Monday, October 31, 2011

Excellent Rough Dried Magic Slim

It might surprise blues fans, but the Austrian Wolf label has issued 14 albums by Magic Slim & the Teardrops, way more than any other label. And these are not some run of the mill issues. Three of them have won WC Handy Awards and five were recorded at the legendary Zoo Bar which became Slim’s musical home some time ago. The 14th and latest Wolf album is Rough Dried Woman, which is subtitled “Magic Slim’s best 14 songs.” It is compiled from sessions recorded for Wolf between 1986 and 1992 and include 3 previously unissued live recordings. Present on all the recordings are Slim, his brother Nick Holt on bass guitar and second guitarist John Primer with four different drummers present on the sessions.

Magic Slim’s music is not fancy. It is pretty simple and direct with Slim’s emphatic driving guitar with its single note runs that show a bit of Albert King’s influence, the interaction with him and his second guitarist who during this period was John Primer, and brother Nick’s bass which originated the “lump ta lump” style made for the strong, immediately recognizable Teardrops sound. Nick passed away a little while ago and this CD is dedicated to his memory.

From the opening rendition of Big Mac’s Rough Dried Woman through the reworking of Buster Benton’s Spider in My Stew, to the concluding notes of Roy Brown’s Hard Luck Blues, this is typically solid Magic Slim recording. And the songs come from a variety of sources including Albert King, Lefty Dizz, Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Bonnie Lee and Roy Brown. In this strong grouping of blues a few tracks stand out. There is a terrific slow rendition of “Matchbox Blues as done by Albert King as well as the down-in-the alley, slow grind of the cover of Lefty Dizz’s Bad Avenue. Slim’s marriage of a Dust My Broom groove to Bo Diddley’s Before You Accuse Me, is an driving rocker while the medium tempo reworking of Eddie Taylor’s Bad Boy is similarly irresistible before the stunning live rendition of Hard Luck Blues.

One rarely will go wrong with a Magic Slim recording and Rough Dried Woman is one of the better ones by him.

This was a purchase.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Oscar Peterson Re-Performed on Unmistakable

Unmistakable is the title of the “Zenph Re-Performance®” release of Oscar Peterson on Sony Masterworks. According to the back of the CD package, this process takes audio performances and turning them back into live performances through software that extracts every nuance of the recorded performance and storing this in a high-resolution digital file, the files contain every note played including pedal actions, volume and articulations. The files are then played back on an acoustic piano fitted with sophisticated computers so the listener can sit in the room’ as if one wad there when the original performance took place. This is the ambition and it has been used for classical performances as well as a CD of Art Tatum.

On this CD we have eight performances by the legendary Oscar Peterson from several different recordings of live performances. High points include a breakneck Back Home In Indiana, When I Fall in Love, an extended Duke Ellington Medley and Goodbye. There are moments of exhilarating displays of Peterson’s Tatum-esque virtuosity mixed in with some contemplative ones. Peterson has his advocates and critics, but the restoration does provide wonderful sound, although without the audience and ambience of the original recordings.

The music is presented in both a stereo version and a binaural stereo version which is stated to be the ultimate headphone experience. While the CD contains almost 80 minutes of music, there is actually about 40 minutes of each and I could not distinguish the two versions on my headphones playing this through my MacBook. While audiophiles may have a different experience, many will view this as purchasing two virtually identical presentations of the eight performances. Fans of Oscar Peterson will certainly enjoy the vividness of the sound on this in any event.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Electric Mud Was a Blues Dud

Occasionally one sees a write-up on music that strikes one as wrong-headed. In this case, the normally astute Tim Niland, on his blog Music and More, posted on the infamous Electric Mud recording,, and found it a strong album of the Muddy Waters canon. Noting many of us found it abysmal Tim writes “But with fresh ears, it is easy to discover a lot of merit to this album. Muddy Waters plays a setlist of some his best known songs and one pop music cover, and he is singing as well as he ever had, albeit over the loudest group he had ever fronted. The power, braggadocio and sheer vitality of his voice and very presence lends credence to this project.” The problem is that the rejection by the blues enthusiasts of this album was not simply due to it being a ‘sellout,’ (and if it was, it was not Muddy we blamed), but because it was not a very good blues album.

Tim further writes, “Muddy Waters was no stranger to loud guitars and strong drumming, but the wild squalls of guitarist Pete Cosey (soon to become famous in Miles Davis’ electric bands) and the busy arrangements do take some of the subtlety out of the music.” However it this lack of subtlety and the bombast of the backing that eliminated the clarity, focus, and coherence inherent in Muddy’s best recordings. This is why Electric Mud fails as a Muddy Waters album and as a blues album.

Further, Tim’s assertion that “it was a successful experiment and showed that Waters’ music was adaptable to changing times and musical styles,” ignores the fact that this and the follow-up CD After the Rain (which was half psychedelicized funk in the vein of Electric Mud and half straight blues) were blips in Muddy’s career. Nothing Muddy ever did after these albums showed that they were anything more than Marshall Chess’ concept albums. I have no knowledge of Muddy ever recording or performing anything that reflected these commercially oriented experiments, suggesting he quickly put these recordings behind him.

I doubt Electric Mud had the impact on Muddy’s career that Tim suggests in his piece as well. Far more important was the collaboration with the rock star musical legends Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield (and Buddy Miles) for Fathers & Sons, a recording that was more likely to reach the Fillmore and similar audiences because of presence of Bloomfield and Butterfield. Also, it was a very good Muddy Waters album.

This is not to say that with fresh ears, or a fresh perspective, one might appreciate Electric Mud, as an interesting musical experiment like the Chess Cadet recordings of The Rotary Connection and it may have merits on that basis. Just that with respect to the blues, particularly the blues of Muddy Waters, it was not a musically fruitful recording.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Vance Kelly's Soulful Bluebird

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 timeUse 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.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Lazy Lester Rides Again

Leslie Johnson, better known as Lazy Lester, is the remaining member of the four giants of Louisiana Swamp Blues that recorded for Jay Miller at his Crowley, Louisiana studios and which were issued on, and distributed by, the Nashville based Excello label. The others were Lightning Slim, Lonesome Sundown and Slim Harpo.; Lester who sang “They call my lazy, but I am just tired,” played on numerous sessions including his own recordings such as Sugar Coated Love, I’m a Lover Not a Fighter, and recordings Miller produced, including many accompanying Lightning Slim.

Ace Records (of England) has just reissued Mike Vernon’s Blue Horizon issued Lazy Lester Rides Again. It was originally released in 1987 and were I believe Lester’s first post-Excello recordings. He was touring England at the time and Vernon used members of several English bands to back him and they provide understated, effective backing. This release fortunately was the first by him over the past couple decades and he remains a vigorous performer who is still rooted in the distinctive style he gained fame for.

Swamp blues is a style rooted in Jimmy Reed’s style and employs very simple walking blues boogies and slow moody blues with the use of echo and treble as well as crying harmonica to add an evocative moody atmosphere, especially on slower tempo numbers. For this recording, Vernon allowed Lester to remake three of his recordings as well as take his turn on other swamp blues and classic blues themes. So we get a remake of his Sugar Coated Love, as well as Nothin’ But the Devil. He played behind Lightnin’ Slim on the original recording.

