Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Lurrie Bell Talks About Love

Son of the legendary Carey Bell, its somewhat astonishing to realize that Lurrie Bell has been playing the blues for thirty odd years since being a founding member of the Sons of the Blues with Billy Branch and Freddie Dixon. The years have seen him work with the likes of his father, Eddie Clearwater, Koko Taylor and others while starting with the aptly titled Mercurial Son for Delmark which developed a following by astute blues enthusiasts and jazz-blues critics. Fighting personal demons, his partner Susan Greenberg, an artist, photographer and mother of their daughter, helped him find his way, but this year has been a hard one with her death followed shortly by his father’s passing, ironically around the time of the Delmark CD/DVD Getting Up Live, by Carey & Lurrie. Other recent work by him, including on the Delmark CD/DVDs by Tail Dragger and Mississippi Heat displayed his strong, distinctive playing, able to mix some of Hubert Sumlin’s quirky unpredictable style with some classic West Side guitar evoking Otis Rush, he has a wonderful disc on Aria B.G. Records, Let’s Talk About Love.

Produced by Matthew Skoller, Lurrie is backed by a band that includes Anthony Palmer on rhythm guitar, Felton Crews on bass, and Kenny smith on drums, joined on tracks by Sidney James Wingfield or Johnny Iguana on piano or organ; and Billy Branch of Matt Skoller on harp. Its a solid band that provides a solid foundation for Lurrie to deliver a varied and highly entertaining set. Mostly comprised of covers, I would be hard pressed to name a single song that will be familiar to many. The disc opens with a title track a West Coast swinger by singer-composer Al King, followed by Willie Dixon’s Earthquake and Hurricanes (on which Billy Branch adds his harp. The former is a solid modern urban blues, while the latter comes off as a solid Chicago blues performance. Andrew Brown’s pleading West Side Chicago Blues You Ought to Be Ashamed is winningly delivered with typically strong guitar before Lurrie takes on Pops Staples Why (Am I Treated So Bad), contributing some atmospheric guitar. He acoustically tackles J.B. Lenoir’s Feeling Good, with Jimmy Johnson adds a backing vocal. Little Richard’s slow blues Directly From My Heart to You, is most evocative of Otis Rush with strong guitar and soulful singing. Producer Skoller adds strong harp to the rendition of Willie Dixon’s Chicago is Loaded With the Blues. Adding in songs from Hip Linkchain, Smokey Smothers, and Willie Williams, Bell shows just how soulful a singer he has become as well as an strong guitarist with a lean, distinctive sound that lets the music breathe as opposed to attacking a solo with a sledgehammer style. The band is marvelously unobtrusive in backing him, providing wonderful grooves that never sound hurried or rushed. I would be hard-pressed to name an album by Lurrie Bell not worth hearing, but the strength of his playing and natural, heartfelt singing here makes Let’s Talk About Love, highly recommended.

Friday, October 26, 2007

An interesting take on Ike Turner

I've know Gaye Adegbalola for about two decades now, when I saw Saffire - the Uppity Blues Women performing at venues in the Washington DC area. With them and on her own she has produced some wonderful music and recordings as well as mentors and teaches singing and songwriting to up and coming performers.

I came across a article on Ike Turner that I think more folk need to now about. Ike was no angel and was a drug-addict and wife-beater, but he has served his time. he was a monster yet still was a musical innovator and appears to have turned his life around. Gaye's article on Ike certainly is thought provoking.

