Blues Bytes

December 1998

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Order these featured CDs today:

Johnny Jones

Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'

Rory Block

Hosea Hargrove

Matthew Robinson

Willie Willis

B.B. King



What's New

Johnny Jones - I Was Raised On The BluesJohnny Jones' CD I Was Raised On The Blues (Black Magic) is subtitled The Other Johnny Jones. One listen to this wonderful disc and you won't have any trouble confusing Mr. Jones with any other Johnny Joneses in your life. The Nashville artist is known both for his longtime session work in his hometown as well as time spent many years ago with Freddy King. Jones' guitar style is similar to that of the late Albert Collins, and he's a strong singer, too. His most powerful guitar work can be heard on his version of "Don't Throw Your Love On Me So Strong." This is a very good blues CD, and comes highly recommended for blues guitar lovers. After the rediscovery of fellow Nashville cats Roscoe Shelton and Earl Gaines (see last month's Pick Hit), it's obvious that "Music City" has a much stronger blues heritage than most of us thought.

Chris Ardoin - Turn The Page I'm quickly becoming a big fan of zydeco band Chris Ardoin and Double Clutchin'. I didn't find their first CD until it had been out for a couple of years, but fortunately Turn The Page (Rounder) hit my P.O. box just after being released. And these Louisiana youngsters are as hot as ever! This is just basically good zydeco from the country, with deep roots in traditional zydeco but with a youthful vigor. Most interesting is their medley of "Stay In Or Stay Out / Pass The Dutchie" --- kind of a tasty creole / reggae mix. The band also gives "Double Clutchin' Old Style" a reggae back beat. Teenager Chris Ardoin is set to take his place with the better accordionists in Southwest Louisiana, as demonstrated by his fiery playing on "Tiffany Two Step." "Fever For Your Flavor" has a hip hop beat to it. This band has the ability to seamlessly blend all of these various musical styles into one tantalizing mix. Turn The Page has "top ten" potential.

The name Benjie Porecki has turned up as the keyboardist on other Severn Records releases, but on Servin' It Up the Marylander gets to step into the limelight. This is an all-instrumental album, on which Porecki plays piano, organ and electric piano in a jazzy blues style. The hottest number on the CD is a version of "Sunny," featuring absolutely incredible piano work from Porecki along with tasteful guitar by Alex Schultz.

Hosea Hargrove - I Love My LifeTiny independent label Fedora Records continues to put out some of the best downhome blues recordings around. This month's releases include a trio of little-known Texas guitarists as part of their Lone Star Blues Series. All three CDs are excellent, but my favorite is from Austin's Hosea Hargrove. On I Love My Life, Hargrove plays a rough, raw style of blues and sings in a bit of a nasally voice. But he's no one dimensional artist. "Hawaii" is, without a doubt, one of the coolest tunes you'll hear this year. There's a lot of Dick Dale surf-style guitar mixed in with Hargrove's raw Texas blues. This CD grows on you the more you listen to it ... it's just good basic blues done well. The second CD from Fedora is from Dallas-based Willie Willis, who released an album on Trix a few years ago. Can't Help But Have The Blues features nine originals and one cover (Albert King's "Laundromat Blues"), featuring Willis' rough, deep voice and exuberant Texas guitar. The first two cuts, "Willie's Back" and "If You Wanna Get Funky," are both fantastic. Finally, Matthew Robinson's Bad Habits introduces another obscure Austin artist. While just as rough and tumble as Hargrove and Willis, Robinson's style is a little more uptown. All cuts are covers, but given his own touch. There's a nice version of B.B.'s "Mr. Pawnbroker," and a smokin' "Don't Lose Your Cool," Albert Collins' signature tune. Are you now wondering which of these three discs to buy? I'll make it easy for you ... buy all three, and support struggling blues artists.

