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June 1998

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Shemekia Copeland - Turn The Heat UpShemekia Copeland, the daughter of the late Texas bluesman Johnny Copeland, is a blues star in the making at the tender young age of 19. Her debut for Alligator Records, Turn The Heat Up, is very impressive. She's got a powerful, booming voice, very similar to a young Koko Taylor. She still needs a little grit in her vocals, something that will come from years of singing in sleazy blues clubs. The best cut is a duet with Joe Louis Walker, who contributes some of his best guitar work on "My Turn Baby." This tune has a real "got my mojo workin'" feel to it. I also particularly liked the gospel-sounding slow blues "It Don't Hurt No More." On this cut Ms. Copeland reminds me a lot of the late Valerie Wellington. A highly recommended disc!

James Wheeler - Ready!James Wheeler has been a sideman in Chicago for longer than most of us have been alive, but on Ready! (Delmark) he finally gets to step to the front of the bandstand. This is one of those CDs on which the final result is greater than the individual parts. There's no flashy guitar licks here, and Wheeler is not a real strong singer. But everything comes together here, especially on slow tunes like "My Key Won't Fit That Lock No More," "Blues At Midnight," and "Hound Dog." Ken Saydak provides some wonderful piano work on the latter two songs. Gloria Thompson-Rodgers is the guest vocalist on Wheeler's original "Bad Girl."

Another Chicago sideman, Johnny Burgin, gets his chance in the spotlight with Straight Out Of Chicago (Delmark), from The Rockin' Johnny Band. Burgin is a solid Magic Sam/West Side Chicago-style guitarist, and also vocally resembles Magic Sam, although not quite as smooth. Burgin's best guitar work is on his own "Undercover Lover." Chicago blues vets Robert Plunkett, Tail Dragger, and Sam Lay make special guest appearances on this CD, adding a special quality to an already good disc. I especially liked two of the cuts featuring Plunkett, "Stranger Blues" and "Cut You A Loose."

Reginald Robinson - Euphonic SoundsRagtime piano revivalist Reginald Robinson, has issued a fine collection of nearly 100-year-old songs on Euphonic Sounds (Delmark). They've even gone so far as to design the CD cover in an early 20th century graphic style. Many of the numbers here are covers from ragtime pioneers Scott Joplin and Louis Chauvin, including Joplin's most famous piece, "The Entertainer." The only vocal number here is "Incognito," featuring singer Sondra Davis. If you're a fan of this form of pre-blues, then you'll enjoy the work of Mr. Robinson.

Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter teamed up with jazz singer Lenny Lynn for Blues Spoken Here (Delmark), a collection of a dozen blues/jazz standards. I really liked Lynn's rich, soulful baritone vocals, and, as usual, Specter and his band provide respectful accompaniment as they've done so often on recordings with other vocalists. The Specter original "Blues Spoken Here" is an excellent smoky, jazzy blues, featuring nice sax work from John Brumbach and Dez Desormeaux. Also good is Lynn's version of Charles Brown's "I Stepped In Quicksand."

Baton Rouge bluesman Larry Garner's new album, Standing Room Only (Ruf) covers a lot of territory, going from a Caribbean sound to a straight Chicago blues on to more of a funky sound. Garner sounds vocally like Robert Cray on the blues number "Keep The Money." Pianist Dave Smith does nice work on Henry Gray's achingly slow blues "Cold Chills." Garner's best guitar playing comes on another slow one, "Don't Start Crying."

Little Willie Littlefield - The Red OneBoogie woogie blues pianist Little Willie Littlefield, as the cover of his new CD proclaims, has been recording for 50 years. This latest disc, The Red One (Oldie Blues), was recorded last year in The Netherlands, and shows Mr. Littlefield to still be in very fine form. Backed by a number of Dutch musicians, he romps through a collection of 19 originals and boogie woogie standards, such as Cecil Gant's "I Wonder" and Louis Jordan's "Caldonia." I especially liked his playing on the original instrumental "Boogie Woogie Jam." The world needs more boogie woogie music like this!

