Thanks to such artists as Jonny Lang, Kenny Wayne Shepard and Susan Tedeschi, who each play traditional blues with a slightly updated sound, and alternative blues being the catalyst with acts such as Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, G Love and Special Sauce and the North Mississippi Allstars, blues is finding a new and younger audience. While the Will Derryberry Band are labeled alternative blues, they are in reality, good old-fashioned guitar driven Texas blues with rock and roll intensity. Following a solo project featuring Will and his resonator guitar and the 1999 live record, the band returns with their first studio album, Demonstration. At age 14, Will Derryberry began showing up in local clubs and astonishing the audiences with his brand of blues, which was influenced by everyone from Robert Johnson to Eric Clapton. His remarkable ability to transition from lead to rhythm guitar without missing a beat, coupled with the youngster's amazingly soulful voice, gained Derryberry a strong following. After years of fine-tuning his craft, he was grabbed up by a Sacramento-based record label, Fair Oaks Music. After bass player Ian Kilpatrick and drummer Baron Miller joined the young guitar slinger, the Will Derryberry band was born. The young band's first effort is comprised of seven original compositions and seven covers. The sound of the record is as rambunctious as Hound Dog Taylor, yet smooth as Robert Cray, and, while it may be sacrilegious to draw this comparison, Will Derryberry's smooth changes and fierce solos could be likened to the late Stevie Ray Vaughan. With the sound of seasoned veterans, this disc starts cookin' with four high-powered original shuffles: "Day And Night," "Upstanding Man," "Funky Instrumental," followed by the funk-driven "Don't Ever Leave Me Be." The drumming of Miller is tight, yet rowdy; Kilpatrick's bass lines are uncomplicated and efficient. Will's guitar playing is amazingly diverse as the group updates the Robert Johnson song "Malted Milk" with a loose and unrehearsed interpretation. With a harmonica intro provided by guest performer Mick Martin, the band tackles the Elmore James classic, "It Hurts Me Too," with respect to the original recording. Will and company give us a little soul, combining a blues twist on a cover of Ray Charles' "Blackjack." Derryberry has an amazing ability to emulate his influences while remaining truly unique. This quality united with a tight rhythm section, Will Derryberry Band is one artist to watch closely. For more info, www.willderryberry.com.
The newest of the Northwest Blues Divas, Nicole Fournier, has captured fans with her sizzling guitar work and heartfelt, yet gutsy, vocals. In 1996 she was bestowed the coveted Summy Award as Tacoma's Blueswoman of the Year. Fournier's self produced first effort, From The Beginning, was nominated as Best Northwest Recording in 1999 by the Washington Blues Society. Her latest effort, Not Forgotten, successfully combines elements of blues, funk, jazz, and even folk, assembling a recording which is vast and diverse. Nicole Fournier has been performing up and down the west coast for a number of years in clubs, festivals, and concert venues. Originally from San Francisco, Nicole began playing the blues after sitting in on a jam session with Bay Area musician Johnny Nitro. While she was nominated in 1992 for Best Female Vocalist for the Bay Area Blues Awards, it was the meeting and jamming with Keith Richards that encouraged the young guitarist to pursue her career. Soon Nicole found herself sharing the stage with the likes of John Lee Hooker and Deacon Jones, and opening for such performers as Elvin Bishop and Joe Louis Walker. She was introduced to Seattle when John Lee Hooker invited her to sit in at a sold out show at the Moore Theatre. Produced with the help of trombone virtuoso and 2002 Washington Blues Society's Hall Of Fame recipient Randy Oxford and keyboardist Ric Ulsky, Not Forgotten is not your usual blues recording. As on her first release, Nicole takes the listener on an emotional and personal journey with all original material. The singer also shares her political views on prisoners and causalities of war with the title track, and shows her patriotism on "Big Something." While the majority of the disc is horn-driven blues, there are some organic moments. One of two acoustic cuts, "My Bones," features the violin and spoons, giving the tune a Celtic vibe. With a Joan Baez approach to song writing, "Reach Out" has a timeless message of helping the less fortunate. On the poignant track "Old Man On The Corner," Nicole shares her feelings on the plight of the homeless in America. The funk driven "Self Respectin Woman" has a sense of self-reliance, whereas on "Maybe Someday" Fournier shows us her vulnerable side. With her unique approach to music and writing, Nicole Fournier successfully combines genres for an eclectic and rewarding recording. For more info, www.nicoleblues.com.
--- Tony Engelhart
You may not know it yet, but Tomato Records has been revived. This is good news for blues fans, as this small company had a reasonably interesting catalogue when it went belly up at the start of the '80s. (This is the company that released the first Robert Cray album. It's also where excellent Texas troubadour Townes Van Zandt recorded most of his discs, not that this has anything to do with the blues). Among the first batch of Tomato records to reach the stores is a fine two-CD retrospective called Blues Roots, a great introduction to down-home post-war blues as it mines the vaults of Arhoolie Records, the most excellent roots music company that celebrated its 40th anniversary two years ago with its own marvelous five-CD box set. Included (at one performance apiece) are such important folk-blues practitioners as Mississippi Fred McDowell, Big Joe Williams, Bukka White, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins (the sole artist represented here with two cuts), the recently deceased John Jackson and Juke Boy Bonner, all recorded by Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz or close associates, plus a few older sides that were bought by the company (Lowell Fulson, Big Joe Turner, Guitar Slim, Jesse Fuller), as well as lesser-known artists as Joe Calicott, R.C. Smith, Robert Shaw, George Coleman and R.L. Burnside. Burnside, a relative unknown? Well, maybe not today, but he certainly was when this 26-song collection appeared at the start of the '70s. His recorded output at the time was a few songs he cut in 1967 for a compilation titled Mississippi Delta Blues, Volume 2. In itself, Blues Roots cannot be faulted for its music. With a majority of acoustic or semi-acoustic tracks and only the last few songs in a more modern electric setting (with John Littlejohn, Johnny Young and Earl Hooker, as well as Big Mama Thornton backed by Muddy Waters and his band), this compilation serves as a great overview of the mostly "non-commercial" blues in the '60s. But it could have been so much better. With only about 40 minutes per disc, it could easily have been expanded to include more recent developments of the blues at Arhoolie, and therefore offer a better picture of the evolution of this music. Still, if you like your blues gently rolling to accompany your rocking chair on the front porch, this is for you.
Arthur "Big Boy" Crudup and Mississippi John Hurt have almost nothing in common, except that they are the first blues artists represented by collections on the recently revived Tomato Records. In Crudup's case, the 14 tracks that make up Rock Me Mama were recorded at the very end of the '50s or at the start of the '60s for Bobby Robinson's Fire label. Backed by a bassist and a drummer (both unknown), Crudup proceeded to revisit some of his large Bluebird output, including the in-the-interim-covered-by-Elvis "That's All Right (Mama)." This material has been issued numerous times before, on Mean Ol' Frisco (two collections with that title, on Collectables and on Charly) and That's All Right Mama (on Relic), for example, but it's still a good collection, showing Crudup still in full possession of his skills. Meanwhile, Hurt's Frankie & Albert album is a live CD containing 21 songs ... and that's about all I can tell you. There is no discographical information and the notes by Fetzer Mills don't give any clue as to when this concert (it does appear that all tracks were taped at one and only one show, though that too is unconfirmed) was taped. It's almost certain that this collection, like the Crudup disc, appeared in some form or another before, as there are no more unreleased Hurt tracks lying about. Except for "Monday Morning Blues," all songs boast very good sound, and as always, Mississippi John Hurt is excellent and totally charming. Rule of thumb: if you don't have any live John Hurt disc, consider this one. Otherwise, you'll have to take a chance and see if you don't own this already.
