Northwest native Robert Cray has never played conventional blues, and with the release of his 13th solo album, Time Will Tell (his debut for Sanctuary), he sticks with what has worked for him in his 20+ year recording career. Time Will Tell is contemporary, not only musically, but lyrically as well. Post 9/11 and the war in Iraq have clearly been on Cray’s mind as he openly opposes the conflict on “Survivor” and “Distant Shore.” Robert Cray dabbles in soul, complete with heavy orchestra string arrangements on a couple of tracks, “Up in the Sky” and the bitter sweet ballad “Time Takes Two.” The first single, “Back Door Sam,” has a Sly and the Family Stone heavy funk consistency, as Robert experiments with a new sound combining severe echo on his guitar solo. While Robert Cray still steers clear of shuffles and two bar slow blues, he is experimenting more than ever on this project by adding samba beats and a ringing electric sitar to the mix. His guitar playing has never sounded sharper and his voice never as sincere. Time Will Tell with go down as a major turning point in Robert Cray’s career.
The latest recording by the legendary
Buddy Guy is amply titled because of
the stripped down and barebones music on this CD. Guy, best known for hard
driving electric blues, goes totally acoustic on Blues Singer (Silvertone). The result
is a Delta inspired journey which goes back to the basics, as drums and
upright bass are used sparingly here. Blues Singer showcases the distinguished voice from one of the most
recognized blues singers, with a career that spans over four decades. Buddy
reworks some of the most notorious blues songs with ease. The record
reunites Guy with the consummate ax man, Eric Clapton. The pair haven’t
worked together since the 1991 release of Damn Right I Got The Blues. Guy
and Clapton collaborate on two tracks, “Lucy Mae Blues” and “Crawlin’ King
Snake” (which also features the signature fret work of none other than B.B.
King). Buddy tackles other classics, such as “Anna Lee,” “Moanin’ and Groanin’,”
and “I Live The Life I Love." Being produced by Dennis Herring (Buddy’s Sweet Tea, Counting Crows, Cracker,
and Jars of Clay) and mixed by Ed Cherney (Rolling Stones, Bonnie Raitt,
Dylan, and Eric Clapton) gives Blues Singer an authentic feel with a rootsy
vibe of a Robert Johnson recording, and will be a unquestionable contender
when Grammy nominations are passed out.
Don’t let the cowboy getup fool you. While Corey Stevens plays a style of blues that interjects a country flavor, he’s a blues player first and foremost. Early on, Stevens was compared to Stevie Ray Vaughn for his Texas style fret work, and rightfully so. He began his recording career as Corey Stevens and the Texas Flood, which only added to the resemblance of Stevens to Stevie. However, despite the comparisons, Corey Stevens is blazing his own trail, and his latest, Bring On The Blues (Fuel 2000), is a testament to this. The classically trained guitarist pulls no punches on his fourth album, and Stevens' debut for Fuel 2000 is in your face from track one. The heavy rockin’ and guitar driven track “Lonesome Road Blues” opens the disc with a bang. While Stevie Ray was clearly a major inspiration on Corey, he is careful not to plagiarize the legendary axe man. “Triple Jack” has a 1970s Lynyrd Skynyrd “Saturday Night Special” quality, whereas “My Love For You Has Died” goes back to the Delta with Stevens on acoustic dobro. Corey’s riffs are sharp and clean as he takes the listener on a ride with the straight ahead shuffle “My Blues Are Turning Red.” There is no filler on Bring On The Blues, as Corey Stevens experiments with many diverse genres of music and neatly ties them into his own unique style.
Sonny Landreth has been called a “musician's musician” and rightfully so. Initially inspired by blues legends Robert Johnson, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt, Landreth is one of the premier contemporary slide guitar players, and has worked with everyone from Marcia Ball to John Mayall. In addition to recording solo projects and making guest appearances, he’s a regular band member in John Hiatt’s Goners. While his claim to fame is the Louisiana-flavored song “Congo Square” (which was made famous by the Neville Brothers but has also been recorded by Kenny Neal and Chris Daniels), he has steadily gained notoriety as a solo artist in is own right. The Road We’re On (Sugar Hill) is an eclectic record, to say the least, which is a worthy predecessor to his 2000 Cajun-drenched release, Levee Town. Landreth stirs the pot with a dash of Southern Fried blues on “Hell At Home,” where he showcases a tasty dobro solo. The straight ahead Rock mood of “All About You” has an Allman Brothers quality and a Zydeco texture manifest on “Gone Pecan.” Landreth goes for an authentic Delta feel on “Juke Box Mama” with just an acoustic resonator guitar accompaniment. Probably the song that will cross over with the most ease is “Natural World.” While it is still down and dirty with some nasty guitar riffs and solos, it has a radio friendly consistency more so then the rest of the disc. Sonny Landreth has only been recording solo projects since 1992, and each record has received critical praise. Chock full of well crafted songs and stellar musicianship, The Road We’re On will undoubtedly find an even wider audience as Landreth hits the festival circuit this summer.
The Yardbirds are probably best remembered for launching three of Britain’s most influential guitarists: Jeff Beck, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page. While the band's revolving door would prove to be beneficial for the three guitar players, it would limit their U.S. success, and the group formally disbanded in 1968. While they were together, they created some of the most influential music of the time. Like the Rolling Stones, their music resonated from artists such as Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, and Sonny Boy Williamson. Now, 35 years after Jimmy Page left the group to form Led Zeppelin, founding members Chris Dreja and Jim McCarty have reformed the band. The Yardbirds now consist of Gypie Mayo (formally of Dr. Feelgood) on lead guitar, John Idan on bass and vocals, and Alan Glen (who has worked with Little Axe and is a former member of the band Nine Below Zero) on harmonica. On the newly formed bands’ first release, Birdland (Favored Nations), they enlist help from some of the artists they impacted, such as Brian May (formally of Queen), Slash (formally of Guns & Roses), Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and Jeff “Skunk” Baxter. As expected, the new incarnation of the legendary Yardbirds dust off a few of their best known songs: “Train Kept A Rollin” (with Santriani), “Shapes of Things To Come” (with Vai), “Mr. You’re a Better Man Than I” (with May), and "For Your Love" (with the Goo Goo Dolls' Johnny Rzeznik on lead vocals). Not content with being labeled an oldies act, the group laid down seven new tracks, most notably “My Blind Life,” on which former member Jeff Beck lends his signature guitar pillaging. Even though there are only two original members (the original lead singer, Keith Relf, was tragically killed in 1976), the Yardbirds sound as fresh as they did during the British invasion of the 1960s.
