Warning! This CD may cause your stereo to burst into flames! Jeff Chaz, the Bourbon Street Blues Man, is back with a scorcher of a disc. Cookin' In Old Grease (JCP Records) is a high energy set from the get-go, with plenty of intense guitar, sweaty funk, and some of the most impassioned vocals heard in a long time. In addition, he is also a great songwriter, as displayed on the opener, "I Can't Get Lucky With You," "I've Got To Be Clean," "I Could've Been A Doctor." The slower track, "Instrument of Pleasure," builds in intensity so slowly and deliberately that you're nearly exhausted upon its completion. However, the guitar is at center stage on the steamy instrumental "Humidity," the funky "Morning Coffee," and on the nine-minute title track which closes the album. Though he lists his influences as Albert King, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Adams, among others, he reminds me a lot of D.C. bluesman Bobby Parker (of "Watch Your Step" fame) with his singing and fretwork. The band, made up of some of New Orleans' finest, is excellent, and so is the production by Chaz. This explosive CD is available at Chaz's website, www.jeffchaz.com (signed copies are available) and proves that the blues are alive and well in New Orleans.
Speaking of the Big Easy, you may not be familiar with Chris Kenner, but his is an important name in New Orleans R&B. Though he was a gifted songwriter with a voice as comfortable singing gospel as the blues or soul, he never made it very far on his own because of a lack of stage presence and a problem with alcohol, eventually dying at in his late 40s of a heart attack in New Orleans in 1976. Though you may not know his name, some of his songs might ring a bell. "Land of 1000 Dances" was a big hit for Wilson Pickett and the Latino rockers Cannibal & the Headhunters, "I Like It Like That" was a hit for the Dave Clark Five, and Fats Domino scored with Kenner's "Something You Got." Fuel 2000 has gathered most of Kenner's great songs, mostly done for Joe Banashak and Irving Smith's Instant label, into The Chris Kenner Collection: Land of 1000 Dances. The three previously mentioned hits are present (though another hit, "Sick and Tired," waxed for Imperial is not present), as are a host of "coulda been's," like "Time," "Packin' Up," and "They Took My Money." Kenner's big hit, the title track, is presented with the dramatic introduction that was edited off the single for time reasons. Also present on most of the tracks is the incredible Allen Toussaint on piano and Crescent City legend John Boudreaux on drums. Fans of New Orleans R&B will want to add this to their collection.
One thing you can never accuse Joe Richardson of is getting in a musical
rut. After two strong releases on Viewpoint Records in the last couple of
years, he has returned with a solo acoustic effort that may be his best
effort yet. Stripped Down is a riveting portrait of Richardson the
songwriter, guitarist, and singer. It’s a wonderful blend of delta blues,
country blues, and even some gospel flavor thrown in for good measure.
Richardson has offered hints on previous albums of his acoustic skill, but
they’re on full display on Stripped Down. As always, Richardson’s songs
are based on typical blues themes, loneliness, longing, and matters of the
soul, but his compositions go beyond the standard blues clichés. They are
powerful and personal, like tiny glimpses into his soul. His guitar work,
usually a highlight anyway, is just stunning this time around,
particularly the slide work. Vocally, this is his best performance by far.
His earthy, emotional vocals are perfect in this acoustic setting. Some of
the many highlights include the mesmerizing “Killin’ In The Name Of The
Lord,” the somber “Lonely Times” (written by Richardson’s late father),
the humorous “The Leprechaun,” where Richardson plays a unique instrument,
the Wonker Donker, “Prayin’” (which may be the best vocal on the album),
and the closer, “Front Porch Blues #2,” a six-plus minute guitar clinic.
