Blues Bytes

June 1997

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Pinetop PerkinsJay McShann's not the only octagenarian blues piano legend (see this month's Surprise pick) with a new set of recordings out this month. Pinetop Perkins' Born In The Delta (Telarc Records) is a strong collection of eight blues standards, including a great version of "For You My Love." Ex-Muddy Waters and Legendary Blues Band bandmate Jery Portnoy contributes some tasty harp licks on "Murmur Low," and Pinetop tears up the piano on "Baby, What You Want Me To Do?" Blues computer geeks should take note --- this is an enhanced CD, so you can also pop it in your PC to view a live performance, interview and biography.

Like it or not, The Blues Brothers are back more than 15 years after Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi started the act as part of a skit on Saturday Night Live. Of course, there's been a personnel change necessitated by Belushi's cocaine-fueled death in 1982. James Belushi is now cast in the role of Brother Zee Blues. The new Blues Brothers album, Live From The House of Blues (House of Blues), is both very good and very bad. They reunited most of their excellent backup band to commemorate the opening of the new House of Blues club in Chicago. Included are some of the finest musicians in the history of blues and soul: Matt "Guitar" Murphy, Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, Paul Shaffer, in addition to guest star Joe Walsh. As part of the celebration they brought out blues stars like Billy Boy Arnold, Lonnie Brooks, Charlie Musselwhite, Syl Johnson, and Eddie Floyd. The cuts featuring these gentlemen are excellent. It's the rest of the album that is a total embarrassment. What little vocal talent to be found in the Belushi family went to the grave 15 years ago. James sounds much like a loud, obnoxious drunk at a late night karaoke session. His singing is painful to the ears. I thought that maybe Ackroyd's harmonica playing would have improved over the years. Instead, the best I can say is that he still plays better than Bruce Willis. And his "way too long" intro at the beginning of the album comes across as a pitiful parody of himself.

Essential Chicago BluesNow that I've panned one House of Blues albums, it's time to shift gears and rave about another. Essential Chicago Blues is an excellent compilation covering a wide spectrum of Chicago blues artists, both famous and relatively obscure. It's a nicely packaged two-CD set with cuts from 31 different musicians. Of course the standards like Muddy, the Wolf, Sonny Boy, Little Walter, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, etc. are here. But Essential Chicago Blues also includes fine numbers from artists like John Primer (a great version of "Double Trouble"), Eddy Clearwater, Eddie C. Campbell, and Big John Wrencher. Serious collectors will already have most of the cuts on this CD, but it's always nice to have them re-packaged. My only complaint is with the accompanying 20-page booklet, which fails to include any session information for the recordings.

Like many hardcore blues fans, I always welcome with open arms any previously unissued Muddy Waters stuff. Muddy Waters - Paris, 1972 (Pablo/Fantasy) consists of 10 Muddy standards recorded in concert with his regular working band at the time of Mojo Buford, Louis Myers, Pinetop Perkins, Calvin Jones, and Willie Smith. Unlike most historical live recordings, the sound quality is near-studio quality. Muddy and band are in fine form as they roll through classics like "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Honey Bee," "Rollin' 'N' Tumblin'," and the inevitable closing number "Got My Mojo Workin'."

Muddy WatersSpeaking of Muddy Waters, here's still another one for my collection. MCA has released five more albums as part of their ongoing Chess 50th Anniversary Collection. The Muddy disk covers his best recordings from the years 1956 to 1964, and contains "Diamonds At Your Feet," one of my favorite of his many great songs. In this series you'll also find Volume 2 of Chuck Berry's greatest hits, the best of Sonny Boy Williamson, and doo wop collections from The Moonglows and The Flamingos. I especially enjoyed The Moonglows collection, with big hits like "Sincerely" and "Ten Commandments Of Love."

Sandra HallSandra Hall is a strong-voiced, gospel-influenced singer from the Southeast. Her latest disk, One Drop Will Do (Ichiban), is more straight blues and less soul-oriented than her previous effort for Ichiban. The best tunes here are the covers, as I don't find Ms. Hall to be a terribly inventive songwriter. The slow blues "Ease The Pain" and "Blow Top Blues," featuring excellent guitar work by Mike Lorenz, are the highlights of One Drop Will Do.

This seems to be our month for live recordings from Paris, as Stony Plain Records has issued a 1969 concert by Jimmy Witherspoon. Like the above-mentioned Muddy Waters disk, Jimmy Witherspoon with the Junior Mance Trio features a solid performance by a veteran blues singer, with the sound quality being quite good. 'Spoon runs through many of his customary numbers, most notably nice versions of "Call It Stormy Monday" and "Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough." Junior Mance's piano accompaniment is an added bonus.

Duke Robillard has been a bit of an enigma over the last few years. He doesn't seem to be able to make up his mind as to what kind of blues artist he wants to be. A couple of albums ago he went for more of a heavy "rocked out" sound which I really didn't care for. Around the same time I witnessed an inferior live performance that had the crowd leaving in droves. Dangerous Place (Pointblank) finds Robillard returning to his strengths, primarily Texas/Kansas City swing blues with a touch of roots rock thrown in for good measure. Nobody does T-Bone Walker licks better than Robillard, and we hear some pretty good ones on "Duke's Advice." "I May Be Ugly (But I Sure Know How To Cook)" is another fun tune.

Neal Big Daddy PattmanI had never heard of Neal "Big Daddy" Pattman before this disk arrived on my doorstep, but now I want to hear more by the man. Pattman is a Georgia harmonica player, much in the style of the late Sonny Terry. Live In London (Erwin Music) consists of eleven traditional songs featuring Pattman's strong downhome vocals, "whoopin' style' harmonica, and a sympathetic band led by Charleston, S.C. pianist Gary Erwin (aka Shrimp City Slim). The best of the lot are an uptempo version of "Shortnin' Bread" and the extended gospel medley "I Want Jesus To Walk With Me/Heaven Is Mine." Since Pattman's now 71 years old, I hope we don't have to wait too long for his next CD. NOTE: Erwin Music can be contacted at P.O. Box 13525, Charleston, SC 29422.

Gritty, back alley vocals, biting guitar solos, soulful blues arrangements, and a killer horn section provide a distinctive mix for Another Cow's Dead (Roesch Records), the new CD by Eddie King. That horn section consists of Blues Brothers alumni Alan "Mr. Fabuous" Rubin and "Blue" Lou Marini. The best cuts are the soul-oriented numbers "I Like The Feeling," done originally by Luther Ingram, and "How Long Are You Going To Be Gone."

After his highly-acclaimed debut album, A Cab Driver's Blues, which included taped taxi cab conversations interspersed with music, New Orleans artist Mem Shannon returns with the aptly-named 2nd Blues Album. This one's all music, with 11 original compositions by Shannon. To my ears, this is one example whereby the whole package is greater than the sum of its parts. Shannon's not a great singer, but has an endearing style. Neither will his guitar playing knock anyone out. But 2nd Blues Album is a very comfortable listen. It's blues that comes straight from the heart --- just one man's view of the world around him. You'll laugh during "Old Men," with lines like "... Old men they can predict the weather, they like to stay regular ..." Shannon's guitar playing is at its best on the funky "My Humble Opinion." The most heartfelt song of the album is the closing "The Blues Is Back," which features no accompaniment other than Shannon's guitar.

--- Bill Mitchell

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