While the three previous records, in spite of their shortcomings, are recommended, the same cannot be said about Dr. John's Early Prescriptions (from the Recall two-CD series of British Snapper Music). The 24 songs it presents come from the start of Mac Rebennack's stay in California (that is, after his very beginnings in New Orleans, represented on the Medical School CD of two years ago, but before his first album as Dr. John the Night Tripper, Gris-Gris, which appeared in 1967). While some cuts on Early Prescriptions are very good (such as the surf-twang instrumental "One Night Late" and a couple of Professor Longhair covers), there is much here that should have remained in the vaults, whether the performance is so-so (some songs sound as if they were rough ideas, recorded as demos or abandoned before a proper mix could be found). Furthermore, one can't even be sure they're all Dr. John's doing. Michael Heatley writes in his liner notes that the good Doctor "claims a singer who sounded like him was employed to add vocals to some instrumental tracks." With no discographical information, it's hard to entirely dismiss the artist's view of these tracks! For hardcore Dr. John fans only.
Before we move on to newer material, let us mention the release of a new Blue on Blues disc, this time featuring Charley Patton and Blind Lemon Jefferson. The Blue on Blues concept, developed by the Fuel 2000 company, pairs two bluesmen, generally related stylistically, per disc --- a T-Bone Walker/BB King CD was recently advertised in the pages of Living Blues. With only six tracks devoted to each artist, this series aims at the casual blues fan, not at the hardcore collector. In the case of the Patton/Jefferson CD, coming only a few months after the release of the monumental Screamin' and Hollerin' the Blues box set, it might attract those that read about this definitive release but were turned down by the hefty price. Sound quality is not on par with the major Revenant release, with a somewhat muddy feeling, and arguments could be made about the song selection (two tracks recorded with Son Sims on fiddle are included, though they are far from the best Patton sides). The Blind Lemon Jefferson sides, on the other hand, sound much better than they do on my Charly collection. Informative notes by Bill Dahl are also an asset in this entry-level collection of classic pre-war blues.
The Dirty Dozen Brass Band is not a blues band, but rather, as its name implies, a (New Orleans) brass band. On Medicated Magic (Ropeadope/Rykodisc), it revisits classic New Orleans R&B (such as Dr. John's "Walk on Gilded Splinters," the Meters' "Cissy Strut" and "Africa," and Irma Thomas' "Ruler of my Heart") with the help of some friends, such as Dr. John, Norah Jones, Olu Dara, sacred steel guitarist Robert Randolph and Widespread Panic's John Bell. Not pure blues, but funky as hell, although the guest singers tend to steal the spotlight away from the band. Band compositions tend to include jazz-like improvisations, but never at the expense of the groove. Recommended.
Not exactly a blues outing either, Etta James and the Roots Band's live album, Burnin' Down the House (Private Music), shows this great lady of song on a soul night at the House of Blues in Hollywood. "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and B.B. King's "Rock Me Baby" are there, alongside covers of Randy Newman and Al Green, and Etta classics such as "I'd Rather Go Blind." Well in her 60s, Ms. James has lost none of her vocal powers, but strangely, she doesn't seem able to convey emotions on the smoother, softer ballads that are normally her forte. It's as if she's only going through the motions --- but then, the closing "Sugar on the Floor" is a glorious exception, with James testifying with a gospel-like fervor that will send chills down your spine. Uneven, but still interesting.
--- Benoît Brière
Having been regarded for so many years as an exemplary label devoted to jazz and classical releases, Telarc added a blues division a few years back and continually puts out outstanding efforts by both established artists, along with some of the fastest rising young lions in today¹s contemporary blues market. With this excellent catalog creating compilations come easy, as is evident in the latest collection this time focusing on the blues main mouth piece, the harp. In the Pocket: A Taste of Blues Harmonica (Telarc) treats us to some mighty fine blowing by the likes of James Cotton (as if there couldn¹t be a harp recording on this planet without a Cotton selection), Charlie Musselwhite, Carey Bell and two selections from Baton Rouge¹s royal family of the Blues, the Neals (father Raful and son Neal). Over half the cuts come directly from harpists' releases, while the rest are made up of singers or guitarists CDs where a featured harpist of high quality sat in. The CD starts off in a highly upbeat fashion, with Ronnie Earl's "Mighty Fine Boogie" allowing his buddies Kim Wilson and James Cotton to alternate licks in this spirited instrumental. The mood changes a bit with the slow burn of the before-mentioned Raful Neal, along with Lazy Lester on "Starlight Diamond" from the second installment of Superharps. Raful's offspring, Kenny Neal, shines on "Bring It on Home" from Telarc's other type of collections featuring songs by important songwriters. This time Willie Dixon is brought to the spotlight. Another example of this is Robert Lockwood Jr.'s version of Robert Johnson's "I¹m a Steady Rollin' Man," with Carey Bell truly evoking the spirit of Johnson with his melodically shrill blowing. Charlie Musselwhite follows the trend with his tearful rendering of his own "In Your Darkest Hour," accompanied only by T-Bone Wolk's thundering bass. Buddy Guy's longtime partner Junior Wells takes a solo turn here with "The Goat" from his '96 offering Come on in this House. Along with the James Cotton collaborations throughout, we¹re fortunate enough to enjoy the full experience of Cotton alone on two cuts, "Fire Down Under the Hill" and "Lightning." A wonderful mix to please any harp lover¹s ears. Look for this CD to be on the shelves on the 23rd of the month.
One's journey in life can take many turns, some unexpected, some downright exhilarating. At other times the bold truth steers you down the path tailored exactly to your talents. This could certainly be said of Joe Louis Walker, whose choice as a member of the '70s gospel group, The Spiritual Corinthians, came after nearly a decade of being San Francisco's premier bluesman, playing with the likes of Muddy Waters and Jimi Hendrix and whoever else landed in town. It was while playing the gospel tent at the New Orleans Jazz Fest in the mid '80s that Walker reunited with the blues, prompting the formation of the Boss Talkers in his hometown. He's never looked back. After various labels and awards, including three W.C. Handy Contemporary Artist of the Year accolades, Walker¹s first outing with Telarc, In The Morning, beautifully incorporates blues, gospel, funk and jazz in a neat package. Wonderfully produced by Randy Labbe with one of the cleanest, crispest recordings these ears have heard in some time, expertly tracked by Steve Drown, who manages to enhance Walker¹s spirit and soul throughout. To complement Walker on all that he accomplishes, we have true professionals with G.E. Smith (guitar), T-Bone Wolk (bass), Steve Holley (drums) and Andrea Re (backup vocals/percussion). The time spent with Walker on his 10 tunes can make you a happy person moving through your day whistling here, snapping there and generally feeling good all over. No better example of this is the opening track, "You¹re Just About To Lose Your Clown," with its funky feel and Latin flavored picking. Walker¹s vocal strength becomes apparent when he pays tribute to his gospel years with "Where Jesus Leads." His passionate voice, with the conviction of any preacher, makes us believers. Once again we¹re delighted to hear Walker¹s convincing soulful take on "Strange Loving," highlighted with over a minute of improvising towards the end letting the band share alternate harmonies. Great tune. Visions of the great instrumentals of the mid to late sixties, crafted by groups like Jr. Walker and James Brown's Flames are nicely captured in "2120 South Michigan Avenue," an homage to the famous Chess recording studio, penned by the Glimmer Twins (Jagger & Richards). Bringing us to the end of the road, acoustic style, Walker aptly showcases why he's here in the first place with "Strangers In Our House." We¹re left feeling that not only is this not the final turn in the journey for Walker, but also just around the corner lies many more inspirational songs ready to grace us with a smile. This CD is, without a doubt, showing up on my end of the year list. Don¹t take my word for it, buy it and listen for yourself.
