Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Little Joe McLerran Strong Traditional Blues

Listening to the opening field holler inspired fragment “Ratty,” followed by some Delta to Chicago slide guitar “Believe I’ll Make a Change,” was this person’s introduction to the music of Little Joe McLerran, and it certainly caught my attention. McLerran was the 2009 winner of the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in the solo-duo category, and his latest recording on Roots Born Reborn, “Believe I’ll Make a Change.”

McLerran was originally from the Boulder area and started playing in a band at the age of 9 playing Beatles, Bob Markey and old-time blues from Big Bill, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt. When the family moved to Tulsa, his music grew resulting in several recordings as well as winning the IBC. The present recording includes several solo performances as well as several with his band. I appreciate his splendid musicianship as well as his creative use of older material and his band that subtly embellishes his lead.

Just like the title track is a nice adaptation of an old Casey Bill Weldon number, “Down at the Village Store” is a lively, mellow Washboard Sam shuffle, with Dexter Payne’s reed adding a bass line, while Jack Wolfe’s restrained and subdued organ adds to the performance’s swing. Special kudos must be given to drummer Ron McRorey, who uses brushes on the last number. “Cocktails For Two,” is a solid Piedmont -blues styled original with McLerran’s Blind Boy Fuller-ish guitar runs complemented by Payne’s harmonica. The low-key reworking of Leroy Carr’s “Blues Before Sunrise,” is striking again because of the down-home trio and his relaxed, moving, vocal. A bit of old-time blues is provided by the interpretation of the Delmore Brothers’ “Blue Railroad Train,” indicating his wide ears for strong material as well as a being an additional showcase for his adept finger-style guitar.

On “Duck Yas,” Payne’s slap-tongue sax and bluesy clarinet adds a bit of traditional jazz to this delightful piece of hokum blues, while the traditional gospel number“Jesus Make Up My Dyin’ Bed,” is taken at a lively tempo set by McRorey, with McLerran playing some nice, precise slide runs. It is followed by a lovely small group rendition of Blind Willie McTell’s “B&O Blues,” with Payne’s harp in the musical mix. The band is a bit more energized on a rocking rendition of Homesick James’ “Baby Please Set a Date,” and again it is striking how with how much restraint he plays with avoiding the sometimes hyperactive renditions of say a George Thorogood. After an unusual original blues ballad about a Memphis policeman on the beat, and a Big Bill inspired “She’s Got Something,” where he celebrates his “sweet wife,” Little Joe closes with another field holler. It is a fitting close to a gem of a recording.

Little Joe McLerran understands that the mere possession of formidable musical technique does not translate into strong blues performances and he understands the value of restraint, both vocally and instrumentally, in putting together strong musical performances. He is also familiar and respectful of the blues tradition, yet places his own stamp on that tradition resulting in this gem of a recording. Recommended.

This review originally appeared in the January15-March 1, 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 323) on page 8. Minor stylistic changes have been made.

For FTC regulations purposes, my review copy was supplied by a publicist for this artist or recording label.

1 comment:

RichardInColorado said...

Enjoyable review for a deserving blues artist.