Friday, August 31, 2012

Johnny Guitar Watson - The Funk Anthology

Few folk have had as much influence in the worlds of blues soul and funk than Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson. As David Ritz notes in the liner notes of the two disc, The Funk Anthology, Watson lends a long shadow over hip hop, with the track It’s About the Dollar Bill exemplifying this best, although rappers have long sampled his grooves and Snoop Doggy Dogg lifted a trademark phrase from Watson’s Bow Wow (Which Watson in performance referred to as the dog song). He was a major influence on folks as varied as Etta James (“He’s my model. He taught me to sing blues. He taught me to sing ballads....”), Jimi Hendrix, The Vaughan Brothers (who linked him with Freddie, Albert and B.B. King of guitarists they admired... “He made magic,” according to Jimi), Prince and too many others to list as well as being admired by so many others like Marvin Gaye, the Neville Brothers and Lightnin’ Hopkins (“The blues gets all over everything. Watson is all over the blues and the blues is all over him.”).

When he collapsed on stage in Japan during the second verse of Super-man Lover, it ended a four-decade career that took him from Houston to the world and transformed Young John Watson into the Gangster of Love and Superman Lover. He was a pianist who could rock the boogie like Amos Milburn and a guitarist who wowed Frank Zappa with tracks like Three Hours Past Midnight . Then there is the incredible guitar showpiece from the mid-fifties space guitar plus his originals of Gangster of Love. I suspect Watson’s recording of One Room Country Shack inspired Buddy Guy to do that number. Then there were his acclaimed piano album, the duets with Larry Williams which probably did not catch the mood of the audience turning to Motown, the two superb albums for Fantasy which anticipated his maturation and his funkster era for DJM in the seventies.

The Funk Anthology has two and a half hours of Watson’s music from his seven DJM albums From Ain’t it a Bitch in 1976 to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and the Family Clone (1981), as well as his last album in 1994, Bow Wow for Bellmark). There is at least one album that Watson did in the interim not represented, but this compilation made by his children certainly is full with some terrific music, some of which has become staples of blues and funk bands today, like A Real Motha For Ya, Superman Lover, You Can Stay But the Noise Must Go and Bow Wow. 

There also is the humorous post-Watergate I Don’t Want to Be President that Watson co-authored with Percy Mayfield (and on whose Atlantic recording by Mayfield of this Watson played). I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby has to be as sexy a love song as one is gonna hear anywhere and with the mix of his soulful and bluesy vocals, modern funk feel the other songs like Ain’t It a Bitch, the humorous Telephone Bill (where he sings about calling his woman after 9:00PM when the rates go down), the closing Johnny G is Back, although of course he never left and he does revisit and funkify Gangster of Love.

I am sure that some of those who complain about ‘purists’ in the blues will also dismiss this as funk and not blues, but the simple fact is for the 70s through the 90s this was as contemporary as the blues got. Shout Factory will be reissuing the eight albums collected here separately, so this also serves as an introduction to those releases. These two discs will certainly keep things funked up quite nicely.

This review originally appeared in the December 2005 DC Blues Calendar and in a slightly abridged form in the February 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 279) and I likely received my review copy from either the label directly or from Jazz & Blues Report. Here is Johnny from 1997 performing I Want to Ta-Ta You Baby in Germany.


Thursday, August 30, 2012

Sean Carney's Life of Ease


Winner of the 2007 International Blues Challenge, The Sean Carney Band is no Johnny come lately. Carney has been an important part of the Columbus, Ohio blues scene for many years and participated in the IBC several years ago backing up finalist Teeny Tucker. Carney has recorded several times and his CD, Life of Ease (Nite Owlz Records), demonstrates the appeal of his music that led to his winning in Memphis.

Carney is a terrific guitarist with a crisp, swinging attack, a solid songwriter and his band is a terrific band that can cover a lot of territory from uptown jump blues and swing to a more downhome groove as on Pennies & Teardrops. As a vocalist Carney evokes Jimmy Witherspoon on the title track and at other times suggests Duke Robillard, like on the atmospheric I’ve Got a Gypsy Woman. Solid remakes of T-Bone Walker’s I Know Your Wig Is Gone and Pee Wee Crayton’s When It Rains It Pours, shows that Duke Robillard isn’t the only one who can channel Walker’s pioneering and still influential style.

The guest spots include the late Joe Weaver’s marvelous updating of Casey Bill Weldon’s Outskirts of Town (credited to Louis Jordan), Willie Pooch’s fine treatment of Lowell Fulson’s Tramp and Teeny Tucker, daughter of Tommy Tucker, filling up the room with the fine I Live Alone. Special note should be made of the fine playing of saxophonist Gene Walker, a King Curtis protege on three selections.

Thirteen track are studio recordings, and three are live recordings, including two renditions of two songs among the studio recordings and this is an excellent disc that is available from www.cdbaby.com.

This review originally appeared in the March/April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 291). I believe I may have purchased the CD. Sean continues to be active and among the most interesting persons involved in the Columbus Ohio blues scene and this CD and others by him are available at cdbaby.com and other stores and as downloads. Below is a video of Sean at the 2007 International Blues Challenge.


Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ernie Hawkins Plays Those Rags & Bones

As you may be aware, I am a fan of Piedmont blues stylist Ernie Hawkins and earlier in 2012, I posted a review of his most recent recording, Whinin' Boy, while a few days earlier I posted a 2001 review of his CD, Bluesified. I recently discovered I never posted my 2006 review of his CD Rags & Bones which appeared in the March 2006 DC Blues Calendar and the May/June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 282). I likely received my review copy from Ernie Hawkins or his management.

The masterful finerpicking guitarist, Ernie Hawkins, has a delightful new CD , Rags & Bones (Say Mo’ Music). The talented disciple of the legendary Rev, Gary Davis opens with a superb rendition (played on a 12-string guitar) of Davis’ Make Believe Stunt, a tune Davis derived from a lick of Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag. The bones of the title are heard backing another guitar rag from Davis, The Boy Was Kissing the Girl (and Playing Guitar at the Same Time).

There are enjoyable covers here including Mississippi John Hurt’s Avalon Blues, country music pioneer, Jimmie Rodgers’ TB Blues, Henry Thomas’ Texas Easy Street, and Mance Lipscomb’s G Rag, with Hawkins delivering relaxed, easy going vocals to go with his deft fretwork. Most interesting are guitar adaptations of three classics of twenties jazz, Louis Armstrong’s Potato Head Blues and Cornet Chop Suey, along with Singin’ the Blues which is adapted from the legendary Frankie Trumbauer/ Bix Beiderbecke recording and a George Gershwin piano roll.

Maria Muldaur guests with a wonderful vocal on Rev. Davis’ I Am the Light of This World, and the album closes with Hawkins handling an African tune Massanga. Its a delight listening to the music hear and how wonderfully the guitar sounds. For further information check www. erniehawkins.com or better mail order stores.

