Friday, April 03, 2020

Smilin' Bobby & the Hidden Charms Big Legged Woman

Smilin' Bobby & the Hidden Charms
Big Legged Woman
Wolf Records

Blues fans have to be grateful that labels like Delmark and Wolf exist to record and issue recordings of lesser-known blues artists which other labels, for whatever reason, lack the means or interest to record. A new release on Wolf, part of its Chicago Blues Session series, is by Smilin' Bobby & the Hidden Charms, "Big Legged Woman." Smilin' Bobby, whose real name is Bobby G. Smith, has been playing blues throughout Chicago for decades. Arkansas born, he moved to Chicago when he was 15.

Smilin' Bobby's music has a number of influences including Magic Sam and Albert King. In his liner notes, Scott Dirks describes Bobby's playing as a cross between Magic Slim's stinging leads with Magic Sam's cool little rhythm fills when he is singing.  His voice does not sound like anyone else. Magic Sam's influence is most evident on the fine rendition of Willie Cobb's "You Don't Love Me," which is based on Sam's rendition. But the solid guitar work and the vocals bring Magic Sam clearly to mind. The vocals are very soulful in a fashion similar to those of Sam as well.

In addition to the Cobbs’ number, there are four other covers that are done in a manner that don't slavishly copy other versions and five originals that certainly have much to recommend them. The opening “I Play For Keeps,” is an original instrumental with an insistent beat and driving guitar and followed by a reworking of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Didn’t Know” and then a stinging, brooding rendition of a T-Bone Walker classic “Cold, Cold Feeling.” His “I’ve Got To Leave This Woman” is a funky original about a woman that treats him in a low down fashion while the closing original “You Are The One,” has him telling how he keeps his woman satisfied.

The Hidden Charms second guitarist Brian Reed, bass guitarist Warren Lethan and drummer Myron Katz provide steady backing through the ten performances presented on this very enjoyable release. The music on “Big Legged Woman” certainly supports the notion that Smilin’ Bobby is a modern Chicago blues performer of note for who it has taken too many years to get a CD issued. He most definitely merits our attention. 

This review was written in 2011, and I likely purchased it. I do not know if it was published at the time. Here is a video of Smilin' Bobby with Lurrie Bell from 2013.

Thursday, April 02, 2020

Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby For All We Know

Gloria Reuben & Marty Ashby
For All We Know
MCG Jazz

Vocalist Reuben and guitarist Ashby have provided us with a delectable album of songs dealing with the beauty, pain, and unexpected twists of love and relationships. Reuben's first album on MCG Jazz, "Perchance to Dream," ended with a duo the hat sparked the present recording. Inspiration was found not merely from the connection they experienced, but also the duet albums by Sammy Davis, Jr. with Mundell Lowe and Laurindo Almeida, and by Ella Fitzgerald with Joe Pass. Reuben has a career as an actress and singer with credits spanning television, film, theater, and concert halls. Among these credits, she sang backup for Tina Turner on tour and received Emmy nominations for her acting on ER. Guitarist Ashby is also the executive producer of MCG Jazz, which he started in 1987.

Listeners will be charmed by Reuben and Ashby's intimate and romantic renditions of the ten songs about love and people. Reuben has a soft, melodious voice, and delivers the lyrics with clarity and a soothing feel. Ashby's accompaniment provides a foundation for her vocals with his mix of chords and single-note runs that also embellish these performances. The songs include such songs as 'Time After Time," "I'll Close My Eyes," "A Time for Love," "I'll Get Along Without You Very Well," and "How High the Moon," and Reuben enchants the listeners with her singing.

While the renditions are straight-forward, the warmth and clarity of her singing backed by Ashby's lean, sympathy backing make for delightful listening. This is a perfect album to listen to while having a candlelight dinner.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). Here is Gloria Ruben performing "I'll Close My Eyes."

