MCA Records has made my
summer a lot brighter with their ongoing Chess Records
50th Anniversary Reissue Series. While I already owned
most of the recordings on these compilations, it's always
nice to have them re-packaged with new liner notes and
pictures. But every so often they come out with something
new to me. One such collection is Chess Blues Piano
Greats, a double-CD featuring songs by Eddie Boyd,
Otis Spann, Willie Mabon and Lafayette
Leake. This is an absolutely wonderful collection,
easily one of the best of the series. I especially
enjoyed the Boyd stuff. I'm not sure why he never gained
the recognition of fellow Chess artists like Muddy, Sonny
Boy or the Wolf. Perhaps it was because his blues had a
much darker tone; Boyd's music is more akin to that of
Percy Mayfield. In other words, songs that really could
give you the blues! The classics like "24
Hours" and "Five Long Years" are here, as
well as the exceptional "Third Degree." This
disc is worth the price just for the Boyd cuts, but then
you also get some really great material from the other
three artists. Mabon's music was more upbeat, with
well-known classics like "I Don't Know,"
the follow-up "I'm Mad," and "Poison
Ivy." Highly recommended!
other three Chess releases in this latest batch are
greatest hits collections from Little Walter, John
Lee Hooker and Little Milton. All of their
major Chess hits are here. If you're a serious blues fan,
then you already know the names of the songs. If you're
not hip to these cats, then these discs will serve as a
good introduction to three blues legends. The Little
Walter compilation contains some of the best blues
harmonica ever recorded, including his biggest hit
"Juke" and my personal favorite "Mellow
Down Easy." Little Milton had more of an uptown
soul-influenced sound, with horn-flavored classics like
"Grits Ain't Groceries" and "Who's
Cheating Who?" Hooker has recorded for many labels
over the years; this CD covers the years from 1950 until
1966, and includes well-known standards "I'm In The
Mood" and "One Bourbon, One Scotch And One
tall Marcia Ball remains one of the world's
favorite Gulf Coast party bands, and her fifth album for
Rounder Records, Let Me Play With Your Poodle,
proves that she's still got it. The title cut, which she
dedicates to her own poodles, really cooks. Of course, we
all know that Tampa Red wasn't referring to the canine
variety when he wrote this song 60 years ago. No matter,
as Ms. Ball tears up the keyboards on it. Another
interesting interpretation is her rendition of Bon Ton
Garlow's "Crawfishin'," on which the use of a
large background chorus gives this song kind of a
"Manhattan Transfer gets lost in the bayou"
kind of feel. Despite her party blues reputation, Marcia
also has always had a real knack with slow ballads, as we
hear on "I Still Love You." Let Me Play
With Your Poodle closes with an excellent cover of
Randy Newman's "Louisiana 1927." For more info,
be sure to check out Marcia's web site at www.marciaball.com.
I'm usually not too
thrilled with instrumental albums, but David Maxwell's
Maximum Blues Piano (Tone-Cool Records) is good
enough to change my opinion on the subject. All blues
piano buffs need to add this disk to their collection, as
Maxwell takes the listener on a musical tour of his many
influences. The first two cuts, "Blues Don't Bother
Me" and "Breakdown on the Bayou," both
make David sound like he's Professor Longhair
re-incarnated. Nearly every great piano player is
influenced by what gets played in church, so naturally
the hottest cut is the gospel number "Sister Laura
Lee." And there's even an uptown soul number in
"Manhattan Max." If you really must have
someone singing to make you happy, there is one cut,
"Heart Attack," which features the vocals of
Another mostly instrumental album is Ronnie Earl's The Colour of Love (Verve Records). This album is more jazz than blues, but not so much that blues guitar lovers won't dig it. Guest star Gregg Allman provides his gruff vocals on the slow blues "Everyday Kinda Man." Also very good is an extended version of Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight." Hank Crawford also guests on alto sax.
Chicago blues regular Johnny B. Moore comes
through with a very good CD, Troubled World, for
Delmark Records. The former guitarist with Koko Taylor
and Willie Dixon, is a somewhat limited but effective
vocalist much like fellow Chicago axe grinder Lil' Ed.
