Chicago saxophonist A.C. Reed has always had a "love - hate" relationship with the blues, and he continues this theme on Junk Food (Delmark). The title cut is a diatribe about the bad food musicians have to consume on the road, while "Fed Up" is a remake of one of his previous stories about Reed's dislike of the music business. There's a humorous tribute to Bill Clinton, "The President Plays," which must have been written before the whole Monica mess; Reed sings, "...he'll make a good President because he plays the saxophone .... we don't care what he plays, as long as he don't do nothing wrong ..." Hmmm .... The album closes with "Last Time Around," on which Reed AGAIN says he's done with this music business, and announces his retirement. Let's hope he's just playing with us again.
Ken Saydak has been better known as a backing keyboardist around Chicago, most notably with Lonnie Brooks. But he gets his chance as a bandleader on Foolish Man (Delmark), a nice collection of 13 strong blues tunes. Saydak has a gruff, raspy voice which grows on you the more you listen to this CD, and he's a very good piano player. It's mostly Chicago-style blues, with a little bit of New Orleans sound mixed in, as on the opening cut "Mama Please." The best number is an extremely hot, swingin' boogie woogie instrumental "Walkin' Thing." Most of the songs are Saydak originals, but he also contributes a nice version of "Crazy Arms," with good harp from Ron Sorin, and a cover of Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth."
You've gotta love the CDs issued by Washington, D.C.-based Right On Rhythm. This is a "mom and pop" outfit at its best, just a serious blues fan putting out the music he loves. Wayne Kahn has been traveling around the D.C. blues circuit with a mobile recorder for the past few years, and he's got a real knack for capturing great live performances. His second collection, The Blues You Would Just Hate to Love, Vol. II, is excellent. Sound quality is good throughout, and the music is top-notch. My favorites are the slow blues jam of "Wabash Blues" by keyboardist John Coccuzzi and horn players Joe Stanley and Chris Watling. Big Joe Maher and the Dynaflows contribute a strong version of "Okie Dokie Stomp," with hot guitar from Ivan Appelrouth. Joe Stanley shows up again with a hot sax solo on "Flip Flop & Fly." Doug Jay, backed by the Blue Jays, plays excellent blues harp on the instrumental "Slinky." These are just a few of the highlights on the CD. Hard to find, but worth the effort.
Right On Rhythm's Kahn apparently left his tape recorder running all night a few years ago when D.C. veteran Nap Turner was on stage, and the result is the solid effort Live At City Blues. Turner's smoky voice is well-suited for the works of Percy Mayfield, and he covers five of his tunes among the 11 songs on the disc. But what really makes this CD stand out is the superb guitar accompaniment of Rusty Bogart, especially on Mayfield's "Highway's Like A Woman." Bogart is a guitarist who should be famous!
Terrance Simien has been one of the most entertaining and hardest working zydeco performers on the circuit for the last dozen years. Perhaps the rigorous touring schedule has kept his Mallet Playboys band out of the recording studio, since this is only their fourth album. Positively Beadhead (Tone-Cool) has been worth the wait. This disc has all the energy and excitement of Simien's live shows, a danceable mix of traditional and contemporary zydeco. The catchy opening cut, "All Her Lovin'," gets the album started out right. Simien's voice has consistently improved over the years, as we hear on the tropical sounding "Paradise." "500 Miles" is a staple of his live shows, and the version on Positively Beadhead is good, driven by a heavy reggae backbeat. For a more traditional Creole sound, there's the uptempo "Mardi Gras In The Country" and the waltz "Jolie Blonde." Positively Beadhead is Terrance Simien at this best, and one of the better Louisiana CDs of the year.
MCA Records continues their prolific reissue series with five "greatest hits" sets called The Millenium Collection, with individual CDs from B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Etta James, Chuck Berry, and John Lee Hooker. There's nothing here that hasn't been issued in various other MCA CDs, so I'm questioning the motive in just re-packaging the same stuff again. But I suppose it gets the material back on the shelves. If it attracts a new group of listeners, then the re-issue program has served its purpose. This is all timeless and historically significant music, and always worth another go-around. The Waters, James, Berry, and Hooker discs all contain Chess material, while the King CD has singles from his Bluesway, ABC, and MCA years.
The third Alligator CD, Greens From The Garden, from retro acoustic bluesman Corey Harris is certainly his most diverse. The theme of the CD revolves around greens (the edible kind), with intermittent spoken word, narrative tracks like "Intro To The Greens," "In The Kitchen With Momma," and "Greens Back In The Day." The music is a real mixed bag, from straight Delta blues ("Sweet Black Angel" and "Diddy Wah Diddy") to reggae flavored tunes ("Wild West" and "Just A Closer Walk With Thee"). Even more out of left field is a French language folk tune, "Pas Parlez," which has heavy island flavor, and the New Orleans sounding "Eh La Bas," also featuring Harris' raspy French vocals. Greens From The Garden is an appetizing mix of many different flavors. Try a bowlful today.
Journeyman blues cat Gary Primich, based in Austin, Texas, has been traveling the blues circuit for quite a few years, and has released numerous albums during that time. Botheration is his first for Black Top Records, and is his best so far. It's a nice mix of mostly Chicago style blues harmonica, with a funky New Orleans flavor blended in at times. "Goodbye Little Girl," a Chicago blues shuffle, features Primich's most powerful harp playing. He sounds a bit like Howlin' Wolf on the original "Dollar, Dollar." The opening number, "Hardwood Floor," starts the disc out right with a New Orleans beat, and it closes with an acoustic duet, "Feel Like Going Home," with guitarist Steve James. Botheration just might be the CD that boosts Gary Primich to the next level.
