Friday, November 30, 2012

Jeffrey Scott Is a Rattlesnake Daddy.

I was pleasantly surprised to see an article in the current Living Blues of John Jackson's nephew. Jeff Scott, having had the pleasure of seeing him perform several times. He is one of a number of artists who frequented the Archie Edwards Blues Foundation's jam sessions when they were held at the Bunker Hill Road address that housed Archie's Barber Shop. One thing I recall was how much like his uncle he was in performance, even telling similar style of jokes. At the time, Jeff had a wonderful self-produced CD, Rattlesnake Daddy, that I reviewed for the DC Blues Society's newsletter, the DC Blues Calendar in November 2001. I believe I purchased this CD but I do not believe it is currently available. Hopefully with the renewed attention to Jeffrey's music from the Living Blues article it will be reissued.

With John Jackson as his uncle, and friends with the likes of John Cephas and Doc Watson, one should not be surprised that the debut album of Jeffrey Scott, the self-produced Rattlesnake Daddy is firmly in the East Coast finglestyle guitar tradition. This disc contains a selection of songs from Blind Blake, Blind Boy Fuller, Arthur Crudup and Big Bill Broonzy among others, Scott displays a crisp, fluid guitar style while his tenor is a bit brighter sounding than John Jackson’s straightforward delivery of a lyric. Perhaps he is not yet as deft a guitarist as his uncle or John Cephas, but he does maintain a nice relaxed groove on Step It Up and Go as well as That’s All Right Mama. This is a very enjoyable disc, and indicates Scott is a talent with more than simply promise here. 

Here is a short video clip of Jeffrey Scott performing.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Red Lotus Revue Tells Fourteen Stories

Fourteen Stories is the self-released recording by the Red Lotus Revue, a band rooted in fifties’ Chicago blues. The band took its name from its debut gig at the Red Lotus Society in downtown San Diego. Red Lotus Revue is comprised of harmonica player and vocalist Karl Cabbage; guitarist Jimmy Zollo, guitarist Pete Fanzini, and drummer Kurt Kalker. The recording consists of 7 originals by Cabbage and Zollo along with 7 covers which is the basis for the the album’s title. Cabbage is the only one I am familiar with having heard a recording by an earlier group of his, West of Memphis.

The set opens with an original Suzanne, with the band establishing its crisp sound. Cabbage’s gravelly vocals are suggestive of Omar Dykes while his harp playing is fluid with a fat tone. The band provides empathic support with nice mix of slide and straight guitar on this, and on other tracks coming across Louis and Dave Myers. The tempo quickens for a nice cover of Jimmy Reed’s shuffle, Ain’t Got You, and Kalker’s drumming does a nice job of swinging this along. Its is followed by a nice adaptation of Smokey Smothers’ Drinkin’ Muddy Waters, followed by the Pass This Way, that has a swampy feel as Cabbage and the guitarists play acoustically and Kalker displays a light touch.

For the cover Sonny Boy Williamson’s Key To Your Door, Cabbage does nice take of Williamson’s harp style while the guitarists shows appreciation for King Biscuit Boy, Joe Willie Wilkins. A couple of originals follow, with Homebody, standing out being with an insistent bass riff and a short, strong harp solo. Barkin’ is a nice shuffle in the manner of Nine Below Zero, with the band again playing in the manner of Sonny Boy Williamson. Then follows Fish Tail, a cover of one of Johnny Shines' reworkings of Robert Johnson’s Terraplane Blues. The guitarists play acoustically on this nice interpretation which is followed by a relaxed cover of Jimmy Reed’s “Honest I Do

The spirited original River is anchored around the Rolling and Tumbling melody for which Cabbage tells his story about going to the river and washing his sins away. The closing Santee has Cabbage singing that if one is going to Santee, one best bring one's ID. This original is another clever adaptation of a classic blues recording, in this case Robert Johnson’s They’re Red Hot. It is heard in two takes, although the CD packaging does not indicate the second take. This caps a strong collection of Chicago styled blues. Certainly those who have enjoyed Omar and the Howlers will find this in a similar vein. I certainly look forward to more from the Red Lotus Revue.

I received my review copy from a publicist for this release.  Here is a video of them from their CD release party.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Little Arthur Duncan Live at Rosa’s Blues Lounge

Mississippi native Arthur Duncan has been up in Chicago since the 1950s when he came north with Earl Hooker. Mentored by the legendary Little Walter, he has been part of the blues scene for most of the intervening five decades as a performer and as a club owner while working as a construction worker. Delmark previously issued his disc, Singing With the Sun, and now has a live performance on CD as well as on DVD (with a couple of extra songs included), Live at Rosa’s Blues Lounge

This is an unpretentious set of somewhat raw, downhome flavored Chicago harp blues as Duncan mixes some originals with interesting covers. Duncan’s enthusiasm for performing is evident as he opens with an original Leaving Mississippi, before reworking Eugene Church’s Pretty Girl’s Everywhere, employing Slim Harpo’s Scratch My Back groove (and he also is seen/heard on that tune here). Jimmy Reed, Little Walter, Slim Harpo and Howling Wolf covers mix in with Duncan’s Bad Reputation and Blues I Got to Leave You. 

As entertaining as Duncan comes off, his harp playing is not on the level of a Little Walter or Carey Bell, and his earnest vocals perhaps lack the charisma of his influences, but still the performances are engaging aided by the solid backing of guitarists Rick Kreher and Illinois Slim, bassist Michael Azzi and drummer Twist Turner, who provide steady backing behind Duncan. Guest Little Al Thomas handles the vocal on Dr. Clayton’s I Got to Find My Baby

The video on the DVD is really well done, keeping its focus on Duncan and his band as he sits and belts out his vocals and lays down his harp as well as captures his forays into the audience, encouraging the dancers and leading everybody on what was clearly a good time. Delmark continues to build its impressive catalog of live DVDs with this entertaining disc.

