Saturday, March 31, 2012

Neglected Blues Gems From Al King and Arthur Adams Are Together

The late Al King was one of those singular West Coast blues singers who never received the general acclaim his small body of recordings merited. In the later part of the last Century, Forevermore Records had the first reissue of King’s recordings for the Shirley and Sahara labels and followed by new recordings. Unfortunately, despite the excellence of his blues, both old and new, he passed away before he could capitalize on their release. King, real name was Al K. Smith, is best known for a couple of recordings with guitarist Johnny Heartsman. One was a terrific version of Lowell Fulson’s Reconsider Baby, while the other was the memorable Think Twice Before Your Speak, which Fulson is among those who subsequently recorded.

King was a veteran of the California music scene when he made these and other recordings, having recorded for such legendary record men as John Dolphin, Johnny Otis and Bob Geddins. He initially issued Think Twice on his own Flag label, and when a Buffalo Sahara Records wanted to order 2000 copies, he leased it to them and had a brief association with that label after the urban blues charted at a time when few blues entered the record charts. After his Sahara deal ended, he moved to Los Angeles where he signed with Kent-Modern records for sessions that were produced by the legendary Maxwell Davis. These recordings have been reissued by the English Ace label along with contemporaneous recordings by Arthur K Adams, Together: The Complete Kent and Modern Recordings.

The pairing of the two on a reissue makes sense, insofar as Adams was session guitarist for many of the blues productions Davis did in the late sixties for Kent-Modern records including sessions for B.B. King as well as Al King. Saxophonist Big Jay McNeely is mentioned in the liner notes as being on many sessions for Davis and the late Clifford Solomon remembered playing on sessions as well. The music tight with brassy horns and Adams throwing in sizzling guitar breaks. Al King himself was an outstanding singer as well as songwriter. A couple of lyrical fragments illustrate this. The opening My Name Is Misery, has this powerful verse,

“I don't have no money
And I can't even pay my rent
If you put a money dog on my trail
He wouldn't even scratch a scent.”

While his The Thrill Is Gone (set to the melody of “The Things I Used To Do”) has these lyrics,

“The thrill is gone
The thrill I used to have for you
The thrill is gone
The thrill I used to have for you
Now you're beggin' me to take you back
Lord, but ain't a darn thing I can do.”

He is stark about relationships on Aint Givin’ Up Nothin’, a hot shuffle where he sings about when one has friends one has plenty of friends but when one runs out of money, friendship ends, and things are a give or take situation, what do you have to offer to me with a booting tenor sax solo. Then with Adams playing hard chords against an insistent beat he sings that married life is all right, but sometimes it is Better To Be By Yourself, with Adams taking a relentless solo. It’s Getting Late, is a solid blues in a vein similar to contemporaneous Kent recordings by Lowell Fulson. Then there is “Get Lost” a diatribe against an ex-lover which incorporates the titles and lyrical fragments from his prior 45s as hAdams puts everything into his solo. The body of Al King’s Kent recordings is on the same level as his Shirley-Sahara recordings and thankfully these are now currently available from Ace as opposed to a hard-to-fine, expensive Japanese reissue.

While Al King was a veteran, guitarist Adams was a relative newcomer to the LA scene and his rhythm guitar helped beef up B.B. King’s recording of The Jungle. In fact, Arthur’s picture of him with a guitar was used for the cover of Kent’s album “The Jungle,” a fact I was unaware of until I read Tony Rounce’s notes in the accompanying booklet. He is represented by sessions from late 1966 or early 1967. She Drives Me Out Of My Mind, is a slow B.B. King style blues with a high tenor vocal that is not far removed from Ted Taylor with a touch of sixties Buddy Guy along with some real strong guitar playing. On the other hand, I’m Lonely For You, is more in the vein of the recordings of Impressions with a fine vocal and some nice guitar. A couple of duets with female singers are again more in a sixties soul than blues vein, but nicely done with Adams displaying a strong soulful singing style.

As Tony Rounce writes in the accompanying booklet, both King and Adams “deserved far better fame than these records bought them 40-odd years ago … .” While in some case, 45 rpm singles had to be used as opposed to the original tapes, sound is generally quite good and Ace’s packing and production is of its typical high level. The result is an important reissue of two powerful, if neglected blues artists (although thankfully Adams is still with us and continuing to make strong, original music).

This was a purchase. Here is Al King's recording of Ain't Givin' Up Nothin.

Here is a little bit of Arthur Adams in performance.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jim Holman's Debut Jazz Explosion

Jim Holman is an emerging pianist in Chicago’s vibrant jazz scene and Delmark has just issued his debut recording, Explosion! His father is a jazz pianist but it was Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, as well as Bud Powell, Horace Silver and Bill Evans that left a deep impression on him growing up. After studying at the University of Pittsburgh, he returned to Chicago where with the recommendation of Ira Sullivan, leading to this debut recording. It is comprised of two quartet sessions; one of six tracks with tenor saxophonist Frank Catalano and the other four tracks with alto saxophonist Richie Cole. Each of the two sessions had a pair of piano trio selections.

Brian Sandstrom on bass and drummer Rusty Jones are heard on the first six selections which opens with the appropriately titled Explosion, by Catalano, with the composer’s fiery tenor sax taking the lead with some intense playing on this feverish tempo-ed number with Holman’s piano handling the tempo as well as displaying some nice dynamics. Cataldo sits out the trio’s rendition of Joe Henderson’s Recorda Me, with some nice playing, but one wishes the drummer was either a slight bit more restrained or was a bit down in the mix on this selection. Cataldo returns and lends a bluesy flavor to Somewhere Over the Rainbow, which is followed by the trio on a marvelous rendition of John Coltrane’s Lazy Bird, with Holman’s solo sparkling with his fluid playing and touch. On Bye Bye Blackbird, Cataldo opens with some honking sax flavor before providing an extroverted statement of the theme which leads into a lengthy, thoughtful melodic solo from Holman into which short drum breaks from Jones are interspersed before Catalano returns and gets really gritty while Holman adds accents with nicely selected chords.

At an earlier session, Richie Cole joined Holman (with Rick Shandling taking over the drum chair) for a solid rendition of Thelonious Monk’s Straight No Chaser, with the rhythm laying down a nice latin-tinged groove with Cole delighting with some quotes mixed in on his solo. Its followed by a lively version of Coltrane’s Moment’s Notice, and Holman’s display his ability to use space as well as his considerable technique here which has the bonus of Cole’s strong playing.

The trio is heard on the only Holman original, Bill. This performance, inspired by Bill Evans, has a flamenco tinge. Another trio performance, Herbie Hancock’s Cantaloupe Island, closes this CD. Explosion! is a solid debut for Jim Holman and suggests that he is a voice we will be hearing more from.

I received a review copy from Delmark Records.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Shelton Powe's Carolina Blues and Gospel

One of the latest recordings issued by the Music Maker Foundation is the debut of Shelton Powe, Carolina Blues and Gospel. While his earliest musical memories were the tent revival circuit with his family, as a youngster he immersed himself in the blues scene of Atlanta and mentored by the likes of Cora Mae Bryant, Neal Pattman, Cootie Stark and Frank Edwards. Over the years he has developed an extensive repertoire of songs and lyrics that he performs with a genial and ingratiating style with deft, fingerstyle guitar and relaxed vocals that convey a bit of the warmth of others in this East Coast style.

