Thursday, October 31, 2013

Hank Mowery Account To Me

At first glance, Hank Mowery’s new recording Account To Me (Old Pal) might seem like a tribute to the late Gary Primich. The recording after all includes 5 songs written by Primich (2 of which were never previously recorded) and was produced with members of Primich’s family. Tad Robinson, himself a singer, songwriter and harmonica player like Primich and Mowery, calls it more of a collaboration between Mowery and Primich’s family. Adding to the collaborative character of this recording is the presence of bassist Patrick Recob from Primich’s band. Others on this include guitarist Troy Amaro, Chris Corey on keyboards, and John Large on drums and percussion. Jimmie Stager plays National steel guitar and sings on one track and Junior Valentine adds 2nd guitar to 3 selections.

Mowery certainly establishes himself with this recording as a singer, harmonica writer and songwriter with his rocking original Spend a Little Time, that kicks off this CD. Besides his strong, natural vocal and harp playing, Corey shines on piano and the Wurlitzer piano here. Account For Me is a previously unrecorded song that Primich penned and this soulful ballad has a bit of swamp pop feel. In addition to his heartfelt vocal he adds some very nice harp with Amaro taking a short solo full of bite. The rendition of Primich’s Put The Hammer Down is a nice cover of Primich’s original with tight, understated ensemble playing (with a neat repeated guitar figure) and is followed by a strong original slow blues from Mowery If I Knew What I Know which opens with him blasting on the harp. 

Memphis Slim and Matt Murphy’s Banana Oil is a nice latin-flavored instrumental with jazz flavoring that allows Corey (on organ), Amara and Mowery to shine during their sharply focused solos. Tricky Game sports a understated New Orleans groove that contrasts with the solid shuffle My Home, with the lyrics lamenting the absence of his woman’s love. In addition to the splendid playing by all, Mowery stands out with his relaxed, natural vocals. Bassist Recob ably handles the vocal on his original, Target, built on a blues vamp that goes back at least to Little Willie John. Amaro stands out with his solo as well as his tone as part of the atmospheric backing here. Mowery provides harp backing to Jimmie Stagger’s vocal and guitar on a nice cover of Robert Wilkins’ depression era recording, That’s No Way To Get Along, that closes “Account To Me.” The music on this may sound familiar as Wilkins, after he gave up blues, redid this song as The Prodigal Son, which was covered by the Rolling Stones. 

As noted, Account To Me is both a tribute to Gary Primich and a collaboration with Primich’s family. Mowery is himself a strong blues voice that is showcased on a most entertaining recording. This writer looks forward to hearing more form Mowery in the future.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release. Here is a clip of Hank Mowery performing

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ursula Ricks My Street

A presence on the Baltimore and Washington blues scenes for a couple decades, Ursula Ricks certainly sounds poised to break out on the National music scene with her new recording My Street (Severn Records) with blues, soul and more. Ricks brings her powerful, nuanced singing and her strong original songs here backed by Severn’s house rhythm section of Johnny Moeller (from The Fabulous Thunderbirds) on guitar; Kevin Anker on keyboards; Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. A number of selections feature horns and/or strings arranged and conducted by the legendary Willie Henderson with DC jazz stalwarts Kenny Rittenhouse, Reginald Cyntje and Leigh Pilzer among those heard. There are also guest appearances from Kim Wilson and Mike Welch. Someone commented to me, with the Severn house band even he or I would sound good. Well I don't think anything would make me sound good, but his point about the quality of the backing is well spoken.

As for Ursula Ricks, her smoky and husky vocals are outstanding. Her controlled, unforced delivery stands out in a manner akin to Nina Simone. She never bellows, screams or sounds constipated. Rather she evokes classic sixties soul recordings by the like of Carol Fran or Betty Everett. Not only does she she deliver the goods vocally, but she wrote some wonderful new blues and soul songs starting with Tobacco Road. This is not the John D. Loudermilk song, but an original about traveling from West Virginia to New Orleans with the chitlin' circuit working her heart. It is set against a swampy, smoldering backing and also Kim Wilson takes a tough harmonica solo. This same, tough yet understated backing also provides a foundation for her funky rendition of a lesser known Bobby Rush number Mary Jane, with its anti-drug message. Sweet Tenderness, with its strings in the backing evokes Barry White's recordings while another number with strings, her Due, is an excellent soul-blues in the manner of classic Hi Records. 

