It started out innocently enough.
had always wanted to cut an album of traditional blues, an album that
would remind him of the music he heard as a youngster in Louisiana and
Arkansas. That’s what he set out to do with this recent session, along
with his regular guitarist, the underrated Steve Johnson, on bass,
former Stax session drummer Charlie Jenkins, and special guest Alvin
Youngblood Hart on guitar. However, once the instruments were plugged in
and the music started to flow, Rush ended up with an album that, while
still traditional, gives a definite nod to the future as well. Folkfunk,
Rush’s third release on his Deep Rush label, may be the disc that gives
his career that push to the more widespread recognition that he’s been
looking for. The songs are all familiar themes to most blues fans, but
Rush adds his own distinct touches to each of the 11 tracks. The
opener, “Feeling Good,“ also serves as the closer, and its incessant
rhythm will permeate into every pore as you listen. Standout tracks
include “Uncle Esau,” a tribute to a musical influence from Rush’s early
years, a reworking of the Rice Miller classic, “Ninety-Nine” (with some
great guitar from Mississippi living legend and former Rush band leader
Jesse Robinson), and an unbelievably funky redo of one of Rush’s classic
tunes, titled “Chicken Heads - Refried.” It was Hart’s guitar work on an
impromptu jam on ”Chicken Heads” initially that led to the final results
of this session, and if it was anything like the final product, I can
understand what prompted the change in direction. Other tracks worth
mentioning are the swampy “Voodoo Man,” “Ride In My Automobile,” which is
steeped in Chicago Blues, and “Saints Gotta Move,” a funky medley of the
gospel standards “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “You’ve Got To
Move.“ Throughout the disc, bassist Johnson and drummer Jenkins lay down
some of the funkiest rhythm this side of late '60s James Brown, and Hart
has never sounded better on guitar. Meanwhile, Bobby Rush is his usual
impeccable self. His vocals are right on the money and his guitar and
harmonica work (unheralded but always a pleasure to hear) are great.
Whatever your personal idea of the blues may be, this is a disc you need
to hear, traditional and reverential at its roots, but definitely with a
funky vision of what the blues may yet be. If that pitch doesn’t work,
try this one: If you’re able to listen to this disc and not move
something, whether it’s tapping your finger, your foot, or shaking your
moneymaker, you’re ready for the undertaker.
--- Graham Clarke
On his previous six discs, David Gogo has ranged from a wild banshee to a pop balladeer. The former Gogo was captured live at the 2002 Burnaby Blues Festival. This one hour release, Live At Deer Lake (Cordova Bay), contains nothing but screeching, hard rock guitar from the Nanaimo, British Columbia native. All 10 tracks are loaded with aggressive energy. The CD’s sound quality isn’t polished. It is raw and proudly depicts the audio you’d expect to experience at a rock concert. Some might say artists like Gogo give blues a bad name. He doesn’t do himself favours by rocking up traditional blues songs such as "Louisiana Blues" and "I Feel So Good." He removes all the soul from James Brown’s classic It’s A Man’s World. To it he adds, assertive and confidant vocals along with passionate yet explosive guitar. The great vocal harmonies and alternative rhythm patterns on Skeleton Key make Gogo stand out in the over-crowded blues-rock arena. On this cranking CD he twists, pushes and bends his strings until the frets are ablaze. Throughout, he maintains an energetic voice as electrified as his guitar. However, the six-stringed fireworks quickly become tiresome because they are on the rampage far too much.
