If you’re looking for trouble, well you’ve come to the right place. This is the kind of trouble you’ll want all over the place. Triple Trouble is the name of the latest all-star collaboration from the inventive mind of Randy Labbe and the folks at Telarc Records. Tommy Castro, Jimmy Hall & Lloyd Jones are the three that, according to the album’s cover art, are WANTED: for walking into friends’ houses carrying record cases filled with three minute doses of soul and rock &roll. There is even a $10,000 reward but I doubt anyone will turn them in. The three came armed with some original material and a few covers for a joyous celebration of the type of soul and blues music that is on most peoples wanted list. The other members of this gang are Reese Wynans on B3, Tommy Shannon on bass and Chris Layton on drums. These three gentleman have been known to go by the alias of Double Trouble, and are considered to be dangerous as they show no mercy when entertaining the hell out of unsuspecting innocent people. This notorious bunch assaults you from the get go with a smattering of what can best be described as “country tonk,” entitled “Sometimes,” a twangy roadhouse boogie from the pen of the vastly underrated Lloyd Jones. All three harmonize quite nicely together, with Jones drawing his six stringer and blasting out a squealing solo. Jimmy Hall, whose previous offenses have been included the southern blues/soul outfit Wet Willie and playing with just about everyone on the Capricorn label in the '70s and '80s, pulls out the two most dangerous weapons in his arsenal --- his purely soul inspired voice and his harp for the disarming original “If That Ain’t Love,” an easy flowing blue-eyed soul number that has single potential written all over it. Tommy Castro, known for his volatile use of a Stratocaster, leaves his incriminating fingerprints all over Johnny Winter’s “Be Careful With A Fool,” via his sleek soloing and growling vocals, and Tommy Shannon returning to the scene of the crime, so to speak, on this hot number as he was Winter’s bassist on the original. Jimmy Hall pleads the case of mankind’s weak and frail nature, where the heart is concerned on “Love Will,” a funky groove with some teeth that segues into Lloyd Jones testifying the need for a little “Help,” a superb rendition of The Beatles’ classic that in no way shape or form is a sound-alike cover, but rather is a slow bluesy ballad complimented by Wynans’ smooth as glass B3. Things turn ornery from here on folks, with Jimmy Hall strapping on his sax and holding the listening audience captive with a blistering solo or two on the Castro-written “Whole Lotta Soul,” a Philly soul strutting little ditty that has all three trading licks and vocals on what is the hardest hitting number of this album. “Good Good Lovin” is borrowed from the godfather, James Brown, and bops and rolls at the same frantic pace as the original. Lloyd Jones, who has been previously charged with reeking musical pleasure throughout the pacific northwest, and whose Trouble Monkey album has been accused by Blues Revue Magazine of being one of the best albums of the '90s, contributes “Raised In The Country,” a smooth shuffling number accented by some fine fluid picking on Lloyd’s part and a few well placed country harp riffs by Hall. This number is the most relaxed and informal tune on the album, with each musician egging the others on, showing the fun these guys must have had cutting this record. Don & Dewey’s “Mamer Jammer,” cranks thing up a notch or two, with all three harmonizing again on this forever funky tune. “Midnight To Daylight” is the mellowest tune of the set with Hall adding a very sexy sounding sax to this sweet ballad that is perfect for getting close to someone special on a dance floor. This record wouldn’t be complete without a bit of a jam, and “Cold Funk” is exactly that, with its pounding rhythms and improvised lyrics, and with each participant taking a brief solo. It would be interesting to hear the complete jam, as I am sure it ran much longer than the four plus minutes that we are treated to. So if it’s trouble you are looking for, this album is a great place to start. If you encounter any of the members of this notorious gang, my advice is to do nothing and let them entertain you, then get to your nearest record store and get a copy of this splendid album. Forget about the reward, because this record IS the reward.
Hey Toro! Corny, huh? Yeah I thought so too, but it seemed an appropriate way to start a review of an album entitled El Matador (Lux Records) by The Paladins. This album won’t make you want to put on a cape and go bullfight, but it surely might make you seek out the nearest dance floor for a spin or two. This talented trio of Dave Gonzalez on guitar, Thomas Yearsley on upright bass and Brian Fahey on drums have logged more road miles than some airlines, so it’s a wonder that they find the time to get into the studio. All 13 numbers are original works and adhere to the ‘get in and get out’ style that has become this band’s trademark, with all the tunes averaging three minutes or less. The title track opens things up with Gonzalez’s swirling guitar stylings, flavored with an abundance of Latin rhythms that sort of sounds like it could have been the theme to a Sergio Leone movie. “Don’t Come Callin” is a shuffling goodbye and good riddance type of tune, with the teller being overjoyed at being a free agent again. That sentiment is echoed along with the prospects the future may bring on “Another One on The Way.” Gonzalez airs things out to the fullest on the instrumental “Soulfarm,” with a screeching solo planted in the middle of some very sly picking and phrasing. “Firebird,” “Hot Link,” and “Midnightliner,” all run concurrently, and all have Gonzalez doing double duty on both guitar and organ. “Dancing With Leela” has a definitive country soul to it with some very twangy Chet Atkins overtones to Dave’s solos, as does the following number, “You’re So Fine,” only with Gonzalez trading off for an acoustic guitar. “Will It Ever Get Easier?” asks the question that many of us ask after we’ve had our hearts broken, with some lush acoustic stylings overlaid with some eerie electric soloing. The Paladins have always tried to incorporate three things into their records: quality, integrity & tradition. El Matador possesses all of those things, just as all of their past recordings have. I won’t proclaim El Matador to be a ground breaking record, because it isn’t. It is, however, a really enjoyable record from one of the most dependable acts on the blues/rockabilly scene, and well worth your time. Olé!