What's Love Got To Do With It 

Friday, October 19, 2007

Big Brown's Blues

There have been so many examples of blues artists who produced a small number of recordings whose recordings were highly prized by those who heard them but never reach the more general acclaim that their music deserves. Its been over twenty years since singer-guitarist Andrew Brown passed away after recording some excellent 45s, several tracks for Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series and two superb albums for Dutch Labels that I do not believe have been issued on CD. The Dutch Black Magic label has made almost all of Brown’s recordings available (the issued Alligator tracks excluded) on a wonderful limited edition reissue, Big Brown Blues. Packed in a book sized package, the contents of the two discs include his issued 4s for the U.S.A, 4 Brothers and Brave label and a pair of unissued titled from Brave; two unissued songs from the sessions used for the Living Chicago Blues series; the contents of his Black Magic and Double Trouble CDs and three demos recorded at Andrew’s basement. The booklet contains a bio from Bill Dahl and producer Dick Shurman’s recollections of Andrew and his music. As Shurman observes, “Musically, Andrew was accomplished, powerful, soulful and versatile.”
Influences on Brown include B.B. King, Lowell Fulson and T-Bone Walker, but in listening to these, his music struck me as very similar to that of the late Little Milton, which is evident in the wonderful treatment of Milton’s Losing Hand that is the first track on the second disc. It is more a matter of similarities in the voices and common influences. Like Milton, Brown was not only a fleet guitarist, but also a wonderful songwriter. Magic Sam covered Brown’s USA 45, You Better Stop, but there are any number of strong modern urban blues with sophisticated lyrics, sung with heart, while his guitar playing embellished, not overwhelmed, his vocals. He moves from a rocking shuffle like No More Talking to the blues ballad Your Love is Important to Me, then taking up a funk groove on Mary Jane. Dick Shurman had him cover some songs on the two albums with Tin Pan Alley, perhaps the best known song that he makes his own, but other songs covered include his terrific take on James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis’ Blue Monday, Joe Tex’s I Want to Do (Everything For You), and a Bobby Bland classic, Lead Me On. A few numbers are a bit more directed towards the straight soul market, but are also delivered so convincingly.
Having Brown’s two albums and even a 4 Brothers 45, I am delighted to have this wonderful reissue available by a person who should be much better known among a broader range of blues fans. His ‘mellow’ blues styling is akin to such other neglected past blues masters Mighty Joe Young and Fenton Robinson and is better than a lot of what is purported to be blues today. This is a limited edition and I recommend checking the better mail order specialists like BlueBeat Music to get this gem while you can. It is also available directly from Black Magic Records.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Roscoe Shelton's Soulful Legacy

Fred James has played a substantial role in documenting and getting recognition for Nashville's R&B scene. One of the artists whose careers Fred James helped to revive was Roscoe Shelton who passed away in 2002. Originally Shelton was on the Excello label for whom he made many fine blues and soul recordings, many of which were his own songs. Later he recorded for Sound Stage 7 where he had two national hits, appeared on the legendary The !!!!Beat TV show and then found himself burned out. He did record some for local labels and performed in local clubs and then semi-retired from music, working at a medical hospital. James recorded fellow Excello artist Clifford Curry in 1992 for an Italian label, and Curry told him many of his label mates were still around, leading to Shelton's career being revived which led to albums on Blue Moon, Appaloosa, Black Top and Cannonball (with Earl Gaines). "Save Me", the present set, is comprised of recordings from a variety of dates. One is a duet with Mary Ann Brandon is from her album "R.O.A.D.", while a track with Earl Gaines is an alternate of what appeared on Cannonball. A terrific singer that grew up in the Church (he was once a member of the Fairfield Four), he was very at home with the blues. Highlights include the terrific title track, the cover of Ivory Joe Hunter's "Blues at Midnight," the shuffle, "Why Didn't You Yell Me (For So Long)," and the belly-bumping blues, "Think It Over." Not a bad track here as Shelton never received the recognition his talents and music deserved. Highly recommended.

