Blues Bytes

September 2002

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What's New

Bo Dollis & The Wild MagnoliasThe Mardi Gras Indian sensation is a form of blues and R&B not widely known outside its home base of New Orleans. (If you are unfamiliar with the traditions of the various Mardi Gras Indian tribes, then read the history at In addition to the elaborate costumes and fierce rivalries, there's also an infectious, funky brand of R&B that accompanies the traditions. One of the better known musical groups accompanying a tribe is Bo Dollis & The Wild Magnolias, who in their 30-year history have produced several Mardi Gras classics. 30 Years .. And Still Wild! (AIM Trading Group) has been issued by an Australian label, of all places, and contains a mix of new recordings, rehearsal sessions and re-issues of The Wild Magnolias' vintage hits. The recent numbers show that this is still a vibrant, energetic ensemble, with Dollis' voice still able to handle the lead on the many call and response exchanges. The group is supplemented by the excellent saxophone work of noted jazz player Donald Harrison Jr. Harrison's late father, who was the Big Chief of the Guardians of the Flame tribe, is heard with his son on the spirited "Mardi Gras Ho No Nae." The junior Harrison really shines on the extremely hot number "Wild Magnolias," complete with a jazzy, funky beat. The opening cut, "Mighty Mighty Chief," contains a line that exemplifies the transition of the tribes from violent clashes to over-the-top fashion shows ... "...a long time ago we used to crack some heads, now we knock 'em dead with a needle and thread..." From a historical perspective, the CD contains several early '70s versions of The Wild Magnolias' biggest hit, "Handa Wanda." Dollis is featured delivering gospel-style vocals in an informal 1972 session with fellow New Orleans musical stalwarts, Professor Longhair and Willie Tee, on an extended version of "Saints." If you're new to the Mardi Gras Indian sensation, then this CD is a nice introduction to the phenomenon.

A nice collection of contemporary blues artists can be found on The Blues Foundation presents Blues Greats (BRG Records), a CD issued in conjunction with the 2002 Handy Awards (the blues world's version of the Grammys). 13 cuts by Handy Award nominees, culled from various albums by the artists, are here, with performances from Ike Turner, Rod Piazza, Boozoo Chavis, Paul Reddick & The Sidemen, R.L. Burnside, Maria Muldaur & Alvin Youngblood Hart, Charley Patton (obviously, a vintage recording), Kim Wilson, Henry Gray, Otis Taylor, Irma Thomas, Duke Robillard, and the late Rufus Thomas. The disc kicks off with a hot piano instrumental, "Baby's Got It," by the controversial Ike Turner, who shows that he's still got the chops and is capable of producing a fresh, vibrant sound.  Piazza blows his customary tasteful harp with a muffled sound on "Who Knows What's Going On?" I also liked the pleasant duet from Muldaur and Hart, "I'm Goin' Back Home," recalling an older, more informal blues sound. Wilson's contribution, from his album by the same name, "Smokin' Joint," is one of the hottest harmonica instrumentals you'll ever hear. Of equally high quality is the Henry Gray number, "How Could You Do It," with great vocals from the septuagenarian pianist. One of the most underrated blues artists (and perhaps the most creative songwriter) on the current scene is Colorado's Otis Taylor, who is heard here on "My Soul's In Louisiana," complete with driving guitar and rich, full vocals, and ending with authentic train noises. The mood shifts to a more soulful sound with Irma Thomas' "If You Want It Come And Get It," highlighted by her dynamic vocals and a solid horn section. This CD will give you enough of a taste that you'll be searching for the original discs from which some of these songs originated.

Cedell Davis is a 75-year-old slide guitarist from Arkansas, who presents a raw Delta blues sound in a non-homogenized fashion on his latest, When Lightnin' Struck The Pine (Fast Horse Recordings). A group of rock star guests appear with Davis on the CD, including R.E.M.'s Peter Buck and Brave Combo's Jeffrey Barnes, but they blend into the background instead of taking over the recordings. The disc commences with Davis' highly distorted, yet effective, vocals on "Pay To Play." The CD really takes off on the fifth cut, "Give Me That Look," a hypnotic, rhythmic jam with lots of fuzztone on the guitar. "One Of These Days," a cover of a Muddy Waters song, is given a much rawer and nastier sound, especially on Davis' vocals. The slow, loping "Cold Chills" starts with a tough slide intro, then features nice harmonica work from Barnes and "seemingly out of place (but not really)" organ accompaniment by Alex Veley. When Lightnin' Struck The Pine is probably not for the casual blues fan, as its deep and distorted sound requires a little heavy lifting from the listener. But its recommended for those who dig a deeper blues sound.

