Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rip Lee Pryor - Nobody But Me

There is nothing fancy about the new CD by Rip Lee Pryor, Nobody But Me (Electro-Fi). Pryor is the son of the late blues legend and blues harmonica pioneer, Snooky Pryor, but started learning to play harmonica when his father had dropped out of music. He played with his dad for a time, but in recent years had walked away from music, and recently resumed after bouts with gambling problems and cancer (now in remission). On this Rip Lee plays harmonica (using a rack) and guitar with Alex Fraser or Bucky Berger adding drums on several selections.

His father and John Lee Williamson (the first Sonny Boy Williamson) are obvious influences on his playing especially on the opening Shake Your Boogie that both Sonny Boy I and Snooky recorded. His guitar playing is pretty bare, just laying down a bare bass riff on most selections over which he sings and plays his crying harmonica. He is a very expressive singer (like his take on Elmore James’ You Gotta Move, but also handles the humor of Rice Miller’s rendition of an old English folk song, the delightful Wake Up Baby, with Fraser’s bass and circus drum adding support.

The title track is an original with Rip Lee laying down some boogie guitar to get a rocking groove which underlies his driving harp solo. Another original Lonesome, is a moody slow blues with some strong harp to accent his pleading vocal. Heard The News, credited to Snooky, is an easy boogie shuffle that incorporates Good Rocking Tonight, I Feel So Good as well as Snooky’s own Boogie Twist. Stuck on Stupid is a Rip Lee original with a Jimmy Reed boogie groove. His father’s Pitch a Boogie Woogie has Berger’s drums which helps propel the easy rocking boogie performance here with some real fine harmonica here.

The music here is pretty straight-forward and as Scott Bock observes in his liner notes, Rip Lee has a pretty stripped down sound. Nothing fancy perhaps, but Rip Lee Pryor proves he doesn’t need Nobody But Me for a straight dose of classic Chicago blues that is increasingly rare.

I purchased this.  Here is a video of Rip Lee Pryor in performance and he will be at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival this July and the link is to my Festival preview.




Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Taking the Blues Time Machine To March 1977

This is my blues column from the March 1977 Buffalo Jazz Report which had Benny Goodman on the cover. My column was relatively lengthy, and included a Blues On EP segment which I will post next week. There would be no column for February issue as the Blizzard of 1977 that paralyzed the city around the time the issue would have come out. I have noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Note that Southern Record sales from which I obtained some releases no longer exists. The albums I reviewed (with the exception of the Gabriel Brown and the Albert King) are available as CDs (although they may be on different labels) with the exception of the Gabriel Brown. The Otis Rush Japanese live album is available on Delmark as So Many Roads.

Lot of live blues in the Buffalo are in March. Muddy Waters will be joined by James Cotton and Johnny Winter at Shea's Buffalo on Saturday, March 12. Saturday, March 19 finds Bobby Bland and B.B. King at the Shea's Buffalo. Robert Jr. Lockwood, who was supposed to have been at UB Feb. 4 will be a featured act at the UB Folk Festival the weekend of April 15 and 16. Lockwood will most likely be playing Friday night April 15. More details next month.

Gabriel Brown is a country blues artist, who, during the forties and early fifties, was based in New York. An English reissue of his music Gabriel Brown and his Guitar (Policy Wheel PW 4592) reveals him to be a talented performer. Brown's singing reminds me of Kokomo Arnold, a one-time Buffalo resident (60 years ago) whose music influenced many blues artists including Robert Johnson. Brown's guitar work is interesting and the selection of material is varied. Highlights include "I'm Gonna Take It Easy with slashing bottleneck guitar, Cold Love and the mildly pornographic "It's Getting Soft. While external packaging is somewhat skimpy, a booklet with all known biographical information and lyric transcriptions is included. There is some surface noise but these are on the originals and the sound is overall pretty clear. There are 18 selections including two 1930s recordings by one Poor Bill on which Gabriel may have played 2nd guitar. A very worthwhile reissue which, like the Otis Rush live album, Southern Record Sales can supply.


Albert King's new Utopia album Albert Live (CYL2-2205) was recorded at Montreux. It is a double record with generous playing time (almost 90 minutes) as Albert tackles a wide variety of material from Watermelon Man to Stormy Monday, with the typical intensity and featuring his pinched note guitar playing. On one long number, Jam in A Flat he is joined by rocker Rory Gallagher (who is on other tracks). and bluesmen Louisiana Red and Lowell Fulson. The packaging is nice, though Robert Palmer's notes are media-hype.