Have you ever known someone that was interested in exploring blues music and came to you asking you for advice on which artists and recordings to start with? If this is a familiar scenario to you and you have made lists as long as your arm of artists and recordings that you hope will steer them on the right path of bluesdom, next time just recommend (or better still hand them) Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues, A Musical Journey (Hip-O Records), the five-disc soundtrack to the documentary series that recently aired on PBS. This boxed set is handsomely packaged, with a highly informative 60-page booklet that gives you a brief insight into every artist on the discs, along with a breakdown of every musician playing on each track and a great essay by noted writer Tom Piazza. This truly is a musical journey through the blues, containing over 117 tunes by almost as many artists, beautifully re-mastered to perfection so that even the oldest of recordings sound like they were cut yesterday. The names and tunes are way too long to list in their entirety but I’ll try my best to give an overall and hopefully brief (this I gotta see) overview of each disc’s highlights, otherwise this review will run longer than the last Presidential address. Disc One focuses primarily on the blues’ entry and acceptance into the musical mainstream of the roaring '20s up to 1930. Oddly enough, the disc’s opening number, “Shortnin,” by Othar Turner and The Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, is the only one not recorded during that period but serves as a portrait into the roots of the genre. It's followed by a field recording from the Alan Lomax Collection entitled “Long John,” which is performed by a group of convicts on a state prison farm in Texas. The first real stars of the blues were women, and they are represented by both Smiths, Mamie and Bessie, performing the classics “Crazy Blues” and “Muddy Water,” respectively, along with Ma Rainey’s “Ma’ Rainey’s Black Bottom,” which is probably musical history’s first suggestive title. The rest of Disc One reads like a virtual who’s who of legends and classic numbers such as Frank Stokes’ “Downtown Blues,” Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “Match Box Blues”, Blind Willie McTell's “Statesboro Blues,” Lonnie Johnson’s “Guitar Blues” and Son House’s “Preachin The Blues.” One of the blues’ greatest folk tales in the form of Mr. Skip James, who took 30 years off and pursued a career in the ministry after his records did not sell well during the early days of the depression, opens Disc Two. Considered by many to be a genius of the early blues, his “Devil Got My Woman” represents that to the fullest extent and is followed by a pair of ultra classics, Leadbelly’s “C.C. Rider” and Big Joe Williams’ “Baby Please Don’t Go.” Disc Two continues its journey through the 1930s with Billie Holiday crooning “Billie’s Blues,” Robert Johnson picking out “Cross Road Blues,” and the original Sonny Boy Williamson blasting his way through his immortal “Good Morning Little School Girl.” Halfway through Disc Two we switch decades and are treated to such gems of the 1940s like Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway,” Tommy McClennon’s “Cross Cut Saw,” Wynnonie Harris’ “Good Rockin Tonight,” Louis Jordan’s “Let The Good Times Roll,” and T-Bone Walker’s timeless “Call It Stormy Monday.” The 1950s saw the blues enjoy its biggest boom in commercial acceptance, and Disc Three is filled to the brim with some of the most memorable and influential tunes that the blues and its artists ever produced. Memphis Slim's “Mother Earth,” Percy Mayfield’s “Send Me Someone To Love,” Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket 88,” and Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom” start off Disc Three with a four punch combination that will rock you back on your heels before sending you to the canvas with Little Walter’s ”Juke”. This particular disc illustrates the blues giving birth to its baby that they called rock & roll, with Big Mama Thornton’s original version of “Hound Dog” (Big Mama made all of about 500 dollars off this recording and died pretty much broke while some truck driver from Memphis made millions with the same tune --- go figure!). Following are Smiley Lewis’ “I Hear You Knockin,” Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love,” Fats Domino’s “Blue Monday,” and the timeless rock & roll anthem, Chuck Berry’s “Johnny B. Goode.” Also included on Disc Three are classics like Howlin' Wolf’s “Smokestack Lightnin,” Muddy Water’s “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Bobby Bland’s “Further On Up The Road,” and Sonny Boy Williamson's (Rice Miller) "Don’t Start Me To Talkin.” Disc Four gives us an intricate look at the state of the blues in the 1960s and the influence that it had on both American and British rock artists who were weaned on the tunes of the masters. The Jeff Beck Group’s cover of Willie Dixon’s “Ain’t Superstitious” features a very young Rod Stewart on lead vocals, while John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers' cover of “All Your Love” has a young Eric Clapton playing lead. Fleetwood Mac (gee, did they once play the blues?) turns in a crushing version of “Black Magic Woman,” with the twin guitars of Jeremy Spencer and Peter Green. Meanwhile, back on home soil, Bob Dylan tears through “Highway 61 Revisted,” while Hendrix converts legions of rock & rollers with “Red House” and Janis Joplin and The Butterfield Blues Band do the same with “One Good Man” and “I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Livin',” respectively. While the rock genre was enlightening a new generation, John Lee Hooker recorded “Boom Boom,” Albert Collins cut “Frosty,” and Junior Wells released his signature “Hoodoo Man Blues.” Etta James’ “Tell Mama” turned a few heads and a new female singer by the name of Koko Taylor, who was discovered by Willie Dixon, raised a few million eyebrows with “Wang Dang Doodle.” The '60s were a turbulent time for America and the impact that the blues made during that period is still being felt today throughout rock & roll. Disc Five begins in 1969 with B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone,” and closes with the recently recorded acoustic duet of Corey Harris and Keb Mo doing the prettiest cover of “Sweet Home Chicago” that it’s been my pleasure to hear in quite some time. In between these two classic numbers, the '70s, '80s and '90s right up to present day is represented by a wide spectrum of artists and styles whose music has forever affected the blues’ direction. Johnny Winter’s “Dallas,” Derek and The Dominoes’ “Have You Ever Loved a Woman,” The Allman Bothers “One Way Out,” and Hound Dog Taylors’ “Give me Back My Wig” represent the '70s, which pretty much was dominated by hard rock and is considered one of the toughest decades for post WWII blues. But, being as hard times is what the genre founded its roots in, the blues treaded water in a swirling sea of hard rock and disco. The '80s are represented by a young man who is credited with kicking the music industry in its ass and making them take the blues seriously again, Mr. Stevie Ray Vaughn. One of his best tunes, “Pride and Joy,” is included here, along with big brother Jimmie Vaughn’s band, The Fabulous Thunderbirds with “Tuff Enough.” Also from the '80s is Robert Cray’s “Smoking Gun” and a duet of “I’m In the Mood” between John Lee Hooker and Bonnie Raitt from his monumental The Healer album. The '90s get a well rounded look with Luther Allison’s “Cherry Red Wine,” Peggy Scott Adams’ “Bill” (which is a totally new spin on the old cheating lover scenario), Keb Mo’s “Am I Wrong,” and Susan Tedeschi’s “Just Won’t Burn.” Three other recent recordings, in addition to “Sweet Home Chicago,” are included, with the best being the live duet between Robert Cray and Shemekia Copeland exploding on “I Pity The Fool.” Cassandra Wilson’s gorgeous voice gives new meaning to J.B. Lenoir’s “Vietnam Blues,” while Bonnie Raitt does ample justice to his “Round & Round,” and Los Lobos does the same to his “Voodoo Music.” This is the end of the journey, blues fans. Well, for now, anyway. You can sort of look at this set as one hell of a roadmap to one of the best musical journeys you can possibly make, with the rest of the journey being all around you as you read this. This is probably the best chronological record ever assembled of the music that changed the face of American music forever, as the selections both mentioned and not mentioned in this review are the best of the best. A lot of you may already have a great deal of the recordings included here in some form or another, but it’s the combination of the choice of selections and the re-mastering that make this package a must for every blues fan, whether they are just learning about the blues or are already lifelong fans. Being a five-disc set can mean it can be a bit on the pricey side, but I found it for around $48 at a couple of membership warehouse stores, and it was worth every cent. With the holidays approaching, it would make a completely awesome gift for the blues lover in your life, or perhaps even yourself. This is one journey you will want to take several times.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
