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December 1997

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B.B. King - Deuces WildIs anyone else tired of blues albums being cluttered with appearances by celebrity guest stars? B.B. King's latest, Deuces Wild (MCA), is just another example of this disturbing trend. Eric Clapton appears on an unemotional, mechanical version of "Rock Me Baby." Mick Hucknall turns in one of the worst performances on "Please Send Me Someone To Love," as his vocals are devoid of any soul. B.B. tries to act interested when he does a rap song with Heavy D, but it just doesn't work. And whoever told country star Marty Stuart he could sing the blues? One of the most embarrassing moments is when Mick Jagger tries to play harmonica on "Paying The Cost To Be The Boss." Mick, don't give up your day job! The album closes with the best cut, a duet with Willie Nelson on "Night Life." But these guys have done this song before, so what's the point? Unfortunately, Deuces Wild stands a good chance of winning a Grammy award next year because of the "stars." What a shame.

Calvin Owens - That's Your Booty (no, that's not Wilfred Brumley in the picture.Showing up his old boss this month is former B.B. King trumpet player Calvin Owens, with a delightful new CD entitled That's Your Booty (Sawdust Alley Records). Owens leads a tight, jazzy orchestra through 14 nice tunes, featuring his great trumpet licks. Owens himself is a competent singer, but the CD really takes off with guest vocal appearances by Otis Clay, Archie Bell and Ruby Wilson. The hottest cut is "The Blues I Have For You," which begins with a tasteful muted trumpet solo from Owens and follows with Clay's soulful singing. Two of the numbers featuring Ms. Wilson's powerful bluesy vocals, "One Of Those Nights" and "On My Feet Again" are both superb. Not to be outdone by the other two guests, Archie Bell leads the band on the uptown blues, "How Long," which he co-wrote with Owens. Now this is a CD deserving of a Grammy nomination!

While not strictly a blues disc, Keepers (Fantasy) is a collection of mostly-unreleased tracks from Merl Saunders & Friends. Keyboardist Saunders made a number of historic recordings in the early 1970s, fusing together blues, bluegrass, funk, rock, soul and R&B. His "friends" on these recordings included music luminaries like Jerry Garcia, Michael Bloomfield, Vassar Clements, David Grisman, Geoff Muldaur, and others. The CD starts off with two good versions of old blues songs, "Mystery Train" and "That's All Right," with Garcia taking the lead on guitar and vocals. Saunders shows his prowess on the B-3 on the great instrumental "I Was Made To Love Her."

Take a good, solid blues band and combine it with an enthusiastic audience, and you usually wind up with a decent live album. Harmonica player Steve Guyger leads an all-star ensemble consisting of pianist Dave Maxwell, guitarist Steve Freund, bassist Steve Gomes and drummer Steve Ramsay through a dozen basic blues tunes on Live At The Dinosaur (Horseplay Music). Sound quality is generally good, although at times the other instrumentals are a little too low in the mix. Guyger plays his best harp on Sonny Boy Williamson I's "Step Back."

Another fun live album comes from the Monterey Bay area of California, featuring Terry Hanck and the Soulrockers on Live & Raw (Live & Raw Records). Hanck is a hot sax player and strong vocalist who spent 10 years in Elvin Bishop's band. An added bonus is the appearance of the excellent guitarist Mike Schermer. The best cut is an extended version of "Slip Away."

Lowell FulsonAll year I've been raving about the wonderful reissues from MCA commemorating the 50th anniversary of Chess Records. The latest gem is a two-CD set of Lowell Fulson's complete Chess recordings, including blues classics like "Reconsider Baby." Fulson's style was drastically different than the majority of the artists in the Chess stable, and his work probably didn't get promoted as well as guys like Muddy, the Wolf, Little Walter, etc. But that doesn't mean that his uptown, urban style was any less integral to the blues sound of the 1950s. Not to be forgotten is the definitive piano work of longtime sideman Lloyd Glenn. The Complete Chess Masters should be part of any basic blues CD collection.

The other reissue from MCA this month is Her Chess Years from Minnie Riperton, best known in the music world for her shrill, high octave warble. Ms. Riperton recorded with the 60s soul groups The Gems and Rotary Connection, and released one side, "Lonely Girl," as a solo performer under the name Andrea Davis. The most appealing song to blues fans will be Rotary Connection's version of "They Call It Stormy Monday," which finds Riperton sharing soulful vocals with Sidney Barnes. Also interesting is an ethereal, 1960s-sounding version of "Respect."

Eddie Kirkland's new CD, Lonely Street (Telarc) gives you more bang for your buck, as it's one of those new "enhanced CDs." That means you can also pop the disc into your PC and watch videos, view pictures, etc. The music alone is pretty decent, although there were a few cuts which I feel didn't sustain the same excitement as the others. "Dixie" is a catchy uptempo tune featuring guest guitarist Tab Benoit. Without a doubt, the best cut is the slow gospel tune "Gates of Heaven," which Kirkland wrote for his mother's funeral.

