Wednesday, August 31, 2011

King Solomon's Strong Urban Blues

Born King Sylvester Lee Melicious Solomon in Louisiana in 1934, King Solomon began singing gospel with the Dixie Hummingbirds being favorites. Moving to Chicago he started his career as a blues singer there, before relocating to LA in the mid-fifties assimilating the urban blues and jazz there into his style that had germinated in Chicago.

King Solomon made the music world take notice with his gripping performance on two-part Non Support Blues which opens up with the police breaking down his doors to arrest him. This is the opening track on a Night Train International retrospective of his small label recordings, You Ain't Nothing But a Teenager. The 24 selections are Solomon originals, including other topical, real-life songs like Energy Crisis and Politician Rag. There are also strong urban blues like Separation Blues. The title track borrows the melody from Hound Dog, while Don’t Play That Song is not the R&B classic associated with Chuck Jackson and Aretha Franklin. It is a slow blues patterned after The Things I Used to Do.

He’s not about to ignore dance grooves as his track, The Moon Walk shows. While this cd does not include anything from his days with Kent Records, it brings together some choice tracks from the sixties and seventies with backing musicians that include Maxwell Davis, Joe Kincaid and Charles Wright (prior to his Watts 103rd Street Rhythm Band). Plenty of strong urban blues that fans of Bobby Bland, Z.Z. Hill and similar acts should enjoy and strong lyrics that certainly worth some folks giving a listen to.

I wrote this review towards the end of 2005 after purchasing this CD which is still available (it is on amazon and also available from Night Train International). I am not sure if the review was previously published, but this is a gem worth seeking out.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Ben Webster's Tenor Sax Magic At Ronnie Scott's, 1964

Ben Webster is generally recognized as one of the major pioneers and stylists of the tenor saxophone, whose beefy, brawny, yet sensuous tone and attack gave him a signature, recognizable sound which influenced other tenor players such as Dexter Gordon (who named a son after Webster), Paul Gonsalves, and Harold Ashby. His breathy vibrato was adapted by Albert Ayler and, later, David Murray. He was a player of driving swing as well as a tender balladeer.

A combination of lesser jobs being available to swing era stylists in the early sixties and his reputation for a volatile personality led to less work stateside, and at the urging of friends like Milt Hinton, he took a boat and sailed to England where he was booked by Ronnie Scott at Scott's legendary club. No one knew at the time that Webster would never return to the United States. But in December, 1964, Webster began an engagement backed by a trio with the superb pianist Stan Tracey. The performances, his first in Europe, were recorded and have been issued by the European Storyville label, At Ronnie Scott 1964: The Punch.

Its a wonderful collection of performances as Tracey helps spur on Webster, who Scott introduces as one of the kings of the tenor sax. Opening is Blues in B Flat, a brisk, swinging rendition of a blues Webster first recorded for Emarcy as Randle's Island, displaying his strength as a blues player (not unexpected given his Kansas City background and his work with Jimmy Witherspoon amongst others). It is followed by two superb ballad performances. Stardust, which was a feature for Webster in the Ellington band and remained a central part of his repertoire (and the rendition here is typical for him) and is followed by Gone With the Wind, which he had recorded with Art Tatum, and here he displays the velvety tone he often brought to a ballad.

The liner notes make a deal out of his renditions of Charlie Parker's Confirmation (inexplicably credited to Dizzy Gillespie) and Gillespie's Night in Tunisia, two bebop classics. One shouldn't be surprised at how Webster strong Webster sounds here. Confirmation after all is one of Parker's original blues, and Webster was quite at home with the blues. Also heard is a spirited How High the Moon, which after all was the source of another Parker classic bebop number, Ornithology. There is a tendency to perhaps make the gulf between swing and bebop broader than it was, and the better swing musicians might not play in the bebop style, but they could certainly play convincingly in the style.

There are also other strong ballad performances on this including My Romance and a especially lovely Over the Rainbow. The album closes with a spirited Cottontail, with Tracey's spare accompaniment helping propel Webster, before taking his own thoughtful solo. This engagement at Ronnie Scott’s was the beginning of a fruitful time for Webster. 47 years later Webster's music from then still strongly resonates.

I purchased this CD.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Ryan Shaw's Exhilarating Debut Still Sounds Fresh

Listening to This is Ryan Shaw, the debut Columbia album of 26-year old Georgia soul singer was a revelation. Knowing nothing about him, and listening to him for the first time, I was blown away.

He is a young singer doing covers of Bobby Womack, Jackie Wilson and the Falcons, and featuring originals, as well as tough funky dance numbers that sound like Junior Walker classics and bringing the same gospel-rooted intensity to these performances that characterize the originals. One does not expect to hear many young deep soul singers emerging in this era of hip hop, but this album certainly was a wonderful discovery.

Shaw is not too shabby with his originals like the frenetic Nobody. Producers Johnny Gale and Jimmy Bralower contribute the solid, funky backing for these truly exciting performances.

Ryan Shaw performing at
2007Montreal International Jazz Festival
This is a most impressive debut and one will be watching him grow as a performer.

This review was originally published in the August 2007 issue of Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 296) and of course there are a number of other ‘nouveau soul’ acts out there today. I had the pleasure of seeing Shaw at the Montreal Jazz Festival festival in July 2007 and was in line with the performance. Sam Cooke struck me as a prominent influence on Shaw, especially from a terrific rendition of If I Had a Hammer.

Shaw’s album undeservedly never received the acclaim he was deserving of but has issued an EP In Between in 2009. The music on this is similarly styled but the material is all original with Shaw’s deep in the gut soul preaching matched by the solid functional support from his band. It is time for a fuller new release and hopefully receive a bit more attention.

I likely received my review copy of This is Ryan Shaw from a publicist or the label. I purchased a download of In Between.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Being Prez Is Concise Look At Life And Music Of Lester Young

Being Prez: The Life & Music of Lester Young
Dave Gelly

Oxford University Press (2007)

Its been nearly five decades when Lester Young passed away and while he has been served by a few very scholarly biographies, the level of detail and technical discussion of his music may have put off some which is a shame since Young was a major innovator in jazz history. At a time when Coleman Hawkins was the man on tenor saxophone, Lester created a totally new style that influenced countless subsequent tenor players but saxophonists of all styles including the musical revolutionary Charlie Parker. British music journalist and saxophonist Dave Gelly has provided us with a concise consideration of Young’s life and music making use of the important works of Frank Büchmann-Muller, Louis Porter and Douglas Henry Daniels among others. Gelly takes us from Young’s youth, his father’s “abduction” of him from his mother’s home and growing up in the family band his father led to the last days as his health was failing him and his passing.

