One of the Arizona blues scene's best-kept secrets is the great Sam Taylor, who has called Tucson his home base for the last 20 years or so. It's a complete mystery why this cat hasn't made a name for himself on the national circuit yet. Meanwhile, we can be content that he's still playing the club circuit around the state, and releasing fine CDs like his latest, "I Came From The Dirt" (Well!!! Records). Maybe his sound is a little too eclectic for the big blues labels, as Taylor refuses to settle into any one niche, mixing blues and soul with his own distinctive, yet a little unorthodox, style. This CD opens with the gritty blues shuffle sound of "Blues Is Gonna Getcha." Sam and longtime partner, Heather Hardy, team up on a vocal duet on "Ring My Bell," which also features Ms. Hardy sending out an awesome violin solo. The killer tune here features Taylor's more soulful side on the Al Green-ish original "My Expectation." Actually, all songs on "I Came From The Dirt" are originals, which proves my point. Sam Taylor is truly an original performer ... now if the rest of the blues world would just figure it out!
Former Muddy Waters harmonica player Mojo Buford supposedly "retired" more than a dozen years ago. For someone now living the easy life, Buford's harp playing and singing are as strong as ever. Champagne & Reefer (Fedora) was recorded over a two-night engagement at Phoenix's Rhythm Room. Yes, I was in the audience for one of the two shows. Flying in to take part in the recording session was another former Muddy Waters bandmate, guitarist Bob Margolin. As is stated both in the liner notes and on the recording, Buford was responsible for Margolin getting the gig with Muddy way back in '73. Buford and Margolin start out the set as a duo, performing three of Muddy's classic tunes ("Blow Wind Blow," "Long Distance Call," and "Rollin' And Tumblin'"). This trio of numbers is alone worth the price of the disc, as the interplay between the two musicians is magical. The rest of the band, lead by former Howlin' Wolf drummer Chico Chism, then hits the stage for another eight numbers, including a strong version of "Nine Below Zero." It was a great night of blues --- here's your chance to experience it if you weren't in Phoenix that weekend.
Dallas guitarist U.P. Wilson, to whom the late Stevie Ray Vaughan always credited as a major influence, released a highly-acclaimed album on the British label Red Lightnin' in 1988. Fedora Records now adds two unreleased live cuts to the original ten numbers on the reissue On My Way. Wilson has been called the 'Texas Guitar Tornado,' and that is a good description of his guitar prowess. He especially excels on the instrumentals "U.P. Express," the funky "Bluebird Boog-A-Loo," and the frantic "Como Station." Wilson's Louisiana roots come to the surface on the swampy "On My Way." If you're a fan of hot Texas blues guitar, then add On My Way to your shopping list.
If you've spent any time hanging around cocktail lounges in the Dallas area, chances are you've heard singer/pianist Big Al Dupree. He's been playing that circuit for quite a few years, and doing quite well. On Positive Thinking (Fedora), producer Chris Millar teams Dupree with a band lead by guitarist Hash Brown, and the result is one of the most satisfying albums I've heard this year. Dupree has a rich, deep charcoal voice, well-suited to the material chosen for this disc, a mixture of jump blues, late night blues, and lounge classics. Dupree exercises his vocal chords on "Low-Down Dirty Shame," intro-ing the number with some wonderful scat singing before Hash Brown enters with a scorching guitar solo. The title cut is a slow original blues, on which Dupree's vocal phrasing is similar to that of fellow blues crooner Nappy Brown. Dupree is a multi-instrumentalist, playing his best piano on the jazzy instrumental "The Thing And I," then blowing nice saxophone on the walking blues "Kidney Stew Blues." Another wonderful piano instrumental is "Buck 'N' Jump." If you want to duplicate that 'lounge' atmosphere at home, then mix yourself a martini and listen to Dupree's original "Blues For Big Al." There aren't too many CDs that I've enjoyed lately as much as this one.
Chicago singer/guitarist Jimmy Burns' new CD, Night Time Again (Delmark), was a bit of a surprise to me. Based on a few cuts I heard from a previous compilation disc, I expected the music here to be a much rawer blues. But I was pleasantly surprised by the more contemporary, soulful content here, as well as the strength of Burns' voice. There are some straight blues numbers here, like the drivin' tune "Shake For Me," written by Willie Dixon. But then Burns turns around and does a great rendition of the Chicago soul chestnut, "Monkey Time." On the original blues "Here It Is Night Time Again," Burns comes across as sounding a little like Robert Cray at his best. Several reliable sources have said that this latest disc isn't quite as good as Burns' 1996 debut album, Leaving Here Walking. I somehow missed out on that one, so I'm going to chase down a copy and review it in the Blues Bytes Flashback section real soon.