This review appeared originally in the February 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301). I received a review copy from Delmark Records. Here is a video trailer for this DVD.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Ernest Dawkins Straight-ahead Afro Straight.

A former President of the Chicago-based Association For the Advancement of Creative Musicians, who is a co-leader of Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and leader of the New Horizons Ensemble, saxophonist Ernest Dawkins leads a program of straight ahead jazz on his latest Delmark album, Afro Straight. Dawkins, a noted composer as well as a musician and band leader, has assembled a group that includes Corey Wilkes on trumpet, Willerm Delisfort on piano, Junius Paul on bass and Isaiah Spencer on drums with Ruben Alvarez or others playing congas and percussion. Ben Paterson on organ for one selection. The album is interprets eight standards and modern jazz classics, along with two Dawkins originals. With the percussionist on many selections, a definite Afro-Latin flavor is prevalent

The opening rendition of John Coltrane’s tribute to bassist Paul Chambers, Mr. P.C., establishes the authority that Dawkins, Wilkes and the rest play with. Even more satisfying is a rendition of a lesser known Wayne Shorter composition, United. After Dawkins’ original that gives this recording its title, a percussion feature for Dawkins, Alvarez and Greg Penn, Dawkins (with Wilkes sitting out) provides his take of another Coltrane composition, Central Park West, with pianist Delisfort standing out.

Dizzy Gillespie’s classic, Woody’N You, opens with muted trumpet from Wilkes before Dawkins’ vocalized saxophone. Softly As In A Morning Sunrise, opens with a brief flurry of free playing before the group evokes the hard bop of the late fifties and early sixties with some wonderful playing by all. Ben Paterson’s organ on God Bless The Child provides a soulful underpinning for Dawkins’ expressive playing. Spencer plays lightly here on an outstanding performance. Old Man Blues is a straight blues with wonderful playing along with Dawkins’ amiable vocal of traditional blues lyrics. A spirited interpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Juju” closes out this CD. 

Dawkins considers Afro Straight to be a tribute to John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Von Freeman, Charlie Parker, Coleman Hawkins and other great jazz saxophonists. Throughout Dawkins and band lend their own voices to well-known songs for the imaginative and fresh recordings  on this. This is an excellent recording that easily refutes the stereotype that free jazz players can’t play straight-ahead. They can and do so convincingly here.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Ernest Dawkins performing with an organist and drummer, You Don't Know What Love Is.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Joe Fiedler's Big Sackbut

Trombonist Joe Fiedler's newest recording, Big Sackbut (Yellow Sound Label) features Fiedler, Josh Roseman & Ryan Keberle - trombones, and Marcus Rojas - tuba, was really born in the late 1980s when Fiedler first saw The World Saxophone Quartet (WSQ) live. He explains this revelation: "The drive and energy that they put forth, all without a traditional rhythm section was quite compelling.  In addition, the tunes had a wonderful balance of 'loose-tightness' or 'tight-looseness' that totally sucked me right in.  And this is to say nothing of the four powerhouse solo voices.  I immediately thought of how I might incorporate my image of all of those elements into a trombone driven project of my own.”

The ideas for this had rattled in Fiedler’s mind for about twenty years until on a gig with Ryan Keberle two years ago he mentioned the idea to Keberle and the idea was finally brought to fruition. The intent in this album is to eschew a rhythm section and have a similar self-contained horn group such the WSQ. Included are seven original Fiedler compositions along with interpretations of compositions by Sun Ra; Willie Colon; and Captain Beefheart (Don Van Vliet).

It is fascinating hearing the interplay among the musicians from the opening Mixed Bag, to the closing Urban Groovy. Fielder's Don Pullen is a lovely piece with Keberle playing exquisitely. Fiedler plays particularly expressively and forcefully on his 11, which is followed by Willie Colon’s Calle Luna, Calle Sol, although without a rhythm section they can at best only imply the latin flavor. I am not sure if there are many jazz interpretations of Captain Beefheart. Roseman takes the lead on the Captain’s Blabber and Smoke, a mostly pensive interpretation on which one of the trombones briefly employs a mute adding to the range of sounds heard. The leader does effectively make use of one on his solo on Ging Gong, that also spotlights Rojas’ tuba.

The lack of a rhythm section and the restricting the instrumentation to trombones and tuba does have the effect of limiting the musical palette that can be employed (compared to the WSQ with baritone, alto, tenor and soprano saxophones). It might be best to listen to several selections at one sitting rather than the entire album. Still, there is much to reward listeners of Joe Fiedler’s Big Sackbut with captivating performances. 

I received a review copy from a publicist. Well not with this group, here is Joe Fiedler as part of a group performing Captain Beefheart. 

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Box Set Treasure of Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano

While it is not clear where the style of piano called Boogie Woogie originated, by 1928 it had clearly surfaced in Chicago where it was named by a recording Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie, by Clarence ‘Pinetop’ Smith. As Dan Morganstern writes in the booklet accompanying the new Mosaic Selects set, Boogie Woogie and Blues Piano, boogie woogie was a piano idiom rooted in the blues, “a rolling, romping an infectious approach to the keyboard … . Its chief characteristic is a forceful, repetitive (but by no mans unvaried) ‘walking’ bass line pitted against a blues melody line in the treble marked by cross rhythms, usually (but not always) at a fast tempo.” The Mosaic Selects 3-disc set collects 72 of the finest recordings in this idiom from the idiom’s peak period of popularity in the late thirties and early forties from recordings originally on such labels as Victor, OK, ARC, Columbia, Bluebird and Vocalion and includes such masters of the style as Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, Pete Johnson, Jimmy Yancey and Cripple Clarence Lofton along with recordings by others including Harry James, Joe Sullivan, Benny Carter, and Red Allen. 

