Just in time for the holidays Rounder Records has released four CDs in their Rounder Heritage series, featuring compilations of essential artists who previously recorded for either Rounder or their subsidiary Bullseye label. My favorite of this quartet of discs is the stunningly beautiful collection of late night, jazzy soulful blues from Johnny Adams, absolutely one of the finest singers I've ever had the pleasure of hearing. There Is Always One More Time is a fitting tribute to the 1990s portion of Adams' career prior to the New Orleans singer's untimely death in 1998. If you're not familiar with the beautiful rich full voice of Johnny Adams, then you definitely need to pick up this collection. The title cut is a powerful gospel-infused slow number, with excellent piano from Dr. John; this tune was used on the soundtrack of the Steve Martin/Eddie Murphy movie "Bowfinger" (if you've never seen this flick, it's a great guilty pleasure). Adams does a couple real nice re-workings of soul chestnuts "I Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody's Home" and "Body and Fender Man." His more soulful side also comes out with some powerful vocals on the ballad "Even Now." For more of a quiet jazz mood, then flip on the old standard "I'll Only Miss Her When I Think of Her," with New Orleans vet Red Tyler on tenor sax. A little funkier sound comes out on "Walking On A Tightrope," the title song from Adams' album paying tribute to Percy Mayfield. Finally, the closing number, "Never Alone," an a capella duet with Aaron Neville, is breathtaking. An essential purchase!
From the same town, New Orleans, comes another fantastic collection, this one from pianist Champion Jack Dupree. Aptly titled A Portrait of Champion Jack Dupree (Rounder), this CD contains 14 cuts drawn from his three Bullseye Blues albums recorded on his occasional visits to New Orleans from his adopted home in Europe. The album opens with "Freedom" is a slow, spoken-word tribute to Dr. Martin Luther King and his quest for freedom. But then it's time to stop being serious, and have some fun! Being away from New Orleans all those years didn't affect Dupree's style at all, as you can hear on the Professor Longhair-sounding, nonsensical tune "Skit Skat," with good scat singing from Dupree. Another fun tune is the horn-driven "When I'm Drinkin'." Dupree's piano playing is especially good in the version of the classic party stomper "Drinkin' Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee." A nice slow, sentimental tune is "Give Me the Flowers While I'm Livin'," with emotional singing from Dupree. While there are dozens of Jack Dupree CDs on the market today, this one should still rank high on your "buy" list.
Moving across the state to the Bayou region we come across another fine collection, this one from old time Zydeco master Boozoo Chavis. Johnnie Billy Goat (Rounder) is back country Zydeco at its best. Unlike many contemporary Zydeco artists, Chavis doesn't incorporate too many outside influences into his music. This is pure Louisiana. The album kicks off with an old favorite of mine, the raucous dancehall number "Dance All Night." There's a great live version of Chavis' classic number "Paper in My Shoe." If you're really a Cajun purist, then don't miss the fine "Grand Mary's Two Step," with red hot accordion from Chavis. A song which had me smiling from start to finish was the unique "Lula Lula Don't You Go To Bingo." Usually the man is pleading with the woman to not leave him, or to give up drinking, etc. But asking her to stay home from her bingo game! That might be a little much! There's nothing as much fun as a rollicking good Zydeco album, and this one certainly fits the bill.
One final Rounder / Bullseye reissue comes from the longtime New England-based swing, jump band Roomful of Blues. The Blues'll Make You Happy, Too! contains selections from their various Rounder discs, with a heavier emphasis on the later years, when either soulful, gravelly-voiced singer Mac Odom or the crooning Sugar Ray Norcia fronted the band. Unlike many anthologies, the 14 cuts are arranged in reverse chronological order. Roomful's sound and style hasn't changed that much over the years, as they were playing swing blues before it was cool to do so. The band's horn section is revered by brass lovers, and several of the current players have been with the band almost from the start. Roomful of Blues' sound has always been characterized with hot Texas-style guitar players, and you get to hear both Ronnie Earl and Chris Vachon. (Duke Robillard was out of the band by the time Roomful hooked on with one of the Rounder labels, but his influence in the band's sound still remains). The cut that makes this CD an essential purchase is a previously-unreleased live version of "Shake Rattle and Roll," recorded in 1982 at Lupo's Heartbreak Hotel in Providence with the legendary singer Big Joe Turner. The original blues shouter died just a few years after this session, but his booming voice sounded as strong as ever here. Another smoker is the jumpin' Texas number "Loan A Helping Hand," with vocals from Greg Piccolo and hot guitar from Earl. One of the better later cuts is the soulful album-opener, "Poverty," a 1998 unreleased song; the horn section here really cooks, and Odom's voice takes the listener into the back country. While not the place to start for new fans of Roomful of Blues (I always recommend the classic First Album to newbies), this disc still serves as a nice introduction to the band's sound, and the unreleased cuts will also make it an essential purchase for longtime fans.