At an early age, Tunica, Mississippi-born James Cotton fell under the trance of Sonny Boy Williamson and became his protégé. In 1954, James was appointed as Muddy Waters harpist. This gig lasted for the next 12 years. No longer content to play Little Walter riffs note for note, Cotton left Waters and struck out as a solo act in 1966. His previous Telarc release (35th Anniversary Jam) celebrated his long-standing success as a solo act. That CD contained a plethora of guests who all could be considered the best the blues has to offer. On his new release, Baby, Don't You Tear My Clothes (Telarc), James is once again assisted by a crop of venerable field hands from his Cotton patch. This time around the musicians were pulled from a more diverse base as was the music. The focus remains on traditional blues but don’t expect the songs to be boring and to all contain 12 bars. The laid-back title track’s melody is so happy and cheerful, it will put a smile on your face, as will Bobby Rush’s expressive vocals. "Stealin’, Stealin’" contains amazing vocal harmonies thanks to Dave Alvin and Chris Gaffney. Odetta’s dignified voice has a dominion over the mellow and almost unplugged "Key To The Highway." Things are upbeat on "I Almost Lost My Mind." It’s performed as an instrumental which removes the depressing feeling usually emoted by the song’s lyrics. Jim Lauderdale tries to sound like the king of the roadhouse singers on "Bring It On Home To Me." Peter Rowan does his best Jimmie Rodgers yodel impersonation on "Muleskinner Blues." Current band-member David Maxwell is fantastic on the keys throughout the disc. Listen to them glisten on the mid-paced, opening instrumental "Coach’s Better Days." The rest of the extremely confidant core includes Derek O’Brien (guitar), Noel Neal (bass) and Per Hanson (drums) who are further joined by: Marcia Ball, C.J. Chenier, Doc and Merle Watson and Rory Block. James’ prominent harp is always noticeable on 13 (mostly cover) tune but Cotton doesn’t hog the limelight. His backing band and their guests all get a chance to display their celebrated talents. Since not many of the tunes feature super harp solos nor does Cotton sing (he no longer can), many wouldn’t tag this as a Cotton disc, but rather the makings from a great blues/roots band. Although his energy isn’t as kinetic as it once was, James still delivers plenty of steam on this 53-minute disc. It’s a totally relaxing and enjoyable mix of dinnertime blues. For his contributions to the genre, Cotton deserves a position in the blues hall of fame in addition to heaven’s house band. His previous CD won a Handy. This one just might win him another! For additional information, contact: www.telarc.com and www.jamescottonsuperharp.com.
Portsmouth, Virginia-born Deborah Coleman
was raised in a music-loving, always-on-the-move, military family. She
picked up her first guitar at age eight and has been recording for over
ten years. Her debut on the Telarc label, What About Love?!,
contains 11 songs which are mostly about the struggles that come with
love. All songs are strong especially the covers written by Gary
Nicholson, Ellis Hooks/Jon Tiven/Sally Tiven, and Colin Linden.
Coleman’s precisely-played guitar is sharp and cutting especially when
she power chords. At times, her voice is plain and sounds too much like
Chrissie Hynde and Patti Smith. The impressive backing band includes
Hiromasa Suzuki guitar, Noel Neal bass and Per Hanson drums. The band
recorded the CD in November, 2003, at The Centre for Performing Arts in
Unity, Maine which also included their accommodations. Coleman is a
hopeless romantic who pursues real love throughout the entire album. She
twists, tortures and plays with her fret-board as if it is the very "Bad
Boy" she sings about on the opening track. Ken Clark’s earthy organ
inconspicuously adds a swampy presence to "Lie No Better." On
"Undeniable," Clark pumps and pulses rousing energy to the fold.
Deborah’s vocals are extremely sexy on the romantic "Can You Hear Me?"
Here, her vocals are as expressive as her guitar. She performs a rock
and boogie version of the Everly Brothers’, instantly recognizable,
"When Will I Be Loved?" It is about searching for ideal love but never
finding it. So, it perfectly fits this LP’s theme. You get the feeling,
Coleman needs to visit the "Healing Grounds" regularly from too much bad
love. On the title track, she adds fuzz tone to her guitar solo which
gives a hard edge to a song that questions ethics and morals. Once she
finally finds love, she concludes there ain’t no fury like "A Woman In
Love." However, no fury exists in her voice or guitar on the track. The
most unique song is the instrumental "The River Wild." It is mysterious
and suspenseful and unlike anything she has previously recorded. On it,
her guitar becomes a gun that rapidly fires. Her Jimi Hendrix influence
can be heard here. Like her previous Blind Pig releases, this 50-minute
disc combines elements of pop, rock, blues and soul. Primarily, What
About Love? is a collection of roadhouse rock numbers that would fit
nicely on mainstream pop/rock radio. However, this CD will not elevate
her to the next level since there isn’t enough new arrangements that she
hasn’t done already on previous discs. For CDs and further information,
--- Tim Holek
