Blues Bytes

December 1996

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I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again --- Charles Brown is a national treasure! That’s why it’s nice to see him still releasing wonderful CDs such as Honey Dripper (Verve). As usual the septuagenarian is backed by his usual band, led by tasteful guitarist Danny Caron. "I Cried Last Night," which Brown also released on an earlier album, has always been one of my favorite Charles Brown tunes, so it’s nice to have another version of it. He also does nice covers of Joe Liggins’ "The Honey Dripper" and Thomas A. Dorsey’s "Precious Lord."

Luther Allison has been one of the blues world’s hottest commodities in the last few years with his two excellent releases on Alligator Records and his live appearances garnering critical acclaim. Where Have You Been? (Ruf Records - Germany) will give you a chance to hear Allison in many different stages of his career, with live recordings from 1976, 1983, 1984 and 1994. Luther has a knack for taking covers, like "Same Thing" and "Sky Is Crying," and giving them such a unique sound that they’re barely recognizable. And his 1994 original "Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is" is quite fine. Catch him in person if you can, but if you can’t then this CD is the next best thing to being there.

Coming to us from New England is a hot band, The Love Dogs, with their debut CD I’m Yo Dog (Tone-Cool). With a killer horn section and vintage ‘30s threads, these guys have got to be a real hoot to see live. Any band that covers Calvin Boze’s classic party stomper "Safronia B." is aw-reet with me!

Beau Jocque has been one of the hottest tickets on the South Louisiana circuit over the last few years, and Gonna Take You Downtown is his fourth album for Rounder Records. Critics complain that Jocque’s sound is rather one-dimensional, and that’s true, but they’re one heck of a party band. It’s full speed ahead when this big guy hits the bandstand. So don’t listen to this disk with a critical ear. Instead, move the furniture out of the way and dance to it.

If you felt that the last couple of Junior Wells disks were just a little overproduced, with far too many rock stars making guest appearances, then be sure to pick up his latest, Come On In This House. Junior goes back to his roots on this one, and the guest artist list is made up of genuine blues players like Corey Harris, Alvin "Youngblood" Hart, Bob Margolin and John Mooney. Nearly all of the songs are Wells originals or covers dating from the ‘30s and ‘40s. Don’t miss the slow blues "So Glad You’re Mind," with exceptional piano by Jon Cleary, Hart’s shimmering dobro on "Million Years Blues," and great slide work by teenager Derek Trucks on "I’m Gonna Move To Kansas City." Welcome back to the true blues, Junior.

East-West Live (Winner), a collection of live recordings by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, is recommended only for completists or anyone who happened to be at one of the three concerts from 1966 and 1967. The disk actually contains three extended versions of Butterfield’s classic jam "East-West." Sound quality is poor, and after a while you’ll probably get tired of hearing the same song over and over.

Something about Tom Ball & Kenny Sultan’s first two albums didn’t grab me, but I really like their latest, Double Vision (Flying Fish). These cats are creative songwriters, especially concerning women. "Perfect Woman" will have you rolling in the aisles - "...she cooks like Betty Crocker, and she drinks like old Dean Martin, well she’s got more gold than Ross Perot, and she’s built like Dolly Parton......and she owns that liquor store..." The perfect woman, indeed!

It probably only seems like it, but haven’t The Nighthawks been around since the days of Robert Johnson? Actually, these blues bad boys from D.C. are celebrating their 25th anniversary this year, and now have a fine new album Pain & Paradise (Big Mo Records). With new guitarist Pete Kanaras joining longtime members Mark Wenner, Pete Ragusa and Jan Zukowski, the ‘Hawks show no signs of slowing down. They’ve never been afraid to break the mold with their arrangements, as evidenced by the version of Little Walter’s "High Temperature." The Nighthawks take the straight Chicago blues and add a doo wop chorus, courtesy of some original members of The Orioles (the singing group, not the baseball team!). And Mark Wenner shows on "I Told You So" that he’s still one of the best harp players around. Here’s wishing this band another successful 25-year run.

One of the Bullseye Blues label’s most prolific recording acts have been The Smokin’ Joe Kubek Band featuring Bnois King. The Dallas band, always a Phoenix club favorite, has now released their fifth album, Got My Mind Back. It’s good basic Texas blues, heavy on Kubek’s guitar and King’s smoky vocals. You better like lots of guitar if you’re going to enjoy this band; they don’t fool around with extras like harmonica, keyboards or horns. And this time around they’ve done all original tunes, the best being the slow blues "Cryin’ By Myself," with soulful, pleading vocals by King.

Johnny Adams has always straddled the lines between blues, soul and jazz, and his latest album, One Foot In The Blues (Rounder) is supposed to show more of the blues side of the New Orleans singer. The material here is still crossing many boundaries, and isn’t as bluesy as one might expect from the album title. But, quite frankly, Adams has such a wonderful voice that he’d sound great even if he was just singing from a zip code directory. The best numbers are the three Percy Mayfield covers, especially "Two Years Of Torture," not surprising since Adams once did a full album of Mayfield songs. I still think that Johnny Adams has a killer CD in him just waiting to come out. The liner notes allude to a possible gospel album --- perhaps that will be the one.

--- Bill Mitchell

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