Following the critical praise of his freshman release for Alligator,
It Rain, Michael Burks returns with another impressive recording,
Smoke. Burks calls upon seasoned producers Jim Gaines (Santana, Stevie Ray
Vaughn) and Bruce Iglauer (Johnny Winter, Albert Collins) for the second
time to help him realize his vision. While Michael isn’t a household name,
he is a veteran performer who has been playing in and around Arkansas
regional festivals and clubs for nearly 20 years.
Even though he has a few years on Robert Cray, he plays in the same genre
of contemporary electric blues. With no shuffles, Burks plays with an
array of tempos and rhythms which are considered the “new blues.” Despite
the Cray similarities, Michael Burks has a more aggressive approach to his
fret work and his solos are closer to Luther Allison --- clean, yet fierce.
Vocally, Burks was obviously influenced by soul singers such as Otis Redding
or Sam Cooke, as his rich deep voice has a Gospel texture. The only thing
the relative newcomer hasn’t mastered is songwriting, as all but three
tunes, "Time I Came In Out Of The Rain," "Miss Mercy," and "I Hope He’s
Worth My Pain," were written by other artists. However, Burks doesn’t rely on any
obvious covers, rather he chooses obscure or unrecorded tunes to fill up a
At 46, Michael Burks began his recording career later than most, but has
the experience which made the transition from “live performer” to
“recording artist” seem effortless.
--- Tony Engelhart
Over the past few years, buying a new release by Buddy Guy has been similar to being on Let’s Make A Deal when you have to choose between the box that Monty Hall is holding or what’s behind Curtain Number Two. You’re just as likely to get a $1,000 bill as you are a team of mules pulling a wagon full of fertilizer. Guy’s last effort, Sweet Tea, either thrilled or chilled his fans, but at least it was different from anything else he’d done in the past few years as far as song selection and even musical direction. He seemed to have the eye of the tiger again, and it at least made you enthusiastic about what Guy might have in store for his next album. The answer to that question is Blues Singer (Silvertone), which is about as far removed from its predecessor as can be, at least mood-wise. Though Blues Singer was recorded in the same studio (Sweet Tea in Oxford, MS) and is produced by Dennis Herring, who was also in the producer’s chair for Sweet Tea, and both feature Jimbo Mathis’ accompaniment on guitar, the spotlight is on Guy in an acoustic setting. Half of the 12 tracks feature either Guy and Mathis alone or just Guy. The songs are all covers, including several Delta-based tracks (John Lee Hooker’s “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” “Black Cat Blues” and “Sally Mae,” Muddy Waters’ “I Love The Life I Live,” Son House’s “Louise McGhee” and Robert Nighthawk’s “Anna Lee”), a couple of tracks from the Bentonia style (Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” and Jack Owens’ “Can’t See Baby”), and tracks by Frankie Lee Sims (“Lucy Mae Blues”), and Johnny Shines (“Moanin’ and Groanin’”). What are the results? Well, it has always been safe to assume that Buddy Guy is at his best when he’s plugged in, and Blues Singer does nothing to disprove that. While it is a nice relaxed release and quite a change from Guy’s most recent work, sometimes it’s a little too relaxed. Despite the lack of electricity, Guy’s acoustic guitar work is fairly sublime, as are most of his vocals, but there’s something about the production that leaves you cold. It’s quite a change from the ragged edges found in Sweet Tea. Everything here is polished to within an inch of its life. That being said, it stands up better than several of Guy’s most recent efforts from the past decade and it is his most successful foray into acoustic blues so far. Besides, it’s a rare chance to hear B. B. King display his acoustic chops as he appears on “Crawlin’ Kingsnake,” along with Eric Clapton (who also shares lead guitar with Guy on “Lucy Mae Blues“). Fans of Buddy Guy who have endured the wheat and the chaff of the last few years will enjoy this release.
Memphis Slim was surely one of the most prolific recording artists on the
blues scene over most of his life. Seldom was any of his work
disappointing, but he did have two eras that really stood out: his late
'50s sessions for VeeJay Records and his United sessions of the early
'50s. Slim's music was always a mixture of roughhouse blues and smooth
jazz. His warm vocals were a fine compliment to his piano playing.
However, Slim's music was made even better by the presence of guitarist
Matt "Guitar" Murphy, whose tasteful, T-Bone Walker-influenced licks were
the crowning touch to many of Slim's classics. The United sessions were
the first sessions in which Slim, who had previously never employed a
guitarist, used Murphy and the result was the best music that either of
them ever recorded. Several years ago, Delmark reissued an expanded
edition of their wonderful Memphis Slim U.S.A. album, which captured part
of the United sessions. The long-awaited follow up, The Come Back, now
puts the entire session into print, and proves to be well worth the wait.
The Come Back features the first two sessions, which date from November of
1952 through September of 1954. Of the 20 tracks presented here,
11 are previously unissued, including Murphy's first vocal track, the
after hours number "Cool Down Baby," and several alternate tracks and
auditions. Slim's band, the House Rockers, do just that, especially Jim
Conley, whose tenor sax threatens to steal the show on several tracks.
Murphy's guitar is just awesome. Anyone who knows him only from his work
with the Blues Brothers needs to pick up this disc and see what they're
missing. Slim is his usual classy self with his distinctive piano and his
smooth vocals. This is a great CD that features Memphis Slim, Matt
"Guitar" Murphy, and the House Rockers at their absolute best and is a
must-have for fans of piano blues.
