Sunday, September 30, 2012

Blues From Elmo Texas With Henry Qualls


Here is a review that likely appeared in the DC Blues Calendar. It was an excellent recording that Chuck Nevitt, a Dallas, Texas blues lover produced for his Dallas Blues Society label. I purchased my copy and this is still available. It is still in print. Blue Beat Music still shows it in print, but it also available from other sources including ebay. I am not sure whether the contact information for Dallas Blues Society Records is still good. Chuck still participates in the Blues-L internet list.

Those interested in down home blues will find a full plate on the Dallas Blues Society's wonderful release by Henry Qualls, Blues From Elmo, Texas. Backed by a sympathetic trio that includes rhythm guitarist Hash Brown's steady work, Qualls is featured on a variety of songs that include several classics associated with other Texas blues greats like Lightnin' Hopkins (Shotgun Blues) and Little Son Jackson (Rockin' and Rollin' aka as Rock Me), an instrumental rendition of Blind Willie Johnson's Motherless Children, along with his rocking adaptation of the traditional Long Gone

When he turns the old Newbeats hit, Bread and Butter, into a stomping blues or tears into an instrumental like The Elmo Stomp, Qualls and his group gets a rocking groove going that suggests some of the energy of a Hound Dog Taylor, though his band is a bit less prominent than Taylor's band, the House Rockers. He more than ably covers Jimmy Reed's Can't Stand to See You Go along with Lowell Fulson's Reconsider Baby while his slide playing is moving on the instrumental Death is Moving Across the World

Qualls' slightly gravelly singing certainly helps make the lyrics standout, while his deliberate, considered playing is quite effective. This album is a gem. And those wanting to hear him first might check out the four songs Qualls has on the Cannonball collection, Dallas Blues collection. You may have to contact the Dallas Blues Society directly at P.O. Box 190406, Dallas Texas 75219 for information on how to obtain this [214-5212583] (I obtained my copy from Blue Beat Music {www.bluebeatmusic.com}.

Here is a video of Qualls performing Long Gone. Sorry the sound is a bit rough on the video.



Saturday, September 29, 2012

The acoustic side of Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B’Nois King


For their latest recording (and Delta Groove debut) Close To The Bone, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B’Nois King unplug themselves for an album of acoustic performances. The two are supported on this recording by a variety of individuals over the course of the 14 that include Randy Chortkoff, Bob Corritore, Pieter 'Big Pete' van der Plijim, and Lynwood Slim on harmonica; Kirk Fletcher, Shawn Pittman and Paul Size on guitar; Fred Kaplan on piano; Willie J. Campbell on bass; and Jimi Bott on drums. Most of 14 selections are originals with a couple of the songs adaptations of recordings from the Texas blues tradition.

This does present a different side of the two. While they both play quite vigorously on this album, their contrasting guitar attacks much more effectively play each other when amplified. While they play acoustically, neither is adept at early blues guitar style, so their rendition of a Ramblin’ Thomas or Texas Alexander song has a distinctly different flavor than the original country blues recording. This is not to complain about the music contained here, but to make you aware of what one will not hear.

The music is quite well played. B’Nois King is such an appealing singer and they have some quite appealing songs. A lively rendition of Ramblin’ Thomas’ Poor Boy Blues opens this album with some nice guitar interplay as King sings about rambling from Louisiana to Texas. My Best Friend has a wistful lyric about not having listened to this lady who told him slow down and not grow up too fast. Shawn Pittman contributes a slide guitar solo that adds to the feel here. Keep Her Around is a lively shuffle with a with a strong King vocal and a harmonica trio (Chortkoff, Corritore and Big Pete) that is part of the driving small group. She Got Rid Of Me, is a tale about a high school lover who King supported through college. When she finished her schooling she schooled him, getting on her feet and kicking him out to the street, making big dough and telling B’Nois he had to go.

While songs like Yankin’ My Chain, and She Got Rid Of Me, explore typical blues themes of the relations between the sexes, there are a couple of very strong topical blues, Drowning in Red Ink, and Ordinary Man. “Drowning” is a small group performance with a melody that suggests Charles Brown’s I Want To Go Home with Fred Kaplan adding piano while King sings about holding on to his job, his confidence being shot and just holding on till the next pay day as they are cutting back on everyone’s pay while the boss gives himself a raise. Ordinary Man (another small group performance with Kirk Fletcher added on guitar although Kubek and King solo) lambastes politicians who put on a suit and wave old glory while playing games with folks lives. Lynwood Slim adds some very nice harmonica to the duo’s rearrangement of Texas Alexander’s Bad Luck Child, an effective performance that tames the field holler qualities of Alexander’s original.

Close To The Bone is a welcome addition to the Kubek-King discography. While I would recommend other of their recordings prior to this one, their fans will likely, as I did, enjoy this change of pace.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove.

Friday, September 28, 2012

J.J. Malone's Early In The Morning Blues


The following review appeared originally in the January-February 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 243) as one of three reviews I did of recent releases on Fedora Records. I have made a few minor changes to the original review. I posted my review of Al Garrett's Out of Bad Luck a few days ago.

J.J. Malone's See Me Early in the Morning is his second release for Fedora. Malone has been a mainstay of the Oakland, California blues scene for years. Malone mixes downhome blues influences with more urbane influences to produce an interesting mix of music. 

The album opens with a remake of his It's a Shame, which was a minor hit in several cities in the sixties. It is followed by the title track which is credited to Junior Wells, and perhaps most associated with the first Sonny Boy Williamson, but which goes back to pioneering blues pianist Walter Roland. Characteristic of these and many of the performances is a distinctive, syncopated and funky rhythm. 