A thunderous boogie played with ‘"A Left Hand From God” (to cite the title of Peter Silvester's history of boogie woogie), can be heard from the opening moments as we are introduced to Meade Lux Lewis’ revival of his Honky Tonk Train Blues, one of the classic piano and train instrumentals of all time. Its followed by a couple more efforts by Lewis as well as fellow Chicagoan, Albert Ammons with two takes of his dazzling tour de force, Shout For Joy. In turn this is followed by the great Kansas City pianist, Pete Johnson accompanying the great shouter Joe Turner on Roll ‘Em Pete. These recordings, along with the appearance of the trio at the legendary Carnegie Hall concert, From Spirituals to Swing, helped launch boogie woogie into a National craze. As part of this craze, the Boogie Woogie Trio (Ammons, Lohnson and Lewis) along with Turner were booked into Cafe Society, the legendary Greenwich Village Club. The trio recorded the spectacular Boogie Woogie Prayer together, and were joined by trumpeter Harry James for several recordings. The first of the three discs concludes with eight heart pounding duets between Johnson and Ammons. 

The second of the discs is a bit more varied with some focus shifted to vocalist Turner who fronts Pete Johnson and His Boogie Woogie Boys that included trumpeter Hot Lips Page and alto saxophonist Buster Smith on Cherry Red and Baby Look at You. Then Turner shouts in front of Ammons, Johnson and Lewis on Cafe Society Rag, before singing in front of combos led by pianist Joe Sullivan and Benny Carter. After this, we are presented with three distinct takes of Down The Road A-Piece by the Will Bradley Trio with pianist Freddie Slack. This became a staple of piano led combos in the post-World War II period. Selections by Teddy Wilson, Lionel Hampton and Red Allen illustrate the spread of boogie woogie as it became a national fad (this set limits itself to small combos and does not include examples of the big band variations).

The final disc opens with a piano solo by Mary Lou Williams before presenting us with 17 tracks by the great Jimmy Yancey, one of the greatest blues and boogie pianists of all time. A former baseball player in the Negro Leagues, he was a groundskeeper at Comiskey Park as well as a pianist of great emotional depth and rhythmic vitality. His music eschewed flash for a lyrical, almost poetic quality with what Morganstern notes idiosyncratic harmonies although all of his numbers ends in the key of E. His boogies are not played at quite a breakneck as Ammons, Johnson or Lewis were capable of but his treble lines are perhaps more interesting and while his bass work is varied and propulsive if not as powerful as the others as can be heard on Yancey’s Stomp. Slow blues like Five O'Clock Blues were his forte as his subtle touch and treble embellishments lend a melancholy flavor to his performances. His poetic piano perhaps is stronger than his unmannered vocals, but his earnest delivery compensates for any vocal limitations, and one will not find any better examples of blues piano than his work here. Five tracks by Clarence Lofton, with Big Bill Broonzy on guitar, close this collection with touches of ragtime mixed in with boogie as on Strut That Thing, which echoes Speckled Red’s classic Dirty Dozens, and lyrics that would be echoed by Little Johnny Jones a decade later, with Lofton raggy boogie bass and while beating of his right hand lines. Also included is the marvelous Brown Skin Gal, which more great piano and lyrics and a commanding singing. 

Long-time collectors have many of these recordings, but some of the reissues of this material on the have been out-of-print for a number of years. Mosaic Select has put together this strong collection of music that belongs in any credible collection of blues and boogie woogie piano. Dan Morganstern’s essay also provides the historical context mixed with insights on the recordings and performers. Available from

This review appeared originally in the February 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301), although I have made some edits. I do not recall if I received a review copy or purchased this. If you are thinking of a gift for the blues piano lover in your Holiday Gift List, this is still available from Mosaic, Now here is a video of Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Omar and the Howlers Too Much Is Not Enough

Jimmy Reed’s music is deceptively simple to play. With its lazy rhythm, simple boogie bass and mush mouth vocals it would seem so easy to cover and interpret. However, for every Jimmy Witherspoon, with his behind the beat vocals gave a personalized uptown approach, or Swamp blues masters like Lazy Lester, Jimmy Anderson, and Slim Harpo, others (such as Etta James) might handle the songs a bit too heavily. 

This brings us to a new release by Omar and the Howlers on Big Guitar Music, Too Much Is Not Enough. This recording of Reed’s music features the late Gary Primich on harmonica for what was Primich’s last recordings. This recording was recorded prior to Omar’s collaboration with Jimmy Vaughan On the Jimmy Reed Highway. Like that album, this includes a number of special guests including guitarists Derek O’Brien, Gary Clark, Jr., as well as Jay Moeller and Ronnie James. Not having heard the Jimmy Reed Highway, I cannot vouch for the statement that this recording takes a different approach. I can attest that this is a very fine recording of Jimmy Reed songs.

Omar Dykes' hoarse, gravelly vocals would seem more appropriate for the music of Howlin’ Wolf or Captain Beefheart. Importantly, his relaxed delivery simply nails the renditions of Too Much, Honest I Do, I Ain’t Got You, and Shame, Shame, Shame. The backing stands out with Primich shining. There is one non-Reed song included, Dykes’ I Gotta Let You Go. This is a swamp blues that evokes Slim Harpo’s Tee-Nah-Nee, with Gary Clark, Jr. adding slide guitar in the backing. On two selections Clark doubles on harmonica and guitar and if not as accomplished on harmonica as Primich, still acquits himself well.

Fans of Jimmy Reed, as well as of Omar Dykes, will certainly enjoy Too Much Is Not Enough. These are wonderfully paced performances and many ‘blues players’ would do well to see how one can take familiar material and make it sound fresh and vital. This is so good that I will be checking out the Jimmy Reed Highway, and looking forward to Omar Dykes promised future releases that will center on the music of Howlin’ Wolf and Bo Diddley.

I received this from either the label or publicist.  Here is Omar performing at the CD release party for this CD.