Songs cover both the secular realm as on the opening Stranger Blues, and the sacred one as heard on “Send Me,” with his firm rhythmic bass contrasting with his responsive use of the treble strings. His relaxed and agile fingerstyle playing is displayed on the instrumental Vestapol, where the melodic line suggests Robert Wilkins That’s No Way To Get Along/ Prodigal Son, while he plays slide guitar (suggestive of Fred McDowell) on Diving Duck Blues. He provides a personal interpretation of the traditional This Train, while he shows himself able on country blues harmonica on One Monkey Don’t Stop The Show, which complements his earnest singing. Down On Me is another performance on which his harmonica provides accompaniment (and another voice) to the vocal. “Buckdancer’s Choice is a fingerstyle instrumental in the vein of Etta Baker while he returns to slide guitar on his version of John Henry, where his slide accompaniment which also borrows a bit from Robert Wilkins’ afore-mentioned melody.

After a nice sacred When i Lay My Burden Down, with more nice slide guitar, he is joined by Drink Small who takes the lead on This Little Light of Mine, where Shelton adds vocal harmony and the guitar accompaniment. Shelton Powe may not be the next coming of Blind Boy Fuller or John Jackson, but he shows himself to be a very capable singer and musician rooted mostly in the traditions heard from Virginia down to Georgia.

I received this recording from the Music Maker Foundation in return for support I have provided the organization. The website of Music Maker Foundation is, and there is information on Powe and this recording there. This video (on youtube) of Shelton performing is on his page at the Music Maker Foundation.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Chris Barber's Memorable Musical Journey

In celebration of Chris Barber’s 80th Birthday, Proper Records has compiled a double CD compilation of performances, Memories Of My Trip, that display how central a figure on the English music scene for six decades. The performances give a suggestion of the breadth of his musical interests which are centered around jazz, blues and skiffle. While several years ago there was a three CD series of primarily blues recordings from the 50s and 60s, the present compilation is more of a retrospective of some the many legendary and contemporary performers in performance with him. Barber himself provides recollections of the performers and the songs heard herein.

Opening is a Brownie McGhee recording from a Folkways recording of McGhee, that provides this compilation with its title, presenting McGhee’s fond recollections of his European travels with Chris and his traditional jazz band. McGhee, and his partner Sonny Terry, are heard on two selections with the traditional gospel number Do Lord, Do Remember Me. It is a spirited ensemble performance with Ottilie Patterson, Barber’s regular vocalist sharing the lead with Brownie. Weeping Willow is a recording of Barber on trombone with Eric Clapton taking the vocal and playing guitar. Muddy Waters and Pinetop Perkins can be heard on an enthusiastic rendition of Kansas City, with Muddy vigorously calling out for Chris. It is followed by a nice James Cotton performance backed by Alexis Korner on guitar and Chris on bass.

Rory Gallagher is heard playing slide and singing Muddy’s Can’t Be Satisfied, with just Barber’s bass and this is followed by Lonnie Donegan doing a raucous Diggin’ My Potatoes, backed by a full band. Barber traveled to Canada to play with Jeff Healey and His Jazz Wizards for a atmospheric blues Goin’ Up The River, with Barber singing and playing nice tailgate trombone along with the able support of Healey’s restrained guitar and trumpet. Van Morrison is heard on two nicely sung blues performances from a 1998 performance and a somewhat over-the-top vocal on Oh Didn’t He Ramble, from 1976 on a session that also included Dr. John. Ottilie Patterson herself was featured on Lonesome Road, while gospel legend Alex Bradford takes the lead on Couldn’t Keep To Myself where Chris and other band members provided the backing vocal chorus.

Traditional jazz with a New Orleans flavor is represented by selections by such important artists of the time as clarinetist Edmond Hall with a nice medley that included St. Louis Blues, and a brilliant version of the New Orleans jazz staple, High Society. Keith Emerson would be better known as a member of Emerson Lake and Palmer, but when he recorded Rock Candy in 1966, he was playing organ in the vein of Jack McDuff and Jimmy McGriff. Barber’s trombone spices up to this funky blues instrumental. A couple of selections feature former members of Louis Armstrong’s All Stars as Trummy Young brings his vocal and trombone (in addition to that of Chris) for Georgia On My Mind. Clarinetist Joe Darensbourg is heard on an intimate small group recording of a swing staple, “Rose Room.”

Another New Orleans clarinetist, Albert Nicholas, is spotlighted on the Ellington staple, “C-Jam Blues,” with lovely guitar from John Slaughter while Stu Morrison’s jangly banjo adds a clipped rhythmic flavor behind Nicholas’ very fluid playing. Eddie Durham was arranger for Count Basie and other bands, and one of the first jazz electric guitarists to record. He was also a trombonist of considerable capability and is featured on a blues that was called “Jack Teagarden Blues” after that famous trombonist.

After “Tailgate Boogie,” featuring the piano of Sammy Price, the CDs close with performances with Jools Holland and Mark Knopfler (of Dire Straits fame). Holland’s rendition of Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” is a marvelous rendition of this classic. Knopfler is on an appealing low-key rendition of The Delmore Brothers’ “Blues Stay Away From Me,“ with some lovely trombone from Barber along with a lovely updating of the Dallas String Band’s ”Dallas Rag” that opens with some nice picking from Knopfler. Pat Halcox’s trumpet is also quite nice here. These are very amiable performances that conclude a varied and entertaining release. Memories Of My Trip is Chris Barber’s own musical capsule of a musical life well lived.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the recording. Here is a video of Chris Barber.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Lightnin' Hopkins Did His Blues His Way

Alan Govenar’s 2010 biography, Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues (Chicago Review Press) detailed the career of one of the true blues legends. Issued in England on Ace Records around the time the biography was published was a double CD release of Hopkins’ recordings, “His Blues” that describes itself as a soundtrack to Govenar’s biography. It contains 44 selections from his earliest session for Aladdin Records with Wilson “Thunder” Smith on piano to 1969 sessions for Vault and Arhoolie.

The first disc covers 26 recordings from 1947-1959 and opens with the highly charged Lightnin’s Boogie, with spirited guitar boogie playing behind his forceful vocal and followed by another guitar boogie Jake Head Boogie, which is a slightly bit more restrained but again exhibits some of his trademark guitar runs he would employ over the next several decades of recordings. Katie Mae Blues is from his initial session with Thunder Smith’s piano joining Hopkins acoustic guitar and dry vocal, while Shotgun Blues, was a prototypical slow blues from Hopkins with his whisky coated vocals matched by his responsive single note guitar runs and echoes of this can be heard on his reworking of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Sugar Mama Blues. Other highlights on this first disc include his reworking of Funny Paper Smith’s Howlin’ Wolf Blues, the lively boogie reworking of Tampa Red’s salacious Play With Your Poodle, with terrific guitar; Zolo Go on which he plays organ to imitate an accordion as he sings about going to a zydeco dance; “Tim Moore’s Farm,” his first recording on the infamous Texas farm owner who mistreated his black workers; Short-Haired Woman a theme he would return to about not wanting any woman whose hair was shorter than his; Give Me Central 209, which was a hit for him; and the wild electric guitar instrumental “Hopkins’ Sky Hop.” The material derives from a variety of labels including Aladdin, Gold Star, RPM, Sittin’ In With, Decca, Herald, TNT and Tradition. “Ain’t No Monkey Man” is a previously unissued Specialty recording by Hopkins. This gives a pretty solid overview of Hopkins’ recordings for the commercial rhythm and blues market.