Most of the songs are originals, though Malone is heard strongly on a reworking of Memphis Slim's Mother Earth, and reworks Muddy Waters' Walkin' Thru the Park, with an arrangement that borrows from Cross Cut Saw. An instrumental, Smoked Oysters, suggests the swamp blues sound of Slim Harpo, while Malone goes down in the alley on the country-blues flavored Peace Breakin' Woman

Malone plays and sings effectively throughout and this joins his prior Fedora album as one for blues fans to consider.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Engaging CD Of Lesser Known Crescent City Piano Players


George Buck’s American Music label has issued an interesting compilation, Crescent City Piano Players, of three lesser known piano players associated with the City of New Orleans, Earl Roach, Duke Burrell and Louis Gallaud.

Roach was born in Maine but came to New Orleans at the early age. His nine selections open with the simple, firmly played instrumentals Blues and Boogie. There are a couple of simply delivered vocals as well as renditions of older songs Play Jack Carey and Bucket's Got a Hole In It. Plenty of charm by a player in an older style, as his stomping Whistling the Blues, would suggest.

Burrell is a bit better known to me as he was on a tour and record date with Louis Jordan shortly before Burrell passed away. He played on sessions in New Orleans in 1950 and 1953 backing other performers. A student of Burnell Santiago, Burrell incorporated a bunch of more modern influences in his piano style. He was a solid, sophisticated blues player, as his rendition of After Hours, as well as his Boogie Woogie indicates. Also of interest is his modernistic interpretation of the Duke Ellington classic, Caravan. On "Louisiana and Me," he displays a a definite charm as a vocalist. His repertoire was fairly wide and included the movie theme of Love Story and Indiana.

Pianist Louis Gallaud is heard on two vocals of very old pop numbers and was a simple,  functional pianist. His performances though are not up to the level of those by Roach and Burrell and ultimately serve as filler on an intriguing, and engaging, album of solo New Orleans piano.

I purchased my copy of this.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Claude Williams Always Was Swinging The Blues


Claude Williams' Swinging the Blues on Bullseye Blues & Jazz, is certainly a release for loves of blues-laced, swinging jazz. Williams' recording career goes back to the twenties when he was with Andy Kirk's Clouds of Joys. A member of Count Basie's Band when Basie left Kansas City, he was replaced as guitarist by Freddie Greene. He can be heard on some radio airchecks of the Basie Band. 

In more recent years, his recordings with Jay MacShann on a Canadian album, The Man From Muskogee, helped lead to a revival in his career. Today he no longer doubles on guitar and fiddle, sticking to the latter, and in recent years he has produced a number of highly regarded albums for Progressive and Arhoolie, among other labels. He also was a recipient of a Heritage Award from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Swinging the Blues finds him backed by a terrific band that includes pianist Henry Butler and the great  bassist Keter Betts. They play a wonderful collection of ballads and blues including Duke Ellington's blues Things Ain't What They Used to Be, the classic Kansas City rearranging of You're Driving Me Crazy - Moten Swing, the classic blues ballad, Gee Baby Ain't I Good to you along with a wonderful rendition of These Foolish Things

Over 90, Claude Williams shows no signs of slowing down, and with the terrific combo here, has produced a delightful recording. 

I likely received a review copy from Rounder Records and the review likely appeared in the DC Blues Calendar back in 2000. Here he is in performance.




Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Wonderful Celebration of 50 Years of Preservation Hall


A half century ago, several New Orleans lovers decided to present performances of some of the living masters of traditional New Orleans Jazz in a setting removed from the hucksterism that was part of the Bourbon Street scene at the time. It was an opportunity to present such artists as George Lewis, Jim Robinson, Billie and DeDe Pierce, Sweet Emma Barrett, Alton Purnell, Kid Howard, Percy Humphrey and so many others in a setting that gave them a respect their artistry merited. These concerts evolved in what we know as Preservation Hall, and while these artists became legendary in traditional jazz and have all passed on, Preservation Hall and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band have become iconic and institutions.

Celebrating a half century is a new box set on Columbia/Legacy by the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, The 50th Anniversary Collection. It is taken from several sources including three of the albums Atlantic issued in a series of Jazz at Preservation Hall along with recordings made by Preservation Hall itself and some of those issued on CBS (later Sony). From recordings documenting the bands that played at Preservation Hall to the contemporary editions of the Preservation Hall, one has a richness of music and performances. Also included are some of collaborations with artists from outside Preservation Hall that were on some of the more recent recordings of the Hall. There are some previously unissued recordings among the 57 tracks that are spread across the 4 CDs in this box.

Old and new are intermixed throughout. For example, the first disc opens with the late Allan Jaffe introducing the band on tour followed by a rollicking Eh La Bas by Billie and DeDe Pierce from 1966, followed by the 1986 Band with Percy and Willie Humphrey on Oh Didn’t He Ramble. Then we hear from the same 1986 session Narvin Kimball singing I Get the Blues When It Rains, which is followed by a 2008 recording of St. James Infirmary, with Clint Maedgen with a hyperactive vocal and a hot latin-infused groove. Then there is a 2009 rendition of Ice Cream, a perennial of the George Lewis and other bands half a century ago and then we go back to 1967 for a marvelous rendition of the Humphrey Brothers led band doing the Leroy Carr classic In the Evening (When the Sun Goes Down), with pianist James ‘Sing’ Miller handling the vocal, and George Lewis’ 1962 recording of Down By the Riverside

Here is the Preservation hall Jazz Band performing at Wolf Trap National Park in Virginia



There is such a richness of material here that I will only reference some of the gems that include the marvelous rendition of In the Evening, referred to above; I’m Alone Because I Love You, featuring the irascible Sweet Emma Barrett; a wonderful Do Lord from 1994 featuring Wendell Brunious singing and on trumpet and a band that included Ellis Marsalis on piano, and Dr. Michael White on clarinet; Billie and DeDe Pierce’s St. James Infirmary, with Billie’s vocal, and George Lewis’ clarinet; Pete Seeger and friends joining for a spirited We Shall Overcome; Tuba Fats’ vocal on His Eye Is On The Sparrow; Nellie Gray, a marvelous vocal by Percy Humphrey on a previously unissued 1986 recording; a rendition of Lil Liza Jane, with Louis Jones on trumpet and benefiting from Shannon Powell’s R&B tinged drums and vocal; Kid Howard’s vocal on the George Lewis Band’s rendition of In the Sweet Bye and Bye; and I’ll Fly Away, from the 2010 collaboration with the Del McCoury Band.