Outstanding is the remake of the philosophically tinged “The Same Thing Could Happen To You,” while Bob Hall adds some rollicking piano to I Hear You Knockin’. Other standout tracks include the remake of King Karl’s swamp pop classic Irene, and Jimmy Rogers’ Out On The Road. On the latter tune he plays guitar while Tim Elliott plays harmonica, emulating Lester’s style.An unexpected delight is the swamp blues reworking of WC Handy’s St. Louis Blues, as well as the instrumental Blowin’ a Rumba.

The present reissue contains a number of bonus tracks which are mostly alternate takes of the originally issued recordings. Some of these have mistakes and Vernon discusses how this recording was made at length in the copious notes provided in the accompanying booklet. I Ain’t Glad, was an original by Lester and Vernon with a lyric that was a bit of a tongue twister which was not issued at the time. Lester’s harp was added after the original recording, but it was some more recent digital repair that enabled it to be issued for the first time here. The closing tune is an instrumental Rockin’ With Lester, an extended two harmonica instrumental with Tim Elliott’s chromatic harp added to Lester’s harp. Still unissued from these sessions is a rendition of the deep soul classic The Dark End of the Street, that still, after 24 years, is deemed unusable.

The original release of Lazy Lester Rides Again was a WC Handy Award winner in 1988 and the additional takes and tunes are a bonus for listeners today. Lazy Lester still is with us, and still delights blues audiences at festivals and concerts. His music has been immortalized by the remarkable roots concert series, The Ponderosa Stomp, which takes its name from one of Lester’s Excello recordings (the recording was titled Pondarosa), and at which Lester is one of the regular performers. Long may Lazy Lester Ride.

I purchased this CD.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bob Margolin's Blues Recollections and Stories

Blues singer-guitarist Bob Margolin has self-published an e-book, Steady Rollin’ (Vizz-Tone) compiled mostly from pieces he has contributed to Blues Revue. Margolin, is best known for his tenure playing guitar with Muddy Waters but as a performer in his own right has continued to perform in the basic style of the legendary Waters.

This e-book opens with a brief explanation of why and how he came to put this volume together. Included are reflections on turning 60, a short illustrated autobiography that traces his early days playing in a rock band: joining Luther Johnson, Jr.; and then joining Muddy Waters; his tenure with Muddy and his post Muddy Waters period which includes his recording career under his own name. There is a separate chapter where he focuses more on his time with Muddy and what he learned from playing with the blues giant.

Another chapter, entitled The Guitar Hero Conspiracy where he talks his view of music as a music collaboration, not a competition and provides stories he heard from blues legends and his own experiences while also acknowledging that others have a different view. He recalls the time he travelled with Muddy and Pinetop Perkins to be part of the final performances of “The Band” that was captured for the film, The Last Waltz. His recollections include some revelations of what went on backstage among some old hippies.

Bob considers the stays of the blues today and who is carrying on the traditional blues as well his experiences playing with the new breed of women blues artists. Touching is his farewell to Pinetop Perkins after Pinetop passed away. This comes from one who had four decades playing with the piano blues master. He also includes some short blues fiction that allows him to make points about the blues and the old school of the music. In one story, Bob to take his digs at today’s airlines as he tells the story of one Mississippi Slim who is not allowed to take his guitar on the plane and what then happens to Slim and his guitar.

Bob also included a number of photographs that he has taken over the years. I will not claim this is an essential book on the blues, but certainly I can’t see anyone who has enjoyed Bob Margolin perform, had a chance to meet him or just likes to read about the blues not enjoying this. I know I did. purchased Steady Rollin’ on Apple’s ibooks, but I believe it is also available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble for the Kindle and Nook respectively.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Harry Belafonte's Songs Of Life and Progress

Harry Belafonte’s Sing Your Song: The Music (Sony Masterworks) has been issued to accompany the acclaimed documentary Sing My Music (showing on HBO as I type this) on him as well as his published autobiography My Song: A Memoir By Harry Belafonte (Knopf). 17 performances include some of his more famous ones as he developed from a folk troubadour to legendary singer, actor, social activist and an icon. It is a remarkable life he has lived and the music here is part of proof of that statement.

This compilation opens with Mark Twain and includes Leadbelly’s loving ballad Sylvie backed by just a guitar (and in the case of the latter number a vocal chorus). On both the warmth of Belafonte’s singing is evident. I was not familiar with his rendition of Lord Melody’s Mama Look a Boo Boo, but it was one of his earliest recordings of Calypso which he helped popularize and others (written with his collaborator Lord Burgess) include the brassy Cocoanut Woman, and Banana Boat Song (Day-0). The latter number helped make his album Calypso 1956 the first album to exceed 1 million copies sold. Mixed in with lovely ballads such as Scarlet Ribbons (For Her Hair), it helps explain his great popularity (and of course his looks did not hurt that).

He starred in the movie Island In The Sun, and with Lord Burgess contributed the marvelous title song with a marvelous orchestra. There is also a lively rendition of the folk round, Jump Down Spin Around, while his rendition of King Radio’s calypso Man Smart (Woman Smarter) was covered by the Grateful Dead and The Carpenters among others. “Jamaica Farewell” is another familiar Belafonte classic as he sings about leaving his little girl in KIngston Town. Belafonte’s regular accompanist at the time, Millard Thomas, has lovely acoustic guitar breaks on this, and followed by Mathilda, another of his celebrated recordings.

His musical horizons would expand to incorporate African sounds as on a lovely vocal duet with Miriam Makeba, My Angel (Malaika), initially set against a soft guitar and percussion backing. Jump In the Line is a brassy song for the Trinidad Carnival that will be familiar from those who have seen the movie Beetlejuice (several other of these songs were also in that movie’s soundtrack). A duet with Odetta A Hole in the Bucket, from a 1959 television special still is highly amusing over fifty years later. Turn the World Around with its afro-beat rhythm was recorded in the US but never issued in the US although Belafonte did perform this with The Muppets and some will know it from that. Can't Cross Over (River Come Down), comes from that same 1977 session.

Obviously this compilation only scratches the surface of Belafonte’s remarkable recording career. There are two subsequent studio albums and several concert recordings that post-date the music on this. Still, Sing Your Song: The Music stands up as a terrific selection of Harry Belafonte’s music which includes notes on all the songs and is highly recommended.

A publicist sent me a review copy.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Scott Ramminger's Crawstickers A Rich Musical Stew

I have known Washington DC area saxophonist-vocalist Scott Ramminger from performances at clubs in the area. I have seen him both as a sideman in a band and leading his band the Crawstickers. He has just issued a CD titled Crawstickers with some of the DC area’s finest roots and rhythm players, including guitarist Dave Chappell, bassist Claude Arthur and drummer Pete Ragusa (best known for his long tenure in the Nighthawks). Also on this on backing vocals are Mary Ann Redmond and Patty Reese, two of the wonderful female singers that grace the DC area.

Watching Scott, I am always struck how good a vocalist and saxophonist. He is quite an accomplished musician whose saxophone solos are much more than simply honks and squeals. He is a storyteller and his solos provide a nice voice to contrast with the guitarists he plays with. The other thing is that his bands are tight and can swing and jump. They never came off as forced nor do they ever sound heavy handed or lead footed. These same strengths characterize this recording.