Rory Block - Confessions Of A Blues SingerRory Block continues to be one of the finest traditional blues singers of her generation, continually producing diverse, high-quality CDs. Her latest, Confessions Of A Blues Singer (Rounder), is no exception. There's a good mix of material here, with a few original compositions mixed in with interpretations of songs from some of the Delta masters. My favorite is the Bukka White gospel number, "I Am In The Heavenly Way," featuring very nice vocal accompaniment from Block's son Jordan. Perhaps because of the hype from the recent blockbuster movie, she records William & Versey Smith's "Titanic (When That Great Ship Went Down)." This very good CD ends with two long, highly emotional songs, a tribute to a friend entitled "Mother Marian" and the autobiographical "Life Song."

A real surprise comes in the form of Heart To Hand (Storyville) from L.A. guitarist extraordinaire Barry Levenson. He's a very tasteful player, and has picked 11 mostly-instrumental solid blues tunes. Most are tributes to his inspirations, most notably Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, and Danny Gatton. The three vocal tracks feature special guests Mary Williams, Finis Tasby, and Johnny Dyer. I especially liked the real bluesy song, "Wrong Side of the Blues," with Dyer singing and blowing the harp.

Silver Tones - The Best of John Mayall & The Bluesbreakers (Silvertone) contains 12 cuts from John Mayall's three Silvertone CDs released earlier in this decade as well as a pair of previously-unreleased numbers. Highlights include Mayall's version of Chris Smither's "Mail Order Mystics," the gospel-sounding "Wake Up Call" (featuring Mavis Staples and Mick Taylor), "When The Devil Starts Crying," and "Ain't No Brakeman." One of the unreleased tracks is an alternate take of Juke Logan's "Fan The Flames," so the only totally new thing is the very good and funky "Movin' Groovin' Blues," featuring guitar from Coco Montoya.

Former partners Buddy Guy & Junior Wells would occasionally reunite to do an acoustic duo act for special events, and even cut an album released earlier this decade on Alligator. Their last such performance was at Buddy Guy's Chicago club, Legends, in 1993. The result of that two-night engagement is now available on the good CD Last Time Around - Live at Legends (Silvertone). Buddy and Junior stuck primarily to blues standards, showing a penchant for Jimmy Reed songs. The hottest number here is their version of Ray Charles' "What I'd Say (It's All Right)." There's also a very good "Hoodoo Man Blues," which of course was one of Junior's best-known classics.

If you'd like to introduce a friend to classic Chicago blues, then pick up a copy of The Golden Age of Blue Chicago (Blue Chicago). Otherwise, most blues fans are already going to have most or all of the cuts on this disc. The selection here is strictly standard, with no obscurities and rarities. Among the cuts are "I'm Ready" (Muddy Waters), "Big Boss Man" (Jimmy Reed), "Smokestack Lightnin'" (Howlin' Wolf), "My Babe" (Little Walter), "Help Me" (Sonny Boy Williamson), and "I Wish You Would" (Billy Boy Arnold). See what I mean ... great blues, but nothing that most of us haven't heard many times before.

My first thought upon looking at the new CD from Big Mike & The Booty Papas was that this was likely to be real lame stuff. But I was pleasantly surprised with Red Hot Blues (White Clay). These cats from Macon aren't bad at all. They've got a real nice guitar player in Big Mike, and do a good percentage of original songs. But the standout cut is a cover of a lesser-known Hank Williams number, "You Win Again," which gets a slow, jazzy interpretation. The catchy "Treadin' Water" is the best original number.

Many years ago I met this great harmonica player from Florida who went by the interesting moniker Rock Bottom. He was traveling through the southeast with a Swedish blues band, and would sit in with them for a few numbers. I always wondered what happened to the guy. He's obviously still around, as witnessed by a new CD with his band The Cutaways, Shake Your Boogie Leg (New Moon Blues). While not a strong singer, Rock Bottom can still blow a harp with the best of them. What I like about this CD is that not everything's straight 12-bar blues. I especially like his playing on the chromatic on "Manatee County Jail."

