Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Johnny and Jaalene

Johnny and Jaalene
Ripcat Records

This album introduces the modern teen idol duet of Johnny Ramos and Jaalene DeLeon on a program of mostly remakes of teen rock and roll recordings from the late fifties and sixties. The 19-year-old Ramos is a guitar-playing son of blues guitarist Kid Ramos and is a guitarist as well as a singer who is tearing things up in a blues, roots and rockabilly band. Jaalene is a 16-year-old theater girl, and choirs student turned rockabilly diva who has been called "The Queen of the Teens." The dup handle all the vocals, including some duets, while the younger Ramos plays acoustic guitar. Backing musicians include Kid Ramos and Tommy Harkenrider on guitar, Brent Harding on bass and Kid Dabbs on drums with Jesus Cuevas adding Norteña accordion on 4 tracks and Rob Dziubla adding saxophone to three.

The appeal of the two (think Sha Na Na performance of oldies without the camp aspects of their stage act), is immediately evident on the pair's marvelous rendition of The Ronettes hit, "Baby I Love You." Jaalene's pure teen voice and Ramos' slight vibrato is so charming and puts to lie that those hits were simply the result of Phil Spector's production and not the singing of Ronnie Spector. Kid Ramos has a brief, taut solo here. I suspect Carla Thomas might approve Jaalene's wonderful singing of her hit "Gee Whiz." After Johnny's hiccup-ping take of Eddie Cochran, "Teenage Cutie," the two enchant us their sublime channeling of the Everly Brothers' hit, "Let It Be Me." With booting saxophone and some slashing guitar, Jaalene delivers a spirited vocal on Etta James' rock and roller, "Good Looking."

"Los Chuco Suaves" is one of the songs from the Mexican American tradition with Johnny rhythmic acoustic guitar while singing in what might find a melodramatic manner, with a choice button accordion solo. It is followed by another lilting teen ballad, "Angel Baby," as Jaalene sings about being in heaven with Johnny. Johnny sings Doug Sahm's Tex-Mex lament, "Why Why Why," with booting sax and accordion in the backing. While perhaps not yet possessing the weight of Wanda Jackson as a vocalist, Jaalene does a credible vocal on "Let's Have a Party," with some crisp guitar playing from both Ramos and Harkenrider. There is a lively rendition by Johnny of an obscure Bill Allen rockabilly recording, "Please Give Me Something," that is more focused and hotter than the original.

After Jaalene's delightful bilingual singing (with Johnny providing a genial harmony) on a Chicano rock ballad "Cuando Caliente," the two perform a Norteña styled rocking rendition of The Danleers' only doo-wop hit with surging grooves, hot accordion, and strong singing. It closes an album that may bring back memories to the older roots music audience, on an enchanting recording that brings some fresh sheen to classic rock and roll music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November- December 2018 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 381). Here is the official video for the recorded performance of "Baby I Love You."

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Mike Bogle Trio Dr. B!

Mike Bogle Trio
Dr. B!
Mbp / Groove!

The Dr. B in this CD's title refers to Mike Bogle having a Doctorate in Musical Arts. A music educator as well as a marvelous keyboard player (here on the organ) composer and arranger, he is joined by guitarist Richard McLure and drummer Ivan Torres for a straight-ahead organ trio recording of mostly standards.

From the sprinter's tempo of the first interpretation of "Cherokee," to the closing storytelling on "Walkin'," the Bogle Trio impresses with the crisp ensemble sound and their interplay. On the opening track all three solo and display their technical and musical command, with guitarist McClure's bright, single-note solos very appealing. McClure takes the lead on John Abercrombie's "Ralph's Piano Waltz," while Bogle provides a harmonic base before his pipe organ emulating solo while Torres puts down a crisp groove. There is a nice bluesy mashup of Neil Hefti's "Splanky" with Bobby Troup's "Route 66," that also includes some personable scatting and passable singing to go with the greasy organ-guitar here.

A relaxed, swinging take on "On The Street Where You Live" is followed by the closing talking blues, "Walkin'," with his engaging story-telling. McClure's chicken-picking guitar provides color to the vocal along with Bogle's repeated stepping riff pattern. If this is a somewhat brief CD (34 minutes or so), it is a wonderfully played organ jazz trio.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 382). Here is a video of Mike Bogle although on piano.