In addition to the strong playing, Ramminger has provided us with eleven originals that display his way with words. His songs are full of astute, often quirky, observations about everyday relationships and life. The songs include a strong blues duet with Mary Ann Redmond, There Must Be Something Wrong With You, and the Crescent City groover Real Fine Gumbo, about a woman not too sightly and a bit mean, and whose parents hate Scott, but she makes a real fine gumbo so all is right. The are funky grooves of Give a Pencil To a Fish, where he sings that give a pencil to a fish and the fish ain’t gonna write like Joyce, and give a hammer to a cow and he will never build a barn, and to his lady he says that’s why I won’t “give my love to you.” In addition to the fine studio band, Real Fine Gumbo sports a larger horn ensemble while Give a Pencil has some hot trumpet from Vince McCool who effectively uses a mute on it. That song also has features fine tenor from Ramminger’s, while Dave Chappell adds strong slide guitar. This is typical of their strong playing throughout.

Brian Simms plays keyboards throughout including accordion on Three Dollar Beer. This number has a Tex-Mex groove and a strong lyric about a man losing his job on a rig off the Gulf Coast and his wife going off with an insurance salesman and no matter hard he tried, he ended back at the roadhouse for a three dollar beer. Another topical song, I Dreamed I Met Jesus, has Jesus in a bar late last night , having a salad and an Amstel Lite while saying he was troubled by the way the world looks and people setting fire to each other’s holy books. The album concludes with a rocking duet with Patty Reese, “The Country’s Gone From Me.”

This is seriously entertaining music here with plenty of substance in the performances. Mix together strong original material with a first-rate band and a terrific singer-saxophonist, the result is the real fine gumbo of Scott Ramminger’s excellent Crawstickers. Scott’s website is and this is available on cdbaby and iTunes.

Scott provided me with a review copy.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Girls With Guitars Rock On

The Ruf Records website describes it succinctly: “The name says it all. ‘Girls with Guitars - the 2011 Ruf Records Blues Caravan Tour - presents three of the scene's hottest young female guitar slingers on a single stage.” The website further talks about the Blues Caravan series leading successful tours throughout Europe and the US and “This unique triple bill revue has helped introduce bright new stars” citing Ana Popovic and Joanne Shaw Taylor and refers to the new disc and tour as introducing “a trio of dynamic, up-and-coming blues talents: Dani Wilde, Cassie Taylor and Samantha Fish.” I am familiar with Cassie Taylor from her playing bass with her father Otis and Dani has been associated with Candye Kane. I did not know she was from England and unfamiliar with Samantha who is from Kansas City.

For an album spotlighting upcoming blues talents, one might expect some blues but between the opening cover of the Rolling Stones’ Bitch and the Paul Pena penned Steve Miller Band classic, Jet Airliner, the trio contribute ten performances that certainly one can’t complain if one labeled them rock tunes, with different levels of blues tinges. This is not to comment on the quality of the performances, but to observe that the fact some songs are blues-tinged and the performers are influenced by the blues doesn’t mean that recording is a blues album. I do not buy that playing music derivative of blues-rock and blues-influenced blues is extending the blues. It is simply rebadging rock as blues.

Dani Wilde’s Reason to Stay, a solo performance backed by her dobro, is a folk-blues performance and showcases her vocals as much as her dobro. Also outstanding out is Samantha Fish’s shuffle, Wait a Minute, with her best vocal here and strong guitar. But that tune is followed by the pounding rhythms of the trio’s topical Get Back, on which Mike Zito provides a heavy rock guitar solo, Fish’s playing on her own Come On Home has her heartfelt vocal on the wistful lyric of turning blue with a melody that has a Dylan-esque feel and nice guitar. Fish plays some nice atmospheric slide guitar behind Cassie Taylor’s aching vocal on Leaving Chicago, but the folk-blues edges of the song contrast with the heavy rock guitar of Fish on Taylor’s Move On.

I would say that Move On, along with Get Back, are the tracks with the least appeal to me, as I did enjoy the music on this although I would not rate it highly as a blues recording. All three are quite talented both vocally and instrumentally (I am more partial to Taylor and Wilde as vocalists, but that is a matter of subjective taste) and this is a very enjoyable collection of blues-influenced rock.

I received this from a publicist.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Kelly Carmichael's "Queen Fareena" Recalls Skiffle Bands

With an interest in both acoustic blues and old time string band music, one-time hard rock guitarist, Kelly Carmichael brings this unusual background to his skittle band styled performances on his new release Queen Fareena (Doghouse Records).

Carmichael was born in Tennessee, raised near Atlanta and lived near Frederick, Maryland since 1980 when he first heard some old country blues. A multi-instrumentalist, he plays guitar, banjo, xylophone and bones on this set with a small rhythm section and accompanists on accordion, fiddle or brass on various tracks, creating a fascinating recording.

The small group arrangements provide fresh, if sometimes messy sounding, settings for songs from Mississippi John Hurt, Reverend Gary Davis, Robert Johnson, Blind Blake and others. Hurt’s Richmond Women Blues, opens and Brad Simms’ accordion gives it some Louisiana spice, while Gary Davis’ She’s Funny That Way, features some traditional jazz sounding brass. Robert Johnson’s Last Fair Gone Down, is done almost as a strutting ragtime string band piece with nice fiddle by Alexander Mitchell. Rev. Davis’ Cincinnati Flow Rag also sports trumpet and trombone providing a somewhat cluttered accompaniment.

Salty Dog, credited to John Hurt, is an old standby of the traditional jazz field and bluegrass, but Papa Charlie Jackson’s medicine band-hokum recording is evoked by the jazzy here, with Scott Rich’s muted trumpet effective, with more of the same flavor on Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin’ Around, and Sylvester Weaver’s Guitar Rag, has a bit of old time country flavor with Carmichael’s dobro playing and Mitchell’s fiddle.

Carmichael is an adept musician, and a capable singer but many of the performances would have benefited from a bit less cluttered backing (the drummer might have played lighter and simpler accompaniments for example). Even if not compelling, Queen Fareena, will appeal to many including fans of skiffle band music and the revivalist jug bands of the folk revival. This cd is available at

This review was written in 2009 (and a few minor changes made) but I do not believe it was ever published. My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Friday, October 21, 2011

D'Mar and Gill Are Real Good Friends

The combination of acoustic guitarist and vocalist Chris Gill and Derrick "D'Mar" Martin on drums and congas is heard on Real Good Friend (Airtight). While at first sight one might wonder if this duo is another in the vein of North Mississippi Hill Country groups, they are not as rhythmically heavy in their style. Martin embellishes Gill's vocals and guitar playing as opposed to the the no holds bar approach on some North Mississippi Hill Country styled recordings.

Gill wrote most of the songs (the one cover is My Babe) and sings with a definite warmth and plays very adeptly whether finger-picking or adding slide runs while Martin's percussion adds a swinging feel. The songs suggest, without copying, the classic country blues. One example is the title song where Gill opens with a spoken reference to Honeyboy Edwards and Robert Johnson before his delta-flavored, slide accompaniment to a lyric about riding the rails and jump off and get to the hobo jungle. Maybe Baby is built upon a delta groove and features nice slide. Martin's drumming and percussion helps this performance percolate. He never is flashy but it always sounds like he has added just the right amount of syncopation.

Crawfish Boogie is an infectious medium tempo salute to the mudbugs with a catchy vocal chorus (with D’Mar adding a vocal response) and a kazoo solo before some nice finger-picked guitar. It is followed by the jazzy sophistication of Harmony Street as Gill whistles and displays a different side of his guitar playing. The contrast in these two performances shows how the two are able to paint a varied musical palette here. The rest of the album is as engaging with Tore Down, a focused blues with a strong vocal, standing out. This concludes with an instrumental, International Blues Stomp, that matches Gill’s adroit slide playing and the duo’s refreshingly understated approach.

