Monday, April 24, 2017

Hayes McMullan Everyday Seem Like Murder Here

Hayes McMullan
Everyday Seem Like Murder Here
Light in the Attic Records

Gayle Dean Wardlow was traveling in Black communities in his native Mississippi in the mid-sixties looking for old blues 78s when his comment regarding Charlie Patton 78s to Hayes McMullan was answered by Hayes who told Wardlow he knew and played with Patton. Wardlow recorded interviews with McMullan where he discussed experiences with Patton, Willie Brown, Ishman Bracey and others. Also Wardlow recorded performances by him on several occasions, even though McMullan had stopped playing music in the early 1930s, so he had to practice and had some song lyrics written down as he had forgotten them over the years. The interview materials have been incorporated in Wardlow's work on Patton (including the biography of Patton co-authored with the late Stephen Calt and currently being rewritten by Wardlow). Now, a half century after this encounter, Light in the Attic Records has issued a CD of the music from around a half century with some brief interview excerpts, such as what it was like to play a party-dance with Patton, or what songs Patton regularly played.

McMullan was recorded over several occasions and had different instruments to play. Given the fact he had stopped playing decades earlier after his brother had been poisoned, one might hear some rust or tentativeness in some of these performances, but he still had a certain robustness in his music on many of these starting with on an 8-bar blues "Fast Old Train," heard after a short interview segment when he talks about himself. It is followed by a terrific "Look-a Here Woman Blues," a solid blues that musically evokes Tommy Johnson along with the incorporation in the second verse of "No Special Rider Blues."

There are short false starts (like for "Back Water Blues") followed by a fine "Goin' Away Mama Blues," followed by his take on a girl every day theme, "Every Day in the Week," which John Miller, in his astute musical analysis in the accompanying booklet, observes is a rare instance of a Mississippi bluesman recording in A, although his simple self-accompaniment has a strong rhythmic emphasis. Listening to "Hurry Sundown," one is reminded of some of the field recordings from this period in terms of the gristle in the voice and the rhythmic aspect of the playing, although it ends abruptly (issue with tape recorded on perhaps). "Smoke Like Lightning" is influenced by Charlie Patton opening with the "chips flying everywhere" verse, with a Tommy Johnson falsetto although his vocal sounds a bit tentative.

There are so many intriguing things that strike a listen like his variation in his accompaniment of "Goin' Where The Chilly Winds Don't Blow," or his comments of Patton's music and what he was playing with Patton's "High Water" is playing in the background. There is a driving rendition of the parlor guitar piece, Spanish Fandango," a tantalizing fragment of another Patton number "Hitch Up My Pony," and the title selection with the underlying triplet feel in the accompaniment showing kinship to Skip James' "Special Rider Blues," as he sings about packing up and going. Another variation on getting a girl everyday of the week is "Gonna Get Me A Woman (Aka Sunday Woman)," with a simple accompaniment.

The repertoire is fascinating and includes "Kansas City Blues," a rendition of the Jim Jackson "hit" that Jackson recorded several times and Patton covered changing the location to Alabama. Also he has a unique take in "Bo Weevil Blues," a common theme and then two short takes of "'Bout a Spoonful," with some very nimble picking. "No Triflin' Kid," is a short performance with some Patton like beating on the guitar and a Tommy Johnson falsetto, followed by an instrumental, "Delta Walk," and his robust self-accompaniment of "Roll and Tumble."

The closing "I'm Goin', Don't You Wanna Go?," might suggest Furry Lewis at places and the lyric has him incorporating "hurry sundown, let tomorrow come," and hearing "Billy and Stagolee arguin' in the dark." McMullan turned down the opportunity to go North to record with Patton (and Son House and Willie Brown) and one can only imagine what he might have sounded if he recorded then. The performances, with some imperfections and tentativeness, stand up well a half century later and show what a strong Delta blues musician he was. Rather than be part of the blues scene, McMullan was a church deacon, involved in civil rights work and trying to get blacks registered to vote as well as worked on a plantation. He did perform for a 1979 Mississippi Public Television documentary narrated by B.B. King. In this writer's humble opinion, "Everyday Seem Like Murder Here," is the major country blues release of the past couple years.

I purchased this. Here is "Fast Old Train."