Wednesday, April 01, 2020

Calle Loíza Jazz Project There Will Never Be Another You

Calle Loíza Jazz Project
There Will Never Be Another You

Calle Loíza is a famous street in Santurce, Puerto Rico, that has a long history as a center of cultural activity. Starting in the late 1970s, with a renowned jazz club, Mini's, it became a center of jazz activity. Years later, in 1990, a club opened, the Apple Jazz Club, where pianist Mark Monts de Oca, drummer Johnny Rivera, bassist Freddy Gumbs, and leader Héctor Veneros formed a quartet that became well known throughout Puerto Rico. They appeared at the Heineken Jazz Festival, and it was there that bassist Tone Batista and guitarist André Avelino would start playing with members of the quartet. The passing of a beloved friend led the core quartet to make a recording to honor legendary Puerto Rican musicians such as musicians Juancito Torres, Dave Valentin, Mongo Santamaria, Carlos "Patato" Torres, and Jerry Gonzalez.

The core quartet of musicians on this recording is de Oca, Batista, Rivera, and Avelino. They are joined by Javier Oquendo on congas, Melvin Jones on trumpet, Gordon Vernick on trumpet, Xavier Barreto on flute, Cándido Reyes on güiro, Daniel López on Brazilian percussion, and Iván pelvis on percussion. This group of musicians tackles eight classics of the jazz canon: "Seven Steps To Heaven," "Someday My Prince Will Come," "Stolen Moments," 'Dolphin Dance," "Old Folks," "In Your Own Sweet Way," "Well, You Needn't," and the title track.

There is some wonderful Latin jazz played on this recording, which starts with two songs associated with Miles Davis. Jones shows himself to be quite a fiery trumpeter on the opening "Seven Steps To Heaven," although the heavy percussion was distracting. Pianist de Oca is outstanding here as well, and the interplay by Jones and Barreto is sterling. There are nice touches in the arrangements such "Someday My Prince Will Come," which opens with Jones delivering muted trumpet in the manner of Miles, before the band engages in a light Latin groove with a terrific solo from guitarist Avelino. Both Jones and Vernick solo on trumpet both employing mutes.

The other Latin jazz performances are equally engaging with plenty of noteworthy highlights such as solos from flutist Barreto and guitarist Avelino on "Stolen Moments." as well as Jones' muted trumpet and de Oca on "Dolphin Dance." Drummer Rivera and bassist Batista provide a reliable rhythmic foundation throughout this marvelous recording that offers fresh, captivating performances on some classic jazz numbers.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). Here is "Stolen Moments" from this recording.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Tamuz Nissim Capturing Clouds

Tamuz Nissim
Capturing Clouds
Street of Stars Records

This is the fourth album from Tamuz Nissim, an Israeli born vocalist who has been living in New York City for the past five years. Her vocals are supported by guitarist George Nazos, bassist Harvie S, and drummer Tony Jefferson. In her album notes, Nissim compares jazz to the impossibility of capturing clouds, and how the freedom to improvise make the same song sound different, just like clouds transform and remold their shapes. Her intent o is to bring this freshness to the songs she performs.

She displays an ability to bring a fresh approach to the opening "On the Sunny Side of the Street" backed just by bass and drums. She enchants with her alluring voice, her pitch, and flute-like phrasing set against the restrained backing. Furthermore, she fascinates with her scatting here and on her original "Make It Last," with Nazos taking a winsome solo along with drummer Jefferson. She also wrote the title song with a soft, dreamy vocal. Another standard, "Like Someone In Love," also has her enchanting singing backed solely by bass and drums with Harvie S soloing. Nissim's original, "What a Pair," is an exquisite duet between her scatting and bassist Harvie S.

Nissim displays a perky side on her rendition of Tom Waits' "I Don't Want To Grow Up," one of several unusual song interpretations she performs here. Another one is her thoughtful approach to Nick Drake's "Saturday Sun," with Nazos providing gorgeous guitar accompaniment. On "Rhapsody For Trane (I Hear a Rhapsody)," she crafted lyrics to John Coltrane's solo on "I Hear a Rhapsody" from Trane's "Lush Life" album and dazzles with her vocalese singing.

The final selection is a sweet, relaxed version of George Harrison's "Here Comes The Sun," accompanied solely by guitar. It is a captivating close to this most appealing recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the March-April 2020 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 389). Here she performs "On the Sunny Side of the Street."

Monday, March 30, 2020

Shake Your Hips: The Excello Records Story
By Randy Fox
2018: BMG: 184 pp.