D'Mar & Gill have provided here solid performances of interesting and original songs. The performances of Real Good Friend are rooted in the blues tradition but provide their own slant on acoustic blues and will delight folk-blues lovers. Recommended.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Mary Flower Loves Company

The marvelous blues and roots fingerstyle guitarist-vocalist, Mary Flower, has a new release Misery Loves Company (Yellow Dog Records). The title refers to the fact that eleven of the twelve performances here are duets with other musicians (and a vocalist) adding support to her guitar and vocals. It is a wonderful addition to her discography.

Whether performing a blues or a rag, Mary Flower plays wonderfully with an easy flowing approach to her music. When performing a deep Chicago blues, such as Muddy Waters’ Hard Day Blues or Son House’s Death Letter Blues, she recasts the song into a Piedmont styled blues, while adding her honey-toned vocals. Her vocal strikes this listener as more successful on the former number (with Curtis Salgado adding some nice harp), although the slide guitar and guitar interplay between her and Alan Hager is marvelous. Recession Rag, is a delightful instrumental duet with mandolinist Brian Oberlin, while Jitters is a lovely duet with tuba player Mark Vehrencamp that with Mary channelling Blind Blake in her deft playing here.

Colin Linden adds electric dobro her atmospheric Way Down in the Bottom, (where darkness meets despair), while LaRonda Steele adds a harmony vocal to Mary’s exquisite rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ Goin’ To Sit Down On The Banks Of River, with an accompaniment that displays how ably she has mastered the music of this legendary giant. Her son Jesse Withers plays bass while she displays her cleanly articulated slide playing on Tampa Red’s Boogie Woogie Dance, while pianist David Frishberg adds some bop-infused piano on the delightful I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise, about her beady-eyed, devious man who spouts nasty lies. Mary’s music possesses some of the same qualities that Elizabeth Cotten’s music had so its no surprise that she so ably interprets Shake Sugaree, where Johnny B Connolly embellishes her vocal and fingerstyle wizardry with his button accordion.

A solo rendition of Scrapper Blackwell’s Scrapper’s Blues is the last selection on her latest recording. Mary Flower continues to delight blues and roots fans with a recording that continues to demonstrate that she remains one of the finest fingerstyle guitarists. Also her vocals flow as natural as her finger picking.

My review copy was provided by Yellow Dog Records.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Iceman Robinson's Slide Guitar Blues

Riler 'Iceman' Robinson, like many playing the blues in Chicago, came from Mississippi. He learned to play blues guitar from a man who was in his 50s and also played the fiddle and the two worked house parties together, with Robinson accompanying the fiddler on guitar. Later he moved to Chicago working a variety of blue collar jobs. An early musical idol was Lightnin' Hopkins, but Robinson later was enamored by John Lee Hooker, B.B. King, Elmore James and Hound Dog Taylor with the latter two especially influencing his music. 
To my knowledge, Iceman Robinson has one recording available, the 2001 Fedora album I've Never Been Loved. He is backed on it by Frank Goldwasser on guitar; Willie Kent on bass; and producer Chris Millar on drums.  His influences are pretty evident on this traditionally based Chicago blues album. The opening My Baby's Comin' Home, is a reworking of Elmore's Talk To Me Baby, with an urgent vocal and driving slide. It is followed by insistent rendition Hound Dog Taylor's Sadie, where half way through Robinson starts referring to a "Sally" for the remainder of the performance. Other strong tracks include a fine slide instrumental Robinson's Rock styled after some of the instrumentals Elmore James recorded for record producer, Bobby Robinson, and Chicago Lakefront which is a hot shuffle with some tough non-slide guitar.
There is nothing profound about his songs. Just like he needs money, he needs a woman he sings against the insistent backing of I Have a Need. The title track is a relaxed shuffle where he complains that he has never being treated right and has the blues all day and all night. He complains about having no time to play and his woman not being helping any on Workin' Man, a driving blues using the Dust My Broom riff. The insistent Baby How Long adapts Howlin' Wolf's How Many More Years. A driving slide guitar boogie in the vein of Hound Dog Taylor, "Waiting on My Baby," ends this entertaining album.
Iceman Robinson’s I've Never Been Loved is one of many solid traditionally oriented Chicago blues that many may have been overlooked by fans of this style. It delivers some solid Chicago blues with solid slide guitar that should appeal to fans of Chicago styled blues who may have missed this. Fedora is to be thanked for making the music of unheralded acts like Ice Man Robinson available for posterity.
I believe I purchased this and it is still available.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Kirk Fletcher Shows Many Shades of Blue

Looking back several years, here is a review of guitarist Kirk Fletcher’s second album, Shades of Blue, which was also issued by Delta Groove shortly thereafter. This review originally appeared in the April 2004 DC Blues Calendar, and just calling folks attention to a very talented guitarist and a really enjoyable blues album. Last year I reviewed his most recent album as a leader, My Turn. I purchased this I believe.

Kirk Fletcher is a young African-American guitarist from Southern California who has been mentored by some of the best West Coast blues musicians such as Junior Watson and Al Blake and has toured with Kim Wilson (with whom he has recorded) and Charlie Musselwhite. One might call him an old school guitarist as their is little if any of post-Hendrix blues-rock flavoring in his music. It is straight ahead driving blues guitar.

His second album, Shades of Blue, is on the German Crosscut label and spotlights his inventive playing on several instrumentals and as he backs vocalists Kim Wilson, Janiva Magness and Finis Tasby. Magness, a young West Coast female is one of the more promising of the emerging female blues vocalist and Tasby is one of the few singers that catch the grit and soul of the late Lowell Fulson. He really is a solid accompanist, and his sharp, biting lines embellish but not overwhelm the vocals. Highpoints include his accompaniments to Wilson’s vocals on Lonesome Sundown’s My Home is a Prison, and the classic Junior Parker (I am guessing) Stranded; Magness’ thoughtful take on Magic Sam’s That’s Why I’m Crying and Tasby’s reworking of Jimmy Dawkins’ Welfare Blues, where Fletcher really takes off on his solo. There is also an nice Tasby rendition of Percy Mayfield’s The River’s Invitation. Instrumental showcases include Club Zanzibar that Fletcher co-wrote with Wilson and the opening Blues For Boo Boo, with its nice easy groove.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Paul Geremia's Love Murder and Mosquitos

The following review originally appeared in the April 2004 DC Blues Calendar, the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I had the pleasure of seeing Paul at one of the earliest shows the DC Blues Society was involved with (over twenty years ago) and it was a terrific performance of acoustic blues Paul Geremia was among the folk-blues interpreters of the folk revival and remains one of the finest such artists today. I received my review copy from the record label or a publicist.

Listening to Paul Geremia playing his twelve-string Stella on the opening Meet Me in the Bottom, the opening selection of his new Red House album, Love Murder & Mosquitos, this listener was struck by how much his performance reminded me of Blind Willie McTell, that legendary Georgia master of twelve-string blues. With a career that spans at least four decades, Geremia has earned the recognition of one of the foremost acoustic blues performers alive.

This latest album is another superb effort as he performs his own original renderings of blues recordings from such masters as Charlie Patton, Jesse Thomas, Tampa Red, Mississippi John Hurt and others along with a few distinctive originals. He updates a song or two here including Riley Puckett's (New) Bully of the Town with his updated lyrics protesting the "so-called anti-terrorist legislation which endangers our citizenry by, in effect, making criminals of political dissenters." Even here, he simply the message come out over the course of the performance without hitting the listener on the head with the message.

