The last time I reviewed a Joe Louis Walker album I stated that, if 2003 had been proclaimed the Year of the Blues, then 2002 was the year of Joe Louis Walker because of his three very diverse releases within the year. It looks like 2003 is also the year of Joe Louis Walker with the release of $he’s My Money Maker -The Slide Guitar Album (JSP Records), a stunning collection that will please Walker fans to no end, along with all slide junkies like myself. Ten tracks, nine of which are originals, of some of the tastiest molten slide I have heard in years are what’s in store on this delicious biscuit. Now this is not the same ole “Dust My Broom” slide riff played continuously with different lyrics as you will find on most slide albums, so banish that thought right away. The way Joe approaches slide, if I may quote the liner notes, “...is like another voice. I can extend the note, I can have it answer me like another voice, or I can play in harmony with it...” One listen to this gut buster of a recording is all it will take the listener to understand the metaphor implied. Walker takes the art of slide places it has never been before, and then some. Usually I like to review a recording's highlights in chronological order, but this time out it’s only appropriate to start with the cuts that stand head and shoulders above the rest. “Slide Her Up And Down” is a shuffling masterpiece that doubles as a humorous ode to his guitar, and finds Joe expertly playing call and responses with himself with a landslide solo at the tail end that hits you hard enough to put you in a coma. The instrumental “Hooker’s Blues” is a tribute to two of the masters of the genre that greatly influenced Walker, John Lee and Earl Hooker, and has pretty much the same effect only with a slightly more subdued tempo and some gorgeous B3 work from Geno Blacknel Jr. Both of these numbers have Walker bending the living hell out of every note, evoking pyrotechnic tones that many believe are not possible in the slide realm. The album’s opening “Slow Down GTO” puts the pedal to the metal with some screeching intricate twang overlaid against a chugging beat and Joe’s booming vocals, saluting one of the grandest of muscle cars. “Poor Man’s Blues” is one of the most poignant blues tunes written in recent years, bringing to light some of today's social-economic struggles, set to a grinding upbeat boogie. This number pairs nicely with the following R&B-laced song, “Ghetto Life,” which further explores a few subjects a lot of people don’t care to acknowledge, but won’t be able to ignore due to this number's high impact lyrics. The swinging bop of “Borrowed Time” is dazzlingly highlighted by a searing solo planted right in the middle of this reminder of man's mortality. Pulling things back a bit is “No Easy Kind Of Loving,” a slow to mid tempo bluesy lament that touches on the age old cheating woman subject that smolders under Joe’s impassioned vocals before boiling over explosively in a hail of scorching licks. The Butterfield Blues Band’s “Born in Chicago” pays musical homage to Joe’s one time roommate, Paul Butterfield, with a stunning treatment that has high commercial radio and dance floor potential. As he does on all of his recordings, Walker taps into his gospel roots with the almost acoustic sounding “My Judgment Day.” Notice I said “almost” acoustic sounding, because the guitar work here is electric, but toned down to sound acoustic as the backdrop to Walker’s soulful testifying lyrics. Wrapping up things is “Eight Years Of Lovin',” a classic Chicago sounding number on which we get to hear Joe trade in his guitar for his ‘other’ two instruments, the harmonica and his incredibly colorful voice, for the mellowest number of this set. Since completing a long-term recording contract, Joe Louis Walker has become a musical free agent, allowing his creativity to endlessly flow in whatever direction it has taken him, and then finding the right label to fit the results. The result has been four magnificent albums in a little over a year, with each being significantly different than the last, and packed with superb music. Some would say this is gross over-exposure, but personally I surely wouldn’t mind another two albums before year's end from this brilliantly innovative artist who has undoubtedly taken his well deserved place with the legends. I can’t wait to hear what’s next. Way to go Joe!