The second disc covers the period when Hopkins was discovered by the folk and blues revivals. Not that it ignores recordings made for the commercial market (Mojo Hand recorded for Bobby Robinson’s Fire label). The majority of the selections derive from recordings made by Mack McCormick for Prestige Bluesville or Chris Strachwitz for Arhoolie. Many were recorded in Hopkins’ hometown of Houston, while others in New York or California. Hopkins ability to spin a topical blues is illustrated by Happy Blues For John Glenn, with pianist Buster Pickens and bass and drums while for Arhoolie he recorded a lively Back at the Chicken Shack, with just drummer Spider Kilpatrick. A trio of topical blues included a new rendition of Tom Moore Blues and Slavery Time, and three live recordings are also heard including a Newport Folk Festival performance of Trouble in Mind. One disappointing aspect of this second disc is that it does not include several songs that would become staples of Hopkins’ performances such as Mr. Charlie, with his lengthy spoken introduction and stuttering effects in his vocals as well as Back Door Friend, his personalized rendition of a Tony Hollins recording. Given the limitations of two CDs, I might have substituted one or both for some of the Bluesville and Arhoolie recordings. This is not to fault the music, but rather indicate that it does not fully represent Hopkins’ repertoire or recordings.

Sound is generally quite good and full discographical information is provided. Alan Govenar’s liner notes use a timeline derived from his biography in which he discusses Hopkins’ life as well as the included recordings. It is perhaps unfortunate that their were a few significant omissions (at least to these ears) of the more recent recordings, but still this is a real good distillation of some of the best Lightnin’ Hopkins and a worthy soundtrack to the excellent Govenar biography.

This was a purchase. Here is Lightnin' performing Mojo Hand.

Monday, March 26, 2012

John Dee Holeman Says You Can’t Win All the Time

One can certainly appreciate the work of Tim Duffy and the Music Maker Foundation. The Foundation’s efforts to assist and promote mostly southern rural musicians certainly have benefited a number of musicians. They have also made available recordings by a number of artists, although these vary considerably in quality. North Carolina bluesman John Dee Holeman is one of the artists that has fallen under the Music Makers Recordings umbrella with his latest CD, You Got to Lose, You Can’t Win All the Time.

Holeman, a veteran Piedmont bluesman who learned from Blind Boy Fuller, has been honored by the National Endowment of the Arts with a Heritage Fellowship. This album was produced by Zeke Hutchins, who plays with country artist Tift Merritt, and essentially has him mostly reworking a variety of down home blues standards from the pens of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Sleepy John Estes, Memphis Minnie and Lowell Fulson. While credited to Holeman, the title track is a slowed down version of an Ike Turner song that was recorded for Cobra with Tommy Hodge handling the vocal. In additions to Hutchins, others heard in the backing band include Duffy and Cool John Ferguson on guitars, and Slewfoot on harp. Several tracks have backing vocals.

This is at times entertaining but oftentimes somewhat anonymous, down-home flavored performances of the songs. This type of small group down home blues deriving from the recordings of the likes of Muddy Waters and Lightning Hopkins has been done more compellingly by the likes of Lightnin’ Slim on Excello or Louisiana Red for a variety of labels over the years. Proceeds of this does support the Foundation’s worthy efforts, but otherwise this only gets a reserved recommendation. For more on the Music Maker Foundation and its various programs and recordings, check

This review originally appeared in the August 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 307) and I likely received my review copy from Music Maker Foundation. Incidentally there are several other recordings by Holeman available from the Music Maker Foundation so check out their website. Here is a video of him performing When Things Go Wrong.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Mud Morganfield Is The Son of the Seventh Son

The eldest son of the legendary Muddy Waters, Mud Morganfield was originally given a drum set by his father when he was 7, and began singing in the early 1980s, but it was not until 2005 when Mary lane coaxed him on stage that he started treated music as his profession in a serious fashion. Appearing at the 2007 Chicago Blues Festival led to interest in him similar top that of his younger brother Big Bill Morganfield. He has had some earlier recordings, but now he has a new recording, Son of the Seventh Son, produced by Bob Corritore on Severn Records that should help take his recognition and career to the next level.

Backing Morganfield’s vocals are guitarists Rick Kreher and Billy Flynn, pianist Barrelhouse Chuck (Goering); bassist E.G. McDaniel with Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith on drums. Producer Corritore and Harmonica Hinds share the harmonica duties for these February 2011 recordings. With the exception of a couple covers of Muddy Waters recordings and originals by Studebaker John Grimaldi and Billy Flynn, Mud Morganfield contributed originals and the performances are pretty much in his father’s style.

From the opening notes of the reworking of J.T. Brown’s Short Dress Woman, to his own Blues In My Shoes, celebrating his father’s legacy, Mud Morganfield evokes his legendary father. The performances are solid blues in the style of his father and the backing band does a solid job or evoking the Muddy Waters Band sound of the mid-sixties through the end of Waters’ celebrated career. This is a solid band that sounds so at home playing in the style of Waters.

Mud may not quite match his father’s style, but he comes close. The level of the performances are solid throughout although several stand out including the opening reworking of his father’s recording of Short Dress Woman, Studebaker John’s Son of the Seventh Son, the amusing Catfishing, (where he goes all the way to the bottom because that’s where all the fat cats go) on which Barrelhouse Chuck is on organ and Harmonica Hinds is on harp, and Health on which Corritore shines in his harp accompaniment as Mud strongly sings about having money and fame don’t mean anything if one does not have good health. The playing is strong throughout and certainly captures the flavor of Muddy Waters recordings from the seventies. I am not sure who takes the guitar solo on Loco Motor, but the guitarist does a good job of evoking Jimmy ‘Fast Finger’ Dawkins in his guitar solo.

As suggested, Mud does a strong job of conjuring up his late father’s blues and the backing band certainly contributes to the overall feel of this band. Certainly if there can be “Blues Brothers” tribute bands, the eldest son of one of the greatest blues artists can do his part in keeping his father’s sound alive, especially when he contributes a number of strong originals that he ably performs. While he may not be an original performer, Mud Morganfield certainly is keeping his legendary father’s sound alive, supported by an excellent band. The result is a release sure to interest fans of his father’s classic Chicago blues.

I received my review copy from Severn Records. Here Mud plays his father's Mannish Boy.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rosanna Vitro's Delirium Blues Project Has To Serve Or Suffer

A project conjured by vocalist Roseanna Vitro and pianist/arranger Kenny Werner, the Delirium Blues Project is succinctly described by producer Jeff Levenson as ”a celebration of the blues as the basis of much popular music.” Anyway, they spent a week in August, 2007 at New York’s Blue Note and this living recording, Serve or Suffer (Half Note), was the result.

In addition to Vitro and Werner, the Delirium Blues Project features a genuine all-star horn line-up of Randy Brecker, trumpet; James Carter, tenor sax; Ray Anderson, trombone; Geoff Countryman, baritone sax; Adam Rogers, guitar; John Patitucci, acoustic and electric bass; and Rocky Bryant, drums. Bringing together the marvelous Werner arrangements with Vitro’s singing and the terrific musicians, one has a intriguing recording that provides a different take on some blues and bluesy material.

While horn dominated one should not short-change the fine playing of guitarist Rogers, yet the real musical fireworks are provided by Brecker, Carter and Anderson. The material is fresh from the opening piece of jive, What Is Hip, followed by a Tracy Nelson number, Goodnight Nelda Grebe, The Telephone Company Has Cut Us Off, with a fine vocal (Nelson was an influence on Vitro) and a choice Brecker solo. Blue is an indigo ballad with a marvelous solo from Carter while he apparently is on soprano with some serpentine playing behind the vocal on Joni Mitchell’s Be Cool, with Rogers employing a bluesy tone on his solo. Lil Green’s In the Night, may be the most familiar number here but Patitucci’s bass is the sole accompaniment for Vitro’s intimate vocal.