He is such a good player and singer and receives splendid support on several selections. Paul Geremia is such a wonderful performer who has produced excellent recordings in the past, but this may be as good as any he has done.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Corey Harris Takes The Blues From Mississippi to Mali

Corey Harris certainly has distinguished himself over the years with his blues and world music recordings. Back in February, I looked back at one of his early recordings. Today I look back at one of his recordings that was contemporaneous with his participation in the Martin Scorsese series of films on The Blues that appeared on public television. The review originally appeared in the April 2004 DC Blues Calendar, and I likely received my review copy from the record label.

The PBS television series on the Blues that was presented by Martin Scorsese was generally a disappointment with the inconsistency of the series. Only two of the seven episodes were excellent. it is unfortunate that the producers of Blues Story did not receive the funding that Scorsese received. That hour sketch of the blues as told by the performers themselves illustrated the potential of a week long series that The PBS series teased us with but failed to deliver the goods.

Despite the prominence it gave the idiom, the only performers associated with the series that may have received a boost from the series were those featured on it and any boost in record sales was generally limited to the tie-in cds and dvds connected with the series. So ‘blues albums’ by Eric Clapton, The Allman Brothers and Jimi Hendrix were top sellers while the major blues artists of the past decade such as Joe Louis Walker and Lucky Peterson (both who had exceptional discs last year) probably could have had all their recordings available in Tanzania for the boost in gave their music.

One of the few artists who may have received a boost for his career is Corey Harris who appeared in the opening episode that Scorsese produced. That episode showed Corey traveling Mississippi and performing with Bobby Rush and Otha Turner and then to Africa where he performed with Ali Farka Toure and other Africans, illustrating the links between the music of West African and the blues in the US. Rounder issued late in 2004 Harris’ new disc Mississippi to Mali, which similarly explores the musical links. Harris performs with drummer Sam Carr and soul-blues legend Bobby Rush, the granddaughter of the late Otha Turner, Shardé & the Rising Star Fife and Drum band, Ali Farka Toure, another West African guitarist Ali Magassa and percussionist Souleyman Kane on a program of blues and African music that is fascinating and compelling.

After a fine instrumental, Coahoma, that evokes the slide playing of Furry Lewis, Harris delivers a fine rendition of the classic Tommy Johnson song Big Road Blues, backed by Rush and Carr before a rendition of Skip James’ recording, Special Rider Blues, where the guitar of Ali Farka Toure and the percussion of Souleyman Kane lend an insistent, almost hypnotic quality to the performance. This is followed by one of Toure’s originals, Tamalah, with its insistent accompaniment suggests the kinship of the Delta blues music and one of the musical traditions of Africa. The linkage is also suggested by the following Station Blues, a reworking of the blues waltz, Sitting on Top of the World, where Harris is joined by Shardé Turner and her fife and drum band.

Harris performs other downhome blues like Cypress Groove, 44 Blues, and Catfish Blues along with other performances with the Mali musicians up front. Mr. Turner, \a juke joint performance with Rush and Carr is a tribute to Otha Turner who died a week before he was supposed to record with Corey, while Charlene, a Harris original, displays how well he has integrated the influences of the Mali musicians in his guitar playing, vocal and the percussion of Darrell Rose. When this musical journey ends with Harris’ riveting rendition of Blind Willie Johnson’s Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground, one recognizes one has been through an enlightening, but even more important, entertaining voyage of musical performances.

Corey writes in the liner notes, “As they say, ‘the roots of a tree cast no shadow.’ Our different histories, ages, cultures are all part of the same tree. Listen closely and you will hear the root. Give thanks.”

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Elmore James Jr's Daddy Provided A Strong Blues Legacy

Children of famous performers sometimes follow in the parents footsteps and others take a fresh turn. In the blues, sons of Muddy waters have performed blues definitely inspired by their legendary father as has singer-guitarist Eddie Taylor, Jr. In contrast, Lurrie Bell took up guitar and daughter Shemekia did not have to worry about be Johnny Copeland Jr. Another son of a blues legend, Elmore James Jr. (real name is Earnest Johnson) put out a recording several years ago, Daddy Gave Me The Blues (JSP) that doesn't simply clone his father's music. On this, his band includes saxophonists Jeff Turmes and Ron Dzuibla, bassist Oakland Red, guitarists Rick Reed and Cadillac Zack and Stephen Mugalian on drums.

The music on Daddy Gave Me The Blues is far more than simply hard slide guitar blues and shuffles. The opening Don't Get Mad is a solid contemporary Chicago blues that suggests John Primer and the late Willie Kent. As a singer, Elmore Jr. sounds more like Homesick James than his father, as can be heard on Going Back Home, a nice slide guitar blues in his father's style. "Tore Down is a fresh reworking of the Freddie King recording built upon a funky groove and bass riff. The reworking of Jimmy Reed's You Don't Have To Go (titled here Oh Baby) finds him back with the slide and an arrangement and sound reminiscent of Homesick James' Baby Please Set a Date. In addition to some strong slide guitar, their is a strutting tenor sax solo.

The title track is a scuffling sounding shuffle with an autobiographical lyric as he talks about about how daddy gave his family a Cadillac in a 1951 and helped him become a musician. Cummins Prison Farm is another song with some slide (again in the Homesick James vein) as Elmore Jr gives a forceful delivery of Calvin Leavy's blues classic about the notorious prison farm with a solid solo likely from Reed or Cadillac Zack in addition to the leader's slide which serves primarily as instrumental foil to his vocals. A highpoint is Electric Man where he sings when I plug into your socket, I can charge you like no man." The song is a strong reworking of Memphis Slim's Grinder Man Blues, with a nice old school solo from him as well. Steppin' With Elmore is a slide guitar instrumental in the fashion of Elmore's Bobby's Rock.

The album closes with an acoustic rendition of Going Back Home, with a nice accompaniment and solid vocal. In fact his vocals have a definite appeal to me. He sings in a straight-forward manner and the performances have a natural soulfulness. While his performances may not have all of the intensity of his father, Daddy Gave Me The Blues is a nicely performed recording worth the consideration of Chicago blues lovers.

I purchased this CD. I should note that I have misplaced my hard copy of this recording so hopefully I did not screw up the personnel listing.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Maria Muldaur's New Release Displays Her Mature Soulfulness

Steady Love (Stony Plain) is the new release by Maria Muldaur and finds the soulful singer backed by a group of New Orleans musicians under the leadership of keyboard master David Torkanowsky. In addition to Torkanowsky, the backing band is Shane Theriot on guitar, Johnny Allen on bass and Kenny Blevins on drums, with Shannon Powell taking the drum chair on four tracks as well as among those adding background vocals with Rick Vito adding slide guitar to a track and Jimmy Carpenter and Ian Smith add horns to the title track. On a cover of Please Send Me Someone To Love, a band including guitarist Mighty Mike Schermer is present.

Muldaur's voice has aged and has a husky quality and body that lends an authority to the vocals. Her voice is certainly different from the younger singer who projected an innocence, yet seductiveness, on Midnight at the Oasis. David Torkanowsky has provided settings to enhance her vocals here. The band plays strongly throughout and the backing vocals at times lend a gospel flavor to some of the performances, some of which like the traditional " Done Made It In My Mind (to serve God until I die), Rev. W. H. Brewster's As An Eagle Stirreth In her Nest, and Stephen Bruton's Walk By Faith, are spiritual in message whereas other songs find her give an uplifting dimension to lyrics such as on the opening I'll Be Glad, as she sings about bad luck and suffering and being tired of living in this world of hurt and she will be so glad when she gets her groove back on.