This is an excellent release by an artist who continues to dazzle with
every outing. Go to
www.viewpointrecords.com for to order or to
www.joerichardsonexpress.com for more information about this talented
--- Graham Clarke
The concept of the tribute disc is a risky one. Depending on the object of affection, as well as those enlisted to the project and their appropriateness for the song they chose to praise, it’s going to be a treat or, more frequently, silly. This falls more frequently into the former than the latter category. Telarc has tried the Beatles and Bob Dylan, with less than stellar results. Exile on Blues Street (Telarc), a tribute to the blues-based Rolling Stones, is a more successful effort. Exile on Main St. was a damned near perfect record. This may not be perfect, but it sure does have some exquisite moments. Lucky Peterson’s guitar work on the opening “Ventilator Blues” is simply amazing. Christine Ohlman’s muscular vocals on “All down the Line” and Tommy Castro’s vocals and guitars on the nitro-fueled “Rip This Joint” are standouts. Otis Taylor’s take on “Sweet Black Angel,” with guitar work that pretty much echoes the original, is well done, though the backing vocals are cumbersome. Jeff Lang’s solo version on “Sweet Virginia” takes on a singer-songwriter feel. The guitar work here is wonderful, though it might have been more powerful at half the six-minute-plus length. Andrea Re turns in a convincing take on “Tumbling Dice” that benefits from Colin James’ guitar work. Tab Benoit shakes the hell out of “Shake Your Hips,” the Stones’ take on Slim Harpo’s classic swamp rocker. Joe Louis Walker tries his hand on “Shine a Light,” a difficult song to wring any emotion out of, and Deborah Coleman takes on “Happy” with similar results, which is to say she tries mightily but just doesn’t get there. Jimmy Thackery closes the set with “Rocks Off,” with Andrea Re and Rob Roy on unnecessary backing vocals. The guitar work here is, naturally, ass kicking. Brian Stoltz, Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton offer musical muscle throughout.
The history of blues artists playing for, um, captive audiences is impressive. B.B. King, Little Milton John Lee Hooker, and even Johnny Cash, top the impressive and, up until now, male exclusive list of performers. This mesmerizing set from Tracy Nelson, Live From Cell Block D (Memphis International), not only breaks that particular gender barrier, but impresses as one of the standout discs of the year. Given that glorious voice, it’s no wonder it’s such a treat. From a superb rendering of Patsy Cline’s “Walkin’ After Midnight,” that should have been included on MCA’s new tribute disc, to an equally fine version of Lyle Lovett’s “God Will” that features her soulful piano, to a rousing take on Bessie Smith’s classic “Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair” (I’ll bet that went over particularly well with the audience), this is a class set. Tracy Nelson has a voice that was made to sing. It has an almost gospel tinge, and she can apply it brilliantly to anything from blues to country to R&B to rock. She covers most of those bases here. The lead voice of Mother Earth back in the '60s, she cut her first record in 1965. Now, 21 albums later, she’s finally gotten around to releasing a live recording. And it’s a dazzler. The folks who sat in on the recording at the West Tennessee Detention Center no doubt wish they were elsewhere, but it sure was an otherwise glorious way to spend a winter’s night. There is the great country rocker “Love Is Where You Find It,” a heart-melting reading of Bobby Charles’ beautiful “Tennessee Blues,” and a rocking take on Marcia Ball’s “Got a New Truck” to recommend this. There’s also Sam Stafford’s sizzling guitar on Tracy’s signature Memphis Slim standard, “Mother Earth,” on which she just vocally soars, and she does a killer “Strongest Weakness,” one of the standout cuts on Etta James’ latest. Tracy Nelson does not back off from anything. Her “Down So Low” is given a hair-raising reading, proving that Tracy Nelson is in possession of a truly amazing voice. Unfortunately, she and that wonderful instrument are also relegated to the overlooked-brilliant-artist category. Where are the good radio stations when you need them? The set closes with a hard rockin’ take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Feel So Good.” I imagine those in attendance at this recording felt pretty good, too. The audience applause is faded after just a few seconds, but it’s a safe bet it went on forever.