I can’t help but smile whenever I see Debbie Davies releases a new record, because her voice and playing possess an upbeat joy to them that simply makes you feel good. Key To Love (Shanachie), her latest endeavor, made me grin from ear to ear before I ever heard it because of its subtitle --- A Celebration of The Music of John Mayall. A celebration is precisely what you will find contained within the 12 tunes that comprise this “feel good” album. Two numbers are Davies originals, and the rest are covers of ten Mayall classics. So let’s get those out of the way first. The bouncy “Takin’ It All To Vegas” is the hilarious story of one person’s disgust with the state of Wall Street. This individual cashes out and takes his chances in Vegas, because at least the dealers, unlike executives, are watched by the eye in sky, and if you lose everything, you still get a free drink! Sort of makes you think twice before investing, doesn’t it? “I Just Came To Play” is the other original number, sporting a funky beat and some very hot soloing complimenting Debbie's throaty vocals. The remaining numbers pay tribute to to the man that kept the blues in the American public’s eye in the late '60s and '70s, and also was one of Ms. Davies mentors. The rolling shuffle of “Light My Fuse” starts things off nicely with a compact but concise solo from Debbie and the rag-ish piano and organ stylings of Bruce Katz. When having a celebration, it’s always fun to have some friends over to help you celebrate. Who better than harp legend James Cotton to help you with his stunning riffs, highlighting a wicked version of both “Chicago Line” and “Room To Move,” both of which should be familiar to even the most novice of blues listeners. Blues Breaker alumni Mick Taylor stops by to add his guitar expertise to “Hard Road,” a tune he originally played on way back when, but outshines himself with some hauntingly beautiful licks here. Another Blues Breakers alumnus, the very gifted Peter Green, sits in for a version of the ecologically conscious “Natures Disappearing,” for which Mayall himself updated the lyrics especially for this project. Debbie cuts loose on the slow blues of “Dream About The Blues,” with a few exotic runs up and down the fretboard and a couple of squealing twists and turns along the way reaffirming just how damned good of a player she is. Her instrumental skill is also evident on “I Should Know Better,” where she elegantly weaves both acoustic and electric melodies. A pair of rollicking shuffles, the title tune and “Sucker For Love,” are high energy, danceable fun, as is the frantic pace of “Steppin' Out,” which was not written by Mayall but has for years been the definitive version of this tune. This labor of love was co-produced by Debbie and Paul Opalach, and is gorgeously mixed to perfection without sounding over produced. Davies herself is in as fine a form as I have come to expect from this artist who continues to turn out one great recording after another, and growing with each successive undertaking. What has always intrigued me about her work is her ability to see beyond the tried and true, and expand her musical horizons, such as her album with Double Trouble and the two trio collaborations with Anson Funderburgh, Otis Grand, Tab Benoit and Kenny Neal in recent years. Debbie Davies is not just another female guitarist with a great smile and a few chops; this lady delivers the goods BIG TIME ... and every time. Key To Love is a delightful album that deserves a home in your collection.