A funk groove underlies the rendition of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham’s ‘Cheater Man,’ on which Vitro takes a wordless solo, while on Mose Allison’s Everybody’s Cryin’ Mercy, Ray Anderson growling plunger mute work would make Tricky Sam Nanton proud. Most of the players get to stretch out on the closing, Don't Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down, a tune by Eric Bibb, C. Hoglund and Maria Muldaur, whose bass line is a cousin to Green Onion/ Help Me.

This is the type of band that Al Kooper wishes he could have had thirty odd years ago with the original Blood Sweat & Tears while the sophistication of the music also suggests Steely Dan. One hopes that this aggregation was more than a one-shot deal, as this resulting recording whets the appetite for more delirium.

This review originally appeared in the July 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 306) and I likely received my review copy from that publication. Here is Ms. Vitro and Kevin Mahogany singing Blue Monk.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Scissormen Fit Big Shoes

The duo/band Scissormen is comprised of the vocals and guitars of Ted Drozdowski and the drums of R. L. Hulsman and have been laying down their North Mississippi Hill Country inspired blues for several years including having made several recordings. Now under the imprint of the VizzTone Label Group, Scissormen have a combined CD/DVD release, Big Shoes: Walking and Talking the Blues. The CD is a live concert recorded at the Key Palace Theatre in Redkey, Indiana, while the DVD is a Robert Mugge produced film that intersperses the concert performances with a slide guitar workshop at Indianapolis’ Slippery Noodle Inn and an appearance at Cleveland, Ohio’s Beachland Ballroom.

Drozdowski is a music journalist as well as a musician with a defining moment when he became acquainted with some of the musicians of the Hill Country such as R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Jessie Mae Hemphill (becoming acquainted with the latter after her stoke curtailed her music making career). The musicians and their songs shaped Drozdowski and his approach that although his playing perhaps rocks a bit wilder than those of his influences. But from them he learned to tell a story through the songs and his playing and he also realizes that he isn’t an academic recreating past musical glories, but uses his personalized adaptation of the style of RL Burnside especially to forge his own musical vision, aided by Hulsman’s very adept support, at time just pounding the groove and at other times adding a parade type rhythmic counterpoint.

The songs are mostly originals by Drozdowski (a few with Hulsman) with one direct cover with several benefiting from spoken introductions that help set the mood. If not as compelling a singer as his musical idols, Drozdowski more than an able one who performs with style, dynamism and a subtlety that may not always be obvious. The recording opens with the title track where Drozdowski tells about when asked about his right to play the blues, it’s a free country, but he is going to do it his own way to fit his own big shoes. Without going into a track by track listing, I should mention some highpoints which include the brooding slow blues The Devil Is Laughing, inspired by R.L. Burnside; the rollicking cover of Burnside’s Jumper On The Live; Tupelo which sounds inspired from a brooding John lee Hooker blues on the flooding of Tupelo, Mississippi that mixes contemplative moments with others marked by hard driving slide as he chants ‘didn’t it rain, oh lord”; Jessie Mae his loving remembrance of Jessie Mae Hemphill; and Whiskey and Maryjane, which he needs to cure his pain that is a hard rocking number.

I had the pleasure of seeing Scissormen and the CD captures the energy and passion of their live performances quite adeptly. The DVD is a fascinating mix of concert film that give a sense of their showmanship in addition to musical skill as well as the folks operating the venues they are seen performing at. So we have Drozdowski chatting with the owner of the Key Theater and including a discussion of the replica plantation cabins constructed to house traveling musicians; learning about the Slippery Noodle’s history as well as see him walking out to the audience, playing slide with a beer can while laying on a chair and more. There are nuggets that can be drawn out of the interview segments, but the video of performances are the real treasure of the DVD of Robert Mugge’s latest film. Certainly the combination of CD and DVD makes this quite an attractive package of the music of a duo that is doing its best to provide their own interpretation of this aspect of the blues tradition. Scissormen certainly fit their own Big Shoes on this dynamic recording and video.

I received a review copy from a publicist for the release. Here is a video of Scissormen.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Some Swedish Schnapps For Charlie Parler & Arne Domnerus

The availability of some live Swedish performances by Charlie Parker on CD, ‘Charlie Parker & Arne Domnerus in Sweden - November, 22, 1950, (OKTAV), certainly is welcome. Parker is heard with a fine Swedish Band that does not sound intimidated playing with him. Trumpeter Rolf Erickson is especially noteworthy with his brash, fat-toned solo on Cheers. Parker is also heard on Anthropology, Lover Man, and a nice arrangement of Cool Blues. He is in fine form and the band acquits itself well.

Three other tracks feature the same band with a Swedish Parker disciple, Arne Domnerus. Opening with ‘Fine and Dandy, which some will remember as the theme of The Bugs Bunny Show, Domnerus shows quite a bit of Parker’s influence although perhaps a little bit of Lester Young’s style mixed in. Out of Nowhere, was a staple of Parker’s repertoire and nicely done by the Swedes here and I imagine Parker enjoyed hearing these musicians who obviously not only idolized him but displayed their musical indebtedness to him.

It should be noted that this November 22, 1950 recording from Marno, Sweden clocks in at under 40 minutes, but that is the only negative one can raise about it.

This review originally appeared in the July 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 306) and I likely received my review copy from that publication.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Joel Frahm Quartet’s Live at Smalls

Small’s Live, the label associated with the Greenwich Village Jazz venue Small’s has issued several new CDs, one of which is Joel Frahm Quartet’s Live at Smalls. Tenor saxophonist Frahm is joined by guitarist Kurt Rosenwinkel, bassist Joe Martin and drummer Otis Brown III (although the cover lists him as playing piano, he is pictured behind his drum set.

Recorded the weekend of February 28 and March 1, 2011, the album consists of five Frahm originals and interpretations of Billy Strayhorn’s Chelsea Bridge and Charlie Parker’s Steeplechase. I have been impressed by what I have heard by him in the past and was not surprised by the blues-drenched opener Short Rack that is in the spirit of some of the great instrumentals by the likes of Hal ‘Cornbread’ Singer and King Curtis with Rosenwinkel a nice solo foil for Frahm’s strong blues tenor.

It was some varied music at Smalls that weekend with interesting compositions such as A Little Extra with an unusual time signature followed by the groove inflected What’s You Beat? that includes some surprising twists and turns as the performance unfolds with Rosenwinkel’s guitar outstanding on this. Chelsea Bridge features some lovely playing from Frahm and the closing rendition of Steeplechase gives it a imaginative arrangement with Rosenwinkel opening up with an discursive solo followed by the leader’s spirited exploration of the theme.

As typical with Smalls Live recordings, sound in quite good and enhanced by the simple presentation with the black and white photography of Michelle Watt who also designed the cover in the attractive format of recordings on the label. This is another excellent album of contemporary jazz performances. Like other recordings in this series, it likely will have some look forward to visiting Small’s when in New York City.

This was a purchase. Here is Joel Frahm among a group performing at Small's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Nicolas Bearde Swinging Lou Rawls Tribute

I was not familiar with vocalist Nicolas Bearde prior to receiving a copy off his new CD, Live at Yoshi’s: A Salute to Lou (Right Groove). Bearde is a multi-talented gentleman who as a vocalist is a member of Bobby McFerrin’s world renowned and innovative a cappella vocal ensemble, “Voicestra,” since the 1980s as well as his own solo career. He also is an actor who has appeared on radio plays with Danny Glover, on such TV series as “Monk” and “Nash Bridges,” and movies like “Pacific Heights,” and “True Crimes.”