Then there is her nice rendition of the late Bobby Charles' classic on backbiting so-called "friends," Why Are People Like That? In contrast, she gets sassy for the strutting groove of Soulful Dress, which contrasts with Greg Brown's Blues Go Walking, which has a country soul feel. Rain Down Tears is a strong blues performance with an interesting melodic twist that guitarist Arthur Adams and Will Jennings penned. Get You Next To Me, finds Maria singing about standing on the corner, cell phone in her hand while wanting her man to call her number as she can't wait until she gets her man next to her. Greg Brown also penned the title track with a bit more urban flavor (and a reggae feel to the rhythm).

Rick Zito's I Am Not Alone, is another spiritual affirmation. Zito's marvelous slide guitar and the arrangement lend this song the tenor of an updated Blind Willie Johnson song and puts a close to this exemplary recording that showcases the maturity that has come to Maria Muldaur's performances. Recommended.

I received this from a publicist for the label

Thursday, October 13, 2011

George 'Mojo' Buford 1929-2011

I had the pleasure of seeing George ‘Mojo’ Buford sing with James Cotton at the 2006 Pocono Blues Festival, but never had the chance to see him play harmonica.  Word of his passing on October 11 hit hard for those of us who are fans of old school Chicago-styled blues. Born in Hernando, Mississippi, Buford moved to Memphis while still young and got his early blues schooling there before moving to Chicago in the early 50’s where he became a band that became known as the Muddy Waters Jr. Band. It was not a band of Muddy imitators, but rather Muddy's selected band to fill-in for him at Chicago clubs when Muddy was on the road. Buford, himself, would have several stints as part of Muddy’s band replacing Little Walter and James Cotton. He was a member Muddy’s band when that legend passed away in 1983.

After Muddy’s death, Mojo performed as a leader and also with other blues legends, serving a spell with James Cotton as vocalist after Cotton lost his singing voice. His last performance was with Cotton and guitarist Hubert Sumlin at Yoshi’s in San Francisco this past July. Shortly after returning to Minneapolis, he had heart surgery from which he never fully recovered, and he died on October 12 of heart failure. He was survived by nine children.

James Cotton and Mojo Buford at 2006 Pocono Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Buford physically relocated to Minneapolis in 1962 which would remain his home for the rest of his life and he would be a major figure in that community’s blues scene. In 1964, his first album, Exciting Harmonica Sound of Mojo Buford (Blues Record Society) was issued and it would not be until 1979 when Mr. Blues issued Mojo Buford’s Blues Summit, would he have another full album as a leader. This was subsequently issued on Mr. Blues and the Japanese P-Vine label. He shared albums with other members of the Muddy Waters Band for Douglas Records and was a sideman on a Bluesway album by Otis Spann as well as on some live performances by Muddy Waters. Subsequent to the Mr. Blues album, he recorded several albums for JSP, Blue Loon and Fedora. The latter label issued a 1998 live recording, Champagne & Reefer which was Buford's last album.

Ironically I had uploaded two of his albums to itunes on my Mac computer a few weeks ago. These were Still Blowing Strong, a 1996 recording originally issued on Blue Loon, and Champagne & Reefer, the live Fedora CD I have mentioned. Both recordings are solid efforts that show him to be influenced by Muddy Waters as a vocalist and a capable harmonica player in the Little Walter vein with a fat, crying tone. Both of these albums are currently available.

Still Blowing Strong was a studio recording with a solid Chicago styled band (and not having the physical CD in front of me I can’t provide personnel). It has some solid idiomatic originals, performed in the style of the Muddy Waters Band. There is some Muddy styled slide guitar provided on Apple On A Tree, a nice cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s In My Younger Day, and a couple of instrumentals that showcase his harp playing.

Recorded in Phoenix, the performances on Champagne & Reefer are solid with a band that included Bob Margolin on guitar and Chico Chism on drums. Margolin, in introducing Buford, notes that Buford got him to join Muddy’s band right after one of Muddy’s guitarists had left, which Margolin thanks him publicly for. He provides guitar in the vein of Muddy as Buford delivers forceful vocals on the title track, Blow Wind Blow, Long Distance Call, Don’t Go No Further, and other songs associated with Muddy. There also are spirited versions of Willie Dixon’s Wee Wee Baby, and Sonny Boy Williamson’s Nine Below Zero.

Information in this review was based on Bill Dahl’s biography at and the obituary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Bob Corritore, who produced Champagne & Reefer, has an appreciation of Mojo Buford on his website, It is an entry dated October 11, 2011.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Corey Stevens Albert King Tribute

Corey Stevens was born in Illinois and moved to the Los Angeles area after graduating college and looking at his album covers is one who would be linked in among the post-war Stevie Ray Vaughan blues-rockers. While not being familiar with much of his catalog, 2007's Albertville (Ruf), a tribute to albert King, is worth a mention.

This is a recording where Stevens channels Albert King's guitar style and often the arrangements are based on King's originals. Its a program of songs I am generally familiar with a couple of exceptions such as A Real Good Sign, and Another Pretty Face. It is certainly nice to hear Stevens do his straight rendition of Breaking Up Somebody's Home and That's What The Blues Is All About. I may have heard one or two of his prior recordings but his restrained, slightly muffled vocals certainly emulate King's down-home, laid-back singing. Stevens adds his own licks on guitar in addition to channeling King’s style on selections as well, so he goes beyond simple imitation. Stevens doesn't rush the tempo or rock out on the performances either. Cold Women With Warm Hearts, with its mid-tempo having obvious appeal to the swing dancers.

Albertville may not be an essential blues album, but Stevens' affection to the late blues legend is evident on this heartfelt tribute.

I believe I may have received a review copy from a publicist.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

George Benson's Spanish Flavored White Rabbit

George Benson was already an established guitarist when he signed with Creed Taylor and CTI Records. As part of the 40th Anniversary of CTI Records, Sony has issued on CTI Masterworks White Rabbit, an album that situated the guitar in the flamenco-tinged arrangements of Don Sebesky. The musicians on this session included Herbie Hancock on electric piano, Ron Carter on bass, Billy Cobham on drums, and Airto on percussion. Hubert Laws was part of the larger band and added a solo to the title track.

The title track was a remarkable adaptation of the Jefferson Airplane song and sets the tone to the album. The underlying groove of Grace Slick’s original lends itself to the flamenco inspired setting as the trumpet conjures the bullring, and Benson’s guitar initial evokes the flamenco masters before he takes his solo. It is followed by Herbie Hancock who rips off a startling solo punctuated by the horns which is then followed by Laws' solo. The rendition provides an energetic start to this recording.

Of course White Rabbit is not the only pleasure to be heard here. Theme From 'Summer of 42' provides a quieter mood as Benson states the theme with Jay Berliner's acoustic guitar helping set the mood while Hancock's electric piano establishes a foundation for Benson's solo. Little Train (from Bachianas Brasileiras #2) has a lively Brazilian feel with Airto adding a wordless vocal in addition to percussion. California Dreamin' opens with a Flamenco flavor and a lush Sebesky arrangement that mixes in Harp with the woodwinds and brass over which Benson's agile, fleet solo rides as Berliner chording behind him.