Here it is December already, and the only Christmas CD to come my way so far is Stony Plain's Christmas Blues, featuring artists from various albums released on the Canadian label Stony Plain. While not in the top class of holiday releases, this uneven release still has some pleasant music. The disc opens with a stunning jazzy guitar instrumental from Duke Robillard, "Duke's Christmas," which features a medley of familiar Christmas riffs. While I've always enjoyed Robillard's guitar playing over the years, seldom have I heard it better than on this little improvisational number. Another hot number comes from the retro western swing group Asleep At The Wheel, backed on "Switchin' in the Kitchen" by the Roomful of Blues horns. Chris O'Connell handles the vocals on this swingin' tune, while veteran trombonist Porky Cohen is the star of the red hot horn section. If you're craving a new slow blues this season, then be sure to check out Sonny Rhodes' "Christmas 9-1-1," featuring nice lap steel guitar from Rhodes. Even better in that genre is Jimmy Witherspoon's "Christmas Blues," highlighted by Bruce Katz's B-3 work and Robillard's usual tasty guitar picking. There are a lot better blues Christmas CDs to play at your holiday parties this year, but Stony Plain's Christmas Blues has at least a few cuts worthy of putting on a party tape.
A surprising independent CD comes our way from South Carolina ensemble Elliott and the Untouchables. The CD Both Ends Burnin' (Blue Point Records) shows a basic blues band with all players being skilled instrumentalists, especially harmonica player Mike Nazarenko. Elliott New capably handles the guitar chores and most of the vocals, and he's solid in both areas. New is showcased on the opening title cut, a jump-style blues shuffle. Nazarenko gets to strut his stuff on the original "Can't Afford To Keep Her" and the Albert Collins instrumental "Backstroke." The latter is usually a showpiece for guitarists, but it also serves well as a strong harp number. The only downer here is when bassist J.T. Anderson sings on his own "Be Back Home" ... his vocals sound out of tune. Otherwise, this is a nice album. Visit them on the web at www.ElliottAndTheUntouchables.com.
--- Bill Mitchell
Kevin McKendree's Miss Laura's Kitchen on East Folks Records is the debut solo CD from a young, very talented musician who makes his living playing keyboards, but as this CD shows, is no slouch on the electric guitar either. McKendree got his start playing keyboards with some of Washington, DC's best blues talent --- Big Joe Maher and Tom Principato --- but then moved to Nashville to play country-pop-R&B with Lee Roy Parnell for a little over three years (during which he received a Grammy nomination for his boogie-woogie-instrumental "Mama, Screw Your Wig On Tight" on Parnell's Every Night's a Saturday Night CD). In 1997 he got a call to join Delbert McClinton. McKendree now tours about 100 nights a year with McClinton. The rest of the time he fills with session work in Nashville as well as in Chicago, where he's the band leader for the Delmark label's backing groups. All that experience shows in the 12 cuts here (all of which McKendree wrote or co-wrote). They range from straight-ahead blues like "Fine, Sweet Woman," Boogie Shoogie" and "Lucky Man" to soul numbers like "Sanc-T-Flied" and "Cornbread" with its Booker T overtones. There's even a gospel-inspired number, "Reason To Try." No doubt about it, McKendree has cooked up a tasty offering with Miss Laura's Kitchen.