He started his Right Groove label, and this is his third CD, based on the Tribute to Lou Rawls, he has been presenting around the country, showcasing a variety of songs associated with the late great soul/jazz vocalist along with a bit of Bill Withers and Max Roach/Abbey Lincoln (I am paraphrasing his website on this point). This live recording at Yoshi’s, the fabled Oakland jazz club, has him backed by a terrific, swinging quartet of saxophonist Charles McNeal; pianist Glenn Pearson; bassist Nelson Braxton; and drummer Jason Lewis.

The mood is set with the opening Roach/Lincoln song, Living Room. He is a marvelous singer, reminiscent perhaps more of a Joe Williams than the deeper voiced Rawls, although like both the blues is part of his performing foundation. He nicely handles “Girl from Ipanema, as well as Lady Love, one of Rawls hits during the disco era which here is turned into a samba-tinged number.

As good as the band is, this listener found saxophonist McNeal especially marvelous behind the vocals and his solos. And like Rawls and Williams, Bearde shines on ballads like The Shadow of Your Smile. The center of this disc is Oscar Brown’s World of Trouble and Lou’s Medley, where Bearde revives Rawls classics including This Song Will Last Forever, Love is a Hurtin’ Thing, I Want to Be Tobacco Road, and You’ll Never Find Another Love Like Mine. A vigorous rendition of the Eddie Miller penned blues, I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water, concludes this excellent set.

Bearde brings warmth, soul and personality to these performances which certainly provide a memorable tribute to one of the great vocalists of the past few decades. This is available on itunes and from among other sources. His website is

This review originally appeared in the August 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 307) and I believe the publication supplied the review copy. While not from Yoshi's, here Nicolas Bearde performs I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Peter Muir's Fascinating Consideration of the Long Lost Blues

Long Lost Blues: Popular Blues in America, 1950-1920
Peter C. Muir
2010: University of illinois Press

A new book has been published examining the emergence of blues in popular American music prior to the face race records recordings of the music. Peter Muir, described as “an internationally recognized pianist, composer, scholar and conductor,” provides the reader with a musicological analysis of blues that was published and sold in sheet music form as well as a textual analysis of these published songs that supplement what we know about the emergence of blues as a song form and as a musical idiom. There are many musical examples included. The extensive use of musical examples is also accompanied by recordings by the author that can be downloaded on the books website and Muir also provides verbal descriptions to facilitate those who are not able to read musical notation.

It is a study of the emergence of the blues industry and Muir brings to our attention a number of interesting facts including the fact that on January 12, 1912, a piece of sheet music was registered for copyright by the Library of Congress entitled The Blues, and was authored by two African-American writers, Chris Smith and Tim Brymn, who had been active in the popular music industry for over a decade, and had collaborated before. Muir observes that while essentially a ragtime song, The Blues contained much that was blues related including a scenario of a woman grieving for a deserting lover but most telling the chorus when the singer declares “I got the blues, but I’m too blamed mean to cry,” which music that makes striking use of blue notes, represented by a musical example as well. Muir further notes that it was the second publication to describe itself as a blues, the earlier composition was I’m Alabama Bound, subtitled The Alabama Blues. But by 1912, four more songs described as blues would be copyrighted and he then traces and shows the increasing number of such sheet music over the decade, as well as shows the links with black and white vaudeville. In 1916, blues compositions were published with an aggregate through 1916 of 92, and in 1920, when blues recordings for Blacks started to become available, there were 147 published and an aggregate amount of 457 published.

His analysis involves distinguishing folk from popular blues, which includes describing some of the elements of popular blues (which I suspect many would not consider blues, but rather vaudeville) as well as discusses the performances of such music. He furthermore considers the origins of the word “blues,” and postulates that blues was in a sense a cure for the condition that was a theme of many blues songs and then categorizes songs as either homeopathic and allopathic, a distinction between a singer singing a depressed song to drive his blues away, as opposed to employing a lively tempo number to cure the blues. He suggests that most folk blues are homeopathic while popular blues is in the latter category. He accompanies this discussion with a history that goes back to Greek times of music as a cure for melancholy and depression.

There is also a discussion of several notable composers of blues, including a full chapter of W.C. Handy, as well an overview of such important early blues as Dallas Blues, and Baby Seals Blues. and such other notable composers as Euday Bowman, Perry Bradford and George Washington Thomas (Sippie Wallace’s oldest brother). The final chapter on Proto-Blues of the 18th Century examines some of the published parlor songs and minstrel that use the phrase I Got the Blues, as well as the evolution of the twelve-bar sequence that is found in some of blues ballads such as Frankie and Johnny and Boll Weevil, as well as compositions of ragtime pianist Hughie Cannon, the most famous song associated with is Bill Bailey Won’t You Please Come Home. He also shows how the blues ballad musically was distinguished from the blues song.

This is a fascinating book which will bring to light an aspect of blues in American musical life that has not been given attention, and helps our understanding of how blues emerged in the early 20th century, and got disseminated to become so influential in wide areas of American culture.

I believe I received a review copy from the publisher.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

James Carter's Stirring "Present Tense"

One is almost tempted to use the word audacious to describe the music of James Carter. The virtuosity he exhibits on a range of saxophones, flute and bass clarinet goes beyond the simple label of novelty while at the same time playing with passion and thoughtfulness. He caresses a ballad as well as can get down in the alley with a gutbucket blues solo.

Present Tense on Emarcy is his most recent recording and has him supported by his terrific band of Dwight Adams on brass, D.D. Jackson on piano, James Genus on bass and Victor Lewis on drums with appearances on guitar by Rodney Jones and congas and percussion by Eli Fountain. I am familiar with the opening Rapid Shave, from a Shirley Scott recording with Stanley Turrentine on tenor. Carter and his group burn on this one with Adams taking the first solo followed by Jackson’s piano before Carter storms in on Baritone. Bro. Dolphy, is Carter’s tribute to the legendary multi-instrumentalist and has Carter taking a serpentine bass clarinet solo.

Carter has exhibited a great appreciation for the music of Django Reinhardt, and uses the soprano for his interpretation of Reinhardt’s ballad, Pour Que Ma Vie Demeure, which also has a nice bass solo. Song of Delilah, is best known from the classic Clifford Brown-Max Roach recording, and opens here with Carter on soprano evoking a snake charmer before Carter introduces the theme on baritone followed by Adams bright, pungent tone for a fresh and vibrant interpretation.

Carter displays his virtuosity on flute on Dodo Marmarosa’s Dodo Bounce, with Adams using a mute on his solo. Gigi Gyre’s Hymn of the Orient is another brisk tempoed number showcasing’s Carter on baritone, while he takes up the tenor for his original Bossa J.C. on which Jones adds a nice acoustic guitar break. He stays on tenor for some fine ballad playing on the closing Tenderly, exploiting the tenor’s full range and Adams’ excellent muted playing complements his playing.

Having been following Carter since his participation on the late Lester Bowie’s Organ Ensemble, it is satisfying to watch him continue to grow as a musician, composer and group leader. Backed by a superb band and mixing in strong originals with interpretations of material that with the exception of Tenderly, have not been interpreted often nor as well. Present Tense, is another brilliant addition to James Carter’s body of recordings.

This review originally appeared in the July 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 306). I believe I received my review copy from the publication. Now here is some James Carter with his organ trio.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Eddie C Campbell Looking Out For The Spider Eating Preacher

Eddie C. Campbell is among the last of the West Side Chicago bluesmen still standing. A disciple and colleague of Magic am, he still lays down similar reverb soaked guitar runs and riffs while singing his soulfully delivered laments. Not as direct or extroverted a player as Magic Sam, Otis Rush and others, his laconic style with a restrained attack has its own charms.

