Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lurrie Bell Knows That The Devil Ain’t Got No Music

A new Lurrie Bell recording, The Devil Ain’t Got No Music (Aria B.G. Records), represents a double departure from Bell’s prior recordings. First of all the album focuses on the sacred side of Lurrie’s repertoire and secondly the performances are rendered in a stripped down vein, mostly acoustically. Part of its origins was the years growing up as a child with his grandparents in the South that Lurrie spent playing and singing in church. After moving North, where he become known for his blues guitar and vocals, Bell would sing and play many of the songs heard on this new release around his home. The Devil Ain’t Got No Music was produced by Matthew Skoller and in addition to Bell, has guests Joe Louis Walker, Billy Branch, Josef Ben Israel, Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, and Bill Sims, Jr.

Its a bit more informal sounding than Lurrie’s electric blues recordings with producer Skoller presenting the performances in a variety of settings ranging from the opening Swing Low, Lurrie’s personalized interpretation of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, where his guitar and vocals are backed by Smith’s percussion and Sims’ hand claps as he vocally riffs on “swing low.” Joe Louis Walker contributes slide guitar and backing vocal to It’s a Blessing, while Lurrie’s vocals and guitar are joined by backing vocal on Thomas Dorsey’s Search Me Lord. Don’t Let the Devil Ride is one of several songs on the theme of stay away from the devil with Lurrie’s trebly guitar evocative of Magic Sam with Kenny Smith’s supportive drumming. On Muddy Waters’ Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You, Lurrie’s self-accompaniment channels Lay My Burden Down.

The title track was written by producer Skoller and based on a quote from Mavis Staples. With a small combo (with Skoller on harp) Bell notes the devil has fire, horns and a tail but the devil has no music so that’s why his home is hell. On Thomas Dorsey’s “Peace of the Valley” Bell adds string slapping while Joe Louis Walker adds whining slide accents to the fervent vocal. Smith’s percussion and Cynthia Butts background vocals are the stark backing for Bell’s delivery of Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole, which is where you want to keep the devil.

Bill Sims adds second guitar as well as provides the arrangement to Lo and Beyond, while Joe Louis Walker and Sims add their clapping and enthusiasm as Lurrie shouts I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own, which Walker wrote. Billy Branch is part of the unplugged small Chicago blues styled backing on Trouble In My Way, with Mike Avery and James Teague adding their backing voices.

The Devil Ain’t Got No Music concludes with a lengthy, solo rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ Death Have No Mercy. As noted, it presents a definite different musical side of Bell. Bell sings with passion while the emphatic, percussive manner of his guitar style is evident. The unusual twists and turns his guitar playing often take is less prevalent but still it is certainly a release that is well worth checking out.

I received a review copy from a publicist for this release.

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