Chicago native Vance Kelly has been playing a whole stew of music before A.C. Reed took him on the road. Later he had a stint with Little Johnny Christian and since 1990 has worked throughout Chicago. Even today though a show from Vance Kelly will traverse jazz, rock, R&B and blues. His seventh album for the Austrian Wolf label Bluebird is subtitled “The First Blues-Only CD by Vance Kelly.” Accompanying Vance his vocals and guitar is The Backstreet Blues Band of John Walls on keyboards; Ed Williams on saxophone; Mark Miller on bass; and Charles Handcox on drums. Five of the selections are studio sides recorded in Chicago and the other 8 are live European performances with Vance’s daughter Vivian singing on one.
The time spent with A.C. Reed are reflected in strong renditions of Reed’s songs; the driving I Stay Mad, with a fine organ break from Walls; and the celebratory,My Baby Is Fine, with Williams raspy saxophone very prominent in this slow number where Vance celebrates his woman. Little Johnny Christian’s Ain’t Gonna Worry About Tomorrow, showcases some nice B.B. King styled guitar with Walls’ keyboards again standing out. These tracks also showcase Kelly’s very soulful, sometimes raspy vocals.
A good deal of the program here come from the soul side of bluestown including I Wish He Didn’t Trust Me So Much, where he sings about his feelings about his best friend’s woman and he’s scared she’ll feel about him while he husband’s away. Bump and Grind and Denise LaSalle’s Someone Is Steppin’ In, are strong Malaco blues with solid band work and guitar in addition the urgent singing which suggests the late Z.Z. Hill (and Vance’s daughter takes the vocal on LaSalle’s Soft-Hearted Woman).
Frank Kold, in his notes, observes that the rendition of Issac Hayes’ Bluebird owes a bit to Littler Milton’s rendition while the medley of another Johnny Taylor hit Doing My Own Thing with Al Green’s rendition of I Can’t Get Next To You, which segues into the Z.Z. Hill anthem I’m a Bluesman, with its lyrics about being raised on Jimmy Reed, washed in Muddy Waters and mothers watch out for your daughters, which just may be a highlight of this release. Then there is a driving rendition of the Bobby Bland classic Ain’t Doin’ Too Bad (with a booting sax solo that conjures up the memory of A.C. Reed) and a terrific medley of Stormy Monday with Take Off Your Shoes with some searing fretwork.
Delmark issued an anthology of recordings Kelly made for Jimmy Dawkins’ Leric label sometime ago, and he is heard on the Little Johnny Christian recordings anthologized there. I said at the time “Use What You Got, is a mix of soulful singing and a down home blues groove.” Much the same can be said of the present, very appealing recording and I will undoubtedly be checking out some of Kelly’s prior Wolf recordings, even if they are not 100% blues.
I purchased this CD.