J.D. Simo - One Night StandArizona teenage guitar wunderkind J.D. Simo has released his first studio CD, One Night Stand (Blue Star Records), after spending his summer vacation touring through the Midwest. As Simo approaches his later teen years, his voice is maturing nicely, sounding rough and raspy in an effective way. He's a strong guitarist, although sometimes falls into a mode of playing too many notes instead of practicing a little restraint. "Six String Blues" is a tough blues shuffle, and features harmonica accompaniment from Arizona legend Hans Olson. Simo's vocals are particularly strong here. Not a slave to note for note renditions of cover songs, Simo turns in a funkier version of Stevie Wonder's "Superstition." The guitarist shows his developing maturity as an instrumentalist with the slow, tasteful number, "City Limits," in which he solos in a jazzy style. For more info on J.D. Simo, you can check out his website.

Lamont Cranston Blues Band has been a staple of the Minneapolis blues scene for close to 30 years. Lamont Live!! (Cold Wind Records) captures these guys at what they do best ... performing in front of a packed house of their loyal Twin Cities fans. Longtime member and bandleader Pat Hayes is the real star of the show here, with his soaring harmonica solos and strong vocals, but the rest of the band can't be taken for granted, especially talented guitarist Ted Larsen. Sound quality is very good on this double-CD, recorded at two different venues in 2001. Disc one is good, but the collection really takes off on the second CD. Especially hot is the Hayes original upbeat shuffle, "Streets Around Here," with its big horn sound augmented by Hayes' incendiary harp solo and great guitar work. The sax playing of Rick O'Dell and Jim Greenwell are spotlighted on the urgent "Fever" (not the famous song by this title) and on the closing instrumental "E Jam," an extended number that also showcases Hayes' harmonica talent. This one's worth searching out!

Coming out of North Carolina is a surprising album, Stranger In My House (Dog Talk Music), from guitarist Cyril Lance. His diverse influences are reflected in an album that bounces around the musical spectrum a bit, usually to good effect. The disc opens with an original, "I Want the Real Thing," a funky New Orleans-style beat highlighted by Lance's swampy slide guitar and an excellent B-3 solo from Matt Jenson. The fire really heats up midway through the album with Lance providing a catchy, danceable interpretation of Clifton Chenier's "Hot Tamale Baby," which includes an extended guitar and organ wank, and fine vocals by bassist Chris Carroll; there's no accordion present on this Zydeco tune, but it still has that requisite Louisiana feeling. The best cut is the title song, "Stranger In My House," which mixes gospel overtones with lovely soulful vocals from Johnny Neel. Jenson provides tasteful piano accompaniment on the latter tune. Neel then takes his vocals back into the alley on the following song, a raw, dirge-like version of Willie Dixon's "Same Thing." Moving in another direction is the Gary Davis spiritual, "Light of this World," opened with pleasant acoustic guitar from Lance, leading into a great New Orleans piano and electric guitar jam. This one might be harder to find, but worth the extra work required to locate it.
Editor's Note: Another review of Stranger In My House follows later on this page.

--- Bill Mitchell

Looking for an album that’s modern enough to get your feet moving, but still rootsy enough to touch your inner soul? Well look no further than Soul Deep (Pacific Blues Recording Co.), the latest offering from Lee McBee, a marvelous harp player and singer whose name you may recognize from his days with Mike Morgan & The Crawl. Eclectic is the best way to describe this recording, as it touches on many styles, ranging from Texas blues to Mississippi Delta mud to Memphis soul, all appropriated with the ultimate in flair and class that is sure to please everyone. For his second solo effort, Lee recruited the services of some of the Lone Star state’s finest players in the form of Hash Brown and Jon Moeller on guitars, the current rhythm section from Anson Funderburgh’s Rockets, Wes Starr on drums and percussion along with Johnny Bradley (the latter whom McBee worked with in The Crawl), and Fabulous T-Bird Gene Taylor on piano and organ. The resulting album is five superbly crafted originals and seven covers given treatments that make them sound like Lee’s own due to this man’s uncanny vocal talent of selling just about any tune he attempts. McBee assaults your senses from the get go, opening things up with a smoldering version of Long John Hunter’s “Ride With Me,” augmented by a sizzling horn section anchored by everybody’s favorite reedman, Kaz Kazanoff on sax joined by Jimmy Shortell on trumpet. Lee follows with a sensational rendering of Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working” and Little Walter’s “Just A Feeling” before launching into his own “Twelve Hours From You,” a rumba-ish harp instrumental. A brief foray into the delta finds a somewhat risqué cover of Muddy Waters' “Country Blues,” executed with a slight tongue in cheek' and the less-is-more original “Gonna Find My Baby,” offering slick country harp and roadhouse piano. The title track is a touching reworking of Clarence Carter’s hit, featuring a gorgeous arrangement and beautiful harmonies by Cynthia Manley and Jessica Williams, while McBee just lets it all hang out on lead vocals. Two other originals that are worth the price of this record alone are “Your Turn To Cry,” a slow blues number that is chockfull of the spirit of the old masters, and the high voltage “I Don’t Understand,” that has the mark of a modern day blues standard tattooed all over it. Wrapping things up is a funky version of “Mohair Sam” and a nuclear version of Jimmy McCracklin’s “Walk,” that features a wicked sax solo from Kazanoff. While the covers that were chosen for this album are top drawer material, it’s the originals that garnered my attention, with McBee’s intelligently written lyrics shining through. If there is a flaw on this album, I surely can’t find it as the performances and production are impeccably smooth. The album transcends from one number to the next with a silky smoothness due to the technical support of executive producer Jerry Hall, who also mixed and remastered the entire project with McBee serving as producer. Soul Deep is destined to become a classic, in my opinion, and is one of those albums that just gets better with every repeated listen. In the event that you can’t easily find it in your local record store, it can be ordered directly from Pacific Blues Recording Co. at This is, without a doubt, one of 2002’s best releases.