Another Windy City surprise from Delmark Records comes in the form of 71-year-old piano player Aaron Moore, with his first nationally-released CD Boot 'Em Up!. Moore is a great, rough singer and a decent Chicago-style pianist. What separates Moore from other equally-talented musicians is his engaging personality, which really comes out on this disc. The album commences with a pleasant shuffle, "I Want My Baby Back," with hot piano from Moore and strong guitar from James Wheeler. "Wading In Deep Water" and "Lonely Mood" are both fine slow blues numbers, on which Moore's shouting vocals are very reminiscent of the late Sunnyland Slim. Moore can also boogie woogie with the best of them, as heard on "Hind Part Boogie." Highly recommended, especially for Chicago blues piano fans.
The Rockin' Johnny Band, a group of young Chicago musicians who normally back other guys, step to the front with their second Delmark release, Man's Temptation. While certainly not as strong as the two albums listed above, this is still a fun party album. Their version of Hank Ballard's "Twist With Me Annie" is a strong rockin' number with good vocals from Johnny Burgin. His best singing is heard on the John Lee Hooker number "This Is Hip," while Burgin's tastiest guitar work turns up on the originals "Man's Temptation" and "Desperate." Martin Lang kicks in with solid Little Walter-style harp on Jimmy Smith's instrumental number "Midnight Special."
I was hoping for a lot more from Chicago blues/soul legend Syl Johnson's second Delmark album Talkin' Bout Chicago, but it's a bit of a disappointment compared to his Back In The Game release from a few years ago. There's nothing that separates this CD from the hoard of other blues/soul discs on the market. "Sweet Dynamite" is too repetitive and boring, and should have hit the cutting room floor, while "Diff'rent Strokes" is just downright annoying. On the positive side, Johnson shows he's still got the pipes on the soulful "Different Kind Of Man." "Trade Secret" is a decent uptempo blues shuffle. A better selection of material would have helped this album.
California band The Slack Jaw Blues Band is a tight four-piece band, with a heavy emphasis on slide guitar. As I was starting the review on this CD, I noticed that the release date was 1997...not exactly a new release, but here it goes anyway. There's some good material on Knuckle Down (Granite Hill), including a foot-tapping version of "Big Boss Man." "Rock This House" is a hot jump-style instrumental.
Southpaw Texan guitarist L.A. Jones, along with his band The Blues Messengers, has released a nice independent album, Jumpin' at Shadows (Barking Blues Music). These guys are your basic blues combo, and Jones is a decent guitarist and singer. Dallas guitar wiz Hash Brown appears on second guitar. My favorite cut was the jumpin' shuffle (but grammatically incorrect) "She Can't Not Be Satisfied," with nice harmonica (played through a Leslie, perhaps?) by Magic Dave.
Seminal blues guitarist Albert King got together with his disciple Stevie Ray Vaughan in a Canadian TV studio in 1983. 16 years later we get this special CD, In Session (Stax/Fantasy), with seven extended songs mixed with affable between-song banter. The sound quality is very good, although there's a little feedback on "Ask Me No Questions." King's vocal work on this tune is very strong. The guitar playing on Stevie Ray's "Pride And Joy" is great; this is the only cut on which Vaughan sings. The closing number, Tampa Red's "Don't Lie To Me," features a nice jam between the two guitarists.
Blues/soul singer Chris Whynaught is best known for his recent stint as the vocalist for Mike Morgan & The Crawl during Lee McBee's sabbatical from that Dallas-based band. The Californian is now out on his own with a new release Heard Him On The Radio (Bad Daddy Records), so named for the moment when hearing a Bobby Bland song on the radio inspired him to give up a fledgling baseball career to become a blues singer. Whynaught is a good, nasally singer, but the material and arrangements on Heard Him On The Radio just didn't grab me like I expected. Everything sounds a little too clean and sterile, not as gritty as I like from soulful blues.
--- Bill Mitchell
From the more is less school of guitar playing, Shawn Pittman's second CD, Something's Got To Give (Cannonball), is a refreshing blast of funky, Texas-style blues. By his own admission Pittman would rather play dirty than fast, and the results are deeply melodic tones, filthy rich in rhythmic expression and mood. All tunes sans one are originals, and Pittman proves himself to be a more than competent songwriter, at times delving into personal experiences that he shares with the listener. As a singer his drawling, soulful voice grabs your attention from the opening title track and doesn't let go until the closing lone acoustic piece, "That First Drink." Mike Morgan makes a guest appearance, playing lead on "Payin' The Price," a questioning lament about life decisions. The instrumental "Cruisin" is an all out barn-burnin' boogie that takes no prisoners, while "Get Started" shows a slightly jazzier side to his repertoire. This sophomore effort is more than satisfying, showing great promise of things to come in the future. His third release is anxiously anticipated....... well, at least by this writer anyway!
