If you took Bill Mitchell's advice and made Johnny Adam's last release on Rounder an essential purchase, you'll need to pick up Released - A Memorial Album (RPM Records) as a compliment to that one. This one has 24 tracks recorded between 1968-1983. After listening to the first track, "Release Me," you'll know why he was named the "Tan Canary." That release on the SSS International label in 1968 was the first of many fine releases on that label during the late 60s and early 70s. Unfortunately, Shelby Singleton bought Sun Records right about that time and SSS International's focus shifted to country. You can hear that country influence in "Reconsider Me," also cut for that label. From there it was a brief stint at Atlantic which yielded several singles and a whole session that remains unreleased to this day. From there he landed at Chelsea Records, where he cut a fine LP with a great version of "Stand By Me," but that label folded shortly after its release. Adams recorded for Ariola and Hep Me records after that. It wasn't until he signed with Rounder in 1983 that his recordings reached a much larger audience and his greatness was recognized. This fine release covers all those minor labels and comes with a beautiful booklet and fine liner notes by Clive Richardson. These recordings, though not as slick as his later ones, are a perfect retrospect of his early years and the type of southern soul music that was popular in New Orleans during this time. The sound is excellent and is a release that you'll cherish for years to come. Don't miss this one.
Lee Shot Williams is a veteran on the chitlin' circuit and had made many fine soul /blues records. Somebody's After My Freak (Ecko Records) is not one of his better efforts. The title should have been a clue that the freak theme hasn't left yet (his last release was "She Made A Freak Out Of Me"). There are really no standout tracks here, although the ballads are a notch above those mundane mid-tempo dance tracks. The drum programming and synthesizers become annoying. The few tracks that have a touch of real musicianship (sax and piano) fail to raise the standard. Lee Shot Williams deserves better than this. Pass on this one.
I have been following Chuck Roberson's career since his days on Traction Records back in 1987 when he recorded "Hit And Git." In 1988 he recorded the first version of his "Lollipop Man," which he reprised for Ecko Records in 1997. On I'm Your Candy Man (Ecko Records), it's "Lollipop Woman," a funny tune where he finds his wife with another woman who out-lollipops the "Lollipop Man." The other tracks follow along the same path. Tracks such as "Candy Man" and "I Fell In Love (With A Porno Star)" are humorous and a notch above the rest. "Down Home Blues Show" sounds like the original "Down Home Blues," and can be skipped over. Even the name dropping in the song doesn't help and the rhythm programming becomes annoying here, too. (There is a tinkling piano somewhere in the background). The slow ballad "Let's Set A Date" should get some air play. I remember the days I used to make up compilation tapes to play in my car, lifting the best tracks off all the new releases and creating 90 minutes of bliss. I would be hard pressed to find such a track on either of these two new Ecko Releases, although this one is slightly better than the Williams CD.
--- Alan Shutro
Ike Turner may be best known as Tina Turner's ex-husband by most music fans, but he has been an important part of blues and rock & roll since the early 1950's. He played piano on 1951's "Rocket 88" (credited to Jackie Brenston With His Delta Cats, but actually an incarnation of Ike's band, the Kings of Rhythm), considered by many to be the first rock & roll record. He later learned guitar, influencing guitar wizards such as Jimi Hendrix. He also served as Sam Phillips' A&R man in the early
50s and produced or contributed to records by Otis Rush (that's Ike's guitar on "Double Trouble"), Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, B.B. King, and dozens of other artists. All of this occurred before he hooked up with the former Anna Mae Bullock and charted 25 songs on the R&B charts between 1959 and 1975 (including five top tens in two and a half years) as the Ike and Tina Turner Revue. Ike's problems with drugs and spousal abuse are well documented, and he has spent the last 20 years in relative obscurity. In recent years, he has quit drugs and is trying to get his life back together.