Fans of acoustic country blues are going to lose their collective minds when they hear this stunning recording from a young man hailing from Southern California named Nathan James, entitled This Road Is Mine (Pacific Blues Recording Co.). Fans of The James Harman Band may recognize this guy’s name as he held the guitar slot in this band on and off for roughly the last five years. His first solo effort is a gleaming collection of mostly originals either penned by himself, musical cohort Ben Hernandez or co-producer James Harman, both of whom guest throughout, and mixed together with a couple of familiar covers to create a very back to basics gut bucket listening experience. James’ vocal, guitar and harmonica talents all ignite from the opening bars of the album’s first tune, “Don’tcha Feel So Good,” a boogying foot tapping number that get things off to an energetic start. Following up is the classic “Sugar Mama Blues,” which shows off just how fine this gentleman can pick a resonator guitar before segueing into lush, two-part harmony with Ben Hernandez on the Terry/McGee staple “Sweet Lovin' Kind,” with Hernandez adding some silky harp fills. The witty “Hip Shakin' Mama” will put a smile on your face with its playfulness and kazoo solos, while another of Nathan’s originals, “Please Slow Down,” tones things back a bit with its back porch harmonica stylings from James Harman. Harman is also brilliant at the forefront, featured on vocals and harp, on two of his own numbers, “Promenade Breakdown" and “Ain’t This A Comeback.” Both of these numbers feature striking guitar rhythms from Nathan that make you do a double take as to how many players to whom you are really listening. ”Woke Up With These Blues In My Fingers” finds James on his lonesome, picking his heart out on the album’s one instrumental. Ben Hernandez steps up to the mic for his own “Took My Saviors Hand,” a gospel-drenched testament that would surely fit into any revival tent meeting; it is completely mesmerizing. Wrapping things up is a cover of Tampa Red’s funny “If I Let You Get Away With It Once,” with all three trading verses and joining together for the choruses. Nathan James is one of those multi-faceted artists that is becoming rarer to find these days; he does everything well, whether it be song writing, guitar playing or singing. By the way, did I mention that Mr. James is only 24 years old? To listen to him, you would think he has been in the business 30+ years. What makes this record so very endearing is the relaxed feel you hear coming from all three participants, which is sort of like three friends sitting around one evening, sharing a bottle and deciding to make music together just for the fun of it. Co-produced by James Harman and Jerry Hall, who also lends his engineering genius to this project, this album flows flawlessly through all 12 cuts, leaving you wanting more. If you are a true lover of acoustic blues, you owe it to yourself to acquire this highly polished gem of a record. If you can’t find it in your local music store, it can be ordered directly from www.pacificblues.com. This is a thoroughly entertaining record from a young man who is wise in musical knowledge way beyond his years.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Ain’t technology grand? Recording an album used to be such an ordeal, with
substantial costs and logistics that kept output limited in both quantity
and breadth. Not any more, Bubba. These days, you can’t swing a Cajun
accordion without hitting a recording studio adequately equipped for most
album projects, though many have tried. This fortuitous circumstance is
allowing Tab Benoit to take us on a tour of Louisiana with him. Over the
past couple of years, he’s shown us the small, bayou-fronting town sounds
of the Evangeline (Cajun) Country (on the Wetlands record), the red clay
soul of the Louisiana/Texas border (on Whiskey Store, recorded in
partnership with Jimmy Thackery and Charlie Musselwhite with Double
Trouble, Stevie Ray Vaughn’s former rhythm section, backing) and even that
Alexandria – Baton Rouge – Monroe securely Deep South blues-rock-blues
sound (on These Blues Are All Mine). Now the Pelican State tour bus he has
us on is stopping in New Orleans for The Sea Saint Sessions (Telarc).
This is a challenge, because New Orleans has never been a guitar-oriented
town. New Orleans is about piano, with horns following closely in second
place. It’s a good thing for listeners that Tab Benoit has never limited
himself to guitar licks, or this record would never have been possible.
It’s another good thing for us that the “Cajun Hendrix,” as he’s sometimes
billed, has been playing Cajun accordion licks on his guitar for many
years and is flexible and talented enough to tackle Professor Longhair
piano rumba chops for this project.
He is quite possibly the best guitarist to try a project like this,
because of his habitual versatility and broad view of his instrument. He
also has an intuition about big city blues that stands him in god stead
here. He knows that big city music requires big characters, like the
“Plateen Man," who ranks with Stack O’Lee and the Hootchie
Cootchie Man of previous generations as a mythic, superlatively slick
This album will appear in “Ten Records for a Desert Island Sojourn” lists
for years to come.
More blues-rock. Allman Brothers to bar band covers of Dylan to something
very closely related to Neil Young’s best minor key work is the aural
pocket for Corey Stevens on Bring on the Blues (Fuel 2000). His sound is that of a Son Seals level guitarist
and solid, broad ranged singer. His look is that of a man who’s just
awakened in a motel near the Louisiana race track where he’s enjoyed a
two-day winning streak and three-day drunk, celebratory shopping spree in
neighborhood western wear shops and is now wondering, with a splitting
head, what the hell he’s going to do with all those sequined shirts and
turquoise doodads now. One thing is certain --- If you see Corey Stevens on
a bandstand, you will look at him. He’s flashy in a Cadillac with a big ol’
steer horn hood ornament way.
