Blues Bytes

August 1998

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Bobby Bland

Roomful of Blues

Johnny Adams


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Bobby Bland - Greatest Hits Vol. TwoMCA Records has done more than any other U.S. recording company in re-issuing countless volumes of classic blues recording. Bobby Bland's Greatest Hits Vol. Two captures this great blues/soul singer during his ABC Dunhill period from 1973 through 1984. By this time Bland had smoothed out his style, and the vocals here are not as raw as his earlier Duke recordings. He had also begun utilizing the gargling noise that remains a part of his vocal style today. The liner notes refer to this music as "easy listening blues," and that's an accurate term. One of Bland's better and more soulful songs from this era is "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)," originally released in 1974. There's also an incredible slow blues, "You'd Be A Millionaire," which I don't remember hearing before. I personally prefer Bland's Duke recordings, but there's a lot of good music here.

The staying power of Roomful of Blues, a band that's been on the scene for at least a quarter of a century, must be attributed to the way they've seamlessly handled major personnel changes over the years. This latest version adds singer McKinley Odom, who I think might be the strongest vocalist this Rhode Island band has ever had. Odom brings more of a soul edge to the band; thus the material on There Goes The Neighborhood (Bullseye Blues) leans more toward classic soul/blues than the jump material of past Roomfuls. The title cut is a powerful midtempo blues, highlighted by Odom's vocals and the bluesy guitar of Chris Vachon. The ever-present horn section, a band trademark throughout their existence, compliments Odom's smooth vocals on Percy Mayfield's "Lost Mind." The singer's voice turns gritty on the hard-drivin' Texas blues "I Tried." There Goes The Neighborhood is scheduled for release in mid-August; be the first in your neighborhood to score a copy!

New Orleans crooner Johnny Adams has only recently been recovering from a life-threatening illness. That's what makes his newest album, Man Of My Word (Rounder) such a treat. I've always considered Adams to be one of the greatest pure singers in blues/soul/jazz history, and a man who has never completely received due recognition. His ninth solo album for Rounder begins with the stirring "Even Now," on which the singer treats us to some wonderful falsetto vocals. Longtime bandmate Walter "Wolfman" Washington joins Adams on the slow soul number "This Time I'm Gone For Good," and on a gospel-tinged version of "You Don't Miss Your Water." The title cut is a powerful mid-tempo blues featuring Memphis' Michael Toles on guitar. But the real gem of the album is the closing cut, "Never Alone," which pairs Adams with fellow New Orleanian Aaron Neville for a stirring a cappella gospel number. Hearing these two marvelous singers together is more than enough to justify the cost of this CD. Editor's Note: Sadly, Mr. Adams passed away shortly after this review was completed, in September 1998. He will be missed by everyone who enjoyed his music.

Mark Hummel - Low Down to UptownThe title of Mark Hummel's new album, Low Down to Uptown (Tone-Cool) provides an accurate description of this West Coast harmonica player's blues style. Like many of his California counterparts, Hummel's sound borrows both from the smooth horn-influenced big blues bands as well as the earthier Chicago blues. "T'ain't What You Say" is a swinging 40s-sounding tune highlighted by the guitar work of the excellent Junior Watson and guest vocals of Brenda Boykin. Then Hummel turns around and plays a straight blues, with blistering harmonica on the instrumental "Po' Man's Shoe Shine. The album terminates with a beautiful jazzy number, Ellington's "In A Sentimental Mood," which features a duet of Hummel, playing chromatic harmonica, and piano legend Charles Brown.

Transplanted Texan Angela Strehli still sings with a Texas twang despite now living in the San Francisco Bay area. While a little uneven, her new disc Deja Blue (House of Blues) contains a majority of solid rockin' blues tunes, kicking off with a version of Junior Wells' "Cut You Loose." Some of the high points on this CD come from the guitar work of the vastly underrated Mike Schermer, especially on the slow tune "Give Me Love." Austin pals Marcia Ball and Lou Ann Barton join Ms. Strehli for the original "Still A Fool." Doug Sahm shares the vocals on the slow, snaky Tarheel Slim blues "Too Late."

While we're on the subject of Doug Sahm, an interesting reissue this month comes from the Takoma Records vaults. The Sir Douglas Quintet cut Live Texas Tornado over two sessions sometime in the 1970s. While blues was only one of the many influences that shaped this band, there's a lot of great music here. The bluesiest cut is a version of "T-Bone Shuffle" and an interesting "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues." But who wouldn't want to hear again great Sahm songs like "Who Were You Thinking Of," "She's About A Mover," and "(Is Anybody Going To) San Antone."