Veteran harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite certainly can't be accused of "standing pat" with his music. His CDs of late have been full of musical variety, and Continental Drifter (Pointblank) is no exception. Musselwhite features several Cuban and Brazilian guest musicians on the disc, alternating English and Spanish lyrics on "Que Te Parece, Cholita?," "Chan Chan" and "Sabroso." Then there's one of the album's highlight's, the jazzy Barney Kessel instrumental number "Little Star." But in the end Musselwhite goes back to his roots, playing nice blues guitar on "My Time Someday" and the acoustic guitar/harmonica numbers "Blues Up The River" and "Please Remember Me." A pleasant album from a legendary performer who refuses to confine himself to a straight blues sound.
New Orleans piano player Jon Cleary came originally from England, but he's now been in Louisiana long enough to have absorbed much of that region's musical influences. Moonburnin' (Pointblank) is Cleary's major label debut, and it's a very good effort. He's one of the best piano players I've heard in a while. The music on Moonburnin' is a real eclectic mix, at times sounding like some of the old Little Feat's bluesier numbers. The best number is "Salty Water," which sounds like someone took a good gospel choir and added a horn section. Cleary really turns it loose on the 88s on "So Damn Good." "Port Street Blues" is also a very good blues number. Highly recommended!
It's good to see that the career of New England guitarist Duke Robillard is back on track. I personally feel that he had lost focus a few years ago, perhaps trying to appeal to a crossover audience. I particularly remember one club date in Phoenix when unhappy blues fans were leaving the venue in droves. New Blues For Modern Man (Shanachie) is a stronger, more cohesive album than many of his more recent efforts. Duke's guitar playing is as powerful as ever, especially on the mid-tempo blues "Fishnet." "Don't Fool With My Love" will remind longtime Robillard fans of some of his early Roomful of Blues work, not surprising since old bandmate Doug James plays sax on the album. Equally good is the slow tear-jerker "I Don't Want To Say Best Wishes," with nice piano from Tom West.
Former New Orleans cabbie Mem Shannon is developing very nicely as a blues artist, and his third CD, Spend Some Time With Me (Shanachie) proves this fact. Shannon is becoming a very, very good guitarist, which you'll hear on "Don't Talk About My Mama." He's also becoming one of the blues world's most talented songwriters, as all 12 cuts are Shannon originals. I especially liked the stirring "The Last Time I Was Here," which deals with the issue of race...."...when I come back again, I want to llive my new life in peace, when I come back again, I wish that man would stop looking at my skin..." Also very good is the simple jazzy tune "Born In This Time," featuring Shannon's best vocal work backed only by his guitar and a clarinet player. Mem Shannon just keeps getting better with each new album.
Barrelhouse Chuck was so serious about learning blues piano 20 years ago that he just picked up and moved from Florida to Chicago, and befriended many of the blues legends in the Windy City. He's learned his lessons well, as evidenced by his piano playing on Salute To Sunnyland Slim (Blue Loon Records). Barrelhouse Chuck is also a competent vocalist, not real strong, but good enough. He also gives his backing musicians plenty of room, and Chicago regulars Billy Flynn, S.P. Leary, Calvin Jones, and Willie Smith all make a contributions to this nice CD. The album begins with a red hot boogie woogie instrumental, "On The House." This could have easily been plucked from the Louis Jordan songbook, but is actually a Barrelhouse Chuck original. Todd Levine tears off some great harmonica licks on Little Walter's "Shake Dancer." Chuck switches to organ for the Otis Spann blues shuffle "Jack Knife," with nice guitar work from Flynn. I look forward to hearing more from Barrelhouse Chuck.
The early Library of Congress recordings from Mississippi Delta pioneer Son House are among the most historically significant blues ever recorded. These 1941 and 1942 field sessions have now been re-released by Biograph Records on Delta Blues. If you don't already have versions of classics like "Walking Blues," "The Pony Blues," "Levee Camp Blues," and "Low Down Dirty Dog Blues," then this is a good CD to add to your collection.
European expatriate Eric Bibb & Needed Time perform a pleasant mix of blues, gospel and folk on their 1994 album Spirit and the Blues (Earth Beat). This CD was originally released on a European label, and is now available for the first time in the States. "In My Father's House" is a haunting acoustic gospel tune. Bibb's best vocal work is heard on "Woke Up This Mornin'," on which he sounds reminiscent to Virginia traditional blues artist John Cephas. My only complaint with this album is that it's a little too mellow; a little more punch at times would have resulted in a stronger disc.
An artist with potential is Alvon, who I believe comes from the San Francisco Bay Area. He displays a decent singing voice on his self-titled album Alvon on a collection of standard blues and soul tunes, like "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "The Thrill Is Gone." Ironically, one of the songs is called "Passion"...that's what I'd like to hear a little more of from Alvon, and a little less canned sound. But he's an artist to watch for in the future.
The number of good female blues/rock guitarists seems to be growing. Cincinnati's Kelly Richey is another name to add to this list. The Kelly Richey Band Live (Sweet Lucy Records) shows Ms. Richey to be a strong guitarist and a decent singer. I liked her vocal work on the rockin' number "Cracked & Bent." The best cut is an acoustic version of Bobby Bland's "Further On Up The Road."
--- Bill Mitchell
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