If you didn’t get enough of Martin Scorsese’s The Blues, then put the poignant companion book, Martin Scorsese Presents The Blues A Musical Journey (Amistad), on your wish list. This publication’s goal is to get the reader to experience the same feelings as watching/hearing the seven films. The editors (Peter Guralnick, Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren & Christopher John Farley) have achieved this goal. The 288-page hard-cover book is to your mind what the movies were to your eyes and ears. You will delve deep into the world of blues. Not surprisingly, the text’s structure evolves around the seven movies. Each film receives its own section that is introduced by its respective director. Each section contains a series of essays, reports and interviews that align with the movie’s theme. Some writings are reprints, while others are brand new. Some of the planet’s better known and well-versed roots music writers (Robert Santelli, Christopher John Farley, Anthony DeCurtis) are among 86 contributors. Stills from the movies plus photos used in the films (like B.B. being embraced by a new audience) bring the pages to life, as does vibrant background images. Also featured on the pages are quotes from some of the artists who appeared in the documentaries. The best way for you to get a feel of the book is to read quotes taken from it. Here are a series of quotes and highlights. The introductory section, called "A Century Of The Blues," is a well written, researched and documented essay by Santelli . In fact, it is so detailed, it should be considered as the definitive blues primer and sold separately. Some of it can be read on the publisher’s website and the Year Of The Blues site. In his introduction to "Feel Like Going Home," Scorsese writes, ‘when you listen to Lead Belly or Son House or … you’re moved. You go right to the heart of what it is to be human, the condition of being human. That’s the blues.’ Son House puts it in black and white, ‘ain’t but one kind of blues and that consists of a male and female that’s in love.’ Charles Burnett gives insight to his motion picture "Warming By The Devil’s Fire." He scribes, ‘historically, there’s a complex … relationship between the blues … and the church in the black community. The blues encompasses every emotion. When you look at the atmosphere surrounding the blues … you get a picture of survival and the will to live and self-destruct at the same time.’ In this section, James Marshall clarifies that party blues comprised most of the blues before World War II. As an explicit example of this style, you get all the lyrics to "Shave ‘Em Dry" as opposed to the first few lines heard in the film. Later, Honeyboy Edwards describes the life of a transient bluesman in the early ‘30s by recalling the hobo era with Big Joe Williams. Like the accompanying series CD sampler, Best Of The Blues, "The Road To Memphis" is least represented. Richard Pearce states, ‘B.B. King represents a generation that came out of the cotton fields and became major figures.’ This part of the document shows a bit of Memphis and what’s left of the Chitlin Circuit. No one says it better than Rufus Thomas. One night on Beale Street, he told a white man, ‘if you were black for one Saturday night on Beale Street, you never would wanna be white anymore.’ Robert Gordon explains how they ‘took from the church and gave to the blues’ while Sam Phillips says ‘there’s nothing that tells the truth like gutbucket blues.’ In the "Soul Of A Man," Wim Wenders learned as much about the lives of his three favorite artists as the viewers of his flick. He reveals insight into his filming technique in his intro. Readers learn he used a hand-cranked camera for the Blind Willie 1927 and Skip James 1931 scenes. Wim recalls, in painstaking detail, how his picture finally came together after many edits. He feels his film’s title (taken from a Johnson song), ‘defined the search that the blues is constantly on in very simple words.’ He continues, ‘what is the soul of a man? How much can you tell about these people, how much can you try to know them, and what do you then know if you know their music and their lives?’ Later Jimmie Vaughan recalls being mesmerized as a kid by black blues artists who ‘sounded so personal.’ He questioned his mother as to how this could be and the response he received was that these artists were ‘blessed with talent.’ In "Godfathers and Sons," Marc Levin chose to tell the story of Chess Records by ‘hooking it up with today’s younger generation.’ How ironic for Willie Dixon to state the following just a few short pages after Levin’s intro. ‘I feel like the blues is actually some kind of documentary of the past and the present – and something to give people inspiration for the future.’ Some of the directors notes, e.g. Mike Figgis, regarding "Red, White and Blues," were taken from interviews that aired after the movies ran on PBS. This section details the influence the British groups had on reintroducing the blues to white America. Here you will read B.B. King state ‘if it hadn’t been for you guys, I don’t think I would have been here talking to you today.’ Buddy Guy seconds this notion. ‘Cause as far as the record companies or the news media or anything, we were all ignored until those English kids came in.’ Clint Eastwood says, ‘Everybody likes the blues’ in his notes about Piano Blues. Otis Spann explains how blues music stays alive because it's passed on from generation to generation. Chris Thomas King exclaims, ‘blues come from such a deep place of sorrow, a deep place of miserable existence … but there’s this little glimmer of hope that it isn’t always gonna be this way, in time it’s gonna get better.’ Ironically, Scorsese himself states something very similar in the book’s preface. There he says, ‘Most of all, we want you to listen to the music … I can promise you this: your life is about to change for the better.’ Collectively, the various pieces of journalism represent the blues in each decade of the previous century. This is unlike the films which seemed to get stuck in certain eras while omitting others. Like Santelli’s "Century Of The Blues," when the individual components of this publication are put together they explain how the blues evolved from parochial folk tunes to a universal language. As a result of the Scorsese PBS series, blues music has temporarily received paramount media attention and public awareness. But where are the blues in 2003 and where are they going? Robert Santelli identifies three areas that are disturbing and require improvement. First is the still vacant gap left by the early-departed Stevie Ray Vaughan. As over-rated as many believe he is, SRV was the ‘charismatic superstar’ that the genre needs. Second is the incapability to attract its original black audience. Lastly, ‘the music failed to reach young, white music fans.’ On the positive side of the equation, the blues is still with us. It continues to touch us and as per B.B. King, ‘it’s the mother of American music.’ Like a really good blues music sampler, you are presented with many writing styles and different perspectives on the blues. Upon reading the book, you will be cross-trained in all aspects of blues past, present and future plus you’ll proceed to seek out other writings by the authors who really stood out for you. For further information about the book, contact: www.harpercollins.com/theblues, For info about the film series, contact: www.pbs.org/theblues. For info about the music from the series, contact: www.thebluesonline.com, www.legacyrecordings.com, www.hip-o.com/blues, For info on year of the blues, contact: www.yearoftheblues.org.