Up Close & Personal (Southern Records) is the latest offering from Watermelon Slim, and it’s unquestionably his best yet. Just published by Southern Records Group (CD SRG 1003, released on July 6th), this album contains 16 tracks for the main body, plus two bonus tracks. Of those 18, in total, only four are covers of old tracks. So, plenty of originality, but also plenty of obvious, and well used, influences from the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf etc. Bill Homans (Watermelon Slim) has paid his dues over the years, playing with blues legends like John Lee Hooker, Champion Jack Dupree, Bonnie Raitt and Robert Cray, and it shows here in his music. Most of that music is played solo – no rhythm section to help out – just the man, his guitar and his harmonica, so you get pure blues straight from the heart. Taking the cover versions first: Sonny Boy Williamson’s “I Don’t Care No More” is the first one up, and it is played in true Sonny Boy style. This is a slow and moody blues with some good harmonica playing interspersing with the vocals. “Smokestack Lightning” appears two tracks later, and I found it was slightly spoiled for me by the partially muffled vocals. However, it’s still a very good rendition of the old Howlin’ Wolf original, and Watermelon Slim has changed it around a bit to make it more personalized, without losing the flavour of the Chester Burnett version. Two tracks later is a lovely version of Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running.” Suffice it to say that Muddy would have given this the stamp of approval! The fourth, and last, of the covers is a Fred McDowell track, “Highway 61” – appearing as track 11 on the CD. True to the original, without being an exact copy, this track is superbly rendered and full of feeling. It covers just over four minutes, and every second is pure blues. Onto the originals: the regular tracks (excluding the two bonus ones) start and end with slightly differing versions of “Truck Holler,” a field holler which puts me in mind of some of the music recorded by Alan Lomax way back. It captures the spirit exactly of the old songs sung in fields with maybe a couple of sticks or spoons banged together to give the backing. Track two, “Blue Freightliner,” is pure Muddy Waters and absolutely superb --- there just isn’t enough music of this vein recorded any more and credit must go to Watermelon Slim for coming up with tracks like this. There are too many good tracks to mention all of them here, but there are some instances where the influence seems to shine through: “The Last Blues” certainly impresses me as coming from Taj Mahal, “Scalemaster Blues” has a certain Fred McDowell ring about it and each of the original songs reflects past masters of the blues --- a great way to pay homage to those who have gone before. This is a superb album for those who like traditional blues. It’s mostly original, but made in such a way that it seems old already.
--- Terry Clear
Here’s a lady guitarist/vocalist from Yugoslavia who started on guitar studying jazz. Still in her 20s, Ana Popovic is already distributed and promoted worldwide. Comfort To The Soul (Ruf Records) is from last year but is just now getting critical coverage. An attractive picture of her working up a sweat, hair down, axe-wielding, appears on the cover of Reno publication “2004 Blues Festival Guide,” with more info inside about her two Ruf Records releases, of which this is number two. (Album art on neither measures up to the magazine cover). The disc is overproduced, a lot of non-blues, and the vocals are mediocre. On the opening “Don’t Bear Down On Me (I’m Here To Steal The Show)," with processed wah-wah guitar, good luck. “Love Me Again” fares a bit better with a bluesier beat and song structure. But the vocals are buried. Next is the title cut, and Hammond B3 organ helps. There are limpid attempts at Gospel background vocals. “Sittin’ On Top Of The World” is very disguised but finally the blues! Young Ana heard this tune from her father’s record collection and his own home jam sessions. She also cut this album, as well as her first US release, in Memphis so there’s that connection to this historic tune. Unfortunately it sounds like a version heard during amateur hour or at a talent competition. The guitar solo relies highly on gimmickry. Smooth jazz and reggae meet, lubricated by electric piano for “Night By Night.” No wonder. It’s a Steely Dan tune. I almost gave up, and then cut seven, “Navajo Moon,” flowered out of the speakers, practically a “Little Wing.” An instrumental, it’s an original by this lady Hendrix disciple inspired by a sunset during her Grand Canyon visit. It too is overproduced but the mood saves it. When wimpy harmonica is added to something so far removed from country or Chicago blues, it can sound cheesy, which happens on “Need All The Help I Can Get.” Very true here, it doesn’t add authenticity. A strained, flat vocal is contained in the rock “Recall The Days.” If you’re gonna do rock, I’d rather go for the rhythm on “Fool Proof,” akin maybe to “Pink Cadillac” in grooving medium tempo. Not bad. The disc concludes with “Jaco,” not so much a tribute to the late bassist Jaco Pastorius but rather to any enthusiastic and artistic soul who’s muse is prematurely squelched. This is among only three of all the album’s tracks which in my opinion is “not bad.” There is a second guitar on many of the cuts. Not having access to personnel listing, it may very well be the same lady overdubbed. Otherwise bass and drums, both competent, and an occasional keyboard. This disc is produced in part by a studio legend to those in the know, Jim Gaines, famous for getting the best and most biting sound out of an electric guitar. I’ve really admired his crafting on CD’s by Studebaker John and Jimmy Thackery. But I’ve also heard a dud he produced for Lonnie Brooks. So, like lady Ana here, other influences could be at play resulting in hit-and-miss. Barely blues, a lot of rock. If you’re looking for good blues lady guitarists/vocalists, in the pure electric style I’d recommend Debbie Davies, or more on the rock side Joanna Connor. Maybe Austin’s Sue Foley (who has just switched to this same label, “Ruf”). As for Ana Popovic’s Comfort To The Soul, on some cuts I may as well have been listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd. But the lady is successful in that she stays busy. She’s on tour making a lot of festival and club dates in the US. As with just about anybody I’m certain she’d be better live. Anything is preferable to this over-processed album.
