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July 1998

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Alvin Youngblood Hart

Sugar Ray

Larry McCray

Phillip Walker

Johnnie Marshall

Sweet Betty

What's New

Alvin Youngblood HartAlvin Youngblood Hart's new CD, Territory (Hannibal), covers a lot of territory. It opens with a country swing number, "Tallacatcha," that should appeal to Bob Wills fans. "Just About to Go" is ska, "Ice Rose" is a piece of early
70s heavy metal, and there are a couple of folk tunes on this disk as well. The other half of the CD is country blues which includes a couple dark and haunting songs, "Illinois Blues" and "Countrycide." The songs are good, and I enjoyed the musical sidestreets more than the straight blues. However if you want 100% blues when you make your purchase, you won't get it here.

--- Tony Nowicki

Longtime Roomful Of Blues singer/frontman Sugar Ray says in the liner notes to his new solo release, "This is a collection of songs that I've wanted to record for years. I hope you like them as much as I do." Based on that statement, it's quite obvious that Sugar Ray put his heart and soul into Sweet & Swingin' (Bullseye Blues & Jazz), as this is a fun album from start to finish. His favorite songs run the range from smooth, late night blues to jump blues and on to swamp pop. The best cut is is real cool slow blues, "You Better Change Your Way of Loving," originally recorded by Pee Wee Crayton. I always like to hear other versions of Percy Mayfield songs, and Sugar Ray turns in a reputable cover of "Lost Mind." He also shows his harp prowess on Big Walter Horton's "Need My Baby." Sweet & Swingin' is a good 'un.

Dallas guitarist Andrew "Jr. Boy" Jones has been a noted sideman for many years, and was way overdue to break out on his own. Watch What You Say (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) will give you a nice dose of Southern contemporary blues, with heavy emphasis on Texas-style guitar. What Jones lacks in vocals, although he's not bad, he makes up for with stinging guitar licks and a tight band. I liked his interesting version of Junior Wells' "Little By Little," on which he slows the tempo considerably. Jones' best guitar work comes out on the mid-tempo instrumental "Stinky Dink." And he sounds a lot like B.B. King on the band original "Blues Queen."

Larry McCray - Born To Play The BluesDetroit guitarist Larry McCray has been on the verge of blues stardom for many years, with several decent major label releases. Born To Play The Blues (House of Blues) is his best effort to date. The thing I like about McCray's music is that while he's a contemporary artist, there's a strong feel of tradition to his sound. "Same Old Blues" is a slow blues, but with a heavy gospel flavor to it. He covers two classic Lazy Lester numbers, "Sugar Coated Love" and "I'm A Lover Not A Fighter," giving them a much more contemporary feel. As I'm writing this review I finally remember that McCray and his brothers used to back Lester, so it's not surprising that he chose to pay tribute to the Louisiana harmonica player.

It's scary to think how good Mike Welch is going to be when he grows up. Catch Me (Tone-Cool) is the Boston guitarist's third album, and he's still in his teens! Welch is growing as an artist, and his voice continues to develop more maturity and grit to it. "Mole's Blues" is a red hot slow blues instrumental that will have guitar-heads hitting the replay button several times. Welch also shows that he's capable of doing more than just wanking away on the electric guitar, as he plays very nice acoustic slide guitar on "If I Love You."  There's a nice version of Big Maceo's "Worried Life Blues," featuring only Welch and the excellent pianist David Maxwell. A few of the cuts on Catch Me didn't strike my fancy, but the rest of the disc is rock solid!

Phillip Walker - I Got A Sweet ToothPhillip Walker is one of those second-tier blues artists, never approaching stardom but always delivering a quality product, both on CD and in person. His latest CD, I Got A Sweet Tooth (Black Top) is a very good collection of 11 numbers in his usual Texas/California style. In addition, part of the disc was recorded in New Orleans with several of that city's top session cats, so cuts like "Drag Me Down" have a real Louisiana feel. I never get tired of hearing good O.V. Wright songs, and Walker contributes a great version of the soul classic "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy." His most intense vocal work occurs on a slow, bluesy "Laughin' and Clownin'," one of Sam Cooke's better, yet lesser-known tunes. Phillip gets funky on his original "It's All In Your Mind." Finally, the album closes with an energetic version of Harold Burrage's "Crying For My Baby."