Other gems include Blue Yodel #9, a revival of the Jimmie Rodgers country recording that Louis Armstrong played on the original; George Lewis’ hauntingly beautiful Burgundy Blues; Sweet Emma leading the group on Chimes Blues, originally recorded by King Oliver’s at a historic 1923 session for Gennett; a marvelous take on “Sing On,” a staple of the Brass Bands repertoire; the spirited 1976 take of Joe Avery; Shake That Thing, a revival of a late twenties Sam Morgan recording with a vocal by Clint Maedgen and nice interplay between Charlie Gabriel on clarinet, Freddie Lonzo on trombone and Mark Braud on trumpet; the lovely 1966 Freight Train Blues, with Billie Pierce’s heartfelt vocal and clarinet by George Lewis; and Punch Miller’s 1962 rendition of the languid Nobody Knows The Way I Fell This Morning.

More gems include the bluesy collaboration with Tom Waits of an old Mardi Gras chant Tootie Ma Is a Big Fine Thing; a nice rendition of Paul Barbarin’s Bourbon Street Parade; Ralph Johnson’s clarinet rendition of Sidney Bechet’s Le Petit Fleur; One More ‘Fore I Die, another collaboration with the Del McCoury Band with lovely clarinet by Clarinet Gabriel and mandolin by Ronnie McCoury; Percy Humphrey vocal on the spirited Shake It and Break It; the beautiful funeral march Westward Dirge that is played straight with little improvisation; and Richie Haven’s moving vocal on Trouble on Mind, with considerable restraint shown in the Band’s backing.

In addition to the music, Bruce Boyd Raeburn provides an overview of Preservation Hall’s history. Current Hall Creative Director, Ben Jaffe whose father Allan had a similar role with the Hall for several decades, provides his own commentary on each of the selections contained in this box set. My advance copy only had the booklet's text, so I cannot comment of any photos or other graphic material included in the accompanying booklet. I trust these will complement the excellent music. 

This is a joy and soulfulness of all of the performances here (not simply the ones I have highlighted) on this celebration of 50 years of what is truly a cornerstone of American culture, not simply music. 

I was provided an advance copy to review from Legacy Media Relations. It is scheduled to be in stores today, which is when this review is posted. Here are the Preservation hall Jazz Band and the Del McCoury Band from the David Letterman Show.




Monday, September 24, 2012

Al Garrett Climbing Out Of Bad Luck


The following review appeared originally in the January-February 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 243) as one of three reviews I did of recent releases on Fedora Records. I have made a few minor changes to the original review.

Among recent releases from Fedora Records are albums by J.J. Malone, Mojo Buford and Al Garrett. Garrett is the least known of the three, and while based in the Fresno, California area, was born in Memphis. His dad played juke joints in the delta in the 20s. When the family moved to the Los Angeles area, he became part of the R&B scene there, playing bass with the likes of Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, Smokey Wilson, Roy Brown and Lowell Fulson. 

Listening to his debut album, Out of Bad Luck, one cannot help but notice Magic Sam's influence in both his vocal phrasing and some of his guitar playing. Bobby Logan's tenor sax also contributes this feel as his playing suggests that of Eddie Shaw on the Black Magic album. Garrett sings and plays well, but one will find little original here in his covers, although his performances are not slavish covers. 

There is a nice mix of material here, ranging from the title track and Jimmy McCracklin's I Just Got to Know, to Guitar Slim's rocking shuffle, You Give Me Nothing But the Blues, and the stark, topical Cummins Prison Farm, with a strong, passionate vocal.  Even if he is not nearly as accomplished as Magic Sam, his playing here does suggest how Sam would have sounded doing Little Walter's Last Night and B.B. King's Please Love Me

If far from essential, Garrett's Out of Bad Luck does have plenty of pleasures to offer blues listeners.





Sunday, September 23, 2012

Donvonte McCoy Celebrated Lee Morgan

Donvonté McCoy Sextet with Fred Foss on alto sax, Donvonte McCoy on trumpet, Elijah Jamal Balbed on tenor saxophone, Hope ? piano, Blake Meissner ? on bass and Steve Williams on drums.
Thursday evening September 20, 2012 , I had the pleasure of seeing a tribute to the legendary trumpet player and composer Lee Morgan at the Kogod Courtyard of the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art that featured trumpeter Donvonté McCoy Sextet. The presentation was part of the Museum's monthly Take 5 series. It has been 40 years since the tragic shooting of Morgan and the program of lesser known compositions by Morgan was a special program for fans of Morgan as well as aficionados of hard bop.
Donvonté McCoy

There was quite a turnout for this program including a niece and nephew of Morgan. I did not fully get the name of the pianist (I believe his first name was Hope) and I believe the name of the bassist was Blake Meissner (I was not taking notes during the program). On alto sax was Washington legend Fred Foss and on tenor saxophone was Elijah Jamal Balbed who is establishing himself as among the DC area's finest players. Another legend, Steve Williams was on drums. For the second set, trombonist Lincoln Ross, and then Brad Line on Baritone replaced Balbed.

Fred Foss
Steve Williams

The music was excellent. I had heard much about McCoy, and was not disappointed by the warmth and bite in his playing and the whole band was excellent. I do not remember all of the compositions they played by did include "The Sixth Sense" "Top Cat" and "Rigor Mortis." In addition to meeting a niece and nephew of Morgan, I spoke with Earle Gullins, President of the Lee Morgan Jazz Fan Club of DC, Maryland and Virginia who is writing a biography of Morgan. Also, WPFW programmer and historian Rusty Hassan was among the many enjoying the music.


