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September 2000

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Order these featured CDs today:

Little Buster & The Soul Brothers

James Armstrong

Beau Jocque

Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'

Robert Lockwood, Jr.

Doug MacLeod

Weepin' Willie

Clifton Chenier et al

Ronnie Earl

Super Chikan

The Persuasions

Lighnin' Hopkins






What's New

Little Buster and the Soul BrothersIt's been five years since the last release from Little Buster & The Soul Brothers, and Work Your Show (Fedora) was anxiously awaited by his legion of fans. Little Buster is a wonderful, soulful singer and a fine blues guitarist with a sound that recalls the classic sixties R&B sound. Buster has played the New York clubs for more than three decades, and his music incorporates those early influences as well as having a great ear for those newer songs that will fit comfortably into his live show. This latest release focuses on the earlier blues and soul music that formed the roots of our modern blues scene today. Many of the tunes included on this release will be familiar to listeners of classic R&B, and Buster has a way of making them sound fresh without deviating far from the originals. One listen to Lloyd Price's "Just Because" will have you hooked, and his gravelly delivery rivals that classic original. Wilson Pickett's "Don't Let The Green Grass Fool You" (one of my Pickett favorites) is also given a stellar rendition, as is Jimmy Reed's "Ain't That Loving You Baby" and "Down In Virginia." Little Richard's "Send Me Some Lovin'" and the Tommy Tucker evergreen "High Heel Sneakers" (which has been recorded by such diverse artists as Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Guy & Junior Wells) are all memorable tracks on this retrospective release. It closes with an excellent version of Lightnin' Hopkins' "Mojo Hand," showing off Buster's fine guitar playing. Where his 1995 release had eight originals, I find this new release even more enjoyable, and one that I will return to many times in the future just as I do with his earlier Bullseye release. His version of "First You Cry" on that release will always be the definitive version of the song. I don't know how far from home Little Buster takes his live show. But if he comes to your town, make it a priority to attend and don't forget to add this new release to the Christmas list of those you love. After all, it is September already. Whew!

--- Alan Shutro

James Armstrong - Got It Goin' OnOne of the finest contemporary blue artists of this day is the California-based James Armstrong. His vocals, guitar work and songwriting continue to develop with each new album. The latest, Got It Goin' On, his third for HighTone Records, is a consistently good album. There are no substandard cuts among the 11 on the disc, and there aren't too many new albums of which you can say that. Armstrong's style is reminiscent of early Robert Cray ... stinging guitar solos, introspective and thoughtful songwriting, and soulful vocals. I especially liked the mid-tempo shuffle "Likes Her Lovin'," featuring Armstrong's strongest guitar playing. "Pennies and Picks" is a soulful blues about a musician's life on the road away from his loved ones ... a situation with which most musicians can identify. A different style is demonstrated in the funky New Orleans party number of "Mr. B's," written about the kind of dives that many of us have frequented over the years --- "'s got a funky old smell but you can party like hell..." Mike Emerson contributes nice Longhair-style piano on this number. Another strong cut is the B.B.-style slow blues "Love Will Make You Do Wrong," jam-packed with emotional vocals from Armstrong. A highly recommended disc.

Prior to his untimely death last year, Beau Jocque, along with his band The Zydeco Hi-Rollers, was quite likely the most popular act on the South Louisiana dancehall circuit. While we won't have the opportunity to see Beau Jocque's hulking figure on stage anymore, we can be glad that at least one more set of his live act was captured on tape. The result is Give Him Cornbread, LIVE! (Rounder). Beau Jocque's show was ALWAYS unrestrained, high energy, rhythmic zydeco, and this album is no exception. Beau Jocque and his guitarist, Ray Johnson, are the stars of this show, as Beau pulls the band with his accordion playing and raspy Howlin' Wolf-style vocals, while Johnson pushes them with his rockin' blues riffs. The title cut, a standard of Beau Jocque's live shows, opens the disk with the pure intensity that can only be found in a South Louisiana dancehall. You can almost feel the floor pulsating beneath you. A version of "Baby Please Don't Go" is very raw and foreboding, even more intimidating to the listener than Muddy Waters' version. Lest you think that Beau Jocque strayed from his Creole roots, there's the uptempo "Grand Marais," on which his voice becames even raspier while he sings entirely in French. Guitarist Johnson again steps into the spotlight on the very intense slow blues "Brownskin Woman." Just when everyone on the dance floor slowed down for the latter number, then Beau Jocque kicked it into high gear with high octane numbers like the traditional "Nonc Adam" and John Lee Hooker's "Boogie Chillen." Wow! It must've been a helluva show ... I wish I could have been there!

Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'A younger group with a similar sound to that of Beau Jocque is Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'. Best Kept Secret (Rounder) is just as strong as their previous two albums ... it's hard to believe that Chris is still in his teens! The album is a little more contemporary than I'd like at the beginning, but gets more traditional in the second half. The frantic, rhythmic version of "Papa Was A Rollin' Stone" is hot, and will have you moving your feet to a rapid beat. Ardoin's best accordion playing can be heard on the original, but traditional sounding, "What's In That Bayou?" and "Lyin' Cryin' and Tryin'." This kid has the potential to be one of the best accordionists around if he keeps developing his skills at this pace. The medley of Sheryl Crow's "If It Makes You Happy" with "It Just Ain't Right" is a little strange, but it again shows Ardoin's instrumental skills. For a little more variety, there's the Caribbean beat heard on the original "Get Gone" ... maybe not a purist sound, but a catchy tune nonetheless. If you're not hung up on hearing an absolutely traditional zydeco sound, then Best Kept Secret should definitely make your shopping list.

It's always fun to receive in the mail an independent CD for which I have limited expectations, then find that I'm pleasantly surprised by the quality of music on it. Such a CD, Quit Clownin' (Rusty Nail Records), comes from New Orleans guitarist Dmitri Resnik. I liked Resnik's previous release, It Ain't Rocket Science, but this one's even stronger, as guest vocalist Bob Andrews adds his strong, soulful singing to several numbers. The most notable number is the funky You Don't Know What Love Is, which also features nice piano from Andrews. Resnik's best performances comes on the jumpin' instrumental "Swing 66," on which he shows his Charlie Christian and T-Bone Walker influences, and the slow blues "Unfinished Business." This CD is worth searching out --- check Rusty Nail's web site for more info.

There has been no shortage of material released by legendary guitarist Robert Lockwood, Jr., but there's always room for one more good one like his latest, Delta Crossroads (Telarc). The 16 cuts included on the CD take Lockwood back to his roots, including seven Robert Johnson songs. This is pure Delta blues, with no accompaniment other than Lockwood's 12-string guitar. It's a very pleasant album, and a worthwhile addition to this great blues artist's vast discography. My favorite song was the pleasant original "My Woman Came Walking Down." One important note --- "Mr. Downchild" is credited as a Robert Johnson song. This number hasn't generally been associated with Johnson. But Lockwood claims he learned it from Johnson, and I'll certainly take his word for it.

The self-titled album by Jimmy Witherspoon with the Duke Robillard Band (Stony Plain Records) was recorded in Vancouver in late 1995, and is believed to be the last recording by Witherspoon prior to his death in 1997. That fact makes this disc an important addition to many blues fans' libraries. But there's not a whole lot of power and energy to Witherspoon's voice, and the band has to work real hard to carry the show. Thus, the best cuts are the ones on which Robillard steps to the front with his customary tasteful guitar, most notably on "I'll Always Be In Love With You." This isn't the place for novices starting their education on this important blues singer, as there are many better Witherspoon albums available.

West Coast guitarist Doug MacLeod isn't the best known blues cat out there, but he's released quite a few good albums over the years. The latest, Whose Truth, Whose Lies? (Audioquest), puts MacLeod in an acoustic setting, one in which he's always been very comfortable. As is customary for Audioquest albums, the recording quality is impeccable. One of the best cuts features MacLeod's gritty vocals on the blues number "Saint Louis On My Mind." He switches over to mandolin for the humorous "Can't Give Me Nothin' (I Ain't Already Had Before)." An added treat is the vocal work from L.A.-based singer Janiva Magness on the slow blues "Norfolk County Line."