Delmark has just issued his latest recording Spider Eating Preacher that displays his distinctive blues style. He is joined by Daryl Coutts on keyboards; Vuyani Wakaba and his wife Barbara Mayson share bass duties; and Robert Pasenko on drums. Lurrie Bell is on three selections and a full horn section is on four. The release is mostly comprised of Campbell’s quirky originals although there are three covers which thankfully are not overly familiar blues warhorses.

Thinks get off to a good start with I Do, which displays one consistent strength of his wonderfully paced style with an understated vocal, and horns that go beyond simple riffing that helps frame Campbell’s reverb-laced guitar standout. He never comes across as hurried and this is further illustrated on the title track as he sings about the devil awaiting under his rocking chair, but when one is in the darkness, one will see the light. Lurrie Bell makes one of his guest appearances on guitar on Call My Mama on which Campbell plays harmonica while the band grooves on the Smokestack Lightning melody, with Coutts being particularly outstanding on piano here.

An understated reworking of Ricky Allen’s Cut You A-Loose is followed by Soup Bone (Reheated), which revives and rearranges on of his early 45s as he sings about having a soup bone but is hungry and will be putting the soup bone down and try some collard greens. The lazy shuffle lament, I Don’t Understand This Woman, is followed by the jaunty Boomerang, with is hook line, “Sling me like a boomerang, I’ll come right back to you,” with some nice greasy organ from Coutts followed first a searing guitar solo by Alexander Mejia before Campbell himself takes a measured solo.

There is a solid remake of the Ohio Players’ funky Skintight as well as the superb, down-in-the-alley slow blues All My Life originally done by the late Jimmy Lee Robinson. Set to a Bo Diddley groove, My Friend (For Jim O’Neal) is a tribute to former Living Blues editor Jim O’Neal who helped step up and gave Eddie breaks and publicity decades ago. Brownout is an instrumental set to a funk groove with surprising twists in how Campbell constructs his solo.

The recording closes with Eddie on acoustic guitar and Lurrie on harmonica as having some fun, Playing Around These Blues. Its a relaxed, enjoyable conclusion to Eddie C. Campbell’s latest album. One would be hard-pressed to name a poor recording by him and while it may not be his best (King of the Jungle that Jim O’Neal reissued on Rooster Blues is worth looking for), will be welcomed by his existing fans and hopefully we get him many more new ones.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here is Eddie from the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival. I was at this show.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Wally Rose Sure Whipped The Keys

The late pianist Wally Rose was an influential pianist who was part of the West Coast traditional jazz revival of the forties and fifties, as well as also brought back classic ragtime back into popularity. He was a member of Lu Watters Yerba Buena Jazz band as well as two groups that evolved from Watters Band, Bob Scobey’s Frisco Jazz Band and Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band.

Delmark has just issued a marvelous CD, Whippin’ the Keys, that reissues two lps from the Blackbird label. This disc is comprised on a number of classic, if lesser known, rags from the pens of James Scott, Scott Joplin and Joseph Lamb and others. From the stately introduction of the opening title track through the closing St. Louis Tickle, Rose places with grace and charm.

Its refreshing to hear such a lively, but never rushed sounding, set of performances with their lovely melodies and so tasteful rhythmic embellishments. Selections of particular merit include Raymond Bird's ‘Blue Goose Rag, James Scott’s Ragtime Oriole, Joseph Lamb’s lively Cleopatra Rag, Tom Turpin’s St. Louis Rag, Joplin’s Elite Syncopations, which evokes some of the music of Jelly Roll Morton, and Barney & Seymore’s St. Louis Tickle.

This is a gem that should not get overlooked.

This review originally appeared in the July 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 306). I received a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of Wally a few decades after recording this but sounding so good.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Mark Hummel Salutes Little Walter

Mark Hummel’s Blues and Lonesome: Tribute to Little Walter (Rockinitus Records) is a compilation from recordings he has made over the years in homage to Little Walter. Little Walter Jacobs arguably was the most important and influential harmonica player of all time and his songs have been part of Hummel’s repertoire over the years.

Hummel, in his liner notes, was friends with three individuals who had spent time playing and recording with little Walter: Luther Tucker, Dave Myers and Francis Clay, as well as several musicians such as Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, who played with walter when Walter would play with Muddy Waters Band in the sixties prior to his death in 1968. Tucker, Myers and Smith are present on several of these recordings, while many of the tracks feature members of Hummel’s band, the Blues Survivors.

While fans of Hummel may have most of these selections from his albums, it is convenient to have these all in one CD. His fans, and those of Little Walter’s music, will enjoy his tribute. The performances here are modeled on the originals and are strong, idiomatic renditions of classic Chicago Blues that Hummel sings and plays strongly on.

While the level of the performances is high throughout, several selections standout including the title track on which the late Luther Tucker is present. Tucker played on the original, and is able to stretch out with some startling guitar that he could not on the original 45 rpm single. With just guitarist Rusty Zinn, Hummel does a nice job reworking Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her,” and there there is the rocking shuffle “My Kinda Baby” with a terrific band that included the late Dave Myers along with Billy Flynn on guitars, pianist Barrelhouse Chuck, bassist Bob Stroger and drummer Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith.

I purchased this from and you might also check Mark Hummel’s own website, Here is a video of Mark playing a Little Walter number not on the CD.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Studebaker John Is a Self-Made Man

Studebaker John Grimaldi and the Hawks have been laying down some house-rocking blues for nearly 3 decades. His band name referenced the Studebaker Hawk as well as served as a tribute to the late J.B. Hutto whose backing band was known as the Hawks. Playing both slide guitar harp, he has been adept in a traditionally oriented approach to the blues (reflecting especially the driving approaches of Hutto and Hound Dog Taylor) but not afraid to mix in a bit of rock and roll and bring his own voice. He has toured and recorded behind a number of blues legends as well as developed his own music. He had several fine recordings on Blind Pig in the 1990s and has just released his new disc, Self-Made Man on the Avanti label.

He is backed by his trio that includes bassist Bob Halaj and drummer Willie Hayes for a collection of straight ahead rocking blues. Perhaps no finer example of Studebaker John’s hard rocking approach is the hot boogie, Back in Your Town, with its stop time boogie break suggestive of Magic Sam. The title track has the rhythm laying down a churning groove with some fine guitar from John. John picks up the harp and displays a nice fat tone on Fast in the Slow Lane, singing about wanting to get home to his woman as the three get a real nice shuffle groove going.

Hayes kicks off a boogaloo groove as John plays some very atmospheric tremolo for The Hard Way, singing about being knocked down and getting back up and taking no easy shortcuts. There is some nice playing on this as John effectively mixes in slide with his single note runs. All Aboard (The Streamliner) is a hot harmonica instrumental where we get taken for quite a ride while Hoo Doo You is a funk blues about having more than a little spell placed on him while Where Are You? is another harmonica blues with a swampy feel. Hey Little Mama is a slide guitar boogie where John evokes Hound Dog Taylor.

By the time the set closes with another harp rocker, Ride With me Baby, one has been taken through an 80 minute roller coaster of blues with more than a few rock and roll accents. Studebaker John has left us another helping of original music that is deeply rooted in the traditional Chicago blues but full of his own personal stamp on the music.

This review appeared originally in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288). I likely received my review copy from either that publication or a publicist for the review. Studebaker John has a new Delmark release, Old School Rockin’ that I will be reviewing shortly. I reviewed his previous Delmark album, That's The Way You Do in 2010.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Chris Barber's Blues Legacy Lost and Found

Trombonist Chris Barber has been a mainstay of the British trad jazz scene for over five decades. With Lonnie Donegan he helped lunch the skittle music scene with ‘Rock Island Line,’ while his own band backed numerous legends including some from the world of blues and gospel. Not long ago he came across some old 1/4 inch magnetic tapes of some of the legendary blues artists he brought over to England in the 50 and 60s. The result are three volumes, Chris Barber Presents The Blues Legacy: Lost and Found Series (MVD Audio).