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Blind Boys Down in New Orleans

A new release by The Blind Boys of Alabama, Down in New Orleans (Time-Life) has the legendary gospel singers in the Crescent City where they are backed by a terrific trio of David Torkanowsky on piano, Roland Guerin on bass and Shannon Powell on drums along with guest appearances by the Hot 8 Brass Band, Allen Toussaint and The Preservation Hall Jazz Band. 

Mixing in gospel classics like Free at Last, You Got to Move, and I’ll Fly Away with secular positive message songs like the late Earl King’s Make a Better World, the group continues to move the heart with the sheer conviction an awe-inspiring vocals of Clarence Fountain, Jimmy Carter and the others. Certainly even if their voices have some raspiness from age, it is not rust and delivering How I Got Over, the vocals send chills through the listener.

 The Preservation Hall Jazz Band can be heard backing them on Across the Bridge, Uncloudy Day and Down By the Riverside, on which Allen Toussaint adds some gospel funk piano. Toussaint also is heard on the fine If I Could Help Somebody, while the Hot 8 enliven Make a Better World as well as the exhilarating rendition of I’ll Fly Away, that closes this CD that is another marvelous addition to the Blind Boys extensive discography. 

This review originally appeared in the February 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 301). I believe I received a review copy from a publicist. Here are the Blind Boys with the Dirty Dozen Brass band at Tipitina's Uptown.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

The Fat Babies Are Chicago Hot

Its surprising to hear a jazz band whose members are in their twenties and thirties and devote their talents to the hot jazz that would be heard in Chicago in the twenties and thirties. That is The Fat Babies, whose debut Delmark CD, Chicago Hot, has spirited interpretations of songs associated with Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke and King Oliver. The band is comprised of leader Beau Sample on bass; Andy Schumm on cornet; Dave Bock on trombone; Jake Sanders on banjo; Alex Hall on drums; Paul Asaro on piano and John Otto on clarinet and saxophones. Mike Walbridge guests on tuba for the last of the 16 tracks.

There are plenty of youthful bands that approach materials from this era in a campy fashion. One thing to appreciate about The Fat Babies is that they play this music straight. That doesn’t mean that their performances are sterile recreations. There is pretty of life here from the opening Snake Rag, from King Oliver; San, a number associated with Bix Beiderbecke; the pop standard I Surrender Dear, that was so memorably performed by Louis Armstrong; Weary Blues that has become a staple of the New Orleans traditional scene; and Tight Light This, that was a celebrated recording by Louis Armstrong and His Hot Five.

Schumm’s cornet playing, based in Bix Beiderbecke’s lyrical style, stands out. He is, however, quite capable of generating fireworks as on Tight Light That, where Armstrong’s influence is a bit more prominent while the rest of the band provide support. Snake Rag and Jelly Roll Morton’s Froggie Moore, (another song associated with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band), impress with the band's marvelous ensemble work and the contrapuntal playing between the horns. Pianist Asaro is featured on the Gershwin classic, Liza (All the Clouds’ll Roll Away), as he opens wistfully before picking up the tempo and turning this into a piano stomp. He incorporates ragtime and stride while supported by the understated rhythm section and trading fours with Hall. Asaro also has a nice chorus on Tight Like That as does clarinetist Otto.

Kim Cusack, a veteran of the traditional Chicago jazz scene, observes that not only has this band appealed to listeners old enough to be grandparents of the band members but also have a substantial youthful following. Listening to the performances on Chicago Hot, one can understand the appeal of The Fat Babies crisp and spirited playing that has goes beyond the existing audience for traditional jazz.

I was provided a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of The Fat Babies performing Snake Rag with a few enthusiastic dancers.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Marvelous Reissue of Albums By George Lewis and Jimmy Yancey albums

One of the unexpected pleasures of the recent Sony Box set celebrating 50 years of Preservation Hall was the inclusion of some selections from a series of albums issued on Atlantic shortly after that fabled venue opened. It led to my checking into the availability of these albums. They have been issued on the Collectables label in a series of two albums on one CD. One CD, includes an album by a band led by The George Lewis Band of New OrleansJazz at Preservation Hall, reissued with an album Pure Blues, by legendary blues and boogie pianist Jimmy Yancey. Included are the original liner notes by Rev. A.L. Kershaw for Lewis and Ralph Gleason, George Hoefer and Art Hodes for the Yancey (with Hodes personal memories being quite moving).

The George Lewis Band of New Orleans included Kid Howard on trumpet; Jim Robinson on trombone; Alcide ‘Slow Drag’ Pavageau on bass; Emmanuel Sayles on banjo; and Joe Watkins on drums. On a few tracks the personnel include Snookum Russell on pianol “Papa John’ Joseph on bass; and Joe Watkins on drums. Lewis is amongst the greatest clarinetists of New Orleans jazz with his simple, blues-drenched style and he also was recorded extensively. This album of his is amongst the best recorded and contains a number of staples of his repertoire including Salutation March, Down By the Riverside, Careless Love, Burgundy Blues and St. Louis Blues along an amiable version of Jelly Roll Morton’s Winin’ Boy Blues. The selections with a full group are marvelous with the interplay between Lewis’ clarinet, Howard’s trumpet and Robinson’s tailgate trombone. Then there is Burgundy Blues, with the other horns sitting out on what is perhaps Lewis’ most celebrated number. The spare backing helps contribute to the melancholic tone of a stunning blues performance. This is amongst the best sounding as well as best recordings of George Lewis that I have heard.

Jimmy Yancey was a ground keeper for the Chicago White Sox (during World War I he played in the Negro Leagues) and also one of the greatest blues and woogie woogie pianists that one might fine playing rent and house parties in Chicago. He was a pioneer in the boogie woogie idiom and an influence on Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis. Atlantic recorded Yancey and his wife Mama Estelle Yancey in 1951 a few months before he passed away. These would be his last recordings although he had been recorded by Jazz Information, Solo Art , Session, Victor and Vocalion. 

