Bill Perry comes from the Hudson River town of Chester, New York. He heard Jimmy Smith and B.B. King at home, gospel organ in church. As with most budding guitarists of his generation he was taken by Jimi, Duane, Johnny Winter, and groups like Cream which could be called psychedelic blues. Once Perry started playing professionally he took blues cues from the Kings: Albert, B.B., and especially Freddie. While gigging around Greenwich Village, New York and New Jersey, Woodstock folkie Richie Havens heard him and immediately invited him not just on the road, but into the skies. His first gig with Havens was in Japan! From 1988 to 1992, Bill Perry refined his chops on tour with Havens. By 1994 he was signed by local blues label Rave-on Records and recorded his first album, Love Scars. Johnny Winter's manager heard the album and convinced Point Blank/Virgin to buy the master and re-release it in 1995. Blues & Rhythm called Perry "shades of Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan.” Perry’s next album, Greycourt Lightning (Point Blank/Virgin 1998) was followed by a 1999 live recording High Octane (Car Wash Records), making the pages of Blues Revue. Enter the Blind Pig label debut for Perry, Fire It Up, in 2001, co-produced by Jimmy Vivino of "The Conan O'Brien Show." Jazz & Blues Report reviewed it, a European tour followed. His next CD for Blind Pig, Crazy Kind Of Life, came in October 2002 and was reviewed by Billboard. That brings us to brand-new Raw Deal. New York legend and postmodern blues master Popa Chubby took over the producer's reins for this Bill Perry release and the title describes the album to a tee. He is backed by good sidemen: second guitar, bass and drums, and not over-produced. His guitar soloing is a little too busy at times but not distracting as a whole. Dazzling pyrotechnically like Jeff Healy. His vocal quality is catchy, if lacking in pitch or range it’s made up for in attack. Compatible with the blues he plays. The tune selection ranges from a John Lee Hooker-type boogie, “Big Ass Green Van” with a rather hokey narrative, to regular energetic rock, “Harlem Child.” Watch it, Bill, we don’t want Jimmy Page. A slow number is well-placed in the sequence, guitar solo standing out. Medium groove rock “Another Man” is followed by more of a similar genre, organ added. A trip from New Orleans to Memphis is chronicled and then infectious calypso tom-tom beats before the steady pulse of “Man On The Side,” the musical statement recommended rather than the action. It’s a rare occasion on the disc where the rhythm lets up to a suspended kind of J. L. Hooker “Tight Skirt” implication, yet the beat is there somewhere. Last we have Dylan’s “Gotta Serve Somebody” with a very good groove as well as background vocals.
Albert Cummings’ story is a bit different. Born in Western Massachusetts, he makes his primary living representing the third generation of an award-winning family of New England custom housing constructors. He learned bluegrass banjo at an early age, apparently influenced by his also musical father, but had a life-changing guitar experience first with Stevie Ray recordings, then the man live. He didn’t start playing out until age 36. Of all the up-and-coming blues stars he’s shared the bill with, his proudest is opening for B.B. King 19 times. After marrying, serving in the military and starting a family, Albert Cummings built a following through the electrifying shows he performs in the Eastern U.S. and via a fine first solo album, From the Heart, also on Blind Pig, featuring the guitarist backed by Stevie Ray Vaughan's full Double Trouble lineup of Chris Layton, Tommy Shannon and Reese Winans. Bassist Shannon is held over for this new release True To Yourself containing 10 original tracks. Between that accomplishment and the fine producing of guitar sound expert Jim Gaines (Santana, Luther Allison, Stevie Ray and maybe a hundred other guitar recordings) I’m quite taken by this disc. Cummings does the second rhythm guitar himself, otherwise keys and drums round out the quintet. I’m sure the experienced producing helps, but this is GREAT guitar. And not really at all like SRV. Dazzling, in very good taste. His vocals are sometimes a bit forced, but often relaxed and right there. Let’s call it medium-duty, compared to his very heavy-duty guitar. The first cut is a great introductory statement with confident vocal. It gives way to a two-step number just oozing wonderful guitar at the solo. Cummings’ writing becomes evident by cut three, “ Come Up For Air,” a very attractive chord structure jumping key steps in the right places, and good wah-wah in the guitar parts. “Blues Makes Me Feel So Good” is like Little Walter’s “My Babe” in shuffle rhythm and this is one of his better vocals on the album. A funky selection with tight end, (like the opposite sex toward closing time?) is followed by a Canned Heat-flavored boogie. By now the sequencing has tired me out. I might have preferred the first slow number earlier in the program. It’s called “Sleep,” inspired by one of Albert Cummings’ sons but words altered to become couple talk. A medium rock, “Separately,” brings things up a little and then the REAL slow number of the set, “Lonely Bed.” If any moment of the record is a nod to Stevie Ray this would be it. The closing tune, “Follow Your Soul,” is rocky and the verse has pop sensibilities. There’s not a weak song link in the bunch. My only criticism being the delayed slow down in tune sequence, and on his writing there are a couple places where the B. B. King-type “Thrill Is Gone” chord progression is predictable. Otherwise crank it up and let the lubricated steel strings give your soul an oil change.
