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August 1997

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Hans Theesink's Crazy MoonHans Theessink is not an acquired taste. From bar one, his music is immediately engaging, and the pleasure only intensifies as the listener works his or her way through his latest collection of 13 original songs, Crazy Moon (Ruf Records). Like his other fine releases, this one is chock full of mostly uptempo, mostly acoustic blues with savory flavorings of Cajun, Caribbean, gospel, Texas, and even European classical traditions. Indeed he draws on musical friends from various cultures, countries and styles, while blending them all into the finest of blues presentations. Notwithstanding well known names such as Marcia Ball, the most remarkable of his collaborators is John Sass (who has joined him on other releases as a member of "Blue Groove" ). Mr. Sass's rocking tuba (that's right, tuba) bass lines sustain some of the more propulsive rhythms, and he turns in some amazing solo work in "Get down 'n play the blues." As for Mr. Theessink, his throaty, soulful vocals and superlative guitar/banjo/Jew's harp/mandolin/manila work are the centerpiece of each song. He has a special gift for rhythms of all types and varieties, and always captures the rhythmic essence of each number. Although he hails from across the water, he has more than mastered American roots and blues traditions; he has revitalized them with artistic creativity, advancing them to new heights.

--- Bill Jacobs

Trouble is the first new Buckwheat Zydeco release in almost three years, and it's a first in a number of respects. For one, it's on a relatively new label, Mesa/Bluemoon Records. Second, Trouble consists almost entirely of original tunes composed by bandleader Stanley "Buckwheat" Dural, with the exception of a sizzling, funkified version of Robert Johnson's classic "Crossroads." What's more, it's the first album he's done in a long time which didn't feature superstar guest artists. This one relies entirely on the efforts of his own band. If you've seen this group, you know already that there's nothing wrong with that. The songs mine all the different grooves, from blues to funk and back to Cajun two-steps, necessary for a hot zydeco record. The title track is certainly one of the best, and just might become a classic itself. It's in the "my life ain't nothin' but the blues" category, while avoiding the cliches of that genre. In any event, you'll have no trouble dancing to this one!

--- Lee Poole

Terry Evans' Come To The RiverTerry Evans is best known for his work with Ry Cooder, and his former boss has a major hand as producer and guitarist in Evans' new release Come To The River (Audioquest). This is a nice soulful, gospel-influenced disc, although I feel it's not as strong as it could be. I'd like to see more variety in the tempo and arrangements. Still, there are some very good tunes, like the version of "My Babe," in which a gospel chorus is added to the Chicago blues standard. "Tears Are Rolling" is normally a sad song, but here Evans gives it almost a "feelgood" sound. His voice is especially strong on the opening cut "Get Up, Get Ready."

Robert Lucas is Completely BlueL.A. blues cat Robert Lucas may take the award this year for the strangest album cover with his new release Completely Blue (Audioquest). The music inside is just as blue, as the current Canned Heat guitarist tears through a dozen Chicago-style numbers. I particularly liked "Pain In Our Cities," an original which could easily pass for a 90's-style Muddy Waters song. The title cut, a strong slow blues, is also very good.

Mean Case of the Blues (Bullseye Blues), the new CD from Eddy Clearwater, is another good basic blues album, yet not quite as strong as I expected. The Chicago blues veteran, as usual, covers a lot of styles during the 10 songs here. The opening title cut and the superb closing slow blues, "Don't Take My Blues," are the best of the disc.

Blues Before SunriseBlues Before Sunrise (Delmark) is a live recording made at a Chicago benefit for DJ Steve Cushing's radio show of the same name. Appearing on this show held last October at B.L.U.E.S. was Chi-town blues vets Big Wheeler, John Brim, Billy Boy Arnold and Jimmy Burns. If you missed the live show, you'll have to settle for this excellent CD. The cuts by Brim, in particular, are wonderful, as he covers some of his classics like "Tough Times" and "Ice Cream Man." Arnold contributes a very good medley of blues classics, featuring Johnny Burgin on guitar. And the lesser-known Burns contributes a nice version of "You're The One." Highly recommended!

Another good one from Chicago on Delmark is 700 Blues by Lurrie Bell. The son of harmonica legend Carey Bell is best at slow blues, as heard on B.B. King's "All Over Again" and "Million Miles From Nowhere." The former contains great lyrics like " ... I got a mind to give up living, and go shopping for a tombstone instead ..."

Little Sonny - Hard Goin' UpPerhaps if Aaron "Little Sonny" Jones had been around Chicago in the 1950s, he'd have become a household name in the blues world. Certainly his harmonica playing was first-rate. Instead, this Detroit bluesman did most of his recordings for the soul-oriented Stax label. Hard Goin' Up was originally released in 1973 as Enterprise 1036. Little Sonny shows his harp prowess on "My Woman Is Good To Me," as he trades riffs with the South Memphis Horns. He also demonstrates his soulful vocals on "Do It Right Now." An excellent collection of tunes!

Gregg Smith - I Wanna Rock YouFrom independent label Ultrax Records comes two very fine discs in the blues/soul genre. Bobby Patterson is a Southern singer who had a few regional hits several years back. Second Coming is a very nice album, with excellent vocals by Patterson. One of the best tunes is a typical cheatin' song, "Right Place, Wrong Time." The other new Ultrax CD is I Wanna Rock Ya, from Gregg Smith. Smith is a good, gospel-influenced singer, and his roots show on "Fell In Love." He also tackles the old Falcons standard "Love Is Amazing," although this tune just isn't the same without Robert Ward's quirky guitar solos.

Memphis guitar hero Jimmy King (with the King James Version Band) displays a certain maturity on his third album, Soldier For The Blues, for Bullseye Blues. This one is more restrained than his previous efforts, although he's still a hot guitar player. Check out his work on "I Don't Need Nobody That Don't Need Me" and "It Takes A Whole Lot Of Money."

Blues octogenarian Homesick James sounds better than ever on his latest, Words of Wisdom (Icehouse). While I've heard some less than stellar recordings by James in the past, his playing is crisp and fresh here. Be sure to check out James' uptempo version of "You Don't Have To Go" and a nice "Rock Me Baby."

If hard drivin', ass kickin' blues is your thing, then check out Extreme Blues (King Snake) by Mark Hodgson. This guy plays good "over the top" harmonica, not unlike that of Blues Traveler's John Popper, especially on the opening cut "Xpress Train." Hodgson is not a great singer, but certainly not annoying. Break open a bottle of Wild Turkey, shout "yee haw," and be prepared for a rowdy time with this band.

Roy Roberts - Every Shade of BlueRoy Roberts is a fine North Carolina blues artist who deserves more recognition than he's gotten thus far in his career. Every Shade of Blue (King Snake) is a nice collection of straight Southern blues featuring Roberts' vocals and guitar, and backed by some of the regular King Snake studio players. Of course, the requisite "back door" song is included, this one called "Comin' Through The Back Door." My only criticism is that I'd like to hear more expression in Roberts' vocals --- perhaps a little more sanctification in his singing would do the trick.

Billy Sheets is a Los Angeles blues singer with a new independent release, Please Tell Me Why, for Big Clock Records. He's trying real hard to re-create the era of the blues shouters, although he sometimes pushes his voice further than it actually can go. But this is a fun album, with nice guitar by L.A. veteran Joel Foy. Best is the strong slow blues of "Please Tell Me Why," on which Foy sounds a lot like vintage Johnny "Guitar" Watson. And you can never go wrong with a good Roy Brown number, as on the opening cut "Love Don't Love Nobody."

--- Bill Mitchell

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