Everyone looks to some form of inspiration at times during their life to
keep them on track with their musical muse. Jimmy Thackery, in his
debut on the Telarc label, pays tribute to his inspiration, legendary soulster
/ songwriter Eddie Hinton, on his latest, We Got It (Telarc). This
couldn¹t be a better pairing. Thackery¹s growl-inflected vocals hug the
introspective soulful/blues lyrics that Hinton made famous with soul royalty
like Aretha Franklin and Wilson Pickett. The title track is a prime example,
with interlacing harmonies supplied by Thackery and also featuring backup vocalist
Reba Russell. The rest of the band includes Ken Faltinson (bass, Hammond B3
and piano), Mark Stutso (drums), Jimmy Carpenter (sax) and the Cate Brothers
(Ernie & Earl on guitar, keyboards and vocals).
Eddie Hinton¹s career found him in the famed Muscle Shoals recording studios,
where horns were an everyday occurrence. No wonder Thackery¹s sax player,
Carpenter brings such body to cuts like "We Got It" and "My Searching is
Over." Great grooves are found up and down this disc in such notables as the
instrumental "Blues Dog Prowl," reeling us in with Thackery¹s surflike
notes (one of just a few non-Hinton penned tunes) and "Big Fat Woman."
Thackery slows her down a bit on tunes like "Dangerous Highway." Just listen
to the smooth sax Carpenter beautifully exhibits here.
Thackery clearly shows his powerful blues picking on this one along with the
intended passion one needs so desperately to do these tunes right by Mr.
Hinton. Seems like someone was paying attention.
--- Bruce A. Coen
When two old friends get together to cut an album, the results can vary from ho-hum to OK to pure recorded blues magic. May I present for your inspection Guitar Brothers (JSP), an absolutely delicious biscuit from Joe Louis Walker & Otis Grand. Strap yourself down tight before listening to this one, because it goes from 0-100 in about a millisecond. After being bound by a seven year/six album contract, Walker was free to make an album with complete creative control and no pressure or demands from a record company. The result is one of the best blues albums I have heard this year, or any year, for that matter. Ten cuts of originals and covers comprise this stunning collection that was co-produced by the gentlemen whose names appear on the marquee. A mid-tempo tale of marital woes, entitled “Snake Bit,” starts things off with Walker admirably strutting his stuff to its fullest on lap steel with Grand contributing some tasty fills. The heat gets turned up a notch or two with the shuffling and fun R&B-flavored ditty “Imitation Ice Cream Blues,” while a rollicking version of Johnny Watson’s “I’m Getting Drunk” cooks with an intensity that will make you seek out a dance floor rather quickly. One of the album’s hottest numbers finds both principles trading off some explosive guitar chops on “I Like It That Way,” set against a chugging backbeat, before segueing into the lone slow blues number from the pen of Grand, entitled “Better Off Alone.” A fiery version of B.B. King’s “Friends,” featuring Walker, may cause an unscheduled test of your smoke detectors, with the same results occurring with “Bliss Street Blues,” another original gem from Grand with him in the spotlight and some greasy harp runs from George Bisharat. The latter is also featured on the album’s high voltage closer, Jimmy Reed’s “I’m Gonna Love You.” Supporting these two very talented axe slingers are Chris Burns pumping out some fine barrelhouse piano and slippery B3 licks, Robert Watson thumping out an impressive bass line, Clarence ‘Starr’ James Jr. pounding the skins and Cash Farrar and Steve Long blasting away on tenor sax and trumpet. From start to finish, there isn’t one weak number to be found anywhere due to the razor sharp production and performances, making this one of those “perfect” albums. This one has timeless written all over it. You might want to pick up two copies and give one to a fellow blues lover --- they’ll love you for it. This one doesn’t miss a trick.
I will readily admit that I am a huge fan of
Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers,
but that in no way biases my opinion of their sixth studio effort and first
for the Telarc label, the extraordinary We Got It. This album is a labor of
love, paying tribute to a fabulous musician and songwriter, Eddie Hinton, who,
while a member of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, wrote countless songs and
played guitar on numerous albums for other artists such as Aretha Franklin
and the Staple Singers before recording under his own name. Unfortunately,
Eddie Hinton is no longer with us, but,Thackery and the Drivers honor his
memory with eight out of the 11 numbers on this fine record being covers
of his tunes and the other three original works from Jimmy. While the hard
rocking blues sound that Thackery and company have made their signature is
present, this outing has the band crossing heavily into Memphis flavored soul
and R&B stylings. Jimmy Carpenter’s melodic, funky sax strains, accompanied by
Jimmy’s growling vocals, dominate the opening easy shuffle of “My Searching
Is Over,” with the funky bop of “I Still Want To Be Your Man” following with
Jimmy airing things out a bit with a wailing solo. The Cate Brothers, Ernie
and Earl, lend their soul-drenched harmonies to the lovely ballad “It’s All
Wrong But It’s Alright,” which has Thackery playing a hair raising duet with
Earl. A light hearted original, “Where’d My Good Friend Go,” shows the
continuing evolution of Mr. Thackery into a pretty damn good songwriter, along
with the album’s other two originals, “Blues Dog Prowl” an instrumental that
the whole band stretches out and jams on a bit, along with “Blues For
The title number has an almost gospel-ish tone and feel to it, with Thackery
pretty much testifying the lyrics about that special once in a lifetime solid
type of love, with a confident command and the pretty voice of Reba Russell backing him up.
There's also some surprising B3 licks from bassist Ken Falinston
and a gorgeous solo from Jimmy on the fade out that you will wish didn’t fade
so quickly. “Dangerous Highway” finds the voice of one of the most
underrated drummers in the blues, Mark Stutso, crooning the tale of a man’s
longing search for that “one” and the troubles that can be encountered doing
so. The deepest and most prolific number in this collection is the thought-provoking
”Get Off On It,” which sends the message that life is choices and
what you make of them, so grab on tight with both hands and relish the ride.