Turner recently released his first album in over 20 years, Here and Now
(Ikon Records). It shows that while Turner hasn't recorded in a long time (although he did make a memorable appearance on Joe Louis Walker's
Great Guitars), he still has what it takes. His rollicking piano style is still intact (check out "Swanee River Boogie"), as well as his bluesy, stinging guitar licks. His baritone, though seldom heard previously and somewhat limited in range, is well suited to the material. Old friend Little Milton contributes guitar on two tracks. In addition, the Kings of Rhythm's backing is as tight as a drum. The set, though a little short at just under 42 minutes, is a mix of remakes (including a less frenetic version of "Rocket 88"), covers ("Tore
Up," "Catfish Blues"), some rocking instrumentals ("Baby's Got
It," "Ike's Theme"), and some new compositions (the funky "I Need A-Nuddin'" is a standout, as well as "You Can't Winnum
All," a retake of "You've Got To Lose"). Although he may never be able to escape his turbulent past history, this CD, with its savvy mixture of blues, R&B, rock and roll, and funk, made by a man who was doing it 40 years ago, should help make Ike Turner's musical future a little brighter.
Looking for a CD to put your next party into overdrive? Look no further than Big Al and the Heavyweights' latest CD, Live Crawfish (Bluziana Music). Big Al's sound is a musical gumbo of swamp blues and pop, New Orleans second line shuffles, rock, and whatever else they can fit in the pot. This CD, recorded live at Nashville's Bourbon St. Blues and Boogie Bar, captures the band in their element, just playing good music for their adoring fans (called "Gumbo Heads"). Singer/guitarist Tim Wagoner's gritty vocals and dynamic guitar work and George "Harmonica Red" Heard's outstanding harp (check out "Red's Nuts") make this band stand out from most blues bands. But the rock-solid rhythm work of New Orleans native (which says it all) Albert "Big Al" Lauro on drums and Calvin Johnson on bass is just as vital to their sound. The band wrote all but one of the songs (a cover of "Mardi Gras Mambo"), and they are a solid set. Fans of Michael Burks will recognize the title cut from his latest CD, "Make It Rain," which was co-written by Wagoner. If you're looking for some great music to take your mind off your everyday, humdrum lives, these guys are the cure for what ails you. Catch them at a club near you as soon as you can. You won't regret it. While you're waiting, you can pick up this CD (and their others) at their website (www.bigal.net).
Little Toby Walker is a New York-based acoustic guitarist who has studied the music of country blues players like Eugene Powell, Sam Chatmon, Son House, Jack Owens, and Robert Johnson (along with occasional field trips to the South to learn at the feet of the masters). Walker has learned his lessons well and has released a self-titled disc, Little Toby Walker, which should earn him some well-deserved attention. Walker's playing is excellent, lightning quick when it needs to be but remarkably subtle when it's required, even beautiful at times. In addition, he's a fine singer and doesn't try to emulate the original performers with his vocals, which is a plus. The CD is a mixture of covers and originals penned by Walker. The covers are all very well done with just the right amount of reverence for the material, but with just enough of Walker's originality present to give them a fresher sound. However, the real highlights, to me, were Walker's own compositions. They are all first-rate, and hold up very well with the other selections. My favorite tracks are the opener, "Take A Little Walk With Me," "Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man Tonight," "Full Figured Women," "Kismet Rag," "Irish Fiddle Medley," Jack Owens' "I've Been Weeping," and his cover of Leiber and Stoller's "When She Wants Good Lovin'." Walker has produced a disc that is both traditional and contemporary at the same time. For fans of acoustic guitar of all kinds (blues, ragtime, folk, country, and rock), this CD is an absolute gem. It can be purchased at Toby's website, www.littletobywalker.com.
Beatles Blues (Indigo), unfortunately, is a CD that doesn't quite work for me, and it isn't the fault of the musicians. I think that having been a Beatles fan in the 60s and 70s, the tracks are just too ingrained in me as Beatles numbers, and trying to transpose them into blues doesn't work very well --- except in a few cases. Technically, just about every track is done well, but only four of the tracks did anything for me. There are versions of 15 Beatles songs, most them standards like "She Loves You," "Get Back," "Let It Be," etc., by artists as diverse as Stan Webb, Earl Green and Fred James.However, the only tracks that got my interest are two by Paul Lamb --- "Norwegian Wood" and "Get Back," Ruby Turner singing "You Can't Do That" and a version of "Come Together" by Johnny Jones. Maybe, if you've never really been exposed to the original tracks by the Beatles, this CD might work for you, because there's no bad music on it. But anyone over 50 will probably be unable to disassociate themselves from the originals --- a shame.