Lee Morgan's nephew; Earle Gullins; unidentified (holding Lee Morgan's flugelhorn) and Rusty Hassan.
These monthly programs continue on the third Thursday of each month (although they are skipping November and December). October 18, saxophonist Brian Settles will lead a program devoted to the music of  Dewey Redman while on January 17, 2013, the Elijah Jamal Balbed Quintet +1 will help celebrate the 80th Birthday year of Wayne Shorter with a program focusing on his Shorter's compositions from his time with Vee-Jay Records (before he signed with Blue Note). The shows start at 5;00PM and run until 7:00PM when the Museum closes. There is food and drink available at the Museum.

Elijah Jamal Balbed

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Sweet Betty's Live & Let Live


Based in Atlanta, Sweet Betty started singing in church and later after singing around was encouraged and featured by saxophonist Grady ‘Fats’ Jackson. Performing, she made many fans including Bob Margolin who introduced her to Tim Duffy, head of the Music Maker Relief Foundation. 

Sweet Betty had a cd on JSP some years ago, but it was a special treat to receive from the Music Makers Foundation her newest recording, Live & Let Live. On it she is backed by bassist Bill Rich and drummer Kester Smith of Taj Mahal’s band, keyboards from Dave Keyes and a variety of other musicians that provide a definite uptown blues and deep soul feel. The material covers a range of moods and grooves. 

The disc opens with the shuffle, Party, where Betty launches into her vocal with the force of a Koko Taylor although with a bit cleaner deliver. Next she handles Eddie Hinton’s soulful Everybody Needs Love, and Joe South’s Untie Me. The title track has a nice funk groove with Sweet Betty soulfully telling us that we have to live for oneself and not someone else, but most importantly live, live and let live and love one another. Touched By You is a strong southern blues number with a nice dance groove followed by a terrific rendition of Damn Your Eyes. Other pleasures to be heard include Sam Cooke’s Ain’t That Good News and two gospel numbers that close out this wonderful release. 

This is yet another nice addition to the Music Maker catalog and can be purchased from the website, www.musicmaker.org. Purchases not only support the artist but also the mission to help the pioneers of Southern musical traditions.  Visit the website, www.musicmaker.org.

This review originally appeared in the November 2005 DC Blues Calendar. I do not know if I received this from Music Maker Foundation as a premium for membership or received a review copy. Here is a video clip of her backed by The Shadows at Blind Willie's in Atlanta.



Friday, September 21, 2012

Smithsonian Folkways' Classic Appalachian Blues


As Jeff Place, who with Barry Lee Pearson compiled Classic Appalachian Blues (Smithsonian-Folkways) states, the ‘Classic’ series on Smithsonian Folkways aims to draw attention to significant recordings from the Folkways and Smithsonian collections. Classic Appalachian Blues “features musicians from the region known as the Southern Appalachians. It includes musicians from deep in the mountains as well as from the foothills leading up to them.” The Folkways label had a number of fine recordings in its catalog of performers in this tradition by the likes of Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry and Pink Anderson and adding recordings from the Folklife Festival collection by John Jackson, Big Chief Ellis and others makes this a particularly valuable collection.

Tracks by Stick McGhee, whose voice and guitar is joined by the harmonica of Sonny Terry and J.C. Burris, open and close this CD. McGhee is heard on the upbeat My Baby’s Gone, as well as a spirited reprise of his hit recording Wine Blues (Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee). There is a fine performance by Stick’s brother, Brownie McGhee, on a 1945 recording Pawnshop Blues, an adaptation of a Blind Boy Fuller number. At the time of these recordings both had relocated to New York as had Reverend Gary Davis, certainly amongst the greatest acoustic blues guitarists, he is represented here by a stunning 1957 instrumental rendition of Hesitation Blues. Another Piedmont legend who established himself was Josh White who had gone from a singing evangelist and Piedmont Tom to Cafe Society by the time he performed the solid Move to the Outskirts of Town heard here.

Not all of the Appalachian masters moved to New York. Pink Anderson stayed in South Carolina and is heard on a fine You Don’t Know My Mind. Sonny Terry’s nephew, J.C. Burris moved to California . He is heard on Blues Around My Bed, with just his harp (sounding like his uncle) accompanying his strong vocal. Arhoolie issued a full album of his music. The lovely One Dime Blues is from a 1992 Barns of Wolf Trap performance by Etta Baker who charmed so many with her agile guitar picking and warm manner. Baby Tate, who was friends with Pink Anderson, was another artist influenced by Blind Boy Fuller, and his rendition of See What You Done Done, echoes Red River Blues and Crow Jane, in its accompaniment that is part of a first-rate performance.

The Washington DC area was a destination for many folks. Phil Wiggins and the late John Cephas met through Alabama pianist Big Chief Ellis who formed the Barrelhouse Rockers and back backing pianist Big Chief Ellis on Louise Blues, from the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in 1976 with Wiggins driving harp accompaniment contrasting with Ellis’ understated boogie piano. John Jackson was prominent in the Washington DC area for the last four decades of his life and is heard on a fine rendition of the bad-man ballad Railroad Bill. The late Archie Edwards was another Washington DC area treasure, and is represented by a 1978 Folklife Festival rendition of his signature song, My Road Is Rough and Rocky, his tribute to Mississippi John Hurt, his boyhood idol and later good friend. It is a performance with an affable vocal and wonderful rolling guitar.

The Appalachian area was one where there was considerable interaction between Black and White musicians despite the fact of segregation and Doc Watson is heard on a lively Sitting On Top of the World, taken at a bit brisker tempo than usual. I have fond memories of Watson and John Jackson playing at Folklife Festivals. Another performance crossing racial lines is Roscoe Holcomb who brings a mountain guitar approach to Mississippi Heavy Water Blues, originally recorded by Atlanta bluesman Barbecue Bob. Then there is E.C. Ball from Rugby, Virginia and mentor of guitarist (and luthier) Wayne Henderson. Ball is a marvelous player and heard on Blues in the Morning His cited influences include Riley Puckett, Chet Atkins, Sam McGee and Maybelle Carter.