The saying goes “What is old shall be new once again.” That saying could not apply more appropriately than to Dr. Blake’s Magic Soul Elixir (Soul Sanctuary), from California performer Al Blake. The first reason being that this is a reunion recording of The Hollywood Fats Band, and is essentially the debut recording of The Blue Flames. The second reason is that like the lone Fats Band recording, this one gets back to the basics of the blues, with heavy Delta overtones, like no other recording I have heard as of late. The players on this enormous album are the same as you will find on The Hollywood Fats Band album: the haunting voice of Al Blake on harp and vocals, in addition to guitar on three tracks, the tantalizing Fred Kaplan on piano, Larry Taylor expertly plucking the bass, and Richard Innes thumping the skins. Handling the guitar lines in place of the deceased Fats are two highly accomplished guitarists, Junior Watson and Kirk Eli Fletcher, each handling four numbers apiece. The pace and feel of this album is much more mellow and relaxed than the last time these cats all got together in the studio, with “Blues For Bobo” starting things off with an easy, shuffling groove highlighted by some twanging guitar riffs from Fletcher. “Let’s Rock Awhile” has a title that is slightly misleading, as it is really a mid tempo bop with very suggestive lyrics clarifying it’s title. The pace gets kicked up a notch or two on “Junior’s Boogie Rocket,” with Watson stepping to the forefront for some serious soloing, set against a boogie woogie beat. Blake’s harmonica prowess is at the front and center on two tunes, “I Am The Hummingbird,” a smoky Chicago/Delta workout, and “Old Time Boogie,” sounding like it was improvised in the studio just for the fun of it. One of the two covers to be found among the 11 numbers is a stunning rendition of Jimmy Lane’s “You’re So Sweet,” which sounds like something you might hear being played on any back porch where the blues is prevalent, due in part to the fiery harp work of Kim Wilson. Fred Kaplan takes center stage for a pair of piano workouts, “Big Foot’s Boogie” and the jazzy closer “Sunday Strut.” The somber “Telephone Blues” (not Robert Johnson’s) once again finds Kirk Fletcher evoking some ultra fine guitar licks, with counterpart Junior Watson doing the same to Willie Dixon’s “Let Me Love You.” Except for the two covers, all numbers were written by members of the band, with the flowing production being done by Blake and Kaplan. The album’s cover art, which is designed to look like the label from a bottle of snake oil that you might buy at an old fashioned medicine show (hence the album’s title), promises “100% Pure Old School, Mojo, Hoodoo-Voodoo and Then Some!” That is exactly what you will find on this cleverly crafted record that relies more on tone and finesse to set the mood rather than flash and production. It’s been 20+ years since this band first recorded together and, even after a very long hiatus, they still sound fresher than most units that have continually worked together year in and year out. If you can’t find this at your favorite local music retailer, it can be had directly from If you need a break from the same ol' thing, this brilliant recording should find its way into your collection ... and soon!

--- Steve Hinrichsen

Roger "Hurricane" WilsonLive at the Stanhope House (Blue Storm Records) from Roger "Hurricane" Wilson, is a CD from a very accomplished guitarist playing live at the Stanhope House in New Jersey. The album features three original Roger Wilson tracks mixed in with eight very good cover versions, and there really isn't a bad track amongst them. Obviously some are stronger than others, but this trio of Roger Wilson, with Crazy Eddie Stilles on bass and David Junior Moore on drums, does credit to the originals in every case. The album opens with a great version of Roy Buchanan's "Short Fuse," an instrumental introduction to what this band is good at, and a good showcase for Roger Wilson's guitar playing. Right slap bang in the middle of the album is an incredible 15 minute demonstration of how Roger Wilson handles slide guitar, based around the old standard "Dust My Broom," but veering off on several different tangents. You only have to listen to this track to realize that this man knows how to handle himself with a blues guitar. Rather unusually, Wilson includes a version of Elvis Presley's "Little Sister" (written by Doc Pomus). It works, but it's probably the only (relatively) weak spot on the CD. From the three Roger Wilson originals, "Back Porch Blues" really stands out; this is instrumental blues as it should be. Tempo and mood changes and good playing by the band, and almost eight minutes of great blues. Out of the cover versions, I think it's a dead heat for me between "Short Fuse" and Buddy Guy's "Leave My Girl Alone." This is a CD worth having in any collection, by an artist who deserves a lot more recognition.