Wake Up And Live (Big Clock) from Billy Sheets is an album to shake the bursitis off the hips. Hip-shakin', finger-snappin' and booty jigglin' don't come more inspired. Billy Sheets sounds for all the world like a reincarnated Roy Brown fronting the Fletcher Henderson big band on "Dancing On A Cliff." He cries in his drink through the Ray Charles-ish "Welcome To The Club," rocks it up on the Louis Jordan-styled "Why Does It All Break Down," and "Only You For Me" reminds a whole lot of Red Prysock. Along the way he elicits shades of Billy Eckstine, Jackie Wilson, and even B.B. King here and there. You'll note that the comparisons are to some of the greatest vocalists of all time. Not a toss-off compliment at all, Sheets fits comfortably in that esteemed company. That he wrote 10 of the dozen collected high energy blues and rhythm tunes here is even more amazing. Kudos, too, to the truly jaw-dropping band led by Jay Work (baritone) and David Crozier (alto and tenor). If Billy Sheets had recorded in the late 1940s, he would have been King of the Beat. This is one for cuttin' the rug and throwing it out in the street. If jump and jive make your ears come alive, this is one of the best to come down the line in a long time.
Kim Lembo is an inspired singer out of New York who, judging by this fiery disc, Paris Burning -- Live At The Chesterfield Club (Blue Wave), puts on an ass kicking live show. As tired as she must be of hearing the comparisons, there is more than a touch of Joplin in the delivery and the pipes. She's certainly as well-versed in the canon. She covers Jimmy McCracklin, Keith Sykes, the Meters, James Harman, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, and Tony Z compositions here with ferocious energy. Following her band Blue Heat's superb opener on Ronnie Earl's "Kathy's Theme," Lembo takes the mic for the David Grissom-penned "What Passes For Love." She keeps the Parisians in the palm of her hand from that point forward. They clap along to "Love To Ride" and hoot and holler through Harman's "Kiss Of Fire." An hour after they kick-started the set, Lembo and the band elicit well-deserved applause at the end of Tony Z's smokin' "Something Funky About Your Love," on which guitarist Frank Grace and organmeister Mark Nanni shine. This is a band well worth a listen ... see them the next time they visit the local watering hole. For more info, check the Blue Wave web site at www.bluewaverecords.com.
Reviewing a release by one of the modern day legends can be an intimidating proposition to say the least. No matter what you say about it, someone, somewhere is bound to read it and want to change your opinion regardless of your feelings about it. But such is life. Sweet Tea (Silvertone) is the latest brew from the man that has been hailed as the greatest living electric blues guitarist, Buddy Guy. What's ironic is the opening number, "Done Got Old," is an acoustic tidbit, on an otherwise very electric presentation, that touches on the touchy subject of the advancement of father time. The rest is the pure electric steel of Buddy Guy, coupled with his signatory tortured angry vocals. Guy's last few albums have sat heavily on the border of blues/rock, and Sweet Tea pushes that envelope to the limit, at times crossing into hard rock territory. As is customary, Guy's lightning fast, distortion and sustained filled guitar playing is at the forefront of the nine tunes that comprise Sweet Tea. A 12-minute opus entitled "I Gotta Try You Girl" is the show-stopping highlight of this release, and is packed with sexual tension and longing wrapped around a grinding beat, with Buddy's guitar mastery taking the piece to a consistently higher level. "Look What All You Got" is a funked up piece of business dripping with attitude and Guy's guitar pyrotechnics, as is "She Got The Devil In Her," a number that contains Guy's best soloing on this release. The album's final two tracks will appease the purists that think the rest of this release is too rock oriented. "Who's Been Foolin' You" has a shuffling country blues twang to it and should make a few radio stations' playlists, while the album's closer, "It's A Jungle Out There," is a social commentary on the state of the world and the various shortcomings and frustrations that can be experienced in it these days. Hard core blues purists may not find this brew as sweet as its title suggests, while others are going to love it. Sweet Tea could have used a little more traditional blues, in my opinion. But that does not change its status from being a damn good album.
