There is a certain irony that goes along with playing the blues. One is that most make very little money over the course of one's career, the second being that usually fame and fortune allude you until you are either very old or have passed on. Case in point: Pinetop Perkins. Fortunately for the blues community, Pinetop is very much alive and well with his latest gem of an album, Back On Top (Telarc). At 86 years of age most people are lying on a beach somewhere enjoying the fruits of retirement after working a great deal of their lives. Pinetop is still touring and playing festivals as much as he ever did. This release captures not only the craftsmanship of probably the greatest living blues pianist, but also the gentle personality and the joy in his soul that comes across in his live performances. Back On Top is a collection of 10 numbers comprised of four Perkins originals and some easily recognizable standards done in a semi-acoustic, but rather effective, low-key musical style. Accompanying Mr. Perkins on his latest endeavor is Denny Breau on guitars, one of the premier upright bass players in the business in Michael "Mudcat" Ward, and Per Hanson contributing his own special brand of drumming and brushwork. Guest starring on all but two tracks of this 'destined to be a classic' CD is Corey Harris on guitars and "Sweet" Sugar Ray Norica lending his very authoritatively soft and mesmerizing harp notes to five numbers. Earl Hooker's "Anna Lee" opens up with a smooth mellow melding of Perkins' piano and Harris' excellent steel guitar work, before kicking it up a notch or two on the Perkins original "Down In Mississippi," which features some deep Delta harp licks from Norica. The covers chosen for this album include a bopping version of the classic "Kansas City," a gut wrenching treatment of "Five Long Years," and a new arrangement of a number Perkins recorded close to50 years ago, "Pinetops Boogie Woogie." The final two tracks are (in my opinion) the best, and are both originals. "Thinks Like A Million" and the closing instrumental "Pinetop's Blues" showcase every musician involved in what is quickly becoming my favorite release of the year. The chemistry that exists among the players on this CD is truly spectacular. Upon repeated listens, the listener can only marvel at how in tune they all are with what the others are doing, setting up what sounds like a continuous jam session. The transitions from one tune to the next are so smoothly arranged that you may find yourself consulting the liner notes to make sure exactly to which piece you are listening. The performances, production and songwriting are woven together into one masterful study in classic Delta blues. Back On Top is a brilliantly created work that I highly recommend for every blues fan's collection. After a career spent playing with just about every big name in the blues, Mr. Perkins has carved himself his own special place in recording history with this one. Bravo, Pinetop!
Its been seven long years since the queen of the blues, Koko Taylor, last held court in a recording studio. The long layoff hasnt made one iota of difference as is evident on Royal Blue (Alligator), the latest blistering release from one of the blues royalty. Mired deeply in the sounds of Chicago, as are all of her recordings, Royal Blue is classic Koko, offering her 'one of a kind' brassy and sassy vocals against a backdrop of solid selections and superior musicians. Known primarily as a singer, Taylor shows off her songwriting skills on four numbers, with the best being "Old Woman," proclaiming the virtues of an older woman built on a young woman's frame (and the advantages one can find in such a situation), and "Ernestine," the classic scenario of the man-stealing "other" woman. As has become traditional in the queen's court, some friends sit in on a few numbers. Two duets are the highlight in that department. The first is a smoldering piece featuring the sweet guitar and vocal tones of His Majesty, Mr. B.B. King, on "Blues Hotel." The second is the one acoustic track to adorn this album, featuring Keb' Mo' on steel guitar and trading off vocals with Taylor on "The Man Next Door." Kenny Wayne Shepherds screaming fluid guitar work highlights a superb cover of a Melissa Ethridge tune, "Bring Me Some Water." The dancing fingers of another member of blues royalty, the incomparable Johnnie Johnson, can be heard on three tracks working the 88s to their fullest extent. Co-produced by Taylor herself along with guitarist Criss Johnson and the owner of Alligator records, Bruce Iglauer, they have created a shining jewel of a CD in this queens crown. Koko Taylor is entering her fifth decade of recording, and remains as an intriguing and thoroughly unique vocalist as she was on the first sides she cut with Willie Dixon. Long live the queen!
