Monday, July 21, 2014

Jarekus Singleton's Refuse To Lose

Highly heralded before he signed with Alligator, Jarekus Singleton certainly impresses on his debut for the label Refuse to Lose. The Clinton, Mississippi native turned heads with his self-produced Heartfelt, and this new album certainly will wake up many listeners with the freshness of his sound and songs. He is backed by his band of James Salone on Organ; Ben Sterling on Bass and John "Junior" Blackmon on Drums and Percussion. On one song they he is backed by Brandon Santini on Harmonica; Ben Sterling on Bass and Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms on Piano.

While his guitar playing is a bit hard rocking to my taste, there is no question his abilities or his musical imagination. His blending of blues-rock, traditional blues and soul, funk and hip hop results in a very distinctive sound. His songs are fresh and bring together the various elements together in a manner so that the music comes across as multi-faceted, not contrived. One can not praise his band enough as they handle transitions from hard rocking to more restrained sections seamlessly. The rhythm section of Sterling and Blackmon is excellent, and organist Salone stands out with both his supportive playing and solos. But the leader’s insistent playing is at the fore, and even on a shuffle type number he adds unusual, interesting twists in his playing.

Singleton is also an extremely gifted, soulful singer. His voice suggests Robert Cray (an observation that came listening to Gonna Let Go), although his delivery has more of an edge. Singleton brings so much personality to these performances that often have unusual lyrical themes. On the title track, he sings about the adversity he has overcome, underlying the drive he has to Refuse to Lose. This and Keep Pushin’, are the most personal of the songs here. On the latter number he sings about a basketball career cut short by injuries (he starred at Southern Mississippi in college), how his uncle took him to a blues club where he was bitten by the blues bug, and that has now become the life he is pursuing with his music.

Other songs perhaps have more standard themes about being mistreated such as Crime Scene which is where his lady broke his heart or Sorry, where he sings about being soft-hearted and almost feeling sorry a little bit, but when he recalls the pain she caused, he isn’t sorry a bit. This song illustrates his clever way with a phrase singing that if lying was a sport she would have a number one draft pick and a number one seed as well as imagining what she might do for a Klondike bar.

Some of my fellow blues traditionalists may find this too rocked out. After all, my initial reaction to Refuse to Lose was mixed. However, listening to this over several weeks, I now appreciate Jarekus Singelton and how stirring his music is.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. He is appearing at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival on Sunday July 27 and I am really looking forward to his appearance. Here is a video of a recent appearance by him at the North Atlantic Blues Festival a few weeks ago.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Ronnie Earl Brings Good News

Ronnie Earl’s latest album, Good News (Stony Plain), certainly will be good news to the guitarist’s many fans. Earl is joined once again by The Broadcasters (Lorne Entress – drums, Dave Limina – keyboards and Jim Mouradian – bass), his band of over 25 years, to create a mostly instrumental CD. Also appearing is vocalist Diane Blue and guitarists Nicholas Tabarias and Zach Zunis. 

As great a guitarist as Earl is, the presence of Blue’s vocals on several tracks certainly adds to the pleasures heard here. The Disc opens with the Memphis music inspired I Met Her on That Train, with some rockabilly tinged playing (a bit of Scotty Moore mixed with Floyd Murphy). Ms. Blue is on hand to sing Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, with Earls’ thoughtful playing and attention to tone very evident. His facility on the fretboard is matched by the clarity and restraint of his playing. Few can convey such deep feeling, as even evident on the jazzy Time To Remember, with Limina’s organ playing standing out. 
 
Junior Wells is the source for In the Wee Wee Hours with another fine Diane Blue vocal and some playing from Earl that might suggest Buddy Guy (but with greater restraint than Guy would display today). Zach Zunis takes the first guitar solo here. It is followed by the infectious gospel-laced title track. Blues For Henry is a low-down instrumental tribute to the late Hubert Sumlin with Limina getting greasy on the organ.  