Monday, June 24, 2019

Grady Champion Steppin' In: A Tribute to ZZ Hill

Grady Champion
Steppin' In: A Tribute to ZZ Hill

"Steppin' In" is Grady Champion's 11th album and is a tribute to the great ZZ Hill who has been gone so many years, as well done in memory of his mother whose favorite artist was Hill. He states on the inside back cover to this CD, "I am very blessed and honored to have the opportunity to record the songs he sang on the label he recorded, and for the great writers work, which he performed for the world to hear." On this recording he is backed by his veteran road band of guitarist Will Wesley, Frederick Demby Sr. on bass, Sam Brady on keys and Edward Rayshad Smith on drums, with special guests including guitarist Eddie Cotton, the Jackson Horns, and Jewel Bass and Lahlah Devine supplying backing vocals.

Grady Champion and his band do nothing fancy here. They just bring back memories of Hill starting with the slow dance, bump and grind feel of "Down Home Blues," a recording that is still celebrated anyplace where folks "Bump and Grind" (another song revived here) to soul-blues and southern soul today. The band does an excellent job of backing Champion here, with guitarist Wesley standing out. One is impressed by the performances that convey much of the feel Hill gave these songs three-odd decades ago including "Shade Tree Mechanic" on which Grady adds some down-home harmonica fills, and Sam Brady provides grease on the organ. Then there is the insistent groove of Denise Lasalle's "Someone Else Is Steppin' In," with the horns and backing chorus adding punch. Champion's harmonica adds a down-home feel to "Bump and Grind" while Eddie Cotton adds some stinging guitar.

Champion really pours his soul into his insistent vocal on "I'm a Bluesman," while "Open House at My House," is one of two numbers ("Everybody Knows About My Good Thing") Hill recorded that were initially recorded by Little Johnny Taylor (not the Stax singer). They are both intense urban blues about back door men who know about too many personal details about Champion's wife (like a man knowing where his wife's birthmark is and the preacher who praises his wife's fried chicken). Wesley takes the lead guitar on "Open House" which has Champion's harmonica overdubbed over the vocal, while Cotton dazzles on the similar themed, "Everybody Knows About My Good Thing" with its line "Call the plumber there must be a leak in my drain." Other songs explore a similar vein including "Who You Been Giving It To" (when you're not giving it to me), and "Cheating In the Next Room" where the love is no longer there. Of course, not every song involves the back door lovers, and there is the soulful ballad about how much he loves his woman and would cut off his "Right Arm For Your Love."

The performances of "Steppin' In" may not radically rework the ZZ Hill original recordings, but Champion and his band bring a lot of heart and soul to this memorable tribute to a Soul and Blues performer who is still remembered and missed.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Grady Champion doing a number from his previous album.

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Shirley Johnson Blues Attack

Shirley Johnson
Blues Attack
Delmark Records

Vocalist Shirley Johnson has been a mainstay of Chicago’s North Loop bistro Blue Chicago for the past seventeen years, and that’s where you will likely find her unless she’s touring overseas. A Virginia native, she had roots in the church so many blues & R&B performers. A fellow Norfolk alumna, Ruth Brown was a role model, but she was influenced by such acts as Etta James, Johnnie Taylor, Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, and B.B. King. 

Johsnon worked pop as well as gospel gigs until a friend told her to go to Chicago where she relocated to in April 1983. Working first with Buster Benton and then with singer Johnny Christian, she got herself part of the Chicago scene. Then keyboard wizard Professor Eddie Lusk heard her, hired her to a Canadian tour and later brought her Blue Chicago as his regular vocalist, and after he died in 1992, she continued on at the club. In 1994 she recorded “Looking For Love” for Appaloosa which was followed by a 2002 Delmark album “Killer Diller.” She returns to Delmark for her new release, “Blues Attack.”

For “Blues Attack,” she has brought on board a band of guitarist Luke Pytel, keyboardist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Lovely “JR” Fuller, Jr. and drummer Cordell Teague with a horn section of Lawrence Fields, Kenny Anderson, Hank Ford, and Willie Henderson added to several tracks. The fourteen selections on “Blues Attack” include several written by Maurice John Vaughan, several by her band members and several that she contributed to, along with covers of R&B classics. 

This is just a solid set of Chicago blues sung and played strongly. Purifoy is first-rate on keyboards, while Pytel plays a solid blues guitar with just the right tone and bite as Johnson delivers the goods with her straight attack that eschews histrionics for a simple, soulful delivery. The songs range from her cautionary warning to her lover, “You’re Reckless,” and need to change his ways to keep whatever glimmer of a flame is in their love. The title track has a funky groove enhanced by a full dose of brass, as she sings about having a blues fever which moved through her body and mesmerized her, left her tired and soaking wet but nothing wrong with that, and Pytel shines more here). 

