As absolutely vital, five-star recordings go, Albert King's Born Under a Bad Sign (Stax), is at the top of the heap. Backed by Booker T & the MGs, Isaac Hayes and the Memphis Horns, this 1967 Stax release was “a watershed in the history of the blues,” as the back sleeve blurb points out. More succinctly, Michael Point states in his liner notes, “It revolutionized the music in the 20th century.” The title cut is part of the blues canon and has been covered to death by bar bands in every burg on the planet. None come close to matching the maestro. “The original is still the greatest, ”ya know?" The biting guitar lines and plaintive vocals are essential Albert King, pure essence of blues. Ditto “Crosscut Saw,” another of those tunes that no one could get as clean and as real as the King. “Oh Pretty Woman,” “The Hunter,” “Laundromat Blues,” and one of the most completely realized blues songs ever, “As the Years Go Passing By,” are here. It isn’t a greatest hits package by design. It is, however, a collection of exquisite recordings cut at the peak of Albert King’s power. In 1967, the Fillmore and San Francisco were at their cultural zenith. When King opened for inferior rock bands, he helped save the blues from obscurity, just as surely as Freddy King and B.B. King. Coco Montoya, for instance, has spoken eloquently of how Albert found his soul when he first watched him perform. This isn’t just one blues man testifying, it’s the distillation of emotions of a generation of older black Americans reaching across a musical chasm to young, mostly white kids in that most universal of languages. The connection was instantaneous. This was the real deal that the kids were longing for. Any blues fan close to this writer’s age, 50, will remember the impact this album had when it was first released 35 years ago. Now, perhaps, we can give a proper burial to that tattered partied-out vinyl version. One of the greatest recordings of all time is available on CD. Whew!
--- Mark Gallo
I'm not ashamed to say that I have been an unabashed booster of Pittsburgh blue-eyed soul singer Billy Price for many years. He continues to put out solid releases year after year, and his live shows are always dynamite. It's this latter skill that can be heard to great effect on Price's latest disc, Sworn Testimony: The Billy Price Band Live (Green Dolphin). This double-CD captures Price and his regular working band on a couple of magical nights in Annapolis, Maryland earlier this year. While most of the songs are covers of classic soul chestnuts, Price takes each number and molds it into his own personal anthem. In addition to the singer's rich vocals, the band really cooks throughout the set. I especially like John Burgh's gospel-ish piano intro on "You Better Believe It." Nobody does Tyrone Davis as well as Price. Here, the medley of "Can I Change My Mind / Is It Something You've Got" is an absolute, 13-minute scorcher, highlighted by hot sax work from Matt Ferraro and Eric DeFade, a great solo by trumpeter Joe Herndon, and good funky organ from Burgh. Price's vocals are just brimming over with accusations on the classic cheatin' song "Open House at My House," another of the album's best numbers. A regular Price standard, "I Know It's Your Party (I Just Came Here To Dance)," written by Swamp Dogg, like many other tunes featuring the always smoking horn section. Sworn Testimony is another welcome addition to the Billy Price discography. If you're not familiar with this cat, then Sworn Testimony is a great introduction to his music. Also, check out Billy's web site at www.billyprice.com, containing nearly 90 minutes of free MP3 downloads.