Whenever two famous artists get together to record there is a certain anticipation, if not speculation, as to how good the finished work will be or if it will be any good at all. The much anticipated collaboration between B.B. King and Eric Clapton, Riding With The King (Reprise), might not answer either of those questions for some listeners, while others might form an opinion one way or the other. This album will more than likely receive praises and sell a lot of copies. But unfortunately, I find myself in the position of having to be completely honest and telling you what I really think, which is not going to be easy in this case because I have mixed feelings about this one. While the two main players are both in as sensational a form as they always are, at times this release is overly produced and suffers from trying to please the masses that it was intended for instead of being the classic recording that it had the potential to be. Now thats not to say there isnt some good music contained within this album, because there certainly is. The covers of Kings own "Ten Long Years," "Three OClock Blues" and "When My Heart Beats Like A Hammer" are the standouts of the 12 selections on this collection simply because B.B. handles all vocals on two of the three. While Clapton is a fine blues guitarist, his vocals, when it comes to the business of the blues, leave much to be desired. While the spirit and the desire are evident, Claptons somewhat homogenized voice makes it a tough sell at times. Meaning no disrespect to Mr. Clapton, he should have kept his mouth shut and let B.B. handle the vocals throughout. A bit more information in the liner notes as to who is playing leads on what track, etc., would have been very helpful, but the listener is left to guess. To add to the confusion, Andy Fairweather Low and Doyle Bramhall, two other guitar players, are listed on every number but two. Nathan East appears on bass on all tracks, Joe Sample is on hand on keyboards, and the fabulous stickwork of Steve Gadd on drums round out the rest of the band. This album was co-produced by Clapton, and has the overtones of being a Clapton album with King sitting in. A little less production, I feel, would have been in order. Riding with The King has some enjoyable tunes on it. But, as mentioned before, it suffers from overproduction and just plain trying too hard to be a blockbuster recording. One question I will pose is, do we really need drum programming on a blues album? I found this CD to be a great idea in concept but a disappointment in execution.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Call me an ignoramus, but I didn't know Peter Green's previous effort, The Robert Johnson Songbook, had won the W.C. Handy Award for Best Comeback Album of the year in 1999. I must have been vacationing on another planet at the time. I can't make any comparisons with the latest from Peter Green with Nigel Watson Splinter Group (what a name!), called Hot Foot Powder (Artisan Recordings), but I can tell you this CD is also worthy of voters' attention. It features the band's arrangements of the remaining 13 Robert Johnson songs that had not been covered on the Songbook, a sort of Robert Johnson Songbook, part 2. Now, everyone knows that Peter Green helped define the sound of electric blues-rock when he was with Fleetwood Mac, but on this CD you won't find interpretations of Robert Johnson's music in a rock format (it's already been done anyway). The idea seems to have been to figure out how Johnson's music must have sounded in his time in a small-band setting. As many blues researchers surmise that Johnson sometimes played with a band, maybe even some early electric guitar, this makes sense. The songs are easily recognizable, with no major changes, only minor details that make you discover those songs again --- a rollicking piano on "They're Red Hot," a double bass played with a bow on "Malted Milk," drums being brushed on "Drunken Hearted Man," etc. Hey, this is Robert Johnson stuff, so I don't have to tell you there are great songs here. Let's just say that "Traveling Riverside Blues," with special guests Joe Louis Walker and Honeyboy Edwards, is an especially blissful moment on an unfailingly excellent record. Cool art work, too.
When you first listen to the opening title-track of The Carson Downey Band's first album, All the Way (Loggerhead Records), you might figure that you're in the presence of an excellent Texas hard-shuffle band in the tradition of Stevie Ray Vaughan's Double Trouble. A very busy rhythm guitar, lots of horsepower in the drummer and bassist, and blazing guitar licks from singer-frontman Carson Downey. I'm sure there are lots of those bands in Texas, anyway. The second song, "Hit and Run Lover," has a totally black, fat, funky bass line, and you will start to wonder if this isn't a Sly Stone blues song (!?). So you open the booklet, and there you have it ---this is indeed a trio à la Double Trouble, but they aren't from oil-rich Texas at all. They're from the poor Atlantic Canadian province of Nova Scotia, and brothers Carson and Murray Downey (who plays drums) descend from the very first Black family to have settled in that province (escaped slaves from the South). Which might explain the title of the third track, "Freedom." The comparison to SRV is useful to start with, but Carson Downey has a softer, more soulful voice, which makes a ballad like "I'm Sorry" (with added organ and horns) sound totally gripping, a potential Southern soul-blues hit. Yet his guitar playing is biting, and he can sing a slow Chicago blues shuffle like "Dirty Low Down Shame" like he was from the Windy City's South Side. This is a band that excels at too many styles to defy easy categorization. Check them out. They are barely starting to make a name on a (Canadian) national level and are still totally unknown in the States, but not for long. And remember, you first read about them here! (By the way, that funky bass player's name is Marlowe Smith. He'll go far, I tell you.)