The HooDoo Kings is the name of the latest super session collaboration brought to you by the folks at Telarc Blues. Louisiana blues are what this album is all about, with three gentleman that would hold a doctorate in the subject if such things existed. The talents of Raful Neal on harp, 'Rockin' Tabby Thomas on guitar and Eddie Bo on piano and organ come together to form the dream lineup that is The HooDoo Kings for 13 exceptional numbers in celebration of the style of music on which they were weened. Starting things off is a cover of Sonny Curtis' "I Fought The Law," featuring a zydeco back beat with all three principals trading off vocals and solos. "Stumble And Fall" follows with Tabby Thomas tweaking out some fine guitar licks against a political commentary on the government and media circus that can sometimes fuel today's society. Eddie Bo's magic fingers fly throughout this fine album, but on "Mean and Evil Woman" you might wonder if he has a couple of extra fingers he isn't telling anyone about. A number that could be considered the state song of Louisiana, "I Am The Hoodoo King," showcases all three performers, but it's Neal's harmonica that steals the spotlight. A cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Need Your Love So Bad" pleads with longing and loneliness, while the Neal original "Luberta" is a story of love and revenge fueled by a funky beat and some hot organ riffs from Bo. The best was saved for last on this album. "Big Chief" is an all out jam with all three guys tearing it up on their respective instruments, and a cover of Clifton Chenier's "If I Ever Get Lucky" finds some soul-soaked vocals alongside the tireless harp of Raful Neal. Production credits fall to Randy Labbe (whom I am really starting to envy because he is always at the helm of these great albums and gets to witness all of these historic sessions firsthand!), whose great ear and Telarc's commitment to pure digital recording give this album an almost live sound. The HooDoo Kings is a meticulously executed collection by three old friends laying it down for posterity. The idea of a possible tour by these three stupendous talents in support of this album is making me salivate. This one is a must have if ever I have heard one.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Texan Lee Roy Parnell has been serving up a blues- and soul-drenched brand of C&W for the past several years. With Tell The Truth (Vanguard), he's gone ahead and made the transition complete. Fans of his fellow roadhouse troubadour Delbert McClinton, who guests on this disc, will enjoy this item, which is probably a lot closer to soul/R&B/gospel than to blues, per se. This is no criticism of its contents. In addition to McClinton, the leader's friends include Keb' Mo', Bonnie Bramlett, and songwriter Dan Penn ("I'm Your Puppet," "At The Dark End Of The Street," among many others), who contributed to four of the CD's ten cuts. Parnell is definitely the star of the show, having written or co-written all but one of the tunes. No doubt, Nashville's loss is a gain for blues and soul!
--- Lee Poole
Vocalist and bandleader Big Pete Pearson has been a stalwart of the Phoenix, Arizona blues scene for well over 20 years. While the Texas native has lost a little bit of the power of his voice over the years, the charcoal rich texture still remains. Pearson is a true showman, knowing what his audiences want, and always assembling top-notch backing bands. One More Drink (Blue Witch Records) is a strong example of Pearson's urban Texas blues style, highlighted by the solid horn section of saxman Jerry Donato and trumpet player Tom Miles and the stinging guitar work of Tom Grills. The title cut blasts the listener away right from the start with its big sound and Grills' guitor work, nicely framing Pearson's gravelly vocals. Dr. Fish steps into the spotlight on the slow blues "Trustworthy Woman" with some awesome B-3 playing. The horns get a good workout on the third of six originals on the album, the funky blues "Muddy Kind of Love." HighTone artist Bob Corritore contributes tasteful harmonica on this number. Pearson pays tribute to one of his old Texas counterparts, the late T.D. Bell, on a spirited rendition of the classic "24 Hours a Day," with Grills contributing some hot guitar licks here. Another strong original is the jazzy slow blues of "No Love Lost," made special by Miles' muted trumpet. Californian Tom Mahon sits in with the band on "Do Me," demonstrating his always excellent piano work. One More Drink closes with a mid-tempo shuffle, "Catfish & Whiskey," written by fellow Arizonan Craig Baker. This one's features nice organ playing from Dr. Fish and hot Albert Collins-style guitar riffs from Grills. A good album from a man who's never gotten his due outside his home base ... check it out.