--- Bill Mitchell
I know quite a few blues lovers (purists of the Chicago variety) who don't like
Sue Foley at all ... her voice is too nasal, too "country," her guitar playing is too much influenced by early rock, her song structures are, well, not standard Chicago
blues … trust me, I've heard all sorts of reasons put forth as to why these people don't like her. Me, I like her. She may not be pure blues, nor should she
be. She's a young (not yet 35) woman from Canada's capital, she's listened to everything that was played on the radio when she was growing up, and she's not going to pose as some kind of blues mama who picked cotton all her life while raising 13 kids. In a word, she's being
herself --- namely, a brilliant guitarist, who loves to listen to the blues and can perform the traditional numbers as well as anyone, but whose music, in addition to the blues, includes elements of country and rock. Her latest CD,
Where the Action Is (Shanachie in the US, Koch in Canada), is less a showcase of various styles, more focused, than was
Love Comin' Down, her previous release. Producer (and guitarist on
six of the 12 cuts) Colin Linden has this time chosen to record in Nashville, which explains the presence of guests Brad Jones (highly busy session bassist) and Ken Coomer (ex-drummer of Wilco), both more associated with the country music scene than with the blues. With her voice and guitar tracks heavily saturated (sounding like vintage rock recordings, when the volume was too loud for the recording apparatus), a cover of an early Rolling Stones song ("Stupid Girl") and the organ of The Band's Richard Bell bubbling under the voice and guitars, giving the music a slight
mid-60s English rock feel, arguments could be made that this is a retro-rock record. Why not? Obviously, categories don't matter much to Miss Foley; she'll keep writing better and better songs (she's improving on every record), she'll keep unleashing her formidable guitar solos, and once in a while she'll cover a blues classic (in this case, "Down the Big Road
Blues," done acoustic, coming right after a cover of Etta James' very first hit, "Roll with Me Henry"), and her fans will keep smiling from ear to ear. If you like both Duke Robillard's sound and Lucinda Williams' songs, you should definitely get a fix of Sue Foley. You'll thank me later.
--- Benoît Brière
Blasting out of south Texas with his blazing guitar laden with a "mean" edge comes Mean Gene Kelton and his six string laying down some tasty licks on his new release Most Requested (Jambone Records). The apparent influences are all here, including Z.Z.Top, the Allmans, the Fabulous Thunderbirds, Stevie Ray and the rest, but Kelton manages to breath new life into these sounds with his cool and fluid playing. Kelton¹s unique rhythm section is comprised of his two sons, Jamie (bass) and Sid (drums), and gives this guitar slinger a new twist on that old adage, "the family that plays together." All 15 tunes represented here are originals that have been the most requested (hence the title) during Kelton's live performances. We have spirited songs like "Going Back To Memphis," slow burner "Tears on my Guitar" and the John Mellencamp-ish autobiographical "Cruisin Texas Avenue." Mean Gene handles all lead vocals beautifully well. A fine collection of downhome, gutbucket, southern fried blues/rock. You will enjoy this one. To find out more about this artist or to purchase any of his discs, check out Mean Gene at www.Genekelton.com.
--- Bruce A. Coen
If you enjoy the new wave of Chicago Blues guitar (Rico McFarland, Lurrie Bell, Ronnie Baker Brooks, etc), then here is a fiery disc for you. Melvin Taylor doesn’t cross the blues-rock border as frequently as Brooks, but rather chooses to combine jazz, pop and funk into his style of feverish blues. After listening to Rendezvous, you will be convinced that there isn’t a finer smooth jazz and contemporary blues guitarist on the scene today. Mississippi-born, 43-year-old Taylor is a brilliant guitarist despite not having formal training. Like many of today’s blues children, he learned from a family member. After moving to Chicago in 1962, Taylor was enamored with his uncle’s guitar playing. Even though the 10 sharp tracks on this Memphis-recorded, 55 minute disc are all covers, most are lesser known material. The well-known stuff receives a unique twist which keeps it fresh. On this CD, Taylor is reunited with Lucky Peterson --- having last recorded with him in 1984. Here, Peterson handles B3, keyboards and guitar on all tracks. As if this wasn’t reason enough to purchase the disc, Mato Nanji (extraordinary guitarist from Indigenous) guests on a couple songs. Just like seeing Melvin performing live, he opens with instrumental jazz classic "Comin’ Home Baby." Here, Taylor takes the listener on a musical tag-team with lots of interplay between Peterson, Nanji and himself. Another jazzy instrumental is "Eclipse." The tune is romantic and sexy enough to be played on late night pillow-talk radio. Songs like these confuse some people to think blues is jazz. Looking for the blues? Then check out "Blue Jean Blues" and "Help The Poor." On both, Taylor uses minor keys to express the feelings that his voice can’t. This doesn’t mean his voice has limited range, but rather his musical genius knows certain emotions can only be expressed via the notes from a musical instrument. His finest vocals are achieved on the title track, where he combines soul and R&B. Scott Thompson’s trumpet accentuates Taylor’s vocals on "Five Women," while the sole song with a full horn section is "I’m The Man Down There." Ironically, they seem to elevate Melvin’s guitar to a higher plateau. At times, Taylor lets his guitar wail, as on "Black Queen." However, he doesn’t get out-of-control like blues-rockers. Melvin Taylor is always in control while his fire is burning. His aggressive guitar comes with plenty of pedal effects and attitude. That rebellious break-with-tradition attitude comes across in the liner notes. Dave Rubin does a great job with them. In fact, they are a review in themselves! Evidence Music may not be a Chicago-based label. However, they have the insight and foresight to record younger Chicago artists who need exposure through rousing releases like this. For further information, contact Evidence Music Inc., 1110 E. Hector Street, Suite 392, Conshohocken, PA 19428, USA, Tel: (610) 832-0844, Email: email@example.com.