--- Graham Clarke
When Peggy Lee passed away in 2002 not much notice was given to the passing of this gifted songstress whose career spanned five decades, encompassing just about every musical style that evolved over that time period. Her sultry, seductive style and suave delivery made many a young man’s heart (including my own) miss a beat or two. One longtime fan, Maria Muldaur, who did notice, and mourned her loss, pays tribute to her with a breathtaking album entitled A Woman Alone With The Blues .... Remembering Peggy Lee (Telarc). Ms. Muldaur conducted some in-depth research before attempting this project and discovered that, in addition to being a marvelous singer, Peggy Lee was also quite the talented songwriter as well, making her a pioneer in the singer/songwriter field. Lee’s signature piece, “Fever,” opens the program, which I thought was rather bold as few singers can do justice to this piece like Lee did. But Muldaur’s poise and sexy presentation of this classic ranks alongside the original. Following up is “I Don’t Know Enough About You,” which was co-written by Lee, and executed by Muldaur with a sparkling twinkle in her voice that leaves no doubt about the fun she is having singing it. The sensuous “Moments Like This” finds Muldaur crooning so softly that you might wonder if she was receiving a sensual massage while she cut this number, as her voice sways through the lyrics with an almost lusty passion. “Winter Weather” receives a gorgeous treatment with old friend (and probably one of the most underrated singers I have ever heard) Dan Hicks trading off the lyrics with Maria and overlaid against a swinging horn arrangement by way of reed man Jim Rothermel, whose clarinet solo on this number will perk your ears up. The slick and suggestive naughtiness of “Some Cats Know” will make just about anyone squirm and blush due to Maria’s sensual delivery and some velvety piano licks. Two of Lee’s originals, the upbeat boogying “Everything Is Moving Too Fast” and the jazzy yearnings of “Waiting For The Train To Come In,” are placed right in the middle of this exquisite collection. “Freedom Train,” which follows, allows Muldaur to stretch out her vocal chords extensively before purring out the pretty but somewhat sad tale of “Black Coffee.” The title track is a smoky number that will touch both men and women alike with its emotional passionate longing, as will “For Every Man There’s A Woman.” The quick paced “I’m Gonna Go Fishin,” which Peggy Lee co-wrote with jazz legend Duke Ellington, wraps things up tightly on an upbeat note. Maria is backed by a very tight eight piece ensemble that is such an integral part of this recording that to not give all of them their just due would be shameful. Danny Caron is responsible for the sweet guitar licks you’ll hear, the immensely talented David Torkanowsky tickles the black and whites, Neal Cain provides the creamy bass lines, and Arthur Lalin II takes credit for the skins and swirling brushwork. Both of these gentleman were borrowed from Harry Connick’s band for this project. Jeff Lewis on trumpet and Kevin Porter on trombone are two thirds of a brilliant horn section that is rounded out by the previously mentioned Jim Rothermel on alto and tenor saxes, clarinet and flute, in addition to all horn arrangements. Last, but surely not least, Gerry Grosz supplies the cool vibes. This whole album is a joy to behold, with its flowing pace and sparkling lush arrangements that seem to come to life through direct digital mastering. The is one of those releases that makes you want to listen to it the more you play it, and is a perfect album for a romantic candlelit dinner or just plain snuggling with someone special. Maria Muldaur has always been a great singer, but she is truly exceptional on this outing, as her passion for her material is evident on every syllable she sings. If I had to choose one word to describe this record it would simply be... magnificent!
Upon my first listen to Jamie Wood’s Ain’t No Doubt About It (Pacific Blues Recording Company), I thought I had stumbled across an album from a juke joint diva that was released maybe 60 or 70 years ago. What tipped me off that it wasn’t was that there was no crackling and popping as would be commonplace for a recording from that era. So I did what any other blues lover would do --- I sat back and listened in complete awe to this fascinating recording. Drawing mostly on material from that time period and four of her own original works, Ms. Wood has reached back in time and deep into the heart and soul of the blues and given us a recording that will withstand the test of time. One of the reasons this album is so good is the spectacular quintet and the genuine appreciation they have for the material. They are: former James Harman guitarist Nathan James, Johnny Rover, who was a protégé of the late William Clarke, blowin the chromatic harp, another William Clarke alumnus, Tyler Pedersen thumping the upright bass, Carl Sonny Leland massaging the 88s so very finely, and Johnny Morgan pounding the skins. The album's opening number, “Doin' The Boogie Woogie,” sets the mood for the rest of the 14 tracks with its jazzy beat and rolling Fats Waller-styled piano licks courtesy of Carl Sonny Leland at the forefront, alongside Jamie’s slightly nasal but so very pleasant voice evoking the sly lyrics. “Kissin In The Dark” is a subject I think most of us are familiar with, and is highlighted by solos from Johnny Rover and Nathan James. The first of four originals is the album's title number that may bring to mind speakeasies and flappers truckin’ to it’s snappy beat. Louis Jordan was one of Jamie’s influences; she is joined by James Harman for a jumping, jiving and rhyming updated version of “Look Out (Sister,Look Out).” Memphis Minnie’s “Why Don’t You Do Right” is a somewhat somber tale of a loser, sung with a silky smoothness that is complimented by a fabulous arrangement and a hauntingly beautiful harp accompaniment. Jack Dupree’s “Sharp Harp” is the first of two instrumentals you will encounter, with Rover and Leland laying down some razor sharp licks. The second instrumental, ”Countless Blues,” allows the whole band to stretch out and jam to a frenzied finish. A hilarious play on words is what’s in store for you on another Wood original, “Hock That Rock,” which is a tale of a lady’s taste for diamonds and pearls but who is stuck with a gambling hubby. A soaring covering of Roosevelt Sykes’ “Don’t Talk Me To Death (a.k.a. 47th Street Jive)” has Jamie airing out her pipes to their fullest and Carl Leland sounding like he grew another hand on the piano. Jamie sights Jimmy Rushing as a major influence on her work, so it’s no surprise that “Say You Don’t Mean It” is one of the hottest numbers on the album. Jamie kicks out the jams on her own “High Time Baby,” turning in a rousing vocal performance that would make the old roadhouse divas envious. To try to classify this spectacular recording as any one genre is damned near impossible, so let’s just call it a marriage of '30s blues, '40s jazz and post-WWII swing, stirred together with juke joint bebop. Produced and engineered by studio wizard Jerry Hall, the sound and feel that comes across on every track is so authentic that you sort of miss the crackles and pops that your brain keeps telling you should be there. Jamie Wood possesses a captivatingly sweet voice and style that as the years go by will be harder to find. If you can’t find this absolute treat of an album at your local music store and just gotta lay your hands on a copy, it can be ordered directly at www.pacificblues.com. Ain’t No Doubt About It leaves no doubt in this reviewers mind that this is one of the best albums he has heard this year. Ms. Wood and company get a standing ovation for this beauty!