Volume 1 opens with Barber introducing Sister Rosetta Tharpe, the legendary gospel singer and guitarist. When she arrived in England with her arrangements from her days with Lucky Millender’s Big Band, Barber and his combo was flustered, but were able to back her on a variety of her classic sacred repertoire including Every Time I Feel the Spirit, Didn’t It Rain, Up Above My Head I Hear Music In The Air, and Old Time Religion, with the backing provided by barber and his band matching the exuberance of her performance if the overall sound of the performances occasionally sounds messy and chaotic. This Train, is performed solo with some fine guitar featured and her effectively dramatic vocal. Vocalist Ottilie Patterson joins her for one of two renditions of Old Time Religion, and When the Saints Go Marching In. The rest of this volume is devoted to performances by Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee who mostly perform without a band and are in typical form for the two opening with Midnight Special, Climbin’ on Top of the Hill (a reworking of Sitting on Top of the World), the remarkable harmonica feature Fox Chase, How Long How Long Blues, another harp solo Callin’ Mama Blues, and Betty and Dupree. While the repertoire will be familiar, these concert performances are strong ones. Also included is an joyous duo version of When the Saints Go Marching In, followed by Little Light of Mine, on which Barber and band and accompaniment although playing somewhat more restrained here. Chris Barber and Band close with another gospel number with Ottilie Patterson taking the front stage.

Volume 2 opens with Chris Barber’s contemporary recollections of the 1958 recordings by Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry that open this volume. There is a nice duo of Poor Man Blues, while Ottilie Patterson takes lead on the vocal backed by Barber and the duo on When Things Go Wrong, and How Long Blues. Barber provides another spoken introduction to the performances by Muddy Waters with Otis Spann presented here, which he noted was an amazing experience. Muddy and Spann were terrific and Barber’s band does a credible job in support although the drummer on several tracks is a bit stiff and tad heavy handed. Repertoire played included Hootchie Kootchie Man, Blow Wind Blow, Baby Please Don’t Go, Long Distance Call, I Can’t Be Satisfied,Blues Before Sunrise (an interesting to hear Muddy refer to this as originally made by a friend of his before he died), and Walking Through the Park. Muddy goes solo on ‘Rolling Stone,’ and revisits ‘Feel Like Going Home.’ Spann is exceptional while Barber and the band try to be unobtrusive in supporting Muddy, who certainly sounds fine here. Perhaps not indispensable, these tracks are a nice addition to Muddy’s discography in any event Next up are fine three tracks by Champion Jack Dupree including a nice Christmas blues, a humorous lament about his mother-in-law, and his own very distinctive rendition of Tampa Red’s When Things Go Wrong. The disc closes with a 1962 performance by the great Louis Jordan with whom Barber’s traditional jazz band provides nice support for a nice duet between the saxophonist-vocalist Jordan and Ottilie Patterson on T’aint Nobody’s Business. There is a nice mix of performers and some genuinely good performances on this volume.

Sonny Boy Williamson opens the final volume, Volume 3, with some performances from 1964. Barber mentions the great shows presented by Lippman and Rau which led to his performance that opens with United Blues/ Help Me as the band plays the melody before Williamson enters with his harp and launches into the song. Then Barber recalls some of the performances of him including some jazz songs like ‘C-Jam Blues,’ as well as staples of his repertoire as So Sad to Be Lonesome, his reworking of Robert Lockwood’s Take a Little Walk With Me, Bye Bye Bird, Your Funeral, My Trial, and Pontiac Blues. Like Brownie and Sonny, he closes his set with some gospel songs, Saints, and This Little Light of Mine, with Ottilie Patterson sharing the vocal.’ The music does get a bit chaotic but still remains fun with the joyful sound and Sonny Boy’s harp blends well with the trad jazz backing. Jimmy Witherspoon came over in 1964 and played at a festival Barber helped organize, and Spoon sounds terrific on his first trio of tunes, although the backing remains a bit rough on Times Getting Tougher Than Tough, and Roll ‘Em Pete. The backing behind Howlin’ Wolf with Hubert Sumlin seems a bit tighter as Wolf howls through Howlin’ For My Darling, Dust My Broom, and May I have a Talk With You. Sumlin sounds really good if a bit underamplified while Wolf’s vocals are ferocious, and the backing band almost sounds like a urban blues band as opposed to a Dixieland group. Jimmy Witherspoon has five more vocals to close this set, and the backing is a bit more together here as he reprised Everyday I Have the Blues, and When I’ve Been Drinkin’.

There are some very good performances on all three volumes although I give the nod to those on the latter two volumes. One would be hard-pressed to call any of these essential but fans of Muddy, Sonny Boy, Wolf and Spoon will especially find performances that may merit their consideration.

I recently received a double CD in commemoration of Chris Barber’s 80th Birthday which I hope to write-up shortly. I noticed that I had never posted this review of three blues-related CDs by this important English musician and music evangelist. This review originally appeared in the July 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 306). I likely received my review copy from a publicist.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Tail Dragger And Bob Corritore Are Long Time Friends

Chicago blues performer, Tail Dragger has a new release in collaboration with Bob Corritore on Delta Groove, Longtime Friends In The Blues. Tail Dragger has built a career on his Howlin’ Wolf inspired style while Corritore is not only a fine harmonica player, but also a terrific producer of classic Chicago styled blues recordings. Corritore and Tail Dragger met the day after Wolf passed in 1976 at a tribute to Wolf and became friends, hence the album title. Corritore has assembled a terrific band here that includes former Howlin’ Wolf pianist Henry Gray; guitarists Kirk Fletcher and Chris James with patrick Rynn on bass and Brian Fahey to help evoke the spirit of the great Wolf.

Tail Dragger certainly does a credible job in suggesting the music of the legendary Wolf and the solid band provides performances firmly in Wolf’s style. The guitarists Fletcher and James certainly along with pianist Gray, Corritore’s harp embellishments and the rock solid rhythm provide of pastiche of Wolf’s recordings . The sound of Wolf is evoked from the opening moments of I’m Worried and Sugar Mama (the latter includes Gray sharing the vocal); through the relentless Through With You; the driving shuffle of Done Got Old; the rollicking Boogie Woogie Ball that spotlight’s Gray two-fisted piano; and the closing Please Mr. Jailer, where Tail Dragger pleads to the judge let his woman go free when she is accused of murder but she wouldn’t hurt a flea.

Tail Dragger is not quite as powerful a singer as Wolf was, and his diction is a bit slurred, but like his prior recordings on Delmark, has provided us with solid and idiomatic recordings backed by a thoroughly idiomatic and sympathetic backing band. There are mostly originals in a Wolf vein that are nicely performed. This certainly will appeal to fans of Tail Dragger as well as lovers of traditionally oriented Chicago blues.

I received a review copy from Delta Groove Productions. Here is a video of Tail Dragger and Bob Corritore.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Randy McAllister's Roots Musical Stew

I had been familiar with Randy McAllister from a CD he did for JSP several years ago. He may best be described as a singer-songwriter with a blues man’s core. His latest recording, Dope Slap Soup (Reaction Records), certainly transcends genres and has him playing harp (and drums on one track) backed by a number of musicians including Mike Morgan.