Another great artist with a strong regional following is Portland, Oregon's Lloyd Jones. This guy consistently puts out excellent albums and is a dedicated road warrior ... so why isn't he famous? I guess that's just part of being a blues singer. Jones' voice has developed a real rich, soulfulness over the years, very reminiscent to that of Delbert McClinton. His band, The Lloyd Jones Struggle, is as tight as they come. Small Potatoes (Burnside Records) is a fun, goodtime CD that will put a smile on the face of just about any music lover. The disc starts out with the funky beat of the title cut, then launches into "Sweet Talk," on which Jones belts out his most soulful vocals of the album. "Toughen Up" is a pleasant shuffle, with solid contributions from the horns and keyboards. Jones really gets down to some serious soul/blues on "I've Got To Get You Back," with his guitar work sounding like it came from a Tyrone Davis session and featuring great Otis Redding-style vocals. The Struggle put more of a New Orleans-style beat behind the uptempo "You'd Be Crazy Too," then slow it down for the swamp-ish "Nothing You Can Say." OK, now that I've told you how fresh and contemporary this album sounds, here's the shocker ... Small Potatoes was originally released in 1989 on Criminal Records. So, if you missed this one the first time around, grab it now. And don't miss Lloyd Jones if he comes to your town ... because, a dozen years later, he's still one of the hottest acts you'll see.
Geoff Muldaur has
recorded so infrequently during his career that fans are ecstatic when anything
is released under his name. Blues Boy (Bullseye Blues & Jazz)
collects 12 cuts from his two late-1970s Flying Fish records, Blues Boy
and Geoff Muldaur and Amos Garrett. Muldaur is a talented
multi-instrumentalist, showing his skills on guitar, piano, clarinet, alto sax,
banjo and washboard on this CD. There's also a strong cast of accompanying
musicians, most notably the always excellent guitarist Amos Garrett. Muldaur's
music has always been difficult to categorize, as he incorporates many
different influences into his sound. "Nothing in the World" is an
interesting mix of old time country gospel and Memphis soul. He then follows
with a fun, New Orleans-style rendition of Joe Tex's "Bad Feet."
Muldaur changes the mood completely on the haunting, dirge-like blues
"Meanest Woman," tearing off some nasty slide guitar licks. Another
heavy blues is the traditional "Tears Came Rolling Down," this time
presented in more of an ensemble fashion with harmonica, slide guitar, piano
and horns. Pierre Beauregard plays fine blues harmonica on Sleepy John Estes'
"Sloppy Drunk Blues." One more good traditional blues is Arthur
Crudup's "That's All Right." Muldaur gives his rendition a different
sound by using a mandolin as the main instrument. I've raved about Muldaur's
more recent recordings on the pages of Blues Bytes (November
Richmond, Virginia bluesmeisters Li'l Ronnie and the Grand Dukes sure know how to show everyone a good time. If there live shows are anywhere near as much fun as their CDs, then this is definitely one band not to miss for those of you in the mid-Atlantic region. Their latest, Young & Evil (Planetary Records), is just plain, unadulterated jump blues. Ronnie Owens is the leader of this bunch, handling all of the vocal work and blowin' mean blues harp. But while Owens is clearly the frontman, the other members (Mike Dutton on guitar, Terry Hummer on sax, Bobby Olive on drums, Steve Riggs on bass, Steve Utt on piano & B3) all have an equal share in the success of this band's sound. The CD opens with a solid original blues shuffle, "Leavin' Here Tonight," featuring strong instrumental work from both Owens and Dutton. Special guest star Anson Funderburgh brings his Texas guitar licks to the jump blues of "Mellow Chick," while pianist Utt and sax man Hummer also shine here. If Owens had been born 50 years earlier, I have no doubt that Louis Jordan would have covered his novelty tune "Buck Naked" ... this talkin' blues is a blast. I'm sure that in some parallel universe somewhere the Tympani Five are decked out in their zoot suits in some Harlem dance club playing "Buck Naked" ... and yes, the dance floor is jam packed. But enough of my dreams, back to the review. Owens exercises his harmonica chops on the instrumental number "Think Big." My favorite cut is hoppin' Texas shuffle "Let Me Down Easy." This one's a real team effort, as every single instrumentalist plays a major role. Just as enjoyable, but in a different mood, is the snaky instrumental "Doggin' Round," featuring Hummer's sax work and jazzy B3 from Utt. This CD's too hot to ignore ... I can't think of any reason why everyone shouldn't try to score a copy. If you can't find it from the normal sources, try www.planetaryrecords.com.