Here is a video of Ernie teaching how to play a Reverend Gary Davis number.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

M.S.G. The Acoustic Blues Trio Meets Us In The Middle

M.S.G. - the Acoustic Blues Trio is combined of Jackie Merrit, Miles Spicer and Resa Gibbs. They are among the acoustic blues perform- ers who are associated with the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation and this writer caught a wonderful performance by them as well as a nice extended play CD a couple years ago. They have just issued an self-named CD with a mix of some classic blues, spirituals and ballads with some very strong originals, the trio brings plenty of warmth and soulfulness to these performances.

I am not sure who first recorded the Doc Pomus number (although it sounds like something that Solomon Burke might have done well with), There is Always One More Time, but with Miles providing a spare accompaniment, Resa delivers the reflective lyric in a spellbinding manner that illustrates just how good a singer she is with a honey tone yet able to tear the roof off at times. Miles co-wrote The Home Coming Song, as Resa sings about it will be a long, long time before one sees her again as Jackie adds some nice harp here behind Miles effective accompaniment. Kazoo and bones are heard behind Miles’ affable vocal on the traditional Frankie and Johnnie, lending this classic ballad a folk, jug band flavor.

Resa is featured again on a terrific interpretation of the traditional You Don’t Know My Mind, and a spirited vocal on Midnight Special, both with more fine harp from Jackie. Another original from Miles is his take on the back door man Jody on his lively Jody’s Got Your Girl. Jackie’s Isabelle, sounds like a song written about a mistreating lover, but actually is a blues about Hurricane Isabelle that caused so much damage several years ago, and unfortunately timely in the light of Hurricane’s Katrina and Rita with Resa again shining on the vocal.

Like Miles, Jackie is an affable vocalist and handles the vocal on her Race Track Blues, a short number with a quick rhythmic accompaniment from Miles. A bit of the spiritual side of the trio can be held on Get Right Church and the closing acapella Come to Me in Prayer. The music is never less than tasteful and there are some truly exquisite moments on this splendid release.

This was the trio’s debut album and my review appeared originally in the March 2006 DC Blues Calendar.  For more info on MSG, check their website, www.acousticbluesmsg.com. Here is a video of them performing Isabelle.



Monday, August 27, 2012

Little Willie Anderson Swung The Blues

The B.O.B. label was a small Chicago label that issued some choice harmonica blues albums that were produced by Bob Corritore who has become a distinguished harmonica player in his own name and continues to produce some stellar recordings. In the mid-nineties Michael Frank’s Earwig label reissued two of the releases including CDs by Little Willie Anderson and Big Leon Brooks. This review of Little Willie Anderson appeared in February 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 198). I likely received a review copy of this recording. It is still available (although possibly as a CD-R).

Earwig Records has certainly done a service for harmonica blues fans with the reissue of two albums from the B.O.B. label that featured two lesser known Chicago harp players, both of whom have passed - this album and Big Leon Brooks’ Let’s Go To Town. Little Willie Anderson’s Swinging the Blues finds the harp player who was sometimes called Little Walter Jr. (he died in 1991) matched with several musicians who certainly had a significant tenure with Little Walter, including guitarists Robert Jr. Lockwood, Jimmy Lee Robinson and drummer Fred Below with Sammy Lawhorn also guesting.

With Anderson’s hoarse, crusty vocals and raw harp, Lockwood’s distinctive chording, Lawhorn’s subtle leads and Below’s propulsive drumming, the album is well titled with several instrumentals, including a relaxed Lester Leaps In (with Pete Haskins’ sax added) and the atmospheric Late Night mixed in with Anderson’s idiomatic originals like Come Here Mama, Looking For You Baby, and Willie’s Women Blues, all played with a loose, relaxed groove.

To paraphrase one of his songs, it must have been the jelly that gave Willie Anderson the blues, as he sings with considerable vitality. His harp playing may be Walter inspired, but its raw sound indicates he was his own man and didn’t attempt to recreate Walter’s recordings. Nothing fancy here, just a set of solidly played blues.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Long John Hunter's Swinging From The Rafters


One of my favorite blues discoveries of the 1990's was Long John Hunter. A brilliant singer-guitarist, he recorded several fine albums that were produced by Tary Owens, John Foose and Steve Jeter. A showman in his younger days as suggested by the title of the Alligator release, Swinging From the Rafters, I had the pleasure of seeing Hunter a number of times although he no longer tours as much today. His recordings for Alligator (including his collaboration with Lonnie Brooks and the late Phillip Walker, Lone Star Shootout( amongst the finest albums of modern Texas blues of the past few decades. His mix of inventive, twisting guitar and honest, gritty vocals holds up for repeated listening. This review originally appeared in the September 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 224) and I received a review copy from Alligator.

Long John Hunter’s new Alligator album, Swinging From the Rafters, takes its title from his long residency at the Lobby Bar in Juarez, Mexico, across the river from El Paso. There, for over a decade, he would play from nine at night till the rooster crowed before day and developed his showmanship that still characterizes his live performances. Wed that showmanship with first rate vocals and slashing, twisting guitar and you have an artist whose music matches his stage persona. 

Kudos to producers Tary Owens and John Foose (and executive producer Steve Jeter) who also collaborated with Hunter on some fine songs. Moreover, Hunter is an artist of considerable depth and range, whether performing shuffles like Time and Time Again or Stop What You’re Doing (with a latin tinge in its rhythm), or hitting a funk groove on I’m Broke. Hunter is equally at home with the jazz-flavored horns on Trouble on the Line

While the liner notes suggest that this is more guitar-oriented than his prior two albums (including the superb Alligator release, Bordertown Legend), Hunter is a natural, totally honest singer whose vocals are not overshadowed by his guitar pyrotechnics. The result is another first-rate album of modern Texas blues.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Sista Monica Parker Headlines 24th DC Blues Festival

Sista Monica at 1997 DC Blues Festival.
Photo © Ron Weinstock
The 24th DC Blues Festival takes place, September 1, 2012. It is at the Carter Barron Amphitheater in NW Washington, DC, starting at noon and running until 7:30PM.

Headlining the festival is the marvelous Sista Monica Parker, who is returning to the Festival after 15 years. Her appearance in 1997 was her first appearance on the East Coast and was one of the finest performances by anyone in the Festival’s history. She does not appear on the East Coast very often so we are fortunate to have the Lioness of the Blues, as the guitarist Vasti Jackson was first to describe her, returning with her outstanding band. I myself have written, “Sista Monica is as compelling a vocalist as anyone in the blues.” She is one of the few living singers one can compare to the greats like Big Maybelle and Etta James. She is that powerful a singer. She has a new release on her Mo’ Muscle label, Living In the Danger Zone.