There weren't many better blues singers around than the late Jimmy Witherspoon, and it's always nice to have another set of recordings by him. Jazz Me Blues - The Best Of Jimmy Witherspoon (Prestige) is a collection of recordings from 'Spoon covering the years from 1956 to 1966, and includes stellar backing musicians like T-Bone Walker, Kenny Burrell, Clifford Scott, Gerry Mulligan, Coleman Hawkins, Woody Herman, and Earl "Fatha"Hines. Many of Witherspoon's standards are here, like "Tain't Nobody's Bizness If I Do" and "C.C. Rider." Terrific music from a splendid vocalist.

The name Eric Bibb is a new one to me, but after hearing his new CD, Good Stuff (Earth Beat!), I'm going to try to find out more about this excellent acoustic guitarist. These cuts were recorded in Sweden in '96 and '97, and feature a wide variety of both American and Swedish backing musicians. My favorite tunes were a couple of deep gospel numbers, "Where The Green Grass Grows" and "New World Comin' Through." Bibb shows himself to be a very raw, emotional vocalist on "Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down." His best slide guitar work comes through on the original "Nothin' Like You Used To Do." You can now add Eric Bibb to the list of fine young black blues revivalists.

North Carolina's Bill Lyerly Band is your basic blues power trio. The most notable thing about their new CD, Railroad Station Blues (Riviere International), is a guest appearance by Steve Earle, who shares the vocals with Lyerly on "Hangmen." Lyerly plays nice blues guitar on the opening cut "You Never Know" and "Something's Eatin' Me."

Hot blues rock from a cold place can be found on Fire In Ice (no label), from Minneapolis band Leo Labo and the Deep Freeze. At times guitarist Labo uses too many effects for my personal tastes, although I like his strong licks on "Tell Me The Truth." Labo puts out his best vocal chops on the uptempo blues "I Never Was The One."

Defiance Blues (House of Blues) is a unique concept album featuring an extremely wide variety of blues songs of protest. There's a lot of territory covered here, with tunes from Big Bill Broonzy, Nina Simone, Sonny Boy Williamson, Bukka White, Billie Holiday (her classic "Strange Fruit"), Big Jack Johnson, Leadbelly, and contemporary New York artist Michael Hill's Blues Mob, among others. Despite the disparity of the material, everything blends together well, and makes for a listenable album.

--- Bill Mitchell

Heavy Love is CD number five, I believe, for guitar legend Buddy Guy on the Silvertone label. As it's title makes plain, it is indeed heavy. At the outset, I must lay bare my prejudices: I prefer Buddy playing blues as opposed to blues-rock, which is generally the style favored on his Silvertone releases. That said, I must also confess that no plays blues-rock as well as Buddy. He's got some heavy helpers on this one: Memphis soul legend Steve Cropper, Double Trouble keyboardist Reese Wynans, and Little Feat drummer Richie Hayward. He also duets with young wunderkind Jonny Lang on one cut. Buddy even digs into some real blues and soul on covers of Louis Jordan's "Saturday Night Fish Fry" and Freddie Scott's "Are You Lonely For Me Baby?" It's all mighty tasty.

Roy Rogers may be best known for his production work on John Lee Hooker's Grammy-winning album of several years ago, The Healer, and for his acoustic-oriented duet CDs on the Blind Pig label with harp virtuoso Norton Buffalo. On his own CD, Pleasure & Pain (Pointblank), he favors a slide guitar style reminiscent of Ry Cooder or the late Lowell George of Little Feat. While his guitar playing is certainly blues-based, Rogers' songwriting style draws upon folk, country and rock influences as much as it draws from the blues. All of the tunes on this CD are original compositions. Overall, Pleasure & Pain invites comparison to the recordings of artists like John Mooney and Sonny Landreth, and there's no doubt that Roy belongs right up there with the best of 'em.

--- Lee Poole

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