Man, he is hammering that guitar a hundred miles an hour, and the boys
behind him are keeping up, going beyond supportive rhythm into rubbery
funk the whole time. There’s nothing new here, but there’s a lot that
hasn’t happened much in the past couple of years that is very good. He
reminds us that guitars can growl, that organs and harmonicas can warn,
and that rhythm sections can menace. This record will elicit satisfaction
and energy from just about anyone for whom you play it.
--- Arthur Shuey
Bohemian Life (Blue Beet) is the long awaited new CD from
Richard Ray Farrell.
Baseado Em Blues' Um Acustico (BTR) is a live recording from a Brazilian band that I haven't heard before, and although it's not strictly blues all the way through, there are some good blues tracks included. There are only limited sleeve notes, so I'm guessing that most of the tracks are written by the band. But there are a couple of old standards, "Sitting On Top Of The World" and "I Got My Mojo Working," included. The album opens with "Something To Tell You," a sort of Bosa Nova blues, which includes some good harmonica playing, and follows into the Howling Wolf number "Sitting On Top Of The World." Although I don't understand Portuguese very well, I found that I enjoyed listening to the tracks that are sung in that language more than the tracks sung in English. The band seemed to be more relaxed singing in their own language (natural, I guess). Certainly, the best blues on this CD are found amongst the tracks sung in Portuguese; "Engano" and "Madrugada Blues" are excellent and you don't need to know the language to enjoy them.
Blues Etc (BTR), from Jefferson Goncalves & Big Joe Manfra is another CD of Brazilian blues by two accomplished musicians, one of whom, Jefferson Goncalves, appears on the CD from Baseado Em Blues. There are a few good original blues here, written by both Goncalves and Manfra, and some covers of old standards such as Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," Willie Dixon's "Spoonful" and "I'm Ready," and the old Ida Cox number "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out." There are some interesting twists hidden amongst the music, like the riff from "Low Rider" included at the end of "I'm Ready," which is a very well executed number. I think "Spoonful" and "I'm Ready" are my favourite tracks here, and they both serve to show that these are good musicians indeed. Unfortunately, for reasons best known to themselves, they also included Otis Redding's "Dock Of The Bay," and it is totally out of place amongst the other tracks.
Live In Spain from Mama Paula Blues Band is a great CD from a multi-national band that's been around, in different guises, for a long time. The current version of the band is English, Spanish and American, but in the past has included Argentinian, Italian and Dutch members, amongst others! One unusual facet of this band is that they all take a turn on the vocals, with the exception of the drummer, Miguel Morales; this gives a great flavour to the music, and changes things around just enough to make it really interesting. Band leader Mama Paula is normally at home on her Stratocaster, but doubles here on keyboards too as sometime member Chick Churchill (Ten Years After) was away touring when the recording was made. The album was recorded live, and has loads of atmosphere from a well-behaved audience of blues lovers. There is only one original track out of the nine on the CD, but the cover versions are varied and well executed; apparently, there are more originals scheduled to be on the next album. The CD opens with Robert Johnson's "Crossroads," with Paula taking vocals, and then moves into "Help Me" (Willie Dixon) with bass player Terry Roberts showing his vocal talents. I have to say that this is one of the best versions of this particular track that I've heard for a long, long time. The band all get together for the vocals on "Some Kind Of Wonderful," before slowing down with a moody version of Little Willie John's "Need Your Love So Bad" --- a really nice version lasting almost seven minutes with vocals again by Mama Paula. Guitarist & harmonica player Paul Brimm gets his chance on vocals with a version of "Spoonful," and guitarist Big Jim Greene (a native of Chicago) sings "The Hurricane" (ppropriate really, as he wrote it!). Finishing off the album, and bringing in some variation, is a Gershwin number and a Jimi Hendrix number --- "Summertime" and "Little Wing" --- with "Summertime" featuring some lovely, haunting harmonica playing by Paul Brimm. Mama Paula takes vocal on both of these tracks, as well as playing some incredible guitar riffs. What have I left out? Oh yes, did I tell you about the nine and a half minute version of "Ramblin' On My Mind"? This is one of those tracks that seems to finish way too soon, leaving you begging for more; I would have guessed that it was only about four minutes long, and I was really surprised when I looked on the sleeve notes and found out how long it was. Guitar from Paul Brimm and keyboards from Mama Paula merge just about perfectly, sounding almost hypnotic (maybe that's why it seems to go past so quickly!). This is a band that deserves greater recognition, they're working hard with gigs four nights a week in their local area and should be reaching a wider audience. Maybe this CD will help!