It is highly unlikely that you do not recognize the name Peter Green. In case you aren’t old enough to remember him, he was part of the original Fleetwood Mac. Long before their pop superstardom days, they were a blues act and Green was their greatest manic asset. In 1970, he left the band for various reasons and fought personal demons for 30 years. He resurfaced in the late '90s and has just released his first ever live DVD, An Evening With (Eagle Vision), recorded in England in the spring of 2003. Unlike many of today’s guitarists who bill themselves as blues-rock but play hard rock and heavy metal, Green continues to play pure heartfelt blues-rock the way he created it in the 60s. His style and contributions were acknowledged by his 1999 W.C. Handy Award winning comeback album. They can be witnessed again on this splendid DVD. Backed by the phenomenal Splinter Group who are composed of: Nigel Watson (guitar, vocals), Roger Cotton (keyboards, guitar), Peter Stroud (bass) and Larry Tolfree (drums). Throughout, their backbeat and rhythm is rock-solid and very driven. They seem to carry Green, who delivers weak vocals, menacing guitar and extraordinary harp. Nigel’s vocals are deeper and have more energy than Peter’s, but they do not possess much range. Since the band members just sit, stand and play, several camera angles keep the widescreen filmed concert from becoming boring. Occasionally the on-stage cameras get caught in the picture, but they capture excellent close-up shots of the artists and their instruments. The concert is comprised of two potent sets, the first being all acoustic and lasting 30 minutes, followed by a 90-minute electric performance. The former has an MTV Unplugged setting and includes seven tunes. Four of them were composed by Robert Johnson, with the remainder coming from Black Ace, Nigel and Peter. "Albatross" is a classic Mac instrumental where Watson and Green push their strings to the limit in unison, creating incredible harmonies. You will swear these two have been playing together for the 30 plus years they have known each other. The main event is the 15-song, formidable electric set. Here, they pay homage to Elmore James, Willie Dixon, Freddie King, Willie John while performing seven originals written by various band members. They conclude with Peter’s two most popular originals from his Fleetwood Mac tenure. At times, Pete plays impeccable slide and psychedelic wah wah. The effect is like pairing Derek and The Dominos with the Allman Brothers. Throughout, Watson and Green exchange solos with each other regularly. One of the most bluesy tracks is "Need Your Love So Bad," while "Dangerous Man" is a cruising tune that should be blasted from the highest radio towers in the land. "Real World" features one of those catchy riffs you can’t forget. The boys even get romantically passionate on the heart-wrenching "Man Of The World." "Green Manalishi" transcends as it is performed as haunting as it was in the '60s. Before playing it, Green addresses the crowd for the only time. Special features abound on the 147-minute DVD, like the group’s eight CD discography and an 11-minute European tour film. During this behind-the-scenes reality movie, you get the feeling life with Green is more hilarious than the Osbournes. In an included interview (shot both in split screen and widescreen), Nigel does most of the talking while Green just veg-es. When Peter does speak he comes across rather fried. In the black and white "Real World" promotional video, he only plays a handful of notes though he holds his guitar throughout the tune. Green’s harp skills surpass his vocals, so more harmonica playing would be welcomed. His overall energy level and enthusiasm are lacking, yet this lovable huggy bear (at times) returns to his masterful guitar playing from the past. Nigel’s fantastically smooth and soulful guitar playing, along with Roger’s keyboard heroics, steal the show on more than one occasion. Thanks primarily to the help of his amazing support band, including Watson's ongoing determination, Peter Green is back but not in the same brilliance as his past. For DVDs and CDs, contact: Eagle Rock Entertainment Inc., 3110 American Drive, Mississauga, Ontario L4V 1T2, phone 905-364-3248, www.eagle-rock.com or www.eaglevisionusa.com, artist website: www.petergreen-splintergroup.co.uk,
Somewhere along his 35-year career, singer/songwriter/guitarist Walter Trout was labeled a "blues-rocker.’ Most likely this moniker came from his time spent with blues-rocking pioneer, John Mayall. Regardless, Trout is more accurately described as an all-out, no holds barred rock and roller. His new 73-minute seismic-shifting CD, Relentless (Ruf Records), is a fine example. The New Jersey native is not a newcomer to live recordings. However, since none of his previous live releases captured the essence of his concert experience, label-meister Thomas Ruf thought recording Trout doing a series of new tunes in front of a live studio audience would do the trick. Amsterdam’s Paradiso was selected to house the May 14, 2003 event and Jim Gaines was brought in to once again produce. Only James Trapp (bass) returns as one of Trout’s fundamentals. The newcomers are Sammy Avila (B-3 organ/backing vocals) and Joey Pafumi (drums). Throughout, Walter Trout unleashes scratchy vocals and scathing guitar which will appeal to 15 year old metal-heads and Woodstock baby-boomers alike. As example, listen to "I’m Tired". "Mercy" is a road-racin’ rocker. It’s caring lyrics add sharp contrast to its bone-crushing melody and rampage of incinerating guitar notes fired out by Trout. He must have been listening to old records by The Cult when he penned "Helpin’ Hand." Here Sammy’s organ is cranking. Too bad Walter doesn’t give this fella more solo time. "The Life I Chose" is autobiographical, were you’ll find Trout at peace with his career choice thanks to his supportive family. His mellow side emits via a few select tracks. "Cry If You Want To" is hard and heavy while being soft and light at the same time. Here, the vocal harmonies are reminiscent of Dave Mason. "Jericho Road" is as close to pop as this Southern California resident gets. The attractive rhythm, eloquent vocal harmonies and flashy guitar contains all the essentials for US FM airplay. It's performed unplugged but features the entire band. A completely stripped down Trout emerges on "Lonely Tonight" with only an acoustic guitar accompanying him on this ballad. Trout’s constant blistering guitar fills become relentlessly tiring and none of the 14 original tunes will receive a blues song of the year nomination. If you can get past that, this uniquely recorded album’s positive traits are: sensational energy, thundering production, frenetic guitar work and smoldering organ work. Those who were raised on rock before converting to the blues will love the reckless, wild abandon and the youthful, in-your-face energy. Others adamantly will not. For more information contact: Ruf America, 162 North 8th Street, Kenilworth, NJ 07033 USA, Phone: (908) 653-9700, Label website: www.rufrecords.de, Artist website: www.waltertrout.com.