Also appearing on the festival line-up (and they are closing out the Carter Barron show) is Sugar Ray & The Blue Tones. I first met Ray Norcia when his band then included Ronnie Earl (Horvath) and backed up J.B. Hutto in New York City (the year was 1978). He is still going strong and plays Chicago blues styled blues with an urban touch with a terrific band that includes Monster Mike Welch on guitar and Anthony Geraci on piano. As a vocalist his smooth delivery evokes Junior Parker and he is a strong, but not flashy harp player. Sugar Ray fronted Roomful of Blues for a period as well as led the Blue Notes for over thirty five years. His most recent CD is the Severn issued Evenin’ which I reviewed when it was released last year.The Lionel Young Band is also on the line-up. I have not seen them, but they were winners of the 2011 International Blues Challenge. Young hails from Colorado and plays fiddle in addition to guitar.


Dr. Ayaba Bey will be singing with the
Dc Blues Society band. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Clarence ‘The Blues Man’ Turner, who was the winner of the 2011 DC Blues Society Battle of the band as well as the DC Blues Society Band featuring Ayaba Bey rounds out the line-up. I might add that the DC Blues Society Band sounds better every time I see them with a fresh repertoire of songs and D. Bey is a wonderful singer who should not be overlooked. They are a reason to get to the Festival when it starts.

The festival will also have its usual workshops as well on the John Cephas Workshop Stage located at the main gates in front of what would ordinarily be the ticket booth for the Carter Barron. Nadine Rae will once again lead a vocal workshop, while Mike Westcott will head the guitar workshop. 'Choo Choo' Charlie Williams will conduct the Children's harmonica workshop and the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation Ensemble once again is featured on the workshop stage.  

The Festival is free and no tickets are required for the Festival. The Festival schedule is up on the Blues Society's website, http://dcblues.org/bboard/phpBB2/viewtopic.php?p=4345.

Afterwards the DC Blues Society holds the Festival After-Party (and fund-raiser) featuring the Lionel Young Band at the American Legion Post 41, 905 Sligo Avenue, Silver Spring, Maryland. The Legion's entrance is actually on Fenton Street by the Parking lot. The After-Party starts at 8:30PM and is a ticketed event. Advance tickets are available online at a discount over the door price at the Society’s website, www.dcblues.org or one can call 301-322-4808.


Members of the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation including Eleanor Ellis, Rick Franklin and
Dave Jackson performing at the Workshop Stage during the 2011 DC Blues Festival.
Photo © Ron Weinstock
BTW, the Lionel Young Band will also be appearing along with The Holmes Brothers and Mikey Jr., at the Baltimore Blues Society's annual Alonzo's Memorial Picnic on Sunday, September 2 at the Rosedale Maryland American Legion Hall. Check out mojoworkin.com for more information.


Be part of the Carter Barron crowd for the DC Blues Festival!
Photo from 2011 Festival © Ron Weinstock

Friday, August 24, 2012

Luther Tucker's Sad Hours

Luther Tucker is an unsung hero of the blues who has been gone a long-time. The following review of Tucker’s Antone’s label release Sad Hours, appeared in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190). I likely received a review copy from the label. This album is still in print and is also available as a download.

The late Luther Tucker was best known for his work on Chess sessions by Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II, and was a member of what was perhaps James Cotton’s best band in the late sixties. A resident of the San Francisco Bay area since 1973, Tucker made few recordings as a leader.

A dazzling guitarist, he mixes a slashing West Side Chicago attack with a jazzy sensibility, reflecting the influence of Robert Lockwood’s chordally based style. His jazz sensibilities is evident on the instrumental, Canadian Sunset. Not known as a vocalist, he comes across as more than engaging. The highpoint is an inspired West Side Chicago style treatment of Five Long Years, using the melody of Otis Rush’s Double Trouble. Tribute to Elmore is a kinetic non-slide instrumental derived from Bobby’s Rock.

A few songs are funk and while a couple are not realized, the singing and playing against the James Brown groove on War Boy is first-rate. The tight backing band is outstanding and horn charts fresh. Kim Wilson adds harp on a few tracks. This is a surprisingly impressive recording, which even with flaws provides a strong memorial to a departed master.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Grady Champion Recalls His Shanachie Days


Grady Champion has certainly seen his star rise in recent years after his winning of the International Blues Challenge. His success comes after he had recorded several albums for Shanachie which unfortunately at the time did not have the commercial success they were hoping for. In fact, Dennis Walker, with Bruce Bromberg, had produced Robert Cray and Joe Louis Walker amongst others, did some of the production of these recordings. Now Grady has compiled and released a selection of 17 songs from these recordings, Shanachie Days (GSM Music Group).

A number of these songs will be familiar to those who have seen Grady or his recent Live album, such as his anthemic My Rooster Is King, Dreamin’, or Policeman’s Blues, the latter dealing with him suffering police brutality. Other songs, like Lady Luck, about his misfortune at the casino as he asks where did you go are supported by a hard-hitting backing band and sound fresh today.

Mixed in with his fervent singing is some nice harmonica playing which is particularly well displayed on the country-flavored Roberta, with nice dobro, as well as mandolin, set against a lazy groove. There is a more of an urban rhythm and blues flavor with the brass and backing vocals Love Is My Middle Name, where he tells his girl that when she is tired of the games others play, she can count on him to make her happy. It is followed here by the crisp shuffle groove of Let Me Be, as he tells his woman that they have had this conversation one too many times. 

This writer had heard some of the Shanachie recordings when they came out, but it is nice to have my memory refreshed as well as listening to other sides I was not familiar with. The music certainly will please Grady’s fans and may be as good an introduction to his music as his most recent recordings, I do wish they had included the original discographical information (what were the original albums and personnel). Other than that, there is not music to complain about Grady Champion’s Shanachie Days.

My review copy was provided by a publicist. Here is Grady in performance backed by Eddie Cotton on guitar.





Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Barbara Carr Keeps the Fire Burning

The veteran soul-blues vocalist Barbara Carr has a new release on Catfood Records, Keep The Fire Burning. This was recorded in Texas and produced by Johnny Rawls and Bob Trenchard with backing by The Rays, Trenchard’s fine studio band. Carr has for the past 15 or so years been recording primarily for Echo whose recordings on occasion had a mechanical backing, although that did not dampen her strong singing.

This new album with backing by The Rays has a more spontaneous feel throughout, although there is a sameness to the backing compared to other recent Catfood releases indicating the label has a definite studio sound. The opening Hanging On a Thread, displays this and the song is one that could have easily be sung by Rawls. A similar flavor characterizes Come On Home, Barbara still does not believe her man has left and pleads for him to return home. The performance also suffers from the use of synthesized horns. I should emphasize that there is nothing wrong with these performances other than they sound like Rawls’ recent Catfood albums and her vocals are more understated here than on the Echo recordings I have heard.