Van Morrison has always had an element of undercover bluesman. From his 1960s band Them (who covered “Baby Please Don’t Go” and gave us “T.B. Sheets”), through his collaborative work with John Lee Hooker, his affection for the blues has been apparent. That a handful of blues artists would pay tribute to Van the Man on Vanthology - A Tribute to Van Morrison (Evidence) is, therefore, not surprising. The song selection, presumably chosen by the performers, is as eclectic and far-flung as the author’s varied musical interests, though for the most part this is familiar territory. Little Milton’s opener, “Tupelo Honey,” stays true to the song's beautiful melody and lyric as well as to the performer’s own southern blues roots. The result, like the majority of tunes collected here, is wonderful. Syl Johnon, according to the liner notes, once upon a time played guitar behind Jackie Wilson. He probably was in heaven playing “Jackie Wilson Said.” The very soulful Freddie Scott’s “Brown Eyed Girl,” Bettye Levett’s powerful “Real Real Gone” and Otis Clay’s “Warm Love” are among the highlights here. I’m particularly fond of Son Seals’ version of the obscure “Queen of the Slipstream,” primarily because it shines the spotlight on his voice. Son is one of a small handful of truly great blues guitarists and it’s a treat to just listen to the man sing. Sir Mack Rice, author of “Mustang Sally,” offers a rowdy and memorable version of “Gloria,” a classic that Morrison first recorded with Them. Eddie Floyd, who had a big hit with “Knock On Wood” back in the day, does an impressive version of “Crazy Love” and Dan Penn’s interpretation of “Bright Side of the Road” is stellar, with a vocal delivery frequently reminiscent of Eric Clapton’s. There are covers, too, from William Bell, Frederick Knight, Bobby Patterson, Henry Butler, Ellis Hooks and the great Chuck Jackson. Van Morrison fans will enjoy this. It does the man proud.
--- Mark E. Gallo
The seasoned Canadian musicians that make up Still At Large, a two-year-old Windsor,
Ontario band, have collectively played for more than one hundred years.
Their 46-minute, edgy, debut CD, Still At Large, contains 11 original tracks which are all
relatively strong. There is not a lot of traditional or contemporary blues
included on this Mark Planke and Still At Large-produced disc. What you do
get is heavy, rockin’ blues perfect for a night of hard partyin’.
"Aardvark Blues Café" is known as Windsor’s home of the blues. Here, it is
turned into a sing-along rock ‘n’ boogie party song where Debbie Power’s
piano is scorching. "Loved You Like A Fool" has a George Benson feel to it
while Larry Thompson’s organ fills the gaps. There is a certain Booker T.
& The MGs Stax-era feel to the organ-grinding and smooth electric piano
groove "Slide On In." Mike Bruce’s scratchy vocals and piercing guitar are
reminiscent of Walter Trout throughout. On "Oh Well," this comes through
the strongest. However, since the group is not familiar with Trout, this
similarity was not intentional. On all tracks, Jack Lehoux’s portly drums
push Mike’s guitar to keep on rocking. Blues are at the roots of the
electrifying stormtrooper "Tired Of This Town." Imagine a late '60s Johnny
Winter Band and you will get the picture. It captures all the intensity
and energy of Still At Large’s live performance, including a fervent drum
solo. A couple tunes are loud, proud, kickin’ in-your-face music. They
will come as welcome noize for anyone who spent the early part of the '80s
at concerts by the likes of Judas Priest and Dio. There is plenty of
powerful bar chords and fire-hot guitar on these numbers called "Bits And
Pieces" and "Black Jack Ruby Jones." The acoustic rhythm guitar and
electric lead guitar combination make "Woe Is Me" and "Question Of The
Blues" stand out. These songs are not as overbearing as some of the others
and are easily ready for prime-time radio. Second guitarist James Bruce’s
laid back vocals on "You Never Can Tell" are robust yet supple. The tune
has a jazzy feel thanks to the organ. However, the classy and controlled
guitar solo sounds too much like Albert King and SRV. The far too
stereotypical lyrics on Tom MacGuigan’s "I Can’t Lose When I Choose The
Blues" will do nothing to enhance the image of the blues. Words such as:
‘I can’t win when I drink my gin’ and ‘my beat up car won’t get me far’
are humourous but are too common. On the song, Tom’s drowsy vocal delivery
does not match his advanced bass playing skills.
