Have you ever, upon hearing an artist for the first time, really felt like you were onto something big? That's the feeling I had after hearing Mississippi native Eddie Cotton's recording Live At The Alamo Theatre (Proteus Productions). Recorded at the historic Alamo Theatre in Jackson, MS, it captures an artist who, though he's at the beginning of his career, is almost completely developed. Only 30 years old, Cotton has chops to spare, possessing a stinging guitar attack reminiscent of Albert King (whose "Born Under A Bad Sign" is covered) and a wonderfully soulful voice that ranges from tough-as-nails to silky smooth. This recording (over 75 minutes long) is comprised of five covers and three originals. Though some of the covers have been done many times (Willie Dixon's "Same Thing" and "Shake For Me," Hound Dog Taylor's "She's Gone"), Cotton doesn't do slavish imitations of any of them, opting for his own blues/funk/soul interpretations that brings a freshness to them. His original compositions are as strong as the covers, the highlight being "Don't Give Up On A Love Affair," with beautiful harmony vocals from Jewel Bass and Thomisene Anderson. This track really exposes Cotton's Gospel roots. However, the track that makes this CD essential is the closer. Cotton's blistering cover of Little Milton's "Walkin' The Backstreets and Cryin'" is simply breathtaking. Cotton's vocals and stinging guitar work are incredible. His band is rock solid in support and all get a chance to stretch out during the performance. The CD is available at local stores in Jackson or at Eddie's website www.proteus2.com. One listen to this CD and you'll agree that Eddie Cotton has a bright future.
--- Graham Clarke
It is with a heavy hearted sadness mixed with the greatest of admiration that
I find myself critiquing what are to be the final recordings of ‘King
Ernest’ Baker. Ernest passed away tragically in an automobile accident this
past March at the age of 61 just a few days after hearing the final mix of
his brilliant Blues Got Soul (Fat Possum). These days a lot of the blues
focus is on instrumentation. Quite often the most fundamental of all
instruments, the human voice, is overlooked in favor of blaring guitars and
wailing harps. King Ernest plays his beautifully over the ten numbers that
make up this album that is sure touch your soul somewhere. King Ernest was
just beginning to come into his own as a songwriter, having written or
co-written five of the albums ten tracks, with the remainder being penned by
the accompanying players. The material is typical blues storytelling of the
cheating woman or man, along with a few professions of love and devotion
thrown in for good measure. "Suffer And Stay" opens the album lamenting the
anguish of sticking out a bad relationship for the sake of one's heart,
the contrasting "Blues Conviction" has the scenario reversed with the guilty
party begging for forgiveness from a higher power. Both pieces are original
works serving as mellow showcases for Mr. Baker’s voice that cries with sorrow
one moment, yet shouts with undeniable conviction the next. "Rock Me In Your
Arms" is a beautifully presented number that sways to a pseudo Motown beat
with Ernest’s emphatic vocals laid over some tight harmonies and jazzy
horns. A cover of Tom Waits’ "House Where Nobody Lives" will pull at your
heartstrings with it’s tear- filled story told from the rather unusual point
of view of an empty building that has seen better days. "Wood Rat" is King
Ernest strutting his Chicago roots to their fullest, and is probably the best
tune here. Produced by Andy Kaulkin (who lends his licks on piano and organ),
Blues Got Soul possesses a polish and smoothness that engulfs the listener
in a cloak of bluesy soul segueing over the entire ten numbers. This was
only Baker’s second full length album. Surprisingly, the rest of his recording
résumé consist of a handful of singles done in the 60s and 70s for various labels
and 1997s impressive CD King Of Hearts (Evidence). This album is a
candid look at an artist whose feel for his music and lyrics was evident in
all of his work. It’s a shame that this great voice has been forever
silenced, but the final work that it produced is an absolute masterpiece that
I highly recommend. Ernest Baker left the world a classic to remember him by.
Thank you, King.