Barbara Carr at 2010 Pocono Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
I Got The Blues has Carr singing about her background and being raised in St. Louis where she heard Albert King and Little Milton growing up. Therefore, when she sings the blues, she knows what she is talking about. The title track is a nice southern soul advice that delivered in an easy, natural fashion. Moment of Weakness is a strong lyric by Trenchard about replacing the man she never should have left as she sings that in a moment of weakness she threw their love away. The mood contrasts with the tone of “Back Together Again,” which celebrates two lovers getting back together after many years.

Hold On To What You Got is a nice duet between Carr and Rawls having a message that a good woman/man is hard to find, so hold on to what you got. More synthesized horns are heard on Rawls southern soul original. You Give Me The Blues, as Barbara’s man gives her the ‘low down dirty blues.” Keep The Fire Burning contrasts with the more extroverted vocals that characterized her Echo recordings. Those recordings were also a bit bawdier as well. In any event, this new release by Barbara Carr is welcome and hopefully will expose a new audience to this singer who really should be better known.

I received my review copy from a publicist for the label. Here is Barbara doing one of her Echo recordings, Bone Me Like You Own Me.


Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The Blues Broads Heard And Seen Live!!!

The Blues Broads is a musical revue that brings together four strong voices together with a tight backing band that began as a collaboration between Tracy Nelson who would join Angela Strehli on West Coast gigs. Later they added various vocalists for an annual BBQ event, "The Blues Broads" before Dorothy Morrison (best known for "Oh Happy Day" as part of the Edwin Hawkins Singers) and Annie Sampson (of a Bay area band Stoneground) became part of what was now a regular group that took the name of the BBQ Event.
               
Delta Groove has just issued a eponymously titled CD/DVD package of The Blues Broads, recorded and filmed live at the 142 Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley California. They are backed by a band that includes Steve Ehrmann on bass, Paul Revelli on drums, Gary Vogensen on drums and Mike Emerson on keyboards. Deanna Bogart is a special guest on keyboards, saxophone and vocals. The CD has ten songs which are all on the DVD along with Annie Sampson singing Bob Dylan's It's All Over Now/ Baby Blue. The sequencing of the songs differs on the DVD from the CD.

There are some singing marvelous singing to be heard and seen here. Several songs allow the ladies to share verses such as the Tracy Nelson and Gary Nicholson penned Livin' The Blues,' which opens both the performances up. The material mixes blues, classic R&B, and some contemporary blues-rooted roots. Tracy Nelson's vocal on Oliver Sain's Walk Away, is simply a great performance full of both with subtlety and power. Annie Sampson certainly has people take notice of her on Bring Me Your Love, but even more so on her fervent re-imagination of Dylan's It's All Over Now/ Baby Blue.

Strehli's Two Bit Texas Town, is a tough performance that has remember how she used to listen to Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters and more growing up in her two-bit Texas town. Deanna Bogart gets showcased on It Won't Be Long, which is a centerpiece of her live shows. Its brave of Dorothy Morrison to cover Tina Turner on River Deep, Mountain High, and its an enjoyable performance but doesn't really grab the listener or viewer as does the closing gospel numbers Jesus, I'll Never Forget, and Oh Happy Day, with her taking everyone to the Church on this closing performance.

This must have been quite an event for those who attended the performance where this was recorded/filmed. The filming is pretty straight-forward with little if any of distracting gimmicks some others might have inserted. While there perhaps only are a few exceptional performances, the level of the performances still is quite high and certainly this will rightfully appeal to a wide range of listeners who simply enjoy good music.

I received a review copy from the record label.  One can see a clip of The Blues Broads in performance at http://thebluesbroads.com.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The New Orleans C.A.C. Jazz Orchestra Has A Mood Indigo

Often forgotten in Rounder Records recordings of New Orleans music in the 1980s and 1990s was the fact they did some straight ahead jazz recordings that are well worth noting. The following review of The New Orleans C.A.C. Jazz Orchestra appeared in the August 1998 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 230). I likely received a review copy from Rounder.

In 1996, Pianist David Torkanowsky put together a big band, The New Orleans C.A.C. Jazz Orchestra, with some of the Crescent City’s greatest musicians and fronted them with three of the city’s pre-eminent singers, George French, Germaine Bazzle and Johnny Adams. Its a band that includes Herlin Riley on drums, Nicholas Payton on trumpet, and Ed Peterson, Wessell Anderson and Victor Goines on reeds. They have a recording, Mood Indigo on Rounder.

The band is heard on a variety of standards from such pens as Duke Ellington, Hoagy Carmichael, Cole Porter and Percy Mayfield. It is refreshing to hear three distinct vocal styles backed by this swinging aggregation. George French’s take on Don’t Get Around Much Anymore has a sophisticated and relaxed flavor that brings Joe Williams to mind, which is reinforced by his rendition of Carmichael’s New Orleans, a song this writer is familiar with from the sixty five year old recording by Bennie Moten’s Kansas City Orchestra that included Count Basie and Jimmy Rushing.

On Sometimes I’m Happy, Germaine Bazzle provides a contrasting style as she phrases the lyrics in a staccato fashion, as if playing the lyrics on a trumpet. On the mid-tempo Ellington blues, I‘m Just a Lucky So and So, Bazzle in contrast caresses the lyric, singing in a legato fashion. On her last feature, Porter’s I Love Paris, Nicholas Payton is heavily featured with some hard bop trumpet.

Adams, sings very cleanly and precisely on Percy Mayfield’s Lost Mind, a staple of his repertoire, and on which he contributes a mouth trombone solo. The three join together on Mood Indigo, opening with three-part harmony with Bazzle taking the vocal lead on parts with some exquisite trombone solos from John Touchy and Mark Mullins, two persons this writer is unfamiliar with.

The recording closes with the three trading lyrics on a medley of Everyday I Have the Blues (featuring Bazzle), Stormy Monday (featuring French), and Not Trustworthy (featuring Adams on another Percy Mayfield lyric) that closes with the three singers each delivering their chosen lyric.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

The Delta Flyers Rootsy 16 Bars

The Delta Flyers are an acoustic duo of harmonica player Stevie DuPree and guitarist, Travis Stephenson that are backed by a small combo for the self-produced CD 16 Bars. While the duo claim to play a variety of blues based on the styles of blues found on the gulf coast states, this album is as much influenced by southern rock, bluegrass and country rock and might properly be be described as Americana.

The set opens with rollicking slide guitar from Stephenson on the resonator for “61 Highway Blues.” There is plenty of rough house harmonica to mix with the slide. The title track is an acoustic number whose titles refers to the bars on the singer's jail cell door with perhaps a bit of Allman Brothers inspiration. Frenzied slide is heard on Mentone, Alabama, which one can easily imagine being done as a bluegrass number with the spirited tempo heard here.