John Jackson was among the greatest of the finger style guitarists along with Blind Blake and Reverend Gary Davis. Another on that level was Bill Williams, born in Richmond, Virginia but who moved to Kentucky and who actually teamed up with Blind Blake in Bristol, Tennessee. Williams was briefly ‘rediscovered’ and made some recordings (some for Yazoo’s Blue Goose subsidiary). His 1971 Folklife Festival, performance Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down, is a song that crossed racial lines, with Williams providing a driving accompaniment here. In contrast to many solo performances here, is a fine string band performance by Martin, Bogan and Armstrong with Carl Martin’s mandolin and vocal and Howard Armstrong’s violin standing out in their string band blues, Hoodoo Blues

Others heard on this include Leslie Riddle, who is best known as having been a friend of the Carter Family (Mother Maybelle Carter learned her guitar style from him). He is heard from 1976 on the Appalachian blues standard Red River Blues, with steady guitar and vocal. Also from 1976, was the veteran medicine show performer Peg Leg Jackson with just his vocal and harmonica on a spirited Walking Cane. The Foddrell Brothers, Marvin and Turner, were from Stuart, Virginia and were wonderful traditional blues performers as illustrated by their 1977 Folklife Festival rendition of I Got a Woman. Also from 1977 comes a nice performance from John Tinsley, Girl Dressed in Green

With twenty-one performances and about 66 minutes of music, Classic Appalachian Blues offers considerable value as well much excellent music. Inclusion of many artists who made few recordings which are often hard-to-find as well as a generous selection of performances from the Smithsonian’s Folklife Archives adds to the value as does the excellent and informative booklet by compilers Jeff Place and Barry Lee Pearson.

I was provided a download of a review copy from Smithsonian-Folkways from whom one can purchase this (as well as the booklet I refer to).

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Bluesland Portrait of a Music

BLUESLAND
A Portrait in American Music 
Masters of American Music
EUROARTS DVD 

Euro-Arts has reissued on CD the 1993 documentary, Bluesland- A Portrait in American Music, that was part of the American Masters series. A mix of performances (some in short clips), interviews and commentary from pundits Robert Palmer and Albert Murray, this was an exploration of blues music as both a musical idiom and it's transformation as a way of coping with the things in everyday life that give one the blues.  

The mixing of quotes from Willie Dixon and Otis Spann, clips of performances and recordings and the pundits interpretations (and Murray and Palmer have very distinct perspectives). Palmer terms W.C. Handy the father of the blues industry while Murray refers to him as father who helped the music spread and regards it as part of jazz. This perspective can be discerned by their writings on blues as well as their comments here. Palmer deals with the facts of the people playing blues while Murray is more about the allegorical aspects of blues.

The perspective is tied together by a narration from actor Avery Brooks and has bits and performances from Bessie Smith, Lonnie Johnson (great blues ballad from TV) and recordings from Charlie Patton and Louis Armstrong. The classic recording of the latter's West End Blues, precedes Murray distinguishing folk art and fine art in the blues idiom, which leads to minimizing the achievement of the "folk" bluesman. So Basie epitomizes the blues as fine art, as a video of One O'Clock Jump, is shown, but at the same time the Basie Band and vocalist Jimmy Rushing (seen singing) had a definite impact on B.B. King. 

The perspectives of Murray and Palmer have points of agreement as opposed to those of disagreement, both both making cogent observations. Palmer, noting some blues is described as primitive suggests that Mozart, with it's very simple rhythm, might be called primitive, segues into Murray's discussion of African talking drums. Regardless of whether one is more sympathetic to Murray or Palmer, Bluesland, provides an enlightening overview of blues music and it's expression within jazz. It remains fresh and illuminating over a decade and a half after it's initial broadcast. Recommended.


This review originally appeared (I have made minor changes) in the June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 326). I received my review copy from the publication.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Kenny 'Blue' Ray Got Blues!


West Coast guitarist Kenny ‘Blue’ Ray has been growing a reputation for his strong guitar playing over the past few years on a series of discs on his own labels. His latest, Got Blues (Blue Kat), brings together some strong originals and covers that display Ray’s wonderful tone and playing. Ray shows a fair bit of influence of Albert Collins and Albert King. 

What sets him apart from many guitar slingers today is his taste and economy whether evoking John Lee Hooker on Goodbye Johnny or tossing in some blistering flurry of notes mixed in with long sustained ones in a blend of the two Alberts. His band here varies throughout and includes some solid vocals by Charlie Chavez, who is also an able harp player. Stan Powell plays some strong chromatic harp (especially on You Belong to Me). Tributes to John Lee Hooker, in which the group evokes the slow groove of the late King of the Boogie, and Buddy Guy are mixed in with covers of songs from Louisiana Red, Too Poor to Die; Sonny Boy Williamson Mr. Downchild; Magic Sam, You Belong to Me and Everythings Gonna Be Alright; Buster Brown, Fannie Mae; and Robert Johnson, Stop Breaking Down, on which Ray sings

Ray is one of those individuals playing the music away from even the spotlight a national independent label provides yet has produced a strong disc deserving of wider exposure. Even better is Ray’s last cd, Soulful Blues (Tone King) which features the highly underrated singer Jackie Payne on a terrific collection of modern urban blues. For more on Kenny ‘Blue’ Ray, check out his home page, http://home.earthlink.net/~blueray. This is available through his website, or through cdbaby.com and other online retailers. 

This review originally appeared in the June 2003 DC Blues Calendar. The links in the review may no longer work, but I believe this is still available. Here is a taste of Kenny performing.



Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Count Basie Swingin' The Blues


COUNT BASIE
Swingin the Blues 
Masters of American Music 
EUROARTS DVD

Among the recent reissues from the Masters of American Music video series is one Swingin’ the Blues, devoted to Count Basie, the great big band leader and pianist. Issued by EuroArts on the Lower 5th imprint, it presents the near hour appreciation of Count Basie with some choice video clips and interview recollections by Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Al Grey, Illinois Jacquet, Jay McShann, Buddy Tate, Earle Warren, Claude Williams, Joe Williams and Albert Murray (who co-authored Basie’s autobiography), along with a number of interview clips of the Count himself.

