Several months ago, This writer purchased a CD by a West Coast based singer, Alabama Mike, that I had been unfamiliar with. The disc, “Day To Day,” showed a forceful singer working in a mix of post-war blues styles. The backing wasn’t as consistently up to his level as a vocalist, but the promise certainly was there. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Pocono Blues Festival, and while there his drummer Scott Silveira gave me a copy of his new CD, “Tailor Made Blues” (JukeHouse Records/ 9 Below Productions).
Born in Alabama, Mike Benjamin has developed into a terrific vocalist as the 11 performances testify to. His fervent vocals at different times evoke Little Johnny Taylor or Luther Allison. While there is a varying personnel on these tracks, Scott Silveira on drums and Scot Brenton on guitar or harp are constants on most selections with Jon Lawton contributing songs and guitar while bass duties are shared between Kedar Ray, Willie Riser and Randy Bermudes. Tom Holland of James Cotton’s Band also contributes two songs and plays guitar on three selections. Benjamin himself contributed three songs and co-wrote another. The disc mixes uptown brassy blues shouters with more down-home Chicago-flavored blues.
Opening with the uptown “Tailor Made,” the album gets into a more down-home vein with the topical “Ghetto Life,” followed by “Eddie Lee,” an original number that suggests “Little Red Rooster. The driving “Go Ahead” by Jon Lawton has his inspired slide and Brenton’s complimentary harp as he tells his ex-woman he will be long gone. “I’m Gone,” is a wistful acoustic blues with Lawton’s acoustic harp, Ray’s bass and Brenton’s harp as Mike weaves his song about ‘baby I am going and hit road.” Jon and Sally Tiven’s uptown flavored “Enough to Keep Me Holding On,” is followed by one of the stand-out tracks on this disc, “Moon Dog Howl,” a Wolf-styled number with great harp and the twin guitars of Tom Holland and Scot Brenton weaving their mesmerizing guitar lines as Mike moans about howling around the back door and her man being gone now with Bermudes and Silveira laying down a crisp groove. “Stop Putting Me On,” is a nice blues-ballad with a hint of swamp pop seasoning with Sid Morris’ piano and Doug Rowan’s saxophones and a booting tenor solo. Its really hard to take a number that has become so associated with another artist, but Mike takes “Hoo Doo Man,” associated with the late Junior Wells, and places his own stamp as the performance comes off as if John Lee Hooker had reworked it with again some fine piano from Sid Morris and harp by Brenton. It is perhaps the other stand-out track here, which is not to take the rest of this recording lightly as everything here is first-rate. It is just that “Moon Dog Howl,” and “Hoo Doo Man” stand out in this elevated company. This is available from 9 Below Zero productions (http://www.9belowproductions.com/store), and I presume it will be available on cdbaby and better mail order retailers.
As stated, I was given this CD to review by Scott Silveira of 9 Below Zero Productions.