--- Mark K. Miller
Cannonball Record's excellent continuing series of spotlighting different American blues cities turns its focus away from the major hubs this time out and examines a smaller city that is chock full of blues history --- Helena, Arkansas. Sonny Boy (Rice Miller) Williamson, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Jr. Lockwood and Junior Wells are just a few of the legends that have called Helena home among the scores of others that made it their stomping grounds during the golden age of Mississippi Delta blues. That heritage is still alive and well in Helena today with the artists you'll find contained on Blues Across America -The Helena Scene. Starting things off are Frank Frost and Sam Carr (aka The Jelly Roll Kings) with four numbers. Frank and Sam have been staples on the Helena scene since the two were sidemen in Sam's father's band, the legendary Robert Nighthawk. "Better Take It Slow," "Keep Things Right" and "Come Here Baby" are pure Delta shuffle with Frost stretching out on harp and Fred James handling both bass and lead guitars, and, of course, Carr banging out the beat on the drums. Sadly, these four recordings are Frost's last, having passed away last October leaving a huge hole in the music of the Delta that will never be filled. The highly underrated but highly respected harmonica and vocals of John Weston are next with four original works. To single out any one as a highlight is rather difficult, as all four are sensational. But if I had to choose, "She's Too Mean" and "I Couldn't Help But Cry," with their somber stories and sweet guitar licks courtesy of Troy Broussard, would be the standouts. Weston is one of the the best songwriters of the modern era, and proves it with his contributions to this album. Last, but certainly not least, Dave Riley makes his recording debut as a leader after many years as a sideman with an impressive list of artists that include Sam Cooke, Buddy Guy and both Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. Riley's moody guitar work and throaty vocals may make you wonder why this cat hasn't been recorded prior to this collection. Two originals of his four tune set, "Living On Borrowed Time" and "This Thing Called Love," are superb examples of Dave's talents as a songwriter in addition to the razor sharp guitar licks that are distributed generously throughout both numbers. A cover of "Heat Up The Oven" closes things out with Riley tearing things up with a couple of heated solos. This collection was produced by Fred James, who is present on every number on either lead, rhythm or bass guitars as well as piano. Helena may not be Chicago, Detroit or Memphis, but to find a town that has more blues history or talented players might be a bit of a stretch. As has been the case in the past with this series, the artists and selections well represent the locale. You won't find a bad performance among any of the twelve tracks. Hats off to the folks at Cannonball for continuing to bring artists that a lot of folks might not be exposed to otherwise to the forefront. This is a highly enjoyable release. Should be interesting to see where Cannonball's next stop will be on their musical tour of the country.
From a newcomer, who in actuality isn't really such a newcomer, comes an eclectic recording that is sure to satisfy everyone's bluesical palette on some level. More Storms Comin' (Vanguard) is the debut release from immensely talented singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Selby. Originally a native of Oklahoma, Selby has been kicking around Nashville for a few years making his mark writing tunes for both Wynonna and Trisha Yearwood ,and authored the the #1 hit "There's Your Trouble" for The Dixie Chicks. 11 originals (some co-written) make up this tremendous first outing of consistently interesting and fresh material that also boasts a certain amount of cleverness and wit. His familiarity to blues fans may stem from the string of hits he has written for Kenny Wayne Shepherd, with whom he shares writing credits on the album's opening number, a wailing blend of acoustic and electric slide entitled "Don't Throw Your Mojo On Me." The funky drive of "She's Like Mercury" follows with a hard rocking edge to it that is evident on the equally impressive "Smoked" and "You're Gonna Miss My Love." The balladeer in Selby comes out on the mellower numbers "I'm the Lucky One" and the fine acoustic Delta slide of "Down By The Tracks" that highlights Mark's prowess on acoustic guitar. As a singer, Selby's vocals are off the cuff and exude a certain self confidence that is sometimes hard pressed to find in veteran singers let alone a rookie. The best description of his voice would be to say he is a cross between a young John Hiatt and John Mooney, giving you the impression that you are hearing a much seasoned veteran instead of a first time effort. The top notch backing three-piece band of Reese Wynans on the 88s, Chuck Fields on the skins and Denny Dadmum-Bixby plucking the bass line are as tight as you could ask for, along with the backing female vocals of Bekka Bramlett and Crystal Taliefero. Selby is one of those artists that it's hard to single out any one thing that he does better than the rest because he does everything equally well. If this recording is any indication of things to come, then Mark Selby has a very bright future indeed. Well worth your time.