Baby Blues (Joonbug) by The Coochie-Coochie Band is by far one of the most interesting concept blues albums I've ever encountered. The idea here is to take standard blues songs, and rework them as if done from a baby's perspective. The backing band is actually quite good. But the two main vocalists, one who sings in a male falsetto voice and the other a deep, raspy blues growl, get a little annoying if you're not into the novelty of the CD. The excellent Tone-Cool singer from Boston, Toni Lynn Washington, guests as "The Lovely Miss Bea Havin'"; this cut, "My Crib," is the best on the disc. "Wahkin' Blues" is actually a pretty catchy tune, of course a takeoff on "Walkin' Blues." This album isn't for everyone, but I'm sure there's a niche market out there for it.

The Roger Rogers Band is a decent, basic blues band, presumably out of the Pacific Northwest. There's not a whole lot of info about these guys on their new self-titled CD  from Real Records. The singer, Roger Rogers, is above average, especially on the slow blues "Killing Me Being Free" and Little Walter's "Everything's Gonna Be Alright" (although it's hard to cover a Walter song without a harmonica player!).

If you like contemporary Chicago blues played well, then be sure to check out Kiss Of Sweet Blues (Delmark) from guitarist Lurrie Bell. He's backed on this disc by labelmates Dave Specter and the Bluebirds, giving this ensemble two solid guitarists. Best of the lot here is the slow blues written by Specter, "Blues And Black Coffee" --- "...The blues and black coffee seem to be my only friend ..." Bell really turns loose on his axe on the instrumental "Lurrie's Guitar Boogie."

--- Bill Mitchell

B.B. King - Blues On The BayouB.B. King…a name like no other. The Blues Boy and Lucille are back, and
the band is smokin’, on the new MCA release Blues On The Bayou, a new studio album containing all new and all original material. King has
brought the excitement of his stage act, containing a three piece horn section and two drummers, to this recording with a few spectacular tracks and a whole pile of stuff that just screams, “I am B.B., hear me roar!” He lets us know he’s doing alright out on the road 225 nights a  year on “I’ll Survive,” which along with “I Got Some Outside Help I
Don’t Need,” show his extreme range of lyrical abilities. The disc also includes a few tracks which feature Lucille’s acoustic cousin, such as the very hip “Shake It Up and Go” and “Blues In G.” These prove to be a major plus. Overall, B.B. and his band come through with a fantastic album. Everyone should have this one on their Christmas list. What
better gift to receive than a great blues album from one of its classic performers and foremost spokesperson, B.B. King.

Editor's Note: A review of Little Charlie and The Nightcats CD was included in last month's Blues Bytes, but here's a different perspective. --- Bill
Back again on Alligator Records are Little Charlie and the Nightcats, with Shadow of the Blues, their first release since the fantastic compilation, Deluxe Edition. This album shows off the awesome instrumental abilities of all of its members, especially lead singer/harp player Rick Estrin and guitar player “Little” Charlie Baty. Their version of jump blues, previously dubbed “California Jump Blues,” takes a back seat to slower songs on much of this disc. The band’s signature hoppin’ sound comes out on “Percolatin’” and “New Old Lady” Some of the other tunes are really intriguing, like the slow shufflin’ “Murmur Low,” which echoes of early Delta guitar. As a songwriter, Rick Estrin seems to be trying a little bit too hard to come up with catchy lyrics as he has in the past. Most of them are still fun and at times even "laugh out loud" funny. Overall this disc is solid, and shows that the band is not about to stay hitched in one type of music. There’s nothing wrong with a little progress.

Two of the Fat Possum Records crew come through with exactly what we’ve come to expect from this label ... hard-edged blues, with a minimalist feel. Johnny Farmer’s first release on Fat Possum, Wrong Doers Respect Me, includes Johnny and his guitar. Oh, yeah, and a slide, too. A wonderfully rough sounding Farmer displays his classic style throughout the disc. T-Model Ford explodes on his latest, and actually earliest CD (it’s not due out ‘til early ‘99.) On You Better Keep Still, Ford drags out a whole pile of nasty lyrics, great guitar work, and sometimes questionable rhythm. His style is reminiscent of the Delta once again, and is sometimes similar to labelmate R.L. Burnside. Over all, Fat Possum’s core of artists are represented well by both Farmer and Ford.