Sinner Street (Blind Pig) is the name of the sixth release from one of the most wicked guitar players it has ever been my pleasure to hear, Mr. Jimmy Thackery. Offering forth his usual blend of tone savvy screaming guitar licks and no-nonsense vocals, Thackery springs a surprise on us unsuspecting listeners with the fact that ten of the 11 tunes on Sinner Street are written/co-written by Thackery himself revealing a compact songwriting style that has been cultivated over his other releases. A couple of tunes that show this off are the shuffling "Never Enough," "Chained To The Blues Line" and the diddy bopping look at the world of gambling "Hundreds Into Ones." Thackery's hard-edged guitar solos augment all of the above mentioned pieces with Jimmy Carpenter adding two very concise solos to the first two. Two instrumental numbers that might be familiar to some folks from their live sets as of late are the title track and the closing mellow guitar exercise "Blues 'Fore Dawn." It's been almost three years since the last release from Jimmy Thackery and The Drivers, and since that time The Drivers have undergone a slight facelift, both personally and musically. Whereas in the past Thackery's sound has been primarily as a power trio, the addition of two new members, now making the band a quartet, has added a more harmonious dimension and depth to the Drivers sound with both contributing vocals. The new kids on the block are former Luther Allison bassist Ken Faltinson and Jimmy Carpenter, formerly with Tinsley Ellis, blasting away on tenor/baritone sax. Returning for his sixth go round with Thackery is the steady pounding drum and vocal talents of Mark Stutso. Mark's powerfully expressive vocals were sorely missed on the band's last release Switching Gears, and return here on the hard rocking tribute to America's auto industry, "Detroit Iron." Two numbers that would have benefitted from Stutso's vocal prowess are "Bad News" and "Lovin My Money." Both are pleasant enough tunes, but are custom made for Stutso's higher-toned crying delivery. Don't get me wrong, I like Jimmy's vocals, but certain tunes are just not his forté. Production credit goes to Jim Gaines for the fifth time with Thackery trying on the producer's driver seat for four numbers. Sinner Street is a very well-paced, satisfying album that will in all likelihood have more commercial appeal than past efforts. But the rough and tumble edge of previous releases is somewhat subdued with this one. A very listenable album from one of the hardest working bands in the blues.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
The late, great harpmaster William Clarke didn't really achieve national recognition until he began recording for Alligator Records during the last decade, an association which resulted in three outstanding albums prior to his premature passing. However, Clarke had been making his own self-produced records for small California labels since the late 70s, and the folks at KingAce have now reissued what is probably the best of these. Tip Of The Top contains 15 cuts (roughly half of which are the artist's own strong originals), and the cast of players includes guitarists Junior Watson, Ronnie Earl, Hollywood Fats, and Bruce Thorpe (aka "Blond Bruce"), piano man Rob Rio, and fellow harpmasters George "Harmonica" Smith (Clarke's mentor) and Charlie Musselwhite. (Note for Arizona residents: The album is produced by harpist-vocalist Freddie Brooks, a former Phoenix resident who used to play with the James Mason Blues Band back in the 80s, and who now has a fine release of his own on KingAce). But aside from this, Tip Of The Top is definitely a release that no fan of Clarke's should be without. This is a hard-swinging West Coast blues, as fine as it gets.
Lord knows that there have been so many books, tribute albums and videos released in recent years regarding the awesome legacy left by this seminal Delta blues singer/guitarist, that Dealin' With The Devil might get lost in the shuffle --- which would be a real shame, since this item might be one of the better offerings of its type. What we've got here are 12 renditions of Johnson classics, most of which have become standards of the genre ("Dust My Broom," "Sweet Home Chicago," etc.) by artists who run the gamut, age-wise. There are longtime veterans like Eddie Kirkland, Dave Van Ronk and Pinetop Perkins (the only participant who actually knew Robert Johnson), "baby boomer" musicians like Paul Geremia and Josh White Jr., and then newer kids on the blues block like Sue Foley. Most tracks feature an acoustic band which includes guitarist/vocalist Corey Harris (who also tackles "Walkin' Blues" as a featured performer), and for the most part, the performances manage to capture the spirit of the original music, while bringing something new to the material as well. That's not an easy accomplishment, certainly with songs that are as familiar to most listeners as these. Fans of Johnson's music, and of acoustic blues in general, should not be disappointed with this release.