The great state of Texas has a tradition of bestowing great guitar players on the music world, and Houston native Jay Hooks is no exception to the rule. His second album, the self-titled Jay Hooks (Provogue) is blazing electric Texas style guitar slinging at its optimum. The 12 tunes on this album lean more to the rockier side of the blues, but purists will be more than satisfied with the no-nonsense approach to both his vocals and gadget-free guitar work. This cat doesn't believe in boxes or devices, relying instead on his extensive knowledge of his instrument to deliver a blistering power trio sound that explodes with gusto. All but one number is an original work showing Hooks to be a very capable songwriter with room to grow. His lyrics, like his guitar playing, are straight ahead and to the point. "Straight Whiskey" and "Where You Goin'" both contain screeching solos that might evoke a memory or two of Stevie Ray, along with the opening "Look At Little Sister" riff that you will find on "Smothered." There is one lone acoustic number, "When Your Lover Don't Love You," that reveals a tamer side to Jay that is over way too quickly but is quite pleasant all the same. I personally would be interested in hearing more acoustic licks from Hooks. Two instrumental pieces, "Sling Shot" and the closing "Take It To The House," show off Hooks' savvy for rhythmic improvisation that you'll find laced throughout this fine album, but are at the forefront of these two. Jay's influences are Johnny Winter, Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray. Make no mistake, Hooks is not another guitarist in the ever increasing long line of Hendrix and Vaughn clones. Yes, he plays a lot of notes and plays them fast, but he plays them in what is without a doubt his own style. Ben Elliot, whose production credits have included Clapton, Peter Green and Leslie West, is obviously no stranger to producing guitarists and is responsible for the high quality and clarity of the recording you'll find here. Jay Hooks is the type of player that you hear something new and different upon repeated playing of his music. Give this guy a close listen and see for yourself.
--- Steve Hinrichsen
With the passing of Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis now becomes the patriarch of the male soul roster of Malaco Records, with Bobby Bland and Little Milton still reigning as kings of the blues roster. This wonderful new CD, Relaxin' With Tyrone, is exactly what the title implies. It is a collection of mellow late night soul, music to curl up on the sofa in front of a warm fire and RELAX. With excellent production from Leo Graham and Paul Richmond, and impeccable song selection (just give a listen to Ronnie Lovejoy's soon to be a soul standard "It Sure Wasn't Me"), and the mood of this release is established. Even the Sly & The Family Stone chestnut "Family Affair" works well here, with a version that stands proudly alongside the original. The contemporary sound of "Leavin' Me" shows us to where smooth soul has evolved, a song that satisfies and makes you want to hit the repeat button. The closing track is the finest Johnnie Taylor tribute song we have had to date, a very personal message from one friend saying goodbye to another. This track is so moving that when the CD ends you just sit there in silence. I enjoyed this release more than any other Tyrone Davis has recorded for Malaco. If you like the sound of his earlier hits "Can I Change My Mind" and "Turn Back The Hands Of Time," then I'm sure you'll like this release. Four deep bows to Tyrone Davis and the excellent Malaco crew. Highly recommended.
If you've been reading Blues Bytes for the past few months, then you've seen the name Ronnie Lovejoy come up in both the Vernon Garrett review of last month and the Tyrone Davis review this month. Lovejoy is a first class songwriter, and as Still Wasn't Me (Good Time Records) confirms, he is a first class singer, too. He gained tremendous popularity with the soul/blues audience when his 1999 song "Sho Wasn't Me" topped the charts, a soon to be classic already covered by Davis on his new CD. Lovejoy made the cover of the last issue of Juke Blues, and to quote that publication, "Almost overnight he has become a star with accolades such as the new Z.Z. Hill, and the Stevie Wonder of the Blues." This new release starts with the title track, a sort of continuation of the "Sho Wasn't Me" theme. When accused of leaving a motel with his wife's best friend, and being spotted at a distance, his reply is, "...If you didn't come up and touch me, then it 'Sho Wasn't Me'.." The beauty of this new release is that all ten songs were written by Lovejoy and all are quality songs. "What The Blues Is All About" is another great song destined to be covered by others. I could really hear Bobby Bland doing this tune. In fact Lovejoy sounds a lot like a young Bobby Bland. "Evidence" is another cheating song where, besides finding her underwear, he ran up and touched her. Sound familiar? Anyway, after six releases, it is nice to see him getting the recognition he deserves. I would highly recommend this release, or his last one "Nobody's Fault But Mine." An enjoyable release from start to finish. How many can you say that about?