Recorded practically live-off-the-floor, the production is solid, clean
and crisp. Without the special guests on piano and organ, the band would
sound even heavier. On their debut, they may not have totally found their
own way but they do not subject us to re-hashed covers like so many other
bands do. Their originals are strong and at least a couple are capable of
competing in the big leagues.
For additional information, contact: (519) 251-9820 and, coming soon,
--- Tim Holek
When Howard Tate's new CD, Rediscovered (Private Music), arrived, my first reaction was that now I'll have three releases competing for the best of the year. After the great Bettye Lavette and Charles Walker CDs, this release is somewhat of a disappointment. It is not a disappointment because of those two exalted releases, but rather this performance doesn't measure up to having seen him perform twice last year in both a small club environment and also at The San Francisco Blues Festival. He had the crowd on it's feet during both shows. Actually, Sweetwater's in Mill Valley, California was so crowded, you had no choice but to stand, and so I did, rubbing elbows with Elvis Costello and the legendary producer Jerry Ragavoy. His shows were breathtaking; hence, the dilemma with this new release. It is basically boring. It is as though he's just going through the motions but was not very inspired. This is also the opinion of many qualified listeners I spoke to that had the same feelings as I did. This will not be the first review in print that has taken this position. The first track, "Mama Was Right," is a bluesy track that really goes nowhere. The horns are fine, and God knows I love horns, but even they cannot save it. The second track, "Show Me The Man," is mediocre, as is "Organic Love (100% Natural)." Things dramatically improve with the fourth track, "Sorry Wrong Number," a track previously recorded in 1988 by Irma Thomas. "Either Side Of The Same Town" is a new track penned by the aforementioned Ragavoy and Costello, and it is a good track that the production lets down. "All I Know Is The Way I Feel" is a track that also was recorded by Irma Thomas in 1988. That version surpasses this one once again. There's even a Prince song, "Kiss," that has been done better by others. "Eternity" doesn't do it for anyone who has heard it. That leads us to the final track, a piano-only accompanied version of his old Verve signature track, "Get It While You Can," which ironically is the best track on this release. Perhaps it is the lack of enthusiasm by all concerned, or perhaps it is the innumerable times Tate breaks out into falsetto that is unnerving, but somehow this release just doesn't make it. I really wanted it to. Perhaps next time.
It is with a sadness that I write this review, since Quinn Golden passed away last week at the young age of 48. His career had finally taken off and he worked the chitlin circuit with regularity. On Bottoms Up, his fifth CD for Ecko Records, he follows the same path that made his other releases successful. It is that "Hole In The Wall / Juke Joint" sound that is played in the small clubs throughout the south. People are going to the clubs and dancing, and they really don't care if the music is all synthesized or if there are real musicians playing on these tracks. They just want to party, and Ecko Records has found a niche in the market that buys these releases. Most of the songs are written by label owner John Ward in collaboration with a few other writers. Bottoms Up is comprised of eight dance tunes and two ballads to change the mood a bit. There's the dance tune, "Can You Pop That Trunk," that most definitely is not about a car. "It's Saturday" and "Party On The Weekend" are both dance tracks heralding the weekend, as is the title track "Bottoms Up." The slow ballad, "Party For Two," gives us the mellow side of Quinn Golden. I wish he had done more ballads over the years. Quinn will be missed, but we do have a nice recorded legacy to remember him by.