Frankie Lee, "The Texas Son," as he likes to refer to himself, has been recording sporadically since the early 60s when he recorded several singles for Don Robey's Houston-based Peacock label. Included was his own "Full Time Lover," which Stevie Ray Vaughan covered many years later. He signed with Hightone Records in 1983, and the excellent The Ladies And The Babies was released a year later. It took an additional eight years for the enjoyable Frankie Lee/Doug Newby and The Bluzblasters release to see the light of day, a release which reprised "Full Time Lover," but which strangely fell through the cracks. Two years after that, his wonderful Going Back Home came out on Blind Pig Records and the tributes began to arrive, resulting in that release making many top ten lists in 1994. On his new release, Here I Go Again (Blues Express), Lee proves that there are not many soul/blues singers performing today that have the chops to out-sing him. His choice of material on this new release is diversified, ranging from Howlin' Wolf's "Smokestack Lightnin' " and Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" to the evergreen "Cry Me A River," a mega hit for Julie London in the 50s. That old warhorse gets an updated arrangement that makes it sound soulful and fresh. His cover of O.V. Wright's "Don't Let My Baby Ride" would have brought a smile to O.V.'s face. I had the privilege of seeing Frankie Lee perform at John Lee Hooker's Boom Boom Room in San Francisco on my last trip there, and was mesmerized along with the rest of the adoring audience. His stage presence, soulful voice, and wonderful interplay with the crowd makes him one of today's top club performers. A must see if you are anywhere he's performing. This new release is very representative of that show. If you cannot find it at your favorite supplier, Blues Express has a web site at www.bluesexpress.com. Four deep bows in the direction of Mr. Lee. A highly recommended disc for all lovers of good music.
It was sad when Ichiban Records folded since it left fine singers such as Francine Reed, Trudy Lynn and Vernon Garrett without a label. Francine and
Trudy both surfaced on new labels, and now we have Vernon Garrett's new
release, Don't Look Any Further (Evejim). So how did he fare? Only
lukewarm, I'm sad to report. The CD opens with the title song, an upbeat piece of contemporary soul.
Straight covers of Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used To Do" and Percy Sledge's "When A Man Loves A Woman" fail to offer any new insights. The
Jimmy McCracklin tune, "I Just Gotta Know," an excellent duet with Barbara Morrison (of Johnny Otis fame) is the
strongest track on this release. There are four Ronnie Lovejoy songs, all of which appeared on
Ronnie's 1992 Evejim release. As Dave Williams points out in his Juke Blues
review of Garrett's CD, the bizarre thing about these four tracks is that the original Lovejoy
backing tracks are used and Garrett's voice is overdubbed. What's with that? Vernon Garrett deserves
far better treatment next time out. He's still a great singer and performer so I would recommend
that you try and catch him live if you are able. He always puts on a great
show and has been doing so since the early 60s. Next time out, hopefully some enterprising company will put
out the definitive Vernon Garrett release and not cut corners the way Evejim did this time.
--- Alan Shutro
There may be the word "blue" in there, but Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix is not a blues album in the strictest sense, just like the artist it pays tribute to was not only a blues guitarist. I mean, he was, but so much more too. So, alongside blues artists like Taj Mahal, Bernard Allison, Double Trouble or Alvin Youngblood Hart, this tribute album from the people at Ruf Records also features artists usually associated with rock or folk, like Eric Burdon, Vernon Reid and Michelle Shocked. Despite the shortcomings common to all such tribute albums (namely, lack of unity and performances of varying quality), this is a very enjoyable record, where high points easily outnumber lackluster moments. So for every Taj Mahal (who has rarely sounded more bored) or Eric Burdon (too long, too faithful, with nothing to add to the Hendrix canon), we get to be rocked by Walter Trout, surprised and charmed by Friend 'n' Fellow, or touched and moved by Buddy Miles. The disk opens with a piano-accompanied rendition of "Angel" by Eric Bibb, a surprising choice, as the casual fan is more likely to expect a guitar assault on some hard-rocking classic. This comes next, with Walter Trout, Popa Chubby and Jimmy Thackery joining forces on "Who Knows." Powerful stuff. Trout is given another showcase, "Hey Joe," preceded by a quick run through the "Star Spangled Banner.") After the first of two Eric Burdon tracks, Buddy Miles gets to pay tribute (and to bring tears to our eyes) to his ex-bandmate, with Chris Layton and Tommy Shannon backing him on "The Wind Cries Mary," definitely the most heartfelt moment, even if Miles is a barely competent singer. And then comes the real find: a trip-hop influenced, Spanish guitar-tinged reworking of the classic "Purple Haze" by the duo of Constanze Friend (voice) and Thomas Fellow (guitar) ... beautiful, daring, and my choice for best track on this CD. With interesting and urgent-sounding guitar bursts courtesy of Fiachna O'Braonain (Hothouse Flowers), Michelle Shocked also has a strong entry, with her tough reading of "House Burning Down." Other strong moments include the distorted guitar and slide duo of Vernon Reid and Michael Hill on "Red House," the funky "Remember" (Alvin Youngblood Hart) and the solo acoustic guitar rendition of "Hear My Train Coming" by Bernard Allison. Like the man it pays tribute to, Blue Haze goes all over the place, but the ride is exciting. As far as tribute albums go, this is a very worthy listen.