There is a nice rendition of the great Wilson Pickett classic “634-5789,” followed by an easy tempoed shuffle “Just Like That,” as she explains her relationship is over and moving on. “You Shouldn’t Have Been There,” is a fine atmospheric slow blues where she tells an ex to move on. “I’m Going To Find Me a Lover,” turns the tempo hotter as were she declares if it takes a long time its all right as she isn’t gonna take less than she deserves. It continues the lyrical center of many of the songs here emphasizing relationships that cool down or break down due to abuse or cheating. The performances have a variety of tempos and accompaniments that add to their enjoyability. 

Delmark should be thanked for bringing a healthy slice of blues from a marvelous singer who merits the attention “Blues Attack” should bring.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. This review originally appeared in the April 2009  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 315) although I have made some minor changes.  Here is Shirley Johnson performing "Blues Attack."

Friday, June 21, 2019

Paula Harris Speakeasy

Paula Harris

Born in South Carolina but now based in the San Francisco Bay area, vocalist Paula Harris has impressed folks in the Blues Scene. Her band finished in the top 3 in the 2012 International Blues Challenge and recordings have furthered her stature with praises from Dan Ackroyd, the late Lou Rawls and Stax legend William Bell.

Her new recording takes her into more of jazz setting as she explores the nexus of blues and jazz backed by an acoustic piano trio. The backing musicians include pianist Nate Ginsburg, bassist Richard Girard, and drummer Derrick 'D'Mar' Martin, with guest appearances from trumpeter Bill Ortiz, a poetic rap from Big Llou Johnson, and Christoffer 'Kid' Andersen on bongos on one song and waterpipe on another. "Speakeasy" was recorded at Andersen's Greaseland Studios, and he mixed the recording.

10 of the 16 songs on my CD are originals with Harris' lyrics and music from her and Ginsburg, two are from Bay area friends, and the others are interpretations of standards. Scott Yanow has suggested in the liner notes that Paula Harris has created a jazz-blues fusion, bridging "the gap between blues and jazz, while not neglecting soul and R&B." I have other singers around Washington DC (where I live) do the same, although they are often viewed as jazz singers. This is not to diminish the talent or what Paula Harris has accomplished here. She is a terrific vocalist. She sings expressively with power, but subtle and nuanced and one can appreciate the what the late Lou Rawls meant when he said she was "A thin vanilla coating on a dark chocolate soul."

And she brings her vocal talents to some stunning originals like the cautionary "Nothing Good Happens After Midnight," and the evocative ballad "Haunted." The there is spice and exuberance of "Soul Sucking Man," well she sings about resisting the temptation and charms of this gentleman, and her sober, elegiac rendition of "Good Morning Heartache" a marvelous interpretation of a song associated with Billie Holiday. "A Mind of Her Own" is a superb straight blues while trumpeter Ortiz creates a haunting mood to the sensual "Something Wicked" with interplay with her interaction with Big Llou Johnson's poetic rap. Ortiz's muted trumpet adds to the late-night feel of the Thelonious Monk jazz standard "Round Midnight" to which she has provided original lyrics and delivers a superb, longing vocal. Her splendid rendition fo Al Kooper's "I Love You More Than You'll Ever Know" is based on Donny Hathaway's interpretation. After the minor-toned blues about a cheating lover, "Who Put Those Scratches On Your Back," the CD closes with a playful take on Louis Jordan's "Is You Or Is You Ain't My Baby."

The contributions of her backing piano trio should not be overlooked. Pianist Ginsburg especially impressed with his deft accompaniments and lively, imaginative solos while the rhythm duo of Girard and Martin provide a light, yet firm foundation for Paula Harris' expressive, subtle singing. With this backing and the excellent material, "Speakeasy" is a superb recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of her performing "Nothing Good Happens After Midnight."

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Brandon Goldberg Let's Play

Brandon Goldberg
Let's Play
Brandon Goldberg Music

Joey Alexander isn't the only precocious young pianist to emerge in recent years. 12 years old when Brandon Goldberg recorded this album, he has been raising eyebrows with his considerable piano skills. His teachers include Shelly Berg, Avery Shape, and Matt Wilson, and he has been mentored by Monty Alexander. Alexander is quoted in this booklet including observing how he is "always knocking out the crowd." I note that he received a DownBeat Student Music Jazz Instrumentalist Soloist Honors Winner in the May 2019 issue. On his debut recording, he is accompanied by Ben Wolfe on bass and Donald Edwards on drums with tenor saxophonist Marcus Strickland adding tenor sax to two of the nine selections.

