark E. Gallo
The Volker Strifler Band’s The Dance Goes On (Blue Rock’It)
should appeal to a large American audience. Though the German guitarist
and vocalist is highly regarded in his homeland, it’s his connection to
the Ford Brothers’ Butterfield/Bloomfield Project that is helping to
spread his name far and wide.
One of my favorite releases of the year, it’s as impressive lyrically as
it is musically. Check out “Somebody Help Me” --- “People pushing
shoving me around and the taxman is a major pain/pencil pushing geeks
like slimy little maggots eat their way from my wallet to my brain.”
This is a major cat.
Outside of a pair of Willie Dixons, the songs are all his and all
impressive. That he’s a killer guitarist with a superb voice adds to the
overall appeal of this gem of a disc. Recorded in Germany and the US,
this is the work of a master musician.
--- Mark E. Gallo
Purple Cat, a French band based out of Marseille, struggles with
the language a bit, but turns in impressive instrumental work. Vocalist/harper
Rene Perrier and his mates are fans of Walter Horton, with three covers
on the seven cut program. Their version of Walter Jacobs’ bluesy “Blue
Midnight” is impressive and their take on Jimmy Rogers’ “What Have I
Done” does its best to transcend the language barrier. All in all a fun
--- Mark E. Gallo
Woodleg Odd have a great offering in Foot Fetish (Woodleg
Music). One of the many great bands coming out of Norway, they’re among
the most impressive new bands of the year from any country. Reminding at
times of classic Savoy Brown, they have a slinky sound that wraps its
way around the clever lyrics. Named for their drummer, who has a
prosthetic leg, the band’s vocalist, Knut Eilefsen, has total command
over the language and is a master at nuance. The standout number on the
disc, “Packed My Stuff,” benefits from Frank Utgaard’s gorgeous guitar
work. The disc is impressive front to back.
--- Mark E. Gallo
Dan Klarskov and his band have a superb CD/DVD combo in Blues
At Dexter (Clearwood). The Danish band has the swing thing down pat.
Opening with a finger-snapping version of Big Joe Turner’s “Wee Wee
Baby,” tenor man Anders Gaardmand challenges guitarist/vocalist Klarskov
for most impressive solo. The big horn section and strong rhythm section
propel this band through ten swingin’ tunes, recorded in front of a live
audience. Klarskov contributes originals that sound at home in the
program equally mixed with classic from the genre from T-Bone Walker
(three tunes), Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, and a superb take on
George Jackson’s “Last Two Dollars.” This is at turns greasy, rockin,
and always swingin’ and one of the standouts of the year. Whew!
--- Mark E. Gallo
Louise Hoffsten’s From Linkoping to Memphis (Memphis
International) is the second American release on this Swede. Recorded in
Memphis, it’s more impressive than her extraordinary debut of a few
years ago. Nine of the 11 compositions are from her pen this time out,
from hard rockin’ to jazzy balladry, all imbued with her gritty soul.
The opening “Good For You” (“I’ll never be a princess always treat you
right/I’ll never be a mistress on a Tuesday night/never be amazing knock
you off your feet/a pretty little angel to make your life complete”), is
exemplary of what to expect. Less bluesy than the other discs reviewed
here, it’s well worth searching out, nonetheless.
--- Mark E. Gallo