Lester Young’s journey includes playing as part of a circus in a minstrel show and also on the T.O.B.A. circuit. Then in 1926-27 the winter was spent in Minneapolis and while he later went back on tour with his father’s show, he dropped out rather than another tour in the Jim Crow south. Eventually he hooked up with Art Bronson’s Bostonians, and then the Blue Devils, Bennie Moten, a tour with King Oliver and eventually Bill ‘Count’ Basie. Lester established himself in the Kansas City scene and was a feared competitor in a jam session as recounted in the legendary one when Coleman Hawkins came to Kansas City. Not that long thereafter he was recruited for Fletcher Henderson’s Band but was never accepted there as the band wanted someone more in the line of Hawkins’ style.

A return to Kansas City led to his being back with Basie and the emergence of the Count and his band, who had their own travails to go through, including being induced to sign a horrible contract with Decca. But finally it led Lester into a recording studio where he waxed four sides for the American Record Combination under the name of Jones-Smith, since Basie was signed to Decca. Gelly writes: “This was the moment when Lester Young finally sidled out of the shadows, the moment when he ceased to be just a name, a rumor from the territory, a set of tall tales concerning jam sessions in bars and hotel lobbies and shoeshine parlors, and became a sound. For the first time, his music was caught, frozen onto shellac grooves and sent out into the world…”

About the first recording, Shoe Shine Boy, “Basie and the rhythm section play the introduction, setting tempo and mood, and then, after forty-five seconds, Lester young bursts forth. The first impression is of blazing energy and complete self-assurance. He plays with all the confidence and poise of a young man fully aware of his powers and in complete control of them. … Faced with such unhesitating fluency, it is easy to understand why other musicians at jam sessions would simply lay down their instruments and look goggle-eyed. … Here, constrained by the three-minute limit of the ten-inch, 78 RPM record, he confines himself to two choruses, sixty-four bars, lasting exactly one-minute, but it is obvious that he has barely hit his stride. The take was a perfect one… .”

From there on we follow Lester with the Basie Band as it plays various hotel rooms that the band perhaps was not suited for and start to make their marvelous recordings. He meets and begins a life-long friendship with Billie Holiday (some under Teddy Wilson’s name) and participates on a number of her finest recordings as well as plays behind her when she sings with Basie. Then there is his relationship with Texas tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans, whose style was more akin to Hawkins and while Basie exploited the contrasting styles on many recordings and performances. Evans alas was one of many jazz artists who died so prematurely. Lester would leave Basie and lead his own group, although as an individual he lacked the temperament and relied on assistance of others while producing more wonderful recordings.

There was the reunion with Basie and then the disaster of his army experience when he should never have been inducted and which he became the victim of southern racism. The army experience shaped his sensitive personality even more and after the war he would resume his career which Gelly traces while interweaving a thoughtful dissection of pertinent recordings, taking us to the legendary couple bars he played behind Billy Holiday at The Sound of Jazz television show and some final performances at the Blue Note Café in Paris (His time at the Blue Note was part of the inspiration for the character played by Dexter Gordon in the movie Round Midnight).

Gelly’s concise and lively written biography certainly presents Young’s formidable musical legacy to us as he notes, “The beauty of Lester Young’s music endures.” Included is a thoughtful selected discography of Young’s recordings that add to the value of this biography of one of the seminal artists of jazz history.

I wrote this review in late 2007 for Jazz & Blues Report but do not believe the review was published.  I may have  received a review copy from the publisher.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Alabama Slim's Down Home Blue & Lonesome Blues

Here is the latest installment in my series on small blues gems issued by the Music Maker Relief Foundation, Alabama Slim's "Blue & Lonesome" Slim was born Milton Frazier in Vance, Alabama in March, 1939. He grew up playing in juke joints before moving to New Orleans in 1965 and got jobs with a moving company and later making cooking oil before hooking up with his cousin Little Freddie King with whom he would jam ever so often. Drinking heavily for a period, he cleaned himself up in the 90's and resumed a close friendship with King. The pair have shared an album on Music Maker and Blue & Lonesome is a welcome solo disc by Slim who towers near 7 feet tall.

Slim is rooted in such artists as Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Reed and especially John lee Hooker, which is made clear in his rendition of Fannie Mae that opens this up a duet with Freddie followed by a Hooker-styled rendition of Muddy Waters' Someday Baby, and then on the invigorating Old Folks Boogie, a take on Hooker's Boogie Chillum, and Junior Parker's Feeling Good. Ardie Dean adds some light percussion for this performance on which Slim's controlled performance adds to its appeal. "Weather Done Got Cloudy," is the first of several tracks featuring him with a Huntsville, Alabama band and is a nice brooding blues in a Hooker-ish vein which has lyrical allusions to "Checking on My Baby."

Ain't I Been to You is a one chord Hooker styled blues that would sound at home in the North Mississippi Hills with some biting guitar runs. Joined by Freddie, West Texas Blues, is a nice song showcasing Slim's restrained, pleading style. Two O'Clock in the Morning is a spare Texas styled blues based on Lowell Fulson's Three O'Clock in the Morning. There is a bit more modern flavor on Has Anybody Seen My Baby, which sounds like as Hooker interpreting a B.B. King blues, while "I Love My Guitar" is a Hooker-styled boogie as Slim tells his woman not to get hooked on him as he loves nothing but his guitar. The album closes with I'm Blue and Lonesome, a lazy Jimmy Reed blues interpreted in a manner that John Lee Hooker might have.

Alabama Slim has produced an entertaining collection of blues with strong evidence of the influence of John Lee Hooker. While one might not call this essential, it should appeal to fans of post-war, down-home, country blues. It certainly caught this reviewer's ear.

I received this from the Music Maker's Relief Foundation as a donor to that organization. Visit for information on purchasing this and other recordings as well as contribute to help blues and other roots musicians.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Rod Piazza Kept It Real

Another older review of a Rod Piazza album that dates from 2004. Piazza has such a strong catalog that you should be aware of.

Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers have a new disc on Blind Pig, Keepin' It Real. Its the first disc to feature guitarist Henry Carvajal and drummer Paul Vincent Fasulo. Long-time bassist Bill Stuve remains along with Piazza and his wife, pianist Honey Piazza.

The album attempts to recreate the feel of their live performances with Piazza even introducing the band on the opening track, Big Blues Party. As might be expected, the group is tight and swings with the rhythm section being real fine. Drummer Fasulo is a fine replacement for Jimi Bott while guitarist Carvajal is another fine guitarist to play with Piazza, and takes a credible vocal on Ain't Nothing Happening.

There is a nice mix of material with the reworking of Baby Please Don't Go strongly evoking Muddy waters' classic recording. While I find Piazza an inconsistent singer, he is strong on the rocking Baby Please Don't Go, patterned after Muddy Waters' classic recording. Of course he is a brilliant harp player as the evocative West Coast Midnight Blues displays as does his consistently swinging, and inventive, playing that also displays his marvelous full-tone. Piazza is a master of the Mississippi Saxophone indeed.