“Big Fat Woman” closes things out on an upbeat fun note about the joys of
zoftig mammas that leave you wanting more, sort of the same way this album
does. This release is not nearly as commercially appealing as their last
effort, Sinner Street, but doesn’t try to be either. Thackery himself has never
sounded better vocally, exuding a firm confidence in his singing that has
really blossomed over the last two albums. Musically speaking, you can hear
the respect and admiration that not only Thackery, but the whole band, has for
the material based on the sensational performances turned in by all. We Got It
is one of those albums that flows so smoothly that you feel it’s shorter
than its 53 minutes. Slick production, outstanding material and superior
performances make this, at least in this writer’s opinion, Jimmy Thackery and
The Drivers’ best work to date. Place this one high on your "gotta have it"
list. You’ll be so glad you did.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
My first acquaintance with Boo Boo Davis was as the drummer (and vocalist on a couple of tracks) on Arthur Williams' Harpin' On It on Fedora Records. His vocal resemblance to Howlin' Wolf was quite remarkable and it was just a matter of time before he ventured out on his own. He has quit drumming to become a standup vocalist, not an easy switch but one which has benefited his singing enormously. James "Boo Boo" Davis was born in Drew, Mississippi on November 4, 1943. At the age of seven he was playing drums with his family's band. He didn't have a drum kit, so he used a lard can instead. His father Sylvester Davis was the lead singer and two of his brothers and one sister were also in the band. They were called "The Lard Can Band." With such an auspicious beginning, you know he had to succeed. Boo Boo moved to St. Louis and his band backed up many great blues singers such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Milton and Elmore James. Can Man is his second CD for the wonderful Black & Tan Records out of Holland. It was recorded live, all in one take. No overdubs. The band cooks to create an authentic roots sound reminiscent of the blues being created in the fifties and sixties. Although the music pays respect to that era, the lyrics are all Boo's and the repertoire contains all originals. The CD opens with a nice shuffle, "Big House All By Myself," with fine guitar work by Jan Mittendorp. The title track, "Can Man," immediately connects Davis and Howlin' Wolf vocally and again features Mittendorp's searing guitar and Wybren Feenstra's rocking piano. On "Boo's Boogie Woogie," Feenstra has the opportunity to stretch out and give us a boogie woogie lesson. Great stuff! To everyone who loves Howlin' Wolf's raw Chicago blues, you'll love this release. It proves that great traditional blues is still being recorded with the same intensity as the masters who taught it to us. Highly recommended.
The prolific Chuck Roberson is back with, Let's Party, his sixth release for Ecko Records. This release follows the formula established by his previous releases. A few cheating songs, a couple of new dance tunes, a great cover of the Ronnie Lovejoy classic, "It Sho Wasn't Me," and a fine patriotic tune, "Stand Up America." With his fine voice (one of Southern soul's finest), he is able to transform even routine songs into tunes that feel fresh. Songs like "Keep It In The Bedroom" or "Were Gonna Party" are good examples of what I mean. Not great songs, but given the Roberson treatment they'll get some play. The fun song "Booty Bounce" is a follow up to the "Booty Scoot 2000" from his Love Freak album and will be a dance floor favorite. The only thing that puzzles me about this release is the track "Stroke Me Right," a direct cop of George McCrae's 1974 dance hit "Rock Your Baby." The songs are identical with just the lyrics changed. Oh well, if it worked for McCrae. If you're a fan of Chuck Roberson, you won't be disappointed with this release, but you'll probably feel that, with the exception of the Lovejoy song, it is too similar to his prior releases. Still, we wish Chuck great success with this release and look forward to perhaps a little different direction on his next one. We've had the "Booty Scoot" and the "Booty Bounce," does that mean the "Booty Shake" next time?
A new release by Vernon Garrett is always a welcome occasion, as each release always contains tracks you return to time and again. When Something Is Wrong With My Baby (Evejim) is no exception. Two excellent tracks featuring Brenda Lee Eager (of Jerry Butler duet fame) are a good place to start. The Sam & Dave classic, "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby," is given a powerful reading by Garrett and Eager. It doesn't surpass the original, but sure gives it a run for it's money and can sit proudly alongside Sam & Dave's version. The other duet is the well known Harold Melvin & the Bluenotes' "If You Don't Know Me By Now," and is enjoyable but not a challenge to the original. Once again this release contains four tracks that appeared on his last album, Don't Look Any Further, reviewed in the November 2000 issue of Blues Bytes. But there's enough new material to make this release worthwhile. Garrett does a fine version of the Clay Hammond "License To Steal," and reprises a couple of his own older recordings. "Crossroads 2000" updates the recording he did on his 1982 California Gold LP, with references to a few of today's performers, such as Marvin Sease. "I've Got To Get Over (To My Baby's Place)," a song new to Evejim but one that appeared on Glow Hill in 1985. There is a nice slow bluesy "Don't Look Any Further," which will please many of his fans. In summation, this is a good new release by one of our soul/blues veterans. His voice is still strong and his live show excellent. Check him out, and check out Evejim's website at www.evejim.com .
I spoke about the potential I heard in the first Sheba Potts-Wright release of last year titled Sheba (See October 2001), and the potential to climb to the next echelon on her quest for full diva-hood. Love Fest (Ecko Records) is a major step forward with many fine tracks his time out. The catchy "I Can Bagg It Up" is a dance tune you will love. Actually the club mix, which also appears here, is much raunchier and the one I play to get the party moving. But the real beauty of this album is the great ballad, "I'll Be The Other Woman," originally recorded by The Soul Children back in 1973. This song is one of the classics of deep soul and given a great effort by Sheba. If you like this song you should check out the original, as it is one of Stax's best ever. The other great tracks here are also ballads with the descriptive titles of "Tell Your Wife And Your Woman Too" or the equally fine "He's Not Your Man," with its groove that could have easily come from Shirley Brown's "Woman To Woman" period. The same could be said of "Love Merry Go Round" with its spoken intro. Great stuff here. The mid-tempo "Cruise Control" reprises her "Slow Roll It" from Sheba. Ecko Records deserves kudos for giving us the opportunity to hear and enjoy this fine new artist. This is without a doubt their finest release so far this year. Check out Ecko's website at www.eckorecords.com for some fine pictures of Sheba Potts-Wright, along with some of their other artists including the late Rufus Thomas. Don't miss out on this release.
--- Alan Shutro
Nestled directly in Central Canada, Winnipeg, Manitoba is one of the most unconventional places to be a blues musician. Yet that is where Big Dave McLean calls home. He claims he can provide his family with a ‘normal’ life there, but admits the greatest drawback is the fact that out-of-town gigs are 600 miles away in any direction. For 32 years, McLean has been an integral part of the Canadian blues scene. Although not a prolific songwriter, he is commonly acknowledged as the country’s predominant acoustic blues musician. Recorded live off the floor in just three days, For The Blues… Always (Stony Plain) is a 40 minute mix of four acoustic solo performances and six songs played with a full band. Throughout all tracks, including one original, McLean plays national steel, six string acoustic and harmonica. With respect and admiration, he effectively covers tunes by greats such as: Elmore James, Mississippi John Hurt, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters. All songs were arranged by Big Dave and the CD was produced by Colin James. "Dust My Broom" is performed à la Big Joe Turner. Here, Johnny Ferriera’s bursting sax could easily pass an audition for any rocking R&B band. You will also enjoy the houserockin’ keys of Eric Webster. If you like electric guitar, they don’t come much better than Colin James. "My Adorable One" is simply beautiful. On it, McLean’s gruff and mighty voice emotes a deep conviction to the song and genre as a whole. Big Dave brilliantly covers classic Taj Mahal, "Cakewalk Into Town," and James Oden, "Had My Fun." So much Delta emanates from McLean on "Sliding Delta," you will forget he is a Caucasian Canadian. "Always" is the sole original but it is the song that gets stuck in your mind the longest. Perhaps this is a result of the eloquent guitar, the bellowing horns or simply the impassioned melody. Whatever the case, it proves beyond a reason for doubt that Big Dave McLean can write a mean, slow blues that fits in with classics by the masters. Sure the songs are predominantly standards, but you still require talent to perform them with your own style in adoration for your heroes. Producer James states, "I first heard him when I was nine, he blew me away then and he still does today. He's one of the great undiscovered bluesmen and people ought to hear him." McLean’s confidant vocals and proficient guitar skills have resulted in one of the best Canadian blues releases ever. For CDs, booking and information, contact: Stony Plain Records, PO Box 861, Edmonton, AB Canada T5J 2L8, website: www.stonyplainrecords.com e-mail: email@example.com.