The title track, My Street provides a gritty description of contemporary urban life as Ms. Ricks moans that all she knows is she has to move away. The level of the rest of My Street is of a similar level. The songs and her vocals ring with conviction and the backing is excellent on a superb recording that will hopefully enable Ms. Ricks to receive the recognition and rewards her talent and music deserves. 

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Ursula in performance. 

Monday, October 28, 2013

James Booker's Classified: Remixed And Expanded

James Carroll Booker, that genius of New Orleans piano tradition, passed some 30 years ago on November 8, 1983, several months after Rounder issued his final studio recording Classified. Rounder has just issued an expanded version Classified: Remixed And Expanded to celebrate the Thirtieth Anniversary of the original release of along with a documentary about Booker, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker. This new expanded Classified adds alternate takes and previously unissued recordings from the October 1982 sessions that produced the original LP.

Booker is a revered figure in the history of New Orleans music who incorporated the inventions of Professor Longhair into his repertoire that ranged from boogie blues, New Orleans R&B, jazz and classical. His legacy as a pianist, vocalist and songwriter shines even brighter three decades later. His influence is heard in such performers as Dr. John, Harry Connick Jr., Tom McDermott, John BouttĂ© and Henry Butler. Booker played on a number of studio recordings in addition to ones he made under his own name (he is on keyboards on Freddie King’s Cotillion Recordings for example). In the booklet accompanying this reissue we get Scott Billington’s essay in addition to Bunny Matthews original 1983 notes. Billington’s essay provides this overview and cites a number of those who might be called Booker’s musical children.

To use a term associated with Duke Ellington, Booker was “Beyond Category.” The depth of his repertoire is suggested by the performances here including the opening signature title tune that opens this compilation which opens with some nice solo playing before joined by a small backing trio that included legendary tenor saxophonist, Alvin ‘Red’ Tyler. The contents of this include a Professor Longhair medley, two takes on Lloyd Price’s Lawdy Miss Clawdy (one of which is solo), Warsaw Concerto (which explains why he was sometimes called the Bronze Liberace and along with Madame X displays how accomplished he was a s pianist of classical music), a medley of Tico Tico / Papa Was a Rascal / So Swell When You're Well, (and this last number was one Aretha recorded), his solo piano reworking of Little Willie John’s Hit All Around the World, a manic vocal on King of the Road, the classic Art Neville ballad, All the Things You Are, and “Yes Sir, That's My Baby,” the one selection on which he plays the organ (with the sounding like he is playing a calliope for a carousel). This last track is one of the several with Red Tyler’s saxophone. Among these selections, a highlight is the Fats Domino flavored, One For the Highway, again with Red Tyler taking a choice tenor solo.

Thirty years after being originally released, Classified remains as a cornerstone of James Booker’s recorded legacy. His genius is well served by this well thought out and expanded reissue.

I received my review copy from Rounder Records. Here is a trailer for the film documentary, Bayou Maharajah: The Tragic Genius of James Booker.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Dave Riley and Bob Corritore - Hush Your Fuss!

Mississippi born guitarist Dave Riley and harmonica wizard Bob Corritore have just issued their third CD, the traditionally rooted Hush Your Fuss! (SWMAF Records/ VizzTone). Some duo sides, such as the opening title track based on some old traditional gospel themes, are mixed with some Delta to Chicago styled juke joint blues with Dave ‘Yahni’ Riley, Jr., on bass and Brian Fahey.

There is nothing fancy here such as the easy rocking shuffle Baby Please Come Home, with Riley pleading for her to return where she belongs with some nice harmonica. No Cussin’ has an usual lyric where out Dave singing about finding he was cussing folks too much and he made up that no more cussing for him set against a low-key chugging rhythm with some fine harmonica. 