Best Blues Album, Best Blues Song, Best Harmonica Player --- Michael Pickett's Blues Money raked up the honors at the 1998 Maple Blues Awards (the Canadian Handy Awards). The veteran harpist is back with Conversation With The Blues (Wooden Teeth Records), a CD on which he showcases his singing and songwriting skills more than his harmonica playing. (He also plays resophonic guitar on three tracks.) In the song-by-song notes he wrote for the booklet, Pickett makes a couple of references to Taj Mahal, which is fitting for at least two reasons. First, Pickett's voice has something of the smoky quality of Taj Mahal's, and second, like on the latter's recent Señor Blues, he widens the definition of blues to include more R&B-flavored numbers, with lots of horns. Whatever you want to call the music, the rhythm section (usually Gary Craig on drums, Steve Chadwick on bass, with help from guitarist Shawn Kellerman and Pickett himself, riffing on his harp) know a good groove when it finds one! Listen to "Love Don't Mean It," "It Don't Matter to Me," and "Bad Love" (the latter featuring some fancy work on the mandolin, courtesy of Kevin Breit) for proof. These songs could go on forever, you'd still be there bopping your head. All in all, an excellent showcase for a multi-talented musician.
Holy flaming fingerboard, Batman! All you folk-blues worshippers, run for cover! An ex-member of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, and also of Canned Heat before that, Walter Trout is one of those big guitarists who know how to play loud and fast, or extra-loud and extra-fast, invariably sending crowds in a frenzy, never quite matching this energy on CD. The solution is obvious --- a live album. Walter Trout and The Free Radicals' Live Trout (Ruf Records) was recorded at the Tampa Bay Blues Fest on March 26th, 2000. One night only, no overdubs, the whole show from start to finish, 12 songs, 91 minutes of power blues over two CDs ... you can't ask for more of the real thing. Though I'm not much of a fan for this kind of "ultra" blues-rock, I must say there are a couple of runs where you can't help but hold your breath and open your mouth wide. (At times, Trout makes his guitar sound almost like an electric violin or cello!). The overall effect is more numbing than energizing, in spite of all the wattage used, but I'm sure die-hard fans of guitar pyrotechnics will disagree. That's cool. One thing absolutely everyone will agree on is the amazing sound quality of this recording. Producer Jim Gaines deserves praises and kudos. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to cool down my earphones before they melt!
Chaz DePaolo is a New York-based guitarist (New Jersey, actually) who fuses elements from rock, blues and jazz on his (very short) debut album, appropriately called Eclectic Impressions (Rojer Records). Eight of the nine songs are original instrumental compositions. The two with the highest blues content, "Steamy Delta Improv," with the addition of a harp player named T-Bone Young, and "Texas Style Sizzle," aren't necessarily the only ones that will appeal to blues fans. Even when playing in a jazzier mode, DePaolo and his musicians (usually Bruce Gatewood on bass and Roger Parr on drums) recall somewhat the lengthy explorations / improvisations of Cream. DePaolo is certainly willing to try new things --- witness "Fusion 55," a kind of psychedelic-world beat workout, or his daring cover of Cream's "Sunshine of Your Love" (the only track with lyrics, sung by Rhonda Bennett), which prominently features congas and trumpet! Trippy stuff!