--- Tim Holek
Considering how long brothers Syl and Jimmy Johnson have been on the music scene, it's amazing that they have never recorded together. Syl got his start in the '50s, playing the blues with Magic Sam, Junior Wells, Jimmy Reed, and Billy Boy Arnold. He moved to soul in the late '60s and recorded some classic soul records in the late '60s and early '70s, including "Come On Sock It To Me," "Is It Because I'm Black," "Dresses Too Short," and "Take Me To The River." He resurfaced in the mid '90s with two excellent soul/blues releases for Delmark and one for Antone's. Jimmy started out in the late '50s, backing Freddie King and even toured with Earl Hooker. He later switched to the soul circuit in the early '60s, backing such artists as Otis Clay and Denise LaSalle, before surfacing as Jimmy Dawkins' rhythm guitarist in the mid '70s and backing Otis Rush on his tour of Japan in 1975 (which resulted in what many believe to be Rush's quintessential live CD, So Many Roads-Live In Concert). In the late '70s, he recorded four tracks for Alligator's Living Chicago Blues series, and subsequently released five well-received albums (two for Delmark, one for Alligator, one for Verve and one for Ruf). The brothers' paths finally crossed with a collaboration that was initially released last year on the British label Evangeline, but has been reissued by Evidence Records. The CD, humorously titled Two Johnsons Are Better Than One, will make you wish they had gotten together sooner. This is a fine mixture of Chicago blues and soul, which makes sense since both participants are so well versed in both genres. Both men are great, soulful singers (Syl's gritty vocals get the edge here) and are also gifted guitarists (Jimmy's distinctive, jazz-tinged guitar is memorable, but Syl acquits himself well, also). They revise some of their old songs, including a rehash of a couple of Syl's songs ("Is It Because I'm Black," which features some great guitar from Jimmy, and "Goodie Goodie Goodtime"), and one of Jimmy's classics ("Ashes In The Ashtray"). Other noteworthy songs include Syl's "Uncomplicated Life," "If I Wuz White" (a sequel of sorts to "…Black"), and his ode to America's favorite talk show host, "Oprah." Standouts by Jimmy are "I Used To Be A Millionaire" and "I Feel The Pain." Although a horn section might have improved things a bit on a few tracks and, for some reason, the title cut doesn't quite gel, the finished product is definitely worth listening to. It's obvious that both brothers relished being together in the studio, and hopefully they will do it again before too long.
The Joe Richardson Express return with another journey into the swampy delta blues sound that they captured so successfully on their previous release, Way Beyond The Blues. This follow-up, titled Somhelgisfel (Viewpoint Records), gives the listener more of those dark, atmospheric blues. Sometimes, it reminds me a lot of Buddy Guy's recent effort at the Fat Possum studio, as Richardson opens with a stark, stripped-down number, "Feelin' Like The Dead," then jumps into a rocking "Black Sheep of the Blues." The next number, an acoustic "Golden Idol," is a personal blues where Richardson laments his fortunes (or misfortunes) as a bluesman, comparing himself to Moses, who never got to see the Promised Land. "The Gospel" is another autobiographical track which features some scorching guitar. Other favorites include "Virginia," which sounds like a song Lightnin' Hopkins might have done, with Richardson begging a woman to take him back even though he knows he will do her wrong again, and the eerie "Witch Cat," which sounds like an outtake from Electric Ladyland. The Express (Kevin Phelan on bass and Richard Lamm on drums) again provides great support. Richardson is top notch on guitar and his vocals really fit the mood of the songs. In the liner notes, he writes, "…..Blues isn't about a structured pattern, it's about feel…and tone…and emotion..." Somhelgisfel is full of plenty of all three of these qualities and is highly recommended.
--- Graham Clarke
One of the, largely, unsung heroes of the new blues generation, Robben Ford never fails to produce some good music, and his latest CD, Blue Moon (Concord Records), is no exception. The album was recorded late last year and features four covers of old blues numbers with eight Robben Ford originals --- a good mixture of old and new. (There are actually 13 tracks, but track 12 is a remix version of track three -- - "Don't Deny You Love"). The CD opens with a version of a Little Walter track, "Up The Line." This is an up-tempo number with a five-piece band belting out some great blues. Neil Larson plays some superb barrelhouse piano behind Robben Ford's guitar, and way in the background is the haunting sound of David Woodford's baritone sax --- a strange mixture, but it really works. The choice of opening numbers was inspired, because it makes you want to hear more and more. Track two, "Hard To Please," is a Robben Ford original with the five-piece band stripped down to four, losing Dave Woodford's saxophone. This is a nice slow blues which really shows how good Robben Ford's songwriting can be, and also showcases some great guitar work from him and lovely bass lines from Roscoe Beck. Neil Larson switches from piano to organ for this one. Track three (which is remixed as track 12) is my least favourite on the album --- it's a well written song, a blues /soul mix of music. It's not a bad track, but it just didn't do much for me, possibly because I'm not a lover of tracks featuring programmed drumming. Maybe I just need to catch up with the times a bit! One of the things that makes this CD interesting the whole way through is the way that the line-up changes for almost every track. Some tracks feature the sax of Dave Woodford, on some tracks the drummer changes from Tom Brechtlein to Vinnie Colaiuta. Most of the bass playing is by Jimmy Earl, but a couple of tracks feature Roscoe Beck. Track four has some excellent background vocals by Julie Christiansen, Neil Larsen switches back and forwards between piano and organ, or doesn't appear at all, and as an incredible bonus, the last track, "The Toddle" (another Little Walter number), features the harmonica playing of Charlie Musselwhite! I mentioned my least favourite track as being "Don't Deny Your Love"; I have to mention that my absolute favourite is the "The Toddle" --- the band here is the same line-up as track one, but with Charlie Musselwhite substituting for David Woodford.
Predictably, Silver Lining (Capitol) is another faultless album from the mistress of the slide guitar, Bonnie Raitt. The title track, one of four ballads on the album, was written by the well-respected, and currently popular, David Gray, and there are also three Bonnie Raitt-written tracks amongst the others (a total of 12 tracks make up the CD). The CD was produced by the same team that got together for Bonnie's 1998 album, Fundamental, in Tchad Blake and Mitchell Froom, and they have done another good job here. Bonnie's brother Steve appears on the album, supplying some background vocals, amongst a huge list of musicians including Jon Cleary, whose piano and keyboard playing ranks amongst the best in the business. Although this CD isn't strictly blues all the way through, Bonnie certainly gets back to her roots, especially on the tracks that she wrote herself. One track that stands out above the others is "Gnawing On It" (track five) where Bonnie is joined by slide guitar master Roy Rogers. This is Bonnie Raitt blues at its very best, and the two guitarists really get each other inspired on this track, my favourite from this CD. If you've heard better guitar work than this lately, then let me know! If you like Bonnie Raitt, this is a "must-have" CD with something for all musical tastes --- blues, funk, ballads, and even a track which owes a lot of it's inspiration to Paul Simon's Graceland album, "Hear Me Lord," which was written by Oliver Mtukudzi and features guitar work by Andy Abad. The three tracks written by Bonnie are probably the best blues on the CD, and one of them, "Back Around," co-written with Habib Koite, put me in mind of the blues that comes out of Mali & Senegal. Excellent stuff!
