Blues Bytes

May 1997

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Blues For The Lost DaysJohn Mayall's recent Silvertone efforts certainly are not the work of a musician who is content to merely record on reputation. Thus, his latest, Blues For The Lost Days, is another solid-as-a-rock effort from the Godfather of British Blues. Mayall again works with longtime drummer Joe Yuele and his latest guitar find, Buddy Whittington, to deliver his special brand of rockin' blues. But Mayall also takes listeners on a history journey, global and personal. "Trenches" allows Mayall to recount the horrors of trench warfare of World War I. The sparse, antique arrangement of 12 string guitar, acoustic harmonica, and mandola recreate the unamplified sounds associated with these years. Read Wilfred Owen's poem "Dulce et Decorum" to relive life in the trenches. Mayall's personal side flows in "All Those Heroes." The autobiographical nature allows Mayall to cite the bluesmen he feels he owes a personal debt to. In this way, he becomes part of the legacy by carrying on the lessons learned from the masters to new generations. Ditto the title cut which allows Mayall to tap into the memories of over 40 years singing the blues. But, Mayall also employs the modern blues sound to chronicle the decay of modern society in "Dead City" and "Stone Cold Deal." While providing the outlet for so many of Britain's finest blues and jazz musicians, Mayall has released over 40 albums. Blues For The Lost Days may rank near the top of his recordings.

--- Art Tipaldi

Jimmy Rogers 50th anniversary collectionThis is the 50th anniversary of Chess Records. To honor that seminal Chicago blues label, MCA is issuing new "greatest hits" packages by many of the labels superstars. Nearly all of this music has been released many times in the past, but serious blues fans will still want these disks in their collections. Artists covered in the first wave of releases are Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Buddy Guy, Jimmy Rogers, and Etta James. In addition, there are also collections of both hits and lesser-known classics on two compilations covering the years 1947-1956 and 1957-1967. Any critical review of these albums would be redundant, since this material is well-known to even the most casual blues fan. But I will let you know that the absolutely essential purchase from this series is the Jimmy Rogers collection, as it includes everything he ever recorded for Chess, 51 songs and alternate takes on two CDs. Of course you'll find all of the hits --- "Walkin' By Myself" (one of the greatest blues songs ever!), "That's All Right," "Luedella," "Chicago Bound," etc., etc. Serious collectors will be pleased with some of the alternate takes, many making their first-ever appearance on CD.

Not to be outdone by MCA is Rounder Records, which is releasing many of the historic field recordings of Alan Lomax done for the Library of Congress' Archive of Folk Song beginning in the 1930s. Rounder eventually plans to reissue over 100 albums (wow!). To get a taste for this man's groundbreaking research, you might try The Alan Lomax Collection Sampler, taken from the first nine compilations. This isn't all blues, but there are blues and gospel cuts scattered throughout the collection. Notable are recordings from Mississippi Delta artists Sid Hemphill, Son House, and Fred McDowell, and Georgia Sea Island singer Bessie Jones.

Book Of Spells - get funky, man!If The Boneshakers' new CD, Book of Spells (Pointblank) claimed to be a blues album, I might have made it this month's Pick Hit. The Boneshakers music defies description, but let's give it a try and call it funky R&B/acid soul. Singer Sweetpea Atkinson and guitarist Randy Jacobs are best known for their work with the group 'Was (Was Not)'. To be honest, Atkinson is the best soul singer I've heard in years. His voice contains the requisite grittiness, which belies the man's nickname "Sweetpea." Book of Spells kicks off with a burning version of James Brown's "Cold Sweat." The bluesiest thing here is the original "Part Time Man," a soulful rowdy blues featuring a nice harmonica break.

Veteran blues cat Charlie Musselwhite is like Ol' Man River; he just keeps on rollin' along. Musselwhite's latest disk is Rough News (Poinblank), and it's another excellent collection of originals and well-chosen covers. The best cuts are the chromatic harmonica instrumentals, especially the brilliant "Harlem Nocturne."

King Ernest is on the comeback trail, although he never really was a household name. Judging from his singing on King Of Hearts (Evidence), maybe he should have been! Ernest reprises one of his minor hits from 1965, "I Resign," a slow blues. And he breathes new life into Hound Dog Taylor's "Sadie," treating the song with an emotional gospel-drenched fervor.