John Weston’s Snuff Dippin’ Woman, with Corritore on chromatic harmonica, is a moody slow blues about a woman with snuff juice running down her chin. In addition to the strong harp, Riley’s guitar is spot on here. It is the CD’s longest performance and only one of two songs not composed by Riley or Corritore. Gloria Bailey adds organ on Harvey Watkins’ Mississippi Po Boy, where Riley sings about not having much money but he is still so glad the Lord has been good to him. 

Home in Chicago is a shuffle with a theme that one can take Dave out of the Country but can’t take the country out of Dave. It is followed by Dave’s tale of a Hard Headed Woman who acts like she don’t care about him. This gentle rocker is set against a backing that sounds like it was derived from Junior Parker’s Mystery Train It is perhaps not the most striking lyric, but an amiable performance that is typical of most of this recording.

“Hush Your Fuss!” is a solid, amiable recording of blues without any frills with no blues-rock trappings. The songs may be standard blues fare, but they are sung and played with heart and humor. 

I received my review copy from VizzTone. I previously reviewed back in September, 2009 Riley & Corritore's Lucky to Be Living.  Here is a clip of the two performing together

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Johnny Rawls Remembers O.V. Wright

It has been a number of years since the legendary O.V. Wright passed on. Johnny Rawls was Wright’s music director and guitarist in the 1970s and kept the band together after his mentor passed in 1980 for over a decade. Since establishing his own career as a performer and a producer, Rawls has emerged as one of the few acts able to bridge the southern soul blues and traditional blues worlds with his mix of soulful originals and has on occasion recorded some of Wight’s classic deep soul classics. 

It was the urging of Bill Wax, then the blues program director at XM-Sirius Satellite Radio, that has led to a tribute album, Remembering O.V. on Catfood Records with his interpretations of some of the core of Wright’s recorded legacy. On this, Rawls is backed by The Rays, the Texas horn-filled R&B band led by Bob Trenchard that has been part of Rawls most recent recordings. As a bonus, three of these selections also have the presence of another Wright colleague and one of the great deep soul singers of the past couple decades, Otis Clay.

While heavily influenced by Wright, Rawls’ performances of these songs avoid being copies. Rawls and Clay both have similar church roots to Wright, but each has developed their own personal and identifiable approach. This is manifested in the passionate interpretations of Wright classics as Into Something (I Can't Shake Loose), Precious Precious, Blind, Crippled, Crazy, Nickel and A Nail, Eight Men, Four Women, and Ace of Spades. Rawls sings strongly and authority on these Wright classics. He exhibits perhaps a bit more heat in his vocals than he usually exhibits and the backing provided by The Rays is strong throughout. A backing vocal trio, The Iveys also is effectively employed. Clay makes his presence felt on the three songs he is heard on.

The album closes with a Rawls’ original Blaze of Glory in which Rawls and Clay both sing about Wright’s continuing influence and while he is gone they are going to continue in his path until they too are gone. Remembering O.V. is a first-rate salute to one of the great soul music icons that stands on its own. Incidentally, Poor Boy is the fourth track while Nickel and A Nail is the fifth track. The album cover transposes their order.

I received my review copy from the record company or a publicist. Here is a video of Johnny singing O.V. Wright's "You're Gonna Make Me Cry," which is not performed on this CD.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Toronzo Cannon's John the Conquer Root

On his Facebook page Toronzo Cannon describes himself as the “Keeper of the Flame at Electric Ladyland” and that he “Studied Jim Hendrix studies at Electric Ladyland.” His admiration of the genre transcending genius can also be found in interviews with him including the liner notes to his new Delmark album, John the Conquer Root. Hendrix’s influence is more to be felt than heard in Cannon’s music, especially to the title track which opens this recording and the short revisiting of the theme to close it. But unlike the countless Hendrix wannabes, Cannon doesn’t emulate Hendrix’s guitar style in his own ferocious playing. It is more the attitude he projects and the hard rock feel of this number.

