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October 1997

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Albert Collins Deluxe EditionAlligator Records, the world's premier blues label, has just begun a series of "deluxe editions," featuring the best released recordings from their most prolific artists. Alligator is not using the phrase "greatest hits" for these collections, because in many cases they've selected lesser-known but high-quality tunes. The first four CDs feature Albert Collins, Lonnie Brooks, Little Charlie and the Nightcats, and Kenny Neal. Because of his stature among blues fans, the set from the late Collins is the most notable here, with 'Gator hits like "I Ain't Drunk," "Master Charge," "T-Bone Shuffle," "...But I Was Cool" and "When The Welfare Turns Its Back On You." Your decision on which of these CDs you need will depend on your own personal preferences. They're all good collections, and I look forward to future Alligator deluxe editions (please hurry with one from Son Seals!).

One of the blues world's hardest working bands has been noticeably absent from the recording studio for the last five years, their last release being a live recording. But now Anson Funderburgh & Sam Myers are back on Black Top Records with the excellent That's What They Want. Sam Myers is still one of the coolest cats in blues. Who else could pull off a tune like "I Don't Want You Cutting Off Your Hair." The opening blues shuffle "Lookin' The World Over" is a typical Funderburgh number, with strong guitar work and Myers' usual booming voice. Lest we forget that Myers is also a harmonica virtuoso, take a listen to his work on the mojo sounds of "That's What They Want." Another highlight is the catchy "I've Been Dogged By Women," on which Funderburgh contributes some tasty guitar licks.

Another Black Top artist who hasn't been in the studio in a while is Bobby Radcliff. We'll have to wait a little longer for a studio release, but in the meantime we can listen to Live at the Rynborn. Radcliff, who was strongly influenced by the late Magic Sam, is a hot guitarist in the style of his mentor, and we get to hear plenty of incendiary licks here. "Tramp" showcases Radcliff's instrumental work quite well, and he gets to do a little jump blues with a cover of "The Honeydripper." The highlight on this set is the extremely intense version of "Ten Years Ago," eight minutes of the most passionate blues you'll hear this year.

House of Blues harmonica albumHouse of Blues recording subsidiary has just released three very nice anthologies of "essential" blues recordings. The sets are titled Essential Blues Harmonica, Essential Blues Guitar, and Essential Blues Piano, and each consist of two CDs of material covering a wide range of styles and eras. The HOB folks have done a good job of selecting both well-known and more obscure artists. Any undertaking of this type invites criticism for leaving off someone's favorite artist or song; for instance, Stevie Ray Vaughan is not included on the guitar compilation and Charles Brown was omitted from the piano collection. But don't worry about who or what's not here, and enjoy the wonderful music on these collections. You may be introduced to some lesser-known cats like Little Sammy Davis (harmonica), Speckled Red (piano), and Eddie "One String" Jones (guitar), while getting to hear again standards from artists like Otis Rush ("Double Trouble"), Sonny Boy Williamson ("Ninety Nine"), and Professor Longhair ("Willie Fugal's Blues").

The blues world's latest new discovery is St. Louis singer Clara McDaniel, with her debut release Unwanted Child (HighTone). After 40 years of singing the blues, Ms. McDaniel is ready to make her mark on the national scene. What her voice lacks in range is more than made up by power and emotion. "What Can I Do To Change You" is a hot soulful tune, and "I'm Leaving You" shows that the singer's got a real sassy side. St. Louis legend Johnnie Johnson plays piano on this CD.

If you look at the cover of Kid Bangham & Amyl Justin's new CD, Pressure Cooker (Tone Cool Records), you'd figure that it's probably a rockabilly disk. With guitarist Bangham's pompadour hair style and singer Justin's "Buddy Holly" look, you wouldn't be expecting a blues disc. But this is a good set of blues and soul tunes. Most blues fans will be familiar with Bangham through his work with the Fabulous Thunderbirds, but Justin will be a new name to most. The latter is a good soulful singer, although his voice sounds a little forced at times. The highlight here is their cover of Billy Price's soul tune "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog." Bangham gets to show off on the instrumental "Kid Stuff."

Tommy Castro, the Bay Area's latest blues sensation, is out with his second release for Blind Pig Records, Can't Keep A Good Man Down. Castro blends elements of blues, rock and soul for a tasty mix on this CD. His guitar playing is strongest on the cover of "My Time After Awhile." "I Want To Show You" packs the biggest soul wallop here. If you like your blues a little on the funky side, then take a listen to "High On The Hog."

Lamont Cranston CD coverMinnesota's best-known blues band, Lamont Cranston Blues Band, is still going strong, as evidenced by their latest CD, Roll With Me (Atomic Theory Records). Longtime leader Pat Hayes fronts the band, playing both guitar and some mean harmonica. This is mostly solid Chicago blues, highlighted by Hayes' harmonica playing on "Play The Blues" and "You Don't Know." All songs were written by Hayes, including the fun jump number "What A Party"," which could have easily come from the Louis Jordan songbook. A recommended purchase.

The Shadows are an Atlanta band that's been around for quite some time, and have released several albums on their own as well as backing many of their Ichiban/Wild Dog labelmates. Their new disc, Pale Interpretators (Wild Dog Blues), shows the Shadows as a good, basic blues band. They do a nice version of Billy Emerson's "Every Woman I Know Is Crazy (About An Automobile)," and feature harp player Albey Scholl on a couple of good Slim Harpo tunes. What this band lacks is a strong vocalist, which is why they're usually more effective when backing another artist.

Does Chicago blues guitarist Jimmy Dawkins ever smile? He greets the prospective CD buyer with such a scowl from the front and back of his latest disc, Me, My Gitar And The Blues (Ichiban), that you're positive it's got to contain some serious blues...and it does. This might be the best among his four Ichiban releases. "Cold As Hell" is an intense slow blues. An added treat is a guest appearance by dynamic singer Francine Reed on "Down, Down Baby."

I always enjoy receiving good quality blues albums released on little independent record companies. One such album is Blues Alive! (Topaz Productions), from acoustic artist Michael "Hawkeye" Herman. This show was recorded two years ago in Fort Collins, Colorado, and features Herman running through a mixture of original numbers and well-known covers. I especially like Percy Mayfield songs, and here we have a pleasant version of "Lost Mind."

Another independent release this month comes from Georgia's World Talent Records. Forrest On Fire!, from an artist billed only as Forrest, is more rock than blues on most cuts. But the record company gives the listener the benefit of putting an asterisk next to the blues cuts on the disc. I actually liked one of the non-blues cuts best, the catchy "Hook Line and Sinker," featuring soulful vocals by singer Raymond Victor.

It's never too soon to start lining up new music for your holiday parties. America's favorite a capella group, The Persuasions, have gotten a head start on other yuletide offerings with You're All I Want For Christmas (Bullseye Blues). These guys would sound good singing from a zip code directory, so hearing them give a new sound to well-worn Christmas classics like "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer," "Silent Night" and "Merry Christmas Baby" is a real treat. My only complaint --- and it's an extremely small one --- is that they do virtually a note-for-note rendition of the Drifters' version of "White Christmas." I instead would have liked to have heard the Persuasions' own interpretation of the song. But this is a wonderful addition to anyone's holiday music collection.

--- Bill Mitchell



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