Like his live performances, this set contains a boogie feature for Honey Piazza, Buzzin', which unfortunately goes on too long as doesthe closing Devil's Foot. One problem with an album like this, the attempt to recreate a live performance leads to the failure to edit one's performances which mar what is otherwise an enjoyable album.

Unfortunately, Piazza has a back catalog that this competes with and for those new to him, I would recommend the exceptional two-cd survey of his career that appeared on Tone-Cool a couple years ago.

This review was written in 2004 and likely appeared in the DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter which I edited at the time. I received my review copy from the record label.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Champian Fulton Swinging Date With the Sultans of Swing

Born in Norman, Oklahoma in 1985, Champian Fulton was influenced by her father, a renown jazz trumpeter. Learning piano as a youth, she has playing and singing jazz since she was little and has been devoted to jazz piano and vocals since 1998. In 2006 she met David Berger, leader of the Sultans of Swing at the New York club, Birdland, where she had a regular gig and after each heard the other, and she eventually joined Berger’s band. Berger, a conductor and arranger for Jazz at Lincoln Center, is well-respected authority on the music of Duke Ellington and the swing era (having transcribed 700 or so classic works including 500 from Ellington and Strayhorn) and the Sultans of Swing is a marvelous big band that lives up to its name.

Such Sweet Thunder has just issued their collaboration, Champian, a marvelous journey through the American Songbook, on some classic standards such as I Can’t Give You Anything But Love, Get Out of Town, He Ain’t Got Rhythm, Too Close For Comfort, and Just One of Those Things, along with such intriguing choices as The Gypsy (a number Dinah Washington recorded) Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens (a classic associated with Louis Jordan), and Lil Green’s Romance in the Dark. She projects the lyrics in a lively, natural fashion perhaps suggesting the late Etta Jones with a touch of Ella thrown in. Her performances benefit from the superb Sultans of Swing, and Berger’s arrangements, with their Ellingtonian accents (particularly evident on the performances of The Gypsy and Romance In the Dark). Two of the performances feature her own piano, including You Turned the Tables on Me, with trio backing, and the solo, Never-The-Less.

In summary, this is a marvelous debut by Champian Fulton with David Berger & the Sultans of Swing. Champian is a singer from whom we undoubtedly shall hear more from in the future. This is available from as well as from the Sultans of Swing website,

This review originally appeared in the January 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 300) and my review copy was provided by the publication. Champian's present website is from which this and her more recent recordings are available.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Gioia's Jazz History Thoughtful and Erudite

The History of Jazz - Second Edition
Ted Gioia
Oxford University Press 2011

Ted Gioia has updated his "The History of Jazz" which is welcome for those looking for a concise overview of jazz's development. While the title might be be more accurately titled, "Jazz: A Selective History" Or "A Concise History of Jazz," that is a matter of semantics. Gioia does generally trace what is generally viewed as the music's growth from its origins out of ragtime through its world wide spread. Gioia has updated his earlier history to perhaps give more emphasis to the global developments of jazz.

I give him more leeway in selection of material in such a topics as jazz history than I gave his "Delta Blues," which was highly flawed and omitted seminal figures in his subject matter. While there are unquestionably trends and artists in jazz's development that he might have devoted some space to, but it might have made this volume unwieldly. For example, he could have delved a bit more into some of the early women blues singers recordings, other than Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith.

Gioia writes very clearly about the artists and does present what most would agree are the major figures in the music's history such as Armstrong, Morton, Hines, Ellington, Eldridge, Basie, lester Young, Coleman Hawkins, Parker, Gillespie, Coltrane, Monk, Powell, Miles Davis and many more. He concisely discusses their lives and music and innovations in a lively and informative way. I was particularly impressed by his discussion of Bill Evans and Evans’ importance and influence on contemporary jazz piano.

Gioia’s discussion of the diversity of jazz around the world today is only an overview and overlooks some currents such as gypsy jazz. I do not know how exhaustive his suggestions for further reading was intended to be but there were some worthy books that were not included (such as recent bios of Lester Young). Gioia has included a listed of performances for suggested listening as opposed to recommending albums. In this respect, I suggest it may have been useful to have presented these in a chronological manner as opposed to alphabetical by artist.

In summary, this is a thoughtful and erudite introduction to jazz history that will be of value to more than jazz novices.

I received my review copy from a publicist or from the publisher.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Chicago Blues Harmonica Diamonds In the Rough

Severn Records has just issued Diamonds in the Rough a collection of lesser known blues harp players from Chicago called the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project with the intent of showing that down home classic style Chicago blues harp can still be heard today. Of the six harp players, Dusty Brown, Omar Coleman, Russ Green, Larry Cox, Harmonica Khan #1 and Little Addison, only Brown and Cox had been recorded previously. Brown in fact recorded a classic He Don’t Love You for the Parrot label 50 years ago which he reprised here while Cox recorded with Phil Guy on an lp. The six mostly show traditional blues roots including the influences of Little Walter, Big Walter and the two Sonny Boy Williamsons although Russ Green was influenced by the innovative modern blues harp wiz, Sugar Blue.

The backing band of guitarists Rick Kreher & Little Frank, pianist Mark Brumbach, bassist Pat McKeever and drummer Twist Turner provide the solid backing that allows the performers to shine without drawing attention to themselves. Nothing fancy or original as they are generally blues traditionalists. Dusty Brown does a solid take at Little Walter’s I Got to Go along with his own number while Larry Cox handles Walter’s Mean Old World although playing in the style of Sonny Boy Williamson II. Harmonica Khan had recently returned to the blues scene when he recorded Jimmy Reed’s Baby What You Want Me to Do and Junior Parker’s Next Time You See Me backed solely by his harp and bones playing, whooping and hollering on these very enjoyable performances. Unfortunately he passed away shortly thereafter.

Little Addison updates Look on Yonder’s Wall with a pleading vocal and some chromatic harp while Omar Coleman takes a more modern blues theme on Jody’s Got You Gal and Gone as well as doing a nice take on Little Walter’s Everything’s Gonna Be Alright with a strong soulful vocal and some real fine playing, and Larry Cox handles Jimmy Reed’s Going to New York. This is a really nicely put together cd that displays some real enjoyable blues artists that may not be major names but certainly bring plenty of heart to their recordings.

This review was written back in 2005 and published in the May-June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 282). I received my review copy from Severn Records. I have reviewed the second volume of this series, More Rare Gems and posted it on September 28, 2009 which I have linked. I received my review copy from Severn records.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Rod Piazza Cautions About The Almighty Dollar

There is a certain predictability with a new recording by Rod Piazza. One can expect crisp, excellent musicianship, wonderful ensemble playing, full-bodied , rollicking boogie-laced piano and steady vocals. The new Delta Groove release by Piazza and the Al Mighty Flyers, Almighty Dollar, is no exception.