The self-proclaimed creator of 'happy blues', Long John Hunter, presents this collection of vintage recordings, Ooh Wee Pretty Baby (Norton). The selections here are the singles Long John recorded and released for the Yucca label, a small independent in New Mexico. Recorded primarily between 1961 and 1963, with a couple of tracks done as late as 1971, this CD is a wonderful insight into an artist in his developing years. While at times raw and rough around the edges, the recording quality is surprisingly very clean and the performances dynamic. Three numbers have been re-recorded for Hunter's Alligator recordings, his signature piece "El Paso Rock," along with "Ride With Me" and "Old Red." What comes across on these tracks is the pure energy that was captured during what was more than likely one or two take sessions. Hunter's B. B. King influences tend to show up from time to time in his playing while he's creating what will come to be his own style. But what grasps your attention are his powerful, straight forward shouting vocals. The mans just plain cuts it loose! While Hunter claims not to know what Texas blues is (he claims "the blues is the blues"), that is exactly what comes across on this CD. The only thing that lacks about this collection is the fact that there are no musical or production credits. However there is a very good interview with Long John reprinted from Living Blues Magazine and some nostalgic photographs taken around the time these recordings were made. Looking back on these recordings, one question comes to mind -- why did it take thirty five years for a major label to record this brilliant artist?
--- Steve Hinrichsen
Ernie Hawkins' Blues Advice (Say Mo') is a CD for lovers of old traditional blues originally played by the likes of Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, Skip James and Blind Willie McTell --- it's just right for me! The opening track, Blind Blake's "Police Dog Blues," shows off some very good guitar work from Hawkins, and this is followed by "Hard Time Killing Floor Blues," an old Skip James number with haunting harmonica playing by Willie Try. Midway through the album is a lovely version of The Rev. Gary Davis' "Penitentiary Blues," one of the best covers of this track that I have heard. My favourite track on the album has to be "Where The Mississippi Meets The Monongahela," featuring more great harmonica playing from Try and lovely guitar from Big Jack Johnson, both perfectly complementing Hawkins. The CD finishes with a rendition of the Son House track "Down South When You Do Anything That's Wrong," with guitar work that sounds like a cross between Son House and Ry Cooder. If you like old, traditional blues, then buy this CD and enjoy.
Leaving Bourbon Street (recon) is the debut CD from a very young band, Reconsider, from the South of England. They have a great sound, nice and bluesy, and a great future. I was really impressed with the vocals of Fliss Dowling, and the group as a whole are very tight. I am assuming that three of the band are brothers, as they all have the same surname, but the album notes don't mention whether this is true. The opening track, "Right Here," sets the tone for a great album, which contains a bit of everything for the blues lover, from slow moody blues through foot-tappers to blues-rock. On "Front Page Blues" and "Love Train," guitarist Mick Downs manages to sound like B.B.King if he was 40 years younger. But my favourite track on the album has to be "You Don't Mean That Much To Me," which seems to showcase everything good about this band. This is one that will definitely get a lot of play on my radio shows.
--- Terry ClearIn the 1950s and 60s, every southern state had bands that crisscrossed the state, playing different styles of music for different groups of people. These bands were known as Territorial Bands, because they ranged over a particular area. One of the best-known bands was The Red Tops from Mississippi. Their repertoire varied from blues to R&B to swing to jazz, and they were in high demand from the 1950s through the early 1970s, playing at universities, night clubs, high schools, and country club ballrooms. Most Mississippians attending college in the 50s and 60s can remember seeing them perform. The noted Mississippi author Willie Morris, who passed away this summer, wrote an article in praise of The Red Tops in the most recent music issue of The Oxford American. The Center for the Study of Southern Culture (which also publishes Living Blues) and Malaco Records have released a CD featuring some of The Red Tops biggest hits. Their most famous song was "Danny Boy," which is present here as well as "Swanee River Rock" (recorded at Sun Studios and released by Sky Records in 1957). The majority of the CD is a rare recording of the group performing a dance from 1955 that perfectly captures the bands versatility. While the sound is not the best on the dance recording, it is surprisingly good considering it was probably not done for public release. If youre interested in 50s R&B or in the Territorial Bands of that time, this is an excellent release. It can be purchased by calling the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at 1 800 390-3527.
Theres no doubt that Professor Longhair was an influence on every piano player thats emerged from New Orleans since the late 40s with his mixture of blues, reggae, calypso, and jazz. In recent years, there have been plenty of releases showcasing his vast talent. JSP Records has reissued The Complete London Concert, which captures Fess at his finest from a concert at the New London Theatre in 1978. Backed by Alfred Uganda Roberts on congas, Fess gets plenty of room to demonstrate his incredible talents. If youre a fan, the set list will be familiar, but rarely will you get a chance to hear Fess at the top of his game like this.