Self-released CDs often take a while to get into the hands of reviewers, but sometimes they're worth the wait. Rainy Day Blues (Cool Tone Records) from Bay Area Big Bill & the Cool Tones features the fine guitar playing of Bill Ganaye, as well as the contributions from guests like guitarist Ron Thompson, pianist Mark Naftalin, and many others. Big Bill is a decent singer, although he doesn't have a lot of power or range. But he truly excels on the guitar, having worked for many years with the late Luther Tucker. The highlights are the blues shuffle "Pool Fool" and the slow number "BMW Blues." Naftalin plays nice piano on these two cuts. Ganaye assembled some top shelf horn players for this session, and they get plenty of exercise on the pleasant, hook-laden "What Went Wrong." It's always re-assuring to know that their are guys like Big Bill who are putting out decent music not for money, but because they love what they're doing.
Texas blues legend Lightnin' Hopkins released an album in 1954 for Herald Records, the last of his recordings to be targeted to the black record buying public. Rumor has it that this album now sells for over $1,000. Unless you're a serious collector, you'll be happy with the recent CD re-issue Lightnin' And The Blues: The Herald Sessions (Buddha Records). The original dozen songs are here, with four new cuts added for good measure. This is classic Lightnin' ... raw, amplified Texas blues at its best. The slow blues "Don't Think Cause You're Pretty" is a standout. Hopkins burns up his frets on the red hot number "Lightin's Boogie." A good instrumental romp is "Lightnin' Special." The best of the four bonus songs is "Moving On Out Boogie," which is even rawer and more frantic than the rest of the disc. Everything here is good, as Hopkins never really hit a slump in his recording career. Highly recommended.
I've been a big fan of the music of Leon Redbone since his very first album in 1975, before his semi-rise to national acclaim. It's been a while since I've heard any of his albums, so I'm glad to hear he hasn't sold out and changed his quirky style. Redbone still sounds like he'd be more comfortable living in the early part of the 20th century. His music always takes the listener back to another era, yet never really sounds dated. On Any Time (Blue Thumb Records), you'll hear Redbone's typical mumbling vocals, nice guitar picking, and eccentric song selection. You've heard most of these songs before, perhaps not recently, but they're mostly familiar tunes from the Americana songbook. The album starts with the title cut, and is aided by Frank Vignola's superb acoustic guitar work. Jelly Roll Morton's "If You Knew" is highlighted by Bob Gordon's effective clarinet playing. My favorite number is the raucous "Your Feets Too Big," on which all parts of the band (guitar, trombone, sax, clarinet, bass, piano and drums) all come together nicely. The rest of the album ranges from schmaltzy numbers like "Blossoms On Broadway" and "In The Shade Of The Old Apple Tree" to the bluesy "Sittin' On Top Of The World." Just plain tons o' fun.
--- Bill Mitchell
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Revised: June 9, 2001 - Version 1.01
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