Monday, October 29, 2012

In Turkey Mitch Woods Discovers Blues Without Borders

Mitch Woods has been pounding the 88s for a few decades now and his latest recording of jump blues and boogie woogie is Blues Beyond Borders on Woods own Club 88 label. This is a combined CD/DVD release that was recorded in the fall of 2010 at the Efes Blues Festival in the Republic of Turkey, as part of a tour where Mitch and his band played 26 shows in 20 cities over five weeks in that country. In addition to containing video of the performances the DVD also includes insightful extras of the band’s adventures on the road, a travelogue of Turkey, impressions of the Turkish culture and the group’s experiences as “blues ambassadors” around the world. Joining Mitch Woods (piano, vocals) are His Rocket 88s: New Orleans all-stars Amadee Castenell (sax/background vocals) and Cornell Williams (bass,/vocals), as well as Adam Gabriel (guitar/background vocals) and Larry Vann (drums).

Mitch Woods is a terrific person as well as a splendid pianist and singer in the jump blues vein. His playing can get deep into the blues as well as rollicking with the general tenor of the performances being let's have a good time and party. Things kick off with Woods’ original Solid Gold Cadillac, a boogie rocker taken at a nice tempo with the band providing crisp support (Castenell adding tenor riffs behind Woods unhurried, rolling boogie woogie solo). Besides being a fine idiomatic performance, Woods lyrics ring true like we are hearing a revival of a fifties jump blues classic. The same can be held about another original, Boogie Woogie BBQ, where again Woods demonstrates his flair for lyrics that sound like they were decades old. Its a rollicking number as Woods sings about BBQ, fried chicken and oyster stew while Castenell takes off on his solo. 

A favorite Woods original is Mojo Mambo, which takes us to New Orleans with melody and whistling lifted from Earl King’s Big Chief, before Woods sings that if you want to have a ball good down to New Orleans and do the mojo mambo with a voodoo queen as bassist Williams and drummer Vann kick out that hot second-line groove while Woods channels Professor Longhair.

Of course there are some choice interpretations, most of which are relatively obscure such as Down Boy Down, which the legendary Henry Glover co-wrote and features some riveting saxophone. Then there is a rocking Roy Milton revival What Can I Do, where Mitch sings he will do anything to prove his love, with a some guitar fireworks from Gabriel. Clarence Garlow’s Crawfishin’ is another rocking vehicle for Woods and in the DVD one can see Mitch show the crowd to signify a crawfish with their hands when he sings ‘crawfishing.’ Gabriel rips off another storming solo as does Castenell on the second break. Bassist Williams shows off his gospel roots on a stunning vocal on Eddie Boyd’s Third Degree that evoked Johnny Adams. This man is that good and should be recorded on his own. Castenell stands out again with some bluesy saxophone 

Before taking the concert out on The House of Blues Lights, Woods and the band do a medley of Professor Longhair’s In The Night with a popular Turkish song, Lambaya Puf De, that certainly is received enthusiastically with Gabriel taking the vocal for this local favorite. The DVD of the concert has a few spoken overlays in which Mitch adds his reminisces of the tour, experiencing the country of Turkey and the warmth of the folk he met. The video production and editing is really well done with focus on the musicians. The is also a DVD extra that has video of the band on the road along with Kenny Neal and his band who shared the tour with Mitch’s recollections added. Mitch also introduces each of his band members, tells about celebrating Turkish Independence Day, and introduces us to the crew that arranged and produced their tour, along with a photo slide show.

As Mitch states in the liner notes “[M]usic truly crosses all boundaries and Blues certainly beyond borders.” The enthusiasm his performances received attests to the truth of that comment. Blues Beyond Borders documents one night of a magical blues and boogie woogie tour with Mitch and his band in terrific form.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip from the video to whet your appetite for this.

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