This is slightly edited version of review that appeared in Jazz & Blues Report

Friday, October 12, 2007

Frank Morgan keeps Bop Flame Burning Brightly

One of several saxophonists that was labeled the next Bird, Frank Morgan notes that was the worst thing to happen to him as it was something no one could live up to and then having three decades of adversity including addiction and prison. Since he has returned to the scene the mid-eighties with a string of excellent recordings for Contemporary, he has certainly re-established himself as a superior player in the tradition of Parker. HighNote has issued A Night in the Light: Live at the Jazz Standard Vol. 3 with a marvelous band including pianist George Cables, bassist Carmen Lundy and drummer Billy Hart. I have not heard the earlier two volumes but based on the performances. No surprises in the repertoire, with four of the songs staples of Charlie Parker’s repertoire, Confirmation, Half Nelson, Hot House and Billie’s Bounce, along with On Green Dolphin Street and It’s Only a Paper Moon. These are songs Morgan has been playing for decades but familiarity does not make these performances sound routine. There is plenty of full-bodied playing here with a marvelous rhythm section and while Morgan may take these in a more relaxed fashion than Bird would have 55 years ago, Morgan’s playing is quite satisfying. Certainly nice that he has aged so gracefully and continues to enliven us with this disc.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Nappy Brown returns

Its been a decade since Napoleon Brown Goodson Culp, better known as Nappy Brown, last had a new recording out. Thanks to producer Scott Cable, Brown has a terrific new recording available on Blind Pig, Long Time Coming. Helping on this new recording is a terrific band that includes guitarists Bob Margolin, Junior Watson and Sean Costello, keyboardist Jim Pugh, bassist Mookie Brill, saxophonist and harpist John Nemeth, and drummer Big Joe Maher. There is a mix of new versions of some of the songs most associated with Nappy Brown (Don’t Be Angry and The Right Time (which Ray Charles made famous as Night Time is the Right Time) along with a nice selection of material that range from hot jump blues like the opening Keep On Pleasin’ You to the more downhome feel of Walter 'Lightning Bug' Rhodes Aw Shucks Baby, You Were a Long Time Coming and the Little Walter classic Who. Aw Shucks Baby is the one track not from this session as it was from a performance at the Phoenix, Arizona club, The Rhythm Room. Brown's voice sounds like he has lost little over the years, comparing his renditions of Aw Shucks Baby and The Right Time with renditions on a 1991 Ichiban album by him. The new versions benefit from a much crisper band that adds more punch to the proceedings. I know Margolin has performed with Nappy over the years, but special mention must be made of Big Joe Maher’s drumming. Maher anchored the band that backed Nappy Brown in 1991 DC Blues Festival, and besides his own swing based jump blues, has been a sought after drummer for touring acts as diverse as Earl King, Johnny Adams, James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis, and Jimmy ‘T-99’ Nelson. Maher’s playing playing is consistently in the pocket. The foundation of Maher's drums and the electric bass of Mookie Brill is one reason the music here sounds so crisp and vigorous. There is plenty of terrific guitar throughout and Nappy is in real good voice, whether employing a stuttering shouting vocal on Don’t Be Angry, handling a ballad, Give Me Your Love, or singing with faith on the closing, Take Care of Me. One would be hard pressed to find any recording by Nappy as good as this one since his classic Savoy recordings. Highly recommended. For those in the Washington DC area, Nappy Brown appears at the State Theatre in Falls Church, November 2.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

At last a recording from Eleanor Ellis

Born near New Orleans, Eleanor Ellis heard the blues blasting out of the radio, but it was when working at the Tulane University Jazz Archive that she began to take seriously playing music. She played a variety of music there including bluegrass, old-time and country. A few years later she settled in the Washington DC area where she continues to reside today and her focus was directed on the blues as she became acquainted with some of the area’s musical elders who became her role model and friends. She first chauffeured Flora Molton, the DC area street singer and later started playing with her. Then in 1987 she toured Europe with Flora and local Piedmont legend Archie Edwards. Later she got into video production and produced the marvelous video Blues Houseparty, filmed at John Jackson’s home and featuring Jackson, his wife Cora, Archie Edwards, John Cephas, Phil Wiggins, Flora Molton, Larry Wise, and John Dee Holeman. During this time she was amongst those who founded the DC Blues Society, and after Archie Edwards passed away, helped found the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Society.