Baby’s So Fine is a shuffle with nicely played slide and harmonica but could do without the backing vocal refrains. Sunflower River Rag shows their country roots (sort of like the group Alabama), while Poison Took My Baby, is a relaxed rocker about how whiskey took the singer’s baby away. Dockery Farm, has a subject that should be the basis for a blues song, but again is performed more in an roots music vein. Fishin’ Little Mama is a rocker with a blues core, and followed by the brisk Baby Jane, where they sing about having to run and working so hard and now its time for fun. The closing I Got To Testify, has a skiffle band-jug band flavor that is nicely played and an appealing gravelly vocal.

The Delta Flyers’ 16 Bars is quite a fun recording that will likely have the most immediate appeal to fans of Americana and roots, but well worth checking out by others.

This album was released in 2010, I am not sure when I received a review copy from a publicist, but this review was written a few months ago.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Irma Thomas Sings San Penn and Her Heart Is In Memphis



Here is another older review of another Irma Thomas CD from the September/October 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 247) and likely appeared in the DC Blues Calendar at the time. I likely received a review copy from Rounder.

Irma Thomas, the great singer from New Orleans has a fabulous new Rounder cd in the stores now, My Heart’s In Memphis; The Songs of Dan Penn. Thomas has been such a terrific singer since she recorded such R&B classics as Ruler of My Heart, I Done Got Over It and the original Time Is On My Side. In the seventies she did some sessions in Muscle Shoals, and included a couple songs by Dan Penn. Penn contributed three songs to Irma’s 1997 album, The Story of My Life.

Dan Penn is among the great songwriters, having had a part in such classics as Aretha’s Do Right Woman, the Box Tops’ Cry Like a Baby and James Carr’s great deep soul classic, Dark End of the Street. With collaborators including Spooner Oldham, Carson Whitsett, Marvell Thomas and Irma herself, Penn has provided some wonderful new tunes and he and co-producer Scott Billington has brought together a sterling studio band with Michael Toles guitar, the keyboards of Oldham, Whitsett, and Thomas, along with saxophonist Jim Spake.

Anyone who loves the classic Memphis Sound will groove to the playing here and when Irma sings about traveling all over the world, but her heart being in memphis on the title track, one almost believes she lived in Memphis all her life. There’s a wonderful reworking of the Bobby and James Purify hit, I’m Your Puppet, along with Zero Willpower, which Irma recorded in Muscle Shoals in the late sixties. There are blue laments of love gone wrong and mistreating men, Blue in the Heart and Woman Left Lonely, as well as songs with a more assertive tone, If You Want It, Come and Get It. All these songs display Irma’s greatest strength as a singer, which is her sincerity and believability.

My Heart’s In Memphis is possibly the best classic soul album since the late Johnny Adams’ last album, Man of My Word, another Scott Billington production.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet's Bridges Samba And Jazz

Brazilian born drummer Duduka Da Fonseca bridges the world of samba and jazz on his latest recording, Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba (Anzic Records). His quintet includes a band of well-regarded players (and bandleaders): Anat Cohen - clarinet and tenor saxophone; Helio Alves - piano; Guilherme Monteiro - guitar; and Leonardo Cioglia on bass. This release is a follow-up to the acclaimed Samba Jazz in Black and White (Zoho).

The liner notes note that despite not performing often, regular rehearsal has helped develop the ensemble’s style. Dom Salvador’s Depois Da Chuva opens with Cohen on tenor while pianist Alves also shines with the leader and Cioglia providing a solid, nuanced groove. Da Fonseca opens Sabor Carioca with some crisp playing before Cohen states Raul Mascarenhas’ theme. Monteiro taking the initial solo before Cohen plays some more robust tenor sax. Given the spotlight on Cohen’s clarinet playing, one forgets just how marvelous she is on tenor playing. They swing nicely and Monteiro, Alves and Cohen trade fours.

On Antonio Carlos Jobim’s Rancho Des Nuvens, Cohen switches to clarinet and establishes the morose spirit of the performance embellished by Alves’ light comping and the understated rhythm. It is followed by Cohen’s imaginative arrangement of Ornette Coleman’s Blues Connotation, transforming it into a straight-ahead number with fine playing by Monteiro along with Cohen’s sinewy tenor. Based on this stunning performance, one would not be surprised if Cohen’s arrangement of the Coleman classic was adopted by organ jazz combos.

Cohen’s woody clarinet lends a wistful flavor to Jimmy Rowles’ The Peacocks, while Monteiro adds melodic single note guitar. The leader’s Flying Over Rio, is a charming original with a light samba feel with Cohen’s tenor enchanting as is Alves in his solo. Cioglia also takes a solo with light embellishments from the leader with exemplary cymbal playing. Da Fonseca plays more vigorously, pushing the groove on Toninho Horta’s Dona Olimpia.

The lively Melancia closes Samba Jazz - Jazz Samba, an appealing album with strong ensemble playing on a varied set of compositions. Duduka Da Fonseca throughout keeps his group flowing and swinging whether with brushes and light cymbal work or more emphatic playing on his kit. One looks forward to more from the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is a video clip of the Duduka Da Fonseca Quintet performing.



Thursday, August 16, 2012

Irma Thomas' The Story of My Life



In addition to posting current reviews of recordings, you know I also post reviews I have written for publications for five and more years ago. Today’s review is from 15 years ago and appeared in the April 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 220 and likely was also published in the DC Blues Calendar which I edited for the DC Blues Society for nearly 20 years. I noted that I have not posted any of my Irma Thomas reviews, so this is in part to rectify that. Irma’s recording career has slowed down in recent years but the Soul Queen of New Orleans remains a national treasure. 

For her seventh album for the Rounder label, The Story of My Life, Irma Thomas is backed by a stunning band of Crescent City stalwarts - bassist George Porter, drummer Raymond Weber, and pianist David Torkanowsky, along with guitarist Michael Toles plus horns and backing vocal choruses on several selections. Scott Billington who produced this one with Thomas, arranged for the songwriting team of Dan Penn, Jonnie Barnett and Carson Whitsett to contribute some songs, and there is new (or at least unfamiliar) material from Dawn Thomas, Sarah Brown and Lisa Mednick, and Allen Toussaint before Thomas closes with a very strong reading of Aretha’s recording of Dr. Feelgood.

The album has its share of Crescent City grooves on the opening funked up blues, No Use Talking, and the second line rhythm underlying her boost of independence, I Won’t Cry For You (from the afore-mentioned trio of Penn, Barnett and Whitsett). Dawn Thomas’ song, which gives the album its title, is a more straight-forward modern R&B ballad, while Love Don’t Get No Better Than This is an uptempo celebration of romance that Thomas delivers with an assurance that her decades of performing have given her. This is also evident on her soulful delivery of the mournful Hold Me While I Cry, which has a tasty tenor sax break from Charles Elam III, who also duets her on the ballad Get Here.

The liner notes speak about Thomas’ frustration with being treated as a oldies act due to her classic songs from the early sixties, but this is simply the latest Rounder recording that illustrates just how wonderful a vocalist she is, and the mix of blues, New Orleans, soul and some pop elements make for a most delicious musical stew.