--- Alan Shutro
Tab Benoit’s latest Mona Lisa, The Sea Saint Sessions (Telarc), once again blends Delta blues with Cajun bayou spice for a sound that belongs uniquely and solely to him. I say solely because that is exactly what you will find in abundance on this barnburner of a record, due largely to Tab’s commanding raspy vocals throughout. Particularly on “Solid Simple Thing” and “What I Have To Do,” Benoit has a liking for cutting tracks live in the studio in one or two takes, which gives The Sea Saint Sessions a radiant spontaneous feel over all 11 numbers. The sparkling and very funky “Hustlin Down In New Orleans,” which evokes memories of Little Feat, finds Neville Brothers guitarist Brian Stoltz exquisitely trading off licks with Benoit, while the very bluesy “Monks Blues” showcases Big Chief Monk Boudreaux’s gruffly smooth vocals and segues neatly into the driving beat of “Making The Bend,” a high energy piece featuring George Porter’s booming bass line. What I find truly amazing about the three numbers just mentioned is that they were co-written and performed with the guest artists as these sessions were taking place with minimal rehearsal or refinement. Now that, ladies and gents, is spontaneity at it’s finest. All but two tracks are originals, with the covers consisting of a smoking version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin For My Darlin” that contains a completely wicked guitar solo, and “Plareen Man,” the volcanic closing number contributed by Cyril Neville who is on hand for lead vocals and percussion. Two other pieces that are thoroughly enjoyable, and if they fail to get your hips shaking immediately might mean you are dead, are the album’s opening frenetic tune, “Baby Blue,” which has Brian Stoltz sitting in, and the following “Boat Launch Baby,” that I can hear covered easily by any of the top Zydeco/Cajun bands. Backing Tab are his usual comrades, Carl Dufresne on bass and Darryl White on drums, who are one of the most powerful rhythm sections it’s ever been my pleasure to hear. I mean these two guys just blast through a tune like dynamite. As for Mr.Benoit .... he’s positively magnificent on this outing, firing off melodic runs up and down the fretboard while at times bending notes until they seem ready to break into a million pieces while singing his heart out in his slightly nasal but soulfully expressive voice. Tab Benoit has for years been grossly underrated as both a blues guitarist and singer, and is finally beginning to receive the national recognition he has always deserved as both a musician and a fine songwriter. Last year’s Wetlands was a great album, but The Sea Saint Sessions just plain knocked me out of my socks and across the room. One of his best that should not be missed!
--- Steve Hinrichsen
The blues has been recognized as a good foundation for other, “past the blues” genres for several decades now. You can look at the back of a CD with a title like Looking Past The Blues, see the longhaired, facial haired white guys in black shirts and be pretty sure you’re going to hear something along the lines of Foghat. Foghat had it right, and so do D.A. & the Hitmen. Blues is a great starting point for highly amplified, jam-based rock. Live, it’s a kind of music that often draws a discouraging crowd of drunks who just don’t get it and who applaud the hair length rather than the talent on the bandstand ("Yee-hah, bubba, that’s what I’m talkin’ ‘bout! Raise hell! Hey, got a light?"), but that makes it all the better news when an act in this category puts out an un-self-conscious record. You have the option of listening to it without that crowd, or with it, if you prefer. All ten songs here are Lance Dieckmann (vocals/harmonica) / Paul Alvarado (electric guitar) originals. Back to the Foghat comparison, Dieckmann’s harmonica tone is very Rod Price, but the harp/guitar teamwork is a completely different thing. Actually, the tandem hitting of notes by all instruments and singers here is what sets the album apart from most blues-rock releases. Another strong point is the harmonica solo work, which is impossible to categorize. It is not there just to rock, or just to provide a blues element, or just to thicken electric bass or guitar chording, but to take over the songs’ storytelling and tell them effectively for 12 or 24 bars. If Dieckmann is not recognized as one of the top x players of any particular subcategory of harp, it is only because he cannot be confined to any particular subcategory. In the frontline partnership, the guitar keeps up by virtue of very similar tone and deep mutual understanding between Dieckmann and Alvarado. Production-wise, the record’s a little heavy on reverb, and some of the guitar effects selected are a bit dated, but it achieves a blues-rock synthesis that most listeners only dream of and that wouldn’t even occur to most bands.