--- Terry Clear

Solomon Burke - Don't Give Up On MeI'd like to preface this review by saying that I have been a huge Solomon Burke fan for many years. My appreciation of his music goes back to the glory years at Atlantic Records. So it doesn't appear that I am just living in the golden past, I loved and still listen to his output for Black Top and, more recently, Pointblank. One final thought before I go on with the review. I don't buy CDs by Bob Dylan, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison or Tom Waits, but I bought this one, which is basically songs written by all of the above and, yes, one by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Do I regret buying Don't Give Up On Me (Fat Possum)? I think so. To me, this is a roots or perhaps a folk album. Just because it is performed by Solomon Burke and just because the liner notes state that soul music is alive and well and living in L.A. with Mr. Burke, this is not a soul or blues CD. Had Mr. Burke decided to cover the songs of The Kingston Trio, would that automatically qualify it as a soul album? I think not. The CD opens with a Dan Penn song, one of the better songs on this album, but far from the best he has written (think "Dark End Of The Street" for starters). One of the two Van Morrison tracks follows; "Fast Train" didn't move me at all, nor did the Tom Waits contribution "Diamond In Your Mind." This track was more like a zircon to me. It is followed by a track by Joe Henry titled "Flesh And Blood," which was somewhat interesting.  Surprisingly, the Brian Wilson track titled "Soul Searchin" worked the best to this point. After that it was all downhill (not that we really ever climbed any peaks). The Dylan track, "Stepchild," doesn't work, nor does the Nick Lowe track that follows. Where are the horns? Soul music needs horns. Their absence gives this release a diffused, flat sound. In summation, I found this release BORING. The great voice is still there and I realize that things and performers move on. But "If a Change Is Gonna Come," "Try a Little Tenderness," and give us "Some Sweet Soul Music" the next time out. 

I have followed Trudy Lynn's career through many releases on the Ichiban label, her Ruf Records release reviewed here in the December 1999 issue, and now this fabulous new release, Memories Of You, on Jus Blues Records. Seeing her perform last year at the San Francisco Blues Festival with Little Milton reinforced my opinion of her as one of the great soul/blues divas. Memories of You will likely introduce her to a new and wider audience. It is a CD graced with real musicians, most notably the incredible Lucky Peterson on lead guitar and B-3 organ, and engineered by Bob Greenlee at King Snake Studio. Those of you familiar with Greenlee's work know that the recorded sound will be exemplary. The second thing you realize when listening to this CD is what a fine songwriter Trudy is (the first thing of course is her glorious voice). She penned six of the 12 songs here, with the beautiful "Memories Of You" and the slow burner "No Deposit, No Return" being two of the highlights. The opening track, Albert King's "C.O.D.," opens this CD on an upbeat note, as does K.T. Oslin's "Do Ya?," the latter showing the close similarities between soul and country music and how 'oh so soulful' a country song can be with the right singer. The same formula applies to the Reba McEntire tune "Can't Even Get The Blues." My favorite track is the intense "If My Pillow Could Talk," a song written by Jim Payne and a track that should become an airwaves favorite. One only needs to listen to the last track, Joe Louis Walker's "I Know Why," to see why Trudy Lynn is one of the finest soul/blues divas of this era. This is a release that should be on everyone's want list. If you cannot find this new release at your favorite music emporium, you should be able to obtain a copy from While you are looking for this release let me direct your attention to the fine American Roots-Blues-Trudy Lynn CD out on the resurrected Ichiban label. It's a "best of" compilation and worth the price of admission just to hear "Trudy Sings The Blues."

Big Al CarsonI was unfamiliar with Big Al Carson's music until I heard the title track, "Take Your Drunken Ass Home." I thought that was of the best tracks I had heard this year and was anxious to hear more. What a pleasant surprise Take Your Drunken Ass Home (Mardi Gras Records) has been. There are no bad tracks. A few tracks are destined to be classics and there are a few great covers.  The current issue of Living Blues has a nice feature on Carson, a Bourbon Street fixture, with a brief description of how this song originated and how it has become a Carnival favorite in New Orleans. While playing a gig in N.O. in a club called Flynn's Den, there was a regular at the bar who was wasted on gin and becoming obnoxious to everyone in the club. The barmaid and the owner were trying to get him to leave and the band wanted to finish their set, but were distracted by this drunk at the bar. At that point the bass player fell into a shuffle and the lyrics were composed on the spot and the rest is history. A classic story of how an everyday incident can trigger a career. Get a copy of Living Blues #164 (with the great Henry Townsend on the cover) to find out more about this up and coming performer. This CD opens with the club favorite "Because I Got High," and is followed by the Muddy Waters' tune "Champagne & Reefer." The very funny "Nursery Rhymes" follows with different takes on some of the famous nursery rhymes we grew up with. The Jimmy and Jeannie Cheatham track, "Meet Me With Your Black Drawers On" (another Carnival favorite), is given a great treatment here, as is Clarence Carter's "Strokin', " with some additional lyrics by Carson which augment Carter's quite well. The Willie Dixon penned "Built For Comfort" is also given a great cover by the very large Big Al. It takes a brave performer to tackle an Aaron Neville song, and Big Al does a credible job on "Tell It Like It Is," even if Neville's version will always be definitive. In summation, we have a great CD with 12 great tracks, real musicians and great vocals, certainly one of the top releases this year. It will get lots of airplay and will be a fixture on your CD player. Don't miss this one. Visit Mardi Gras Records at