--- Bill Mitchell

Weepin' WillieIn the Best Rookie category ... I mean, Best First Album category ... you should all consider At Last, On Time (APO/Acoustic Sounds), by 74-year young soul-blues singer Willie Robinson, a.k.a. Weepin' Willie, a Boston-area resident of many years, born in total poverty in Georgia. In his city of choice, Weepin' Willie is well-known as a class act, and he's been singing in local bars for more than 40 years. But until now he had never cut a record (as far as I can tell, he had never even been part of a recording session!). But it just so happens that at some point Weepin' Willie (the nickname describes his particular ability to end his songs with a soft plaintive cry-whisper, no doubt very effective in a live situation) met and befriended Mighty Sam McClain. And one night, as Willie was saying, perhaps frustrated at the small rewards all his hard work had brought him, that all he wanted was "to record a CD before I die." Sam was there, and decided that he was going to help his friend. Two years later, here is the CD Mr. Robinson wanted to record, and it's one of which he must be proud. Co-produced by Mighty Sam McClain, with his regular band brought in to help, the CD is a great showcase for Weepin' Willie's voice. Apart from the useless umpteenth version of "Let The Good Times Roll," every song is a keeper. There are several highlights, including "Weepin' Willie Boogie" (one of the two songs written by the singer) and the wonderful three-voice gospel "Glory Train" (one of five tracks written or co-written by McClain). This last song features, in addition to Weepin' Willie and Mighty Sam McClain, fellow Bostonian Susan Tedeschi. But the real find is the doubly autobiographical "They Call Me Weepin' Willie/Mighty Mighty," which parallels the careers of the two friends. All in all, this is an excellent album, with lots of great singing and juicy Hammond B-3 playing (thanks to George PapaGeorge). I wish Mr. Robinson a long life. But when the time comes, he can die happy.

There is only one song ("Can't Go Wrong Woman") on Weepin' Willie's CD that features the electric guitar prominently. Fiery and very electric, it is still pure blues, not rock. The guitarist on that track is Jimmy D. Lane, also an APO recording artist. When APO sent me its latest release, it also included a couple of previous albums, never reviewed by Blues Bytes, including the 1997 effort by Lane, Long Gone. Recorded as a trio (Freddie Crawford on bass and Jim Keltner on drums, with producer John Koenig sitting in for one track), it features plenty more guitar fireworks. But it's also a nice showcase for Jimmy D. Lane, the gruff-voiced singer. His choice of material is particularly interesting, as it shows in a flash the various influences that he acknowledges ... hits from Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker, more obscure finds from Albert King and Jimmy's father, the great Jimmy Rogers, plus almost-blues items from Jimi Hendrix and Bob Dylan (great company!).  Another influence deeply felt is that of Stevie Ray Vaughan. In fact, the back-to-back "White Tears" and "Oh What a Feelin'" (two of the seven Lane-penned originals) would compare favorably with any SRV classic. Part of the reason for the SRV comparison is due to the sound. Even though Jimmy D. Lane is a real blues man, his guitar is extremely metallic, cutting right through your heart in an instant. The CD has been out a while, but it certainly didn't get enough attention. It just grabs you and never lets go. It should have been called "Relentless," if you ask me. Check it out.

Rounding out the APO package that landed in my mailbox is Goin' Back, the 1998 release of (at the time) 76-year-old Little Hatch, the world's self-declared greatest harmonica player. And who knows, he just might be. Provine Hatch, Jr. is now retired, but he used to bring down the roof wherever he would play around Kansas City, where he worked for more than 30 years for Hallmark. And he's got lots of stories to tell. The liner notes (written by John Anthony Brisbin) make up the most entertaining story I've read in a long time. Goin' Back was recorded in just three hours (Hatch had come to watch his friend Jimmie Lee Robinson cut a CD, and was coaxed into using the remaining studio time), with Bill Dye on acoustic guitar as the sole accompanist. The relaxed and informal setting is just perfect, as we're treated to nice low-tech renditions of classic blues tunes like "Rock Me Baby," "Fannie Mae," "The Sky is Crying" (great acoustic slide!) and "Honey Bee." Not that the duo can't rock out, as their cover of Jimmy Reed's "You Don't Have To Go" proves, but they're particularly good when they turn down the lights and stretch out, as on the very interesting "Baby, Scratch My Back" (you probably won't recognize this Slim Harpo classic). And in the end, they go to church (how often have you heard harmonica on "Glory Glory"?). Bless them!