--- Tom Coulson
Fans of rock, blues, gospel, and most especially sacred steel gospel
will find much to savor in guitarist Dan Tyack's latest gem of a
CD, entitled Unsanctified Gospel Revival. Tyack has gathered some
of Seattle's finest musicians and selected ten tracks of either
traditional gospel tunes ("Wayfaring Stranger," "Motherless Child," and
"Will the Circle Be Unbroken," among others) or inspirational songs that
everyone will be familiar with (including "Put A Little Love In Your
Heart," "Lean On Me," and Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released"). As
expected, given that he was a member of Asleep At The Wheel, Tyack is an
accomplished guitarist on both pedal steel and lap steel, but he leaves
the vocals to others. In this case, the vocals are handled adeptly by
Sarah Scott, who, along with Seattle folk legend Orville Johnson, lend
their tracks something of a country flavor (most impressively together
on "Way Over Yonder" and Johnson's solo vocal on "I Shall Be Released"),
and the intriguingly named Yva Las Vegass, who contributes an
impassioned reading of "Motherless Child." Johnson also doubles on
guitar for just over half the tracks, and the remainder of the band
proves that Seattle is still fertile ground for musicians. In addition,
Darrick Campbell, lap steel wizard of the Campbell Brothers, joins the
band for a stellar version of "In The Morning When I Rise," which closes
the disc (but not really, there's a bonus cut). As stated above, this is
an entertaining disc and there's much to like here for fans of all kinds
of music. This disc can be found at
--- Graham Clarke
The title of the 44-minute CD from Prof. Louie & the Crowmatix, Century Of The Blues (Woodstock Records), contains the word blues but its a stretch to classify the disc or the band as blues. According to bandleader Aaron L. Hurwitz (AKA Prof. Louie), "The theme (of this CD) is different styles of the blues and different influences on me." At the core, this Woodstock, New York-based band is made up of Prof. Louie (vocals, organ, piano, accordion, songwriter, producer), Miss Marie (vocals, percussion), Bobbie Van Detta (guitar), Gary Burke (drums) and Frank Campbell (bass). They are joined by eight additional musicians, including Tom "Bones" Malone (trombone, trumpet and saxes) from the original Saturday Night Live band and currently of the David Letterman band. You can’t help notice the similarities The Crowmatix have with The Band. Many of The Crowmatix worked with former members of The Band. Prof. Louie produced their three 1990s releases and also produced albums for Rick Danko and Garth Hudson. The title track of the Crowmatix fifth CD, deals with the history of the blues. Here, Lou’s robust vocals sound like a cross between Neil Young and Levon Helm. This is not a blues tune in the traditional sense. It is more complicated than that. The horns on this soul/rock number create a brass fiesta while Lou flies on the keys. Malone’s arrangements are impressive throughout, but they carry the most impact here and they absolutely shine on Al Green’s classic Memphis soul "Ain’t No Fun To Me." "Some Bad News" is soul/blues at its best and is the album’s highlight. With ultra-emotion, Lou delivers moving lyrics such as: "I see you sitting down and cryin’ but I can’t help you at all / I’m gonna find my way and disappear." Don’t be surprised if Bobby Bland or someone of his caliber covers the song in near future. The group delivers the most eclectic version of "Clouds In My Heart" you will ever hear. In fact, you’ll only recognize the words of this Muddy Waters song as the music has been completely re-arranged. Louie’s tasteful accordion and Dave Cook’s eccentric jaw harp give the song uniqueness and new life. Drunken sailors will be envisioned when you hear the music of the sea shanty called "One More Day." The chorus and main rhythm repeats a few times too many but the slide guitar is dazzling while the piano rocks like a storm tossed ship. "I wanted to do something that reflected the horrible thing that happened in Africa. About stealing people away to make them slaves," says Louie as to why he included the song. The group’s versatile ways continue