Additionally, there are a number of performance clips from Basie himself from several periods of his career which feature Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Eddie ‘Lockjaw’ Davis, and Lester Young. The sources range from the soundies (an amusing Rushing performance of Take Me Bake Baby, a film short (the clip of Young is from the classic film The Blues), and television (Basie with Judy Garland).

The mix of recollections and oral history with the clips helps us understand the development of the Basie sound as Basie remembers how he came to Kansas City and gradually put together his own band and Jay McShann remembers Basie and his band and the impact they had. Earle Warren, Edison, Williams and Tate recall there time with the band (Williams ironically recalling that John Hammond had him let go from Basie at a time when Claude was highly regarded as a guitarist) and the personalities including Lester Young, and Buck Clayton as well as how Basie could set the tenor of a number with just one note, the use of the two tenors, and the All American rhythm section. Murray adds his own perspective on Basie’s place in the music.

This documentary then traces how Basie had to disband the big band for a sextet before gradually bringing back the big band and the new personnel and sounds with arrange- ments from the likes of Neal Hefti, Frank Wess and Frank Foster and numerous new legendary soloists like Lockjaw Davis and Al Grey.

Joe Williams recalls how Basie asked him to join the band, which he agreed to so long as he did not to do any of Jimmy Rushing’s material. And he brought Basie an old Memphis Slim tune, Everyday I Have the Blues, that helped reignite Basie’s profile. And that led to more commercial successes as well as partnerships with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., and others.

Like others in the Masters of Modern American Music series, the program on Count Basie; Swingin’ the Blues, fleshes out a musical icon in a most entertaining and informative manner. 

This review originally appeared in the June 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 326). I received my review copy from the publication.  Here is a classic video of Basie with Buck Clayton on trumpet.





Monday, September 17, 2012

Matt Schofield Has Anything But Time


Anything But Time (Nugene Records) is the latest recording by the relatively young Matt Schofield. Schofield is a triple threat as a songwriter, vocalist and guitarist whose blues has strong funk and jazz elements. His latest effort was recorded in New Orleans and produced by John Porter. On this he is backed by his organ trio of Jonny Henderson on keyboards and Kevin Hayes on drums. Jon Cleary guests on several tracks and producer Porter is on one. Eight of the ten tracks are Schofield originals, with the neither of two covers being over recorded numbers.

With the opening title track it is clear that Schofield has a way with words and how he delivers them as well as fluid guitarist. Henderson’s organ adds another strong instrumental voice on this marvelously paced performance. That pretty much characterizes this entire recording. He may not quite equal Albert King on “Wrapped Up In Love,” but he does place his own spin while displaying some of King’s influence in his tone and playing here. And if Albert King may be a strong influence, the influence has been distilled by Schofield in his own style and approach. The rest of this album is on the same level.

This writer was impressed when seeing Schofield at the 2007 Montreal International Jazz Festival, and that impression is reinforced by this excellent recording. Schofield is a strong convincing vocalist and an superb, imaginative guitarist backed by an excellent band. The result is this marvelous recording, Anything But Time.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is Matt Schofield and trio performing one of the songs on this album, Dreaming of You.



Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Howlin’ Wolf Story - Flawed Documentary on Blues Legend


A movie documentary, The Howlin’ Wolf Story, on the legendary blues performer, Chester “Howlin’ Wolf’ Burnett has also been issued on DVD as part of Bluebird The Secret History of Rock & Roll series. The DVD claims to include 30 minutes of additional footage that was not in the theatrical release, although any such release must have been highly limited. 


This documentary brings together some very rare television performance clips of the Wolf. It contains the recollections of his former sidemen Hubert Sumlin, Jody Williams, and Sam Lay, the late Sam Phillips who was the first to record Wolf, legendary rockabilly guitarist Paul Burlison (remembering Wolf from when they had programs on the same West Memphis radio station), bluesman Billy Boy Arnold, Wolf’s two daughters, Bob Koester, Mark Hoffman (one of the authors of the forthcoming Wolf Biography) , music writer, Robert Gordon and Dick Shurman, blues writer and record producer. The film traces Wolf's career from growing up in the delta to his last days in Chicago. One gets a sense of the real person. We get to know about Wolf the family man as well as the powerful, almost feral, stage performer. The high points are the performance clips and one understands the incredible presence he had on stage. 

This is not a perfect film. I could have done without watching Wolf’s recording of Smokestack Lightning used essentially as a soundtrack for some vintage train footage. One wonders why other former Wolf sidemen like Detroit Jr., Henry Gray and Eddie Shaw were not included in remembering Wolf. As far as the DVD presentation of the materials, it is unfortunate that one could not also have viewed the performances separate from the film as an additional feature. It also would have been helpful to have the movie chaptered from the DVD menu to make navigating it a little bit easier. 

There are some extras including Sam Lay’s home movies and interview segments an a live audio of Wolf performance. Still this DVD is well worth it if for no other reason than to watch Wolf perform. Despite its flaws, I still recommend this movie. 

This review originally appeared in the December 2003 - January 2004 DC Blues Calendar. I believe I may have purchased this.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Blue Bird Blues Festival Celebrates 20 With Bobby Bland

Bobby Bland at the 2004 Pocono Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
The 20th Annual Blue Bird Blues Festival takes place Saturday, September 22 at Prince George's Community College with the legendary Bobby 'Blue' Bland headlining. The Free Festival takes place from 12:30–6 p.m. at Prince George’s Community College's Largo campus. There will be the live entertainment, along with children’s activities, music workshops, food and crafts to engage the senses and offer entertainment for the whole family. Admission is free. 