--- Tim Holek
Upon receiving a copy of Magic Slim & the Teardrops' new CD, Blue Magic (Blind Pig Records), I glanced at the back cover and saw the words "Produced by Popa Chubby," words that I never would have thought I would see on a Magic Slim disc. Before I go any further with this review, I should point out for those of you who may not realize it, I am basically a traditionalist at heart as far as the blues are concerned. NBA tough man Charles Oakley actually said it best for me when he said, "If it ain't broke, don't break it." That's the way I feel about Magic Slim. When you pick up a Slim disc, you expect to get a basic, straight-forward, hard-driving disc of Chicago Blues. I have nine or ten of his discs and have never been disappointed. For the majority of this disc, the same holds true. Thankfully, Popa Chubby keeps the bells and whistles to a minimum on most of the disc and he lets Slim do what he does best. Their funky collaboration on Bobby Rush's classic, "Chickenheads," is one of the highlights of the disc, but there are a few vocal loops interspersed on a couple of songs that are kind of jarring and might make you scratch your head and wonder, "Why bother?" Slim continues his recent development as a composer by writing all but three tracks (the aforementioned "Chickenheads," a tough version of Albert Collins' "Get Your Business Straight," and a rather tepid version of Merle Haggard's (yes, Merle Haggard's) "Today I Started Loving You Again." Although Slim is listed as composer, "How Many More Years" sounds suspiciously like a slight variation of a Chester Burnett composition of the same title, and "I Want to See You In The Evening" resembles a similarly titled Hound Dog Taylor song. Those minor problems aside, the inclusion of powerful songs like "Evil Woman Blues," "You Got To Pay," and the closer, "Goin' To Mississippi" (which is also presented in video form on this enhanced disc), help make this is a solid disc, though not as consistent as some of Magic Slim's other releases. Rest assured that the Teardrops are still providing outstanding support, even though longtime Teardrop bassist Nick Holt is no longer with the band (but is ably replaced by Danny O'Connor). Guitarist Michael Dotson continues to impress on second guitar, as does Allen Kirk on drums. Popa Chubby also contributes on guitar and bass, playing all the backing instruments on "Chickenheads," but I feel like he will benefit more from this collaboration than Slim will. Magic Slim's legion of fans should enjoy this disc, despite the variations from the norm. However, when I decide to pop in a definitive Magic Slim disc, I'll opt for Snakebite, Scufflin', or Grand Slam.
Mojo Watson's story is an interesting one. He started playing the blues as a teenager, but decided to go to college and study Computer Science. Upon finishing college, he worked fulltime as a computer programmer and played the blues part-time. A couple of years ago, he decided to pursue music fulltime. Watson's father was K.C. "Mojo" Watson, who recorded a handful of R&B singles in the late 50s/early 60s (including "I Kept On Trying" and "Love Blood Hound"). Watson found several of his father's compositions on reel-to-reel tapes in boxes in a filing cabinet located in his mother's basement. His father had written but never released any of them, so Mojo decided to record them himself. The results can now be heard in Mojo Watson's debut release, Inheritance (Watashea Records). Watson is a very capable vocalist, but his guitar is what sells the disc. He has a muscular tone, bluesy with traces of a Hendrix influence, that grabs your attention from the rip-roaring opening cut ("I Love My Baby") and keeps you in its grip. The songs are all pretty good, but my favorites included "When You Put Me Down Baby," "This is a Cold Cruel World," the humorous "Keep Away From Me Judas," and the topical "We're Going Down." The band is also very impressive in support of Watson, who also produced the CD. It's obvious that this was a labor of love for Mojo Watson. With his chops, we should be hearing more from him soon, maybe a CD of his own material. For now, you can pick up this very fine disc at www.mojowatson.com.