Scotty Mac and the Rockin' BonnevillesIf you don't mind a little rockabilly mixed in with your blues, then check out ... travelin' (Blue Knight Records), from Scotty Mac and The Rockin' Bonnevilles. Scotty is a fine blues guitarist who spent some time in Commander Cody's band. He's at his best on the opening number, "Cadillac Jack." The band romps through a great version of "Saturday Night Fish Fry;" giving the Louis Jordan jump tune a bit of a 'twang. Ted Hennessey plays good harmonica on the instrumental "Harp Jump."

I've read several good reviews of the new movie Eve's Bayou. But until my kids get older, I'm stuck with taking them to G and PG flicks. Until Eve's Bayou comes out on video, I'll have to be satisfied with listening to the soundtrack CD on MCA. It's a good mixture of jazz, blues, soul and zydeco, with both new songs written for the movie and some great oldies. Erykah Badu sings a slow, jazzy blues on the opening cut, "A Child With The Blues," sounding a bit like Billie Holiday. Another good original is Jimmy Radcliffe's "I Pretend I'm Loving You," a soulful uptempo tune. We also get to hear classics from Bobby "Blue" Bland, Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Ace, Sugar Boy Crawford and Etta James,and a zydeco number from Geno Delafose.

Hightone Records has done an excellent job in reissuing the long unavailable recordings from Testament Records and High Water Recording Company, in addition to their own HMG label. The Fabulous Low-Price HMG Blues Sampler will give you a good introduction to many of these obscure but fine recordings, and you'll then know which full albums to add to your collection. The one cut from Prince Dixon and the Jackson Southernaires ("There Is No Excuse") features excellent gospel singing. You also can't beat the raw emotional country blues of Doug Quattlebaum on "If You've Ever Been Mistreated." Two of my favorite High Water blues artists, Jessie Mae Hemphill and The Fieldstones, are both represented here. Another great High Water group, The Spirit of Memphis Quartet, sends up a real cool spiritual number in "I John Saw." Considering it's a budget sampler, you can't go wrong with this one.

The prolific Los Angeles blues recording scene isn't as well documented as that of Chicago and Memphis, but a lot of good stuff was waxed in La La Land. Downey Blues (HMG/Hightone Records) collects18 tracks recorded in the early 1960s by record store owner Bill Wenzel and released on his own Downey label. The artists represented here are T-Bone Walker Jr., Ace Holder, Jessie Hill, Chuck Higgins and Little Johnny Taylor. My favorite cuts are the four by Holder, with a rawer sound than the other artists. His harmonica playing could easily have fit in with any of the Excello artists recording in Louisiana at the time. It should also be noted that the Jessie Hill tracks, while recorded in L.A., featured some of New Orleans' best session musicians, like Lee Allen, Mac Rebennack, Harold Batiste and David Lastie.

Billy Price - The Soul CollectionBringing back memories of my days on the East Coast is The Soul Collection (Green Dolphin), from Pittsburgh singer and writer Billy Price. Anyone familiar with Price and his Keystone Rhythm Band will already know what to expect on this disc: a tight horn section, stinging guitar solos, and Price's rich, soulful voice. The opening cut is a catchy, Tyrone Davis-style soul number, "I Didn't Know The Meaning of Pain." An added treat is a guest appearance by soul dynamo Otis Clay, especially on the duet "That's How It Is." Check out Price's web site for more info on this CD; with 16 cuts covering one hour of music, it's a bargain.

For the second consecutive month we've got a very good album by Detroit bluesman Johnnie Bassett and his band The Blues Insurgents. I Gave My Life To The Blues (Black Magic Records) is a nice mix of downhome urban blues with a real jazzy feel, as Bassett and his tight band cruise through 14 mostly original tunes. I especially like Bassett's vocals on the excellent midtempo blues number "They Call Me Lucky." And his deft touch on guitar is showcased on the instrumental "Too Hot To Trot." With his equally good release this year on Fedora Records, maybe Bassett will finally get some long overdue recognition.

Another Black Magic album, Hot As A Coffee Pot, features Kansas City performers King Alex and the Untouchables. These guys play a B.B. King-style of blues, and I'll bet they're fun to see in person. The CD is enjoyable, but King Alex's vocals are sometimes overpowered by the horn section. He's most effective on the slow blues numbers, like "Cryin' Eyes."

A collection of recordings by Mississippi Delta artist Big Joe Williams, Malvina My Sweet Woman (Oldie Blues), contains a label declaring the "historical value" of the enclosed tracks. That's about the best you can say about this CD. The sound quality on the first 10 cuts, done as home recorded blanks in 1951 and 1952, is the worst I've ever heard. The other nine songs were recorded in a 1973 concert in Holland. The latter recordings are okay, but there's much better material from Williams already available. I can't recommend this CD unless you're a completist.

A better choice from Oldie Blues is a collection of 1974 recordings from Chicago pianist Blind John Davis. On The Incomparable, Davis leads a jazzy trio through 16 blues piano standards, such as "Everyday I Have The Blues, "Cow Cow Blues," "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," and "After Hours." Davis in strongest on the many boogie woogie numbers, especially his own "Crazy Boogie." A very pleasant CD.

--- Bill Mitchell

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