He is a player who follows his own muse opening with Monk's "Well You Needn't," where he perhaps plays less angularly and with more fluidity than usual. He hints at the melody more than stating it but impresses with his imagination and the logic of his solo. "Angel Eyes," is a number that he talked about with Alexander (who had accompanied Frank Sinatra on it) and listened to him play the changes, resulting in an austere performance that had hints of Monk's "'Round About Midnight" about it. Edwards deftly using brushes on this.

"You Mean Me," a contrafact of Monk's "I Mean You," is played with a funk groove. Strickland plays some rugged tenor sax while Goldberg's playing is more angular here. Other originals include the dynamic "The Understream" with Edwards featured and his tribute to McCoy Tyner, "McCoy," with an auspicious introduction by bassist Wolfe. The Beatles' "Blackbird" receives an exquisite interpretation. There is also delightful melodic quality to his performance to Herbie Hancock's "Dolphin Dance." Strickland is superlative on this as well.

He interprets two Duke Ellington numbers. "Caravan" opens with Edwards' rumbling solo and then Goldberg stirs listeners on piano and Fender Rhodes by his use of polyrhythms and a clever riff. A solo rendition of "In a Sentimental Mood" is inspired by Ellington's introductory riff his recording with John Coltrane. It is engrossing to see how Brandon constructs and develops a solo showing a musical maturity well beyond his age.

With the superb backing he receives from Wolfe and Edwards, and Strickland's noteworthy contributions, Brandon Goldberg has produced a superlative jazz piano recording, not simply a promising debut.

I received my review copy from a publicist. I have made stylistic changes to this review which first appeared in the May-June Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 384). Here is Brandon Goldberg performing "You Mean Me."

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Red Holloway Go Red Go!

Red Holloway
Go Red Go!
Delmark Records

Delmark has just issued the label’s debut recording by the veteran tenor saxophonist, Red Holloway, “Go Red Go!” A contemporary of Von Freeman and the late Johnny Griffin at Chicago’s fabled Du Sable High, he came up under the tutelage of Captain Walter Dyett who advised his students to practice outside to develop their sound. Particularly important influences on Holloway were Ben Webster and Sonny Stitt, leading to his big, rich tone and fleet agility which certainly did not inhibit his ability to straddle the blues and jazz worlds growing up. He played on some classic Chicago blues sessions as well as jazz dates. His career has run the gamut to backing Charles Brown in the studio in the late sixties (with Charles calling out Red by name on a choice tenor solo) to the 1989 “Locksmith Blues,” date for Concord co-led with Clark Terry. 

Go Red Go! finds him blowing with vitality backed by organist Chris Foreman and his trio (guitarist Henry Johnson and drummer Greg Rockingham). Its a buoyant swinging date opening with a lively Love Walked In. Legendary guitarist George Freeman takes over the chair for Holloway's late night blues, I Like It Funky. The title track is a retitled rendition of an Arnett Cobb sax sender as he takes off at rug-burning tempo, followed by the more romantic feeling of the standard Deep Purple, a prime vehicle to display his sensuous ballad playing with his vibrato evoking Webster. 

Holloway also provides his own take on Stardust, one of the ballads Webster was most associated with. Sonny Rollins classic calypso St. Thomas, is an unusual choice perhaps but Foremans solid unison playing and chording underneath his dancing solo adds to its charm and Johnson takes a nice solo here as well. There are strong interpretations of Bags Groove, and Antonio Carlos Jobims bossa nova classic, Wave." Guitarist Freeman rejoins him for the delightful reworking of Roosevelt Sykes', Keep Your Hands Off Yourself, that closes this album as he enthusiastically delivers the vocal with Foreman anchoring the performance and getting greasy during his solo that precedes the solos by Holloway and Freeman. Holloway used to play with Sykes. 

Holloway may not be a great singer, but the entire performance is simply too much fun and ends a finger-snapping, toe-tapping recording of first-rate jazz for lovers of tenor sax and organ jazz. He aint getting older, hes just aging marvelously.

I received this review copy from Delmark, but am uncertain whether this 2009 review was ever published. (Correction, It was published in the July 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 318)). Here is Red Holloway from a decade singing and playing "Cleanhead Blues."