on the rockin’ boogie "Sirens In The Night" which "is about the blues labels that started in the ‘40s and ‘50s from people who were originally not from this country." Compared with the other nine songs on the disc, it is too harsh and its 1970s-style rock opera organ seems out of place. "Sittin’ In My House" is an old Bessie Smith tune that features melancholic trumpet. Here, Miss Marie steps up from background vocals to the forefront but she sounds out of her comfort zone. "Out To Lunch Eyes" contains hints of Cajun and zydeco music set to Ed Sanders’ novelty lyrics. "Shake Your Money Maker" contains the blues of a master, rocked up like the bands of the late ‘60s. "Ballerina" is the sole ballad. It comes across as if they are trying too hard to make the song a hit. The sound on this track is hallow and the constant, crashing cymbals sound too tinny. The tune ends in a psychedelic rock haze reminiscent of Hendrix. Louie’s production is good but the sound quality isn’t always crisp. That’s just what he wants and it comes from using a spontaneous process to record. Louie told me, "Every time I try to make more sophisticated records, I don’t like it." This band does not perform the same old blues but rather focuses on roots Americana. They cover a lot of ground which was all inspired by roots music. This is a group of incredibly talented musicians. The deep, in-the-pocket drums and the richly-textured organ are exceptional. Best described as a party of musical mixology. For additional info, see www.woodstockrecords.com.
Paul Oscher was Muddy Water’s harp player from 1967 to 1971. While in the band, Oscher learned piano from Otis Spann and slide from Waters. Paul’s Electro-Fi debut, Alone With The Blues, is his first new recording in five years. Eight of the 17 songs were recorded in Toronto in 2001 but, due to a restructuring at the record label, sat on the shelf for years. This 68-minute disc has been augmented with recordings from the ‘90s. The traditional blues CD contains seven songs written by Oscher. The songs are similar yet different enough to keep your interest. Paul performs revered harp, dignified guitar, boogie-woogie piano, lively accordion, and strong vocals. He executes 12 tracks alone, and adds bass, drums, guitar, and piano (courtesy of Kurt Strange, Cam Robb, Ted Attoring, Jim McKaba, David Maxwell, Calvin Jones, and Willie Smith) on the remaining five numbers. The highlight of the solo performances is the slow-paced, regal title track. Here, Oscher’s foot can be heard stomping along to a plethora of harps. They range from gruff to shrill to everything in between. Somehow he impressively gets the sounds of an accordion and a cello out of his harmonicas. "Glory, Glory" is played to the traditional melody most people will recognize as "Will The Circle Be Unbroken." "Old Ship Of Zion" is gospel-ish where the guitar contains a ‘50s tone. At times, Oscher’s voice sounds like Rick Estrin as on "Work That Stuff." "Standing At The Crossroads" is played in the style of classic John Lee Hooker while Mississippi John Hurt’s working-in-the-field, song, "Louis Collins", is Cajun-spirited and is another highlight of the disc. Out of the songs performed with a full band, it is haunting how close "Walkin’" sounds to 1950s-era Muddy Waters. Waters is present throughout this disc. In addition to regularly hearing him in Oscher’s music, the back cover contains a quote from James Cotton who says Oscher "plays slide just like Muddy," and then Waters is quoted himself at the end of the album. But this CD is by no means a Muddy Waters tribute. On this real deal blues CD, Oscher is a celebrated talent of diverse styles with a voice that adapts itself to the atmosphere of each tune. Equally astonishing is how well the songs fit together into a single package even though they were recorded at different sessions over several years. Definitely in the running for acoustic blues album of the year. For CDs, booking and information, write to: Electro-Fi Records, PO Box 191, LaSalle Station, Niagara Falls, NY 14304 Tel (416) 251-3036. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org, website: www.electrofi.com, artist website: www.pauloscher.com.