Every so often a singer comes along that completely captivates you with their voice, delivery, stage presence, attitude and uncanny ability to entertain you from your head to your toes. Janiva Magness is one such singer; her third outing as a leader, entitled Use What You Got (Blues Leaf Records), finds one of Southern California's prettiest voices in top form and shaking the blues tree to its very roots with her spiffy style that belongs solely to her alone. Her latest gemstone of a record is 13 tracks of primarily covers that share a common theme of doing what you got to do to make it in this world with the hand that you are dealt. The album’s saucy title tune playfully reflects this sentiment, with Janiva purring and vamping her way through the bopping story of lady with some meat on her bones proclaiming she “...ain’t 36 no place...,” but still knows and uses what she’s got to keep her man satisfied. Denise La Salle’s “Find A Fool” gets a funky R&B treatment of the age old problem of the cheating sweetie, and features a stunning solo from guitarist Zach Zunis, whose name you may recognize from his work with William Clarke, Billy Boy Arnold, Albert Collins and Otis Rush, to name just a few. The one original number, “How Much Longer (Is That Train Gonna Blow)," cooks comfortably under Janiva’s commanding vocals, and is contributed by Janiva’s hubby Jeff Turmes, who is on hand playing bass on three tunes and tenor and baritone saxes throughout the album. Covering a Billie Holiday number like “Stormy Blues” can sometimes be risky business for a singer, but when you have the talent this lady does it’s second nature as she delivers a smoldering performance on what, in my opinion, is the best tune on the album. Johnny "Guitar" Watson’s “You Better Love Me” and Magic Sam’s “That’s Why I’m Cryin” find Magness reaching down deep inside for that little extra bit of emotion that detonates explosively through her vocals, at times raising a bit of goose flesh and causing you to hit the replay button. “Who’s Gonna Help A Brother Get Further” is infused with a combination of Motown and Stax Records' soulful rhythms, nestled comfortably around Janiva's take charge delivery. A gorgeous version of “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” which might be familiar to some listeners as a Bobby Bland number, has an almost gospel feel to it with Ms. Magness just plain singing her heart out and also featuring the piano and swirling organ mastery of Andy Kaulkin. A red hot cover of both Ike Turner’s “Match Box” and Slim Harpo’s “Don’t Start Crying Now” wrap things up nicely and leaves you chomping at the bit for the next album. Few artists can successfully produce themselves, but that is not the case here with this record’s evenly paced flow, balance and squeaky clean sound, which can be accredited to the lady whose name is on the marquee and is also the sole producer. Use What You Got is one hell of a record from one hell of a great singer who puts her heart and soul into everything she does. I would really like to know why this incredible talent is not a household name in the blues community, because if there has been a better female blues singer to emerge in the last five years, I surely have not heard her. Put Use What You Got high on your shopping list.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Partners in the Blues (Burnside Records), from The Jackie Payne/Steve Edmonson Band is a unique partnership, one between a vocalist and a guitarist. Many guitarists refuse to work with a band mate who just sings, as if such a person isn’t pulling his or her own weight. Most vocalists are bandstand bosses rather than partners. Jackie Payne wants to express himself, and has plenty to say. Steve Edmonson has made a mental leap most guitarists haven’t; he has figured out how to feel artistically rewarded while playing guitar, even when others on the bandstand or in the studio are heard as well. What results is a tighter fit than one usually finds in modern, urban blues. If most of their big blues band peers' recordings were compared to neatly stacked piles of bricks, Partners in the Blues would have to be seen as bricks professionally mortared, joisted, and built into a sturdy house. The structural strength achieved by the Payne/Edmonson partnership is that dramatic and that obvious. You will get it halfway through the first song. Put in random rotation on your CD player with, say, “best of” records by James Cotton, Big Twist & the Mellow Fellows and Bobby “Blue” Bland, this record will more than hold its own. I mean no disrespect for the many fine acts out there working with harmonica, second guitarists, horn sections and keyboards beefing up basic blues bands in praising Partners in the Blues so highly. There are better guitarists out there than Steve Edmonson. There are better (a few … fewer every day) soul/blues singers out there than Jackie Payne. There are not better acts than this one, thanks to a spiritual brotherhood between the front men that’s more sensed than heard, more felt than intellectually perceived. By the way, the track list comes from the greasy/funky soul/blues undercurrent stomping grounds shared by the ghosts of Otis Redding and Albert King, and it’s a beautiful frame for the act. “Tell It Like It Is,” usually identified with Aaron Neville, will drop you the way a tornado would drop the abovementioned un-mortared piles of bricks.
--- Arthur Shuey
With an incredible list of guest musicians, Bob Margolin's All-Star Blues Jam (Telarc Records) could have been the sequel to last year’s Telarc Handy-winning 35th Anniversary Jam by James Cotton. Unlike Superharp’s Jam disc, the 15 old-style pure blues songs on Margolin’s 67-minute disc do not have a lot of oomph. Boston-born Margolin began playing guitar at age 15. He met Muddy Waters in 1973 and was a member of his band until 1980. Almost a decade later, Bob released his first solo CD. Since 2000, his traveling revues have included many of the surviving Chicago blues greats. Last fall, he laid down a series of impromptu tracks with these Chicago greats and titled the resulting album, All-Star Blues Jam. "Brutal-Hearted Woman" is a slow shuffling jam featuring Carey Bell’s tough chromatic harp. The legend, Pinetop Perkins, sings a legendary song, "Sweet (Little) Black Angel," while Margolin’s slide is melancholy. "I’ll Take Care Of You" was recorded live and features bassist Mookie Brill’s clear, distinct and emotive vocals. Bob had a dream come true when he performed his ode to Jimmy Rogers, "Mean Old Chicago", with Rogers’ son Jimmy D. Lane on guitar. "Always On My Mind" is a shuffle with some feel. Here, drum-slapping Willie Smith is drinking and trying to forget the woman he loves, but it ain’t working. Listeners will hear highly-cultured acoustic guitars on "Last Time," courtesy of Bob and Hubert Sumlin. Mookie surprises with impressive harp on this Jimmy Rogers tune. "Maybe The Hippies Were Right" has a ragtime tempo and a Broadway musical melody. The best song is undoubtedly Pinetop’s eloquent piano instrumental rendition of the old gospel classic "Just A Closer Walk With Thee." The songs were recorded direct-to-two-track DSD at a concert and sessions at Blue Heaven Studio (a former Church in Salina, Kansas) and at Bob’s house. The liner notes provide insight into how the recordings were made, including details about the type of microphones used. This Margolin-produced CD won’t appeal to all blues fans. 67 minutes of old school blues may only be bearable by the purist purist. Four of the seven musicians contribute original tunes and almost everyone gets a chance to sing, although Bob should pass when it is his turn. For additional information, contact: www.telarc.com and www.bobmargolin.com.