If there's a word to describe Nine Below Zero's latest album, Give Me No Lip Child (Indigo Records), it's probably "schizophrenic." This is a British blues-rock-R&B band that sometimes sounds like punk wannabes singing the blues, sometimes like a blues band singing a punk anthem (the title song is of course borrowed from The Sex Pistols). Other times, they sound like older British blues-based bands, notably the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, but they sure don't sound like Canned Heat (their cover of "On the Road Again" is absolutely rotten). Part of the CD was recorded (poorly) in a live setting (Where? When? No details given), including a couple of songs with guest Hubert Sumlin. And then there's this funky little tune called "So Cold," which is just great. In a word, better wait for a greatest hits package.
Justin Time is Montreal-based record company that specializes in jazz, but that also carries a small blues catalog. Aside from a few recording artists (chief of which is Bryan Lee), it holds in its vaults tapes of touring blues stars performing in Montreal in the 60's and 70's. Here Are The Blues - Justin Time is a 10-song compilation of tracks from these historically significant tapes. The roster is impressive (Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker, James Cotton, Big Mama Thornton, Taj Mahal, Dave Van Ronk, Louisiana Red and Clifton Chenier). Most of the songs are very good, even though the sound quality is average. (The Clifton Chenier track is taken from Squeezebox Boogie, which was reviewed here in August 1999). If you're into rare live recordings, this one is for you.
--- Benoît BrièreChris Thomas King is part of a new generation of blues players that meld together an eclectic mix of musical styles. The cover photo on King's new album, Me, My Guitar and the Blues (Blind Pig), shows King with a Regal Dobro, with his head looking down, immersed in his music. Some of the songs, like "Why Blues" and "Superstitious Blues," are played in a traditional country blues style. "Cain" is a departure from the strict blues style, and is more of a Rap set to a loose blues format. King shows his Motown side on "Stay Just as You Are," with a little smooth jazz sprinkled in. Chris Thomas King takes writing credit on all but two of the 11 tracks, with the exceptions being "Born Under a Bad Sign" (Booker T. Jones) and "Stones in My Passway" (Robert Johnson). Although "Superstitious Blues" and "Gambling Woman" have a serious resemblance to two other songs by Robert Johnson, King takes writing credit. Thanks to Al Gore for his fabulous invention, "The Internet," you can check out Kings own web page at www.christhomasking.com to find out more about his musical and charitable ambitions. Well, if you can put together acoustic slide guitar, Rap, Motown, Classical guitar and R&B, and present it all in a blues format, thats an accomplishment.
--- Mike Simpson
Any new release by Barbara Carr is a reason to rejoice. Stroke It, her fourth on Ecko Records, does not disappoint. Carr has risen to the upper echelon of female soul/blues singers and tours quite a bit (she is quite popular in Europe). She weaves her own magic on these 10 songs penned by John Ward and Raymond Moore, who do most of the songwriting for Ward's fine label. The songs have a certain recurring sexual theme to them, as have her other releases ("Bone Me Like You Own Me," from her second Ecko release, still wins for the best risqué song title). You sort of know what to expect with titles like "Good With Your Hips," "Stroke It," my favorite track from this release, "A Good Woman Ain't Got No Time For A Cheatin' Man," and of course a new song with hootchie in the title. We've had "Hootchie Mama" and "Hootchie Man," and now we are introduced to "Hootchie Dance," a track which is quite fun and a good dance tune. The second cut on this CD, "I Love Him With A Feeling," borrows greatly from the Tampa Red song "Love Her With A Feeling," and it too works quite well. (Anyone who owns Karen Carroll's first Delmark release will find a killer live version of this song). If you own Carr's other releases, you know what to expect. If you don't, this is a good place to start. Ecko Records has an excellent website at www.eckorecords.com. A fun site with some excellent links. Be sure to check it out.
