Thursday, September 19, 2013

Bryan Lee Play One For Me

I remember discovering Bryan Lee in the late 1980s at the Old Absinthe Bar during my first visit to New Orleans. With the sideshow that marked (and still marks) Bourbon Street, discovering Lee's straight, no chaser blues was a real joy. I picked up his self-produced vinyl lp at the time and it was a solid souvenir of the music I heard that evening.Since discovering Lee, I have been pleased to see him again on several later visits to New Orleans and at some music festivals as well as his body of recordings, mostly for a Canadian label. 

David Earl's Severn label has just issued a new CD by the Blind Giant of the Blues, Play One For Me. On it Lee is supported by, amongst others, Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Johnny Moeller on rhythm guitar; Kevin Anker on keyboards; Steve Gomes on bass; Robb Stupka on drums with Kim Wilson adding harmonica to a few tracks. Also the great Willie Henderson has arranged and conducted strings and horns on several tracks with some of the Washington, DC area's finest players including trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse, baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer and trombonist Reginald Cyntje. 

As expected with Severn, the production and recording are first-rate, and the result is a fresh take on Bryan lee and his music. There is plenty of his guitar to be heard here, but it is with his vocals that he really shines as he sings so soulfully. The album opens with his take on Aretha (Sing One For Me), a hit for George Jackson and includes wonderful renditions of Freddie King's It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough), Little Sonny's When Love Begins (Friendship Ends), that was a hot for Bobby Womack, and Lee's soulful original Let Me Love You Tonight.

Lee's take on the Womack recording undoubtedly will be a surprise for some of Lee's family with his fine soulful singing and Albert King-laced guitar backed by Henderon's uptown strings and horns that musically is on par with some of today's best soul-blues recordings. Lee's "Let Me Love You Tonight is a terrific soul-blues performance that has an infectious groove that should get dancers up and on the floor. For a bit of more of a down-home feel there is a nice rendition of Howling Wolf's recording, Evil Is Going On, and the down home flavored original Poison. Kim Wilson adds his harmonica to both selections.

In its mix of straight blues with southern soul-blues, this recording provides a change from Lee's prior recordings that perhaps focused more him as a solid singer and guitar slinger. While there is plenty of fine guitar here, this particular recording displays just how exceptional a singer Bryan Lee is. He is that good here and Play One For Me is that good a recording.

I received my review copy from Severn Records. Here is a clip of Bryan Lee performing.

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