This is among two the first in these pocket-sized paperbacks devoted to various independent record labels that have played a significant role in the recording industry of the past 75 years. While subtitled The Excello Records Story," this volume is devoted to the various labels that Ernie Young established including Nashboro, Abet, and others in addition to Excello. While Excello is the best known of these labels, it was not the only significant one.

The story begins with Nashville after the Second World War. While viewed as a country town, there has always been a vital African-American music scene perhaps best manifested by Cecil Gant, whose recordings included one "Nashville Jumps." Fox introduces us to Ernie Young, who got into the jukebox and pinball business and eventually, the record business. Then there is the legendary radio station, WLAC. Late at night after the network broadcast ended. Deejay Gene Nobles would broadcast. Students from Fisk University brought some boogie-woogie and jump blues records to Nobles, which he played and got a great response. This response led to local stores that sold records purchasing blocks of time to advertise mail-order sales Stores included those owned by Randy Wood from outside of Nashville and Ernie Young. They would offer packs of records that included some of the favorites played on WLAC. Eventually, to help fill out these packs of 45s (that they sold C.O.D.), the store owners set up their own record labels. Randy Wood established Dot Records, while Young started the Nashboro group of labels.

Young had started his Record Store in 1945, before establishing the Nashboro label in 1950, and it had quite a business catering to African Americans. Nashboro focused on gospel music. Fox observes:
 Through mail-order sales, the Record Mart sold thousands of discs. A few indie R&B labels—Peacock, Specialty, Savoy, Apollo, Old Town—released black gospel records, but many others ignored the field. … Young believed starting his own gospel label was a win-win—increasing the supply of new gospel titles meant more sales of gospel packages and, by cutting out the middleman, the Record Mart's share of the profits would increase.
The lack of competing gospel labels worked in Young's favor in other ways, as well. Many popular touring gospel groups were eager to secure recording contracts.

Young first recorded other gospel acts before recording Nashville based acts. He first recorded at the WLAC studios, but the thrift-minded Young purchased a recording machine and eventually constructed a studio in the building with his store. He hired a scout for gospel and other talents. He added some hillbilly releases to the label, but this was a short-lived addition. Fox then details the recording of blues and R&B starting with the blues pianist Sherman Johnson, and then Young purchased some J.O.B. masters, including one by Alfred' Fat Man' Wallace.

In 1952, Young started the Excello label, and its acts included Skippy Brooks, a member of Gatemouth brown's Nashville band, Thomas "Shy Guy" Douglas,  Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, Louis Brooks & His Hi-Toppers, Ted Jarrett, Earl Gaines, Kid King's Combo, Larry Birdsong, Arthur Gunter, Jerry McCain, and others. Ted Jarrett, of course, also was important as a talent scout and a songwriter.  This is a lead-in to Ernie Young's agreement with Crowley, Louisiana producer Jay Miller that started with a 1955 agreement that was described as "Excello Signs Lightnin' Slim." Fox provides, in this book, a condensed history of the relationship between the Excello and Miller.  This history previously had been discussed by John Broven in his book "Record Makers and Breakers: Voices of the Independent Rock' n' Roll Pioneers," and Martin Hawkins in "Slim Harpo: Blues King Bee of Baton Rouge."

The arrangement between Young and Miller is described;
The arrangement established between Young and Miller became the standard for all artists Miller brought to Excello. The artists were technically signed to Miller's production company, not Excello Records. Miller delivered finished master tapes to Young. Excello owned the completed masters, and Excellorec administered the publishing rights. Young paid Miller the negotiated royalty rate for each record sold to cover both record sales (for the artist) and publishing (for the songwriter). Any further royalties due to the songwriter for cover versions of the song were also paid to Miller. Miller was then responsible for passing the appropriate amount on to the individual artists and writers.
Fox provides short bios of Lightnin' Slim, Guitar Gabriel, Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, Slim Harpo, Carol Fran, and others as well as an overview of their recordings. There is also a discussion of Miller's role as a songwriter and a producer, such as his urging Slim Harpo to sing more nasally such as country stars Hank Williams and Webb Pierce.