Stan Mosley is one of the up and coming young artists in the crowded blues/soul derby. He is one of Malaco's finest artists and establishes a larger fan base with each new release. I enjoyed his prior release, reviewed here in the October 2000 issue. As with that release, there are some really fine tracks and some dogs (we'll touch on that in a minute) on his latest, Do Right (Malaco). The CD opens with two fine Larry Addison penned tunes, "No Mistake" and "Kiss and Tell," both worthy inclusions and tracks you will want to hear again. The tempo increases with "Perfect Timing," by the veteran songwriter George Jackson, a nice but unmemorable track. The evergreen "Do Right Woman, Do Right Man" is given a classic reading with a fine spoken intro by Stan. "Jealous" disappoints, with its heavy programming. From the first few bars you immediately miss the real musicians. " I Can't Stop Loving You" is a nice slice of contemporary soul (not the old Ray Charles tune), but the programming becomes more overwhelming, and such tracks as "Can I Get Freaky With You" are just plain mediocre. The additional throwaway track, "You Bring Out The Dog In Me," certainly rates the earlier "dog" reference. A few other tracks, such as "Your Wife Is My Woman," with its familiar lyrics, don't offend, but are far from nirvana. I'd like to add to this somewhat lukewarm review that Stan Mosley is a fine singer with an emotional and very soulful voice. His live show must be a killer, and these releases will surely further his career. He only needs one big hit to put him over the top. I don't think it's here, though. 

Rick Lawson - Pride and Joy When talking of the up and coming soul/blues stars on the horizon, the name of Rick Lawson is mentioned quite frequently. After enjoying his initial release on Ecko Records, reviewed here in our October 2001 issue, we all had high expectations for Pride and Joy (Ecko Records) his sophomore release. I am happy to report that this release is a successful follow-up. Ecko Records always set the boundaries for their releases. If you are willing to accept their terms, namely all the songs are either written or co-written by John Ward with an emphasis on programmed background, then you will enjoy this release. Perhaps Ecko's recent signing of Denise LaSalle will change some things. We anxiously look forward to her first release. This release opens with a danceable "Sexy Thang" and follows along a familiar Ecko path. Some of the highlights are "You're My Pride And Joy" (not the Marvin Gaye song) and "She's Got Papers On Me" (not the Richard "Dimples" Fields song). The latter track is a duet with Tabuta "Tab" Taylor, a southern soul diva with a classic voice. I hope that we will hear more from her in the future. "Old School Music Mood," with its references to the Temptations, Otis Redding and Johnnie Taylor, is fun, as is "Just Because He's Good To You," with its spoken intro and convincing vocal from Lawson. This is an important new release from one of the soon to be cornerstones of the Ecko Records roster, and an enjoyable 42 minutes with Mr. Lawson.

--- Alan Shutro

Some people were born into the blues, some fell into the blues cauldron only later in their life. The latter is the case with me. When my blues record collection was just a dozen CDs thick, which I had bought somewhat haphazardly, I happened to read a positive review in the local weekly about an entry-price two-CD compilation called The Great Tomato Blues Package. I went to the store, bought the record… and just loved the thing, in the process discovering artists I had never heard of at the time: Louisiana Red, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Roosevelt Sykes, Willie Mabon, Robert Cray, Leadbelly … in addition to some I already knew, like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley and Fats Domino. You see, I was just a beginner, and this album was just perfect for me. It went from acoustic, downhome blues back to early jazz and blues, forward again to blues/R&B of the '50s, then to early bluesy rock 'n' roll, back to electric Chicago blues, and then it detoured into soulful 60's R&B and came back to the blues of the modern electric variety. In a word, it went everywhere, and it was like a crash course for the novice that I was. All that was needed to do after that was to look for more recordings from the artists I enjoyed on this compilation, and I was off and running. Well, the newly revived Tomato Records has reissued The Great Tomato Blues Package, with two minor changes. Tracks by Albert King and Robert Cray have been replaced on this otherwise straight reissue, probably due to licensing difficulties, by classics from Big Boy Crudup ("That's All Right") and Mississippi John Hurt ("Hot Time in Old Town Tonight"). So, if you are new to the blues, or if you want to make a nice gift to a blues novice of your knowing, or if you simply want a ready-made mix-tape of blues and associated musical styles, you know what to do.