Rev. Pearly Brown, also known as Blind Pearly Brown, was born blind in Macon, Georgia in 1915. As a boy he heard Blind Willie Johnson play on the street, inspiring Brown to also become an accomplished gospel / blues slide guitarist and singer. His repertoire reaches back easily a single generation to slavery days. You're Gonna Need That Pure Religion (Arhoolie) is composed of the original Georgia Street Singer LP (Folklyric, 1961). To this is appended four tracks recorded live by Chris Strachwitz on KPFA (Berkeley, CA) in 1974 with Brown's wife (backup vocals) and members of the Dirty Butter Band. This section includes discussion between the host and Brown about the songs, Blind Willie McTell and more.
Brightly packaged in a fractal-festooned digipack, Kenn Lending Blues Band's Psychedelic Mind (Olufsen Records) suggests more that is psychedelic than it offers. However, that is not to dismiss the lively electric blues inside. While Lending is not exactly stunning as a vocalist, the Kenn Lending Blues Band fueled by Hammond organ and Moog synthesizer from Dan Hemmer is a quality unit. A standout track, "Black Clouds," does capture the essence of a "Summer of Love" sound.
After a recording hiatus of nearly four years, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion returns with another blast of blues-punk in Plastic Fang (Matador Records). This time, the group called out the big guns in recording science at Manhattan's Oorong Sound, with Steve Jordan producing and Don Smith engineering. They've worked with The Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, Tom Petty, Bob Dylan, and more. The result is a monster rock album that could fill an arena. Both in technology and delivery, Plastic Fang marks a further step in the direction of controlled rock 'n' soul where not an ounce of its unfettered energy is lost in a tuneless bombastic.
Before it was hip, Bryan Ferry was releasing a solo album of song interpretations. He returns to that format on Frantic (Virgin Records) along with some new material. Once again tapping the producing skills of Rhett Davies, Ferry explores stylistic possibilities in love songs. Among the original songs is an ominous "Cruel" and the Marilyn Monroe-inspired "Goddess of Love." Both of these are co-written with Dave Stewart. Ferry also exhibits his well-honed harmonica skills on "It's All Over Now Baby Blue." Another Bob Dylan piece, "Don't Think Twice," is included along with even more rootsy material like the Don Nix blues standard "Goin' Down" and Leadbelly's folk blues "Goodnight Irene," which gets a Cajun treatment.
Van Morrison knows music history and is music history. The cover photo on Down The Road (Polydor) is of a well-stocked memorabilia record store, like ones seen on Rue Royale in New Orleans. Van Morrison mentions the Crescent City, rich as it is in music history, in the opening, title track. Later, in "Hey Mr. DJ," he recalls the other source of great music in people's lives --- radio and the way it can personalize a moment making it intimate. In all this Morrison can and does trip back to the early '70s, with R&B horns backing his blue-eyed soul. This album could easily have followed Moondance, if not come out right before. His voice is still strong and the songs will still "stone you just like jelly roll." There's a lot about this album where Van is searching to "get back." Maybe he wishes he could get back to a time when popular music had to be soulful and moving with real talent in every participating musician. With Down the Road, Van Morrison proves he, if no one else can, can take us back there.
Live at the Second Sacred Steel Convention (Arhoolie) is the ninth disc in extensive documentation Arhoolie has done on the rich spectrum of sacred steel performed in Florida. That is, soulful gospel blues songs and instrumentals featuring lap steel guitar. After being introduced in the 1930s, electric steel guitar has had a big and growing influence in this region. This summit of players young and old is an exciting and inspiring event. Imbued with the passion of worship and marked by an exceptional and emotional talent, this is unlike any other steel guitar playing for its vocal-like melodies and sudden leaps to trembling heights.
The Best of Savoy Brown: 20th Century Masters - The Millenium Collection (Universal/Polydor) is an excellent collection of the hard-hitting British blues-rock band Savoy Brown. The group's decades-long existence is a staying power derived from top-notch hard rock, and this compendium is full proof of that. The collection focuses on the late '60s and early '70s. This highlights the classic core lineup of the group: founder / guitarist Kim Simmonds with guitarist "Lonesome" Dave Peverett and vocalist Chris Youlden. The core gelled in 1969 and released Blue Matter and A Step Further. These yielded the singles (heard here) "Train To Nowhere," the live version of Muddy Waters' "Louisiana Blues" and "I'm Tired." "I'm Tired" was the group's first U.S. hit and initiated a career that would make the group much better received in the States than its native England.