One aspect of these performances, on which bassist Israel Crosby lends a light touch, is the focus on slow blues instrumentals (and accompaniments), while his earlier recordings had more in the nature of stomps and boogie woogies marked by his immediately recognizable touch and endings. Yancey’s Bugle Call comes closest to illustrate this aspect of his music, but much of this focus on on his atmospheric slow blues like on Mournful Blues or the musical poetry of his rendition of Leroy Carr’s How Long How Long Blues. The spare left-hand bass supplements the treble runs which focus on feeling and not flash. This same mood is present for another version of this heard here on which Mama Yancey so movingly sings. It is one of five vocals by Mama Yancey heard here which also include her take on the traditional, Make Me a Pallet On The Floor, again with Jimmy Yancey’s simple, moody backing. These vocals, like Yancey’s instrumental performances, are blues performances of the highest order and like the Lewis album would be easy to recommend if they had been issued separately. To have these combined on one release makes this album even easier to recommend.

I purchased this. Here is a video from 1962 of George Lewis performing.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Seth Walker's Appealing Blues

Originally from North Carolina, but based in Austin, Texas, Seth Walker has developed into a blues performer of some interest. The Pacific Blues label has recently issued the eponymously title, Seth Walker, a very appealing collection of performances soulfully handled. More than an able guitarist, Walker’s band of Stefano Intelisano on keyboards, Lindsay Greene on bass and Mark Hays on drums is a solid group augmented on a few selections by Kim Wilson on harp, Floyd Domino on piano, Mike Keller on guitar and Ephraim Owens on trumpet. 

Most of the 11 selections are penned in whole or part by Walker, but he also interprets Dave Bartholomew’s By the Water, Jimmy Reed’s I Know Its a Sin, James Hunter’s Kick It Around, and Tom Waits’ Picture in a Frame. The last number, with just Intelisano’s piano probably best illustrates how he can caress a lyric in his delivery and certainly closes the disc on a very strong reflective vein. 

The rest of this album suggests comparisons to Delbert McLinton and Tommy Castro in his mix of blues, soul, and a tinge of country and rock, although blues comes across as more to the core of his music. What is refreshing is his unforced vocal delivery, the solid, clean guitar playing and the strong ensemble playing over a variety of material. No one is overplaying and the result is that the music, in a sense, breathes. 

This is a strong release and Seth Walker is new artist of note that these ears was delighted to discover.

This review was written in 2007, but I am uncertain whether it was published. I likely received a review copy from a publication or publicist. Here is Seth in performance.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Michael Bram Looking For the Suitcase In The Hall

Michael Bram has spent much of the recent years touring with Jason Mraz’s Band as drummer and musical director. In the back of the bus he would listen to a range of earthy, roots music. With expert production by Dave Gross, Bram has just released Suitcase In The Hall (Swingnation/VizzTone). Gross has provided an austere, spare setting in the vein of a number of recent recordings, such as by Mavis Staples and Bettye LaVette.

Bram takes us on a musical journey ranging from country (Kris Kristofferson’s Nobody Wins, Floyd Tillman’s I Love You So Much It Hurts, and Hank Cochran’s Can I Sleep In Your Arms), to blues (Slim Harpo’s Got Love If You Want It, Howlin’ Wolf’s Howlin’ For My Darling, and Leroy Carr’s I’m Going Away and Leave My Baby), and then to Bram’s blues-infused, roots originals.

The opening It Don't Matter Where You Get Your Appetite, is a swamp-blues number with evocative use of tremolo and reverb in the guitars. Kristofferson’s Nobody Wins benefits from a stark accompaniment (with nice steel guitar by Candy Cashdollar) on which Gross adds a tasteful, deliberate guitar break. Watch Out is an original that evokes Howlin’ Wolf’s EvilChris Vitarello adds the biting guitar fills and lead here while Bram blasts some mournful harmonica behind his vigorous singing. Hornick is also on board for the bluesy shuffle that gives the disc its title as Bram sings about leaving town with his suitcase in the hall. In addition to Bram’s harp, Vitarello crafts a solid solo on this.

It sounds like Bram is singing through his harmonica microphone for an enjoyable cover of Howlin’ For My Darling, although some might find the rhythm a bit too emphatic. Jon-Erik Kellso’s trumpet and Matt Cowan’s clarinet help contribute to a traditional jazz feel to Leroy Carr’s I’m Going Away and Leave My Baby, which has become one of this listener’s favorite selections here. It is followed by Bram’s low-key vocal capturing the mood of Bill Mack’s Drinking Champagne, and showing similar restraint on the closing, Can I Sleep In Your Arms, which contributes to the sincerity he conveys.

Michael Bram’s Suitcase In The Hall brings together some real good songs, both covers and originals, along with thoughtful and emphatic production resulting in some excellent performances. The music will appeal to a variety of listeners, especially those who can appreciate blues, country and roots rock. Both Bram and Dave Gross are commended for this splendid recording.

I received a review copy from VizzTone.  Here is Michael Bram performing the title track.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Johnny Winter Seen and Heard Live From Japan

Johnny Winter has probably been performing for fifty years and its been nearly 45 years since his signing with Columbia. In the ensuing years he has recorded and toured extensively. It was not until April of 2011 though that he appeared in Japan with is current band of Paul Nelson on guitar, Scott Spray on bass and Vito Liuzzi on drums. A performance at the Zepp Tokyo Musical Hall was captured and now MVD Visual has issued Live From Japan, capturing one night’s performance of the blues and rock legend.

Being seated throughout his performance does not affect the fire of Winter’s performances which is heavily tilted towards blues on this evening which opens with some sizzling blues-rock before his trio before he comes on for a rendition of Hideaway. The video is quite well done although the tone of Johnny’s guitar seems a bit distorted. There are also a couple of interview segments interspersed in this hour and a half concert video.

