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September 1997

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Jessie Mae Hemphill - Feelin' GoodHighTone Records is now reissuing the High Water recordings made a decade ago by Dr. David Evans at Memphis State University. Among the first two releases is a wonderful CD by Delta guitarist/singer Jessie Mae Hemphill. Feelin' Good includes the dozen cuts from the original LP, plus two songs released on a 45 RPM record. Included here are several standards that Ms. Hemphill frequently performed in concert prior to suffering a debilitating stroke four years ago. Tops are the rhythmic driving blues of "Tell Me You Love Me" and the slow heavy blues of "Shame On You." This is the real blues, and it's nice to finally have these recordings on CD.

Another High Water reissue is Just Your Fool, the 1987 record by Atlanta harp player Chicago Bob and the Shadows. This is good basic Chicago blues, with nice covers of "Just Your Fool," "Too Much Alcohol," and "Sloppy Drunk." Here's some friendly advice from your Blues Bytes editor --- if HighTone digs deeper into the High Water catalog, watch out for reissues of albums by The Fieldstones and The Spirit of Memphis Quartet. Don't wait for my glowing review --- buy them right away!

R+B + Ruth BrownThe title of Ruth Brown's new CD, R+B=Ruth Brown (Bullseye Blues) says it all. This woman's name has been synonymous with rhythm & blues, as she recorded many of the genre's early classics for Atlantic Records in the 1950s. But she's been recorded far too infrequently in the last several decades, making this CD a welcome release. The best cuts are the two duets found here: "I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town," with Bonnie Raitt, and Willie Mabon's "I Don't Know," featuring a sassy interchange between Ms. Brown and New Orleans crooner Johnny Adams. Her song selection is quite interesting too, as she covers several tunes done originally by Los Lobos.

Texas blues vet Long John Hunter's second release for Alligator Records is Swinging From The Rafters, and it's every bit as good as last year's Border Town Legend. Hunter plays hot Texas guitar and has a pleasant, engaging vocal style. "Time And Time Again" is a catchy blues shuffle, and "Trouble On The Line" features some great sax work and even has a few pop hooks. Hunter also displays some originality and humor in his songwriting on the slow blues "Walking Catfish," which is also the name of his backing band. The band, especially the horn section, are real tight on the funky "I'm Broke."

Tom Sanders & the Hornets - Ain't Done Yet ( ... ooh la la !)I always enjoy getting a CD by a band of whom I've never heard, and finding out that it's a darn good disk. The latest to fall into this category is Ain't Done Yet (15 Minutes O' Fame Records) by Connecticut's Tom Sanders & The Hornets. This band, now together since 1989, is very similar in style to fellow New Englanders Roomful Of Blues. Ain't Done Yet is an excellent debut release of a dozen original songs, highlighted by the red hot harmonica-led tune "Routine Blues." Special guests include Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe and pianist Little Anthony Geraci.

Chris Duarte Group follows up their smash debut release from a few years back with a new one, Tailspin Headwhack (Silvertone Records). Guitarheads who liked the first CD will dig this one too. Many of the songs fall into the alterna-blues category, especially the catchy opener "Cleopatra." "Crazy" sounds like Stevie Ray Vaughan, to whom Duarte is often compared. The album closes with the worst tune, "Walls," on which the band sounds too much like REM on acid.

Billy Thompson - Tangerine SkySan Diego blues stalwart Billy Thompson is back in action with a new band and a good new CD, Tangerine Sky (Webster's Last Word Records). If you're familiar with his previous album this one has more of the same strong, soulful singing, powerful blues guitar, and a tight horn section. Be sure to check out "I Chose To Let You," on which Thompson's passionate vocals contrasts his heavy-handed slide guitar work.

We've lost far too many great blues artists this year. One of those was Johnny Copeland. To preserve his memory, be sure to get Live In Australia (Black Top), recorded "down under" at several concerts in 1990. The band's in fine form, doing many of Copeland's standards, including the excellent "Cut Off My Right Arm" and "Nobody But You." Also good is his version of Nappy Brown's "Wella Wella Baby."