In addition to the Pick Hit and Flashback choices this month, Delmark Records also released two other good reissues on CD for the first time. I've never in the past been a big fan of Mighty Joe Young's (the blues guitarist, not the ape) music, but I really enjoyed listening to Blues With A Touch of Soul. Recorded in 1970, this was Young's first album. To give him a more uptown sound, Delmark added a horn section for this session. The horns really shine on the 8 1/2 minute "Every Man Needs A Woman." "Why Baby?" is a good Young original that has him sounding much like B.B. King. Jimmy Dawkins backs Young on this disc, then Mighty Joe returns the favor on Dawkins' debut, Fast Fingers, recorded in 1968 and 1969. This disc contains a dozen solid West Side Chicago blues tunes, two of which are previously unissued. Dawkins does a good intense version of "It Serves Me Right To Suffer."

Patriarch of the Baton Rouge Neal family, Raful Neal, has a nice, new independent release, Old Friends (Club Louisianne). Neal, father of Alligator recording artist Kenny Neal and at least half a dozen other musical offspring, is a strong singer and decent harmonica player. This is a good CD, although a little more slickly-produced than I'd prefer to hear. Daughter Jackie, who frequently appears onstage with her brothers, provides strong vocal work on "Call Me Baby," a tune with a little more of the bayou coursing through it.

Get Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like MeGet Your Ass In The Water And Swim Like Me (Rounder) does not contain music, but is instead an historical collection of narrative poetry from the black oral tradition. These "toasts" were recorded in the mid-1960s at various county jails in Texas, Missouri and New York, and could be considered a precursor to the lyrics of today's rap music. If you're offended by foul language and strong sexual content,  then you should skip this CD. But if you enjoy stories about the Signifyin' Monkey, Stackolee, etc., and don't mind being politically incorrect in the proper historical context, then you'll find this collection of toasts to be a real hoot. The CD is accompanied by a booklet containing the text of all stories, but I don't recommend that you recite any of them at your next party.

Mark Ford is not as well-known as his younger brother Robben, the popular blues/rock guitarist. But he's a solid harmonica player and a veteran of years playing the blues. Robben's band, The Blue Line, provides the backing on this self-titled album for Blue Rock'It Records. This band seems to excel at blues shuffles, with Ford's best harp work on "Don't You Love Me?" and the midtempo blues/rock number "Get A Woman That Loves Me."

An outfit with even deeper blues/rock roots is Canned Heat Blues Band. Three members who date back to the 1960s version of the band, drummer Fito de la Parra, lead guitarist Henry "The Sunflower" Vestine, and bassist Larry "The Mole" Taylor, are on this latest self-titled disc on Ruf Records. They're joined by Robert Lucas on guitar, harmonica, and vocals, Junior Watson on lead guitar, and Greg Kage on electric bass. This CD contains no big surprises, and is kind of what you'd expect from Canned Heat. If you miss the 60s, then take a listen to "Boogie Music," which has a real feel of that wacky decade to it. The band also does an acoustic version of the Alan Wilson/Canned Heat standard "Going Up The Country," with good slide guitar and raspy vocals from Lucas. By the way, this session constituted the last recordings by Vestine, who died in Paris late last year.

You knew that eventually some band would tap into the Internet for some type of inspiration. The name of the new disc by Florida power trio Ed Vadas and the Fabulous Heavyweights is simply No, entering that address into your browser doesn't get you anywhere. But popping this disc into your CD will instead bring you some solid original blues, heavy on the slide guitar licks of bandleader Ed Vadas. My favorite cut was their version of Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby."

Reverend Billy C. Wirtz has made a reputation for zany, comic-relief songs about the seamier aspects of life. But few know that Wirtz is also a knockout boogie woogie piano player who can play some serious blues at the proper moment. His latest for Hightone Records is Unchained Maladies. On the second listening, ignore the crazy lyrics on "Conspiracy Boogie," and you'll hear some stellar piano playing. "Everybody's Lips But Mine" is another solid blues tune, with Molly Nova taking the lead instrumental breaks on electric violin. For you old Root Boy Slim fans, Wirtz does a great version of Slim's paean to the love of jailbait on "I'm Not Too Old For You."

--- Bill Mitchell

Outta Time: Blues On the Edge is the new release by Dr. Slide. Dr. Slide is Axel Humbert. The band is from Sunrise, Florida and also features bassist Lorenzo Abbatte, and percussionist Chris Dibbern. The music stays on the blues path without getting lost in the blues rock woods. The
music is good (vocals withstanding), if somewhat routine, and the lyrics cover familiar territory. There are two problems with this recording: the slide guitar sounds tinny throughout the album, and Humbert's Howlin' Wolf-style vocals, distracting at first, are relentless in their aural assault. He needs to fatten up his sound and sing in a more
natural voice.

--- Tony Nowicki

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