I've been following the career of Zydeco performer Geno Delafose since he was a nine-year-old drummer in his father's band, The Eunice Playboys. With his third solo album for Rounder, young Mr. Delafose has moved to the upper echelon of contemporary Zydeco artists. For my money, there's no one better on the scene today. His new CD, La Chanson Perdue (Rounder), takes a step closer to the traditional sounds of Southwestern Louisiana, and is as much Cajun as it is Zydeco. Special guests include traditional Cajun artists Christine Balfa, Dirk Powell and Steve Riley. "Bayou Pon Pon" is an exceptional cut, done originally by Iry LeJeune. A hot uptempo number is "'Quo faire/Jolie Bassette," which includes some interesting changes along the way. Any Louisiana album worth it's hot sauce has to include a good waltz, and "'Tits yeux noir" is the keeper here. La Chanson Perdue is not as close to blues as most Zydeco discs, but it's still one of the best of the year.

While we're cruising through the bayou country, let's take a look at a new collection of classic swamp recordings entitled Louisiana Hoodoo Party (Hip-O Records). This is actually volume two of a series called House Rockin' and Hip Shakin', and I'd like to know where I can find volume one! Included here are classics like Tabby Thomas' "Hoodoo Party," Slim Harpo's "Baby Scratch My Back" and "Blues Hangover," and Guitar Gable's "Congo Mongo." All of the cuts were originally released on Excello records, so there are also several Nashville-based artists, such as Arthur Gunter doing a good "She's Mine, All Mine." Another great Louisiana song which I had never heard before is Jimmy Anderson's nasally-sounding "Goin' Crazy Over TV."

A new blues star on the horizon is Georgia's Johnnie Marshall, whose excellent debut album is Live For Today (JSP). Produced by labelmate Johnny Rawls, this disc shows Marshall to be a strong triple threat as a guitarist, singer and songwriter. Marshall's sound is contemporary soulful blues, with deep roots in his native Georgia soil. "Dave's C.C. Groove" gets into a real funky groove, with this instrumental featuring nice piano from Roosevelt Purifoy. Some hot bluesy guitar licks kicks off "Live For Today." Marshall does a good B.B. King imitation on the show blues "Jodi Man." The hottest cut might be the last one on the CD, the uptempo blues "Sweetest Thing I Know." While the liner notes are a tad overdramatic, proclaiming the current blues scene as a vast wasteland with Johnnie Marshall riding to the rescue, this album introduces us to a great new artist with a big future.

While we're on the subject of new artists, not to be overlooked is Atlanta songstress Sweet Betty, debuting with a powerful They Call Me Sweet Betty (JSP). Betty Journey is gospel-influenced singer, backed here by a tight band led by guitarist John Marx and a very good horn section. I never thought anyone could top Sam Cooke for sheer vocal power, but I think Betty does it on her version of "A Change Is Gonna Come." It's obvious that Betty is quite comfortable singing in front of a horn section, thanks to her previous work with the late saxophonist Grady Jackson; she and this group of horn players sound like they were made for each other. "They Call Me Sweet Betty" features both the singer's bold vocals and excellent sax work. This one's so good, I can't wait for Sweet Betty's next CD.

Mick Martin & The Blues Rockers are a fine Sacremento-based four-piece basic blues band. Good Reaction (JSP) is a mixed bag of West Coast blues featuring the stellar harp work of Martin.When Martin sings and blows harp, as on the uptemp "Lovehound," this band really cooks. Less successful are the numbers on which guitarist Tim Barnes does the vocals. Producer Jimmy Morello, formerly of the Dallas band The Prowlers, guests behind the mic on his original song "Got You On My Mind."

I thought that harmonica player Mojo Buford had retired some years back, but he shows no signs of slowing down on Home Is Where My Harps Is (Blue Loon). The former Muddy Waters sideman still packs a mean wallop in his harp playing. An extra treat on this disc is the addition of a second harmonica, Curtis Blake, and the two compliment each other well, especially on "You Can Steal My Chicken." Another cut on which the two share harp breaks is "Memphis Bound," which also includes nice guitar from Dan Schwalbe.

Serious guitar fans revere Texas legend Bugs Henderson, and for good reason. His latest CD, Have Blues ... Must Rock (Burnside) presents Henderson and The Shuffle Kings in more of a blues setting than on previous albums. On the title cut, Bugs gets feisty and responds to criticism that he isn't "blues" enough ... "They say I play too hard, I oughta play more blue" and "Don't want no trouble, just leave me alone,let me play this guitar, and sing my songs." Then he follows that admonishing of the purists with a killer version of Freddy King's blues instrumental "Hide Away." You tell 'em, Bugs!

A follow-up to previous MCA compilations on the Duke recordings of Junior Parker is Backtracking, with 20 tracks recorded from 1953 through 1966. "Can't Understand" sounds very much like "Mystery Train," which Parker recorded earlier for Sun Records. There's some wonderful guitar fills on the 1958 recordings of "Barefoot Rock" and "I'm Holding On." The liner notes say that the personnel on these two tunes is unknown, but I'm guessing that the guitar player might have been Clarence Hollimon. The 1950s were a golden era in Houston for the blues, and these recordings are part of that rich legacy.