The Florida-based band, VuduBlu, had released a new CD, I Blame It On The Blues (BluHippo Records). VuduBlu has an impressive background (see their website, www.vudublu.com) , with several of its members either individually or collectively opening for or playing with acts like Buddy Guy, Kenny Neal, Robben Ford, Tinsley Ellis, Marshall Tucker, and the late Johnny Copeland. Their CD is equally impressive, mixing blues, soul, and rock into a cohesive package. In addition, they composed eight of the ten songs, which are well crafted and mostly deal with the traditional themes of the blues. Some of my favorite tunes on the disc are "Never Say Never," the lively title track, the soulful "Give Up," and "New York Hustle." There's also a nice cover of the Three Dog Night classic "Never Been To Spain." The band is very good, highlighted by Chuck Baxter on gritty lead vocals, along with guitar, keys, and harp, and the tight rhythm section of Gil Linares on drums and James Wheat on bass. Guitarist Michael Bennick (who has since departed from the band) also contributes some tasty lead work. This is a fine, well-produced release by a band that has a firm vision of what the blues ought to be. I recommend this CD to any fans of rock-based blues. It's available at www.cdbaby.com.
Vance Kelly is one of the great mysteries of today's Blues scene. A soulful singer with a piercing guitar attack, his repertoire runs from Chicago blues to Malaco soul. He's also won positive reviews for his live shows since he began fronting his own band in 1990 after three years in A.C. Reed's Spark Plugs serving as Maurice John Vaughn's replacement. Yet, during that time, he has only recorded for the Wolf label in Austria. However, though those four discs might be hard to find, they are all worth the search. In 1994, Kelly's initial album, Call Me (Wolf Records), was issued and it still stands as an excellent debut by a remarkably confident artist. Using a policy that he has stayed with on subsequent albums, Kelly mixes original songs and covers equally. The covers are a mix of soul/blues standards (Johnny Taylor's "Wall to Wall" and "Doing My Own Thang," Bobby Bland's "That's the Way Love Is," McKinley Mitchell's "End of the Rainbow," and Junior Parker's "Drivin' Wheel") into which Kelly breathes new life. Kelly's original compositions hold up well with the standards, including the insistent title cut, the slow blues of "Hurt So Bad," and the raucous "She Ain't Good Looking." Kelly gets outstanding support from his band, which includes John Primer, providing, with Kelly, a lethal one-two punch on guitar. Other musicians include Nick Holt, Lee Johnson, and Johnny Reed on bass, Erskine Johnson on keyboards, Rick King on drums, and the inimitable Eddie Shaw on sax. As mentioned earlier, Kelly has recorded three other CDs for Wolf and all are worth purchasing, but Call Me is still my favorite of the bunch, probably because of its live-in-the-studio atmosphere. It gives you the sense that you're listening to Kelly do his regular gig at the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago. If you aren't familiar with Vance Kelly, please do yourself a favor; check him out and hope that one of our many domestic blues labels will see the light and get him in the studio.