This disc concludes with Benson's El Mar, which also has a similar Spanish (or perhaps Moorish) flavor. It is built upon a slightly dramatic motif and apparently was Earl Klugh's debut recording. Klugh plays acoustic guitar here. Like the rest of the album, this is wonderfully recorded and remastered so for example one can hear the sizzle and crackle from the drums and Airto's percussion as well as very clearly and distinctly. This was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and while Van Gelder was apparently not involved with remastering these reissues, the clarity of the sound does justice to the wonderful music heard here.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Louisiana Red's Memphis Mojo

Iverson Minter, better known as Louisiana Red, has had a distinguished recording career that dates back six decades. Red has recorded many memorable recordings over the years, whether his challenge to Muddy Waters, Gonna Play My Guitar, as Playboy Fuller' Red's Dream, that the legendary Henry Glover produced from a session with Tommy Tucker on piano; Louisiana Red Sings the Blues, an Atco album with the late Bill Dicey on harmonica; the Blue Labor album Sweet Blood Call, with some very chilling vocals; a solo set, "Sittin' Here Wonderin', as well as Millennium Blues, for Earwig; and more recently Black to the Black Bayou on Ruf. I could cite other titles, but one should get the point that Louisiana Red has been laying down some stone cold, real blues killers for decades.

Ruf has issued a new Louisiana Red album, Memphis Mojo, which like the "Black Bayou" disc has him joined with Little Victor's Juke Joint who I presume is Little Victor on guitar, Bill Troiani on bass and Alex Pettersen on drums with appearances by Dave Maxwell on piano, Bob Corritore on harmonica, 'The Hawk' on maracas and Mookie Brill on bass for several tracks. This is a solid recording in the vein of the classic Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and Elmore James, mixed in with some North Mississippi Hill Country flavor. Red's voice perhaps is a bit more gravelly, but the robustness of his vocals still stand out. The backing throughout is strong, sounding traditional yet fresh.

The songs, with one exception are originals opening with Goodbye Blues, with a groove evocative of Muddy Waters' Louisiana Blues, set to a driving accompaniment with Little Victor taking the lead on guitar and Corritore wailing on harp. I Had Troubles All My Life, may have been done by Red before but is strongly delivered as he sings about wanting to go back to Mississippi with a bit of howling. The one cover is Blind Lemon Jefferson's See That My Grave Is Kept Clean, with Little Victor providing atmospheric use of tremolo with his guitar helping make an original rendition of this standard. It is followed by the North Mississippi Hills groove of No More Whiskey. Yolanda has Maxwell on piano and Corritore on harp for a strong Chicago styled blues. Your Lovin' Man, is a downhome blues with Red laying down tough sounding slide, while I'm Gettin' Tired has an insistent groove suggestive of Junior Parker's Feelin' Good.

So Long, So Long, conjures the early Muddy Waters recordings with Big Crawford on bass and Little Walter on harmonica. It perhaps is the standout track on a recording with many excellent performances. Memphis Mojo is a superb blues recording likely to receive many of the accolades Red's prior disc received. Such recognition will be well deserved.

My review copy was provided by a publicist.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Doug MacLeod's Blues Ring True

Years ago in the Washington D.C. area, legendary WPFW-FM blues radio personality Jerry ‘The Bama’ Washington would play at least a couple times a month an evocative song, Night Bird, by one Doug MacLeod (some may be familiar with Eva Cassidy’s recording of this song). Hearing this led me to the No Road Back Home album that MacLeod, Dennis Walker and Bruce Bromberg produced for Hightone.

MacLeod has since has compiled a fairly extensive discography and established himself for his evocative vocals, guitar and songs, rooted in the blues tradition but speaking from personal experiences. In recent years he has eschewed the electric guitar, preferring to perform and record acoustically with the focus on his intricate fingerstyle guitar as well as slide playing, and his intimate vocals.

His most recent disc is on the Dutch Black & Tan label, Dubb, which refers to the nickname the late legend George ‘Harmonica’ Smith gave him. He’s backed by bassist Denny Croy and drummer Dave Kida with Carl Sonny Leyland adding some piano for several tracks. Songs that spin some philosophical take on relationships, (If You Going to the Dog House) mix with songs about a women who really gets down and upsets the neighborhood (She’s Boogy’n), a touch of cynicism about our supposed to be public spirited politicians Dubb’s Talkin’ Politician Blues), observations of someone who can’t stop yapping (One Fool Show) and a lying lover ($50 Wig with its line “You got a $50 wig, setting on a $5 head), and a touch of the Dust My Broom melody (North Country Woman).

Some songs I am sure will grab you more than others, but certainly Macleod’s songs rings a bit bluer than some award-winners and his understated approach stands out with so much rocked music these days. Seems like some good material to cover in here as well. Definitely a release to check out.

I wrote about Doug’s 2010 DC Blues Festival appearance last year. I believe it is appropriate to revive this review of a fine recording that appeared in Europe and should still be readily available along with others by him. This review originally appeared in the November 2005 DC Blues Calendar and the February 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 280). I believe I may have purchased this.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Willie Egan's Old Fashioned Rock and Roll

Willie Egan was one of the less known rhythm’n’blues/rock & roll pioneers whose recordings were reissued on European vinyl LPs in the 1970s and 1980s. The UNI distributed Empire Musicwerks label hopes to lift him from his ‘obscurity’ with the release of Wow Wow: The Complete Vita/Mambo Sessions.

Egan, who died in 2004, was a Louisiana native whose family moved to the L.A. area when he was 9 years old. The liner notes suggest that he was a rocker in the vein of New Orleans legends Fats Domino and Smiley Lewis. Egan himself referred to Amos Milburn, Hadda Brooks, Camille Howard and Nellie Lutcher as his main influences while he had a vocal style akin to Little Willie Littlefield. J.R. Fulbright recorded him in 1949 (at the age of 16) for the Elko label, but it wasn’t until he was living in Watts and playing in clubs as the House Rocker that he was noticed by the A&R man for the Pasadena based Mambo/Vita label.

Paired with guitarist Lloyd Rowe, he produced 12 sides which, with four alternate takes, produces the 16 tracks on this somewhat short (about 32 minutes) CD. There is the loping instrumental Potato Stomp, where both get to display there skills, or the title track with echoes of the New Orleans sound perhaps filtered through the West Coast Jump Blues, itself a source of inspiration for Egan. Then the hard rocking blues, I Don’t Know Where She Went, as well as Willie’s Blues and Wear Your Black Dress.

Nothing fancy about the music here as it is a healthy dose of that old-fashioned rock and roll.

This review appeared originally in the November 2005 DC Blues Calendar and then the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283). It is still available on CD as well as downloads. I likely received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Hardway Connection's Hot Soul Blues Stew

Its been over a decade since an unheralded walk-on group competed and won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, edging out a group fronted by Susan Tedeschi. Previously unknown to many blues lovers in the Washington area, the Hardway Connection have since become one of the best-loved blues and old school soul bands around. Featuring several truly excellent singers and a tight band with two keyboards, guitar, bass and drums, they have produced soulful and funky music and in the course of their three self-produced CDs, have come up with some strong original material along with some covers of some gems by Roy C.

The first time I heard them live, they turned many heads, including mine, when Jerome MacKall launched into the group’s rendition of Ray Charles’ A Fool For You (filtered through Otis Redding). William Bell, the legendary soul artist, has compiled 15 tracks from the three discs on his Wilbe label, Hot Ticket, which hopefully will make their music easier to find. What is impressive is the quality of their originals (which shouldn’t be surprising since guitarist-vocalist Robert Owens is Don Covay’s nephew) as well as the remarkable vocals of Jerome MacKall backed by the group’s strong playing.