--- Terry Clear
It was a label known mostly for the 1966 pop hit “Kind of a Drag” by The Buckinghams. But USA Records had a formidable roster of blues artists during their run in the 1960s, including Junior Wells, Lonnie Brooks, Koko Taylor, Eddy Clearwater, J.B. Lenoir, Willie Mabon, Jesse Fortune, and Fenton Robinson. Though most only stayed at USA for a couple of singles (the exception being Mabon, who had nine), they all did quality work while there. Fuel 2000 Records has compiled a great single disc collection of some of USA’s finest in The USA Records Blues Story. The aforementioned artists (except for Wells and Lenoir) are all represented by a couple of cuts apiece, including Mabon’s “Sometimes I Wonder,” a retake on his big hit for Chess, “I Don’t Know,” which effectively captures his terse vocals and chunky piano. Brooks later re-recorded “Figure Head” on his first Alligator album, but the version here is actually the better of the two. Clearwater has two songs that reflect the Chuck Berry influence on his work, the better of the two being “The Duck Walk.” Taylor does a rough and ready cover of Webb Pierce’s “Honky Tonky,” and Fortune’s “Too Many Cooks” is here, as well. There are other artists here who bear mention as well, such as Homesick James, who does a scorching version of “Crossroads,” Detroit Junior (with his classic “Call My Job”), Jimmy Burns (with two fine soul/blues numbers), and Mighty Joe Young with the socially aware “Hard Times (Follow Me).” A couple of others whose '60s work is currently difficult to locate are Ricky Allen (“Going or Coming,” “I Have Made a Change”) and the late Andrew Brown (who does the smoldering “You Better Stop”). Capping off the package is a great essay by blues historian Bill Dahl. This is a solid compilation of some excellent, underrated Chicago Blues, and is highly recommended.
Although he’s been around since the beginning of the blues
revival in the 1960s, Chris Smither has only recently received the
accolades he deserves as one of the best acoustic blues artists on the
scene. His exquisite finger-picking guitar style, insightful, sometimes
wry lyrics, and gravelly, emotion-laden vocals have remained a constant
for nearly 40 years. Though he’s been around since the mid '60s, it’s only
been in the last ten years that he’s recorded on a consistent basis,
putting out one high-quality album after another for the Hightone label
since 1995 (Hightone returned the favor by subsequently reissuing two of
Smither’s excellent early '90s releases for Flying Fish). Smither’s latest
release for Hightone, Train Home, is no exception to the rule. If
what you’re looking for is beautifully played blues, then look no further.