The songs vary from the opening Clear My Head, that would not be out-of-place on an Americana or even CMT type playlist; the soulful When I Get Back Home, one of two performances that are also on Morgan’s Stronger Every Day; Can’t Pick Your Relatives with its insistent beat and solid guitar from Matt Woodburn in addition to McAllister’s forceful harp; the swamp feel provided from Woodburn’s use of tremolo on $127.00 Sandwich, an amusing song about overdrawing his checking account; and a bit of honky tonk flavor on Hardwired.

An interesting change of pace, even if not strictly a blues but McAllister is entertaining and enlightening musical voice.

This review originally appeared in the May 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 304). My review copy was likely provided by the label or a publicist.  Here is a video of him.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Mike Morgan & The Crawl Get Stronger Every Day

Mike Morgan & the Crawl have been around for a number of years, first recording for Black Top with Darrell Nulisch's vocals fronting the band, later replaced with Lee McBee. For the past two decades he has been putting forth what he describes as ‘Classic Blues With a Modern Attitude.’ Initially inspired by Stevie Ray Vaughan, he soon developed into anything but a SRV clone, and his band is named after a gritty Goldband single by Guitar Jr. (Lonnie Brooks).

Morgan’s latest CD is on Severn, Stronger Every Day and finds him backed by a trio on most of this with organ added on 5 of the 14 tracks. Morgan handles four vocals while McBee adds three and McAllister sings on five tracks. He takes things off in a Stevie Ray groove on the opening shuffle, All Night Long, as he forcefully delivers his about crying for his woman and walking the floor all night long, before laying out his solo with a cluster of fast repeated single notes before taking off for a bars as bassist Drew Allain provides the repeated bass shuffle groove to anchor this performance. McAllister provides a soul-tinged vocal on a R&B flavored message number about stop the killing, Where’s the Love, with Morgan’s guitar taking on a different tenor.

A bit of swamp blues and Guitar Slim is evoked by Lee McBee’s raspy vocal and Morgan’s guitar on Sweet Angel. McBee also delivers a superb vocal on the down and out blues, I Cried For My Baby. Morgan takes a nice vocal on a Chicago-styled shuffle for You're The One (I'll Miss The Most), on which McBee adds some nice harp in the vein of Rice Miller. McAllister handles the vocal on the title track which is a lovely swamp pop soul ballad, while When I Get Back Home, is more of a classic southern soul ballad. The Birthday Song, is a jaunty song from the point of view of the Birthday Boy that Morgan delivers in a crisp, lively fashion. Morgan shines on a couple instrumentals including an appropriately bouncy Okie Dokie Stomp. As McBee takes the vocal on the closing rocker, Time, Morgan’s takes it out to a very satisfying conclusion to a well-balanced program of blues with roots touches that adds to his body of music that merits more attention than he has generally received. Recommended.

This review originally appeared in the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303) and to my knowledge is Mike Morgan's latest recording for Severn. On February 14, I posted a review of a couple of older Mike Morgan albums. I received my review copy from Severn Records.

Friday, March 09, 2012

RIP Walter Price - Remembering The Thunderbird

Word has came that on Tuesday March 6, Houston blues and rhythm pianist and vocalist Big Walter "The Thunderbird" Price passed away reportedly at the age of 97. The Houston Chronicle in its brief obituary reported "Believed to be the last blues singer from the storied Peacock label, Big Walter the Thunderbird was 97. Though his birth certificate put him at three years younger, he maintained the disparity was a paperwork error." Interestingly in a letter to Mike Leadbitter in which he told his story (published originally in Blues Unlimited and then in the book Nothin' But The Blues, Price stated "I was born Walter Travis Price on August 2, 1917, in Gonzales, Texas." I assume he later discovered the paperwork error.

Price started recording in the mid-fifties for T.N.T. records and then later for Don Robey's Peacock label on which he waxed what were some of his best known recordings including Shirley Jean and Pack Four and Square. Members of Little Richard's backing band, The Upsetters, backed him on several of these recordings according to the February, 1965 Blues Unlimited article. He also recorded for Goldband among other labels and ran his own label Sunshine as well as a record store and cafe.  The Jay Geils Band covered Pack Four and Square, in the 1970's.

At the time he wrote Leadbitter, he also sent a tape of some then unissued recordings. A couple, Nothing But the Blues (If Blues Was Money), and My Tears, were issued initially on a Flyright album, Houston Ghetto Blues along with selections by Juke Boy Bonner and Hop Wilson. My Tears was an especially strong performance with a great vocal and Albert Collins takes us "all the way to London," with a blistering solo, but Price's vocal shows how strong a singer he was. Collins himself later covered a recording Price made for Huey Meaux, Get To Gittin'.

Price carried on a variety of other activities over the years including being a radio deejay, worked in a strip club but most importantly, he never stopped performing. His last recordings likely were for the fine 2006 Dialtone label's Texas Southside Kings. He had been in a nursing home in recent years.

The Houston Chronicle obituary quoted Price from a Living Blues interview with Houston music historian Roger Wood, "You can't classify me as a blues singer exclusively. The only thing, when you classify yourself as a blues singer, you're putting a label on yourself. You can't label me. I'm an artist. … I play Western music. Blues, ballads, country, I'm across the board."

For a fuller obituary on Price, check out the Houston Press' website.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Candye Kane's Strong Recording - Sister Vagabond

While it has been out for several months, I have been pleased to turn my attention to Candye Kane’s most recent release on Delta Groove, Sister Vagabond. Courageous as she is a brassy and vibrant blues and roots performer, this latest entry in her discography will certainly be welcomed by many. It is the first extended opportunity for this listener to hear her guitarist Laura Chavez who also collaborates on the originals here. A variety of first rank players such as drummer Paul Fasulo, saxophonist Johnny Viau and pianist Sue Palmer guest on selected tracks adding to the sound here.

Chavez sets the tone on the remake of Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s I Love To Love You, that opens this recording with her slash and burn playing that is modeled on Watson’s originals. Elsewhere her superior guitar playing shows a familiarity with Ike Turner and other significant blues guitar legends in developing a strong personal style. There is plenty of humor and wit as displayed in the original Love Insurance with Viau’s riffing horns set the mood for Kane’s lyric of needing coverage for heartaches but her heart has been broken too many times. She sings with fervor and there are strong guitar and sax breaks.

There is plenty of grit in an interpretation of Sweet Nothin’s, a hit for Brenda Lee that is is performed with plenty of grit and grease by Kane with Chavez adding plenty of atmosphere with her trebly tone and a slashing solo. The ability of Kane and Chavez to match lyrics with music is shown on Walkin’, Talkin’ Haunted House, where Chavez’s guitar recalls Ike Turner and his use of the whammy bar behind Kane’s anguished vocal as she recalls past loves and she can’t lend go of these memories. Stephen Hodges adding some percussive effects in addition to playing drums on this powerful performance.

You Never Cross My Mind is a country flavored shuffle about an ex-lover with spirited piano from Sue Palmer. Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight from Jack Tempchin and Glenn Frey is a straight-ahead rocker with James harmonica adding harmonica here and Chavez further displaying her strong blues guitar playing that is free of any blues-rock cliches. You Can’t Take It Back From Here, was originally an angry song that was turned into a song about restoring our planet with Chavez again channelling Ike Turner on her trebly playing behind the passionate Kane vocal

The other pleasures here include You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore, a declaration against a former lover with another terrific guitar solo; Hard Knock Gal, about the ladies of today that can steal one’s heart away with a smile and not take crap from anyone; the zydeco flavored Have a Nice Day; and the spirited “I Deserve Love, with a skiffle-blues flavor including nice harmonica from Billy Watson.

Sister Vagabond is another strong addition to Candye Kane’s rather substantial discography.

I receive a review copy from Delta Groove.  Here is a video of Candye and Laura at the Blues Blast Awards.