The new Blues Magnet label from New York also chose a relaxed and informal recording for its first-ever issue: Lonnie Johnson's The Unsung Blues Legend (subtitled "The Living Room Session"). This was recorded in painter Bernie Strassberg's home in 1965, five years before Johnson' death, with Johnson singing to a reel-to-reel tape in front of a few friends. Except for a few understandable sound glitches, this is an excellent recording of an aging and almost forgotten master guitarist. In the 20s and 30s, Johnson played on countless jazz recordings, as well as blues 78s under his name or as an accompanist. For example, he played on Louis Armstrong's 1929 recording of "Mahogany Hall Stomp," but also on Peetie Wheatstraw's "Trucking Thru Traffic" from 1938! In that sense, the title of the album is absolutely right, but it also gives the wrong impression that this is a blues CD. Instead, in addition to classic blues (including three songs associated with Bessie Smith, "St. Louis Blues," "Careless Love" and "Back Water Blues"), Johnson also covers show tunes ("Summertime"), jazz (Ellington's "Solitude") and ballads (Sinatra, Kurt Weil). No matter what he chose to play, however, he was still very much in command of his instrument, and his playing is absolutely superb throughout. Not a blues album, but a historical treasure, as this is one rare chance to hear what Lonnie Johnson sounded like around the time he got his last long-term engagement in Toronto, where he would stay until his death.

South Side Slim (born Henry Harris 40 years ago) is a walking contradiction: a modern blues-rock guitarist, master of fast runs and sustained notes, with a seemingly endless bag of solos, blessed with the sweetest soul voice this side of Smokey Robinson. The contrast is such that when you put on his debut CD for the first time (Five Steps, from South Side Records, in Los Angeles) and you first get to hear his voice after a 30-second guitar intro, you wonder for a second if this isn't a woman singing! (Think of some early Chess sides of Buddy Guy to get an idea.). In a world of flashy and gifted guitarists, Slim can more than hold his own. What makes him a distinctive performer is precisely that soul/R&B side, whether it comes in small doses (through the organ and sax accompaniment on "Take All My Money," for example) or whether he performs a straight-ahead R&B ballad like "Let Me Down Easy." Had this latter song been recorded 40 years ago, it would have been a huge hit. In addition to his superior singing and guitar playing, Slim is also a more-than-adequate songwriter. His songs are simple and melodic, with plenty of originality. Throw in inspired playing from everyone involved, and you get an impressive first outing that should put South Side Slim is the same category as young guns Bernard Allison and Chris Beard.

And now for something completely (but not entirely) different: Tri-Continental, by Bill Bourne, Lester Quitzau and Madagascar Slim (Tremor Records). These three Canadian guitarists come from various backgrounds and each brings a unique flavor to the mix. Bourne is mostly associated with the folk scene, but now and then he'll play something by Mississippi John Hurt. Lester Quitzau is a master of the slide guitar. Madagascar Slim (a.k.a. Ben Randriamananjara) fell in love with the blues upon arriving in Canada from his native Madagascar, and came to realize how close it is to the music he used to listen when growing up. With only spare backing by a couple of percussionists, Tri-Continental features a constant interplay between the different guitar styles of the musicians, who have come up with three songs apiece, with two additional three-way collaborations. Predictably, the more foreign-sounding tracks are those written by Madagascar Slim, who sings on two occasions in Malagasy. For example, his song "MBO" somehow sounds half-African, half-Hawaiian, probably because of the wonderful slide guitar work. Interspersed as they are with more "traditional-sounding" material (to our ears, at least), they make for a wonderful mood-setting album, where the overall effect is more important than individual brilliance. Collaboration is the main operative word. In the end, it doesn't matter who wrote this or that song. All you need to know is that, whether they're playing a primitive blues à la John Lee Hooker or a cowboy song complete with vocal harmonies, guitars and voices blend perfectly to produce something bigger than world music: universal blues.