The added bonus is that you also get seven well-crafted original
compositions from Smither. The highlights of the originals include the
excellent title track, the playful “Confirmation,” “Lola,” an elegy to a
woman he falls for that he knows he shouldn’t, and “Call Time,” which
includes the lyric “...big time plans are like a pistol in your hand
with a long, slow pull on the trigger...” (definitely not for the
recent high school graduate). There are also four well-chosen covers,
which include a moving reconstruction of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row,”
featuring a guest appearance by Smither’s longtime friend Bonnie Raitt
(who has recorded several of his songs over the years) on background
vocals and slide guitar, and a snappy cover of Mississippi John Hurt’s
“Candy Man.“ Throughout the disc, Smither’s stunning guitar work and
weather-beaten vocals are spectacular. Kudos to David “Goody” Goodrich for
his crisp, clear, and masterful production, which makes it sound like
Smither and the band are in your living room. This gem of a recording
continues to impress with repeated listens, and will surely end up on a
few Top Ten lists at the end of the year.
--- Graham Clarke
In blues circles, Ron Levy’s name is highly respected. In his capacity as
in-house producer at Bullseye Blues and then Cannonball Records, labels he
co-founded, Levy has been nominated many times for Grammies; his keyboard
playing (mostly Hammond B-3) can be heard on countless albums, he was also
part of BB King’s band for six years in the '70s, and a member of Roomful
of Blues for four years in the '80s. As a leader of Ron Levy’s Wild
Kingdom, he’s recorded for Black Top, Bullseye Blues and Cannonball, his
music keeping the tradition of '60s soul-jazz music alive, but he’s been
laying relatively low in the last five years or so. His combo’s latest,
Green Eyed Soul, has just been released on his own Levtron.com label (www.levtron.com).
It is a momentous release; soul-jazz is enjoying a resurgence of sorts,
with young bands such as The Sugarman Three, The Slip and Soulive,
following in the footsteps of the hugely popular Medeski, Martin & Wood
and updating the sound of Jimmy Smith and Brother Jack McDuff for a
younger, jam band crowd. Like all these other artists, Levy’s music is
first and foremost a matter of groove. You start by establishing a groove
(in Wild Kingdom’s case, there is a guitarist and two percussionists but
no bassist to assist in doing so), and then, when every head within
earshot is bobbing along, you start to improvise over it, all the while
keeping the groove on. The process is akin to that of older styles of
jazz, where you start by establishing a theme before improvising on it,
except that in soul-jazz the beat, the rhythmic pulse, is much stronger,
comparable to that of electric blues. In a way, soul-jazz acts a sort of
bridge; jazz fans who dig this style can acquire a feel for the blues, and
vice versa. Now, all this long presentation doesn’t tell you much about
the quality of the music on Green Eyed Soul, now, does it? I’m not the
best judge to tell you: you see, I’m totally partial to soul-jazz, and I
could play that all day long, all the while never stopping to shake my
legs, to move my shoulders, to bob my head, looking like an utter fool in
the public transportation system with this music in my earphones. This
record is so good it puts me in danger of not being able to work anymore.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, the CD’s just starting over, and I just gggottt
ttto mmmovvve alllonggg.
Guitarist Chris Flory is relatively well known in the world of jazz, having taken part in many recording sessions for the renowned Concord label. His style is related to that of veteran Herb Ellis, and he’s from Providence, Rhode Island, Duke Robillard’s home town. His latest, Blues in my Heart (Stony Plain), credited to Chris Flory with Duke Robillard and Friends and produced by Robillard, is a tasteful, easy swinging jazz guitar album in the style of the two recent Robillard-Ellis collaborations. Sugar Ray Norcia is on board to croon two standards, including “Please Send Me Somebody to Love,” and the Duke sings the title track.
--- Benoît Brière
This 1993 German concert from Long John Baldry, Live in Concert (Inakiustrik/MVD), comes between the two Stony Plain albums It Still Ain't Easy (1991) and On Stage Tonight: Baldry's Out (1993). It makes a nice companion to these two CDs, because of the similar arrangements and some of the same material, like "Shake that Thing," "Everyday I Have the Blues," "Insane Asylum" and "Do You Wanna Dance?" The powerful rendition of Dixon's "Insane Asylum" is the first song in the set featuring Kathi McDonald. She really belts out this song with feeling and power, recalling how her long collaboration with Baldry has made her integral to some of his best material. She shows her softer side on "I'd Rather Go Blind." Baldry and McDonald duet excellently on "A Thrill's A Thrill" and the folk-blues styled "Black Girl."