The closing track, Running in Peace, has lyrics written by Ilana Katz, who was near the finish line of the Boston Marathon when the first bomb exploded on April 15, 2013, which Diane Blue movingly delivers with Earl and the Broadcasters providing a sober background as Earl really gets down and pulls out all the stops on the solo here. It is a moving end to another excellent recording by one of the leading guitarists in the blues.

I received my copy from the label (and/or publicist). This review appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 355) and may be downloaded as a pdf file at jazz-blues.com. Ronnie Earl will be performing at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival at Blue Mountain Ski Resort on Saturday July 26. Here is my preview of the Festival, http://inabluemood.blogspot.com/2014/03/pennsylvania-blues-festival-celebates.html. Here is a video to give a taste of Ronnie Earl performing.


 

Monday, July 14, 2014

David Weiss Sextet - When Words Fail


Regarding the motivation for When Words Fail, the new Motema Music CD by David Weiss and his Sextet, Weiss explains that: “[T]he last year or so has been a time of profound loss for me and a lot of my close friends and acquaintances. Some of these losses have been very public and horrific. These were the themes that were swimming through my head as I put the final touches on the music for this CD and began to rehearse it. But, ideally, it’s also about lifting one out of that world, so it should also be about rebirth, hope and finding your way back. The music on When Words Fail is about acknowledging your pain but also about finding a way out, or at the very least, providing a temporary escape. I don’t want to say that this is what I strive for or set out to do when composing, but I do hope that this is what the end result of my endeavors will encompass.” 

For this album, Weiss reassembled his “original band,” The David Weiss Sextet, featuring his original band-mates (once fledgling artists themselves and now proven jazz stalwarts), Saxophonists Marcus Strickland (tenor sax) and Myron Walden (alto sax), pianist Xavier Davis, bassist Dwayne Burno, and drummer E.J. Strickland (plus guitarist Ben Eunsen making his recording debut on two tracks). Tragically these were Burno’s final recordings, as he passed away at the early age of 43, a week after these recordings were made. This album is dedicated to him. 
 
The music here will not sound unfamiliar for those who have enjoyed Weiss' work with The Cookers or his other efforts. It suggests some of the classic Shorter and Hancock sessions for Blue Note. The compositions are fresh and interesting and the performances are terrific, starting with the sparkling The Intrepid Hub, that was written for Freddie Hubbard. Burno was impressed by the title track when they first rehearsed it and the rendition here, Weiss states, is for him with a slower tempo. Weiss takes notable solos on both. MJ evokes the classic second Miles Davis Quintet renditions of Wayne Shorter’s compositions. Marcus Strickland standing out on tenor while the leader’s tone is a bit more extroverted than Davis while guitarist Eunsen is heard adding fiery playing. 

Wayward, part of an extended suite, is a feature for Walden’s fervent alto sax with E.J. Strickland energetic playing driving things along, while Davis also takes a solo. Karl Jenkins’ “Lullaby For a Lonely Child” is another sober composition that showcases Walden. The closing number, Passage Into Eternity, is dedicated to Jimmy, Nelba and Isaiah Greene whose daughter (and sister) was one of the victims of the Newtown massacre. Marcus Strickland and Weiss both stand out here, with more kudos to the terrific rhythm section. Burno was an anchor, Davis’ comping was precise and Strickland is among today’s most compelling drummers. This track concludes a terrific recording that is full of heart as well as exquisite playing. 

I received my review copy from Motema Music. This review appeared in slightly different form in the July-August 2014 Jazz & Blues Report (I made some corrections). You can download the issue as a pdf file at www.jazz-blues.com by clicking on that issue (355).  Here is a video of the making of When Words Fail.


Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Jigsaw Heart Shows Off Eden Brent's Country Side

In 2008, I called Eden Brent’s album Mississippi Number One, “ is a stunning recording of blues, jazz and soul… .“ I also observed that “[a]s a singer she sings with the authority of the late Esther Phillips, if a bit less nasal, while displaying the sassiness of a Denise LaSalle and a bit of Bobby Gentry’s country soul.” I was similarly impressed by next album Ain’t Got No Troubles, noting it “mixes a marvelous pianist and vocalist with strong material, sympathetic backing and varied, imaginative programming resulting in a terrific recording that should appeal to blues and roots music fans.” Eden Brent’s latest album, Jigsaw Heart (Yellow Dog Records) is another recording that  displays perhaps more of her country side as a performer.