And he's a very tasty guitar player. The catchy
"Troubled World" starts the album off in
promising fashion, and you'll hear some of Moore's best
instrumental work on "Stoop Down Baby, part
two." Listening to this disc makes me long for a
night of Chicago blues club-hopping. Pass me an Old
Get Real (Kingsnake Records)
is the promising debut of Louisiana singer Erica
Guerin. Ms. G was discovered at last year's Baton
Rouge Blues Festival by Kenny Neal and Kingsnake boss man
Bob Greenlee. Her vocal style can best be described as
soulful, sassy and powerful, with plenty of range. The
highlight here is the slow blues "The Sun Shines On
Everyone," on which Guerin sounds a lot like Aretha.
There's also a nice version of Chris Kenner's
"Something You Got." This young woman's got a
real good future as a blues singer.
I've always been a sucker for a good soul singer, and now I can add Larry Hamilton to my list of favorite crooners. His self-titled release for NYNO Music is a strong collection of a dozen tunes produced by the legendary Allen Toussaint. This is smooth Southern soul with a heavy New Orleans flavor. The former singer with The Gladiators, Curtis Mayfield, Jackie Wilson and Al Green is at his best on a duet with Tricia Boutte, "It's Hard."
Gatemouth Brown must have found the fountain of youth, as he sounds invigorated on his latest, Gate Swings (Verve Records). Brown's Texas blues takes several steps towards swing and big band on this CD, with absolutely killer versions of classics like "Take the 'A' Train," "Caldonia," "One O'Clock Jump" and "Flyin' Home." He also takes Percy Mayfield's weeper "River's Invitation," and turns it into uptempo number. My favorite Gatemouth Brown album is a long out-of-print record that he recorded in the 1970's. Now I may have to reconsider and move Gate Swings to the top of the list.
From Denmark comes our next album, Game of Life, from the Kenn Lending Blues Band. Together since 1980, this band has some strong credentials. Lending worked with Champion Jack Dupree for over ten years, and the band recorded with Memphis Slim, Louisiana Red, Aron Burton, and others. Game of Life was recorded live at the Djurs Blues Festival '95, and features Lending's excellent guitar work in the style of T-Bone Walker and Albert Collins. For more info, contact Lending by e-mail at Kenn_Lending@online.pol.dk.
favorite passions in life are blues and baseball. Rounder
Records' latest Bulleye Blues anthology, New Blues
Hits, takes on a baseball theme --- even the actual
CD is designed to look like a baseball. The Persuasions
throw out the first pitch with their fantastic cover of
Sister Wynona Carr's "Life Is A Ballgame." What
follows is 17 selections from various recent Rounder and
Bullseye albums --- 18 selections in all, a true
doubleheader of the blues. Play ball!
Ray Drew is an Oklahoma City-based soul/blues singer with a raw, gritty style, the way soul music was meant to be sung. Too Much Lovin' is one of the first releases from Midnight Creeper Records, a division of Shade Tree Music. Drew's voice is effective, but I'd like to hear him with a stronger backing band. The highlight for me is a slower, smoother version of Wilson Pickett's "634-7589."
Junior Wells' Live at Buddy Guy's Legends (Telarc) is at least the fourth live album recorded this year at the famous Chicago blues club. This set just doesn't seem to catch fire, lacking the electricity of previous live recordings by Son Seals and Aron Burton. But it's not bad if you need a fix of Wells' music.
Two of Portland, Oregon's finest blues musicians got together last fall in both the studio and in concert. The result is a very nice CD, Hit It 'n Quit It (Lucky Records), by Curtis Salgado and Terry Robb. Salgado, who was John Belushi's inspiration for the Blues Brothers, does the vocals and blows harp, while Robb handles the guitar work. The two musicians complement each other well --- it's as if they've been partners all along. Especially nice is their extended version of "Feeling Good," on which both guys really tear it loose.
--- Bill Mitchell
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