--- Tim Holek
Skip James’ name and face are infinitely more familiar than a couple of months ago, thanks being featured on one of the episodes of the recent PBS miniseries on the Blues, so much so that a glance at the Blues CD section of Amazon will reveal at least one Skip James CD in their top five sellers ever since the miniseries ran. While there are several good CDs of James’ music, the best comes from either the Yazoo release of his 1931 recordings or either of the Vanguard sets (or the late '90s compilation) released in the mid '60s after his “rediscovery.” Vanguard recently released a set of tracks taken from a 1967 session, Rare and Unissued, which show a different side of James. Where the two Vanguard releases issued during James’ lifetime feature mostly his own compositions, on Rare and Unissued he tackles several songs that he never recorded anywhere else, such as James Johnson’s “Backwater Blues,” Brownie McGhee’s “Sporting Life Blues,” and several gospel numbers such as “Oh, Mary Don’t You Weep,” “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning,” and “Let My Jesus Lead You.” There’s even a cover of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Lazy Bones.” Most of these songs are well done, but they are not as compelling for the most part as the material previously released, and there are more songs featuring James’ piano, which can best be described as unique, than his guitar, which is nothing short of exquisite. His voice remains as haunting and distinctive as ever. There was truly only one Skip James. In short, if you’re a new arrival to the world of Skip James, pick up the Yazoo set and the other Vanguard discs first to experience what everyone is talking about, and then complete your collection with this one.
A couple of months ago, I reviewed a new CD by William Lee Ellis called Conqueroo that may be one of the best discs I’ve heard this year. In 1999, Ellis released another disc that garnered a lot of attention called The Full Catastrophe on Bellweather Records. Yellow Dog Records, which also just released Ellis’ recent masterpiece, is making The Full Catastrophe available to those who missed it the first time around. Lucky us. Once again, we are treated to a wonderful combination of blues, ragtime, folk, and gospel from the gifted fingers of Mr. Ellis. He is as fine a picker as you may hear these days, as can be heard on two beautiful instrumentals, “Darkness as the Noonday” and “Heaven.” In addition, he wrote all but one of the songs featured here. Ellis seems to be most comfortable with the gospel tracks, such as “John Ate the Locust and the Honey,” although his blues and ragtime songs blend perfectly with similar songs written 50 years ago. The 12 songs on the original release are augmented by four bonus tracks, each as potent as the songs that made the original cut first time around. If you enjoyed Conqueroo, be sure to head on over to the Yellow Dog website (www.yellowdogrecords.com) and pick up a copy of its predecessor.
At first glance, Mike Lowry may appear to be another one of these young blues guitarist that always seems to get their songs played on radio stations where their influences’ songs are nowhere to be heard. But one listen to his new CD, The Mike Lowry Band (MLB Records), will convince you that there’s more to this young man than you might expect. The 22-year-old Georgia resident actually looks younger, but watch out! He possesses some impressive guitar chops, has a strong, soulful, and unforced vocal style, and a composer’s gift for catchy hooks and riffs. Though he’s rooted in the blues, he shows pop and rock influences in his songwriting and even in his song arrangements (he also produced the disc). His band includes former Wet Willie bassman Jack Hall and drummer Larry Duff, who had played with stars such as Sting, Quincy Jones, and Curtis Mayfield and they provide strong backing to Lowry, along with a host of other supporting musicians. At times, the band’s sound will remind you of the Southern Rock bands of the '70s (such as Wet Willie) and Lowry’s guitar prowess will amaze you with its tastefulness and depth. This is one Young Gun who deserves to be heard. To purchase this impressive debut disc, go to www.mikelowryband.com for ordering information.
Singer/songwriter Robin Bank$ has done pretty well since moving from Detroit to Dallas in the late '90s. A sultry singer who is comfortable with several different styles of blues, Bank$ is also a great songwriter, penning all of the tunes on her 2001 release, Honestly (RB Records). It’s a great mix of styles with some great musicians supporting her, such as guitarists Hash Brown, Pat Boyack, and Holland K. Smith, along with the legendary Sam Myers providing some tasty harp on selected tracks. JSP recording star Randy McAllister also contributes vocals on a couple of tracks. For her part, Bank$ does an excellent job. Her style, while lively, is also classy and understated, which is a rarity these days when most singers try to do too much. Standout tracks include the opening shuffle, “Don’t Ya Love Me Like That?,” “I Need A Lovin’ Man,” the acoustic “None ‘A Nothin’” with some sweet guitar from Brown and harp from Myers, the soulful “Hold On To My Baby Tonight,” and “Evil Things,” which features some sizzling guitar from Boyack. This is a wonderful set of blues by a talented singer and songwriter that we should be hearing more about. You can pick up this CD at www.cdstreet.com.