--- Graham Clarke
With the resurgence of the Chicago female blues singer the past few years, many new fans have been acquired by the likes of Big Time Sarah, Zora Young, Bonnie Lee, Karen Carroll and Shirley Johnson. My first exposure to Ms. Johnson was two tracks each on two CDs released by the well-known club Blue Chicago. Those two releases titled Red Hot Mamas and Mojo Mamas enabled the world to hear some of these fine singers for the first time. This wonderful new release is the first full CD by Shirley Johnson and is aptly titled Killer Diller (Delmark), for that is exactly what this release is. With a mixture of new songs and covers of some fine old blues songs, and a list of musicians that read like a who's who of Chicago blues musicians, this release will find its way on to many best of lists this year. The CD opens with "Not For The Love Of You," a recognizable song that I believe was first recorded by Ronnie Milsap in the 60s. Willie Dixon's "Killer Diller" follows and by the end of that track we are anxiously awaiting the next song. Sam Cooke's "Somebody Have Mercy" and the often recorded "As The Years Go Passing By" soon follow. You will remember the latter by Albert King, but just listen to the fine guitar playing by Johnny B. Moore on this version. "Hard Lovin' Mama" is a perfect vehicle for Johnson's gravelly voice, as is "The Blues Is All I Got," a track written by her. Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" works well here due to the great guitar work by the incomparable Robert Ward. "It Hurts Me Too," most notably done by Elmore James, is enjoyable, but by no means definitive. The CD ends on an upbeat note, with a classic Lieber & Stoller track "Saved," originally recorded by Laverne Baker and closely resembling that version. A fine addition to the Delmark catalog and a worthy addition to anyone's blues collection.
This is my first encounter with Sir Charles Jones, although Love Machine is his second release on Mardi Gras Records. I thought this was Charles Jones who had released several southern soul LPs over the years, and that he somehow got knighted in the interim, but they are two different artists. This Jones is a relatively young performer whose music straddles the line between Southern soul and more contemporary dance music. I first took notice to Sir Charles when I heard his pleading ballad "Is There Anybody Lonely?," with it's catchy lyrics and fine vocal. It is a track to admire, and is certainly the highlight of this release. The ten cuts, all written by Jones, alternate between ballads and dance tunes, with the opening title track, "Love Machine," being an upbeat autobiographical song that let's the ladies know where Sir Charles is coming from. The equally fine ballad, "Just Can't Let Go," is another pleading tune about the angst of lost love. All in all, this is a fine release that could become a party favorite. Unfortunately the lack of liner notes fail to give us any information about Sir Charles. Mardi Gras Records has a nice site at www.mardigrasrecords.com where you can listen to their many fine releases.
--- Alan Shutro
Following an impressive debut,
Live At The Alamo Theatre, Eddie Cotton delivers an outstanding studio recording,
Extra. With a clean and polished technique to his guitar playing, Eddie Cotton is not another Stevie Ray Vaughn
'wanna be.' While his riffs are not as spotless as Robert Cray, one could easily compare the newcomer to the veteran, as his funk-driven shuffles and roots in gospel and soul set him apart from other 30-something blues singers/guitarists.
The record contains six original compositions and six carefully chosen covers.
"Let's Straighten It Out" features a Caribbean groove and Carlos
Santana-esque guitar solos. There are two versions of the
McKinley Mitchell song, "End Of The Rainbow," an acoustic version which showcases Cotton's soulful voice followed by an equally impressive electric version
that has an Al Green 'going to church' vibe. The young guitarist tackles the
Howlin' Wolf classic,
"Killing Floor," and the Willie Dixon standard, "Let Me Love
You," giving each song an infectious funk-driven rhythm rather than the standard shuffle. Just as impressive as Eddie Cotton's ability to take standard blues and transform them are his songwriting capabilities. The title track is a nice mixture of jazz guitar riffs and tender lyrics. Bass player Myron Bennett is key to the sound of this album. His funky style is featured on almost every track.
"Be Good To Me" is another example of the versatility of this Mississippi guitar slinger, as he and the band construct a very
loose and unrehearsed atmosphere. Recorded live in the studio, Extra successfully combines genres without sounding contrived or overly elaborate; rather the disc has a flowing and relaxed feeling which is refreshing and gratifying.
--- Tony Engelhart
During three decades of holding the bottom end with Charlie Watts in the classic foursome that made up The Rolling Stones, Bill Wyman became a legendary bass player in rock-n-roll. Along with Watts, Wyman supplied understated, subtle rhythms that upheld the theatrics of Jagger and Richards. On the DVD In Concert (Inakustik), recorded in Germany, Wyman fills an analogous role in his Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings. Among the stars Wyman allows to shine brighter at this gig is ultimate rockabilly and country-rock sideman Albert Lee, versatile drummer Graham Broad (Polecats, Mike Oldfield, Culture Club) and keyboardist Gary Brooker (Procol Harum). Underscoring Wyman's background role, even in his own group, he does not sing. However, there are a lot of talented vocalists on hand, including gospel-blues-jazz vocalist Terry Taylor from previous Bill Wyman solo albums, Beverly Skeetes (Boy George) and Janice Hoyte (Bill Wyman's Groovin', Pete Townshend Iron Man). Highlight performances include "I Put a Spell on You," "Mystery Train" and "Hello Little Boy."