I likely received a review copy from Rounder back in 1997. This should still be relatively easy to find. While not from this album, here is Irma singing one of the songs she is known for, even if many more know the Rolling Stones version. 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Fish Ain't Bitin' For Corey Harris


Corey Harris’ recent performances at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival reinforced this writer’s view that he is amongst the foremost acoustic blues performers presently playing. While recent musical explorations blend blues with Jamaican and African musical traditions, he remains is a singular compelling performer of classic country blues. The following review of Fish Ain’t Bitin’ originally appeared in the May 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 221) and likely also appeared in the DC Blues Calendar, the DC Blues Society newsletters which I edited at the time. I have previously posted reviews of Between Midnight and Day and Mississippi To Mali on this blog, and in a few more days I will be posting at least one more older Corey Harris review. Like most Alligator releases this should be readily available (www.alligator.com) and certainly a release any fan of acoustic blues should have.


Corey Harris at 2012 Pennsylvania Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Corey Harris’ new Alligator album, Fish Ain’t Bitin’, should prove to doubters that his debut, Between Midnight and Day, was no fluke. Of the other African-American acoustic blues performers to emerge over the past couple of years, perhaps only Alvin Hart has been able to assimilate the styles of the early downhome blues greats to create a personal style. What’s refreshing is that both show a familiarity with other blues pioneers besides Robert Johnson, and both have contributed new songs that are faithful to the earlier traditions. Harris in particular has absorbed plenty from the delta blues generation that preceded Robert Johnson, and one can hear echoes of Charlie Patton, Tommy Johnson, Son House and some of the early Memphis based blues performers like Furry Lewis, Memphis Minnie and Robert Wilkins. His hoarse shouting vocal style does an uncanny job of suggesting Patton, as does the guitar slapping and string snapping effects he employs along with spoken asides, moaning, humming, his emphatic use of his guitar as another voice, and strongly played bass lines.

Corey Harris at 2012 Pennsylvania Blues
Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
He’s joined by several New Orleans brass band musicians on several songs, including the opening High Fever Blues, an original based on suffering chicken pox that is musically suggestive of Charlie Patton’s favorite melodic theme. He also performs this solo, with his boots keeping the rhythm. In addition to strong originals like this and the title track, Harris covers a number of classic blues recordings, leaving his own imprint on Frankie and Johnnie, Blind Lemon Jefferson’s Take Me, Blind Willie Johnson’s God Don’t Ever Change and Memphis Minnie’s Bumble Bee Blues. Preaching Blues is derived from Son House’s Paramount recording, and while there are some traces of Robert Johnson, Harris’ Pattonesque approach and powerful vocals mark his version as perhaps the most compelling rendition in the sixty years since Robert Johnson adapted the theme.

Larry Hoffman worked with Harris in producing this album and contributed three of the four brass arrangements, while Harris and the band arranged them for the closing Clean Rag. While if an impressive performer in what some might view as an archaic style, Harris’ own lyrics are right up to date and effectively deal with a rage of subject matter. His topical lyrics, such as the title song, are even more effective because he does not come across as preaching a message, but simply letting the import of his words make his message. Corey Harris most definitely impresses here on one of the best new recordings of downhome blues in years.

I most likely received a review copy of this recording from Alligator Records. Corey performed Skip James Devil Got My Woman at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival, so I have included a video of him performing this although from another event.


Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Johnnie Taylor Took Care of Homework at the Summit Club

Originally supposed to appear at the Watts Summer Festival that was memorialized in WattStax: The Living Word, Johnnie Taylor was recorded a couple days later at a Los Angeles club that has been just issued on Stax, Live at the Summit Club. While three of the performances had been previously issued, there are six previously unissued selections.

As Lee Hillebrand notes, Taylor had put much of his blues repertoire in mothballs after the 1968 success of Who’s Making Love, but as Rufus Thomas notes in his intro of Taylor, “When you speak of blues, this is a man who knows ‘em from the letter A to the Letter Z.” And despite band miscues at the start and plenty of ragged edges, Taylor opens with a storming rendition of Take Care of Your Homework, where he advises men to take care of things at home ‘before your good thing is gone,’ followed by one of Taylor’s two classic Stax blues, Little Bluebird, where Taylor demonstrates what a great blues singer he was, and followed by a ragged intro of the great blues ballad, Steal Away, as Taylor says “we’re gonna set this groove here.”

I Don’t Want to Lose You is a terrific love ballad, followed by Who’s Making Love, where he gets the audience involved in a call and refrain. Hurry Sundown is another signature Taylor slow blues with great lyrics and followed by a stronger rendition of Steal Away. The album closes with Taylor’s hot soul workout on Jody’s Got Your Girl and Gone, ending over an hour of hot buttered soul-blues.

A very welcome that is part of the celebration of Stax’s 50th Anniversary and the labels reactivation.

This review originally appeared in the April 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 292). I received a review copy from a publicist for the label.

Here is Johnnie performing Little Bluebird a few years before he passed away.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Michael Burks' Final Album - Show Of Strength

If the celebration of the new Alligator release by Michael ‘Iron Man’ Burks, Show of Strength, is subdued, it is not because of any fault of the music but rather that this is his final studio album as he died suddenly of a heart attack on May 6, 2012, as he was returning from performances in Europe. This album had been finished before his passing and Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer has said the only thing that had not been finished when Burks had passed was the sequencing of the songs. He is backed by his band with Wayne Sharp on keyboards, Terrence Grayson on bass and Chuck ‘Popcorn Loudon on drums, with appearances by Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards and Scott Dirks on harmonica.

Michael Burks at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock
There is plenty of fire in his muscular guitar through that contrasts with the more deliberate and mellow vocals. Burks’ approach might be viewed an extension of the legendary Albert King in his recognition that what one does not play can be expressive just like hot bursts of single note runs. The material is quite strong opening with the irony of the opening Count On You, where he tells his lady that he can always count on her to let him down. Take a Chance On Me, Baby has a melody recalling Johnny “Guitar” Watson’s I Wanna Ta-Ta You. There is a hook on Can You Read Between The Lines, as Burks lists the warning signs one’s woman has been running around, such as "when you kiss her she acts like you tried to bite her," or "when she comes home, her clothes all out of place."

On an appealing shuffle, Little Juke Joint, Burks celebrates the small jukes he honed his performing skills. The slow blues, Since I Been Loving You, has Burks singing another lament about his woman’s lies and how he is about to lose his mind. His guitar nicely accents his heartfelt singing here. A change of pace is provided on What Does It Takes To Please You. This performance evokes classic fifties and sixties B.B. King as the rhythm section swings hard. Sharp's piano is particularly outstanding on this.