I'm a big Mighty Sam McClain fan, and each new release, such as his latest, Blues For The Soul (Telarc), is welcomed with a great deal of appreciation. Mighty Sam's approach to the blues is quite different than the average blues or soul release in that his themes take on a more spiritual approach than the blues releases to which we've become accustomed. Songs such as "Mighty's Prayer" or "Jesus Got The Blues" are cases in point, although such lines as "...I just stopped by to let you know my heavenly father had the blues before me or you. If someone nailed you to a piece of wood, you'd feel the blues too..." gets a bit heavy to these ears, but delivers the message he intends. Mighty Sam never hides the fact that as a human being he had hit bottom, and that only by discovering God and by using God's gift to him, his incredible voice, was he able to lift himself up from the ashes and carry out his word. That message is quite apparent on the excellent "Love One Another." The absence of cheating or sexually influenced songs that have become so prevalent in many of today's new releases point us in the direction he chooses to follow. There are no references to hoochie women here. His music is life-embracing, uplifting and offers suggestions to improve our lives, as "The Battlefield of Love" testifies to. The album ends with the six minute spiritual "Not I," which is the best Mighty Sam track I've heard in quite some time. A rousing finish to an excellent new release. Hopefully with him now being on a new label (Telarc), he'll get even more exposure than he did with Audioquest, his former label. In closing, if there is some enterprising record company out there, PLEASE let us have the original Mighty Sam tracks he recorded for Amy/Mala/Bell Records in the 60's. It's music that legends are made from.
Gwen McCrae has been on the music scene since the early 70s, and has had a string of records released over the years. She had a fairly large hit with a tune called "Rockin' Chair" back in 1975, and her newest release's title, Still Rockin' (Phat Sound Records), is a play on that song. The song still sounds fresh after all these years, and starts off this release on a positive note and maintains a high level of excellency throughout. A duet with Frank-O (Johnson), titled "Long Way Home," is the kind of track that sticks in your mind and is among the best soul duets recorded in years. It is a safe bet that this track will get a lot of play on the chitlin' airwaves. The wonderful songwriting of Frank-O is highlighted here with four songs, all of the highest quality. I look forward to his next release, his last being several years old. "I Don't Wanna Lose Your Love," is a touch of southern soul splendor. My favorite track on the album, "It Hurts Too Much To Talk About It," is a deep soul thriller that mirrors the similarities between southern soul and country music. If I had any complaints at all about this release, it is the inclusion of four songs that appeared on McCrae's Psychic Hot Line release on Goldwax several years ago, so this release only has six new tracks. The Goldwax release is no longer available, making this new release indispensable to those new to McCrae's fine work. The CD ends with a beautiful gospel song, "Heal The Land," that shows off her splendid pipes. Highly recommended.
E.C. Scott is a big woman with a big voice and a big following. Along with Sista Monica they form the Bay Area's one-two punch of active female performers on the blues festival scene. For the last three years she has toured the U.S., Canada, and even performed in Greece. Growing up singing gospel in Oakland's St. John Missionary Baptist Church helped mold her voice into the strong instrument it is today. Masterpiece is her third CD for Blind Pig, and is her best yet. She wrote or co-wrote all the songs on this release with the exception of Peter Gabriel's "Sledgehammer" (which ironically is the weakest track). She also penned all but one on her last release Hard Act To Follow, proving that she is a master songwriter, far superior to many of today's prolific staff writers companies have hired to crank out songs. Her band Smoke provides excellent backup and an understanding of Scott's music that only many gigs on the road can create. My favorite track is the autobiographical "Wise As A Fool." I've played this CD several times today while writing this review, and at times I just sat back and enjoyed the superb vocals and superior recorded sound. A fine and important new release. E.C. also has a fine web site at www.ecscott.com. Lots of pictures and a fine biography. Check it out.
--- Alan Shutro32 Blues has recently reissued several classic blues albums from the 70s. One of them collects Robert Lockwood, Jr.s recordings (Contrasts and Does 12) for Pete Lowrys Trix label into a two-CD set. The Complete Trix Recordings rank with Lockwoods best work. Though Lockwood is often associated with his stepfather, Robert Johnson, he also leans heavily toward the jazz side of blues. His guitar work is exquisite throughout these CDs, and though a lot of the songs are familiar to Lockwood fans, he always brings a little something different to each rendition. The band is great (featuring outstanding contributions from longtime band member Maurice Reedus) and the songs range from country blues to jazz to jump blues. There are 25 songs in all and not a bad one in the bunch. This is a great, low-priced set of a living legends best work and should be in any blues fan's collection.