Fish Ain't Bitin'The 1995 debut on the international blues scene of Corey Harris was one of the surprises of that year. Here was a young black man playing the music of the 1930s' Mississippi Delta ... and playing it well. Harris' second album, Fish Ain't Bitin' (Alligator), will be equally appealing to lovers of acoustic blues. This one contains 17 excellent cuts, both original compositions and covers from Blind Lemon Jefferson, Son House, Memphis Minnie, Blind Willie Johnson, Big Maceo, and Fred McDowell. Harris stretches out a little on this disk with the addition of trombones, tuba, and percussion, with nice effect, on four tunes. No sophomore jinx with this guy.

Box Scaggs fans will love his new CD, Come On Home (Virgin); regular blues folks will say, "Why bother?" Scaggs pays tribute to some of his influences, with covers of Bobby Bland, Earl King, and Jimmy Reed songs. But he invites comparison with the masters by doing close renditions of the originals. Most embarrassing is his guitar solo on "T-Bone Shuffle." T-Bone Walker would turn over in his grave if he heard Boz's version.

Jumpin' & Jivin'Before there was R&B and rock 'n' roll, the young hipsters grooved to jump blues. And no label jumped like Specialty Records. Jumpin' & Jivin' is a collection of some of Specialty's jumpingest tunes, covering both East coast and West coast recordings made from 1945 to 1955. This music never tries to be serious, and you'll hear goofy tunes from artists like Roy Milton, Jimmy Liggins, Big Joe Turner, King Pleasure, Floyd Dixon, Duke Henderson, and others. With swing dancing making a comeback today, get this one for your next dance party.

Much has already been written about California singer Candye Kane's past endeavors. I'll instead just tell you about her latest album, Diva la Grande (Antone's), which is her best yet. After a strong debut release for Antone's in 1994, her second album focused more on her C&W side to be of much interest to blues fans. But now Ms. Kane's back belting out her bawdy blues songs, like longtime favorites "You Need A Great Big Woman" and "All You Can Eat (and You Can Eat It All Night Long)." Also interesting is her cover of "These Boots Are Made For Walkin'," featuring accordion, banjo, and washboard accompaniment.

Dealin' With The DevilJohn Mooney has been a success at recording both solo and with his band. On Dealing With The Devil (Ruf Records), Mooney is caught solo before a live radio audience in Bremen, Germany in 1995. You'll hear some of Mooney's best guitar work here, including some amazing licks on "Shortnin' Bread" and "Junco Partner." This disk might be a little harder to find, but well worth the effort.

Brickyard is a blues band from the most unlikely environs of Pajala, a small, remote village in northern Sweden. Blues In Pajala is a nice collection of 14 original tunes, all in English (perfectly unaccented English, at that!), with the emphasis on rockin' Texas blues. The vocals on this disk are better than on many American-made blues CDs. And the lead guitarist, Orjan Maki, has obviously been listening to a lot of Albert Collins records, as heard on "House Full Of Blues." You can get more info on Brickyard at their web site, which has both Swedish and English versions.

New Moon Blues is a small, independent blues label based in North Carolina, and over the past five years they've released some great stuff. On The Rise is a strong collection of 15 selections representing nine different artists who have recorded for New Moon Blues. Blues legend Nappy Brown has two cuts, as does the wonderful Carolina artist Big Boy Henry. The highlights, though, are the two numbers from Skeeter Brandon & HWY 61, the title cut from Brandon's License To Thrill album and the gospel soul blues tune "The Truth." While you're surfin', take a visit to New Moon Blues' web site.

Mick Clarke and Lou Martin were members of the 1970s British blues band Killing Floor, and Martin was later a member of Rory Gallagher's band. The two ex-mates now team up as a duo on Happy Home (Burnside Records). Clarke plays nice guitar throughout, but the killer tunes feature Martin's exquisite piano work, especially on "1st Avenue Swing" and "As The Years Go Passing By."

Let's wrap up this very busy month of new releases with a great collection of Janis Joplin covers, Blues Down Deep (House of Blues). Blues and soul singers, both famous and not so well-known, each take a turn on 13 of Ms. Joplin's songs. Tracy Nelson, Etta James, Koko Taylor, Taj Mahal, and Lonnie Brooks all do nice tributes, especially James on "Ball And Chain" and Taj on the dirge-like "Mercedes Benz." But it's the gritty soul singers who stand out the most. Otis Clay's "Piece Of My Heart" and Syl Johnson's "Me And Bobby McGee" are exceptional. The real star is unknown Chicago songstress Lynne Jordan, who gives "Turtle Blues" a real jazzy interpretation. I'm anxious to hear more from this young woman!

--- Bill Mitchell

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