Felix Wohrstein’s liner notes to Dawkins’ new Earwig recording, Kant Shek Dees Bluze, state that “there are no Jimmy Dawkins imitators.” If not generating imitators, Dawkins has certainly influenced at least one artist, Bobby Radcliffe, who similarly employs a driving attack, “combining piercing sustain and staccato.”
Dawkins' first album Fast Fingers, is one of the few blues albums to win the Grand Prix of the Hot Club of France and he was voted by Downbeat critics as rock/pop/blues act deserving wider recognition. Despite this critical acclaim, his career never sustained the level of public recognition as other, probably lesser artists. Perhaps it was due to his serious “all for business” nature and his music. No flashy theatrics, just a heavy dose of straight blues.
While he has continued to record overseas, Kant Sheck Dees Bluze is only his second U.S. album in over 15 years. Earwig has brought together a solid studio band that includes “Professor” Eddie Lusk on keyboards, Billy Flynn on rhythm guitar, Johnny B. Gayden on bass and Ray Scott on drums. Two of the vocals here feature singer Nora Jean Wallace who sounds as a promising talent, but the bulk of the vocals are delivered by Dawkins who may have a limited range, but invests his vocals with much feeling.
The songs are all originals, although one can hear allusions to Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me on the title track (as he sings that he can’t shake these blues) or Magic Sam’s All Your Love on Wes Cide Bluze. The lyrical themes are typical of Dawkins, as he sings about the troubles of everyday, not simply those between a man and a woman, but also the economic and social problems of poverty.
While the lyrics of the topical Made the Hard Way may be superseded by events, its not an untypical Dawkins theme, nor are his sentiments that life is a struggle, but people must keep struggling and holding on to keep their dreams and hopes alive, as expressed in the religious song, Gotta Hold On, that closes the record. Dawkins offers plenty of searing guitar, with his backing of Nora Jean Wallace’s My Man Loves Me being particularly effective, however, some of his playing is busier than on earlier recordings.
While there is a generous 65 minutes, and like other Dawkins recordings there is the flavor of a club jam. Some performances would have benefited by being shorter and more focused. No question however that Jimmy Dawkins remains one of modern blues’ major talents, and this is a most welcome release.
This 20 year old review originally appeared in the July 1992 Jazz and Blues Report (Issue 172) and I likely received my review copy from the label. Here is Jimmy performing in 1991.