Its the stability of Piazza and Flyers that plays a major factor in the consistent strong swinging sounds Piazza produces. Honey Piazza has been pounding the ivories for several decades with Rod, and while drummer Dave Kida and guitarist Henry Carvajal have been with Piazza for a number years now. Johnny Dyer adds vocals to a couple tracks, while Rusty Zinn adds his guitar to a number of selections and Johnny Viau plays saxophone on several selections as well.

The songs are mostly interpretations of older songs with an original blues and instrumental contributed by Piazza. The covers are thankfully not of songs that have been done to death. The set opens with a hot Jimmy Liggins jump blues, Move Out Baby with terrific solos from Ms. Honey and Piazza followed by What Makes You So Tough, originally waxed by Teddy Humphries for King with fine sax and a terrific harp solo set against a stop-time groove. Then there is rendition of Jimmy Binkley's swinging cocktail blues, Wine, Wine, Wine, with a terrific harp solo. There is a terrific cover of a lesser known Muddy Waters tune, Loving Man, with a fine Johnny Dyer vocal and the band wailing behind him like the classic Waters Band and some great harp. Piazza contributes a nice original topical blues, Almighty Dollar.

Of the better known covers, Blue Shadows, has one of Piazza's best vocals here while Rusty Zinn conjures up Johnny 'Guitar' Watson with his fiery guitar solo. Dyer handles the vocal on a solid rendition of Confessin' the Blues, based on little Walter's recording. For some reason Walter is wrongly credited on the CD as having written this Jay McShann and Walter Brown classic. Honey Alexander sits out two Harmonica features for Rod, That's It, a Little Walter instrumental and stellar harmonica romp, Con-Vo-Looted. Rusty Zinn shares Carvajal on guitar to recreate the feel of the classic Little Walter recordings.

There is plenty of exceptional music here. Even when Rod is not out front, the musicianship is first-rate. Almighty Dollar is another marvelous addition to Rod Piazza's substantial body of recordings.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the label.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

With M.S.G. - The Acoustic Blues Trio We Know What To Ask For

M.S.G. - The Acoustic Blues Trio (Hereafter MSG) has been around for several years and is one of the group of new acoustic blues performers associated with the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation in Washington DC. The trio is comprised of Jackie Merritt on harmonica, rhythm guitar and bones, Miles Spicer on guitar and Resa Gibbs on washboard and kazoo, with all three taking lead vocals and providing vocal tracks. They have recorded a couple of albums and just released a new recording, a 5 song CD “Be Careful What You Ask For,” which includes both some songs that have been proved quite popular with their audiences but had not included in their CDs as well as new material they are working on and the CD packaging promises a full CD is in the works.

Anyone who has had the pleasure to see the three perform will have an idea of what to expect: solid musicianship, and strong (at times extraordinary) vocals. Spicer takes the lead on a fine Piedmont blues Charlie Stone, taken from a Larry Johnson recording. Spicer’s vocal is backed by strong fingerstyle guitar (although he would concede he can’t equal Larry Johnson’s original) with Resa on washboard and kazoo and Jackie on bones adding some rhythmic accents. I first heard Resa sing John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery at a Smithsonian Folklife Festival about a decade ago with just Miles on guitar and her vocal was riveting. I recall this one gentleman with dreadlocks on his bicycle simply transfixed watching her from a little distance. Adding Jackie’s harmonica to Miles spare guitar, her vocal here may not totally recapture that compelling performance but still remains stunning. Jackie’s Do You See Me Now? is a folky original with a charming vocal that Resa adds harmony to. Miles and David Bird contributed My Little One, a celebration of one’s new child lovingly sung by Resa with Jackie adding harp.

Resa takes the spirited lead on the traditional Glory, Glory, Hallelujah, with backing vocals from Jackie and Miles, both who add adept and sympathetic accompaniment to end a most welcome addition to their catalog. I also note Jackie Merritt’s outstanding graphics for the album packaging. One trusts that it will not be too long until will have a full CD by the trio, which this EP is an appetizer for. MSG’s website is
, and this is available from

I received my review copy from M.S.G.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Deep Blue Organ Trio's Wonderful Musical Tribute

Composed of organist Chris Foreman, guitarist Bobby Broom and drummer Greg Rockingham, the Deep Blue Organ Trio has established itself with its live performances and recordings, first for Delmark and more recently the Seattle based Origin label. The trio’s 4th recording (on Origin) is devoted to the music of Stevie Wonder, Wonderful! Broom I am aware from his own recordings as well as his time with Sonny Rollins Band. I was not aware that he had spent five years playing with Dr. John. Neither organist Foreman nor drummer Rockingham were familiar to me although Foreman has recorded with Albert Collins for Alligator.

Tribute albums always leave themselves open to comparison with the originals and a listener’s expectations of how a song should be interpreted sometimes affects how one views the tribute performances. In this respect, there are times I find the Deep Blue Trio a bit mellower than I would prefer such as the My Cherie Amour, with its very slow tempo. At the same time one can appreciate Foreman’s chicken fried, blues-drenched and church-based playing along with Broom’s tasty, thoughtful playing with his judicious use of sustain in between his considered single note runs, as Rockingham deftly moves the performance. A song like the shuffle Jesus States of America, which I was not familiar with, benefits from Foreman's driving organ as Broom chords behind.

I was not aware that the Rufus with Chaka Khan hit Tell Me Something Good, was a Wonder composition, but certainly  enjoyed Foreman’s opening and his comping under Broom’s solo. One of my favorite Wonder songs is You Haven’t Done Nuthin’, which has Foreman opening. He states and embellishes Wonder’s intricate melody, then provides a cushion for Broom single note runs, followed by his own strutting solo. Broom is a terrific guitarist but Foreman was to this listener a revelation. Based on this small sample of his music, he is among today’s premier organists. Add Rockingham’s supple drumming, and the Deep Blue Organ Trio’s Wonderful stands not simply as a terrific tribute to Stevie Wonder, but also a marvelous organ trio record. It will have me checking out the trio’s earlier releases.

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Country Blues Classics by Ellis Elis and Cohen

Eleanor Ellis is a local DC treasure being perhaps the most gifted female purveyor of old time blues in the area. She has championed the likes of the late Flora Molton and Archie Edwards, helped found the DC Blues Society and similarly helped with the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation after Archie passed. She has recorded infrequently, often in a supporting role, so when long-unavailable recordings of her with Bill Ellis (no relation) and Andy Cohen became available, it was cause for celebration.