Headlining will be the great Bobby Bland. Bland has been one of the most prominent blues singers for over fifty years with countless classic recordings. He has been honored by The Blues Foundation by being inducted to The Blues Hall of Fame as well as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and The Rhythm and Blues Foundation who awarded him a Pioneer Award. Bland had 23 top ten hits on the Billboard R&B charts including Farther Up the Road, I'll Take Care of You, I Pity the Fool and Turn On Your Love Light. The English Ace label labelled a compilation of some of his classic Duke Recordings simply as The Voice. 

In more recent years, Bland has been recording for Malaco and continues to produce timeless and soulful blues recordings including Members Only, You've Got to Hurt Before You Heal and a terrific cover of Ain't No Sunshine. Bland has long been a favorite in the Washington DC area, and it is a coup for the Blue Bird Festival to be featuring him this year.
The Orioles at Wilson Plaza, Washington DC in 2010. Photo © Ron Weinstock

Also on the line-up on the outdoor stage will be Clarence Carter. Carter, like Bland, has been a mainstay on the southern soul-blues circuit for decades with such classic recordings as "Patches" and "Strokin'." Local favorites Bobby parker and The Orioles will be among those performing on the main outdoor stage. There will also be a full program of blues also at the the Nap Turner Stage located in Queen Anne Fine Arts. Performers on this stage include Daryl DavisPhil Wiggins, Little Bit A Blues featuring Warner Williams & Jay Summerour, and The Jewels

It promises to be a terrific day of blues and congratulations to Prince George's Community College for continuing this terrific annual event.


Friday, September 14, 2012

Modern Records Classic Delta Downhome Sessions


The Modern Record labels are perhaps best known for classic blues and R&B recordings by the likes of Hadda Brooks, The Cadets, Etta James and B.B. King, but the Bihari Brothers (the principals behind the group of labels) also recorded some tuff downhome jukejoint blues in the deep south area around Memphis and Jackson, Mississippi. The Modern Downhome Blues Sessions, Arkansas & Mississippi 1951-1952 Volume 1 (UK Ace) collects a number of recordings at sessions organized by Joe Bihari and Ike Turner. 

These are mostly tough small group blues groups which opens up with Elmon Mickles aka Drifting Slim reworking a couple of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson songs. He was part of a group that also included harmonica player Sunny Blair and Junior Brooks whose rendition of Muddy Waters’ Appealing Blues, She’s the Little Girl For Me has Brooks doing a remarkable job of evoking Waters’ distinctive slide style. 

Other sides represent Charlie Booker and Houston Boines, the latter who was a member of Eddie Cusic’s group that the young Little Milton was a member of. Boines’ Relation Blues makes effective use of the Dust My Broom riff, likely played by Ike Turner on piano. Turner’s piano also is present on Charlie Booker’s fine Rabbit Blues. Boyd Gilmore, supposedly a cousin of Elmore James is heard on nine tracks, which does include some alternate takes, including three of his rendition of Ramblin’ on My Mind with fine piano from Turner.

There are two Elmore James tracks included Hand in Hand and Please Find My Baby that illustrate why he was among the favorite singers of Jules Bihari and the latter includes some slashing, distorted slide guitar to compliment the intense singing. There are also two sides from pianist Ernest Lane who is still active and playing, before the closing instrumental from Red Boyd’s Big Band, which is a bit out of character from the rest of the music here. 

There are extensive liner notes from Living Blues founding editor Jim O’Neal that go into depth on the artist and the recordings. I first got exposed to a number of these recordings on vinyl reissues on the Blues Classics label 35 years ago, and these recordings still hold up. With advances in technology, they sound better than ever. This is a must for fans of down-home, juke-joint blues. 

This review originally appeared in the July-August 2003 DC Blues Calendar, then the newsletter for the DC Blues Society. I purchased this CD.


Thursday, September 13, 2012

Guy Davis Is Chocolate To The Bone


Guy Davis has established himself as amongst the most gifted interpreters of acoustic blues alive. Back in the July-August 2003 DC Blues Calendar, I had the following review of his album Chocolate to the Bone which also was published then to help promote his performance at that year's Herndon Blues Festival, an acoustic blues festival that alas is no longer happening. I believe Red House Records sent me a review copy.  

Chocolate to the Bone is the new Red House release that Guy Davis will be supporting on his upcoming appearances. The sixth album for the multifaceted performer covers a lot of musical territory with most of the performances finding Davis backed by a small, mostly acoustic group that provides a bit of string band feel to performances that range from a tribute to John Estes (Limetown set to the melody of Brownsville Blues-Rolling & Tumble Blues); his original Tell Me Where the Road Is which has the flavor of a Taj Mahal performance; and the rollicking Step It Up and Go, with a jug band flavor contributed by Howard Johnson’s tuba and some frenzied slide guitar in the vein of Tampa Red.

Other delight's includes his rendition of John Lee Hooker’s I Believe I’ll Lose My Mind, that catches the brooding character of Hooker’s slow blues with nice slide guitar added; Davis’ Honey Babe with nice fingerpicking and genial vocal about going to Baltimore to see the woman, chocolate to the bone, he will love till the day he dies; and the traditional children’s song, Shortnin’ Bread. Other covers on this include Charles Brown’s Driftin’ Blues; the rarely covered Blind Lemon Jefferson classic, Matchbox Blues; and Ishman Bracey’s Saturday Blues. Railroad Story is a short harmonica blues dedicated to Sonny Terry and Reverend Dan Smith. 

The music here is handsomely performed throughout and the playing is supportive of Davis’ vocals as opposed to hogging the spotlight itself. This recording is as entertaining as any Davis has produced and will be welcome by his fans and undoubtedly those who see him perform.

Here is a video of Davis with a band performing Saturday Blues.




Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Other Side of E.C. Scott

The following review appeared in the December 2003-January 2004 DC Blues Calendar. This was several years after she appeared at the 1997 DC Blues Festival where she gave a wonderful performance. I likely received a review copy from the label or a publicist, but may have purchased it. This is still available.