--- Tim Holek
Pinetop Perkins, legendary blues pianist, gets several talented women to back him, nearly a different one every track of the upbeat, swinging blues album Ladies Man (M.C. Records). (No one seemed willing to add vocals to "Big Fat Mama," though.) Guests include Susan Tedeschi ("Since I Lost my Baby"), Ruth Brown ("Chains of Love"), Odetta ("Trouble in Mind") and Marcia Ball ("Pinetop's New Boogie Woogie"). The last, of course, a new take on the uncopyrighted song Perkins is known for and claims to have given to one of his influences, Pinetop Smith. Many of these songs Perkins never before recorded and this is the fist new studio recording from Perkins since 2000. While the theme here is talented women singing to Perkins' talented piano playing, a notable exception is Elvin Bishop joining Perkins with some slide guitar on "How Long." As a nonagenarian, Perkins still shines brightly at the keys and does some nice playing along with Ball and Ann Rabson on the piano duets "Pinetop's New Boogie Woogie" and "Careless Love."
--- Tom Schulte
Severn Records introduces to the national scene a top-quality blues singer in Chicago's Nora Jean Bruso with her new disc Going Back To Mississippi. Ms. Bruso comes from that "love me or I'll kick your face in" school of female blues singers, with a vocal style very reminiscent of her idol, Koko Taylor. But Bruso shouldn't be written off as a Taylor imitator, despite her similarly powerful, raspy "who needs a goddamn microphone" vocals. Each of the dozen cuts on Going Back To Mississippi were written or co-written by Bruso, who belts out the mostly 12-bar blues in convincing fashion. She especially shows her power in the title cut, a blues shuffle that also gives guitarist Carl Weathersby a chance to strut his stuff. The entire band gets plenty of solo time on the slow blues "All My Life," especially producer Rob Waters, who provides tasteful Hammond B3 accompaniment. Bruso tones it down and shows her softer side on the mid-tempo "Broken Heart," with her impressive vocal range reaching into the stratosphere, and again on the closing mid-tempo shuffle "If You're Looking For Somone." She sings about a common lover's dilemma on "I've Got Two Men," a song with more of a New Orleans beat about the woman trying to choose between two very different men; Dave Specter chips in here with some hot guitar licks. "Tearful Blues" is a jazzy blues with a smokin' sax solo from Ron Graham and nice backing throughout from Waters' B3; this cut shows that Bruso has been listening to more than just a stack of old Koko Taylor albums. Nora Jean Bruso is a force to be reckoned with on the blues scene. Keep an eye on this lady singer, as her career is destined to be on the upswing.
Must Be Jelly (Severn Records) was recorded live in the studio at WROX in Clarksdale, Mississippi by a crack ensemble of blues veterans calling themselves Jelly Roll All-Stars. The music recorded in this "live in the studio" session is an excellent representation of the style that is commonly referred to as "jook joint" blues. The legends making up this group include Muddy's former rhythm section, Wllie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums and Calvin "Fuzz" Jones on bass, as well as St. Louis harmonica player Arthur Williams and Mississippi drummer Sam Carr. Rounding out the group are a pair of session stalwarts, Jesse Hoggard on guitar and Bob Lohr on piano. Williams, Smith and Hoggard take turns on vocals, and each are effective in presenting their own unique styles. I liked Williams' singing, especially when he imitates Jimmy Reed on "I'm Gonna Get My Baby." That tune comes right after Williams tells a little story about being backstage at a concert many years ago with Reed making his beverage request, saying, "goddamn it, I want some wine." The Jimbo Mathus mid-tempo original "If I Every Get Flush Again" again features Williams on vocals, and has a nice easy, funky beat. Smith is featured on his own "Eye to Eye," a slow blues that features nice piano work from Lohr and some hot harp from Williams. Another fine number is "Nine Below Zero," featuring Williams doing a very good representation of Sonny Boy Williamson, both on vocals and harmonica; he's accompanied here only by Hoggard's acoustic guitar. Very nice. Closing out the disc is a smokin' instrumental number, "Tryin' To Find It," which is turned into a showcase for Williams' superb harmonica work. The Jelly Roll All-Stars will do their best to turn your living room into a genuine jook joint when you pop this CD into your player --- just provide the quart bottles of cheap beer and you've got a genuine party.