While I would not say Winter has been my favorite blues vocalist, I have grown to appreciate his singing and immediately recognizable musical approach and admire the wide range of songs that he tears into on including Frankie Lee Sim’s She Likes To Boogie Real Low, Lazy Lester’s Sugar Coated Love, and Sonny Boy Williamson I’s Good Morning Little School Girl. An interview remembrance of Muddy Waters’ is followed by a rousing Got My Mojo Working, and the rock and roll side of Winter is displayed on Chuck Berry’s Johnny B Goode, and Larry Williams’ Bony Maronie

Other highlights include Winter's cover of Ray Charles' Blackjack, as well as reprising Winter's Alligator recording of Don’t Take Advantage of Me that morphs into his interpretation of the Rolling Stones’ Gimme Shelter. Guitarist Nelson takes a solo on It’s All Over Now, originally recorded by the Valentinos and covered by the Stones. After a short break, Winter and band return with Johnny now playing his Firebird guitar and slide for a rollicking medley of Elmore James’ Dust My Broom and Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61. It closes a well produced concert video and Live From Japan, will certainly be of interest to fans of Johnny Winter and the blues.

I received a review copy from MVD Entertainment. From a 2012 performance, here is Johnny Winer performing Blackjack.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Doug Deming Asks What's It Gonna Take

What’s It Gonna Take” by Doug Deming & the Jewel Tones (VizzTone) is a companion release to the recent CD by harmonica wizard, Dennis Gruenling. Like Deming was prominent on Gruenling’s recording, Gruenling is featured with Deming along the Jewel Tones Andrew Gohman on bass and Devin Neel on drums. This release was recorded in Florida and is a strong set of blues and roots music that is as easy on the ears as it is certainly to get the dancers up and on the floor.

7 of the 11 songs on What’s It Gonna Take are Deming originals starting with the title track with its Deming giving his heartfelt plea as to whether his heart is gonna break or what is it gonna take. As on Gruenling’s album, there is spectacular and well crafted harmonica and guitar. I really like Deming's uncluttered, crisp playing. As a vocalist, Doug Deming is an appealing singer and his guitar playing will delight fans of Duke Robillard, Bill Kirchen and similar players.

Think Hard is built on a churning Chicago blues groove with some outstanding saxophone like harmonica behind Deming’s energetic vocal. One Good Reason is a number that evokes Bill Kirchen’s rendition of Hot Rod Lincoln, reflected by Deming’s guitar as well as by Gohman’s slapped upright bass. The group sound terrific on a fine cover of Willie Mabon’s Poison Ivy, with more dazzling harmonica. An Eye For An Eye is a Muddy Waters styled original benefiting from the spare backing as Gruenling again dazzles while Deming's simple driving playing is quite effective. 

No Big Thrill is a fine original suggestive of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Bring It On Back Home, with Anthony Smith playing the harp here. On a charming rendition of Buddy Johnson’s A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac and Some Money), Gruenling employs the bottom range of his chromatic harmonica while accompanying Deming’s vocal. Gruenling’s spirited, Bella’s Boogie, closes this CD on a dynamic note with lively guitar, a short drum break and dynamic harmonica. It is a performance that again showcases the tight, swinging groves of Deming and the Jewel Tones. 

What’s It Gonna Take is a marvelously performed recording that will delight fans of Chicago and jump blues. 

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here they are doing Buddy Johnson’s A Pretty Girl (A Cadillac and Some Money).

Friday, November 16, 2012

Barrelhouse Buck's Alton Blues

Barrelhouse Buck McFarland first recorded for the legendary Paramount label in 1929 and Decca had him wax sides in 1934-1935. Bob Koester was living in St. Louis when  he located McFarland in 1957 with the help of Speckled Red and Charlie O’Brien. Koester then recorded him in 1961 shortly after Sam Charters had recorded McFarland for Folkways. 

I do not believe the selections on the new Delmark CD Alton Blues have previously been issued. In any event, is a delight to hear real barrelhouse piano, especially when played as solidly as here. He displays strong left hand bass and right hand chords while hammering out single notes as exhibited on Charlie’s Stomp, as well as on the more meditative accompaniment (still with hammered single note runs) on Railroad Blues. This number he sings in a very husky, straightforward fashion. 

Included are two takes of his signature song, I Got to Go Blues, which he waxed for Paramount, with a marvelous melancholic vocal as well as a strutting instrumental, Barrelhouse Buck. This is a marvelous session with variety in material, and includes some brief spoken tracks enhancing a wonderful album for anyone who loves blues piano.

The above review appeared originally in the May-June 2007 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 293) as part of a review of several Delmark releases. I have made some stylistic changes. I received my review copy from Delmark.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Willie Buck Is a Rockin Cell Phone Man

There are few singers in Chicago with roots in the classic blues style heard in the Windy City in the 1950s. Vocalist Willie Buck is one and with The Rockin’ Johnny Band has a new album on Delmark, Cell Phone Man. Buck’s sound is heavily shaped by that of Muddy Waters classic fifties band and he is ably supported by the Rockin’ Johnny Band with Johnny’s guitar, the guitar of Rick Kreher, the bass of John Sefner and the drums of Steve Bass. They are augmented by Barrelhouse Chuck on piano and the harmonicas of Martin Lang and Bharath Rjakumar. 

In Scott Dirks liner notes, he observes Muddy Waters influence but also observes Buck has a style that is really more typical of the Chicago style of the fifties. Still when one has a recording that includes a number of songs associated with Waters like Two Trains Running (done acoustically), Going Down Main StreetStreamline Woman, Memphis Minnie’s What’s the Matter With the Mill (Can’t Get No Grinding), My Eyes Keep Me In Trouble, and Blow Wind Blow, the comparison is unavoidable. Willie certainly acquits himself in these performances. 