While we're on the subject of Tomato Records reissues, let's consider for a moment Rum and Coke and Big Chief, two CDs from the legendary and exhilarating New Orleans pianist, Professor Longhair. These records have previously been issued by Rhino and might still be available on that company's Web site. Again, they are straight reissues, with no additional bonus cuts. They should probably have been fused into a double CD package, as they are live documents of two shows given by the beloved pianist in his home town on February 3rd and 4th, 1978. As they are, separate and distinct, it is almost impossible to decide which one is more worthy of your consideration. In fact, many songs are available here in two different versions, and the same Rob Bowman-penned liner notes are used in both albums, with only one paragraph differing (when he discusses the specifics of the songs) between the two. Both records also share an annoying trait. Although the whole thing was recorded live, all applauses have been edited out, totally and rather heavy-handedly, which means that songs tend to stop abruptly and inelegantly. Yet, even as they are, these CDs offer many pianistic pleasures, as well as putting across a party vibe that is hard to resist. If you're new to Professor Longhair, there are much better albums from which to start. But if you already know the man and just want to be transported in time to one of his latter-day shows, you should be pleased with either of these two records. All you have to do is supply the applause, I suppose.

There is no confusing Eric Von Schmidt with a blues man, but this '60s folk icon (and guru to both Bob Dylan and, a decade later, to Chris Smither) was definitely the bluesiest of all the folksingers of the period (Dylan excepted), oftentimes interpreting very old and obscure blues songs from the '20s, before he started to write his own material. He was also an accomplished painter, and his recording career was not always a priority for him. So when Poppy Records went bankrupt in 1972 before they could release Von Schmidt's latest, Living on the Trail, the singer and guitarist took it in stride and concentrated on his painting and proceeded to give fewer and fewer shows. Now that Tomato Records is alive again, this "lost" album is being released for the first time. The best-known song herein, "Joshua Gone Barbados," should please fans of Taj Mahal's Hawaiian experiments with The Hula Blues Band. There is a modified/modernized version of Leadbelly's "Stewball," while fans of what The Band was doing around the time of this recording (fall 1971), i.e. some amalgam of folk and country and blues that seemed somehow ancient and modern all at once, will find plenty to like here. Indeed, both Garth Hudson and Rick Danko contributed their talents, along with Maria and Geoff Muldaur, Amos Garrett, Bobby Charles and Paul Butterfield. File this under bluesy singer/songwriter.

--- Benoît Brière

Dave Riley has been around music all of his life. Beginning as a youngster in Chicago playing guitar in his family's gospel band, he was later exposed to secular music during a stint in Vietnam. After seeing a show in Washington state by legendary guitar wizard Jimi Hendrix, a show in which Hendrix leaned heavily toward blues, Riley was hooked. Upon returning to Chicago, he was immersed in the local soul and blues scene for a while, until he settled in Blue Island, Illinois, playing gospel and working full time at Joliet State Penitentiary. During a visit with his wife's family in Helena, Arkansas, he met Frank Frost and struck up a friendship with Frost and drummer Sam Carr. They began playing an occasional gig, including the 1997 Chicago Blues Festival. More recently, Riley has teamed with Carr and another Helena harp man, John Weston, as the All Star Delta Jukes, and has even branched out as a front man, getting his own set at the past two King Biscuit Festivals. Riley teams again with Weston and Carr (along with his son, Dave Riley, Jr., on bass) for his debut for Fedora Records, Whiskey, Money, & Women. Riley is a straight-forward, no nonsense guitarist, and has a deep, gravelly voice. He also wrote seven of the 11 tracks here, including two heartfelt tributes to his wife ("There She Comes," "I Want To Thank You Baby"), two tunes dealing with temptation (the title cut and "Casino Blues"), the Jimmy Reed-ish "Down South", and a solo track discussing his many idols and mentors ("Tribute"). The covers range from the Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning," Homer Banks' "Angel of Mercy," and Detroit Junior's "Call My Job," and all are well done. The cover track that will definitely get your attention is the closer, John Lennon's "Imagine," though it's as far from it's original incarnation as it can possibly be. Riley manages to actually update the tune by mixing in some scenes of modern urban life. As a backing band, you can't do much better than Riley's. Weston is a fine harmonica player who should be more widely known, the younger Riley is a rock on the bass, and if you're a blues fan, you're already familiar with Sam Carr. This CD has remained on "steady rotation" at my house for a couple of months now, so I am recommending it highly to fans of the Delta Blues sound.