Hard Again- Muddy Waters -(Blue Sky PZ 34449) is Muddy Waters first album since leaving Chess. Musically this is a pleasant set with support from Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins. The presence of Winter and Cotton should help sell this though others could have replaced them without hurting the music. 'Pinetop' proves to be a worthy successor to the late Otis Spann and does play some brilliant blues piano. Tunes include reworkings of Muddy's Mannish Boy and I Can't Be Satisfied, Willie Dixon's I Wanna Be Loved and several new tunes that are in the same mould. Muddy seems to sing strongly but the recording mix I find grating. Johnny Winter should be thanked for helping Muddy get more recognition, and also some financial rewards, which is a nice way to show his appreciation for Muddy. Muddy has made many of the classic recordings in the Chicago band blues idiom and in comparison to them this album suffers. With such recent blues albums as those by Otis Rush and Son Seals out I can't give this anything but a qualified recommendation.


Otis Rush's very first record, I Can't Quit You Baby was a top ten record on the r'n'b charts in the mid-fifties. Otis, despite being one of the finest and most individualistic performers in the post- B.B. King guitar dominated blues, has never been able to achieve, much less maintain, a position of popularity and recognition as one of the blues' premiere performers. As both a singer and guitarist Rush bows to no one and has been compared favorably to the legendary country bluesman Robert Johnson. Rush on record has been hard to find until recently. Last year Delmark released Cold Day in Hell a fine album that was Otis' first American recording issued in 7 years. Bullfrog Records has just issued Right Place, Wrong Time (301) which Otis recorded for Capitol Records in 1971, but which Capitol chose not to release.


I refer you to the liner notes for speculation why this excellent set wasn't issued as this is probably the finest set of Otis Rush out and one if issued a few years back might have established Otis as a publicly recognized master of the blues. The album is tightly produced with horn arrangements recalling many of Albert King's fine Stax recordings of the time. Rush's guitar work also suggests King, though Otis is a more fluid guitarist and a stronger, more intense vocalist than King (which is high praise indeed.)


The material on this set is varied and the recording mix provides for Otis' guitar work to be properly framed. Material includes rave-ups like Tore Up and Natural Ball, cooking instrumentals Easy Go and I Wonder Why and the slow blues on which Otis lets his soul out. The title track and Take a Look Behind are bound to become blues classics and are masterpieces of the modern blues idiom as Otis' anguished singing is couple with blistering guitar. This album is a must for blues enthusiasts.


Also Trio Records of Japan has issued Blues Live (PA-3086) featuring Otis live in concert with just a rhythm section doing cooking renditions of I Can't Quit You Baby, All Your Love, and So Many Roads before an enthusiastic Japanese audience. This is available from Southern Record Sales, 42 North Lake Avenue, Pasadena, California 91101 though its price as an import may deter some buyers it is a most impressive workout. Delmark Records owns the American rights to this, though it may be some time before they issue it. They can supply the Bullfrog release which hopefully wiII be in local stores. Bullfrog Records is tied to Advent so stores carrying Advent should be able to get this. (If you write to Southern Record Sales, mention you read about them here). {{As noted this is available as So Many Roads}} on Delmark}}


Alligator is a small label that has excellent distribution locally and an impressive small catalog of modern blues. Son Seals' new set Midnight Son (AL 4708) is an excellent set of hard, intense blues sung with guts and played with Son's stinging Chicago guitar. Tight horn arrangements along with Son's cooking band has produced a varied set from the funky No, No Baby, the driving Don't Fool With My Baby to the slow Going Back Home, which should win Son new fans. This is even better than Son's first album, (Alligator AL 4703). Alligator also has excellent albums by Hound Dog Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Fenton Robinson and Koko Taylor out and they show concern for preparation and programming which sometimes small and major labels don't provide.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lena Seikaly - Looking Back

Lena Seikaly is one of the Washington DC area’s finest vocalists with the clarity of her singing along, her control of her pitch and vibrato and the instrumental quality of her phrasing and scatting. One could cite a number of influences, and Ella Fitzgerald may be one, but the overall quality of her singing is akin to Roberta Gambarini. Her third, self-priced album Looking Back has her backed by the Chris Grasso Trio (Grasso, piano; Zach Pride, bass; and Lenny Robinson drums), the go to trio to back jazz vocalists in the Nation’s Capital. Also present is the marvelous guitarist Paul Pieper, whose subtle single note solos and chords add to the wonderful accompaniments here.

The eleven songs here take us back to what John Edward Hasse calls the “golden age of American songwriting” (mostly from the twenties and thirties) with emphasis on material recorded by Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. I am not familiar with I’m Nobody’s Baby, which gets things off on a swinging note, with some scatting, a crisp drum break and wonderful piano. Fascinating Rhythm opens as duet with Pride with her scatting before the full group enters. Her phrasing is such a delight to listen to and Pieper adds a choice solo before she scats in unison with him for a few bars on this delightful performance. Her rendition of Foolin’ Myself suggests Billie Holiday in her phrasing, with the clean, restraint shown by band adding to the performance's feel.