--- Benoît Brière

As impressive as Kenny "Blue" Ray's past efforts have been (and they have all been knockouts), Blues Obsession (Tone King Records) is flat out one of the finest recordings of the year. The secret weapon of vocalist Billy Sheets, one of the finest crooners on the West Coast -- make that anywhere in the country -- adds significantly to the fire, as do those contributed by Little Danny, who sometimes reminds of Dave Gonzales of the Paladins (there's also one vocal number from harpist Charlie Chavez). The source of the magic, though, is unquestionably that of Mr. Ray. Once upon a time the lead guitarist for Little Charlie & The Nightcats, back when Charlie Baty was still blowing harp and working out guitar parts, Kenny "Blue" Ray is certainly a player deserving of much wider recognition. He put in time with Marcia Ball from 1980 to 1984, did a bunch of session work (the estimate is that he's been on 40 recordings), and then cut his first set under his own name in 1994. There have been nine since. Like Otis Grand, Charlie Baty, Ronnie Earl and Anson Funderburgh, he surrounds himself with first-rate players and fires off some of the most extraordinary guitar licks on the planet. He's also wise enough to hire first rate singers. Of the 14 tunes included here, Ray offers a palette of what he's good at. Albert Collins, B.B. King, Little Milton, O.V. Wright, Freddie King, Magic Sam, Roscoe Gordon and A.C. Reed covers are done superbly. And the trio of original instrumentals serve as distillation of all the above. The combination is magnificent. This is one of the most enjoyable discs of the year, not just for the playing, but for the sheer exuberant joy that Kenny "Blue" Ray and company bring to the speakers. File this one under tons o' fun.

--- Mark E. Gallo

The Smithsonian has done it again. The venerable Washington, DC, institution which acquired the legendary Folkways Records catalog and archives in 1987, has been releasing CD reissues with great sound and additional notes to compliment the original liner materials. In addition, archivists have been sorting the vast amounts of material to put together new collections from the tens of thousands of boxes of tapes that Folkways founder Moses Asch recorded since 1948. Two recent compilations are of particular interest to blues fans. Memphis Slim: The Folkway Years 1959-1973 is Smithsonian Folkways Recordings’ wonderful collection of 21 cuts of Memphis Slim’s (Peter Chatman’s) boogie/blues piano. The disc gets off to a rollicking start with the instrumental “Joggie Boogie.” The swinging, crisp notes of Slim’s piano are propelled to new heights by the amazing acoustic bass of Willie Dixon. If this doesn’t move you, check your pulse. And it just gets better; in addition to several other cuts with Dixon and a number of solo piano or piano/vocal numbers (check out his version of Bessie Smith’s “Backwater Blues”), he’s also joined by various other musicians, including Jazz Gillum (harmonica), Arbee Stidham (guitar), Jump Jackson (drums), Matt Murphy (guitar) and even Pete Seeger (banjo and vocals on “Midnight Special”). There are three previously unreleased tracks, including “The Gimmick,” with Slim belting out the boogie woogie on a Hammond B3 organ. What a treat! To quote from Kip Lornell’s liner notes: “This medium-tempo instrumental may be marked as a gimmick on the Folkways archival tape box, but it’s a solid blues that brings a different timbre to Chatman’s characteristic sound.” And that characteristic sound rollicks across this CD from start to finish, aided by wonderful audio reproduction

Big Bill Broonzy was a contemporary in Chicago of Memphis Slim (and a good friend as well). The best of Broonzy’s 1950’s Folkways recordings are featured on Smithsonian Folkways’ Trouble in Mind. This CD, with its extensive notes by Jeff Place, offers 24 tracks of great country blues and spirituals by an amazing singer and guitar player who also wrote some powerful songs of social commentary. Broonzy sent Pete Seeger his then-controversial “Black, Brown, and White Blues” in 1946, saying: “Pete, I can’t sing this in the kind of places I work at, but maybe you can.” Another song with a strong social message is “When Will I Get To Be Called a Man.” Some of the tracks here came from radio broadcasts and live concert recordings and it’s a real pleasure to hear him introduce these songs and give some background. While many of the songs on this CD are very familiar (“Frankie and Johnny,” “Key To the Highway,” “When Things Go Wrong,” “C.C. Rider”), they are performed with such facility and strength that it seems like you’re hearing them for the first time.

If you like your music “Modern,” get a copy of Jimmy McCracklin and his Blues Blasters, The Modern Recordings 1948-1950 (Ace). There’s not a bad cut among the 25 and they all swing and groove, led by the solid piano and vocals of Jimmy McCracklin, the electric guitar of Robert Kelton and the drums of Little Red. Later incarnations of the band added horns, including the powerhouse sax of Maxwell Davis (more of these tracks will be anthologized on a “Volume 2” CD, according to the liner notes). The tunes range from slow, sad numbers like “Love When It Rains” and “Deceivin’ Blues” to up-tempo boppers like “1942 Boogie,” “Josephine,” “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” and “Blues Blasters’ Shuffle.” Plus, there’s the wonderful “Beer Drinkin’ Woman” with lines like: “I walked into a beer tavern, to give a gal a nice time; I had fifty dollars when I entered, when I left I didn’t have a dime. ’Cause she’s a beer drinking woman, don’t you know.” This music jumped and jived just at the cusp of rock ’n’ roll. It still sounds good 50 years later.