--- Thomas Schulte
Special Blues Bytes book review ---
Children of the Blues, by Art Tipaldi, is a riveting read top to bottom. Robert Barclay’s cover shot of a proud Luther Allison peering over son Bernard’s shoulder is well chosen and speaks volumes of torch bearing and passing. The concept is to match the inspiring with the inspired. Sometimes that’s about bloodlines, sometimes about kindred spirits finding each other. Each of the 49 profiled subjects, Luther Allison to Lil’ Ed Williams --- players from Chicago, Texas, the South, and the East and West Coasts --- have interesting, often fascinating stories to tell from both perspectives. Marcia Ball speaks of her affection for Irma Thomas. Coco Montoya, Debbie Davies and Robert Cray all speak at length of theirs for Albert Collins. Kim Wilson speaks of honoring the traditions established by Muddy, Spann, Wolf and others, while Sherman Robertson says, “I figure if the blues is gonna survive, it’s gotta have some high energy, like rock.” Big Jack Johnson told Tipaldi, “I was an oil man. I drove a tractor and combine, I was runnin’ a farm and a snap bean picker, potato digger, peanut thrasher, and I worked in the gin. I did all that in the 1960s and 1970s during the day and played my music at night.” That’s often the reality of the blues. There are stories of hitting the road as a youngster: Kenny Neal was playing bass with Buddy Guy at 19; Big Jack Johnson was working with Sam Carr and Frank Frost at 19. Duke Robillard formed Roomful of Blues when he was 19. Bernard Allison was hired one week out of high school to play with Koko Taylor. Lucky Peterson recorded with Willie Dixon as a five-year-old and was bandleader with Little Milton at 17 and Bobby Bland at 23! Anson Funderburgh and Kenny Neal both speak fondly of gigging with Lightnin’ Hopkins as teens. Kenny Brown, who has been playing behind R.L. Burnside for 30 years, talks fondly of his apprenticeship with Joe Callicott, who became his next door neighbor when Brown was 12. Sometimes the kids were inspiration to each other. Bernard Allison had an important conversation with Donnie Baker Brooks at the Chicago Blues Festival, where the young men were each playing with their famous dads. Brooks was concentrating his energy at the time on basketball rather than music. Allison reportedly told Brooks, “We got enough Michael Jordans. We need some more B.B. Kings.” Brooks credits that conversation with putting him back on a musical tract. Charlie Musselwhite remembers in his youth walking down the street with Paul Butterfield, singing the lines of Little Walter’s “Juke.” Musselwhite also speaks eloquently of gaining sobriety, a commonly discussed theme here. There are equally compelling and articulate testimonials from Tommy Shannon, Debbie Davies, Joe Louis Walker, Lil’ Ed Williams and Coco Montoya, as well. Talk about inspiration. Keb Mo’ remembers Taj Mahal playing his high school in Compton, California. Albert Collins played at Robert Cray’s. Tipaldi rhetorically asks, “How many people do you know who can claim that Albert Collins played at their high school prom?” Hey Art, add Etta James’ guitarist and Cray’s high school classmate Bobby Murray to that short list. One of the most poignant stories in the collection is that of Jimmie D. Lane, the son of Jimmy Rogers. To Tipaldi’s question of what the most amazing thing he saw his father do, Lane said, “Seeing him take a hand-held propane torch and thawing out the pipes in the house so we could have heat in winter. Standing right there while he did it, and then knowing he probably went out and played that night. One night at this club,” he continues, “I saw him doing a shuffle in E, and his hand was movin’ so fast I couldn’t believe it. He was in his 40s at the time and that blew me away. Another time, we were doing a European tour in 1991 in Norway. We’re onstage and there were about 20,000 people singin’ “Walkin’ By Myself” in English. I looked at him and he had this smile on his face like he was king of the world. I was thinking how proud I was to be his son.” Words of wisdom and inspiration were consistently imparted on these budding musicians. In most cases, each word was hung on like manna from on high; not always. Bobby Rush remembers being invited to perform with heroes like Muddy and Wolf, but opting instead to hang with his contemporaries. “I didn’t want to be hanging around the old guys. God forgive me for that, but I just didn’t know it.” Rory Block introduces each song she plays, each time she plays it, by its author. “To keep saying the names of the old performers validates the sense of reverence I feel toward the originators.” John Hammond says, “I feel like I’m part of the tradition, without being one of the innovators.” That sense of carrying on the tradition pervades all of these profiles. Taj Mahal says, “The music is part of what we’re composed of; this is in the DNA. It’s part of our cultural consciousness, even part of the cosmic consciousness.” After playing with Duke Robillard, Big Joe Turner reportedly told T-Bone Walker’s widow, “You see? T-Bone’s not dead!” DNA, indeed. Hollywood Fats is given a good deal of ink, throughout the West Coast section. Fred Kaplan, Rod Piazza and Junior Watson speak to his great playing. While his friend Al Blake raves appropriately about his friend’s influence on the West Coast sound, friend and former employer James Harman cautions that too many tend to throw the ‘genius’ tag at Fats, and says, “Fats would laugh his head off at that.” On the subject of torch-passing, Harman says, “The old guys knew they were passing the blues along to guys like me. It was even discussed in the 1960s and 1970s. We were havin’ a ball playin’ with these guys and hatin’ it when they were dyin’ off, but we knew sooner or later it’d be us carryin’ it on.” A common theme broached throughout these 312 pages has to do with finding inspiration outside of the music. It is also one of the great strengths of the book. This isn’t just a litany of musical sages and adulators, but is also a glimpse into the life philosophies of some of the most important blues musicians of the past half-century. It succeeds magnificently.
Toni Price is one of the best unknown singers in the country. Given her touring schedule – non-existent – it’s no surprise that not many folks outside of Texas are aware of her, though Antones has done their darndest to get her name out there. Her output hasn’t been consistent, either. She pretty much records what she wants to, which means it hasn’t been all knockout material. Until now. Midnight Pumpkins (Texas Music Group / Antones) is a gem. From the opening notes of “Start of Somethin’ Good” (“...We mighta got lucky baby/knock on wood/this could be the start of something good...)” with it’s loping acoustic-island groove, it’s apparent that all the elements fell happily into place – song selection, production (Derek O’Brien and Price) and musical assistance; the voice is always a given. “Thank You For the Love,” a song that walks the line of what’s good and what’s bad about a good relationship, follows that mellow groovy opening theme. Jerry Williams’ “Work On It” rocks it up a bit, though that island groove still has a toehold, only with cookin’ horns supplying the burn. The core musical grooves are supplied by Caspar Rawls (acoustic guitar), Scrappy Jud Newcomb and Derek O’Brien (electric guitars), Larry Fulcher (bass), and Barry ‘Frosty’ Smith (drums), a butt-kickin’ crew of the first degree. Ian McLagan sits in on keys to nice effect, too. “Something In The Water” (“...I hope you’re drinking it, too...”) is atmospheric, with wonderful David Grissom guitar work, a bit reminiscent of Adrian Belew. “The Right Kind of Man” is straight out of the 1930s. All that’s missing is the Rudi Valli megaphone. “Call of My Heart,” with James Burton on guitar, has got more than a bit of twang in it, with great fiddle and backing vocals. Toni Price has spent a lot of years sittin’ on that fence between blues and country. “Darlin’,” with Uncle Shaspo Lustre sharing vocals, is the best wedding of the two to come down the lane in a long while. “Measure for Measure,” written by David Olney and Gwil Owen, has JJ Cale written all over it, and her work with Malford Milligan on Joe Tex’s “I Want to Do Everything For You” is a delightful 180-degree change of pace --- Joe Tex with deep Texas guitar. Oh yeah! “Who Needs Love” is an up-tempo whiner (“...who needs tears/who needs you...”), and “Like You Used To Do” is a great finger-snapper in the Michelle Shocked mode. The closing “We Just Couldn’t Say Goodbye” could have been the flip side to “Right Kind of Man.” (Your mother would know). Nope, not altogether what you’d call a “blues” album, but most certainly one of the most enjoyable pieces of music to tickle these ears all year.
Eddie Burns is the patriarch of Detroit blues, even though he rarely plays out anymore. A regular on Hastings Street in the famed (and long-ago bulldozed) Paradise Valley, where he gigged regularly with his friends John Lee Hooker and Eddie Kirkland in the 1940s into the 1950s, Burns turned 74 this year. Like most of his blues cohorts, he came up in a time when the blues was less about flash, speed or volume and more about subtlety. He’s every bit the essence of nuance. Not particularly prolific in the studio, Snake Eyes (Delmark) marks his first recording since Evidence released The Eddie Burns Blues Band in ’93. Backed by his younger brother Jimmy, who also records for Delmark, it’s a pure delight. Not what anyone would call a great harp player or guitarist, Eddie nevertheless has got such presence, he can cause a toe to tap at 100 paces. Why Burns didn’t gain the fame that his place in blues history should have assured him is something of a mystery. Certainly blues buffs around the world know the name of John Lee Hooker’s best friend, but to the casual listener he might only be a name. This first-rate collection strives to put the music into the lap of that part-time listener, while giving those fans among us cause to celebrate. From the opening acoustic guitar lines of the title cut to the closing strains of “Don’t Let Money Change You,” this one’s a treat. Outside of a cover of “Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash,” the 15 tunes herein are Burns originals. Backed by younger brother Jimmy Burns on guitar, pianist Roosevelt Puritoy, bassist Nick Charles and drummer Larry Taylor, Eddie Burns offers up a classic platter. “Night Shift” is classic big city blues on which he tells a close friend that he won’t cover for him anymore, while the harmonica-propelled “Papa Likes To Boogie” makes a case for enjoying the night life. “Jail Time” is a superbly done slow blues that features his harp and guitar. Reprises of his “Treat Me Like I Treat You” and “Hello Miss Jessie Lee” are rendered magnificently. The instrumental “Hastings Street Special” is a medium tempo romp, and “Don’t Let Money Change You,” another re-make, is just superb. This is essential Eddie Burns music. His prime may have been some years back, but Mr. Burns is still vital and imbued with the timeless art of telling a story with his music. And he’s still got a lesson or two to impart to the youngsters.