Michael Burks from August 21, 2009 at the State Theatre in Falls Church VA. Photo © Ron Weinstock
There is some southern soul feeling (with a bit of church in Sharp’s piano) on the terrific rendition of Charlie Rich’s Feel Like Going Home that concludes this album. The warmth and expressiveness of Burks singing sets him apart from most guitar slingers. This track perhaps best displays how strong a singer he is, but Burks' vocals throughout are first-rate.  Show of Strength is a superb recording that unfortunately is Michael Burks final musical statement.

My review copy was provided by Alligator Records. Show of Strength is scheduled for release on August 21, a week from when this is blog entry is posted.. You can pre-order from various outlets including Alligator Records itself, www.alligator.com. I conclude this post with a video of Michael Burks performing in Denmark.


Sunday, August 12, 2012

Reverend Gary Davis Celebrated O Glory


In the nineties, Gene Rosenthal was especially active in making available his recordings (some previously unissued) on compact discs. One of these was a very interesting and valuable album by the Reverend Gary Davis. The following reviewed appeared in the DC Blues Calendar at the time and the October 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 225). I likely received a review copy at the time.

Reverend Gary Davis’ O, Glory: The Apostolic Studio Session (Genes) is a valuable addition to the Genes’ Blues Vault Series, featuring one of the most extraordinary musicians of the Piedmont school of ragtime blues. After his conversion in the thirties, he would rarely perform or record secular lyrics, though few illustrate the commonality of blues and gospel as did Davis.

This album is particularly valuable in that it contains some rare examples of Davis with accompaniment, vocal chorus, tracks on which he plays piano and banjo, and a harmonica solo (Birmingham Special, a train imitation with spoken asides). Most of these recordings date from March 1969 for what would prove to be his last studio album. They are augmented by four recordings that Stefan Grossman recorded in 1964 and 1965.

His instrumental work is exemplary and, while I would not call these the greatest examples of his art, there are some typically spectacular moments, and the rare examples of his piano, banjo and harmonica which add to the album’s historical value.

Not from this CD, but here is the late musical legend in performance.


Saturday, August 11, 2012

Barrelhouse Chuck Got His Eyes On You

I have been a fan of Barrelhouse Chuck Goering ever since he came to Washington DC area to do some recording and do a show at the Childe Harold with the late Ben Andrews and Mark Wenner. He is one of the most accomplished traditionally oriented blues pianists having been mentored by Little Brother Montgomery and Sunnyland Slim, amongst others.

While apparently from 2006, I just became aware of The Sirens release by Chuck, Got My Eyes On You. It has a terrific band backing him of Kim Wilson on harmonica; Joel Foy and Eddie Taylor, Jr, on guitars; Calvin 'Fuzz' Jones on bass; and Willie 'Big Eyes; Smith on drums. Chuck on piano and Farfisa organ handles a variety of songs, most of which are associated with a number of blues legends that influenced and/or mentored him including Floyd Jones, Detroit Junior, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Smokey Smothers, Big Moose Walker, Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters.

With Kim Wilson's harp channelling Snooky Pryor, the album opens with a solid instrumental Floyd's Blues, followed by Chuck's rendition of Detroit Jr.'s Call My Job, introduced by Ella Evans, Junior's companion, with a nice groove and some solid singing as he notes he had "too much weekend." Chuck plays piano and Farfisa and piano on the title selection (from Smokey Smothers which evokes Help Me), with strong singing and a tight ensemble behind him. This should not be surprising sing Jones and Smith were with Muddy Waters and then the Legendary Blues Band for so many years.

The instrumental Cleo's Mood is a feature for Wilson on which Chuck sits out and then followed by a first-rate take on Sunnyland Slim's It's You Baby, Chuck captures the flavor of Sunnyland's piano style here. After a nice rendition of Floyd Jones' "School Days (with convincing vocal, tough sounding piano and great Wilson harp), there is an instrumental rendition of The Bright Sounds of Big Moose, a cross between John Lee Hooker's "Dimples," and "Help Me," with Chuck on organ and nice guitar on a Big Moose John Walker number. On Big Town Playboy, Eddie Taylor, Jr., evokes his legendary father (who recorded this for Vee-Jay) on an excellent performance. Red River Rumba is a nice medium tempoed instrumental, followed by Chuck ably singing Little Brother Montgomery's Mama You Don't Mean Me No Good. On this, pianist Eiko Izumi-Gallwas recreates Little Brother's piano style.

The closing original by Chuck, Iza Mae with guitarist Foy and mandolinist-fiddler Gregg Rodriguez, is a brief, acoustic, ragtime-tinged instrumental. While its approach contrasts to the classic Chicago blues of most of this marvelous recording, it is similarly a performance that is wonderfully paced and rendered. If like me, you missed this when it first came out, it is not too late to enjoy this marvelous album.

I purchased this CD from bluebeatmusic.com although it is available from other sources. Here is a video of Barrelhouse Chuck at Phoenix's Rhythm Room.



Friday, August 10, 2012

Elmore James Shook His Money Maker



One of the greatest bluesmen of all time, Elmore James is the subject of a new collection of his later recordings on the reactivated Buddah label, Shake Your Money Maker - The Best Of The Fire Recordings. The Mississippi blues legend of course is known for his electric juke joint recording of Robert Johnson’s Dust My Broom for Trumpet Records, but over the course of the next twelve years, his music developed into a somewhat more urbane style that also clearly showed a debt not simply to Johnson, but also to Robert Nighthawk.

What is also lost is the fact he was a great blues singer who sang with great urgency and power. John Broven’s liner notes describe the background of James’ career, and based on his interview of legendary record producer Bobby Robinson, details how Robinson, in Chicago for business, came across James playing in a club, leading to James recording The Sky is Crying, which helped rejuvenate his career.

This album contains many of the choicest selections of James’ recordings for Robinson with the possible exception of One Way Out. In addition to the title track there are such other gems as Look on Yonder’s Wall, Stranger’s Blues (set to the Rolling and Tumbling melody), Done Somebody Wrong, Nighthawk’s Anna Lee, Something Inside Me (perhaps his finest slow, brooding blues), and first rate reworkings of earlier recordings Dust My Broom, and Standing at the Crossroads.

The package is wonderfully mastered and is a must for anyone who lacks prior releases of this material. The James is the first significant blues reissue on Buddah, which apparently is becoming the major reissue imprint for BMG.

This review originally appeared in the July/August 2001 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 252) and the April 2001 DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. This review was written before Steven Franz’s excellent biography of Elmore James The Amazing Secret History of Elmore James that states that Elmore deserves as much credit as Johnson for Dust My Broom, and that he did more than simply update Johnson’s recording.

Thursday, August 09, 2012

Earl Thomas and His Electrifying Blues Ambassadors

The biggest highlight of the 2012 Pennsylvania Blues Festival for this writer was a riveting set by the San Francisco Bay Area’s Earl Thomas with his band The Blues Ambassadors. Thomas brings to mostly original blues and soul numbers a raspy, vibrato-laden vocal style that may evoke some classic deep soul acts of thirty years ago. His band is a tough outfit that complements his searing vocals. In actual performance he has the stage presence of a Wilson Pickett crossed with Jackie Wilson that makes for some musical fireworks.