 It’s hard to imagine that there was a time (1966) when zydeco music had to be explained and that a musician of the caliber of Clifton Chenier would need to be introduced to the world outside of Louisiana, but it was and now we have a great reissue to document the occasion. Plus, we also get to hear wonderful performances by two blues legends as well. Clifton Chenier, Mance Lipscomb, Lightning Hopkins Live! At the 1966 Berkeley Blues Festival (Arhoolie) captures the performances on April 15, 1966, of these three artists. A much shorter LP of this event was released by Arhoolie at the time, but now we have the original 12 songs with an additional 11 that were previously unreleased. The CD starts off with Lipscomb on guitar and vocals doing seven songs in his country blues/oldtime style. His cuts (each of which he introduces) include “I Ain’t Got Nobody,” “Shake, Shake, Mama” and “Take Your Arms From Around My Neck, Sugar Babe.” The CD ends with Sam “Lightning” Hopkins and his inimitable voice and Texas guitar playing on seven tracks, including “If You Don’t Want Me,” “I Feel So Good,” “Goin’ To Louisiana,” and “Lightning’s Boogie.” But it’s the second set that is really interesting—and historic. As Arhoolie founder Chris Strachwitz writes in the liner notes: “It was Clifton Chenier who was the hit and surprise of the evening. This was indeed Clifton’s very first appearance in front of a mostly young, white, relatively sophisticated concert audience. He made some powerful music that night and had the audience absolutely spellbound!” It’s too bad the sound quality for Chenier’s set is not as good as that of Lipscomb’s and Hopkins’, but as Strachwitz wrote, “the cuts are rare examples of Clifton’s incredible raw talent and musicianship.” And that’s an understatement. Accompanied by only Francis Clay on drums, it’s immediately evident why Chenier was crowned king of zydeco. His nine cuts tear the roof off. A nice addition in the liner notes are two newspaper reviews of the performances, one from the Oakland Tribune and the other by the late, great critic Ralph J. Gleason of the San Francisco Chronicle that appeared under the headline: “Amazing Sounds of a Blues Accordion.”

If piano blues is your thing, than you’ll want to add Pinetop Perkins/Michael Parrish—One Heart (Geographic Records) to your collection. Living legend Pinetop Perkins is joined on these 12 blues and boogie piano duo performances by Bay Area native Michael Parrish, who has played piano, organ and guitar in New York, Nashville and San Francisco and worked in Chicago with Magic Slim, Lefty Dizz and others. He’s also toured with Guitar Gabriel and Big Boy Henry. This pairing turns out some great piano music ranging from traditional material (“CC Blues”) to standards (Jimmy Reed’s “Got Me Runnin,” Elmore James’ “Hurts Me Too” and Perkins’ own “Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie”) to new pieces co-written by Perkins and Parrish. This project was inspired by the classic duets of Meade “Lux” Lewis and Albert Ammons, and it’s a tribute to their skill and compatibility that you’d be hard-pressed to figure out which songs are the new ones without looking at the liner notes.