The title of this Testament Records compilation, Down Home Slide, aptly describes its contents. The biggest treat is the inclusion of two previously unreleased live cuts from one of my favorite early blues guys, Robert Nighthawk. He was backed by Johnny Young and Little Walter on these 1964 recordings, "That's All Right" and "Everything Gonna Be Alright." The combination of blues slide guitar and gospel music has always appealed to me; a very stirring number is a 1961 session with Philadelphia's Blind Connie Williams doing "I'm On My Way To Canaan Land." The other artists on Down Home Slide are Big Joe Williams, Eddie Taylor, Johnny Shines, John Henry Barbee, Fred McDowell, Elijah Brown, George Coleman, John Littlejohn, Arthur Weston and Honeyboy Edwards.

I'm just so glad that the Hightone Music Group has been reissuing all of these wonderful old Testament and High Water albums. These Are My Blues (Testament) contains 17 live cuts from a 1965 concert by Delta guitarist Big Joe Williams. The sound quality is very good, and Williams was in great form with the full-bodied sound of his 9-string guitar. He opens the show with his best-known number, "Baby, Please Don't Go," and doesn't let up until he closes with a version of "Rock Me, Mama."

High Water Records did a wonderful job in documenting the Memphis and northern Mississippi Delta blues traditions in the 1980s (see this month's Flashback), but the label also recorded several outstanding gospel ensembles. Sing and Make Melody Unto the Lord contained both live and studio sessions from The Harps of Melody, a group which had been singing in Memphis churches since 1950. This a capella group does an excellent version of "Walk In Jerusalem," and features outstanding leads on "I'm A Soldier." They also reprise their 1969 local Philwood Records song "Lord Bless The Weary Soldier In Vietnam."

The latest from Etta James, Life, Love & The Blues (Private Music) follows the identical format to her previous albums from the last decade. She's still got that great voice and is backed by decent musicians, but you sometimes wish she'd break out of the same old mold and try something different. I listened to this album once, and really can't say that any particular song stood out over the others. If you're an Etta James fan, you'll like this album. But an hour later you'll be hungry for something more.

Jerry McCain RetrospectiveIchiban Records has begun a "Retrospective" series on some of their more prolific artists. The first four "greatest hits" packages come from Trudy Lynn, Jerry McCain, Luther "Houserocker" Johnson, and the late Gary B.B. Coleman. These four artists represent very different styles. If you already have a lot of the original albums, then the most essential purchase will be the Trudy Lynn collection, as it contains four previously unreleased cuts and two live recordings. I especially like the almost 10-minute version of "Dr. Feelgood." Also good is the disc from Johnson, who's in more of a Chicago blues vein, especially on the hot "Big Money." Alabama harmonica player McCain kicks his set off with "Blues Tribute," in which he sings about some of the heroes of the blues, and ending with a few riffs from his biggest hit, "She's Tuff." Finally, the Coleman CD contains his extended version of "The Sky Is Crying" and the great original "If You Can Beat Me Rockin." But they omitted his version of "One Eyed Woman," which I think was one of his better tunes.

Many, many young guitar slingers have come along claiming to be the next Stevie Ray Vaughan. I don't know if Florida guitarist Sean Chambers has made that boast, but he comes closer than many of the others. On Strong Temptation (no label), Chambers proves to be a very good blues/rock guitarist, especially on the SRV soundalike "Strong Temptation." He even sings a bit like Stevie. Also good are Chambers' version of Freddy King's "Me & My Guitar" and a slow blues original "You Was Wrong." Check Sean's website for more info.

The press package accompanying Jeremy Wallace's debut CD, My Lucky Day (Palmetto), says that he's an acoustic guitarist/singer in the mold of Bob Dylan, Lou Reed, Tom Waits and Leon Redbone. The New York City artist also reminds me at times of folk blues singer George Gritzbach, especially on the outrageous and very original "House Painting In America." You've got to give it to this guy, he's a very creative songwriter. The only miss on My Lucky Day comes on his version of "St. James Infirmary"; here Wallace tries to make his voice do things of which it's not capable, and it just doesn't sound right. Otherwise, it's a promising start.

Senator Jones made his mark over the past 25 or so years as a New Orleans producer for his Hep' Me Records. He's now turned to performing with His Louisiana Red Hot Crawfish Orchestra on the new CD Melancholy Baby (Hep' Me). All I'm going to say is that this is a bad album. Enough said!

--- Bill Mitchell

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