New York artist Michael Powers' Onyx Root (Baryon Records) is a CD that grows on you after repeated listenings. He's kind of a psychedelic country blues artist, but also travels all over the musical map. Powers has an authentic-sounding blues voice that stays true to his roots even when he's exploring other musical avenues. The disc opens with the autobiographical "Successful Son" --- you'll get a clue that Power's not a real young man when he sings of his momma getting him his first guitar with three books of stamps. This song churns along with a John Lee Hooker boogie beat. He stays with the blues for the next few numbers, including a slow, plodding "Can't Quit You Baby and Wolf's "Baby's Got A Train," which features some nice intricate, almost Spanish-sounding guitar work. Jimi Zhivago (what a great name!) contributes tasteful, subtle organ accompaniment. Powers then pops the first of many surprises with a version of Sir Douglas' (aka Doug Sahm) "She's About A Mover" that doesn't seem like it would fit in with the rest of this album --- but it does! He updates Muddy Waters' "Country Boy" with some contemporary lyrics and performs it in a dirge-like tempo with some effective electric guitar work. Other interesting diversions away from the straight blues include Leonard Cohen's "Bird On A Wire," the intriguing "Psychotic Reaction," from Count Five, an original Spanish guitar instrumental, appropriately named "Night In Madrid," and a classically soulful-sounding "Shimmy Up." Back to more of a blues vein is "Another Man Done," although he gives the song his own sound with heavy, effects-laden slide guitar. "Graffiti" moves Powers' vocals to the forefront on this slow, Hendrix-ish original, after which he sits down with an acoustic guitar and picks out a pleasant country blues, "All Over Town." Onyx Root is a disc worth finding, especially for those who say that the blues has gotten boring. Michael Powers' music is anything but that.
--- Bill Mitchell
For about the past six months, just about every time I talked to E G Kight about her upcoming CD, Taking It Easy, she would say to me "Now Pete, remember that my new CD is going to be a little different." I swear, I must have heard that at least a dozen times. As cute as it sounded, coming from her with that charming Southern accent, I couldn't help but think she was warning me. You see, E G knows my taste in blues and I guess she was telling me that ............well, "this CD would be a little different." I have to admit, the darling "Georgia Song Bird" did have me wondering. Was this going to be one of those CDs where the artist is trying to fix something that isn't broken or was this going to be one of those boring 'unplugged' type CDs? I mean, here is an artist that is climbing the ranks towards becoming the next Queen of the Blues like she's on a turbo-charged stair master.....here is an artist whose last CD got her nominated for three W C Handy Awards....nothing needs to be different, right? Wrong! Taking It Easy certainly is different - delightfully different. As a matter of fact, I'm finding myself having to search for different terms to use in my description of what I am listening to. Such adjectives as raucous, raunchy, bawdy, roof blowing, houserockin' and hell raisin', usually used to describe blues CDs, just don't seem to fit in this case. Taking It Easy would best be described as blues done graciously, tastefully, majestically and most of all elegantly. Taking It Easy is a collection of 12 songs, of which eight are originals, where E G Kight allows two of her many talents --- her voice and her charm --- to be highlighted throughout the CD, and the results are nothing short of magnificent. Although this whole CD was very well done, there were a few tracks that I particularly liked on Taking It Easy. "Nothin' Ever Hurt Me," a slow burner featured excellent piano work by Michael Boyette and "I Don't Want To Start Over," a little more of an up tempo jazzy number, also featured some very nice piano from Ann Rabson as well as some outstanding bass by Andy Seal. When "When You Were Mine" came on I lost all concentration. I sat back in my chair and immediately was removed from my desk and taken to a very dimly lit jazz lounge. I found myself on the dance floor amidst a bunch of slow dancing couples as a sultry singer softly and very romantically placed everyone on a cloud with the way she delivered her song. Accompanying E G on this award quality number were Roger "Boudleaux" on guitar, Andy Seal on bass, Steve Mitchell on drums and the masterful Greg Piccolo playing some of the sexiest saxophone these ears have ever enjoyed. "Southbound," a Dickie Betts / Allman Brothers number had me rockin' in my chair. Lee Anderson on guitar, Johnny Fountain on bass and my favorite drummer in the business, Gary Porter, all did one heck of a job backing up E G on this very well done cover. "Coming Out Of The Pain," a song that reminded me of "Southern Comfort," the hit song off of E G's last CD, features excellent guitar pickin' by Chris Hicks. Having listened to this CD many times before writing the review, I now truly understand what E G was alluding to as she stated that "This CD would be a little different." On the other hand, in many ways, this CD was no different from her others.....it contained the same superior song writing, the same superior musicianship, the same outstanding vocal achievements and the same charm as all of her other CD's. E G, any time you feel like doing something 'different,' you have the Blewzzman's blessings.
--- Peter "Blewzzman" Lauro
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Revised: September 15, 2004 - Version 1.01
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