--- Mark Miller

Having recently semi-retired from touring for medicinal reasons, Ronnie Earl is thankfully still recording. His latest, Healing Time (Telarc) will more than likely have blues and jazz purists alike crying foul upon their first listening to his current masterpiece. Regardless of popular opinion, man oh man, is this one good. Without a line of lyrics to be found anywhere on this disc, Earl serves up 11 gorgeously arranged instrumental numbers of bluesy/jazz or jazzy/ blues (depending of course upon your perspective) that are sure to eventually satisfy even the most hardcore purists of both idioms, which is not exactly an easy proposition in most cases. What shines through on this collection is Earl’s ability to guide the listener through the many different moods constructed here. Ranging from the subdued romantic rhythms of Duke Pearson's "Idle Moments" and the Latin backbeat of sax great Pharoah Sanders' "Thembi," to the bad-assed bop of "Catfish Blues" and the shuffling "Lunch At R&M's," Earl’s broad pliable style makes for a continuously intriguing listen. Two of the prettiest pieces on this elegant release are "Bella Donna," a slow sensual ballad that was most likely written for Earl's wife. This ballad evokes memories of George Benson's early work, with Ronnie's succinct runs between the upper and lower register joined with his ability to bend the hell out of any particular note without being overbearing. The second is "Glimpses Of Serenity," which is just what it's title implies --- a very emotionally relaxed piece of music that seems to exist solely for the beauty of it's composition and soothing effect on the senses. Joining Earl on this outing are some equally brilliant musicians. Sitting in for only two numbers (unfortunately) is one of the geniuses of the B-3, Mr. Jimmy McGriff lending his virtuosity to "Churchin'," the album's opening groove, and the classy "Blues On A Sunday," two tunes that are somewhat spiritually joined. Three members of The Broadcasters complete the lineup, with Anthony Geraci providing his own special brand of swooshing B-3 riffs and keyboards on the rest of the selections. Michael "Mudcat" Ward more than amply delivers the goods on bass throughout. Mark Greenburg handles three tunes on drums, with Don Williams taking over for the rest of the eight numbers. Clocking in at over an hour long, Healing Time is so smooth at times that, by the album's ending piece, "Amazing Grace," you might feel as if you’ve only listened to a half of a CD. It's fluid production moves the listener ever so graciously from one selection to the next without abruptly changing directions and disrupting the overall serene pace of this release. However anyone views this splendid work, as blues with heavy jazz overtones or vice versa, the one thing that everyone will agree on is just how damned good of an album Ronnie Earl has released.

--- Steve Hinrichsen

Rooster Blues has reissued another of their outstanding releases.  This time it’s the debut CD of Super Chikan, Blues Come Home to Roost.  Originally released in 1997 to critical acclaim, this is pretty much the same package except the cartoon format of the liner notes is gone and Super Chikan is now wearing coat and tie on the CD cover instead of overalls.  The rooster standing on his guitar neck remains, however, as does some of the most original modern blues songs of recent memory.  Super Chikan, who real name is James Johnson (a nephew of Big Jack Johnson), claims that he is able to write a song about anything.  That becomes obvious after one listen to his CD.  The opener, “Down In The Delta,” is deceptive with its calm, soothing rhythm.  The listener might think it’s a song praising the Mississippi Delta, but the lyrics are anything but happy.  The beat of “Crystal Ball Eyes” is almost hypnotic, as Super Chikan sees his future when he looks into his lady’s eyes.   “Bleedin’ From The Heart” is a story about a man realizing what he had when it’s too late.  He has a wild sense of humor, as indicated by “Captain Love Juice,” “Mama & the Chillen (Parts I and II),” “Camel Toe,” and “White Rock Rooster,” about a rooster wronged by love (I’m not making this up).  Super Chikan is a talented musician (playing guitar, bass, piano, harmonica, and making assorted chicken noises) and a pretty good singer.  He has excellent studio backing from Johnny Rawls and L. C. Luckett on drums, bass, guitar, and keyboards, and Jerry Williams on tenor sax.  I can safely say that this is a blues CD unlike any you’ve ever heard before.  It’s great when you need a lift and, no doubt, everybody needs a little Super Chiken now and then. 

The Persuasions, one of the premier a capella groups of the past 30 years, return with a selection of gospel tunes done in the tradition of the Dixie Hummingbirds and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama records of the 1950’s.  Sunday Morning Soul is a bit unusual in that it is being released on Bullseye Blues’ Bullseye Basics Series, which are ordinarily budget-priced items of previously issued material.  The material on this CD is all previously unreleased however.  All of the songs are standards and most feature the great Jerry Lawson on lead vocals.  Though most of the songs are familiar, the Persuasions bring something new to these versions that make some of them sound as if you’re hearing them for the first time.  The standout cuts include the chilling opener, “Cain’s Blood,” “Praise His Name,” the lively “Thank You For One More Day,” and the closer, “Shine The Light.  It’s obvious from start to finish by the sheer exuberance of their performances that this music is near and dear to the Persuasions’ hearts and that makes it a pleasure to listen to.  If you’ve never experienced the vocal gifts of the Persuasions, this is a great place to start. 