At the same time as Excello was providing a steady stream of blues releases, Morgan Babb brought both gospel artists and R&B talents like Lillian Offitt ("Miss You So"), the Marigolds (formerly known as The Prisonaires, and The Gladiolas ("Little Darlin'"). Young also started the Nasco label, which released some Jay Miller sides, as well as recordings by Cliff Curry, The Crescendos, rockabilly platters from Excello hillbilly stalwart Jack Toombs and hillbilly bop brothers Bob & Ray Wicks. Fox also details issues arising from Young succumbing to the payola practices prevalent at the time.

There is also discussion of some of the more significant recordings such as Gene Allison's "You Can Make It If You Try," and those by Roscoe Shelton. While Jay Miller's Crowley studio continued to supply much of the Excello output, Young "had accumulated a stable of versatile local musicians he utilized for various types of sessions: downhome blues, rock' n' roll, and soul." Slim Harpo became a major selling artist at the time, and with the prospering record labels, Ernie's retail and mail-order business continued to be a vibrant business.

But of course, this success did not continue. Fox chronicles the decline in the Excello's business, the impact of The British Invasion, and Young's declining interest in the record business that led him to sell the Record Company and the record store. The acquiring company, The Crescent Company, initially opened movie theaters. Crescent's holdings included chains of movie theaters, bowling alleys, and skating rinks throughout Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Mississippi. It was after Crescent acquired Excello that a dispute with Miller involving Slim Harpo signing directly with Excello ended the longstanding relationship between the two. Slim Harpo's subsequent recordings and early death are discussed as well as the new owner's efforts at recording soul music such as The Kelly Brothers and Kip Anderson, gospel on the newly named Crescent label, which changed to the Creed label because of trademark issues.

There were further gospel recordings and some albums directed at the pop market. Licensing of some of the classic Excello recordings to the British Blue Horizon label foreshadowed later rises of the Nashboro-Excello label's recordings years down the line. Jerry "Swamp Dogg" Williams was brought in as an independent producer with his releases on the new Mankind label, including Freddie North's "She's All I Got." Williams also produced a homecoming project for one of Excello's biggest stars. Lightnin Slim's "High and Low Down," as well as Z.Z. Hill's 'The Brand New Z. Z. Hill."

Times were changing though, as WLAC changed its format, which impacted the evening R&b shows, which in turn affected Ernie's Record Store and by 1977, the Excello and the A-Bet subsidiary, and issued their last singles. Eventually, the body of recordings would be mined for reissues over the years by AVI itself and Ace Records in the UK. 'Between 1994 and 1997, AVI reissued over thirty CD compilations of Excello, Nashboro, and Nasco recordings. While some were domestic reissues from Ace Records, the majority were original compilations featuring extensive liner notes and previously unpublished photographs." Then in "1997, AVI was purchased by Universal Music, and a significant amount of Excello material was released on Universal's Hip-O reissue imprint." Other reissues included a box set of gospel recordings and Bear Family's Slim Harpo box set. As Fox observes, "After more than six decades, records with the magical blue and orange record label shipped from Ernie's Record Mart to eager customers around the world continue to excite music fans."

Fox weaves the threads of the Excello story in a concise, well-written manner. This writer wishes a bit more space had been devoted to the gospel recordings, including how such artists as Brother Joe May ended up on Nashboro. However, I suspect that Fox expected the focus on blues and soul to be of most interest to his readers, and there is only so much space he had available. In any event, "Shake Your Hips" is a very welcome history of a very significant independent blues, soul, and gospel label.

I received a pdf download of this book from a publicist. Here is the late Lazy Lester, one of Excello's major blues artists.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Take 5 with Body & Soul

"Body & Soul" is one of the most iconic standards in jazz that has been recorded countless times since Louis Armstrong among others recorded it. Per Wikipedia" "Body and Soul" was written in New York City for the British actress and singer Gertrude Lawrence, who introduced it to London audiences. Published in England, it was first performed in the United States by Libby Holman in the 1930 Broadway revue Three's a Crowd. In Britain the orchestras of Jack Hylton and Ambrose recorded the ballad first in the same week in February 1930. by the end of 1930 at least 11 American bands had recorded it with Louis Armstrong having recorded the first jazz version. After Coleman Hawkins made his famous recordings, it has become a requirement, to paraphrase Dexter Gordon, for all tenor saxophonists to play and/or record it. This will be the first of my Take 5 blog posts devoted to this standard. I will focus on performances that predate Hawkins.

