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May 1998

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Terrance Simien - Jam The JazzfestAlways one of the hottest live acts on the zydeco circuit, Terrance Simien has recorded far too infrequently. There was an out-of-print 1990 album on Restless, followed by a CD in 1993 for Black Top. Jam The JazzFest (Tone-Cool) will have to serve as an appetizer while we wait until later in the year for the main course. This EP contains five cuts, including the spirited title number, a four and a half minute travelogue around the New Orleans Jazz Fest grounds. One of Terrance's staples from his live shows, a medley of "Iko Iko / Brother John / Jambalaya" is another highlight.

Robert "Bilbo" WalkerMississippi-born, California-based Robert "Bilbo" Walker is back with his second album in the past year, following on the heels of his excellent '97 release on Rooster Blues. The title of Walker's new CD, Rompin' & Stompin' (Fedora), gives an apt description of his blues style. He's kind of a rawer version of Chuck Berry, doing a variety of blues standards in his own inimitable style. The best cut is his version of "Cut You A Loose." No originals here, but everything's done in Walker's unique "Bilbo" style.

The third Fedora release this month comes from octagenarian Homesick James. I haven't gotten too excited about his work over the last 20 years or so, but the Fedora folks have gotten a good effort from him on The Last Of The Broomdusters. It's rough, discombulated blues, and definitely qualifies as the real stuff.  James does a rollicking version of cousin Elmore James' "Shake Your Money Maker." I also liked the loping "Kissin' In The Dark."

John Lee GrandersonA welcome release for fans of downhome Chicago blues is Hard Luck John (Testament), featuring the early '60s recordings from Maxwell Street regular John Lee Granderson.  This artist was an excellent acoustic guitarist, and is backed on these recordings by Johnny Young, Jimmy Walker, and others. I especially enjoyed Granderson's guitar work on the uptempo "Hard Luck John" and "Aching Pain Blues."

The Electric B.B. KingMCA Records has been very loyal to their top blues artist, B.B. King, over the years. They've now re-released four of B.B.'s most popular albums: Completely Well (1969), His Best - The Electric B.B. King (1969), Live In Cook County Jail (1971), and Take It Home (1979). Completely Well is notable for the appearance of two of his most popular numbers, "Confessin' The Blues" and "The Thrill Is Gone." A few of the cuts on His Best now sound a little dated, but you've got to love the imagery used by B.B. in "All Over Again": "...I've got a good mind to give up livin' and go shoppin' instead, to pick out a tombstone and be pronounced dead..." The live album finds Mr. King performing before a very enthusiastic "captive" audience. I especially got a kick out of the resounding boos given by the inmates during the introduction of the sheriff and the district judge. Finally, Take It Home presents B.B. in a jazzier setting, having been produced by, among others, Joe Sample and Wilton Felder of the Crusaders. The best cut here is the excellent "Better Not Look Down."

Bobby Charles will forever have a place in rock 'n' roll history from his early Chess recording of "Later Alligator." More than 40 years later he's still working as a singer, with a new CD entitled Secrets Of The Heart (Stony Plain). Charles' style now crosses a lot of musical borders, and he hasn't lost too much from his vocals over the years. "I Can't Quit You," which features nice slide guitar accompaniment from Sonny Landreth, has a good-time New Orleans beat, while "Angel Eyes" has kind of a Doug Sahm Tex-Mex feel. Also nice is a jazzy version of Frogman Henry's "But I Do." The CD concludes with a great interview with Charles.

There certainly is no shortage of teenage guitar wizards on the blues/rock scene today. You can now add the name of Josh Smith to that list. The Florida youngster is a hot player, although his vocals still have a long way to go. Thus the best cuts on Too Damn Cold (Maddog Music) are the instrumentals "Booty" and "Shake and Bake." The bluesiest cut here is "Lights Are On, But Nobody's Home."

The James Solberg Band is best known for their work with the late Luther Allison, but they've also done considerable recording on their own. L.A. Blues (Atomic Theory) is dedicated to Luther, and the most intense, emotional tune is the title cut, a touching, heartfelt tribute to Allison. A departure from Solberg's usual rockin' style is his electric version of the gospel number "Just A Closer Walk With Thee," which was the last song he played with Allison.

East Coast guitarist Tino Gonzales' new CD, Smiles For Miles (Horseplay Music & Records) showcases this nice, clean guitarist with a big resonant sound. "Big Blues Man" is a strong uptempo original. Gonzales also turns Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On" into a wonderful jazzy instrumental.

NOTE: Check back next month  for reviews of  four new Delmark Records' CDs, received just as this page was being posted.


--- Bill Mitchell

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