Got a pen and paper handy? Then take down this name: Charlie Wood. While his first release (Southbound, reviewed here April 2000) showed plenty of funky licks and recalled Dr. John, Wood's latest, Who I Am (GoJazz), finds him in a more laid-back, closer to straight-ahead jazz mood. But the blues influence, though diffuse, is still there. (After all, the guy plays the Hammond B-3 and hails from Memphis, so he must know a thing or two about the blues.) What is truly impressive is the quality of the song-writing; with wit, a keen sense of humor and coolly detached delivery (like an extra-terrestrial observing the strange behavior of Earthlings), Wood has crafted his own niche. If you dig Mose Allison (another jazz-blues frontier straddler), there's no question you need to check this guy out. You'll laugh unstoppably at "Don't You Ever Stop Talking," bop with "The Song Wrote Itself," and will be moved by "She Turned Me Down." Sometimes solemn, sometimes funky, Wood's organ playing is ably supported by a four-man horn section (horn arrangements by Tom Clary), with emphasis on short solos and an after-hours atmosphere. (Calvin Newborn takes a couple of nicely subdued solos on guitar, too.) Mostly, though, the emphasis is on Wood's lyrics and voice, and rightly so. And if you thought your relationships with the other sex were complicated, just listen to "I Didn't Know It Was You" and "I Am No Exception to The Rule" ... you'll never complain anymore!
A blues album by Willie
Nelson? You mean, pot-smoking, bandana-wearing, artfully-unshaven old Willie, country rebel par excellence? Yep! That Willie! You have to remember that Nelson is a songwriter to contend with, and one of his compositions,
"Night Life," has become a staple of B.B. King's repertoire. And, as is the case with many country musicians, Willie Nelson has always loved the blues, growing up in Texas, where blues and country music go hand in hand. His latest release,
Milk Cow Blues (Island Records), is a typical Willie Nelson album, featuring
laid-back interpretations full of nice, relaxed acoustic guitars and that special nasal voice. While most of the songs are blues classics, there are also
five Nelson-penned tunes (all from the 60s), with a great list of guests helping
out in Francine Reed, Keb' Mo', Dr. John, Jonny Lang, B.B. King, Susan Tedeschi and Kenny Wayne Shepherd, plus Jimmie Vaughan in a supporting role.
More often than not, the role of the guests is limited to singing one verse per song, so what you hear mostly is that Nelson twang. But you know what? The star-studded cast may be a ploy to reach blues lovers who would not normally consider buying a Willie Nelson
album. But it's a good ploy, because it works. Even though Willie's voice always seems to be on the verge of breaking
down and Reed, King and Tedeschi are in superior form, they never manage to steal the spotlight from old Willie. By taking these songs (Charles Brown's "Black
Night," "Texas Flood," "Sittin' On Top of the World," the title-track, etc.) at his own pace, Nelson succeeds in transforming them into gentle and charming vignettes, far away from loud and electric blues-rock. (The only electric guitar workout is, as expected, the track featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd, "Texas
Flood.") Which brings me to my only complaint, the lack of risk-taking in the song
selection. I mean, B.B. King and Willie Nelson already did a duo on "Night Life" (on the
Deuces Wild album), so why do another one here? And what is it now, the 379th duo version of "The Thrill is
Gone?" (The weirdest one being B.B. and Luciano Pavarotti battling it out on one of the Pavarotti and Friends platters…) One final
note --- Derek O'Brien on guitar and Riley Osbourn on keyboards are excellent throughout. So, a Willie Nelson blues album? With the right band, you betcha!