--- Tom Coulson
30 Years Of Maria Muldaur: I'm A Woman
(Shout! Factory/Rhino) celebrates the funk and jazzy blues spin Maria
Muldaur gave to folk-pop as a premier song stylist. A human jukebox
of peerless skill, Muldaur takes songs of Lieber/Stoller ("I'm a
Woman"), Dolly Parton ("My Tennessee Mountain Home"), John Hiatt ("It
Feels Like Rain") and more and makes them her own on this exquisite
collection of songs. Some recordings features guests. This includes a
song with Roy Rogers ("Me & My Chauffeur Blues"), Charles Brown ("Gee
Baby, Ain't I Good to You?"), Taj Mahal ("Soul of a Man") and one with
Bonnie Raitt ("It's a Blessing"). This documents attests to Muldaur
being a premier interpreter of all forms of American vocal songs styles.
--- Tom Schulte
those that were expecting a repeat of the deep soul flavor of W.C.
Clark's last Alligator CD, From Austin With Soul, you are in
for a surprise. This new release, Deep In The Heart, leans much
more heavily towards Texas R&B than the soul leanings of that prior
release which was reviewed so favorably here in our
June 2002 issue of Blues Bytes. That release
was a deep soul collector's treasure, with many references to Stax & Hi
Records such as "How Long Is A Heartache Supposed To Last." Although
this new release does cull some tunes from that era, the overall feeling
is a bluesy, harder one on this release. A glance at some of the old
school tunes like Dan Penn's "You Left The Water Running," originally
recorded by James & Bobby Purify and available on their wonderful
Shake a Tail Feather release (also reviewed in the
June 2002 Blues Bytes), this time out is given
an updated sound with Marcia Ball's excellent vocals adding a Texas feel
to this duet classic. Another case in point is Joe Tex's "I Want To Do
Everything For You," with Clark's lead guitar once again putting a Lone
Star State tag on this version. He is joined on this track by the
wonderful Ruthie Foster. The Fabulous Thunderbirds are covered here with
a cool version of "Twist Of The Knife," as is John Hiatt's great "Tip Of
My Tongue." The latter is given the good old deep soul treatment and
would have fit just as well on From Austin With Soul. Once again
I direct your attention to Clark's very emotional take on this track,
making it one for the ages. Delbert McClinton's "Ain't Lost Nothing" is
a great choice here and of course has it's roots in Texas. "Soul Kind of
Loving" is another duet with Marcia Ball and it features Marcia's great
piano in addition to her vocals. Clark's "My Texas Home" is a straight
blues that works really well with the other tunes chosen. It's back to
the Hi Records catalog with a great version of "I Didn't Know The
Meaning of Pain," originally recorded by Otis Clay. It can be found on
The Complete Otis Clay on Hi (another CD no one should be
without). This release ends with a rousing version of the classic "Okie
Dokee Stomp'" and will surely get you up on your feet and wishing for a
dance floor. Many thanks to W.C. once again for another fine outing, and
kudos to those responsible for the great song selection. It's a delight
to hear some of these obscure tracks brought back to life. Another
winner. What a great month this has been for new releases.