Throughout this time she has performed, often with others such as when she accompanied Flora or participated in performances given by members of the Archie Edwards Barbershop folk. Recently a CD of her with William Lee Ellis and Andy Cohen was issued that is available on She recorded a CD that she only sold at performances and finally has a new CD by herself on Patuxent Records, Comin’ a Time that hopefully will let folk outside of DC know about this musical treasure. The 18 songs are pretty varied in their source and contain few songs that should be overly familiar. Thankfully there are no Robert Johnson covers although there are several renditions of Memphis Minnie songs along with a couple each from Skip James and John Estes and songs associated with Tommy Johnson, Henry Thomas, Bull City Red and Lottie Kimbrough. She is joined by a number of musical friends including guitarists Neil Harpe and Mike Baytop, pianist Judy Luis-Watson and harmonica players Jay Summerour, Phil Wiggins and Pearl Bailes.

The disc opens with a John Hurt song that was filtered through Hurt’s disciple, Archie Edwards, Take Me Back Baby, which Eleanor adds her own touch to the pensive lyric along with her gently rolling guitar. Sleepy John Estes' Diving Duck was recorded at Archie Edwards’ Barbershop with Mike Baytop on harp and the late Richard Thomas on bones with a driving accompaniment behind Eleanor’s emphatic vocal. Ellis makes no effort to emulate Skip James’ ethereal style for Cypress Grove or Special Rider, as she delivers these songs in a sober fashion. Judy Luis-Watson adds a touch of barrelhouse flavor for 61 Highway, a song that suggests the toughness of Memhis Minnie that is evident also on Ellis’ strong interpretations of Minnie’s In My Girlish Days, Me and My Chauffeur, and What’s The Matter With the Mill, where Neil Harpe joins her for a delightful vocal duet. Harpe also does a duet with her on The Panic Is On, with its still timely and critical observations on things going. Sun’s Gonna Shine One Day, one of Flora Molton’s truth songs is updated from its Vietnam war era origins to a timeless message of things getting better some day with Phil Wiggins adding his sympathetic harmonica accompaniment. Another favorite track is her rendition of Jim Jackson’s Kansas City Blues, one of the true blues hits of the late twenties and early thirties. Eleanor is a marvelous singer and guitarist who delivers the performances in a natural manner that contrsts with the sometimes studied approach of some celebrated acoustic blues performers. This release was many years in the making and well worth the wait, and can be obtained from Patuxent Records at

Monday, October 01, 2007

Arthur Alexander's Final Chapter

Arthur Alexander was a sixties soul singer whose recordings of Anna and You Better Move On were covered by the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. However despite his influence he had left the music scene by 1980 and driving a bus and working with disadvantaged kids in Cleveland. In the early 1990s he recorded Lonely Just Like Me for Electra/Nonesuch as part of the short-lived American Explorer series. Sessions with some who had accompanied him in the sixties such as Dan Penn, Donnie Fritts and Reggie Young were joined by (among others) Gary Nicholson and Jim Spake for the original album which led to critical acclaim, an appearance on NPR’s Fresh Air and the a concert appearance in Nashville, which sadly did him in as he was checked into a hospital and a few days later passed on.

HackTone has just issued an augmented reissue of the album, Lonely Just Like Me: The Final Chapter that reissues the original LP with his performance from Fresh Air, hotel demos of several songs and a live performance of Anna at New York’s Bottom Line. Even today the subtle country-soul of Alexander appeals with his sober, melancholy performances. The studio album had him redo his Sally Sue Brown, along with twelve other performances. One thing about the studio performances is how akin to country music his songs and performances were starting with the opening If It’s Really Go to Be This Way, as well as Lonely Just This Way and Every Day I Have to Cry. If he had not died so prematurely, one can imagine him on CMT doing duets with the likes of a Marty Stuart. The Fresh Air performance includes some interviews and a bit more stripped down backing for Go Home Girl, You Better Move On, and Every Day I Have to Cry. Demos include an intriguing rendition of Neil Diamond’s Solitary Man, before his reprising of Anna. I would not call him one of the great soul singers in the manner of a Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett or James Carr, but his understated delivery does soulfully deliver these performances. Recommended.

Thi review originally appeared in the September 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (www.jazz-blues.c0m)