First up is Louis Armstrong's 1930 recording.

The highly underrated trumpeter Henry 'Red' Allen recorded it in 1934 with a band that included Dickie wells and Chu Berry.

The Benny Goodman Trio with Teddy Wilson on piano and Gene Krupa did a version in 1935.

Chu Berry with Roy Eldridge in his band recorded it in 1938.

Finally, we have the great Art Tatum from 1938.

This sets us up for next week when we will start with the classic Coleman Hawkins recording.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential:House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life by Roger Stolle

Mississippi Juke Joint Confidential:House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life
Roger Stolle with photographs by Lou Bopp
Charleston SC: The History Press
2019: 176 pp + 16 pages color photos:

Subtitled "House Parties, Hustlers & the Blues Life" is, per the description on the back cover, an effort "to tell the tales, canonize the characters and explain the special brand of blues bottled in the quasi-legal establishments. Roger Stolle has owned the Clarksdale, Mississippi, Cat Head Delta Blues & Folk Art store since 2002. A contributor to various publications, founder of several festivals, producer of several blues albums and documentaries including the fascinating "We Juke It Up in Here," Stolle brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the present volume. Lou Bopp is a commercial photographer who has also photographed so many of the artists in today's delta from James 'T-Model' Ford to 'Big' George Brock, and his blues photography graced Stolle's previous book, "Hidden History of Mississippi Blues."

Stolle has skillfully mixed his text, based on his years of observations, with interview quotes from juke joint operators, musicians, patrons, and others in a well-rounded overview. He quickly dismisses the notion that every blues club is a juke joint. In an early chapter, he observes that a real juke joint comes from the African American culture of the old South. It is like a house party, except not at the owner's house. Some characteristics include that a juke joint does not typically have a phone number or regular hours. They exist on the fringes of society and are cash economies. Some offer food, although one should not expect to look for a health department permit. Bluesman Jimmy 'Duck' Holmes, owner of Bentonia's Blues Front Café, says 'A juke house was where anything …" while Red Paden observes that "A juke joint has been our play world. You know, you get out and blow some steam.

Chapters provide background on some of the characters in this world, such as Robert 'Bilbo' Walker, who played juke joints and finally became an owner. Stolle has Walker tell his story and realized his dream before dying not long after that. In a sense, a juke joint is a field of musical dreams. Then, to illustrate the nature of juke joints and the blues life, Stolle brings together interview excerpts from many persons. These persons include Red Paden, Cadillac John Nolden, John Horton, James 'T-Model' Ford, Terry 'Harmonica' Bean, Big George Brock, Sam Carr, CeDell Davis, R. L. Boyce, Mary Ann 'Action' Jackson, Robert 'Wolfman' Belfour, and Louis 'Gearshifter' Youngblood.

There is also a chapter on Moonshine or white whiskey which Stolle first sampled at the late Junior Kimbrough's old juke and discusses going on a moonshine run. There is a chapter on Po Monkey's Lounge and its proprietor, the colorful Willie Seaberry. Another chapter is devoted to the Riverside Hotel with an overview of its history from the African-American hospital where Bessie Smith passed away to becoming the hotel where blacks traveling in the area could stay. Red Paden is a colorful figure, and there is a chapter devoted to Red's Lounge. This chapter introduces us to such juke joint characters as Miss Mae, Coburn, Dingo, and Big Charles. Stolle also provides tales from taking the juke joint performers on the road and the origins of the annual Juke Joint Festival.

In addition to Stolle's engaging and enlightening text, Lou Bopp's photographs cover a wide range of subjects from the juke joints themselves (interiors and exteriors), patrons, operators, performers, customers, and much more. There are black and white photos interspersed through a text and a sixteen-page section of color photos. Relevant web-links are provided at the end of the text. References and resources and an index follow these. This book is not merely a labor of love, but a book that will become an essential part of the libraries of many blues lovers.

I purchased this.