The 2002 Ottawa Bluesfest’s surprise smash was Vancouver-based pianist
Kenny "Blues Boss" Wayne. His traditional blues and boogie-woogie come
heavily influenced via Kansas City and New Orleans. Wayne has one of those
1950s rock and roll voices which rumbles as much as the way he plays his
88s. Oddly, this 46 minute, self-produced ostentatious disc, 88th &
Jump Street (Electro-Fi Records), does not
feature extended solos from any of its veteran musicians.
"My Nadine" is rolling and boogie-ing like Chuck Berry in his prime. On
the tune, Jeff Healey plays like a bona fide blues guitar master, while
shuffle queen Maureen Brown scuffles the drum skins. Here, Kenny scrolls
up and down the 88s like a painter on a ladder. This provides plenty of
energy, but the song is not the same powerhouse as experienced live.
"Whiskey Heaven" has a divine rhythm and sinfully tempting lyrics which
makes the song suitable for any Las Vegas show band’s act. "Laughing Stock"
is old style blues which comes as no surprise, given the guests who perform
on it. On "My New Gal," Kenny walks down an all too familiar blues
highway --- the one filled with bad relationships. However, Wayne makes
the most of his journey with a jaunt-ful melody and light-hearted words such
as: ‘...I’m gonna forget about the past because the past didn’t last...’ For a
taste of New Orleans, bite into "Going Down South." Here, Kenny’s
keys are at the feast’s core. A full brass section fills the gaps and adds
an extra oomph on this tune and "Don’t Knock On My Door." Kenny’s extreme
musicianship is proven on every track, but especially on the disc’s two final
numbers that feature his voice and keyboard accompanied only by a guitar.
"With These Hands" is a great play on words. The Blues Boss states his
hands will reach out, fulfill and make plans, while all along they tickle
the ivories. It is a wonderful R&B tune which sounds from the heyday of
Fortune or King Records. Do they really still make records like this? Yes
and here is living proof! Karen Krystal and Pamela Patmon provide sweet,
harmonized backing vocals on this number and the boppy "River Of No
Kenny is joined by Mississippi and Chicago blues masters on a few numbers.
Mel Brown’s jazzy guitar, Bob Stroger’s omnipresent bass, Willie Smith’s
spanking drums and David Hoerl’s echoing harp provide potent support, while
Kenny burns the ebonies and ivories to a blue flame. Most tracks feature
Russell Jackson’s acoustic bass and Mitchell Lewis’ electric guitar. One
glance at the cover and you will know the style of music that this Boss
plays. The CD’s back cover refers to him as "the new king of 21st century
boogie woogie piano." Each of the disc’s 12 flamboyant tracks (11 are
originals) validates that statement. Unfortunately, the CD cages and
restrains Kenny from delivering the kind of natural performance from his
live shows. At times, his healing piano is drowned out by the vocals
and/or other instruments. Still, that didn’t stop Canada’s blues community
from voting Kenny as the keyboard player of the year at the 6th Annual
Maple Blues Awards held in January 2003.
--- Tim Holek
Kinzel & Hyde's Oklahoma Credit Card was one of my favorite discs of last year. Swinging, deep in the pocket, with first-rate production --- in spite of being overlooked by established labels big and small. One of the most knock-down amazing bands in the land, it’s a mystery why a slew of labels aren’t circling ‘round their front door. Lynn Ann Hyde is a seriously hot harp player, Stu Kinzel just sizzles on guitar, and both are extremely impressive singers. They’ve surrounded themselves with remarkable players in drummers John Beyer and Gary Herrman, bassists Landon Seelig and Steve Adams, mandolinist Barb Galloway, and backup singers Megan James and Lily Wilde. It wasn’t long ago that they were a duo, so apparently something is going well. It’s still about the harp and guitar, though. “Got My Eye On You” is a showcase for both players. Bluesy to the core, with a heavy-burdened beat over which the principals soar, it shines most brightly in a collection of gems. Guitar and harp both qualify as stunning and flat-out jaw-dropping. There’s a decided west coast feel to the disc, though Kinzel & Hyde are equally comfortable playing Chicago blues, as on Hyde’s tribute to Billy Boy Arnold, “Ode to Rockinitis,” and Kinzel’s “Muddy Tribute,” not to mention the un-credited “Can’t Lose What You Never Had.” They visit the bayou, too, for a swamped-up “Lonesome La La,” a sort of redo on Lee Dorsey’s “Ya Ya,” replete with backing vocals. The beautiful “Northern Town,” with Hyde taking lead vocals and Kinzel offering a slide reminiscent of the Stones’ “No Expectations,” works out of an Americana landscape, offering a glimpse at yet another musical aspect of the duo. Lynn Ann Hyde’s “Something Fried” is a swinging ode to late night food, and “Live High (Spaghetti Western)” sounds just like a theme song in search of a movie. There’s nothing remotely resembling filler. This is stellar top to bottom. It may end up being one of my favorite discs of 2003, too.