While you’re there, check out Robin Bank$’ newest release, Robin Bank$ Live….After Dark (also on RB Records), which features Brown on guitar and Christian Dozzler on piano, along with the same rhythm section as Honestly (bassist Drew Allain and drummer Marc Wilson). Live is a mixture of originals and some great covers, including Robert Lockwood Jr.’s “My Daily Wish,” Jimmy Roger’s “Walkin’ By Myself,” and Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort.” Bank$ gives a wonderful performance and makes you want to catch her act in person. Her sultry style provides a perfect setting for these songs and she really gets to stretch out on this live disc. The band is rock-solid, providing stellar backing for Bank$. Robin Bank$ has a lot going for her and these two exciting discs are a perfect place for blues fans to experience her gifts.
--- Graham Clarke
We tend to forget, having been born and raised in the age of rock records, with their boundless inventiveness in studio recording techniques, that blues as a musical form depends first and foremost on the live performances of its artists. And if you’re talking about artists who can shine on the stage, with fireworks and boundless energy, at one point or another you’ll talk about Warren Haynes, lead guitarist of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule (and also with the on-and-off assemblage of old Grateful Dead musicians known as Phil Lesh and friends). I’d like to tell you a lot about Christmas Jam 2000, a record I received an advance promo (and I only got Disc one of the two-CD set!), with no sleeve nor info, and with the help of Internet traders I can to some extent – but I can’t guarantee that you can actually find it in the stores, nor even on the internet. But just in case you do, let me explain that Haynes has been staging benefit concerts around Christmas time in his hometown of Asheville, NC, and that, with the years, these jams have attracted bigger and bigger stars. The disc I got, recorded in December 21, 2000, features The Chris Duarte Band for two tracks, The Bottle Rockets for two more, psychedelic pioneers Aquarium Rescue Unit playing together for the first time in five years, as well as Haynes opening things with two solo tracks, and ending them with two Gov’t Mule showcases (with Widespread Panic’s Dave Schools filling in on bass in place of the then-recently deceased Allen Woody), the second of which as a backing band for Jon Popper, performing Blues Traveler’s “Mountains Win Again.” Great musicianship, groovy rhythms and amazing solos throughout (closer to the jam band philosophy than to the blues style, but who’s complaining?), this is live music at its best, music to sweep you off your feet and make you take off for the stratosphere. Now, if I could only be sure the thing is commercially available, you’d feel much better, I’m sure.
If you want to make sure to find a piece of Warren Haynes’ playing at your local store (after all, the guy has been voted the 23rd best guitar player of all times by Rolling Stone magazine), you can try the very official two-DVD set Live at the Beacon Theatre (Sanctuary) from The Allman Brothers Band, filmed and recorded on March 25 & 26, 2003. Of course, with this storied group of players, Haynes is far from the only star attraction: he sings on only four tracks, as Gregg Allman is in fine voice throughout (though he¹s not exactly impressive on his ballad "Melissa," but one is allowed one weak moment once in a while, I guess), and co-lead guitarist Derek Trucks is absolutely amazing throughout. The live portion of the set, totaling close to three hours (all of Disk One, with the encore, "One Way Out," on Disc Two), offers plenty of captivating moments, with many songs from their latest, Hittin' the Note, the ABB is in smoking fine form throughout. Highlights include the instrumental "Instrumental Illness," the neat segue of "Rockin¹ Horse" and "Desdemona," and the closing "Whippin' Post," with all players on top of their game. As bonus features, Disc Two offers a 75-minute interview, with answers from all band members interspersed so as to give a certain narrative feel to the documentary. Hardcore fans probably won¹t learn all that much, but still, it¹s nice to see the enthusiasm of drummer Butch Trucks as he recalls the beginnings of the band. There is also a nice acoustic duo of Warren Haynes and Derek Trucks, both on slide guitar, performing "Old Friend" backstage; it is probably the straightest, most beautiful blues of the whole set, showing that this band, even if it is associated with southern rock and the jam band scene, has its blues roots firmly in place. The rest of the bonus features (a photo gallery, a written biography that is almost undecipherable, due to the weird font used) is far from essential; but, with performance and interviews closing in on the four-hours-and-a-half mark, all of an excellent quality, this is one of the most satisfying concert DVD
While we’re on the subject of live shows on DVD, you might want to check out An Evening with Peter Green Splinter Group in Concert (Eagle Vision), marketed as the first ever live DVD from the ex-Fleetwood Mac guitarist. Peter Green still has legions of rabid fans that swear that he is the best guitarist ever, and this DVD is for them. When you consider things from a (critical) distance, though, you can’t help but wonder: is his current group, professional and efficient in a workmanlike way, worth a two-hour live recording (plus useless perks marketed as bonus features, which we’ll come back to in a moment)? The first, acoustic set, is 30-minutes long, with four Robert Johnson covers; at least it opens with a rare Black Ace song, “Hitchhiking Woman,” and ends with a nice rendition of “Albatross.” The longer (90-minute) electric set has more original material, although the best moments come with the old Fleetwood Mac stuff, especially the instrumental version of “Man of the World” (when Green attains pure grace and beauty in the ending notes) and the one-two punch of “The Green Manalishi” and “Black Magic Woman.” Visually, the group is pretty static, and you wouldn’t miss much if you closed your eyes. The energy level is average, the song intros (by talkative and witty keyboardist Roger Cotton) are too long, so that whatever momentum the band has going for it drops after each song, and most numbers stay very close to the studio version. And what about the “bonus features”? An ordinary (and poorly lip-synched) video of “Real World” – which is already on the enhanced-CD single, if you can manage to find a copy – some 10 minutes of the band goofing up on the tour bus, and an uninformative 10-minute interview of co-leaders Peter Green and Nigel Watson, with Green typically mumbling inaudibly. You probably won’t come back to this DVD very often.