Eugene "Hideaway" Bridges is not a newcomer to the Blues scene, having performed with the Memphis Blues Caravan for several years in the mid 1990s. Only in his mid thirties, the New Orleans native has also played in gospel and zydeco bands around San Antonio and Houston. Vocally, his biggest influence is Sam Cooke, and he leans toward B.B. King with his guitar. Bridges had to go overseas to record his first CD as a leader, Born To Be Blue (Blueside Records), but it was worth the trip. He is adept at several styles but seems most comfortable with the soul/blues vein. He wrote the majority of the songs featured here, most of which are pretty good ... "If You Dont Wanna Love Me," "Tears Of A Fool," and the title cut are among the standouts. He also covers two Sam Cooke songs, "Good Times" and "A Change is Gonna Come," but actually doesnt bring anything new to either of them. With his voice and guitar, we should be hearing more from Eugene Bridges in the near future.
--- Graham Clarke
David Morgan's How Long (Must I Wait For You) (Slippery Noodle Sound) is a "must listen" for lovers of acoustic guitar. Dave's blend of super fingerstyle playing and vocals make you want to listen to more of his music. Samples of some of his songs can be found at on his web site. Morgan was a friend of the late Yank Rachell and played on one of Yank's recordings. An avid student and teacher of Robert Johnson's style, Dave has a knack for slide. Morgan's first solo CD, I Never Knew She Was Married, is also great listening. His version of John Fahey's "The Last Steam Engine Train" is as good as you'll hear. It's even better in person.
--- David MusallThe most distinctive sound in blues, apart from that of the harmonica, is the slide guitar. That being said, there are so many good slide guitarists that it is difficult to find one that stands out from the crowd. One who manages to do so is Nova Scotian John Campbelljohn. On his recently re-released Hook Slide + Sinker (Nood Records - the CD was independently released before, with a different cover picture), Campbelljohn does the required Elmore James-derived common fare (in his own way, with all the songs but two being originals), and he proves he can also tackle rock and roll a la Chuck Berry ("Johnny Rock and Roll"), boogie music a la John Lee Hooker ("Ready for a Riot") and reggae-pop a la Eric Clapton ("Slow Down"). But what really sets him apart is his mastery of old-style acoustic slide, as on "Heart Like a Stone." This guy obviously knows who Robert Nighthawk was. Round his obvious guitar talents with a good low singing voice and efficient lyrics (with the best lines of "...I had satellite TV before I took the fall/Now I can hardly afford to watch my cholesterol..." on "Baby Boomer Blues"), and you get what the title implies --- a winner.
Almost every guitar player will tell you --- Jimi Hendrix was never equaled. Not only did the guy redefine the role of the guitar as lead instrument in rock, but he also became the ultimate rock star, excesses and all. What is not as well-known is the fact that Hendrix, when he so desired, could play the blues like no one else. On Live at Woodstock (Experience Hendrix/MCA), a double album documenting, for the first time in its entirety, his legendary festival-closing show, only two or three songs could qualify as blues (including "Red House"), but "Hey! Who's counting?" This guy could have sung the national anthem and made it sound fresh and wild and mind-blowing. (Well, actually, he did...)
--- Benoît Brière
2120 by Murali Coryell is the first recording on
the CZYZ label. Started by cousins Marshall and Kevin Chess, sons of legendary Chess
Records founders Leonard and Phil Chess, the new label is "Dedicated to artistry and
performance." And Marshall Chess should know something about that. After working at
his father's company for years, he helped create and run the Rolling Stones' label, Sticky
Fingers, for seven years. He later retired, but in 1997 while promoting the 50th
anniversary of Chess, he kept being asked why he wasn't recording blues any more. He
decided that it was time to get back into the business in a hands-on way, recording
without a lot of overdubbing to capture the feeling and magic that made Chess famous. This
CD by Coryell (yes, he's the son of jazz/fusion guitarist Larry Coryell) is a great debut
disc for the new label (the 2120 of the title refers to the address of the old Chess
studio at 2120 South Michigan in Chicago). Augmented by a rhythm section of Rod Gross on
drums and Bill Foster on bass, Coryell lays down some solid guitar work that encompasses a
range of blues styles, from the Paul Butterfield-like licks of "Hidden Charms"
to the Hound Dog Taylor/Elmore James sound of "I Can't Hold Out" to solos in
"All My Whole Life" that conjure up Stevie Ray Vaughan. And there's also a heavy
dose of soul, with "That's How It Is" and the up-tempo Memphis sound of
"Pills." He closes the disc with an interesting choice, a version of Marvin
Gaye's "Sexual Healing." This is a strong debut, both for Coryell and CZYZ. (The
unusual label name is actually the Chess family's original name, before it got changed at
Ellis Island. It's pronounced Chez or Chaz and Marshall Chess says that "the only
people who will call it 'Chess' will be in Poland.)
---Mark K. Miller
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