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Eddie Burks Comin’ Home

Eddie Burks
Comin’ Home
Rising Son Blues

Eddie Burks has a brand new album on Rising Son Blues, a label dedicated to his music. Burks was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and moved to Chicago, working in a steel mill. He made scattered singles and one-shot recordings until his 1991 debut album, Vampire Woman.

While he is not among the first rank of the harp players, he employs it effectively and is an effective, ebullient vocalist with a touch of melancholy. There is an interesting mix of tempos and musical seasonings from the country on the opening Dead or Live, while Sugar Hill Blues, about a part of the ghetto which is the ghetto resident’s dream, free from the drug users and dealers and the ever present Mr. Needmore. Maxwell Street Jump is an instrumental take on Dust My Broom and there are attractive covers of I’m a Man and Worried Life Blues. The backing band has some ragged edges. Lead guitar Shad Davis plays some biting lines, and Carl Snyder’s keyboards helps hold everything together.

In summary this is a very entertaining, if not exceptional, set of gritty performances. If you can’t find this one, you can contact Rising Son Blues at P.O. Box 288752, Chicago, Il 60626 or you can call 1-800-4-RISING.

This review originally appeared in the November 1994 Jazz and Blues Report Issue 196). I do not remember if i purchased this or received a review copy. This is likely available used. Here is Sugar Hill Blues.

Friday, April 21, 2017

John Primer & Bob Corritore Ain't Nothing You Can Do!

John Primer & Bob Corritore
Ain't Nothing You Can Do!
Delta Groove Music

Delta Groove just issued a new recording by the Chicago veteran John Primer and harmonica player Bob Corritore, who is one of the co-producers of this as well. Bring some the likes of Henry Gray or the late Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Big John Atkinson or Chris James on guitar, Troy Sandow or Patrick Rynn on bass and Brian Fahey on drums and one has a terrific band for the traditional Chicago Blues follow-up to the acclaimed 2013 "Knockin' Around These Blues."

The material is a mix of strong originals and choice covers with the music evoking the late Muddy Waters (Primer was guitarist in Waters final band) with a touch of Magic Slim, with whom Primer played with for many years with the driving, insistent groove. The instrumentation here also lends this the sound of a Muddy Waters recording (with Corritore's harp lending the feel of the Waters Band when James Cotton was in it), although I believe Waters only recorded John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson's "Elevate Me Mama," which has terrific piano from the late Barrelhouse Chuck.

Originals like the topical, opening "Poor Man Blues," who is living the best way he can, and the closing slow, closing Muddy Waters-styled "When I Leave Home," bookend terrific renditions of Johnny Temple's "Big Legged Woman," with Muddy Waters' styled slide; Snooky Pryor's Vee-Jay classic, "Hold Me In Your Arms," has Henry Gray on piano; Magic Slim's chugging "Gambling Blues"; and a Corritore feature, "Harmonica Boogaloo." The Chuck Brooks-penned title track was originally recorded by Albert King. It is a slow blues where Primer authoritatively tells his woman know that no matter what she does, nothing will stop John from loving her or drive him away. With solos from Henry Gray, Corritore Jon Atkinson and Primer himself, Primer and band conjures up the Mississippi King Bee (Muddy Waters) himself here (and elsewhere).

A rendition of Don Nix's "For a Love of a Woman" and Howlin' Wolf's "May I Have Talk With You," where Primer plays some Elmore James's style slide on a rollicking shuffle adaptation of Wolf's song round out a terrific recording that is as a good an evocation of classic Chicago blues (particularly the great Muddy Waters band of the late fifties through early seventies) as has been heard in the past few years.

I received a review copy from Delta Groove. Here is an album teaser.

Thursday, April 20, 2017

John Brim Ice Cream Man

John Brim
Ice Cream Man
Tone Cool / Rounder

John Brim made several classic Chicago blues recordings in the 1950s, and he occasionally has surfaced over the past four decades. He guested on Bob Margolin’s recent Alligator album and Margolin has helped Brim with this, his first ever full album. 