Detroit’s Harmonica Shah and his sidekick, guitarist Howard Glazer, have a powerful third album, Tell It To Your Landlord (Electro-Fi), that will surely appeal to fans of straight-ahead, raw, unadulterated blues. That’s not to infer that this is blues-by-the-book. Hardly. The concept of risk-taking is burned in. Though all but one of the dozen tunes herein are credited to Shah as sole or co-composer, they sound almost like stream-of-consciousness instant compositions. Shah doesn’t do “songs” so much as tell stories. The opening “Slow & Easy,” credited to Shah and Glazer, borrows liberally from “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and allots plenty of solo space to Shah’s vocals and harp and Glazer’s ultra-tasty guitar. As is the case throughout, the rhythm section of bassist Bob Godwin and drummer Art ‘Thunder’ Vaughn (replaced by Charles Stuart on two tunes) lays down a foundation hearty enough to build a blues skyscraper on. Shah and Glazer trade licks on “Guilty,” a song infused with shades of “Backdoor Man” and Hooker as much as with a '70s jam band feel. Following “Hey Detroit,” a tight up-tempo instrumental number, the band breaks into the captivating “Mean & Evil.” Glazer’s acoustic work here is first rate and Shah’s vocals (“...she gotta be from Detroit, Michigan to have nothing but evil on her mind...”) are deep out of the tradition. His acoustic harp work is equally impressive. “Heard You Were At The Casino” is another deep plodding workout. Shah’s at his real-life blues best here, singing, “...I heard you was at the casino. They say you were high as you could be. You was huggin’ and kissin’ on this other man. Darlin’ you ain’t never hugged and kissed on me like that at all. Now woman you know damn well that ain’t right...” Glazer’s filigree fills are well executed and the rhythm is tight, tight, tight. “Champagne (Cheap Bottle of Wine)” has an almost Siegel-Schwall “Hush Hush” rhythm, and the cover of the Slim Harpo classic, “Scratch My Back,” has a few Shah-isms spun into the band’s excellent version. Lest listeners doubt the Shah band’s affiliation, there’s “Crying Michigan Tears,” on which Harmonica Shah sings, “...Detroit is a cold, cold city/nobody cares about you and your name/I feel so bad and downhearted/that’s why I’m crying these Michigan tears...” The instrumental title tune showcases Glazer, especially, and Shah showing off impressive chops. More of the same is brought to bear on the closing “Someday,” on which Glazer peels off sweet licks over which Shah blows and sings about juggling the woman who lives upstairs and his own. Blues. Street blues, real life blues. In Andrew Galloway’s liners, it is written that Shah doesn’t like “clean blues.” His are about getting into the dirt. This is not refined, it’s not slick, it’s not predictable. This is real, raw and authentic Detroit blues. The deal as real as it gets.
--- Mark E. Gallo
Robert Tillman, though not a household name in most parts, has been one around this household since his first release on Ace (U.S.) in 1992. Possessing a unique falsetto voice that sometimes reminds one of Al Green or perhaps Richard "Dimples" Field, Tillman can make a song his own, as witnessed on his new CD, Still Thinking (Waldoxy Records), by the great cover of Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On." His unique delivery creates a new updated version that will bring a smile to many new faces. It was pleasing to see that the Waldoxy division of Malaco Records has given another proven veteran a chance. It was only last month that I reviewed their new Chuck Strong release, another soul veteran with a history of making great music. Who's next, Malaco --- Billy "Soul" Bonds??? In reading the liner notes of that 1992Ace release, the musicians read like a who's who of New Orleans music. Check this out --- on piano: James Booker, Charles Brown, Huey "Piano" Smith, Dr. John; on saxophone: Lee Allen, Alvin "Red "Tyler; on Trumpet: Harrison Calloway --- and the list goes on. After two releases on John Vincent's Ace Records and one on his Avanti label in 1998, he moves on with this new Waldoxy modern-sounding release (Malaco's releases always sound great). In addition to the aforementioned Marvin Gaye track, Tillman acknowledges Al Green by covering his "You Babe," as he did on the Avanti CD with his great cover of the early Al Green classic "Back Up Train." Tillman wrote ten of the 12 songs on this new one, so there is a definite evolution there. In closing, this is an excellent new release by a great singer whose distinctive voice deserves to be heard by one and all. Kudos to Waldoxy for another fine release and resurrecting the recording career of yet another fine performer.
--- Alan Shutro
Michael Hill's Blues Mob, in my opinion, has been one of the better recording acts to come along in the blues world in the past ten years. After four albums, three for Alligator Records plus one independent release, and a regular touring schedule, it was only natural that these road warriors would cut a live album. For many bands, live albums are often inferior to its studio output, marred by mediocre sound quality and the note for note rehashing of songs they've already recorded. That's not the case with Electric Storyland Live (Ruf Records), the new double-CD disc recorded at two separate venues in Hill's native New York. The biggest difference between these shows and Hill's studio albums is the absence of keyboards backing the band. The Blues Mob functions quite well as a power trio, with the lack of the fourth instrument barely noticeable. The sound is excellent. While many of the 16 songs included here were included on previous albums, the Blues Mob pump new energy into them on Electric Storyland Live. Hill, one of the better songwriters of the newer generation of blues artists, has a unique talent of delivering politically-charged, thought-provoking songs, yet, as they used to say on American Bandstand, you can dance to it. The better jams are the extended medleys on disc two, which was recorded in a larger venue. The first is "'Bloodlines' Trilogy," featuring three powerful tunes from the Blues Mob's 1994 debut album; "Why We Play The Blues," "Can't Recall A Time" and "Hard Blues For Hard Times" were three of the stronger songs from the Bloodlines album, and here they blend seamlessly together, both musically and topically. Hill shows his instrumental prowess on a collection of Cream covers, entitled "Chocolate Cream Jam," on which the band rips through versions of "Sunshine Of Your Love" and "Crossroads." Rising blues star Ana Popovic joins the band on stage for the final cut of disc two, "Young Folks Blues," with a decent guitar solo. Disc one was recorded in a smaller club, thus it has a more intimate feel and Hill is given more opportunity to do something he does very well, which is to tell musical stories to the audience. The two best examples are the historically significant "Monticello Nights," in which Hill recounts the now well-documented affair between Thomas Jefferson and his slave Sally Hemings, and "Grandmother's Blues," a chilling account of an old woman, who when facing eviction from her apartment, is brought down by NYPD. For fans of Michael Hill's Blues Mob, Electric Storyland Live will be a nice complement to your existing MHBM collection. New listeners can use this disc as a starting point to explore the studio works of this fine New York band.