Coco Montoya recordings are predictable. Of course, so were Luther Allison’s. It’s a given that he’s going to come out of the gate smokin’ and gather fire as the minutes tick by. His second effort for Alligator, Can't Look Back, is an assured, musically stimulating affair that covers a broad stylistic range. From the opening soulful "Wish I Could Be That Strong" to the Four Tops cover, “Something About You,” he pushes the groove. Producer Jim Gaines, who coincidentally also worked with Allison, brings the mastery of both Montoya’s exceptional guitar work and solid vocals to the fore. Mixing well crafted originals with carefully selected covers, this is exquisite throughout. “Trip, Stumble And Fall,” from the pens of Stephen Bruton and David Grissom, is powerhouse guitar work at its finest. Coco tears this one up, then follows it with a gorgeous original blues. “Can’t See The Streets For My Tears” showcases his song writing skills splendidly --- “...Midnight, I’m walkin’/in the blue moon light/My baby’s somewhere/in the city tonight/and I’m losing a lover/what’s been mine for years/And I can’t see the streets for my tears...” The lyrics are framed in beautiful guitar tones. His take on mentor Albert Collins’ “Same Old Thing,” as expected, resurrects the master’s fire. But the student long ago made the teacher proud, as he certainly would with “Woman Have A Way With A Fool,” the sort of song that Collins might have penned. As clever lyrically as it is incisive musically, this Montoya original is one of the best reasons to pull out the MasterCard for the set. If that doesn’t do it for you, stick around for the following “Back In A Cadillac.” Coco Montoya is one of the most exciting blues musicians plying his trade these days. His guitar work is unsurpassed, he sings with passion without resorting to growling, and he writes songs with depth, passion and, when the muse calls for it, lyric cleverness and humor. He’s also one of the nicest and humblest men in the business. This can’t help but be an exceptional disc.
--- Mark Gallo
One of the most surprising discs of the year 2000 came from a bunch of Canadian teenagers, The JW-Jones Band. The kids from the North are now a couple of years older, and just as hot as before. They're still maturing as musicians, yet sound as fresh as ever on Bogart's Bounce (NorthernBlues). The formula is the same, 14 cuts of smokin' hot California-style jump blues. They air it all out on the very first cut, the fiery instrumental "Flatline," with JW-Jones (guitar), Southside Steve Marriner (harmonica) and guest geezer Gene Taylor (boogie woogie piano) taking turns in the spotlight. "Jump Tonight" shows that JW-Jones' vocals still aren't as richly developed as you'd like for this style of blues, but that's a minor quibble; Marriner makes up for any power shortage with strong drivin' harp work. Guest star Kim Wilson joins in on "Time To Move On," contributing impassioned vocals to this mid-tempo tune. Marriner is back again with incredible soaring harmonica riffs on "Don't Lease Me." This kid has improved so much in two years that one wonders whether he sold his soul to the devil! Another guest singer, Roxanne Potvin, is featured on the Johnny "Guitar" Watson-style number, a slow blues original called "You Forgot To Come Back." Bogart's Bounce ends with another fine instrumental, "Goldtop Groove," which has JW-Jones' fingers dancing up and down the fretboard as he works in a lot of familiar guitar licks. I need to add that every song on Bogart's Bounce is a band original. Not only can these cats play the blues with feeling AND pyrotechnics, but they also pen a mean blues. Check 'em out before they become famous.
I wasn't expecting much after the first song on The Soul Deacons' independent release, Uptown. "House Party II" came across as a little amateurish on the first listening. But then the dudes from Santa Fe, New Mexico cranked up the intensity and, for the next 10 cuts, put out a strong batch of soulful blues. Even the opening number had me tapping my feet the second time through. Lead singer Brother E. Clayton got the Duke Robillard vocal chops down just right on the Robillard-penned shuffle "Stickin' With It," and delivered strong singing on the novelty blues "Young Red Rooster." Sax player Trey Keepin really smoked on the Sil Austin instrumental number "Tell Your Story." These Deacons are best when they're collaborating on a classic soul sound, like on the Ollie Nightingale classic from his Stax days, "I Got A Sure Thing." The Soul Deacons are worth checking out if you're cruising through the Southwest. If you've gotta stay home, then find them on the web at www.souldeacons.com.
Blues Today, Volume III is the third in a series of project albums from Arizona singer / songwriter Pete Thelen. The concept here is to gather groupings of Thelen's friends in the studio to record his original compositions. Like the previous collections, there is always at least one gem which makes the album worth finding. This time out it's a simple, acoustic number, "Wind Up From Mexico," featuring harmonica player and singer Lester Chambers (of Chambers Brothers fame) and guitarist K.K. Martin, the latter with some nice slide work. Making a return appearance to Blues Today, Volume III is legendary blues drummer Chico Chism, who handles the vocal work on the blues shuffle "Blues Today." The perpetually cool Chism doesn't sound completely comfortable with this number, but it still comes across well. Another keeper is an acoustic tune with an ole' timey feel, "Thumbnail Moon," featuring good fiddle by Jon Parry, vocals from Charlie Prazma and accordion from Mike King (the latter is a nice touch); this song ends on an interesting note, as the Marshall Vente Orchestra come in just as the song is fading out. Rena Haus, who also appeared on a previous Blues Today album, contributes tasteful vocals on the jazzy/gospel-ish "2ns Shoe," with strong tenor sax playing from Jim Massoth. Finally, one more strong cut, "Lovers," introduces female vocalist Carey Slade, a singer with just enough of a rasp in her voice. For more information on the Blues Today collections and the work of Pete Thelen, check out his site at www.blues-today.com.
World-renowned, eclectic blues artist Louisiana Red recorded one of his more diverse albums in Levon Helm's studio in Woodstock, with the result being A Different Shade of Red - The Woodstock Sessions (Severn Records). This is a pretty diverse disc, with Red covering everything from jump blues ("Lou Jean," with hot piano from David Maxwell) to slow, mellow acoustic blues ("Laundromat Blues," featuring Helm on harmonica with Red and Maxwell). Also good is the gospel-style shuffle, "I Had a Dream," with Red shouting out the vocals and playing effective slide guitar. To present a completely different Louisiana Red sound, the singer backs himself on the opening cut, "Take Your Time," with a big band and a funky horn section, giving this number a real Memphis soul sound. Then he goes to the other extreme on the acoustic shouter, "Where's My Friends?," on which Jimmy Vivino plays nice mandolin. Another notable name on the album includes former Band keyboardist Garth Hudson. A fine album.
--- Bill Mitchell
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