Like Ain’t Got No Troubles, this was produced by Colin Linden who also contributes guitar (and mandolin on one track). Some of the others playing behind Eden on this include John Dymond on bass, Gary Craig on drums, Dan Dugmore on pedal steel, Kenzie Wetz on fiddle. Brent’s originals are mixed with interpretations of songs from Joan Armatrading, Billy Taylor & Dick Dallas, and Jimmy Phillips amongst others.

The very first two numbers illustrate the range of music on Jigsaw Heart as well as the extent of Ms. Brent’s talent and artistry.Better This Way has her singing about leaving today but the relationship ended sometime before, so lets raise a glass to toast the past.. This is a classic country waltz that has a bit of a swamp pop feel as well. Everybody Already Knows in contrast is a romp about the whole town knowing Eden and her lover are messing round, with some wonderfully rollicking piano that evokes Jerry Lee Lewis (although perhaps not quite as wild). Both are superbly sung and played and display her considerable gift as a songwriter. The title tracks another wonderful lyric as she asks her cowboy angel whether he has what it takes to un-break her heart.

In addition to these wonderful originals she provides her own take on Joann Armatrading’s Opportunity, with a vocal that suggests Bobby Gentry. Another noted cover is the Billy Taylor- Dick Dallas penned I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free, which was inspired by Nina Simone’s classic rendition of this. Its a good performance with backing singers, although I would love to hear Eden perform this just with her piano.

Jigsaw Heart is a superb recording. Eden Brent has a range as a pianist, singer and songwriter comparable to the late Charlie Rich. Like Rich she brings complete authority to renditions of blues, country and soul. I look forward to hearing more from Eden Brent and her continual musical growth.

I received my review copy from Yellow Dog Records. Here is a video of a interview and performance by Eden.


Monday, June 16, 2014

What a fascinating set list

From left to right - Jim Lande, Eric Selby, David Bird
The Tinner Hill Blues Festival closed on Sunday, June 15 with its annual Blues Brunch. This year it was held at JV's in Falls Church VA and featured various performers affiliated with the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation. The first performers were Jim Lande on saxophone, clarinet, harmonica and bones with David Bird on guitar. The vocals were shared between the two and were also accompanied by Eric Selby on drums. I told Jim and David that they had a terrific set list and later Jim commented with the list that David put together and here is it.

Bay Rum Blues -- Ashley & Foster 1933
Floating Bridge -- Sleepy John Estes -- 1937
Boats Up River -- John Jackson 1965
Nothing in Rambling -- Memphis Minnie -- 1944
Red River -- Josh White 1933
How Long Blues -- Leroy Carr -- 1928
France Blues -- Harvey Hull with Cleve Reed -- 1927?
The World is Going Wrong -- Mississippi Shieks -- 1931
Back Door Stranger -- Brownie McGhee - 1940
Richmond Blues -- Blind Boy Fuller -- late 1930s?
Early in the Morning -- Louis Jordan -- 1947
Shake it and Break it -- Charley Patton -- 1929
Ain't Your Business -- Slim Harpo -- album 1961 (wonder if there was an earlier single?)
I like what you do -- original
Hard Time Killing Floor -- Skip James 1931
Who Do You Love -- Bo Diddley -- 1956


David later commented that he based "Red River Blues" on John Jackson's rendition and learned "Richmond Blues" from John Cephas' and Phil Wiggins rendition. I would not be surprised that many folk would be unfamilar with all but a few of these songs. I have never heard anybody interpret John Estes' "Floating Bridge" nor the Harvey Hull and Cleve Reed recording. Certainly it was a treat to listen to such a fine set of songs that it seems some who call themselves blues lovers might criticize for originality (i.e. not enough original songs).