--- Alan Shutro
Veteran blues guitarist Duke Robillard has consistently been one of the finest practicioners of the West Coast / Texas jump blues style, with an extra emphasis on the music of T-Bone Walker. Except for a couple of ill-advised forays into other blues sounds in an apparent attempt to expand his audience, Robillard has consistently been one of the best in this genre, beginning way back when he took Roomful of Blues onto the national scene. No one does T-Bone Walker like Robillard. Thus, it was high time that he recorded an entire disc of tunes by the progenitor of Texas / California blues guitar. Blue Mood (Stony Plain) captures Robillard at his best on a dozen T-Bone songs. He avoids making this disc too clichéd by omitting some of Walker's better known numbers, such "Stormy Monday," which was already done by Robillard on previous recordings. But classics like "T-Bone Shuffle" and "T-Bone Boogie" are here. The mood gets jumping right away with "Lonesome Woman Blues," as band members Matt McCabe (piano) and sax players Doug James, Sax Gordon Beadle and Bill Novick are all featured prominently; behind the scenes, Jesse Williams puts down on steady thumping acoustic bass beat. Other strong numbers include the slow blues "Love Is A Gamble" and the mambo-ish "Hard Way," although there's really not a weak cut here. If you're a fan of either Duke Robillard or T-Bone Walker (and who isn't?), then you need to Blue Mood to your CD collection.
Love Jones (DG Records) comes from Arizona band Big Daddy D and the Dynamites, an up and coming group that's just starting to scratch the surface of the Southwest club scene. Their previous release, That's D Blues, received a favorable review in the June 2003 edition of Blues Bytes, and they are showing that they continue to mature as a band. Sax player Anton Teschner really shines on the first two cuts, the blues shuffle "Call Me" and the rockin' "Love Jones." Porras does his best vocal work on the funky Albert Collins-ish original "Can't Get Enough," that again gives Teschner significant solo time. Porras gets his chance in the spotlight as guitarist on the slow blues instrumental "Folini's Blues." The only covers are a pair of renditions of John Hiatt's "It Feels Like Rain," one done in the studio and the second version a redundant live cut. For more info on Big Daddy D and the Dynamites, check the band website at www.BigDaddyDBlues.com.
"He couldn't play shit, but he sure made it sound good!" This is the statement that Hound Dog Taylor wanted to leave with the blues world about himself. While it's not totally accurate (I, for one, believe that he played better than "shit"), Taylor was indeed a genius at taking a raucous, out of tune blues recorded on a cheap guitar and a fuzzy amp and making the music sound like pure blues heaven. Alligator owner Bruce Iglauer resisted releasing the live recordings found on Release The Hound (Alligator) due to what he considered to be sub-standard sound quality. He even apologizes for the "warts" in the liner notes. No apologies necessary, Bruce, as mastering engineer Dan Stout did some wonderful things to bring these 14 cuts up to near studio quality, making Release The Hound an essential purchase. The energy level is high throughout the disc (as if one would expect anything less from Taylor) and it's all great music. Backed by the regular Houserockers lineup (Brewer Phillips on guitar and either Ted Harvey or Levi Warren on drums), they slam through Taylor classics like "Sadie," "Gonna Send You Back To Georgia, "Sitting At Home Alone," and Taylor's quintessential cover of Ray Charles' "What'd I Say?" What can I say? Buy this disc. Play it often. Play it loud. Enjoy it.
Any new disc by blues piano legend Pinetop Perkins is always a treat. Ladies Man (M.C. Records) includes guest appearances by female blues singers Deborah Coleman, Susan Tedeschi, Madeleine Peyroux, Ruth Brown, Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli, Odetta and Saffire's Ann Rabson, plus one cut with guitarist Elvin Bishop. Pinetop also gets to handle the vocals on three cuts. Being selfish about it, I would rather have had a whole new album featuring just Pinetop. But that's not what this disc is all about, so I'll be satisfied with it as it is. OK, I like the four cuts ("Big Fat Mama," "Kansas City," "How Long" and "Chicken Shack") with Pinetop on vocals the best --- that goes without saying. These songs came from a live session in California when Pinetop actually couldn't play the piano due to a hand injury; filling in quite capably on the 88s was Tucson, Arizona artist Lisa Otey. The rest of the backing band for that session consisted of Willie "Big Eyes" Smith's regular touring group, including Smith himself on harp and Chicago stalwart Bob Stroger on bass. "How Long" adds Bishop on slide guitar; in my opinion, this one's the highlight of the CD. Smith's harp work is especially nice. Elsewhere on the disc, Pinetop and Marcia Ball team up at the piano for a revamped version of his instrumental classic, this time calling it "Pinetop's New Boogie Woogie." It smokes. A similar groove occurs when Rabson joins Perkins on a pleasant instrumental version of "Careless Love." Ladies Man gave a lot of artists a chance to show their love for this great and influential blues artist. For that reason, this one's a must have.
--- Bill Mitchell
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