Speaking of living legends, David "Honeyboy" Edwards would certainly qualify. There are two recent releases of Honeyboys work. The first is another 32 Blues reissue of Trixs Ive Been Around. This session was done in the 1974-77 years and includes backing on four tracks from Big Walter Horton on harp and on three tracks from Eddie El on second guitar. They provide very capable backing, given Edwards unique timing. Of course, the star of the show is Edwards, as he does several of his own compositions and several Charley Patton and Tommy Johnson covers. Though he, like Lockwood, will forever be linked to Robert Johnson (he was with Johnson the night he was poisoned), he also has his own unique approach to the Delta blues as well, and is by no means an imitator. He is very much his own man. At the time of these recordings, Honeyboy Edwards was one of the most underrecorded guitarists of the older Chicago-based bluesmen. Its good to see this one reissued for those of us who missed it the first time around. The only difference between this CD and Honeyboys most recent CD, Shake Em On Down (Analogue Productions Originals), is that 20 or so years have passed between recordings. He also has two different sidemen, Madison Slim on harp and James D. Lane on second guitar, providing sympathetic backing on selected tracks. However, its all Honeyboys show. Hes lost a very slight bit in his vocals, but those fingers are still nimble. At 85 years old, hes still a head above most of the practicing acoustic bluesmen recording today. The music is great, but the highlight is a 13 minute interview near the close of the CD, in which Edwards recounts some of his adventures (including the poisoning of Robert Johnson) in a manner similar to his Earwig CDs and his autobiography, The World Dont Owe Me Nothin. In addition, this CD is also available as a DVD, so you can see him perform as well as hear him. Honeyboy Edwards, like Robert Lockwood, Jr., is a national treasure and its great to see him get the recognition he has long deserved.
Versatility is the name of the game with Dave Sherman and the Nightcrawlers on their debut CD, Bad Boy. Its a mix of several different kinds of blues, all tastefully done, ranging from Texas to Chicago and places in between. My favorites among the standout songs (nine originals, three covers) are Shermans Texas swinger "Its Just Not Me," harpist Roger Edsells "Dressin Like You Dont Dress For Me," which sounds like it came straight out of the swamp, and the slow burning covers of Eddie Taylors "Bad Boy" and Elmore James "Talk To Me Baby," both of which smolder for eight plus minutes. Shermans "Love Me Tonight," with horns and Hammond B-3 added to the mix, sounds like a Memphis soul number from the 60s. Actually, theres not a bad song in the bunch, with three of the band members contributing songs. Sherman is as skilled a singer as he is a guitarist. There are very few, if any traces of rock that creep into his fretwork. Hes strictly about the blues. Edsell is equally fine on the harmonica, never overplaying, and is also a good singer. The key to the band could quite possibly be the rock-solid rhythm section of Leo "Scatman" Aspiras on bass and Jimi Jones on drums (who also sings on a couple of numbers). They never stray from the groove, regardless of the style being played. This band has a loyal following in the D.C. area, and its easy to see why. This is a fine, enjoyable CD by a band we should be hearing more about. This CD is available at www.amazon.com, fromthe Nightcrawlers website, www.nightcrawlers.com, or by writing Dave Sherman at Quiet Knight Records, 12622 Laurie Drive, Silver Springs, MD 20904.
--- Graham Clarke
Larry Garner's Too Blues, released in 1994 on the British
label JSP, is a masterful follow-up to his great first record (Double Dues).
The title supposedly comes from a tin-eared U.S. blues label boss who deemed
Garner's demo tape "too blues." Regardless, Too Blues is a great
record. Garner is a master singer, guitar player, and songwriter. All the
tunes are originals, and while some are influenced by the great, no track feels
derivative. Each song has its own feel, from the traditional blues of "Born to
Sing the Blues" to the long narrative of "Love Her with a Feeling."
His best tracks take traditional blues forms and incorporate aspects often missing from
modern blues records --- "Thought I Had the Blues" is a straightforward slow
blues number, with a social commentary that has Garner realize his Blues are minor
compared with those of others. And his Award-winning "Dog House Blues"
throws humor into the mix when his wife throws him out and his dog won't take him in.
Garner has followed with a series of acclaimed records, and deserves to be
recognized as a modern master of the Blues. This record is a good place to start
getting to know someone I hope will be around a long time.