Margolin is joined by harmonica player Jerry Portnoy and others to help Brim reprise three of his Parrot/Chess recordings, Tough Times, Ice Cream Man and Be Careful. Margolin’s presence is major a factor in why this captures much of the feel of Brim’s fifties recordings on these three, on Brim’s originals (the topical Wake Up America) and versions of Muddy Water’s Standin’ Around Cryin’ (with splendid Margolin slide) and Little Walter’s Can’t Hold Out Much Longer. Brim, like Jimmy Rogers, sings in a cleanly articulated, relaxed manner. 

While he may sound a tad rusty four decades older, he still sings with a warm, relaxed honesty. Margolin’s dedication to perpetuating the classic Chicago blues sound makes this a solid session of interest to any with an interest in Chicago blues.

This review originally appeared in the November 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 194). I likely received a review copy from Rounder Records.Here is his original rendition of the title track. This may be only available used or as a download.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix Crowin' the Blues

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix
Crowin' the Blues
Woodstock Records

Professor Louie & the Crowmatix is a Woodstock, New York based Americana/roots musical group led by Aaron Louis Hurwitz, who collaborated with The Band for over fifteen years. He is a musician and producer, nicknamed "Professor Louie" by Rick Danko, and also a regular at the workshops of Common ground on the Hill in Maryland. Originally a studio band, the Woodstock NY based aggregation who now perform regularly and this is their third album. The Crowmatix are Professor Louie (vocals, accordion, piano, Hammond organ, keyboards); Miss Marie (vocals, percussion, piano); Gary Burke (drums, percussion); Frank Campbell (bass, vocals); John Platania (electric /acoustic guitars); Josh Colow (lead guitar) and special guest Michael Falzarano (guitar).

This is a solid and a very likable set of well played straight-forward blues and roots tunes. Professor Louie and Miss Marie are solid vocalists, although this listener would not call either an outstanding singer. The tone is set on the opening rendition of Marie Adams "I'm Gonna Play the Honky Tonks," with the Professor handling the vocal and taking a nice piano solo. There is chugging groove on the original "Prisoner of Sound" and followed by their rendition of "High Hell Sneakers," with Platania taking a short solo. Miss Marie handles the lead on the melancholy ballad "Love is Killing Me," while there is some rollicking piano and slide on a credible cover of Elmore James' "Fine Little Mama."

Professor Louie handles the vocal on Jimmy McCracklin's "I Finally Got You," with an insistent, driving rhythm. It sounds like an accordion creates hornlike riffs on Big Bill Broonzy's "Why Did You Do That to Me,"  a performance that  suggests the classic "Make Me a Pallet on the Floor." There is a creative reworking of the Jay McShann-Walter Brown classic "Confessing the Blues," erroneously credited to B.B. King. Miss Marie ably handles the lyrics against a solid backing that sounds derived from Ray Sharpe's "Linda Lu." Similarly, they rework the Jimmy Reed shuffle "Bright Lights, Big City," into a slow R&B flavored groove. Jimmy Rogers' "That's Alright," has been covered so often that it takes more than the listenable performance here to leave a deep impression. The album closes with Professor Louie on a bouncy instrumental, "Blues For Buckwheat," an affectionate tribute to the late zydeco legend.

This is a well played and sung recording, with a nice choice of material, but overall while there is  good music here, nothing left a deep impression. I have a feeling I might enjoy them more live than on this recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is "Love is Killing Me," from the recording.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Billy Flynn Takes the Lonesome Highway

Billy Flynn
Lonesome Highway
Delmark Records

As Tom Hyslop observes, for all the recordings Billy Flynn has played on for Delmark over several decades “it is hard to believe” that this release is first his for the label as a leader which places him in the spotlight, not simply as the fluid, straight no chaser, blues guitarist (and harmonica player and percussionist), but as a songwriter and an able vocalist. With a core backing band of Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, E.G. McDaniel on bass and Andrew ‘Blaze ’ Thomas on drums, Flynn contributes sixteen idiomatic originals along with a cover of “The In Crowd.” Several tracks employ horns and Deitra Farr duets with him on two selections.

Flynn has provided a nice variety of songs which provides him a chance to display his versatility as a guitarist with a dash of harmonica as well. There is a rock and roll flavor to his guitar (evocative of Chuck Berry who just passed away as I write this) on the opening “Good Navigator,” which is a delightful duet with Farr. “Small Town” is a nice, low-key performance with a sober vocal and guitar suggestive of Earl Hooker with a dash of harmonica for good measure. The title track is a strong Otis Rush styled West Side Chicago blues with a strong vocal and some superb Rush-like guitar soloing, while the instrumental take of The ‘In’ Crowd" is a driving instrumental (shades of Jimmy Dawkins) with some strong organ under Flynn’s funky mix of chords and single note runs. Another solid West Side Styled blues is ”The Lucky Kind."