Stick Shift Annie - Out of Her Mind Originally from the Midwest, Annie Eastwood settled in the Seattle area a little over 15 years ago and has played in every blues club in the city. Finally, she lays down her smooth brand of bar room blues on an impressive debut, Out Of Her Mind (Left Of The Dog). Stickshift Annie and The Overdrive play a sleazy strain of blues which is both smart and sexy. Annie's sassy vocals are complimented by her magnificent band, including James Middlefield on a harmonica and Ian Waldie on slide guitar. The disc was nominated by the Washington Blues Society for Best Recording and Eastwood for Best Female Vocalist in 2001. While the awards went to other artists, it reestablished the group as a powerhouse in the Northwest. Out Of Her Mind contains all original material with no filler. With a relaxed ambiance, "High Tech Blues" gets things rolling, a funky shuffle, with plenty of Annie's sexually charged innuendos in between smokin' solos. Jazz and blues collide with "Troubled Fool," which features stellar guitar licks, solid harp playing and a laid back groove. "Burning Up" and "Miss Phyllis" are chockfull of dangerous lyrics, as Eastwood tantalizes the listener with her mischievous voice. Out Of Her Mind is campy, fun and just close enough to the edge without crossing the boundaries of good taste. Like another Northwest blues diva, Duffy Bishop, Annie isn't afraid to lay it out for all to hear while using her womanly ways to lure the listener in. Available at:

--- Tony Engelhart

A blend of beat poetry and gutbucket blues, John Sinclair's Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes (Okra-Tone Records) shares some of the best legends in a genre rich in legend. Like to know more about trading your soul to the devil for the ability to play the blues? Losing sleep over exactly what the difference and dividing line might be between Delta and Chicago blues, or where the Delta begins? Answers to these questions and more can be found here. The album's title and John Sinclair's primary inspiration come from Rice Miller, a.k.a. Sonny Boy Williamson II, announced on one track to be "the greatest harmonica player of all time." He's a good choice, a constant improviser, a master storyteller, a larger than life character with larger than life vices, and virtues and a logical spark for interest in both listening to and creating blues music. This record includes eight pieces, not really songs as they consist of spoken word over basic blues musical backgrounds. The story of Sonny Boy II and Robert "Junior" Lockwood being forced to play three weeks of gigs for a corrupt Mississippi sheriff is here, as is a biography of Tommy "Big Road" Johnson. It takes the listener to the famous crossroads then, later, on a train to Chicago, stopping along the way "where the Southern crosses the Dog" to sit beside W. C. Handy at the moment the blues finds him. Sinclair, a longtime writer, editor and troubleshooter for national blues publications, has found what may be the best stories associated with our nation's music, which is what the blues is, to fill this astounding release. I am proud to say that I told some of these stories myself years ago when I put together a radio series with Willie Dixon, but my challenge was a fraction of Sinclair's. After all, Willie Dixon was working with me, and he could tell the stories with absolute authority, because he was a part of the stories. John Sinclair was not part of the stories. Furthermore, he is what one might describe as "pigmentally challenged" as a narrator of Delta blues legend, yet he puts these stories across, powered largely by a clear and tremendous love for them. He is also fueled by a superb backing band. Upon reflection, readers will quickly realize that blues is quite often and quite effectively used as background music for films and commercials. On Fattenin' Frogs For Snakes, it is a bit more obtrusive, which is as it should be, given that it is the narrator's topic, and it is exponentially more effective as a narrative accouterment. This is more than a CD. It is an educational tool, an audio book and an entertaining friend. It should be played in its entirety on blues radio programs around the world immediately and donated by blues societies to public and school libraries as soon as meeting policies and budgets allow.