John Lee Hooker passed away two years ago, but apparently he has not finished providing us with “new” recordings. Well, kind of. Face to Face (Eagle Records), if I’m to believe my ears, is a collection of unfinished tracks, trial runs and general odds & ends from 1987-1995, when Hooker worked with guitarist-producer Roy Rogers, plus three mid-'90s tracks that might have been completed after Hooker died and that find him collaborating with his daughter Zakiya and bassist-producer Ollan Christopher. (Note: As was the case with a recent live release by Johnny Cash on the same Eagle Records, no info at all is given as to when the tracks were recorded; here, I’m using the Hooker discography that was published in the French magazine Soul Bag (special issue, 2001) to make educated guesses, based on musicians and producers listed in the liner notes, as to when approximately the tracks were cut.) There are some dismally low points here: The Van Morrison duet on “Dimples” sounds unreleased and was probably a quick run-through awaiting re-recorded vocal tracks that never came; the strings- and saxophone-backed “Six-Page Letter” sounds like an experiment that should have been kept secret; two of the George Thorogood features, the acoustic “Wednesday Evening Blues” and especially a very brief “Boogie Chillen”, are plainly unfinished. Other tracks are better: “Mad Man Blues”, another of those Thorogood collaborations, is ragged but about right; the Zakiya Hooker duets, especially the first one, “Mean Mean World”, drenched in echo, recall some of the Otis Taylor songs that feature the voice of his daughter, Cassie; Warren Haynes (him again!) takes a great slide solo on “Up and Down” (with Johnny Johnson on piano), though in the process the song becomes more his own than Hooker’s; Jack Casady’s bass is grumbling, menacing and formidable on the three cuts where he’s featured. And “Funky Mabel”, although it’s a tad too short, is really, well, funky. All in all, this is a completists- and absolute Hooker fans-only release, incredibly uneven, that emits the sound of people scraping the bottom of the barrel (www.eaglerockent.com).
Blues stars are all dying, you say? Well, some new ones are popping up too. Witness one Jimmy Bowskill, Canadian multi-instrumentalist and singer-songwriter, aged 12, whose voice has not yet broken, and who just released independently his first (well, I think it’s his first, given his age) CD, Old Soul. Contrary to other young blues stars, à la Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Jonny Lang, Bowskill is not emulating the post-Hendrix guitar gods of electric blues, preferring an older, subtly amplified and cleanly played guitar. (His duet with Donnie Walsh on the Sonny and Brownie number “Livin’ the Blues” shows that he’s a skilled rhythm guitarist too, not simply a soloist. A good thing, that.). Of course, it’s a little odd to hear this child singing Snooky Pryor’s “Work ‘Til My Days Are Gone” or Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind” (to say nothing of “Stones in My Passway,” done solo), but the kid has a way with a growled yell, so much so that you want to believe him. Lighter, banjo-based novelty number, like the original “Weekend Fish Fry,” and jump blues copies like “Schoolhouse,” show the kid having a ball; besides, the musicians helping him out are all excellent, including Michael Fonfara on piano, producer Alec Fraser on bass, Jeff Healey guesting (on trumpet) on the opening cover of Louis Jordan’s “Life’s so Peculiar,” and a slew of harmonica players, providing the best conditions for this young performer to shine. The stand-out track is probably Otis Spann’s “Blues Don’t Like Nobody,” with Bowskill singing to the sole accompaniment of Fonfara’s piano. But in the end, this CD is more of a curiosity than a mind-blower. Get more info at www.jimmybowskill.com.
Also independently releasing a CD is the Ottawa husband-and-wife team behind the moniker Red Wood Central. Behind the Times is the duo’s second release, following 1999’s self-titled release. Its 14 tracks (all originals) contain a slightly larger amount of non-blues content than the previous record; with Michelle “Red” April's angelic voice (think Joni Mitchell) and Al Wood’s guitar stylings, equally at ease when evoking Spanish flamenco or Django-style swing as he is playing the blues, one could say that Red Wood Central makes acoustic music that fits somewhere at the confluence of folk, jazz and urbane blues. One of the best songs is the pure blues “Drunk Again,” sung by Wood, which features his sturdy harmonica playing in addition to the couple’s usual meshing of delicate guitar lines. The comparison of love-torn couples with various natural catastrophes in “This Can’t Be Love” is also a good example of the slightly left-of-center writing to be found on this disk. Acoustic music fans should definitely check this out. Get more info at www.redwoodcentral.com.
I have almost as little info to offer you about Grandpaboy’s new release, Dead Man Shake (Fat Possum), as I did about the Warren Haynes release above. What you need to know, apparently, is this: Grandpaboy is the alter ego of ex-Replacements leader Paul Westerberg, and Dead Man Shake is a drunken, echo- and fuzz-laden '50s style rockin’ blues record, with a few classic country covers thrown in. Though the whole thing is more of an afterthought, a fun project, for Westerberg, and the songs are good but not exceptional, you can’t help but like this release for one reason, and one reason only: its glorious sound. The thing sounds EXACTLY like those poorly recorded, over-amplified (given the era’s amps' quality) and distorted singles that appeared at the end of the '50s and beginning of the '60s on tiny labels on both sides of the Atlantic, which would eventually be collected and named “garage-rock” on such compilations as the Nuggets box set. Think Jimmy Reed, as emulated by drunken 19-year-old imitators with absolutely no “artistic” goal except to play the music they love for the girls they want to take to bed, and you get the idea. Of course, Westerberg is a consummate professional, and this is only a pastiche; but when pastiches are so well done, I’m buying. (www.fatpossum.com)
When Montreal-based trio Beau Kavanagh & The Broken Hearted released their first, self-released album two years ago, they were aiming for a cross between the blues and the Straycats-type of back alley rockabilly. Their second release, Good Day for Dyin’ (on Justin Time, like the previous one), drops the rockabilly pretensions for… for what exactly, the band seems unsure of. There’s a bit of garage-sounding fuzzed-out tracks (but the vocals sound way too studio polished on those), some West coast-type blues with jazzy cymbal-riding drumming on “Bad Car”, a surf-styled instrumental (“Latin Jam”) and quite a bit of post-Hendrix blues-rock solos (the two covers are credited to Hendrix, though the second, “Catfish,” is well-known in blues since at least the 1930s). The band has to be credited for its original lyrics, interesting riffs and for avoiding standard AAB shuffle patterns; you can’t help but wonder, though, if it has really found its sound at this point in their career. In the mean time, the horny “When I Come Home” and the aforementioned “Bad Car” are excellent tracks that satisfy repeated listening. (www.justin-time.com)