--- Brad Allen

What a treat the new release from Finis Tasby is! Tasby is a veteran performer who knows what to do with a good song, witnessed on Jump Children (Evidence). Nine of the twelve tracks are covers of great tunes by Jimmy McCracklin, Lowell Fulson, Fats Domino, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed, to name a few of the writer's credits. This is a CD that will appeal to the swing crowd, and swing it does. With help from Coco Montoya, Rick Holstrom, and Kid Ramos on guitars and the late Lester Butler on harmonica, this release makes you want to get up and "Jump Children." "Georgia Slop" and "I Just Got To Know," both by McCracklin are great dance tunes, as is "Mercy's Blues" from the legendary Mercy Baby, the latter with some nice piano riffs by Rob Rio. If you have been enjoying the recent swing revival, this release will be a welcome addition to anyone's Christmas stocking. Excellent sound adds to the overall professional production.

The posthumous release of what must have been Ollie Nightingale's final session, Ollie Style (Ecko) once again shows what a soulful bluesy singer he was. Starting back in the 60's as Ollie & The Nightingales on Stax Records, and in later years for various independent labels, he was just beginning to receive some deserved recognition prior to his untimely death this year. Ollie Style is his fourth CD for Ecko, beginning with the ground-breaking release "I'll Drink Your Bathwater Baby" back in 1995. It follows the predictable formula of his prior CDs, a solid excursion into the southern soul and blues world in which this independent label has carved a niche. The first track, "I'm Gonna Turn This Bed Over," is indicative of what is to follow, but is entirely too long at 8:17. Some of the better tracks are "That's When The Blues Began," a slow grinder, "That's What You Are To Me," and "Keepin' Up With The Joneses." The latter is a cheating song with the following classic lines, "I love my wife a lot, but I can't be satisfied until I have what my neighbor's got." If you like the Southern chitlin' circuit type of soul/blues, you'll enjoy this one. We're gonna miss you, Ollie.

--- Alan Shutro

Michelle Willson’s Tryin’ To Make A Little Love (Bullseye Blues & Jazz) is a very good CD. Many different styles are played, which keeps the CD interesting from beginning to end. She has a tremendous voice, which on a couple cuts reminded me of Tracy Nelson. "Life Rolls On" is a country song, and "Someday" is a gospel song; they are two of the highlights which really show off her great vocal talent. The band complements Willson’s vocals well, and they are given room to showcase their talents, especially on the 6:17 "Half Past the Blues." I especially enjoyed the trumpet solos.

Daddy-O/Royalty Records' Christmas CD, Swingin' Christmas, offers ok seasonal music, but the vocals of many of the various artists are distracting. With the exception of Ron Sunshine, the vocalists sound like Bruce Willis selling wine coolers, and even worse, they sound drunk on a couple cuts. All the songs are Christmas chestnuts, or have minor "swinging" variations, which leads to another problem. They cannot match up to the originals which most people already have in their music collections, including Charles Brown’s "Merry Christmas Baby," Mel Torme’s "The Christmas Song," and Bing Crosby’s "Silver Bells." The standout cut is the instrumental "Parade of the Wooden Soldiers" by Swingtips. Heavenly 7, from Phoenix, are featured on three songs.

Straight Up (Daddy-O/Royalty Records) from Ron Sunshine & Full Swing, is a better than average disk.  Sunshine blows a fine harp, and Dan Hovey plays some tasty T-Bone style guitar. The other musicians play well, and Sunshine is a decent singer. Their version of Louis Jordan’s "Salt Pork, West Virginia" was my favorite. They also cover "Undecided" and "Hit That Jive Jack," but the tunes don’t go anywhere. Add to that list the PG "Red Light," an original which laments not getting a kiss, except at red lights, made it seem like Richie Cunningham’s blues.

--- Tony Nowicki

Hubert Sumlin's Wake Up Call

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