The Black Keys is an Akron duo that burns with the frantic, but focused, bluesy hard rock energy as Jimi
Hendrix on The Big Come Up (Alive
Records). They add a hard and heavy garage rock crunch that got them native respect in the juke joints of the Delta. This two-man powerhouse is Dan Auerbach (cousin to Akron's Ralph Carney) on vocals and
harmony electric guitar, age 22 at this release, and 21-year-old Patrick Carney (nephew to Ralph Carney) on drums. Dan spent an apprenticeship in Greenville, Mississippi jamming the area clubs with James "T-Model" Ford before recording this potent album.
--- Thomas Schulte
Meet Sam Cooke's nephew. Again. R.B. Greaves was the one-hit wonder who did "Take a Letter, Maria" in 1969. Well, it's a hell of a song. If you remember it, it will go through your head for a while now that you've read the title. If you hear it, it will stay in your head all day. It's a hell of a song. Of course it's on this R. B. Greaves retrospective from Collectables Records. What else did he do? He seemed to be positioned as a pop/soul guy right when soul was becoming very aggressive, and that buried him. Maybe that scene would have buried his more famous uncle, too, or maybe soul would have stayed sweet if Sam Cooke hadn't died. Ronald Bertram Aloysius Greaves, an Air Force brat, absorbed a medley of rhythm influences during a childhood that shuttled him between British Guyana and various Indian reservations, and his voice stays in the rhythm pocket much as that of Marvin Gaye, himself a former drummer. Greaves, however, adds Caribbean and Native American roots seasonings to the gospel/R & B sound of solid soul singers. It was lighter, worldlier and more hedonistic. In 1969, R. B. Greaves was to Isaac Hayes what Neil Diamond was to Mick Jagger, a flip side, a silver lining to the thundercloud. He was good in the aesthetic sense, but never took off because being good in the moral sense, meaning a nice, positive guy, was unhip at the time. Today, we do not demand anger in our soul music, and so we can listen to R. B. Greaves without reservation, without feeling that there is some necessary component lacking. I suggest that you do so. Ten songs, all strong, some Sam Cooke covers, some originals, one Bacharach/David.
There's a guy in every blues society who annoys and bores the other members, because he's the extreme end of blues purism. While everyone else is cranking up electric instruments and miking the drums so that they can barely hear one another praise great blues artists like Led Zeppelin and Savoy Brown, this guy is somewhere else, trying to turn people onto Little Brother Montgomery and Charlie Patton. When the annual talent contest comes along, this guy generally signs up, and the local blues society chiefs roll their eyes and apologize to guest contest judges from out of town about the boredom they're about to experience, and the deaf, rock-blues-oriented sound man can't figure out how to amplify the guy's acoustic playing, so it really doesn't sound all that good, anyway. But the out-of-town judges, who haven't heard this particular one of these guys before, think more of him than his local pals do, because they hear his passion, his research and his talent. I've been that out-of-town judge many, many times and seen this guy in Charleston, Richmond, New Bern, Norfolk and Spartanburg. I suspect that around Portland, Oregon, this guy's name is Terry Robb. Maybe I'm wrong and he's Mr. Popularity. If so, then Portland's blues community is better educated about its music than most. Popular in Portland or not, he's a guy who's above national stardom and who has other priorities, like doing the right songs the right way. Six of the 13 cuts on When I Play My Blues Guitar (Burnside Records) are instrumentals, soft, Piedmont to ragtime range pieces that not only demonstrate the expressive capacities of blues, but also remind us where the form came from. Unlike Burnside label mate Alice Stuart, however, Robb does not make much attempt to incorporate other roots genres in his music, denying him the broad appeal of her new record. Again, When I Play My Blues Guitar is too good for most alleged blues fans, much less more mainstream record buyers.
--- Arthur Shuey
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