Buck’s strong rendition of Muddy’s Strange Woman, employs the Help Me bass line and in addition to some outstanding guitar (suggestive of Jimmy Dawkins with Carey Bell), displays the considerable harmonica skills of Bharath Rjakumar’s harmonica playing. While credited to Buck, Two Women Talking, sounds like the song Big Moose John Walker recorded as Baby Talk four decades ago for Bluesway. It is a solid performance which fortunately lacks the amplified wah-wah saxophone which did detract from Big Moose’s earlier recording. The title track is a strong Muddy styled original as he asks his woman to let Willie be her cell phone man, she won’t have to worry about a thing with biting guitar and Bharath acoustic harp standing out.

In addition to the steady rhythm provided by the Rockin’ Johnny Band (and fine guitar work from Johnny and Kreher), Barrelhouse Chuck is consistently outstanding and the harmonica work of both Martin Lang and Bharath Rjakumar also is top notch. Willie Buck is not Muddy’s equal, but who alive is. His vocals exhibit some of the same expressive qualities and with the strong backing here (which at times suggests some of the outstanding Delmark albums of the late sixties and seventies) has produced a strong recording of real-deal Chicago blues. 

Bill I was provided a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of Willie with Rockin' Johnny doing some Muddy Waters.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

John Lee Hooker Boogies In 1974 Cable Broadcast

MVD Visual has made available a 1974 Cable TV broadcast of an afternoon performance by John Lee Hooker and the Coast to Coast Blues Band, Cook With The Hook: Live in 1974. from a city landfill in Gardner, Massachusetts as the King of the Boogie was appearing in the area. He was part of a concert with several other bands. In fact at the close of this performance, it is mentioned that he has to leave because he is appearing in Boston that night. Fortuitously, this performance was filmed and broadcast on local cable systems at a time when cable television was primarily to help with television reception and public access would be a decade away.

The performance is a typical Hooker performance of the era. The first performances are pretty solid including the brooding opening It Serves Me Right” to Suffer, and the uptempo Sweet Sweet Thing where he sings about having to find his woman. A spirited Boom Boom kicks up the boogie tempo and followed by churning groove of Whiskey Woman, where he sings about how they have just about wrecked his life. On these performances, the Coast to Coast Blues Band does a solid job with Hooker adding some bursts of guitar. 

Then asking the crowd if they want to boogie and ‘cook with the hook,” he launches into a lengthy boogie, soon leaving his guitar down and standing while he chants about feeling good, urging everyone to boogie with him and rock, rock. Its an extended 17 odd minutes of boogie, followed by an encore in a similar mode that incorporates lyrics from Night Time Is the Right Time and other songs. This performance is typical of the period of Hooker’s career from after his collaboration with Canned Heat until the revival of his music after The Healer

I am not sure what efforts were made to restore the original source film. The sound is fine while the video is of mixed quality. One of the cameras actually has pretty good quality, while the video from the other two cameras have a washed out quality perhaps reflecting the bright sun, so that the clarity of the performances and audience shots vary. The film does provide a balance of performance shots with the audience with the film centered on John Lee Hooker, and even those not enamored with the lengthy boogies at the end of his set here, still can appreciate his presence as a performer. I am not aware of videos of a full Hooker performance form this time period, so this release will be welcome on that basis, although it is hardly indispensable.

I received a review copy from MVD Visual.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Carlos del Junco Is Steady Movin’.

Northern Blues has treated us to the latest release by the Cuban born, Canadian raised harmonica wizard Carlos del Junco, Steady Movin’. Del Junco plays a ten note diatonic harmonica chromatically employing the “overblow” technique taught to him by the virtuoso Howard Levy.

This set is produced by guitarist Kevin Breit (Norah Jones, Cassandra Williams) and features him in the con- text of a blues quintet on a genre transcending set of blues, jazz, funk, folk and more. Obviously the selling point of this album is his harmonica wizardry, but he isn’t that bad a singer either. As suggested, this covers quite of range of musical styles from the hot swinging jump harmonica boogie Diddle It. that opens this with some driving saxophone like lines, followed by Kevin Breit’s Dull Blade, with its Ventures instrumental flavor with del Junco’s harp adding a TV theme flavor. Dennis Keldie adds some nice organ on this track that surprises with its twists and turns. 

Jersey Bounce, is a jazzy instrumental that may have come from the Tiny Bradshaw songbook on which del Junco displays his jazzy side. Mashed Potatoes Canada, with John Dickie’s vocal is a tribute to James Brown with a nice funk groove and Carlos being a one-person funk horn section. It is followed by a nice tribute to Rice Miller on Movin’ Down the River Rhine, with him evoking Sonny Boy’s harmonica styling and contributing an effective vocal. The intimate setting is followed by the Latin-jazz flavored Paradise, with another credible vocal and some country-folk guitar in the backing. 

A lengthy solo version of Amazing Grace, with his harp echoing bagpipes near the end precedes the exotic The Simple Life, with echoes of the music of the Indian subcontinent. Bailey’s Bounce, a tribute to pioneering harmonica master DeFord Bailey, is a marvelous harmonica evocation of a train such that Bailey himself had made famous. The album ends with Doodle It, with a banjo prominent in the skittle band styled backing that opens at a slow tempo before the band kicks it into a peppier gear with more swinging harp that closes this excellent album on a very high note.

Del Junco is obviously rooted in the blues, but he goes beyond his blues roots for a stunning recording that demonstrates why he among the most highly regarded harmonica players around. This is helped by the excellent support he receives on this disc. Steady Movin’ is simply superb. 

This review originally appeared in the October 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 309) although I made a few minor edits. I likely received this from the recording company or a publicist. Here is a clip of him performing Movin’ Down the River Rhine.