Hold On,” with more harmonica, is another duet with Farr set to a Jimmy Reed groove with crisply played guitar (echoes of Eddie Taylor) and harmonica breaks. “Jackson Street” sounds inspired by Robert Nighthawk’s “Jackson Town Gal” and Flynn adds some solid Nighthawk influenced slide guitar, while the rollicking “Long Long Time” is akin to J. B. Lenoir’s “How Much More.” The funky “I Feel ‘Um“ opens with Christopher Neal’s booting tenor sax with some jazz-inflected playing akin to Fenton Robinson. The instrumental ”Blues Express“ finds Flynn’s string-bending suggesting Freddie King, while his guitar playing and deliberate vocal on ”Sufferin’ With the Blues” is modeled after Albert King, and his playing emulates B.B. King on the closing “Christmas Blues.”

In addition to his chameleon like ability to suggest a number of legendary blues guitarists, Flynn’s idiomatic originals,  choice harmonica playing and  natural, heartfelt singing, make this a gem of a recording. It does not hurt to have such crisp backing throughout on this gem of a new blues album.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Billy Flynn in performance.

Monday, April 17, 2017

LazyEye Pocket The Black; Live at Chapel Lane

Pocket The Black; Live at Chapel Lane

LazyEye is an Australian blues trio consisting of Evan Whetter, vocals, organ and harmonica; Erica Graf, guitar and backing vocals; and Mario Marino, drums & backing vocals. Very popular and honored down-under, they competed in the Blues Foundation's 2016 International Blues Challenge. "Pocket The Black" was recorded live at the Chapel Lane Studio with a studio audience. This is not unprecedented as Otis Spann's Bluesway album, "The Blues Is Where It's At" was recorded with a studio audience. While noting a studio recording allows one to capture as close to perfect a performance and make overdubs to correct minor imperfections. However, given the live approach they chose for this recording the best 'feeling' takes rather than seek perfection.

This band is new to this reviewer, but the trio impressed, especially instrumentally from the first moments of "Keepin' From Lovin'," to the ending "Swing From Marz." This is not to take anything away from Whetter's very capable singing and Graf's very fine guitar playing. Her well thought out lines set against Whetter's punchy organ and Marino's crisp drumming stands out on these performances that are nicely paced and nicely balanced. The title track is a swinging shuffle with a nice use of billiard metaphors with a jazzy solo from Graf. "Let Me Down Easy" is not the Bettye Lavette soul classic, but an original slow blues with understated organ and marvelous guitar to support the grainy vocal. "Mucho JalapeƱo" is an outstanding instrumental akin to Kenny Burrell's "Chitlins Con Carne," with a nice latin groove. Whetter provides some grease on the organ followed followed by Graf's carefully articulated, jazzy fretwork.

They call "Shack O' Mine" a tribute to Bo Diddley although the performance reminds these ears of Johnny Otis' "Willie and the Hand Jive" and Buddy Holly's "Not Fade Away," itself built on the famous "a shave and a haircut" beat. There is nice interplay between the band although the lyrics are somewhat inconsequential. "Do You Know How It Feels" is another slow blues, although perhaps the solos could been a bit more concise, perhaps a consequence of recording as a live performance. With Whetter on harmonica and Graf on acoustic guitar, the lazy "Treat Your Lover Right," has a nice Jimmy Reed styled feel. "It Ain't Right," has a spirited groove and unusual twists in its melodic line and the album closes with a jazzy "Swing For Marz," with some greasy B-3 and nice comping from Graf before she takes a sweet single note solo.

Listening to LazyEye here, one appreciates the fact that even when the tempo picks up as on "It Ain't Right," they never sound hurried or frantic. The ensemble sound is wonderful, drummer Marino stays consistently in the pocket and Whetter is a good, personable singer. This is quite an enjoyable recording and this writer would certainly enjoy more from them in the future.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the March-April 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 371). Here they are performing "Pocket The Black."