The Deep Blues Of Paul OscherPaul Oscher, who joined Muddy Waters' band as a teenager in 1969, made a strong comeback with the 1996 CD Knockin' On The Devil's Door (see this month's Flashback). The Deep Blues Of Paul Oscher (Blues Planet Records) was actually recorded prior to the other CD, and features many of the same musicians. On this disk are bassist Calvin Jones, legendary drummer S.P. Leary, pianist extraordinaire Dave Maxwell. This is deep Chicago blues with a heavy dose of hoodoo. The opening cut, "Satan's Woman," is a real snaky blues. "Sweet Black Angel" is excellent, as Oscher plays extremely nice slide guitar.

The Best of Michael Bloomfield (Takoma) is a strong collection of 12 recordings made for the folk/blues label between 1963 and 1981. The most interesting cut is "Hitch-Hike On The Possum Trot Line," which finds Bloomfield jamming with jazz bandleader Woody Herman and his orchestra. On the other end of the musical spectrum is the acoustic instrumental "Mr. Johnson and Mr. Dunn." with extraordinary guitar by Bloomfield.

Blues/rock pioneer Harvey Mandel's newest disc, Planetary Warrior (WEA/Lightyear/Viceroy), heads into territory previously explored by the likes of Sun Ra. It's pretty cosmic, and not for everyone's tastes. Mandel moves all over the galaxy on this CD, with a heavy cover of Link Wray's seminal rock instrumental "Rumble." The bluesiest tune here is the x-rated "Candy Rapper," which I can guarantee you'll never hear on the radio. Check their web site for more info.

Highly-acclaimed Portland, Oregon acoustic bluesman Kelly Joe Phelps moves to a bigger label with Roll Away The Stone (Rykodisc), consisting mostly of acoustic gospel blues. At the beginning I found it to be emotional, haunting music with beautiful guitar work and effective vocals. But listening to the entire CD was like trying to eat a whole cheesecake --- very tasty at first, but after a while I got too filled up with the heaviness of the music. I'd recommend listening to this disk one cut at a time. Start with the excellent version of "When The Roll Is Called Up Yonder." As the liner notes proclaim, it's as if Blind Willie Johnson meets Bruce Springsteen.

Coming out of Memphs is a good CD, Memphis Rain (Inside Memphis Records) by Sandy Carroll, a throaty, Janis Joplin-style vocalist. James Solberg, best known as guitarist for the late Luther Allison, produced and played guitar on the album. The strongest cut is the gospel-sounding "Help Me Bear It All."

--- Bill Mitchell

The tracks on Ron Thompson's Just Like A Devil (Winner Records) were recorded live at the Sleeping Lady Cafe and Uncle Charlie's, Bay area blues clubs, between May 1982, and April 1983. Sidemen included former Butterfield Blues Band keyboardist Mark Naftalin (who also produced the album), Bobbie Webb and Bobby Murray. Thompson's performances are absolutely golden. He covers standards like Robert Johnson's "Terraplane Blues" and "Walkin' Blues," Sam Hopkins' "Shotgun Blues," and lays down a fabulous rendition of "Rollin' & Tumblin'." Coolest track on the album, however, is a Thompson original about a former junkie girlfriend, titled "Pin-Eyed Woman," that will set you back on your heels. The record ends with a full-tilt boogie version of "Hip Shake." Awesome tracks from top to bottom --- one of my favorites.

Our favorite North Carolina Triangle-area Cajun chef is at least as proficient on the blues harp as he is with a sauté pan. This collection of tunes, Swamp Slinger (New Moon Records) by Mel Melton & the Wicked Mojos, proves it. Backed by an outstanding crew, including guitarists Jason Barker, Sonny Landreth and Cyril Lance, and accordionist C.J. Chenier, Mel lays down a potent brew of swamp blues and Cajun boogie. Highlights include a swingin' cover of "Cher Catin," Randy Friel's "Devil Moon," and a bunch of Mel originals, such as "French Quarter Rain" and "Backdoor Cajun Man." Most of the tracks were cut at SoundWave in Chapel Hill, and they sound great. Mel's harmonica work is special; he's as expressive and creative as any blues harp player in the biz, and he's always got that bayou vibe in his blues mix. Swamp Slinger is a first-rate blues album and one of the best local releases you'll hear this year. Get some.

--- Philip Van Vleck

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