“Mark Lemhouse came to Memphis and Lord knows what he had in mind …” begins the inner sleeve narrative on this CD. That would be a good opening line for a “Stagger Lee” kind of folk blues song, too, and that’s the kind of song with which Lemhouse starts. The dozen songs on Big Lonesome Radio (Yellow Dog Records), including four Lemhouse originals and one Tom Waits cut, are done with pre-WWII instrumentation and style and a subtle, modern recording technique that’s consistently right on the edge of electric crackle. He’s found that moment in American music when Sam Phillips stuffed a piece of damp newspaper into the guitarist’s cracked amp speaker cone in order to get on with the recording of "Rocket 88” back in ’51, accidentally inventing fuzz tone in the process. While too white, too light and too schooled for detailed parallel, Lemhouse also evokes the spirit of Howlin’ Wolf by taking those simplest rhythms and energetically hammering on them until the listener sways in a trance. This act should be welcome on any bandstand and in any blues record collection. Well, purists might object to the modern recording and pigment things, so let’s say “99.95% of blues record collections.”
Drink Small and Geraldine have been ready for a head-cutting contest with B.B. King and Lucille for some time. Retaining much more traditional syncopation and free vocal phrasing than B.B., Drink has kept and honed the disciplines needed for trio work. If he can’t endanger your stemware with those falsetto vocals B.B. King can still reach, he can rattle your flatware with a natural, Deep South baritone. Take Drink Small and B.B. King back to the farm for a day, I say, and see which one gets the mule to behave. Drink Small has a kind of virtuosity that many players that are more famous still seek, yet is still comfortable with very real, very deep roots. When Drink Small plays for you, it’s never in your town, but in the Bishopville, South Carolina where he grew up and began studying blues. He celebrated his 70th birthday in January, 2003 by beginning a 70-day, 70-gig tour, including knock-‘em-out stops in Montreal and Chicago. Rumor has it that on a Scandinavian tour a few years ago, he sold 800 CDs to a crowd of 600. His blues was always great and is now thought to be a thing of the past by most of the world. This is that legendary stuff you thought you couldn’t get any more. Luck, that most important factor in a music career, has kept this blues vibrantly alive in Drink Small, but has kept global fame and fortune away from him. The better “blues who’s who” books list him, but, damn, son, you’ve got to hear and see him. The South Carolina Arts Commission made Drink Small Does It All possible, and it’s 69 minutes of vocals and either solo guitar or solo piano, some from the gospel end of the blues spectrum, some from the jazz end, some from the country, some from the city, all from the mind and world of Drink Small. Live at New Orleans Jazz Festival ’89, available only on cassette, includes songs that those lucky enough to know his live shows request most often – “Red Top,” “Ode to Billy Joe,” “Little Red Rooster” and half a dozen more, not perfectly recorded, but lively. The 70th Birthday Tour CD release includes half a dozen of his most successful studio recordings. Available via mail order directly from Drink Small, 2223 Lady Street, Columbia, South Carolina, 29204, (803)254-2123, the CDs cost, respectively, $20.00 and $12.00 and the cassette is currently available for $12.00, all including US shipping.
--- Arthur Shuey
Live At Ronnie Scott's (Wadham Films),
a DVD of a 1984 performance by Nina Simone, starts abruptly, but powerfully as Nina,
worked into a trance, slowly and intently sings "God, God, God" as she
plays piano softly, but briskly.
This sets the tone for the first half of the concert --- intimate and
personal. In between songs interview segments are interspersed. Nina is
quite chatty and entertaining in these talks and it works well with the
set, as we can imagine her conversing the same way with the audience on
the songs, as she was wont to do live. The second half of the concert is
more energetic, starting of with a medley of "Mississippi Goddam" with the
Brecht/Weill tune "Moon over Alabama." The only accompaniment Simone has
at the legendary jazz venue is drummer Paul Robinson (Van Morrison, The Proclaimers). Robinson ably supports and reacts to Simone in this
--- Tom Schulte
The Blues Bytes URL... http://www.bluenight.com/BluesBytes/
Revised: July 31, 2003 - Version 1.00
All contents Copyright © 2003, Blue Night Productions. All rights reserved.