The CD is Preachin’ in the Wilderness, Country Blues Classics on Cohen’s Riverlark label was made possible after the widow of Larry McBride of Merimack (who issued these originally on cassette) provided the DAT source tapes. There are twenty two performances included with all three taking vocals. Cohen gets to display his mastery of Rev. Gary Davis’ fingerstyle guitar and other pre-war blues styles. Bill Ellis takes the lead on several as well as contributes originals. Eleanor handles Memphis Minnie’s In My Girlish Days, duets with Bill Ellis on Leroy Carr’s Midnight Hour Blues, and handles Sleepy John Estes’ Leaving Trunk.

Other performances on this derive from recordings by Casey Bill Weldon, Washington Phillips, Ragtime Texas Henry Thomas, Simmie Dooley & Pink Anderson, Larry Johnson, Brownie McGhee, Gus Cannon and the wonderful Hungry Blues, words by Langston Hughes and music from James P. Johnson and wonderfully sung by Eleanor with Bill on guitar and Andy on piano. The level of the musicianship is marvelous and perhaps the best known of these songs may be Spoonful, taken from Mance Lipscomb’s Arhoolie recording although it is familiar from renditions by John Hurt and Charlie Patton. Amazingly, or thankfully, there were no covers of Robert Johnson tunes although I suspect any could do one that would actually be worth hearing.

Cohen has other recordings on Riverlark while William Lee Ellis has a new release on Yellow Dog. Eleanor is still criminally underrepresented on disc, but alas we have this marvelous disc to savor.

Since writing this review, which appeared in the July-August 2006 DC Blues Calendar, then the Dc Blues Society’s newsletter. Eleanor finally has a terrific CD on Patuxent and Andy had a terrific CD in 2010 on Earwig. I have linked my reviews of those. I purchased this CD from

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Otis Rush Hot Live Wise Fools Blues

Otis Rush has long been one of this writer’s favorite artists. Few artists could be as compelling as Rush when he was on his game. Unfortunately a stroke suffered during the last decade ended his musical career, but a good portion of his recordings are in print. Rush, as he matured, showed a strong Albert King influence in his playing to complement his anguished sounding vocals, a point I do not highlight in the following review but should have. The following review appeared in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283)

News of a previously unissued live recording of Otis Rush from the mid-seventies created much excitement among blues enthusiasts. Rush, a Mississippi native, moved to Chicago and became part of the West Side Chicago blues scene playing some blistering guitar and singing with great fervor.

One of many blues artists in the post-B.B. King style, Rush's first recording for the Cobra label, I Cant Quit You Baby, charted on the R&B charts, and was followed by early recordings including All Your Love (I Miss Loving), My Love Will Never Die, and Three Times a Fool. After the Cobra label folded, he briefly was on Chess and then Don Robey signed him but only issued one single, Homework. Many of these songs have become part of the modern blues repertoire and covered by such blues-rock acts as John Mayall, Led Zeppelin and J. Geils. He was one of the artists featured on the legendary Chicago, The Blues Today series and has had a number of albums issued over the past three decades.

Delmark issued Cold Day in Hell in the mid-1970s and it had received a fair amount of airplay on rock station WXRT which led to WXRT recording and broadcasting Rush in performance from Chicago's Wise Fools Pub in January 1976. Now about three decades later, this performance is available for all blues lovers on a new Delmark CD, All Your Love I Miss Loving. Featuring his superb band of the time with Bob Levis on second guitar, Bob Stroger on bass, Jesse Green on drums and Alberto Gianquinto (ex-James Cotton, ex-Santana) on piano, Rush is in superb form opening with B.B. Kings Please Love Me and redoing his All Your Love and It Takes Time as well other songs from King, T-Bone Walker and Chuck Willis. To hear Rush, one of the most intense guitarists in the blues laying out his soul singing You're Breaking My Heart, or rearranging T-Bone Walkers Mean Old World to the melody of I Cant Quit You Baby, one is treated to a performance that will reaffirm for many of us why we love the blues, to paraphrase Steve Tomashefsky’s liner notes.

Few blues artists put as much soul into their performances and reach the level that Rush at his best achieved, and he was at his best that January 1976 night at the Wise Fools Pub.

I received my review copy from Delmark.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Rod Piazza's For The Chosen Who

Rod Piazza is one of the major players of the West Coast Blues Scene. I have been listening to his records since the days of the Dirty Dozen Blues Band on ABC Bluesway in the 1960s. With the Mighty Flyers, he has had one of the tightest, swinging bands of the past several decades. A solid singer and a terrific harmonica player, I have reviewed a number of his recordings over the years, but have noticed that I have not posted any reviews on this blog, so to make up for this omission, I am pleased to post this review of a 2005 Delta Groove release.

Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers have a terrific new disc, For the Chosen Who (Delta Groove), a combined cd-dvd package that may be amongst the best recordings of Piazza’s lengthy recording career. One reason to the Mighty Flyers success as among the blues top touring bands is the band’s stability reflected by the long tenure of pianist Honey Piazza and bassist Bill Stuve. Guitarist Henry Carvajal and drummer Paul Fasulo are relative newcomers to the Flyers and fit in like they have been their for a decade.

This new disc includes a number of choice covers, none of which have been over-recorded from Jimmy Reed’s I’m a Love You, Ted Garrett’s You Can Make It If You Try, John Lee Williamson’s Ground Hog Blues, Ike Turner’s She Made My Blood Run Cold, and a pair from Jimmy Rogers Broken Hearted Blues and Trace of You. On several tracks Phil Guy plays lead guitar, Finis Tasby plays bass and James Gadson plays drums.

Piazza sings as good as I ever heard him and the group as a whole sounds terrific. There are too many highlights to mention as everything is first-rate but Kid Ramos adds some nice lead guitar for Broken Hearted Blues while guitarist Carvajal evokes Turner’s tremelo-laced guitar style on She Made My Blood Run Cold. Ground Hog Blues is a wonderful duet between Honey’s piano and Rod Piazza’s vocal and harp while Shoestring, a Red Prystock number I believe, serves as a showpiece for Rod Piazza’s superb harpwork as is the slow Honey’s Blues, with Piazza playing some brooding chromatic harp while Honey Piazza comes across like Otis Spann with Phil Guy adding some strong fills. Johnny Dyer joins for a vocal duet on Little Walter’s Gotta Find My Baby, while label head Randy Chortkoff wrote and plays harp on Call Me Dangerous.

This disc has a dvd bonus that includes a 23 minute documentary overview of the recording of the cd along with the performers views on this recording and the blues. Two of the performances are also captured on video along with a gallery of photos complete this absolutely terrific blues recording.

This review appeared in the February 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 279). I received my review copy either from Delta Groove or a publicist for the label. It is still readily available.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blind Arvella Gray’s Maxwell Street Songs

Street singer Blind Arvella Gray was a fixture on Maxwell Street around forty odd years ago long before the University of Illinois Chicago Campus decided historical preservation was less important than yuppified urban condos. Cary Baker, who today is involved in publicity for blues and other roots music, put together Blue Flame, a blues fanzine, and also helped get Gray recorded for a rare album on the Birch label that he has arranged to get reissued as The Singing Drifter, for his Baker’s Conjuroo label.

