Monday, February 14, 2011

Can't Keep Big Joe Maher Down

I remember when the DC Blues Society was putting on our third DC Blues Festival (I was on the Society’s Board at the time) that we needed to put together a band to back the legendary blues shouter, Nappy Brown, the late Nap Turner was enthusiastic that Big Joe Maher anchor the backing band. In the booklet accompanying the new recording on Severn by Big Joe & the Dynaflows, “You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down,” it mentions some of the folk that Joe has shared the stage including Earl King and James ‘Thunderbird’ Davis. Lots of acts make similar claims, but few can match Joe in not simply sharing the stage but playing drums and organizing the backing band for these performers. For several decades, Joe Maher has been an in demand drummer, vocalist and bandleader whose musical forte is swing and jump blues. When he rocks, the music rolls and when he sings, he love for the great blues shouters like Big Joe Turner and Smiley Lewis is obvious.

You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down has big Joe backed by a version of the Dynaflows that is comprised by members of Delbert McClinton’s backing band led by keyboardist Kevin McKendree. Others include Bill Campbell on bass, Rob McNelly on guitar and the late Dennis Taylor on saxophones. If memory serves me correctly, McKendree and Maher go back to Powerhouse, Tom Principato’s DC area jump blues band he reformed in the early 1990’s and after Principato returned again to showcase his sizzling guitar playing, Maher formed the Dynaflows whose original line-up included the then still prodigic talent of McKendree. McKendree subsequently left to play with Leroy Parnell and now Delbert McClinton while in the past several years establishing himself as a producer of blues and roots recordings. The two are re-united here for this disc which they co-produced in Tennessee, and the band just cooks behind Joe’s strong vocals.

The title track opens with the rollicking title song with some strong piano with Maher declaring you can try what you want, but can’t keep him down as McNelly rips off a terrific guitar solo. A nice cover of B.B. King’s “Bad Case of Love,” is followed by Maher’s solid “Evangeline,” a reworked rendition of King Karl’s swamp pop classic “Irene,” with McNelly evoking Earl King-Guitar Slim in his solo as Taylor’s saxophones add to the performance’s mood. Atlanta shouter Billy Wright penned “Whatcha Gonna Do,” that is a jumping shuffle with Maher in fine form and McNelly standing out some more against Taylor’s riffing saxophones in the background. The bittersweet blue-ballad “Someday,” takes the temperature down with McKendree’s accompaniment standing out here.

Jay McShann’s classic “Confessin’ the Blues” benefits from its spirited tempo as Maher belts out the lyrics as McKendree pounds on the ivories while McNelly plays another tough solo. “Supercharger” is a rocking shuffle instrumental where Maher sets just the right tempo (as he does throughout) that provides more space for McNelly fluid and imaginative playing. “Nothing But Trouble,” is a fine late night, slow blues by Maher with McNelly evoking T-Bone Walker as Maher convinces us about the heartache and trouble he sees. After a cover of Jimmy McCracklin’s “I’m To Blame,” the disc closes with McKendree playing some strong boogie woogie piano to kick off “What the Hell Were You Thinkin’?” which he composed with Delbert McClinton and Tom Hambridge,” and he adds a solid boogie woogie piano for this lively conclusion to this strong release.

Maher sounds very strong throughout here, even a bit more youthful sounding as a singer than this writer recalls. McKendree has placed in the context of a terrific band that sounds like they all have been playing for years. The tempos are right, the groove is consistently in the pocket, and the material is strong leading to a fabulous recording of blues that may be the best that Maher has produced.

The review copy of this release was provided by a publicist.

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