Like Michael Hill (see above review), Otis Taylor is one of the most provocative songwriters of the current generation of blues artists. There is no subject too controversial for Taylor to tackle. Even with a move to semi-major blues label Telarc Records, Taylor's songwriting on Truth Is Not Fiction runs the gamut from the struggles of a Native American family ("Kitchen Towel") to a folk tale taking place in a Russian prison ("House of the Crosses") to the story of a black man daring to drive through a white neighborhood ("Be My Witness"). The difference between Truth Is Not Fiction and Taylor's previous independent releases is that there is more of an urgency to the music here; he doesn't present as much of a brooding sound as in the past. Accompaniment is provided by Taylor's regular musical partner, Kenny Passarelli, on bass and keyboards, while other musicians jump in and out depending on the needs of the individual song. Taylor himself switches between acoustic lap steel guitar, electric mandolin, acoustic guitar, electric guitar, banjo and Spanish guitar. The album opens with "Rosa, Rosa," a stirring tribute to civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks; this is the first of several songs to include the unique sound of cello accompaniment. The aforementioned "Kitchen Towel" is a chilling number about an old Native American woman shot by authorities, with the recurring line "...never should have left the reservation..." This tune features traditional Native American drumming and chanting. Among the other strong numbers is "Nasty Letter," with Spanish guitar from Taylor and more cello accompaniment from Ben Sollee; the tempo increases throughout this song, growing to an urgent, almost frantic ending. The album ends with the only cover tune, a rendition of Big Joe Williams' "Baby Please Don't Go," with strong lead guitar work from Eddie Turner. Truth Is Not Fiction only adds to Otis Taylor's reputation as one of the most exciting blues artists of our time. It's well worth adding to your blues library.
Not all blues performances have to make you spend your time pondering the meaning of life and its inhumanities. Sometimes the music just has to make you feel good. That's the case with a strong independent release from Southern California band Little Chris and the Night Crawlers. Bone Blue (Gusano Records) is comprised of a dozen cuts, with four of the songs being original compositions from the pen of bandleader / lead vocalist / harmonica player Chris Fast. Kicking things off is the up-tempo shuffle "Too Poor," with good harmonica by Fast and the first of many hot blues guitar solos from Hank Barrio. The band doesn't just echo Willie Dixon's version of "29 Ways," but puts their own sound to it, slowing down the tempo and backing Barrio's tasty slide guitar with the tight horn section of Alfredo Ballesteros and Bud Deal. One of the original numbers, the swampy "Flipped Her Wig," makes one imagine what the early Lazy Lester would have sounded like if Louisiana producer Jay Miller had backed him with a couple of saxes. Fast is a more than competent singer, heard to best effect on the up-tempo numbers like the party stomper "Tryin' to Have Fun," which includes fiery guitar licks from Barrio. One of the album's highlights is Fast's singing and harp blowing on a Little Walter medley of "Too Late Brother / Hate To See You Go"; the saxophone solo is alone worth the price of admission. This number takes me on a trip back to the '70s, when there were harmonica-led bands playing in just about every blues bar around; maybe it's because Fast's playing reminds me of that of Nighthawks' harmonica cat Mark Wenner, who I saw frequently during that era. The interplay between the harmonica and the horns is especially effective on the mid-tempo "Bad Bad Whiskey," which opens with an a cappella vocal chorus over the band's synchronized finger snapping. Former rock icon Delaney Bramlett (when's the last time you heard THAT name?) makes a guest appearance, playing National slide guitar on his own "Moanin' Blues," a simple country blues number on which Fast sings with more of a growl in his voice. Not only is the music of top quality on Bone Blue, but the album cover is one of the most unique designs I've seen in a long time. (Just watch where you place that elbow, bone daddy!). For more info, check the band's web site - www.littlechris.com.
Legendary Chicago blues and jazz label Delmark Records commemorates 50 years in the music biz this year. To launch their celebration, coincidentally during the Year of the Blues, they've issued a fine double-CD entitled, simply enough, 50 Years of Jazz and Blues: Blues (Delmark). This collection covers a wide range of blues territory, yet the album has a nice flow to it. It's not a "desert island" disc, by any stretch of the imagination, but a solid listen for both veteran and novice blues listeners. Most importantly, the best cuts had me rushing back to the original albums to hear more ... and isn't that just what an anthology like this is supposed to do? The compiler of the CD has the cuts weaving in and out of different blues stylings, but there's none of the "cow pasture" methodology of just plopping in cuts that don't jive with the rest of the surrounding songs. Among the better numbers here is the smooth soul singing of Syl Johnson on "I Like Your Style." I had completely forgotten about the wonderful Chicago blues singer Jesse Fortune; his "Dark Is The Night," from Fortune Tellin' Man, was exquisite, and to think there were even better cuts on that particular album. Equally magnificent is guitarist Robert Ward's "New Role Soul," from the album of the same name. Of course, it wouldn't be a Delmark collection without at least one cut from Magic Sam, the previously un-issued "Everything's Gonna Be Alright," from the same session that gave us the live album Rockin' Wild In Chicago. (For more information on Delmark's historic Magic Sam albums, check this month's Blues Bytes Flashback). I could go on, but it's late and there are just too many fine artists to mention. Instead, go get the CD and hear it for yourself; it's priced inexpensively in order to fit into most blues budgets. And by the way, this is just the first of a collection of Delmark anthologies on the way ... watch this space next month for reviews of a quartet of theme-based compilations.