--- Joseph Sherman
Our favorite family vacation spot is the Monterey peninsula area of California. We go there for the beautiful coastline and redwood groves. But on the next trip I need to sneak out of the hotel room at night in search of a performance by Monterey area bluesman John "Broadway" Tucker. This fine blues singer has released two very different, but equally good, albums in the past year. Impromptu Blue (Blue Movie Records) is the latest, and showcases Tucker's soulful, earthy vocals in a jazzy blues setting, backed by a band led by the excellent pianist Bill Heid. All nine songs are covers, but Tucker and the band give each song their own style. "Tin Pin Alley" features wonderful piano from Heid. Tucker does his strongest singing on "(If Loving You Is Wrong) I Don't Want To Be Right," this version jam packed with soul and emotion. Sonny Boy Williamson's "Help Me" is given a much more uptown blues treatment than the original. The slow blues standard "As The Years Go Passing By" becomes a much jazzier tune, highlighted by the fine guitar work of Dave Workman. A very good album! ....... An earlier release from Tucker, Mississippi to Monterey (Messaround Records) has a straighter blues sound, with Tucker backed mostly by an acoustic ensemble. Sam Cooke's "Somebody Have Mercy" is a rootsier version, with gritty vocals from Tucker and great harmonica from Gary Smith. The latter also shines on the traditional blues "That's Alright Mama." Tucker's voice sounds a lot like Piedmont blues artist John Cephas on "It Hurts Me Too." One more highlight on this CD is another Sam Cooke cover, "Ain't That Good News," with nice piano and acoustic guitar from Warren Davis and Bill Haines, respectively. John "Broadway" Tucker is certainly a singer who needs to be better known outside the Monterey area.
Another surprisingly good CD out of California is What's A Man To Do (Sugar Beat Records) from Ventura-based Steve White and the Barstool Pigeons. These cats play a swingin' style of blues, but also mix in a lot of other influences to their music. White is a decent singer. His voice doesn't have a lot of range, but he gets a lot of power and emotion out of his vocals. Let's just say that the final product is greater than the sum of its parts. The band provides capable accompaniment, especially the guitar work of Mike Fishell. But White's greatest strength is his songwriting, as each of the dozen cuts on What's A Man To Do are originals. I especially liked the soulful ballad "Just Like A Man," which could easily have come from the O.V. Wright songbook. White's best vocal work comes on the funky blues "Sad Girl," which also features good guitar from Fishell. The latter plays tasty dobro and White contributes some hot sax on "Dog Gone." Overall, a very satisfying album from a band that deserves more than just local recognition.
Chicago blues veteran James Wheeler has his second solo release for Delmark Records, the very nice Can't Take It. This disc is good, solid downhome Chicago blues from one of the city's longtime sidemen, and he's backed by several other veterans like guitarist Billy Flynn, pianist Ken Saydak, and bass player Bob Stroger. The best cuts on Can't Take It are three slow blues numbers, "This Can't Be Happening To Me," "Sometimes," and "You Make It Hard Baby." Wheeler's best vocal work is on "Sometimes," on which his voice takes on a richer texture. Saydak's gospel-style piano also contributes to this song, making it the strongest on the disc. Another good one is the snaky blues of "These Hard Hard Times." If you like "no frills," working class Chicago blues, then Can't Take It is worth checking out.
New Orleans guitarist John Mooney returns to the Blind Pig Records family after several albums for Bullseye Blues, and Gone To Hell is another typically-strong release from this fine artist. Mooney assembled a strong cast of New Orleans musicians for this session, including the ubiquitous Dr. John. In contrast to Mooney's earlier work for Blind Pig, his music of late has become increasingly dark and foreboding. The title cut is a good example of the heaviness of Mooney's sound, with deep-sounding slide guitar and the rhythmic percussion. But then he lightens up a bit, especially on the New Orleans rumba beat of "Dry Spell Blues," with strong piano from Dr. John. Mooney's vocals have improved, as witnessed by the incredible range he shows on the blues classic "How Long Blues" and the rawer "Dry Spell Blues." For a real feelgood sound, be sure to check out the spirited beat of "Grab A Hold." Gone To Hell is another good release from one of our better contemporary artists.
--- Bill Mitchell
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