The first time I heard Cadillac Mike Moses perform was when he won first place in The Phoenix Blues Society's "Arizona Blues Showdown" contest, a win which will enable him and his tight band to represent our state in Memphis at the national finals this year. "I bet you listened to a lot of Bobby Bland" was the first remark out of my mouth (after a hearty congratulations, of course). Cadillac Mike confirmed that Bland was one of his favorites and an influence on his music. His excellent new CD, You Ain't Foolin' Me (Blues Merchant), bears witness to that with one listen to "Should I Take The Time," a ballad in the best Bobby Bland tradition. "Foolin' Me" and "Rainin' In The Desert," the latter a slow burner with a fine Dean Murphy guitar solo, are two more standout tracks. My favorite track, though, is the R&B flavored "Tear Drop," a flashback to the golden age of R&B and soul. Be sure to catch his live show and wish him and his band the best in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. To quote the lyrics to his song "Leavin' Memphis," "...I'm leavin' Memphis headin' down to New Orleans..." This time I hope it's with a national win under his belt.
--- Alan Shutro
There's no denying (not even on the band members' part) that the Allman Brothers Band's heyday was during the short 1969-72 period, when they released their first four albums (the first was self-titled, followed by Idlewild South and Eat a Peach, with the double Live at the Fillmore East coming out a mere two weeks before Duane Allman's death in 1971). But ever since the tragic death of its founder, ABB has continued, releasing infrequent but usually very solid albums, even if internal strife led to two extended break-ups. In the 90s, with Warren Haynes proving a valuable feud/accomplice to Dickey Betts, the band has released three critically well-received studio albums, the latest being Where it All Begins in 1994. They also showed they could still be a force to reckon with as a live unit, with live sets showcasing their 1992 and 1994 tours. So why a third live album in the last 8 years? Essentially, Peakin' at the Beacon (Epic/550 Music) is a publicity vehicle for their new guitarist, Derek Trucks (Haynes has left to form Gov't Mule). Otherwise, how do you explain the choice of material on this set? With eight of the ten tracks taken from the first three studio albums, and a ninth, "High Falls" (in a great 27-minute version) coming from their 1975 Win, Lose or Draw effort, this means that there is only one song to account for the group's last 25 years! Can you spell "Oldies Act?" Fans of the band will no doubt want to check this CD out, but it won't supplant any of their previous live albums. Sadly, this could be the Allman Brothers Band's last hurrah. Shortly after the March 2000 shows from which this CD is culled, Dickey Betts announced he was going on hiatus, while Derek Trucks is also a member of the highly touted Derek Trucks Band. But let's wait before pronouncing this band dead ... it has a remarkable history of resilience in the face of adversity.
Versatile singer Maria Muldaur can sing pop and jazz, but she considers herself
primarily a blues singer. The 90s have certainly seen her devote most of her efforts to the blues. In particular, she has recorded three CDs for Telarc, at the slick and smooth junction of jazz and blues: 1996's
Fanning The Flames, 1998's Southland of the Heart and 1999's
Meet Me Where They Play the Blues (the second of which was covered in the
March 1998 issue of Blues Bytes). The latest title in her discography,
Music For Lovers (Telarc) is a compilation of tracks from these
three albums, not necessarily a "Best Of," but rather a selection of love songs from those disks. Featuring pros like Hutch Hutchinson, Tony Braunagel, Steve Potts and Danny Caron, with Charles Brown
dueting on the classic "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good to You," it provides a good overview of Maria Muldaur's recent work. Longtime fans will be disappointed to learn that there are no previously-unreleased tracks, which means that this CD is entirely redundant if you own Muldaur's previous three efforts. But those wishing to make first contact should start here.
While we're on the subject of Quebec blues, let me mention Noël en blues (Promot'Elle/Caliades), one of those Various Artists projects that pop up around Christmas. What is it? Eleven standard Christmas songs (sacred and secular) sung by blues artists from the Montreal
area, your chance to get familiar with their names, if not their sound.
There was almost no effort done to arrange these songs in a "bluesy" way. Nine of the 11 songs are sung in French, but that shouldn't stop
you. You should easily recognize their English equivalents.
--- Benoît Brière
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Revised: December 9, 2000 - Version 1.01
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