Gray can be seen in the Mike Shea video And This is Maxwell Street, and Dylan’s He Was a Friend of Mine was inspired by Gray which itself likely derived from a Southern prison song, Shorty George. Born in Texas he came from Chicago via Peoria. Gray had lost his eyes and two finger s from birdshot propelled by a shotgun and came to Chicago playing a National dobro on which he is heard on much of this fascinating recording, which includes four previously unissued sacred performances.

His repertoire ranges from an unaccompanied Arvella’s Work Song, the country There’s More Pretty Girls Than One, gospel Take Your Burden to the Lord and When the Saints Go Marching In. His signature tune is a vibrant rendition of John Henry, and there is a terrific Those Old Fashioned Alley Blues, another traditional song sung with a husky vocal delivery and forcefully played with a strong rhythmic attack and slide to the melody of St. Louis Blues. In all, a fascinating document of a street performer and an era that seems so distant today.

This review was originally published in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 277). I received my copy from the record label. This is still in print.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Monkey Junk's Garage Blues Textures

The Canadian trio MonkeyJunk has a new release, To Behold (Stony Plain). Steve Marriner (vocals, harmonica, keyboards, guitar), Tony D (lead guitar), Matt Sobb (drums) all hail from Ottawa. They took their name from a comment by Son House made talking about the blues and monkey junk. In relation to not having a bassist, they note the examples of Hound Dog Taylor as well as Little Walter. They had an acclaimed independently produced CD and were third place finishers at the 2009 International Blues Challenge. On their web site their describe there music as “Swamp R&B. Soul boogie. Deep blues. Oh, yes, and bedroom funk. Dark sometimes, rockin’ at others. You can dance. Does that tell the story?”

The opening Mother’s Crying starts off with a driving North Mississippi Hills groove, and the following cover of Hank Williams’ You’re Gonna Change (Or i’m Gonna Leave) has a slightly heavy backbeat with Marriner adding harp on a performance that is a bit more country flavored. While the opening of Right Now might suggest they might be viewed as grunge, garage blues, the starker and atmospheric Let Her Down
a terrific slow blues performance on which Marriner sits down at the organ, displays they are much more versatile. It is followed a nice laid back soulful flavor of With These Hands, while the late night blue ballad While You Are Mine, has some low key harp and organ in the backing.

This disc closes with 
The Marrinator, a feature for Warriner’s driving harp. The tightness shown by MonkeyJunk comes from playing together for years. They are strong players. Warriner’s vocals are first-rate and they have solid material. To Behold is an impressive release that is should hopefully lead to their expanding a growing fan base. Their website is

I received this from a publicist for the release.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

McClain and Reierstud Colloborate on Soulful Blues

Mighty Sam McClain has come someway from the chitlin circuit and 45s on small independent labels. Often thought of as a blues and soul vocalist in the Bobby Bland, listening to him singing from the opening moments of “Life,” the first track of his collaboration with Norwegian guitarist Knut Reiersrud, One Drop Is Plenty (Valley Vue) one hears echoes of the late Solomon Burke mixed with some of Bobby Bland’s choked leaps.

McClain’s sounds deeper here perhaps than I remember him, but he sounds so comfortable while Reiersrud is a fine guitar whether laying down single note modern blues guitar runs, or playing slide guitar in a manner suggestive of the of Derek Trucks and the sacred steel players. His slide playing here is supportive of the vocals and not in the jam band mode of Trucks. And the way McClain delivers his vocal accentuates the message of the lyric as he asks the lady does she believe in love on Can You Stand The Test Of Love.

There is a nice Memphis feel to You Don't Know Nothing About Love, with McClain as he sings about the nighttime, tears fall like rain, starting again in the morning and pray that she will never go away, and if you don’t know what he is talking about, one knows nothing about love with nice guitar riffs and fills. Learn How To Love You Again is a country waltz with Reiersrud evoking a dobro at times. On Long Time Running, McClain sings about asking for forgiveness as he has turned things around and “would you still love me if I failed once more, would you deny me the chance to touch your soul … .” The similarity to King Solomon is evident on I Don't Feel Noways Tired, with its religious message, “Nobody told him the road would be easy, I don’t believe he brought me this far to leave me,” with some churchy organ from David Wallumrød on this striking performance.

Much can be said about the production and the splendid Norwegian musicians on this. The musicianship is impeccable and the restraint in the spare accompaniments on these performances keep the listener’s focus on McClain who is singing as well as he ever has. It perhaps was fortuitous chance that McClain and Reiersrud met collaborating on the recording Scent of
Reunion, by Iranian artist Mahsa Vahdat. One consequence of this meeting is this exceptional recording that one would hope might help Mighty Sam reach a level of recognition and acclaim his talents deserve, and hopefully a chance to hear him and guitarist Reiersrud here in North America.

My review was from downloads provided by a publicist for Valley Vue and it can be obtained from Valley Vue along with some of Mighty Sam's earlier recordings.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Roy Brown and Ivory Joe Hunter Classic Blues Acetates

This review from the March 2006 DC Blues Calendar of what appeared to be a fascinating series of reissues from the important Cincinnati King and associated labels. In addition to these two blues albums, three country albums appeared in the series. When I wrote this review I suggested that this might become one of the most important reissue series. However, no further reissues came out based on the King acetates. These CDs are still available from sources like and amazon.

The English Ace label has started a series of reissues, The King & Deluxe Acetate Series, which makes available the master takes of many classic R&B recordings and/or alternate takes to make some of this classic music in the best ever sound.

The initial release is Roy Brown, Good Rockin’ Brown, and collects all but three of the recordings Brown waxed for Deluxe Records (which was acquired by Syd Nathan’s King Records). Opening with Brown’s original Good Rockin’ Tonight, the disc contains several other songs that would become blues classics like Mighty Mighty Man, Deep Sea Driver, Miss Fanny Brown and ‘Long About Midnight, delivered in Brown’s pioneering crying shouting style that would influence numerous blues and soul singers. A few tracks also show the influence of Bing Crosby who Brown cited as an inspiration although one might otherwise find that hard to believe based on his most famous recordings were. The New Orleans legend is backed by some strong bands which included the legendary sax player, Leroy ‘Batman Rankin who the booklet notes was among the first real rock and roll tenor players.

Pianist and vocalist Ivory Joe Hunter actually recorded for the Library of Congress when 19, and was 30 when he first recorded commercially after having left Texas for California. His first recording with Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers, Blues at Sunrise, epitomized the cool blues and is included along with the sides he made for King starting in 1947. The sessions included on Woo Wee! are fascinating. They range from a Nashville session on which Owen Bradley played guitar to sessions with members of Duke Ellington’s Orchestra. Attempts at jump number were less successful than the blue ballads for Hunter. After leaving King, Hunter would record his first million seller, I Almost Lost My Mind for MGM Records which led King to heavily promote his King sessions. This promises to be among the most important blues reissue series of recent years and anyone with an interest in blues history and some forgotten giants, should check these out.