One could call donuts the "missing centers" to describe them by what they are lacking. So the garage and blues guitars/drums duo Bassholes is named after the typical rock combo instrument it lacks. On Out in the Treetops (Dead Canary Records), Bassholes reaches back to the primitive blues duo combination used by such artists as Lightning Hopkins in the personnel arrangement. Bassholes take us back to the juke joint days with its take on "Stack O Lee" on this set of two 33 RPM 7" records. The group spans the distance between Hopkins' generation and today's electric alt-blues powerhouses, like Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. This recording set also resonates with the early days of '60s power blues rock, and Bassholes shows its affinity for that style with clamorous covers of "Tattoo" (The Who) and "Raw Power" (The Stooges). Two additional musicians flesh out the punk-styled rendition of "Raw Power."
More Conversations in Swing Guitar (Stony Plain) picks up where 1999's Conversations in Swing Guitar left off. This matches two master blues guitarists, Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis, from different generations. Herb Ellis gigged around with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald and more. Duke Robillard can point to Roomful of Blues, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Bob Dylan and more on his résumé. The instrumental album is relaxed and fluid as the guitarists engage in melodic, not flashy, interplay. The easy, back-and-forth manner gives the album its warm, personal conversational style, and hence the title.
--- Tom Schulte
The name Clay Hammond should not be new to the record buying public. He is the writer of the huge hit "Part Time Love," a tune made famous by Little Johnny Taylor and recorded by many artists over the years. Since his excellent Evejim release of 1988, Streets Will Love You, the only other new release I was aware of was a 1993 release on White Enterprises titled Hard To Explain. So then I cannot pass up the pun and say that in light of the excellent new release, I Kissed Her Gone (Desert Sounds Records), it's hard to explain why ten years has passed since that prior release. I gave a glowing review to his reissue release on Ace in the October 2000 Blues Bytes, a CD he shared with Z.Z. Hill, but that release covered recordings he made for Kent many years earlier. With a large following overseas it is now time to make his mark in the U.S.A. This CD opens with the classy title song "I Kissed Her Gone," a song written by William Bell and Lou Ragland, a track that should be getting a lot of airplay. It's a catchy tune that sort of finds a place in your head for days after first hearing it. I don't know if William Bell recorded it on one of his many releases, but I think this is the first time I have heard it. Billy Ray Charles lends his songwriting abilities to five tunes, most in the mid to upbeat dance vein. One track, "Viagra," stands out for it's unusual twist. He meets a 21-year-old woman at a bar and gets her to go home with him, not before he orders a few glasses of scotch for her and Viagra for him. A pretty good catch for a 55-year-old man, but alas she falls asleep and the Viagra kicks in and Clay is hot to trot. "...Wake up baby, wake up, this night turned into a disaster. I should have drank the Chivas and given her the Viagra..." As the liner notes state, "Clay, like his mentor Sam Cooke, has the ability to take words and bend them into sweet musical notes that are pleasing and leave the listener poised for more." This is true, and with this enjoyable new release Hammond moves forward towards that great album he has in him. Perhaps a few killer ballads next time, but we are grateful for any release by Clay Hammond.
I have been a fan of Rue Davis since I first heard his popular hit "Honey Poo" back in 1995 and enjoyed his two releases on Johnny Vincent's Avanti label in the late '90s. With those releases you realized what a fine songwriter he is. I began to notice his songs on many other artist's recordings, the latest being the title song on Bobby Bland's Blues At Midnight. This new release, Candy Sweet (Off The Hook Records), not only showcase's Davis' fine songwriting, but also focuses on his expressive and diversified vocals. Davis sings in different styles, as the excellent track, "You Set Me Up," sounding like a demo for another Bobby Bland album, will reveal. "Candy Sweet" sounds like a demo for Johnnie Taylor, as does the fabulous "Precious," both sung exactly in the style of J.T. Perhaps Floyd Taylor should check these out for his next release. "You Ought To Stand Up" sounds like a track from an undiscovered Al Green album, and "I Want More Of Your Love" made me think of Smokey Robinson. "Tippitaboo" is an attempt to recreate another "Honey Poo," and is a lot of fun. This certainly is an enjoyable album with every track having merit. All the tracks are programmed, and I must say that real musicians throughout would have made this even a stronger album. If you are interested in learning about Rue Davis the songwriter and also Rue Davis the singer, pick up a copy of Candy Sweet. This one will get a lot of plays around here.