The settings here lend freshness to familiar songs. A duet with guitarist Pieper results in a lovely,  lively Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, while on the Gerald Marks- Walter Hirsch ballad, Baby, What Else Can I Do, Grasso and Pride provide relaxed backing. Donald Heywood and Will Marion Cook’s collaboration, I’m Coming Virginia, may be better known today from the Frankie Trumbauer- Bix Beiderbecke recording, but  was popularized by Ethel Waters. Seikaly and the trio are a bit more vigorous performing it. It is followed by a moody I Cover The Waterfront. Duke Ellington’s I Love You Madly is a pretty duet with bassist Pride. Pieper’s guitar replaces Grasso’s piano on Guilty, which in addition to Pieper’s sublime playing has Pride taking an arco bass solo while Robinson’s tastefully employs brushes.

Of special interest is Irving Berlin’s Supper Time whose lyrics take the perspective of an African-American wife and mother whose lost her husband to a lynching. Written for Ethel Waters, this has been previously done by Roberta Gambarini with the late Hank Jones on piano. Simply accompanied by Grasso, she straightforwardly sings the lyrics. The simplicity of the performance delivers the stark imagery of Berlin’s lyrics powerfully,

With superb backing, imaginative and varied settings for the songs, Looking Back is another wonderful recording by Lena Seikaly. I have seen Lena Seikaly perform on a number of occasions, and this recording captures  the qualities that make her live performances so marvelous. Her website is lenaseikaly.com, and this CD is available on cdbaby.com.

I purchased my copy. I should not that I saw her perform this on April 19 at Loew's Madison in Washington backed by Grasso and Pride and she was wonderful as usual. She will be appearing Friday April 25 at a special Jazz Appreciation Month Take 5 program at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art's Kogod Courtyard dedicated to the music of Ella Fitzgerald. The Museum's website says she will be part of a performance by the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra on a program that will highlight Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations with big bands, including the Count Basie Orchestra and the Duke Ellington. More information can be found on the Museum's website. Here she performs After You're Gone from her new album.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jimmy Johnson
End of the Road
Ruf Records

Jimmy Johnson’s infrequent albums are always occasions of great interest for blues lovers. With his wiry guitar attack and high tenor vocals, the Chicago bluesman has produced some very distinctive and fine recordings. This new one is another strong addition to his discography. Johnson has contributed some fine originals like the opening Roots of All Evil (about money, and sporting a trumpet solo by
Jimmy Johnson at the 2007 Pocono Blues Festival
Claude Egea), End of the Road which contains an appearance by the late Luther Allison who rides the song out with a fiery short solo, and The Street You Live On, with its lilting reggae beat.

In addition, Johnson’s covers of Thunderbird Davis’ Blue Monday, Black Night and Cut You Loose are fresh, with crisp funky arrangements. Throughout this, Johnson plays in his recognizable style that perhaps show the influence of Otis Rush and Albert King more than others, as well as delivering his vocals without too much in the nature of hysterics.

In addition to his fine band, Johnson is backed by a nice horn section that includes jazz trombonist Frank Lacy and saxophonist Paul Cerra in addition to trumpeter Egea. With Johnson being in strong form both vocally and instrumentally, he has produced a very fine release.

This review originally appeared in the November/December 1999 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 242). It is available from third party sellers on amazon. Photo of Jimmy Johnson © Ron Weinstock. Here is a video of Jimmy Johnson performing with Dave Spector.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tweed Funk First Name Lucky

I have become aware of the Milwaukee based blues and soul band Tweed Funk from some very positive remarks on social media. Tweed Funk has a new recording, First Name Lucky on Tweed Tone Records that I understand is their third CD. Tweed Funk is fronted by a powerful vocalist, Joseph ‘Smokey’ Holman. The quintet backing him includes guitarist JD Optekar, bassist Eric Madunic, drummer Nick Lang, saxophonist Jon Lovas, and trumpeter Kevin Klemme. One selection also includes Brian Lucas’ harmonica. Seven of the 11 songs were written by Optekar. He is an able guitarist and the horns add punch and both are fine soloists while the rhythm section keep the groove going.