I purchased the CDs that are reviewed here.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Freddie King Was Electrifying Live Performer

Freddie King was one of the greatest of the post-war Chicago bluesmen. A formidable singer and a highly important guitarist, he had a number of records on the charts and was a major influence on many blues and rock guitarists including Luther Allison (who took over King’s Chicago band and gigs when King toured), Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. While Bear Family has issued all of King’s commercial recordings on two box sets containing twelve CDs of music, King also had some significant live recordings. The following review appeared originally in the March 2006 DC Blues Calendar and the March-April 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue (280). I made minor stylistic changes in this review.

Its been three decades since the great Freddie King passed away, and the late blues guitar’s reputation has perhaps been lessened with the passing of time, which is unfortunate because few of the guitarists today play with his mix of passion and imagination.

Shout Factory has just issued Live at the Electric Ballroom, 1974, part of the label’s reconstruction of the Black Top label catalog. Recorded two years before his death, King rips through Women Across the River, which he recorded with Leon Russell; as well as blues chestnuts like Key to the Highway, Earl King’s Let the Good Times Roll, Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which he cut for Atlantic’s Cotillion subsidiary, Sweet Home Chicago and Dust My , before ending this set with Hide Away Medley.

This disc also includes an interview with him and two acoustic performances, perhaps his only acoustic recordings. King probably had the most immediate impact on rock guitar (Eric Clapton among others was heavily influenced by King’s muscular playing), and he was also a first rate singer who brought plenty of soul to his music. This is so nice to have available again.

I likely received this from a publicist for Shout Factory’s releases. This is still in print and should be readily available.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Nap Turner's Homage To Langston Hughes

The late Nap Turner, was a Washington DC institution. A musician, actor, community activist, Nap’s hosted jazz and blues radio programs for several decades on WPFW (with his mantra of “Don’t Forget the Blues”) as well as performed blues showing a considerable Percy Mayfield influence. A regular feature of his radio programs would have him read the Simple stories of the great Langston Hughes. In 1996, Nap and jazz vocalist Ronnie Wells, produced a cassette of him reading several of the Simple stories backed by a quartet of Turner on bass, Charlie Hampton on piano, Sonny Forriest (the one-time Ray Charles guitarist) and Lenny Robinson on drums. This was issued on a cassette Hughes’ Views of the Blues, that was sold at Nap’s gigs but long unavailable.

Subsequently Wayne Kahn recorded Nap part of his documentation of the DC area music scene and issued a selection by Nap on the essential anthology, The Blues You Hat to Lose Volume 1, which launched his Right on Rhythm label. Subsequently Wayne issued two well received CDs of Nap Turner, one of which included two more of the Simple stories. They discussed issuing all of the Hughes material Nap had done, but Nap passed away too before they could realize this dream.

With Nap’s beloved wife Gloria working with Wayne, Right on Rhythm has just issued Nap Turner Presents Hughes Views of the Blues, bringing together the seven stories presented on the cassette, the two stories on an earlier cd and Naps introduction and two more stories from a performance at a now closed DC club, Smokeless. There is a richness to Turner’s baritone and carefully paced delivery of these timeless stories. Hughes wrote about the folk of everyday lives in the African-American community and these stories rang so true to them and there is so much about their shared experiences here, which undoubtedly is what attracted Turner to them, yet their is plenty of humor and commonsense and love that the characters have for each other that should be readily understandable to most. It is marvelous to have this available.

While a live recording of Nap singing the blues is available at the store at, this is not listed on that website but is available from I likely received a review copy from Right on Rhythm. This review appeared originally in the April 2006 D.C. Blues Calendar. Nap died in 2004 and I was privileged to have known him. He was an advocate for jazz and blues as well as an accomplished singer and radio personality. I bring this CD to your attention if by chance you are not aware of it.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Adolphus Bell's Entertaining One Man Band Blues

The Music Maker Relief Foundation has been a boon to practitioners of southern musical traditions which has enabled a number of individuals to gain recognition as performers and also meet their day to day needs including emergency medical and housing assistance, purchasing and repairing musical instruments, recording the performers and issuing the recordings, and presenting artists in concerts around the world.

Adolphus Bell, One Man Bell, is among recent releases by the Foundation and features the one-man band from Birmingham, Alabama. While born in Birmingham, he grew up in Pittsburgh where he learned guitar from George Benson. Frustrations from dealing with band members led him start playing as a one-man band, playing drums, harp and guitar while singing. Over the years of playing the streets he has developed a lively performance style as indicated on the opening The One Man Band, where he introduces the various members of the band.

Bell displays a fondness for a couple of songs associated with Bobby Bland including You Got to Hurt Before You Heal and the Bill Withers classic that is such a part of Bland’s live show, Ain’t No Sunshine, along with the vocal group classic, Cherry Pie, the Motown classic, (I Need Some) Money, and Sam Cooke’s Let the Good Times Roll. Other songs are originals like Ever Had the Blues and some topical numbers, Child Support Blues, Passport Blues and Black Man’s Dream. The latter number has a message that America better get things together or it is gonna be in for dark times.

Musically, Bell brings a soulful singing style mixed with some witty banter. His accompaniments often are simple and nicely delivered with a Jimmy Reed-flavored grooves. He adds some spare single note fills and takes some solos as well, mixing in some comments and replies as he performs. Despite the valuable documentation of a number of performers, I have found some Music Maker Foundation releases to be uneven. This however, is one of the better recent releases and its nice to have another one-man band to join such long-gone legends as Jesse Fuller, Dr. Ross and Juke Boy Bonner.

This may be in some stores, and does offer many releases of artists of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. You can also obtain this from the Foundation’s website,, which has full information on their mission and all of the marvelous recordings and books they offer. You will be getting some fine music and helping deserving artists.

This review appeared originally in the April 2006 DC Blues Calendar and April 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 282). I have made some minor editorial changes. I have been a long time supporter of the Music Maker Relief Foundation and likely received this in my capacity of a donor to the organization.

Tuesday, August 09, 2011

New Atlantis Tells Story How Music and Musicians Are Helping rebuild New Orleans

New Atlantis: Musicians Battle For The Survival of New Orleans
John Swenson
Oxford University Press

Music journalist and scholar John Swenson has authored an important new book about the efforts of New Orleans musicians to help rebuild and restore their city after the "federal flood" that occurred after the levees broke during Hurricane Katrina. After an opening chapter dealing with the Voice of the Wetlands project that Tab Benoit had initiated prior to the Hurricane, and a chapter on the Mardi Gras Indians, Swenson interweaves the rebuilding of the city and music scene and the return of some of the musicians who returned over time.