--- Alan Shutro
I normally despise these theme collections of blues artists performing non-blues songs from renowned musicians or bands, especially the various tribute CDs issued by Telarc over the past few years. Johnny's Blues - A Tribute To Johnny Cash (NorthernBlues Music) is different ... it's tasteful and well-done, and none of the artists sound like they're going through the motions merely to collect their paychecks. The CD contains 13 songs from the Man in Black's repertoire, done by both famous and more obscure artists, with nary a weak song to be found. Among my personal favorites is the excellent and underrated Canadian mulit-instrumentalist Harry Manx covering the country weeper "Long Black Veil," given a dark spiritual feel with the inclusion of backing vocalists who really DO sound like they just came from the graveyard. One of the more unique interpretations of a Cash standard is offered by bluesman Corey Harris on "Redemption," as he performs it with a heavy African beat, using traditional percussion instruments, and backed by several female singers. The disc keeps getting better when we get to Kevin Breit's bluesy mariachi version of "Send A Picture Of Mother." The value of this CD is justified by the appearance of elusive rocker Garland Jeffreys, who does a Cajun-ish version of "I Walk The Line," which is closer to the original than one would have expected from Jeffreys. Maria Muldaur takes "Walking The Blues" to the back porch, accompanied only by Del Rey's acoustic guitar. Rounding out the album are Paul Redddick (a spirited "Train of Love"), Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown ("Get Rhythm"), Chris Thomas King ("Rock Island Line"), Blackie & the Rodeo Kings (an alt-country version of "Folsom Prison Blues" that continually threatens to get out of control), Alvin Youngblood Hart ("Sunday Mornin' Comin' Down"), Sleepy LaBeef ("Frankie's Man Johnny"), Colin Linden ("Big River"), and Mavis Staples ("Will The Circle Be Unbroken"). The disc includes a nice booklet, with each artist penning heartfelt words of tribute to Cash. Now THIS is what a 'tribute' album should be all about.
A good indie release from Arizona is That's D Blues, from Big Daddy D and the Dynamites. The eight cuts here have a real 'live in the studio' feel to them, although a minor quibble is that the sound sometimes comes across as a little cold. All songs are original compositions, with the best being the funky head shaker "I Gotta' Girl," with good vocals from bandleader Darryl Porras and nice sax work from Anton Teschner. Guitarist Drew Hall is featured on three standouts: the mid-tempo blues "Stuck In a Rut," the scorching instrumental "Keep'n Score," and the closing cut "Story of the Blues," on which Hall contributes tasty dobro work.
I've been an unabashed fan of guitarist / singer / songwriter Geoff Muldaur dating back to his days with The Kweskin Jug Band. Everything he does is generally topnotch quality. That's why I wish I could like Beautiful Isle of Somewhere (T&M). There's nothing wrong with Muldaur's playing on this live 1999 concert recorded in Germany. The sound quality is so pristine that the performance just comes across as much too sterile, while the audience is so polite and laid back that there's just no energy being transmitted. Despite Muldaur's good presentation, the boredom for the listener starts to mount early in the disc, making it nearly impossible to get through the CD's 16 cuts. There are much better recordings available from Muldaur than this one ... look for those instead of buying this one. Past Muldaur CDs were reviewed in Blues Bytes in November 1998, December 2000 and June 2001.
--- Bill Mitchell
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