If there was such a thing as a "Blues from the Fringe" section of Blues Bytes, this would be it. Get yourself strapped, things are going to get wild. A couple of months ago, a nationally-distributed blues publication made its cover with Tom Waits. I've loved Waits ever since I stumbled upon him a dozen years ago, but I admit I was surprised to discover that all along he really was just a blues man… Just kidding. Well, the Tom Waits analogy is going to come in handy in discussing the case of one Christopher Watkins, better (?) known as Preacher Boy, whose latest album, The Devil's Buttermilk, can be found on Manifesto Records (licensed from the U.K. Wah' Tup label). In case you don't know (or chose not to remember), Preacher Boy released two albums on Blind Pig in the mid-90s, so I guess that makes him a blues man too. My first acquaintance with Mr. Boy came earlier this year, as he sang a song on the Tom Waits tribute album New Coat of Pain: Songs of Tom Waits (also on Manifesto). Past the similar gravelly throat-ache of a voice (compared to that, Howlin' Wolf sounds like a sissy), Preacher Boy's world is inhabited by the same low-life characters who live in Waits' head --- white thrash, lonely losers, drunkards, street people and other Hell-bent sinners. Playing whatever instruments suit the song (from the usual array of guitars and bass to mandolin and accordion and harmonica), Watkins' alter ego creates ambiences that are gloomy, out of this world, or remarkably rough and menacing. His voice is usually severely transformed into either a creepy whisper (like on the Edgar Allan Poe-flavored "The Dogs") or the vocal equivalent of a bulldozer, recalling Tom Waits or Nick Cave. But it can also be surprisingly smooth when he chooses to sing in "his own" voice. Add multiple references to the devil, to evil forces, to death, plenty of National steel guitar and some variations on Delta blues licks, and you can see a modern-day (doomsday?) drastic reworking of traditional blues imagery. The key word being, of course, drastic. And in the end, eminently fascinating. Some lines are poetry in the raw "...Best put me in a dream, or I'll find a nightmare..." or "...He was so far past alone, not even pity helped..." or "...So with my hand in no one's hand, I set out to get lost and broken too..." Not all of it works. "Friend's Lament," Preacher Boy's ode to his deceased friends, though sad and touching, is marred by simplistic rhymes well below his usual level. But for those courageous enough, this record could prove to be a major surprise. One thing is sure --- it'll never pass as Muzak!
--- Benoît Brière
The Funky Blues Messiahs' The Reverend P.P.Pettibones Travelling Tent Revival (Trackspotting) is a strange CD, with some good Blues Brothers-influenced music interspersed with "preaching," making it sound a bit like a movie soundtrack. The "preaching" spoiled the overall enjoyment of the CD for me, but there's no doubting that there is some great music here. The style is soul/blues, and it's all original stuff written by band members Doug Bare, Joe Skinner and Evan Waller. "Swamp Gas" is really hot and shows what this band is capable of ... this is my favourite track on the album, bar none, and really makes the rest of the CD worth listening to. However, as a CD for a strictly blues collection, this one doesn't quite make it.
According to the sleeve notes of The Left Coast Is Swinging (Pacific Blues), this is a collection of Swing Blues. To me it's a mixture of swing blues and jump blues. But whatever it is, it contains some foot-tapping music. Most of the artists/bands on this CD are new to me, although there are a couple of Lynwood Slim tracks taken from his fine album World Wide Wood. If your collection is missing any swing blues or jump blues, this would be a good way to start, as the CD features a broad spectrum of bands. While the music isn't pure blues, in the sense of Delta or Chicago blues, it certainly is worth listening to. Some of the bands are more "bluesy" than others, but there's not a bad band on the CD and the music is great to drive to and pretty good to dance to as well. Apart from Lynwood Slim, who I've already mentioned, a couple of bands that caught my attention are Jamie Wood and the Roadhouse Rockets, who have three tracks on the CD, and The Job Striles Band, who have a couple. This is a CD that deserves a listen, especially if you're not sure exactly what "swing blues" is. You won't be left in any doubt what it's all about after playing this album.
I don't know much about Junior Thompson, but I assume he's from Ireland as Welcome Mister Blues (Blue Sky) was recorded in County Galway. He is also a good musician and, judging by this CD, a good songwriter, having written or co-written all of the tracks. There's a nice mixture here, a total of 12 tracks ranging from a slow moody blues ballad like "Grown Up Blues" through folk blues, all the way to heavy electric blues like "Daddy's On A Roll." I've been fascinated by this CD because it's so different. "Steady Rollin' Train" reminded me of some old Bukka White stuff from the early 1940s, while "The Fly" put me in mind of some 70s John Mayall mixed with Snooks Eaglin. There are so many different influences hiding in this album that it's hard to define, but it's very easy to like. I love it!
--- Terry Clear
Editor's Note: For a variety of reasons, ranging from work, blues society and family demands, to the surprising popularity of one of my seasonal web sites, I am behind in reviewing the batch of CDs sent to me lately. I will compensate by having an expanded What's New section in the December issue of Blues Bytes. If a band or record label sent a new release directly to my attention, then please be patient and I'll get your CD reviewed. Thanks for your understanding and support.
--- Bill Mitchell
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