To this reviewer's ear, Richard Hunter is the best diatonic harmonica player in the country. After purchasing his Being Free CDs a few years ago, I was certain that there was Richard Hunter, and then a huge gap, and then one or two dozen contenders for the number two spot. Now that I've heard Norton Buffalo in a front line partnership with acoustic blues guitarist Roy Rogers, I still think Richard Hunter's the best, but Norton Buffalo isn't all that far behind (and he's more accessible than Hunter), and then there's a huge gap and the one of two dozen contenders for the number three spot. The important lesson for most harmonica players and listeners on Roots of Our Nature (Blind Pig) is that there is life outside Chicago blues, heavy reverb and distortion and the Green Bullet family of microphones. In Buffalo's harp-cupping, wah-wahing hands and mouth, there are single note runs, improvisational opportunities and plenty of chances to run rings around the expressive power of every other instrument on the album. An amazing, almost sad feature, of his style is that, for all the novelty and innovation one hears at first, he's actually doing something very simple --- he's looking at that most vocal-sounding and mouth-resembling of all musical instruments and thinking, "I'll bet I can get something very closely akin to the human voice out of this bad boy." The sadness underlying all the joy and virtuosity he brings listeners stems, not from anything he's doing, but from the rampant, puerile, undisciplined urge to crank up the effects in an attempt to copy other people who were cranking up the effects and volume to copy the first generation of amplified harmonica players, who cranked up the effects and volume because the equipment they heard and recorded what were at the time called "race records" was so poor that they thought they could make harmonicas sound like saxophones if they just tweaked those knobs a little more to the right. But enough kudos for Buffalo and curses for most of his competitors. Back to the record --- guitarist/songwriter/singer Roy Rogers has been living in much the same dim, shadowy underworld of famous blues musicians as his harpman partner lo these many years. You know, if you want to have fun at parties and haven't mastered ventriloquism, you can make up a name for a blues guitarist, namedrop the made-up name, and watch people pretend they know whom you're talking about with vague, monosyllabic compliments and sage nods of the head. Or you can mention Roy Rogers and get the same reactions for the same reasons. It is an odd commentary that, in the blues today, one can be at the same time famous and obscure. Known or unknown, though, Rogers is a stellar player, a master craftsman of lyrics and a deep singer. Perhaps his rarest and most impressive gift is his ability to work with a harmonicist. Most of even the best guitarists have no idea what song a harpman is starting 'til the lyrics come in, the pattern repeats itself for the fourth time, or the harmonicist's prayers are answered, but Rogers is naturally and conclusively right there, matching, supporting and inspiring Buffalo at every turn. The above is the recipe; now, let's examine the dish, the actual songs. They are everything one could want, musically, lyrically and conceptually. Something old, something new, very little borrowed and everything blue. If space permitted, I would praise Roots of Our Nature at greater length.

The liner notes make a good case that one should admire and support Phillip Walker for staying on the road with a big blues band in these troubled times. Let's do so. Let's all go see him whenever he's within range. LIVE at Biscuits & Blues (MC Records) is a great demo tape for a solid live act. It is not, however, a great album for regular, residential consumers of recorded music. Excitement does not leap from its surface at any point. No one's playing any better than anyone on any one of hundreds of live blues albums. The fact that live albums aren't about sound quality puts it in competition with every onstage recording since the late '70s, and that's too much competition. Any live B.B. King is better. The Simply the Best album by "Time Is On My Side" author Irma Thomas from about ten years ago is closer in nature and overall feel and still better. Et cetera, et cetera. Replacing the baritone sax in his horn section with trombone and adding another trumpet would give Walker more of the New Orleans flavor he seeks without achieving on this album. At best, it's made for club owners and festival planners, and they should certainly be influenced by it to book this fine band, but as a record for household listeners, it just never takes off.

Stranger In My House (DogTalk Music) from Cyril Lance is a dramatic, enhanced power trio recording from a Carrboro, North Carolina act. Liner notes enthusiastically confess adoration of Muddy Waters and the first song comes out like classic Allman Brothers, if the Allman Brothers had rehearsed more and performed sober. The second and third cuts are good, but serve mainly to remind the listener of how Southern white boys with big Marshall amps hear real blues. Cut Four, "Hot Tamale Baby," slips in a Latin element and features quite tasty, cerebral keyboards. Vocal chores on "Baby" are assigned to bassist Chris Carroll, whose voice is smoother and more unique than Lance's. At this point, the album itself transforms into a foreign vehicle, comfortable to blues listeners but convincingly possessed of the jazz, Latin and Hawaiian influences claimed by Cyril Lance in the liner notes. Also, while deep blues is never far off, there is also a strong ballad side to Lance and his bandstand partners. The final cut, "Remembering Jon," is as much in the Allman Brothers vein as the first cut is, but it's that fragile, thin-air side of the Allman Brothers sound that one does not rebel yell to. All in all, a surprising and well-rounded record.

--- Arthur Shuey 

Marking its theme as a celebration of the Stax soul sound by the performers that made it legendary, Back to Stax: Memphis Soul (Music Video Distributors), a 154-minute 1990 concert DVD, starts with the core duo of Steve Cropper (guitar) and Booker T. Jones (keyboards) taking the stage. Donald "Duck" Dunn joined the pair in time for the second Booker T. & The MG's album, Soul Dressing (Atlantic, 1965) and is present here. Unfortunately, original drummer Alan Jackson, Jr. is deceased, but this stellar house band has the able drumming of Danny Gottlieb (Elements, Pat Metheny and the later Mahavishnu Orchestra). This group, along with The Memphis Horns, backs a scintillating constellation of soul vocalists. Sam Moore (Sam & Dave) performs the lion's share of the songs, including "Soul Man" and "Hold On I'm Coming." Carla Thomas, Queen of Memphis Soul, is on hand to sing one half-dozen songs including "Tramp," which she famously recorded as a duet with Otis Redding. Eddie Floyd was core to the Stax machine, both as a songwriter and performer. Reunited here with the same Booker T. & The MG's that backed him then, he transports us to 1966 with "Raise your Hand," "Knock on Wood" and four other songs. R&B guitarist Phil Upchurch is on hand to perform "Love and Peace."

--- Tom Schulte

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