Some will remember E.C. Scott’s wonderful performance at the D.C. Blues Festival several years ago. She was on Blind Pig and had some memorable recordings but her latest, The Other Side of Me, is on Black Bud Records. Produced by Ms. Scott and Larry Batiste, the disc finds the singer in fine form backed by her tight band Smoke. The great Little Milton joins her for a couple of duets bringing his distinctive guitar along with solid vocals. 

Most of the songs are Scott-penned originals (many co-written with Mr. Batiste) that include a down-in-the-alley blues of Money, the wit of That’ll Do Man, or the soulful funk of Call Me where she tells her man to call her when he needs loving. The duets with Milton are quite nice as is one of the few ‘covers,’ the strong rendition of People Get Ready that showcases her gospel roots and sports a strong guitar solo from guest guitarist Vernon ‘Ice’ Black. The studio playing is consistently strong and E.C. Scott sings with subtlety, control and power. 

She can fill a room with her vocals but never comes across as bombastic. She is quite a singer. The Other Side of Me brings together a varied program of first-rate blues and soul performances that should hopefully lead her to receive popular recognition to go along with her talent and performances. 

Here is E.C. Scott & Smoke in performance.



Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Project Garnd Slam's Appealing Spring Dance


Project Grand Slam, named after the plot to break into Fort Knox in the James Bond thriller Goldfinger, is a contemporary jazz-fusion group led by bassist Robert Miller, with saxophones and flute from Gilad Ronen and drums from Ron Thaler. On their new Cakewalk Records release Spring Dance, they are joined by Mike Eckroth on keyboards, Joye Hennesey on vocals; Danny Lerman on alto saxophone and Justin Smith on strings. 

The nine selections are mostly originals by either Miller or Ronen with the exception of a cover of the Hollies He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother. There is nothing fancy here, just very melodic and bouncy performances with definite appeal to fans of such artists as Bob James, Grover Washington, The Crusaders, and Spyro Gyra. As a disclosure, I remember seeing Sypro Gyra regularly on Thursday Nights at Buffalo’s Tralfamadore Cafe in the mid-seventies when they played a variety of originals and always closed the night out with Sonny Rollins’ St. Thomas.

This listener heard some echoes of the theme from the TV show Taxi, on the title track, while Ma Petite Fleur, is a slow ballad with Ronen’s soprano stating the theme and establishing the winsome mood before Eckroth’s R&B-flavored piano solo. Vocalist Hennessey is showcased on the soulful Remember, with some nice playing by the rhythm, with an attractive tenor sax solo from Ronen and nice support from Miller and Thaler. After the bouncy Catch You Later, Ronen’s The Turn, displays a bit more reflective mood. Hennessey returns for the funky interpretation of The Hollies hit recording. 

The album closes with an instrumental version of “Remember,” which seems like filler. Even including it, the nine tracks on Spring Dance are a little over a half hour. This is nicely performed and recorded. While there is little deep or profound on this, it is a very entertaining recording with a definite appeal.

I was provided a review copy from a publicist.


Monday, September 10, 2012

Albert Castiglia Is Living The Dream


Singer-guitarist Albert Castiglia was a member of Junior Wells Band the last year of Junior’s life. After Wells’ passing the band did some gigs backing vocalist Sandra Hall with Castiglia developing his craft and career in the years since. An energetic guitarist who can rock out, he is also a capable vocalist who has a new release on Blue Leaf, Living the Dream. On this, his band of AJ Kelly on bass and Bob Amsel on drums is augmented by the keyboards of John Ginty with Sandy Mack adding harmonica to a couple of tracks, Jonny Rizzo slide guitar to one and Emedin Rivera adding percussion on two.

The recording a mix of rocking blues and some interesting covers that represent some unusual choices. As a guitarist he certainly can pull out all the stops but even at a rocket tempo, the clarity and articulation in his playing is evident. On the opening title track as he sings about playing the blues wherever he can and the hustlers and sharks one comes across before he takes an explosive solo. I certainly am impressed by his talent even if the performance might be a bit rocked out as a matter of my preference. It is followed by a nice topical blues about us doing clean up for The Man with a latin groove which his rhythm section ably handles under some more guitar pyrotechnics. 

Freddie King is an obvious influence and Castiglia certainly does a fine salute on King’s Freddie’s Boogie, which kicks off in hyper-drive and his mix of chords (in the vein of Magic Sam on Lookin’ Good) and single note runs is exhilarating. He puts plenty of heart singing Little Richard’s Directly From Heart To You, and Ginty takes the first solo on this followed by Castiglia emphasizing the lower end of his guitar’s range. Sometimes You Win represents a change of pace with him on acoustic guitar as he spins a bit of home-grown philosophy in the lyrics, followed by screaming slide on Public Enemy #9, as he sings about being busted in no man’s land with a beer in his hand. 

Sandy Mack adds harmonica to Paul Butterfield’s Lovin’ Cup, a performance that (to this listener) might have benefited from a bit more relaxed tempo and more measured playing. In contrast, the frenzied playing and tempo changes of his original guitar showcase, Fat Cat, seems more realized. I Want her For Myself is a nice acoustic blues with Mack’s harmonic complimenting his solid blues boogie guitar groove. The longest track is a cover of Walking the Backstreets, that most will know from Little Milton’s recording. In addition to a steady vocal, there is plenty of musical heat but also the backing and his playing let the music breathe. Amsel and Kelly display how steady and capable a rhythm section they are here. Castiglia picks up the acoustic guitar for a very engaging rendition of Shakey Jake’s Call Me If You Need Me, before the album closes with a heavy blues-rock rendition of Mose Allison’s Parchman Farm. 

Albert Castiglia is an exceptional guitarist and steady singer who is backed by an excellent band with a fine rhythm section and while Living The Dream will have the most immediate appeal to fans of high energy rocking blues, but there is much that those of us with a more traditional musical bent can enjoy. 

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here he is performing Walking the Backstreets.