Big Brian and the Blues Busters’ first release, Size DOES Matter, is not just a blues album.  It explores several different styles of music, ranging from southern rock, country, to R&B and soul.  The band itself is solid, not flashy, and most of the music is mined from the Rock vein of Blues/Rock.  The rhythm section is a steadying influence throughout the album, focusing on the groove through this varied set.  Big Brian Schuster is a good singer, and he wrote or co-wrote most of the tunes as well.  Notables include the soulful “Don’t Ever Fall In Love,” the rocking “Christeen,” and “Didn’t I Hear Ya Say.  The covers are familiar (ZZ Top’s “Thunderbird” and John Loudermilk’s “Tobacco Road”) but well done.  There’s a lot of energy in these songs, which indicates that this would be an great band to see on stage.  This would be a good one to crank up at your next party.  It’s available at the band’s website,

--- Graham Clarke

During his heyday beginning in the late 1940s through the end of the 60s, Sam "Lightnin'" Hopkins (1912-1982) was probably right up there with John Lee Hooker as one of the most prolific bluesman of his generation. So there's really no way you could cram the best of his work onto a single CD. But if you don't have any music by this legendary Texas guitarist/vocalist, The Very Best of Lightnin' Hopkins (Rhino) is the best place to start for an introduction to the incredibly lowdown, relaxed-yet-intense style of one of the greats. In fact, during the late 40s and early 50s, when raw, undiluted country blues was making a comeback on the nation's R&B charts, Lightnin' was one of "the big three" (the aforementioned John Lee Hooker and Muddy Waters were the other two). Regrettably, he doesn't seem to be remembered or honored to the same extent as are his contemporaries, perhaps because his style has not proven to be as influential. With all due respect to his peers, however, Lightnin' never made a bad record. Even if his accompaniment was inappropriate, it didn't seem to affect the quality of his singing and playing. Most of this CD's 16 cuts feature Hopkins either playing by himself, or with basic drums and bass support, and that's the only kind he ever needed! There's a lot of rock and roll jive out there these days, passing itself off as "the blues." If you're interested in the "real deal," here it is.

--- Lee Poole

This is the first time that I’ve heard Swedish band Jump 4 Joy, but I’m sure I’ll be hearing them again.
Their CD, Keep It Up (Buzz), is a nice mix of different styles of music, all loosely based on blues. Out of 11 tracks, seven are written by pianist Ulf Sandstrom, who shows that he knows his music & can play great piano. My favourite out of the original tracks has to be Big Black Mama, a slow, easy, traditional blues track which showcases Sandstrom’s fine piano playing. Personally, I wish that the whole album had been in this style. As it is, there is a good mix of different styles from funky blues to jump blues, with most styles in between. There are four good cover versions, including tracks by Willie Dixon and Snooks Eaglin, “Don’t You Tell Nobody” and “Let Me Go Home Whiskey,” which are given good up-tempo treatment which suits them really well. If you like boogie woogie piano, then it’s worth getting this CD just for the track “She Wants To Sell My Monkey” ... it had my foot tapping the whole time! All in all, a good mixed CD. My only criticism is that the album notes are very sparse. It would have been nice to know a bit more about the band and their music. 

Blue Junction is another Scandinavian blues band, this time from Denmark. There’s a lot of good blues coming out of the Scandinavian countries these days. Once again, this CD, 22:17 Live In Aarhus (INTCD) is a mix of originals and covers, with five originals and three cover versions (Alan Toussaint, Albert Collins and Junior Wells). Whereas Jump 4 Joy are piano- based, this band is strictly guitar, and extremely good guitar too. The band consists of Ole Frimer (guitar and vocals), Uffe Steen (guitar), Morten Brauner (bass), and Esben Bach (drums). I’ve listened to this CD over and over again. It’s one of those albums that just gets hold of you ... this band is as good as any I’ve heard anywhere. Trying to pick out a favourite track on a CD is one of the things I always try to do, so that I can measure the other tracks against it. However, on this album, I just can’t pick out a favourite. If I was forced into it, I’d maybe take the Junior Wells track, “Messin’ With The Kid,” one of the best versions I’ve heard. But then again, maybe I’d pick Ole Frimer’s original “If Only You Could Forgive Me” or, or, or,……….. If a mix of Chicago, Texas and Denmark interests you, you won’t be disappointed with this CD. Get it anyway, and enjoy some good blues played straight from the heart.

--- Terry Clear

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