Originals range from the get up on the dance floor groove of Come On and Dance; the southern soul of What She Doesn’t Know about a man in an affair; Horn-ee Side, perhaps an unfortunate title for a lyric in which MacKall sings about wanting to reach the horny side of his women’s mind; one of the group’s finest soul ballads, It Must Be Love; and Somebody, a deep soul lyric that evokes the Bee Gees To Love Somebody. Guitarist Robert Owens gets to the vocal mike on the popular medley of Roy C songs Morning Train/ Peeping Thru the Window (Presented in both radio and unedited mixes) as well as the follow-up, One in the Morning, in which Robert attempts to remedy what his woman viewed as the deficiency in his equipment being too short.

When one sees Hardway Connection perform, one hears them performing their originals that are here along with covers of Dorothy Moore, Al Green, Etta James and others. Hopefully this disc will be available in better stores. You can get it at the group’s performances of course along with amazon, Barnes & Noble, and other web sites.

This review appeared originally in the October 2005 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. It was also published in the June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 283). I have made some edits to reflect that this review is 5 years old and omitted material in the original review that was relevant to the Washington DC area readers and to reflect current availability. The Hardway Connection provided me with a review copy. 

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Awakened By Nicole Mitchell's Stunning New Recording

In the past few years Nicole Mitchell has emerged as a major voice in contemporary music. The poll winning flautist (in 2010 won Downbeat’s Critics Poll as both Rising Star and top instrumentalist in the flute category) has performed in a number of contexts and has established herself as an educator, composer, instrumentalist and band leader. Her new Delmark album, The Awakening, which she notes that decided to put her flute more in the forefront. She has worked previously with each of her collaborators here, bassist Harrison Bankhead, guitarist Jeff Parker, and drummer Avreeayl Ra. However this group played the first time together a few days prior to entering the studio for this recording.

Curly Top, the ebullient opening number is written for her daughter and in addition to her flighty solo, Parker especially turns in some bright playing. The suite-like Journey On a Thread, has a bit more free and abstract tenor with Parker’s opening which is followed by Mitchell painting sounds with her flute. Bankhead’s funky ostinato bass pattern provides the anchor for the mesmerizing Center of the Earth and the strong improvisations by Mitchell and Parker (who himself repeats a riff during Mitchell’s solo with her overblowing and use of overtones). Parker also plays with sounds during his interlude here.

Snowflakes is a lovely and brief, delicately played piece followed by Momentum, which has an appealing peppy theme and an engaging, vibrant performance. Parker’s guitar helps instill an indigo mood for the evocative More Than I Can Say. Parker contributed one composition, F.O.C. which features a stunning improvisation by Mitchell who displays such a pure tone, followed by the deliberate and thoughtful guitar of Parker. The title composition was inspired by Mitchell’s association with Steve Coleman and closes this recording on a high level.

The Awakening impresses with the outstanding playing and strong ensemble playing on challenging compositions. This recording is consistently superb. This writer would love to see this band live.

My review copy was provided by Delmark

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Steady Bob Margolin's All Star Chicago Blues Jam

Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin continues to play in the style of blues he played with Muddy Waters two decades after that legend’s death. He has added to his growing discography with a new Telarc disc , Bob Margolin’s All Star Blues Jam. The disc brings together Carey Bell, Hubert Sumlin, Pinetop Perkins, Willie Smith and Jimmy Lane for renditions of mostly classic blues tunes. It was recorded mostly at the Blues Heaven Studio in Salina, Kansas, and captures the classic Chicago blues sound of Waters and others with Margolin sharing the vocals with Waters band veterans Perkins, Bell, and Willie Smith, and bassist Mookie Brill.

Smith, longtime drummer with Muddy does a first-rate job on Waters’ Country Boy and plays harmonica on the reworking of Juke. Pinetop’s steady piano helps anchor much of this disc along with Brill on bass and Smith on drums. Margolin tackles Johnny Shines’ Brutal Hearted Woman, which he has rearranged the number into a Waters’ styled Chicago blues, but vocally does not come close to Shines’ vocal on the original. Bell is solid throughout whether playing fat chromatic harp behind Smith’s vocal on Always on My Mind, or singing, with his gruff delivery, on the shuffle One Day You’ll Gonna Get Lucky.

Pinetop ably does Robert Nighthawk’s Sweet Black Angel. A live recording of Mean Old Chicago, a song Margolin wrote in memory of Jimmy Rogers, includes some nice guitar from Rogers son Jimmy Lane. Sumlin supports Margolin on Jimmy Rogers’ Last Time and the blues staple Goin’ Down Slow. The album closes with an instrumental rendition of the gospel standard Just a Little Walk With You that Pinetop takes the lead on a simply delivered rendition.

There is a consistency in the performances here. If few are exceptional, the level is still strong which makes for enjoyable listening that will not disappoint fans of classic Chicago blues.

This review originally appeared in the June 2003 DC Blues Calendar and the July-August 2003 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 263). I have made minor stylistic changes. I likely received a review copy from the record label or a publicist for the label.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Guitarist Small's Acoustic "Black, White & Blues"

Solo performer Mark T. Small had a background playing in bluegrass bands which perhaps is the source of his blazingly-fast flat-picking style. This New England Native though started gravitating to the blues, leading a band The Lonesome Strangers. Around 2000, he began to pursue a solo career, stating “I started developing the solo show because I love the freedom associated with playing alone.” He has just issued a solo recording, his new CD, “Blacks, Whites & the Blues,” on Lead Foot Music. It consists of 14 songs, many classic blues but a few from others sources.

It is an interesting and enjoyable recording with a gruffly delivered, driving solo rendition of Muddy Waters’ Trouble No More. His original Boogie Woogie Country Man, displays flat-picking chops on a rockabilly flavored performance. Emphatic guitar and a slightly overstated vocal characterize his rendition of Little Red Rooster. There is a nice solo on this. Hesitation Blues is a likable traditional blues with nice picking and slide on his National guitar. He picks up a telecaster for an energetic rendition of John Lee Hooker’s Bang, Bang, Bang, Bang, while he is back to the National for Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway.”

Small’s flat-picking skills are displayed on the traditional Old Gray Mare, which is played in Norman Blake’s style. Six White Horses also has a nice country tinge with a strutting rhythm. A solo rendition of The Thrill Is Gone, has inventive guitar riffs and solos intertwined with Small’s coarse singing. A nice rendition of Fred McDowell’s A Few More Lines follows where Small’s playing emulates the late Mississippi legend. Catfish Blues has fresh guitar embellishments on the familiar Delta blues, although Small’s vocal could have been a bit looser. It is followed by a unremarkable Sweet Home Chicago, a song where he adds little to the multiple previous recordings of this.

The relaxed A Georgia Camp Meeting stands in contrast to most of the other performances and is followed by a nice ragtime instrumental, Scott Joplin’s Solace, which Small notes is the only time Joplin employed the tango rhythm. The thoughtful, genial playing provides a delightful close to this recording. While Small’s vocals might not match his imaginative and interesting guitar, he has produced an imperfect gem in Blacks, Whites & the Blues. It should appeal to fans of acoustic blues and blues-roots music.

A publicist for this release supplied me with a review copy.