The party feel is exhibited on the funky Time to Burn. Their cover of Let the Good Times Roll is good but does not stand out. It is interesting they cover Black Joe Louis’ Sugarfoot but Smokey’s vocal comes off as strained. In contrast, they provide a nice cover of Lil Bob and the Lollipops I Got Loaded (familiar to some from Los Lobos’ cover. It is incorrectly credited to Peppermint Harris whose I Got Loaded is a different song), with Lovas contributing a nice tenor solo. The slow blues, Sippin Misery, stands out. It has a 3 o’clock in the morning feel with Smokey’s low-key vocal, Optekar’s jazzy guitar here (and he might use this attack elsewhere) and marvelous playing by Lovas and Klemme (the latter making nice use of horns) for a magical performance and shows just how good they can get. In contrast to this wonderfully paced performance, the closing Get It On sounds a bit frenzied. Slowing the tempo down a notch might have  led Smokey’s vocal to have more impact.

Tweed Funk’s First Name Lucky  is an record perfect for parties with a mix of blues and soul.

Received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of Tweed Funk.


Friday, April 18, 2014

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So - A Round Goal

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So is a seven person all-reed group led by the Chicago saxophonist and bass clarinetist. The international group includes fellow Chicagoans Mars Williams on alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones and Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophonists; Waclaw Zimpel from Poland on clarinet and alto clarinet; and Swiss players Marc Stucki on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and harmonium; Peter A. Schmid on baritone, bass and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet and e-flat clarinet and Thomas K.J. Mejer on contrabass and sopranino saxophones.

The seven piece ensemble performed at Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland on February 20, 2013 and Delmark has issued a recording from that evening A Round Goal. As Larry Kart notes in the liner notes, Jackson used the opportunity to explore his compositional voice in an all-read ensemble. he provides the structure for the players to improvise and interact with each other in this meeting of some participants of todays jazz avant grade.

The performances include passages of collective improvisation as well tranquil solo interludes and the structures Jackson has established allows for the fascinating and thoughtful interplay between the seven players along with the development of musical colors. Jackson, on the first of two bridge solos heard here displays warmth and a concern for tone and timbre, whereas Stucki on Wat Ist Kultur?, exhibits a focus on the upper reaches of the tenor (in a 60s Pharaoh Sanders manner) with the ensemble establishing a foundation for his explorations. Mejer’s contrabass sax sounds like a bowed bass solo on My Time Is My Own, before the ensemble cradles the coda of this and leading into Pastorale where Mejer helps establish the foundation for this intriguing performance with a rhythmic motif. Williams alto evokes bagpipes opening the title track as he plays over the ensembles repeated riff before he launches into the higher reaches with some fiery, Ayler-esque improvisation before Rempis barrels in on baritone with slurs and screeches in his torrid solo.

This is imply a snippet of some of the music to be heard on A Round Go. Keefe Jackson’s Likely So was quite lively that evening resulting in the music here that rewards listeners with music to stimulate and fascinate them.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a short video clip.


Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sheba Butter On My Rolls

Mississippi born Sheba Beck has travelled many miles (literally and figuratively) since leaving the life in a Mississippi sharecropper’s family as a youngster. Growing up in Florida music became her calling as she play din various types of groups ranging from rhythm and blues and jazz to the blues she sings today. She has endured hardships, and abusive relationships, but her experiences provide a foundation for the music heard on her recent self-produced recording Butter on My Rolls. Sheba is backed by George ‘Chocolate’ Perry on synthesized strings, bass, drums and synthesized horns; Michael ‘The Dog’ Gauthier on keyboards, synthesized strings and synthesized horns, Walter ‘Roach’ Thompson on guitar; and Chuck Juntzman on slide guitar. While this writer isn’t a fan of synthesized horns and strings, they are functional and provide musical color. The backing fortunately is from real musicians as opposed to drum machines.

While some songs may sound generic, and the backing sometimes gets frantic (the boogie woogie shuffle Oh So Good taken at too fast a tempo), Sheba is a wonderful, soulful singer who caresses her lyrics while belting out a line or two for emphasis. She never sounds strident, and is compelling on slow blues (Real Good Woman who wonders about all those no good men) or soulful ballads (Can’t Help Lovin’ My Man and Don’t Say Goodbye). She gets down and bawdy celebrating her  well-packaged Big Man, telling other women to find their own good big man. She shows her presence on the rocking funky Pourin’ Rain, but the album's finest gem is the talking blues Blues of My Soul, with slide guitar backing where she recalls growing up in Mississippi and her mother taking her to Florida. She is a marvelous storyteller. She follows it with the title track, a song suggestive on some of the vaudeville blues of the twenties but with a lyric of today.

There may not be anything fancy about Sheba or Butter on My Rolls, but her vocals and songs ring true and full of heart. If the backing is mostly functional, there is nothing wrong with that when one is supporting a singer with the character Sheba manifests throughout.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video to promote this recording.