Monday, November 12, 2012

RIP Bob French

JazzFest 07 Last Day-1350 by NoVARon
JazzFest 07 Last Day-1350, a photo by NoVARon on Flickr.
Word just came that Bob French passed away. This New Orleans legend was part of the studio crew at Cosimo's studios and played on countless classic New Orleans recordings. Later, he took over leadership of the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band from his father which he maintained for some time. His nephew Gerald now leads it.

Above he is seen at the 2007 New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival where Marsalis Music celebrated its album of Bob. He was joined he was joined by friends and those he mentored including Harry Connick, Jr., Bradford Marsalis, Kid Chocolate and Trombone Shorty.

He also hosted a show on WWOZ for several years, championing New Orleans Music which he closed by saying that if you liked his show, tell all your friends and if you didn't like it, don't tell anybody. A character who was true to himself.

Hee is Keith Spera's obituary from,

Below is Bob performing with the Original Tuxedo Jazz Band at the 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Grant Green at The Holy Barbarian in St. Louis

While not being released with the fanfare accorded a recent release of the recent Resonance release of Wes Montgomery Echoes of Indiana Avenue, Uptown Records has released a similar live recording of another legendary guitarist Grant Green, The Holy Barbarian/ St. Louis 1959. Like the Montgomery recording, this issues a live recording of Green from before he would receive national prominence. He is heard with an organ trio of organist Sam Lazar and Chauncey Williams augmented by the white tenor saxophonist Bob Graf at a short-lived coffee house that was pioneering in bringing together black and white musicians and audiences together at a time when the authorities frowned on such mingling (to say it mildly). Bob Blumenthal’s essay that is part of the accompanying booklet discusses the club and the harassment that led to its eventual closing not long after these recordings were made. There are some press clippings in the booklet describing the harassment that led to its close.

At the time of these performances, Green was on a cusp of his national career. His participation in after-hours jamming with members of Harry Edison’s band in St. Louis led him to make his first recordings with members of Edison’s band that appeared under Jimmy Forrest’s name for Delmark (All the Gin Is Gone and Black Forrest). Green was the best known of the artists but the others had interesting careers including Graf who was a veteran of Woody Herman’s Band and having returned to St. Louis was recorded by Bob Koester for an album issued on Delmar (which would become Delmark). Sam Lazar took up organ after hearing Jimmy Smith, and was signed to Chess’ Argo subsidiary where he recorded three albums between 1960 and 1962, the first of which included Green and Williams. 

This live date was from Christmas, 1959 with the exception of one track from February, 1960, and is really nice album of straight-ahead organ jazz with Green and Graf shining. Graf’s playing illustrates why labels such as East Coast and West Coast sometimes are meaningless. Listening to the blues titled for this release as The Holy Barbarian Blues, I was struck by how much his playing reminded me of Dexter Gordon and Teddy Edwards while Green is sizzling with his driving single note runs. Lazar may have had limitations with his use of the bass pedal, but he really gets things greasy on this on which everyone takes a solo. This is a pretty hot blues performance that fades to an end.

Another bluesy performance taken at a medium tempo is Caramu (Blue Caribou), that Blumenthal speculates which gain opens with more bluesy tenor followed by Green who makes his initial statement and crafts his solo before Graf taking the lead out. Groovin‘ High, is one of the standards the group performed that night with Green displaying some of the musical imagination as well as chops that would lead to his greater recognition (By the end of 1960 he would begin his Blue Note association). Lazar’s Deep is another lengthy blues that is attacked by the group with considerable fervor. 

A driving rendition of Blue Train, includes some poetry from Pete Simpson who was also the MC that night which was included to illustrate the atmosphere of the club which presented poetry as well as music. Green is really strong here before Lazar takes the tempo down as Simpson delivers his poetry that Blumenthal observes“ is not likely to be included in any anthologies of twentieth-century verse.” Simpson is riffing on lines from lyrics in classic blues and American popular songs in his poetry, although few would disagree with Blumenthal's assessment of the poetry’s quality. 

Blue Train concludes nearly 70 minutes of what was a strong performance of blues and hard-bop organ jazz. It is another one of Uptown Records Flashback Series that also included an excellent Dexter Gordon in Montreal CD. The sound is quite good given the source material and the accompanying booklet is superb. This terrific release will be essential to fans of Grant Green and certainly one that fans of hard bop will certainly want to give a listen to.

I purchased this recording.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Kubek and King Do Some Roadhouse Research

After a number of well-regarded discs for Bullseye Blues, Smokin’ Joe Kubek and B'nois King have a new disc, Roadhouse Research, on Blind Pig. The Texas pair combine Kubek’s muscular guitar playing with King’s soulful singing (suggestive of a cool Otis Rush) and slightly jazzier fretwork and tasteful rhythm playing. The contrast of Kubek’s in-your-face guitar and King’s vocals make for an appealing combination. 

The ten originals include some typical lyrical themes about hard times, women and the philosophical Better Be Getting It On, a hot shuffle whereKing tells us the while life may seem like a mystery, one better can move on while Kubek taking a strong, blistering solo. It perhaps is unsettling to hear King’s slightly distorted vocals on the opening Healthy Mama while Kubek’s soloing on Crying Shame would not have sounded out-of-place on some psychedelic recordings three decades ago. 

Kubek pulls all the stops on the slow blues, Runnin’ Blind, before King sings about having his woman running through his mind, but moving way too fast. Make It Right has a nice latin groove and a bit laid back feel for King’s plea that all he needs is his woman to make it right. Adding to the album’s variety is Kubek’s forceful slide playing on I Need More. 

Kubek is such a strong player that he can avoid the excesses that otherwise could make his tone and frenetic fretwork come off as overbearing. He also maintains an ear out while King sings so he never overwhelms the soulful singing. The result here is a varied and entertaining blues recording.

This review originally appeared in the June 2003 DC Blues Calendar although I have made some minor changes from what originally appeared.  Here is the pair with some roadhouse Texas blues.