After eight albums, all on Montreal’s Justin Time Records, starting with 1991’s The Blues is… Bryan Lee & The Jump Street Five, New Orleans-based guitarist Bryan Lee finally has a “Greatest Hits” package, titled, no points for originality here, Greatest Hits. This 13-track compilation chooses pretty evenly among the previous eight CDs; the two Live at the Absinthe CDs are represented by one track each, and so is 1995’s Heat Seeking Missile, which gives us its funky title track, while Lee’s five other albums are sampled for two tracks apiece. As journalist and musician Dean Cottrill writes in the liner notes, the whole thing sounds of one piece; the track selection, not chronological, moves back and forth in time, yet the album can be listened to as is, as it approximates a typical Bryan Lee live set. A great introduction to a generally underestimated guitarist. (www.justin-time.com)
While we’re on the subject of “Greatest Hits” packages, please note that Capitol has just put out The Best of Bonnie Raitt, a survey of Bonnie Raitt’s output on the label, covering the 1989-2003 period. Again, nothing but previously released album tracks (although, due to time constraints, the compilers chose to use shorter radio edits in four instances). There is only one track from the two-CD live Road Tested release, an excellent rendition of Chris Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man”; every other album that Ms. Raitt released during the period under consideration is represented by three or four tracks, making for a very accurate picture of the latter-day Bonnie Raitt sound. Not a lot of blues to be heard here, but when Raitt pulls out the slide guitar, she can still get under my skin. (www.capitolrecords.com)
And finally, for a bit of that traditional quartet sound, give a listen to The Persuasions’ new collection of all-time favorites, A Cappella Dreams (Chesky Records). The Jerry Lawson-led a cappella group (a quintet, actually) tackles a few Elvis numbers (“In the Ghetto,” “Don’t,” “Good Luck Charm”), a few soul nuggets (Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Otis Redding’s “Dock of the Bay”), some traditional numbers (“Peace in the Valley,” When the Saints Go Marching In”), etc. It makes for a pleasant, nostalgia-filled listen, though the light material means that you’ll think you’re in Las Vegas before a Presley gig, listening to the Jordanaires doing a quick run-through of some hits. Still, it makes you wonder why no one takes such care in planning the vocal harmonies on today’s pop records. Such inventiveness and efficiency! (www.chesky.com or www.JerryLawson.biz)
--- Benoît Brière
Any new Peter Green album is welcome, and Reaching The Cold 100 (Eagle Records) has been well worth waiting for. The last few albums have mainly been tributes to the music of Robert Johnson, but this is full of originals written by members of the band (the Splinter Group). The CD is packaged with a free EP-CD containing four bonus tracks, three of which are old Peter Green classics. The main CD opens with some haunting harmonica over a simple bass line, before Peter Green launches into the vocals on "Ain't Nothing Gonna Change It." Although this was written by keyboard player Roger Cotton, it sounds like a Peter Green biography. This superb tracks sets the scene for what you just know is going to be a fine album. Only two members of the band are absent from the song writing credits --- drummer Larry Tolfree and (strangely) Peter Green himself --- but the band members involved in the writing have all done an excellent job. Guitarist Nigel Watson (the man, along with his wife, credited with rescuing Peter Green from the obscurity into which he had immersed himself) takes credit for six of the 13 tracks, the other seven being shared between keyboards player Roger Cotton and bass player Peter Stroud. There's a mix of ballads and blues, biased slightly towards the ballads, but on everything there's the magic of Peter Green's guitar (and his not too shabby harmonica playing on some of the tracks). If you ever had doubts that Peter Green could play as well as he used to, just listen to track eight, "Can You Tell Me Why - Legal Fee Blues," and the man playing spine-tingling slide guitar. Peter Green might not have the best singing voice in the world, but it's full of emotion and pain, and his guitar playing more than makes up for it anyway. Track 11, " Smile," by Nigel Watson, is the sort of track that you have to keep going back to. There's dual vocals here by Peter Green and Nigel, and probably the best backing on the album. The keyboard work of Roger Cotton really does the business here, and it makes you realize just what a good bunch of musicians these guys are. Trying to pick a favourite track is difficult, and I've got to pick two as equals --- track one,"Ain't Nothing Gonna Change It" and track eight, "Can You Tell Me Why - Legal Fee Blues" --- although the up-tempo track two, "Look Out For Yourself," comes up very close. Listening to the EP-CD takes you on a journey back through time to when Peter Green was at his absolute peak --- remakes of "Black Magic Woman," Green Manalishi" and "Albatross" are teamed up with the Otis Rush track. "It Takes Time" given a slight Dr.Feelgood treatment. Personally, I'd buy the CD just to get the EP --- it's just that good!!
--- Terry Clear
Call Me Miss Wanda (Erwin Music) is a fine example of Low Country Blues from Wanda Johnson. Shrimp City Slim's band backs the gospel/blues-style chanteuse on a dozen tunes, six by Ms. Jackson and six by Shrimp City Slim. Cut live in a day, it's a "warts and all" release. One hears a tremendous leap in confidence from Ms. Johnson when she goes from "Can You Handle This," a straight ahead, mildly raunchy SCS number, to "The River," penned by Ms. Johnson and delivered by the band as a gospel/country hybrid. This is an honest, human record, yet at the same time, a real showcase for everyone involved. One really wants to see Ms. Johnson and the band after hearing each of these cuts, pat them on the back and say, "Wow, great job!" She hasn't quite talked herself into being larger than life, and one needs to be larger than life to be convincing as a blues singer, with larger problems, larger vices and larger powers to get by in spite of them than the people in the audience. She's got the voice; she's done the homework. When she pleads, you hear her pleading. She's good and she'll get better.
--- Arthur Shuey
The standout track on the Radiotones'
Bound to Ride (Buzz Records) is the same as the previous album, Whiskey'd Up.
That is, the rousing, pub rock anthem "Close to the Edge." The Scottish
ensemble continues to offer a swinging, tough blues sound that this time
is electric. This adds substance to the music that matches the gravel
voice of Dave Arcari. There is nothing that strikes one as European about
anything from this group. Radiotones has so incorporated a working-class,
electric blues bar band sound matched with real skill and style that the
group becomes representative of what it names in the album's final track,
"Hard Muscle Jazz."
--- Tom Schulte
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