It isn't an easy recovery. For some who came back, there were others who never would, or would pass away not long after returning. And the early returnees came to a city occupied by the National Guard and terrible street violence with musicians and tourists not being safe from gang related violence. But there are James and Troy (Trombone Shorty) Andrews returning to New Orleans 17 days after Katrina to play at Jackson Square at ceremonies associated with the President's speech and having to deal with what they saw.

Musicians slowly came back and started playing but as Swenson observes they did more than simply make music. Craig Klein of Bonerama started the Arabi Wrecking Crew to help gut ruined houses and then partnered with a group building a musicians community. And then there is music such as that by harmonica player Andy Forest with a recording "Real Story," while Coco Robichaux started playing at Molly's when the lights went back on there, and a group including Walter 'Wolfman' Washington played a concert at the Maple Leaf that the National Guard closed down at 8:00PM after curfew, and James Andrews playing a concert at the Ogden Museum, resuming its concert series that Katrina had interrupted.

Taking us through Halloween and Mardi Gras, Swenson introduces us to a variety of individuals (some famous nationally and others local) such as DJ Davis, the real person who served as the basis for the character on the HBO show "Tremé," Paul Sanchez, Papa John Gros, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Dr. John, Dr. Michael White (the great clarinetist who lost countless and irreplaceable musical artifacts in the federal flood), Theresa Anderson, John Boutté, Evan Christopher, Susan Cowsill, Glen David Andrews, the Radiators and others.

There was a protest against the street violence that the musicians were a major force behind as well as important efforts to revive neighborhoods and communities. He discusses a variety of recordings as well as performances and the unique relationship between the musicians and their fans from not just the city but around the world. Swenson's draws the reader into the rich tapestry of people and events that he so compellingly tells us about. It is a superb and import book of a story that still is unfinished and is recommended to anybody who loves New Orleans and its music.

I received an advance review copy from's Vine program, but had purchased this for my kindle.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Joe Williams Always Had a Good Time

The late Joe Williams was one of the great male big band singers from his association with Count Basie, and later remained an extraordinary vocalist of blues, ballads and standards. The following review appeared in the January-February 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 279). I likely received my review copy from that publication

Hyena has just issued a posthumorous release by the great Joe Williams, Havin’ a Good Time! Recorded at Pio’s in Providence, Rhode Island in the snowy winter of 1964, this tape was among the items that the Estate of Joe Williams gave the Hamilton (NY) College jazz Archive.

This is a club recording the great blues and ballad singer backed by the Junior Mance Trio (Bob Cranshaw on bass and MIckey Roker on drums) with Ben Webster joining the proceedings. Sound is generally good with Williams’ voice and Webster’s sax having a definite presence in the mix. The backing trio can be felt if not as prominent listening to this, although Mance has plenty of space for his strong, bluesy piano playing.

There is a real nice mix of material opening with Duke Ellington number Just a Sittin’ and A Rockin’ , using the lyrics of the Delta Rhythm Boys 1946 rendering of this number and a nice song for Webster who took the solo on Ellington’s original. Its followed by Kansas City Blues, Williams’ rendition of the Pete Johnson-Big Joe Turner blues classic, Piney Brown Blues, with Williams pointedly saluting the Boss of the Blues in his intro. While not sure he knew all the words of the standard That’s All, Williams more than gamely handles it for the request of the audience member who braved the blizzard conditions for the show. Also on the program are a couple of Fats Waller classics, Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Honeysuckle Rose, some other standards and Williams’ hit Alright, Ok, You Win.

I suspect the presence of Webster is a factor in the release of this material which is a welcome addition to Williams discography. This is a release that is consistently enjoyable, if perhaps not an essential release. It does lead to anticipation of further releases of Williams recordings from the Hamilton College Jazz Archives.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Josh White and Big Bill Come Visiting and Singing

Empire Musicwerks issued back in 2007, Josh White Comes A-Visiting Big Bill Broonzy Comes A-Singing, which makes available on CD music originally issued on two 10-inch LPs originally issued on the Period label. The album notes calls the two among the greatest exponents of the folk-blues idiom and that would not be unfair description of these discs as both artists are quite urbane in their presentation.

White, who had gone from a Piedmont blues and gospel singer-guitarist to a member of the emerging folk scene in the post-World War II era is heard backed by a small rhythm combo as well as a vocal chorus that included his daughter Beverly. Material ranges from the opening Bonbons, Chocolates, and Chewing Gum; Bury Me High and She’s Too Much For Me, which are very ably performed with deft musicianship and very appealing vocals.

The Big Bill Broonzy selections were recorded in Paris and include a rendition of Baby, Please Don’t Go (miscredited to Broonzy) along with Do Right Blues, Backwater Blues, and Hollerin’ and Cryin’ the Blues, all wonderfully sung and played with some crisply delivered guitar, if perhaps the vocals are taken with a certain self-consciousness.

I suspect no one call these performances by either essential, but certainly there is quite a bit that is very enjoyable.

This review originally appeared in the August 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 296) and that publication likely sent me the review copy of the CD. This is shown as still available on amazon.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Raucous Country Negro Jam Session

The following review of an album of real down home blues appeared in the August 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 285).

A new release from Arhoolie is one of those rare recordings that features an African-American blues fiddler. Fiddler James ‘Butch’ Cage & guitarist Willie B. Thomas are heard on a disc of Old Time Black Southern String Band Music, a title that is slightly misleading insofar as the two are heard on a program of mostly down-in-the-alley blues with Cage’s vigorous, rough-hewn fiddle complemented by Thomas’ rhythmic guitar.

The duo was recorded by folklorist Dr. Harry Oster in Zachery, Louisiana in the 1950s and selections by them were issued on the Folk-Lyric album, Country Negro Jam Session (later available on Arhoolie who had acquired the Folk-Lyric label) and an Arhoolie issued several other selections on the CD I Have to Paint My Face. With the exception of one track, the music here is previously unissued. Much of it is comprised of traditional blues themes or their renditions of blues standards such as Some Day Baby (the Sleepy John Estes song sometimes known as Worried Life Blues), Mean Old Frisco, The Dirty Dozen, Rock Me Mama, Easy Rider Blues, Careless Love Blues, Since I Layed My Burden Down and You’ve Gotta Move. On the latter two, Rosalie Wilkerson takes the lead on the vocals (with Cage and Thomas enthusiastically joining her) while Robert Jenkins sings on I Had a Dream Last Night (All I Had Was Gone).

This is far from polished and one can imagine the house parties with the corn liquor flowing as the two kept the music running all night long as the blues would get shouted, Thomas would keep a good beat with his rhythm and Cage’s fiddle would be like a buzzsaw. A good time can be has listening to this.

I do not recall if I purchased or received a review copy.