--- Bill Mitchell
By now if you know anything about the blues, you will know this is the Year Of The Blues (YOTB). As declared by U.S. Congress, 2003 is the centennial anniversary of when W.C. Handy first heard the blues. YOTB commenced February 1, 2003, and it was to be observed with ceremonies, activities and educational programs. By far the most anticipated event surrounding YOTB is the airing of Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues on PBS, beginning on September 28. The Volkswagen-sponsored series is comprised of seven 90 minute films by well known directors. Karen Marderosian, of Volkswagen said, "Our goal is to help introduce as many people as possible to this music." Although each motion picture had the same budget, the directors had stylistic freedom. Being a blues fanatic was the only requirement. Their varying approaches and themes has resulted in seven very different pictures. Along with Scorsese, Paul G. Allen and Jody Patton are executive producing, Alex Gibney is the series producer, Margaret Bodde is producer and Richard Hutton is co-producer.
Scorsese began production in 2001 and says, "I’ve always felt an affinity for blues music – the culture of storytelling through music is incredibly fascinating and appealing to me. The blues have great emotional resonance and are the foundation for American popular music. Our goal was never to produce the definitive work on the blues. It was to create highly personal and impressionistic films. The audience will ideally come away with the essence of the music — the spirit of it rather than just plain facts. We’re hopeful that the series and YOTB will introduce new audiences worldwide to this music and also inspire kids to better understand the struggles and genius that gave birth to what they listen to today."
The series is motivated by a central theme: how the blues evolved from parochial folk tunes to a universal language. Beginning in Africa, viewers are taken on an invigorating journey from the work songs of the Delta to Mississippi juke joints to legendary Memphis and Chicago recording studios. The pilgrimage culminates with the world-wide embrace of this African-American music. Here is a sneak preview of each film including perspectives from the directors and artists.
Martin Scorsese’s "Feel Like Going Home" pays homage to the Delta blues while exploring the music’s roots in Mali. Featured performers are: Willie King, Taj Mahal, Otha Turner and Ali Farka Touré, with archival footage of Son House, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. Mike Figgis documents the reintroduction of the blues to America via the British invasion in "Red, White And Blues." Watch Van Morrison, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck and Tom Jones perform. Clint Eastwood’s "Piano Blues" is the final episode. It features interviews and performances by Pinetop Perkins, Jay McShann, Dave Brubeck and Marcia Ball. Charles Burnett’s "Warming By The Devil's Fire" examines the struggle between integrating sacred sounds with the profanity of the devil’s music. It is a fictional account of a young boy sent back to the south to be saved from sin. However, while in the south, he encounters where the Southern crossed the Dog. He decides he likes what he is supposed to be being saved from. The old south is graphically depicted. You will see the hard physical field labor of picking cotton and manual plowing, chain gangs, lynchings, jug bands and the 1927 flood.
Wim Wenders explores the lives of his favorite blues artists in "The Soul Of A Man." Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, this highly educational and artistic movie features three themes: the Voyageur spacecraft; the stories of Skip James, Blind Willie Johnson and J. B. Lenoir and updated James/Johnson/Lenoir recordings as performed by contemporary artists like Lucinda Williams, The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, Cassandra Wilson and Los Lobos. In the summer of ’77, NASA launched Voyageur I with the intent not to return to Earth. If ever intercepted by another life-form, sounds and pictures of Earth were included. Among the sounds is music from different cultures and time periods. One song chosen to represent American music in the 20th Century was "Dark Was The Night" by Blind Willie. At this point, the Wenders flick segues back in time. Shot in black and white with a silent movie feel, it authentically transitions to the era of Blind Willie Johnson.
Chris Thomas King is known best to mainstream America for the role of
Tommy Johnson in "Oh Brother Where Art Thou." Here, he acts the role of
Blind Willie. While en route for Memphis to present at the 24th Annual W.C.
Handy Blues Awards, Chris talked about his role in the Wenders picture and
the series. "The story of Blind Willie struck a chord and it is a story
that should be told," King recalls filming in Texas in February 2002.
Horrifically, viewers learn Willie was blinded at the age of seven. To
avenge a beating received from his father, Johnson’s step-mother threw lye
in his face. Amazingly, this didn’t leave him bitter. Instead his focus
was purely on God and spiritual matters until his untimely death from
pneumonia at age 40. Chris feels the Ken Burns Jazz Series depicted jazz
ending in 1951. King feels the Scorsese series will leave people knowing
the blues is alive and well. "The blues is a continuing and evolving
culture. As a result of this series, people will have much broader
information about it. This series is a chance to air blues on national TV
to people who won’t know what blues is. It will provide a comprehensive
understanding of blues." About the music used in his movie, Wenders says,
"These songs meant the world to me. I felt there was more truth in them
than in any book I had read about America, or in any movie I had ever
seen. I've tried to describe, more like a poem than in a 'documentary,'
what moved me so much in their songs and voices."
Bobby Rush was educated in the field of blues from some of the genre’s
finest while living in Chicago in the '50s. There, he was coached and
nurtured by Little Walter. So what is Rush doing in a film about Memphis?
From his Jackson, MS home, he said, "I was living in Chicago but I was
doing 80% of my work in Memphis and all over (Highway) 61. In the late '50s
and early '60s, I was running back and forwards with Little Milton and
Junior Parker to Mississippi, Arkansas, Memphis and Tunica."
Marshall learned the business by observing his father and was responsible for creating Muddy Water’s critically despised Electric Mud LP. Chuck D of Public Enemy claims it was one of the most influential albums. Marshall states, "I’m still not afraid to make the worst blues album ever made because you gotta take risks." He then reunites the Electric Mud band with Chuck D to merge blues with hip-hop. "I wanna be a vessel for the blues to get to the youth" says artist Common. "Hip-hop is definitely a child of the blues, its like knowing your parents, your culture." Chris Thomas King feels Levin’s movie is important because it shows the evolution of the blues. "The genre has to appeal to people of today", said King.
The Blues series on PBS is the cornerstone of an integrated multi-media
project that includes: a comprehensive web site; an education program; a
companion book; value-added DVDs; a CD box set; individual CD soundtracks
from each film; a "Best of" album; individual artist recordings (Robert
Johnson, Taj Mahal, Keb' Mo, Bessie Smith, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric
Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, B. B. King, J. B. Lenoir, Muddy Waters and Sonny
Boy Williamson); a 13-part series on public radio and a traveling blues
exhibit. Among The Blues partners are Seattle’s Experience Music Project
and the Memphis-based Blues Foundation.
--- Tim Holek
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Revised: July 12, 2003 - Version 1.02
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