Friday, June 13, 2014

Albert Castiglia’s new album Solid Ground is his debut for Ruf Records. Castiglia got the blues world’s attention when he toured with the legendary Junior Wells in the 1990s and after Wells’ 1998 death, toured with the Atlanta based singer, Sandra Hall. In the subsequent years he has built a considerable following with his singing, guitar playing and songwriting. On his new recording, his guitar and vocals are backed by the veteran team of Matt Schuler (bass/vocals), Bob Amsel (drums), Jeremy Baum (B3/piano/wurlitzer), Lou Bevere (guitar/vocals) and Debbie Davies (guitar/vocals) – plus Dave Gross on multi-instrumentation and production.

With Dave Gross’ production, Castiglia provides us some blues and rock that is crisply played opening with the opening Triflin’. He is an appealing, honest singer and his guitar playing displays not only his virtuosity, but a thoughtful soloist. Keep You Around Too Long is a first-rate performance with terrific ensemble playing while his guitar  grabs the listener. Have You No Shame makes adroit use of tremolo in his guitar on a soulful performance that contrasts with the strutting shuffle groove and vocals of Put Some Stank On It, a duet with Debbie Davies.

Love One Another, a message song about overcoming hate, makes use of a funky bass riff that evokes classic Memphis soul. Celebration, a departure from the blues, is an exceptional performance in the manner of a Bob Seger, and there is a nice  cover of the Stones’ Sway. Another stand-out blues here is an intense version of Lefty Dizz’s Bad Avenue, with outstanding singing and playing. Little Havana Blues (Arroz Con Mango), with a latin groove, is an crisp instrumental that allows Castiglia to stretch out.

Castiglia is a very good singer and marvelous guitarist whose talent is well displayed on the very entertaining Solid Ground that will have considerable appeal.

I received my copy from a publicist.Here he can be seen performing Bad Avenue.


Thursday, June 12, 2014

Teeny Tucker Voodoo to Do You

Teeny Tucker is the daughter of a blues legend. Her father was Tommy Tucker of Hi-Heel Sneakers fame, although he passed away in 1982, long before Teeny started singing professionally. While growing up singing in church choirs, in the past two decades she has become one of the finest vocalists in the blues world, possessing a forceful and expressive voice that exhibits not simply her power as a singer, but her phrasing, vocal dynamics and controlled pitch.

Teeny Tucker's most recent album, Voodoo to Do You, is a strong collection of performances that includes her renditions of songs associated with Koko Taylor - Voodoo Woman, Howlin’ Wolf - Commit a Crime, and Christine Kittrell -a marvelous rendition of Lieber & Stoller’s I’m a Woman (many know this from Peggy Lee, but Kittrell first recorded this). In addition to Voodoo Woman, several songs (but not all) have a voodoo theme, including Love Spell, and Is Your Voodoo Workin’. Listening to her, one hears a wide range of influences including such legendary figures as Koko Taylor, Christine Kittrell, Lavern Baker and Big Maybelle, but like them she has developed into her own compelling sound.

The album also includes strong acoustic performances of Skip James’ Hard Time Killing Floor Blues and Rev. Gary Davis’ Death Have No Mercy. Both are wonderfully sung and enhanced by the playing of guitarist Robert Hughes. A final bonus track was recorded at the legendary Sun  Studios. This marvelous recording can be purchased from her at her performances or on cdbaby.com where I purchased it. Her website is teenytucker.com.

Teeny Tucker headlines the Tinner Hill Blues Festival on Saturday June 14, 2014. She will be doing a presentation on women in the blues that morning at 10AM and will be performing at around 7:15PM. For  more information on the Tiinner Hill Blues Festival, visit http://tinnerhill.org/blues-festival. To read my  preview of the Festival from April see http://inabluemood.blogspot.com/2014/04/21st-tinner-hill-blues-festival-june-13.html.

Here is Teeny in performance at the 2012 Pennsylvania Blues Festival singing "Voodoo Woman."