His performance impressed me enough to purchase his CD, Introducing the Blues Ambassadors (Earl Thomas Music). On the CD the Blues Ambassadors include Kedar Roy on bass; Robert Sidwell and Bob Welsh on guitars (Welsh doubles on electric piano); Takeshi Komori on organ and Paul Revelli on drums. The Band at the Festival was different but in both cases provided a firm backing for Thomas’ vocals.

Earl Thomas at the
2012 Pennsylvania Blues Festival
There is a nice of originals and covers from the strutting opening I’ll Be Alright with slide guitar helping drive the fast walking tempo as Thomas sings about having the blues as he walks down the road but will be all right. There is a pretty straight cover of Magic Sam’s All Your Love with a strong vocal that exhibits Thomas vibrato and some broiling guitar followed by a fresh take on the Big Maybelle classic One Monkey Don’t Stop No Show, performed if he was covering a Billy Boy Arnold Vee-Jay recording. His raspy voice, moving from talking to shouting, helps deliver this terrific lyric.

The mood changes on the soulful ballad performance, Never Can Tell, followed by the rocking groove of Don’t Do Me This Way, as he sings of the pain in his heart as he feels like rain on a sunny day, and baby, Another soulful ballad Standing in the Rain, is followed by a bluesy cover of the late Paul Pena’s Jet Airliner, which is true to Pena’s lyrics as opposed to those sung by Steve Miller’s in his better known version. She Fooled Me is a cover of Billy Boy Arnold’s I Was Fooled, and the band captures the feel of the classic Chicago blues sound behind Thomas’ singing. All Talk No Action, is an instrumental that conjures up classic Booker T. & the M.G.s while the topical How Come?, is a nice, understated performance.

I look forward to seeing and hearing more from Earl Thomas in the future. Introducing the Blues Ambassadors is an impressive recording although it did not exhibit all the electricity Thomas and his Band generate in performance. This is an artist and band we will be hearing more from in the future.

And here is a clip of Earl Thomas in performance.


Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Booker T. & the M.G.s' Classic Green Onions

A recent release in the Stax Remasters series of reissues from Concord is Green Onions by Booker T. & the M.G.s. It includes 24 bit remastering of the 12 selections from the original 1962 sessions along with a couple of 1965 selections from Los Angeles’ 5/4 Ballroom. This is of course one of the great instrumental bands of all time with Booker T. Jones on organ; Steve Cropper on guitar; Al Jackson drums and Lewis Steinberg on bass (who would be replaced by Donald ‘Duck’ Dunn by the time they played the 5/4 Ballroom).

The album exhibits the crisp, clean playing that was particularly a virtue as they served as the house rhythm section on so many classic Stax recordings. The title track was an instrumental hit for the band and served as the basis for Sonny Boy Williamson’s recording of Help Me. If the organ Jones played could sound Rinky Dink, to cite the title of a track, he effectively took the lead with Cropper laying down crisp chords and single note runs with Steinberg and Jackson providing the bottom. The cover of Ray Charles’ I Got a Woman, sounds stronger than that of Twist & Shout, while Mo’ Onions, is a greasy instrumental that has some of the same feel as the title track.

The soul of this time was not that far removed from the blues as Jones’ late night playing displays on Behave Yourself, while Acker Bilk’s “Stranger On The Shore,” is a but more schmaltzy. There is a cover of Doc Pomus’ Lonely Avenue, played with a bit of restraint, while Dee Clark’s raver I Can’t Sit Down, might have benefited from a bit fuller sound in performance. This is not to say its a poor performance, but rather not as explosive as it could have been. The closing selection on the original release is a moody rendition of the instrumental Comin’ Home, Baby, that Herbie Mann had a hit with.

Added to the original release are renditions of Green Onions and I Can’t Sit Down. The latter number Paxky Axton’s saxophone. Both performances exhibit considerably more fire than the studio recordings and are more than welcome additions to the original album which. The booklet with this reissue reproduces Bob Altschuler’s original notes along with Stax Historian Rob Bowman’s more recent cogent comments.

I received my review copy from the label or a publicist. Here is Booker T. & the M.G.s performing Green Onions.


Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Alberta Adams - Say Baby Say



While we are still recovering from the news Johnnie Bassett just passed away at the age of 76, the remarkable Alberta Adams wis turning 95 and will be celebrated by the folks in Detroit. The following review is of her second album for the Cannonball label. This review appeared in July/August 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 246), and her performance at the Pocono Blues Festival, referenced in this review was outstanding. I received a review copy from Cannonball or a publicist. This may be harder to find but her recent recordings are available on Eastlawn Records.


Happy Birthday, Alberta Adams.


Cannonball has just issued a second album, Say Baby Say, by Alberta Adams, Detroit’s Queen of the Blues. Adams who had a brief recording career a half century ago (she recorded for Chess), shows little sign of slowing down. She’s heard with a tough studio band that includes guitarist Johnnie Bassett, saxophonist Keith Kaminski and drummer R.J. Spangler from Bassett’s band, keyboard whiz Bill Heid, bassist Pat Prouty, alto saxophonist Russ Miller and trumpeter Dwight Adams for a set that is subtitled Life’s Trials and Tribulations According to Miss Alberta Adams.


This writer continues to marvel at Bassett and his colleagues’ superb playing, and with the spirited Ms. Adams they have a wonderful personality to support. The music swings hard, and while Adams may lack a bit of the range she likely had a few decades ago, she still has a way of delivering a lyric. Her vocal approach is not that far removed from her contemporary, Ruth Brown – and this writer would point to We Ain’t Makin’ Honey as an example of this, with her rap towards the song’s end about not having enough money being not too far removed from a recording by Brown.

This is one of her albums on the Detroit
Eastlawn label. The cover photo was taken
by me at the 2000 Pocono Blues Festival.
Keith Kaminski gets featured as Adams exhorts him to “play me some blues, not so slow, please mr. sax man, blow man blow …” on the jump number Sax Man. She takes things down in the alley on I Cried My Last Tear, while Bassett kicks off Don’t Worry Me in a T-Bone Walker vein on a track that also lets Bill Heid showcase his blues playing. Heid and Adams contributed Everybody Got Their Hand Out, an Adams rap about everybody wanting something from her. With support from a slow, funky groove, some boppish horn parts and jazzy playing from Bassett, Nothing More to Stay, is a vocal duet with Bassett on a Heid written blues ballad with Kaminski featured again on sax.

On Say Baby Say, Alberta Adams sings with authority and believability, and is backed by as good a band as one will find anywhere, resulting in another superb album for Miss Adams. Alberta Adams will be appearing with Johnny Bassett and Joe Weaver at this year’s Poconos Blues Festival, and is one of those acts that are not to be missed.

Here is a video of Alberta in performance.