However, Hendrix is only one of the influences or inspirations that can be heard here as the next track, I’ve Been Doing Fine, a hard Chicago shuffle with searing guitar as he shouts to his woman to reconsider baby. Its a type of performance that Son Seals used to deliver and Cannon sings and plays with a similar authority, although Cannon has more of a soul-laced vocal attack. This soulfulness also is heard on the next track, Cold World, a funky soul-blues with a bit of Tyrone Davis and Otis Clay. It sports a terrific tenor sax solo from Dudley Owens. 

In Gentle Reminder, Cannon reminds us he is a bluesman through and through, but don’t expect him to play the blues as the blues has to move on, this ain’t 1952 as he sings and plays fervently. If Your Woman Enough To Leave Me has a funky groove that also suggests some of the late Son Seals recordings. It is followed by Shame, with a nice Latin groove and a terrific lyric about ministers stealing from the poor, an employer who hires a nephew over more qualified, and dirty politicians who get caught in their lies. There are solos from Omar Coleman on harmonica, Roosevelt Purifoy on piano and Cannon himself that standout on this as well.

Cannon does a wonderful folk duet with Joanna Connor on Let It Shine Always, that further illustrates the range of the material on John the Conquer Root. Few other blues performers today can handle such a variety of material and play it so authoritatively. Of course one needs to acknowledge his band that includes the afore-mentioned Purifoy, rhythm guitarist Larry Gladney, Larry Williams on bass and Brian ‘BJ’ Jones on drums with appearances from Omar Coleman, Joanna Connor and a horn section led by Kenny Anderson. 

A few selections find Cannon rocking out perhaps a bit too much for ‘my taste,’ including the title track and Sweet, Sweet, Sweet, a slide-guitar feature that is played at a frenzied warp-speed tempo. That does not change my appreciation of Toronzo Cannon and John The Conquer Root. Toronzo Cannon still drives a bus in Chicago and gets to observe many things. From this and his own life experiences, he writes wonderful, thoughtful songs; and plays and sings from the heart which result in performances are full of personality. A listener cannot expect more from a musician than one hears on this striking recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a clip of Toronzo Cannon in performance at the famous Chicago club, Rosa's.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

RIP Butch Warren

Just heard that Edward 'Butch' Warren passed away. A legendary bassist he was brought by Kenny Dorham from DC to NY and for several years was part of the house rhythm section with Sonny Clark and Billy Higgins. He played on so many classic Blue Note albums by Joe Henderson, Herbie Hancock, Dexter Gordon, Herbie Hancock and was Monk's bassist in the Mid-1960s. He will most certainly be missed.

The Washington Post had a wonderful appreciation on him a few weeks ago,

And here is the Washington Post obituary.

He is pictured above with Freddie Redd.  Here is a clip of him with Monk in 1963.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet Bring Heavy Artillery

Fans of swing guitar (including for my blues loving friends some of Duke Robillard’s recent swing guitar efforts) will be delighted with Heavy Artillery, by the Howard Alden/Andy Brown Quartet (Delmark). I am more familiar with Alden, a member of George Wein’s Newport All Stars, than the Chicago-based Brown, but both are terrific swing-rooted guitarists who display nimble, fleet fretwork matched to a keen musical intelligence. Additionally, they exhibit considerable empathy in supporting each other whether chording behind the other’s solos, trading fours or jointly stating the theme of a song, 

They take us from the opening “Louisiana” to the boppish Chuckles (from Clark Terry’s pen), down to Brazil on VocĂ© E Eu, and Brigas Nunca Mais, and to Paris for Django Reinhardt’s number that provides the recording with its title. Alden returns to a song associated with Louis Armstrong, Don Redman’s No One Else But You, that he used to perform with Rudy Braff. In addition to the two marvelous Bossa Nova performances, Thad Jones’ “Three and One,” showcase their ability to interpret amore modern jazz compositions with the same swinging approach (bassist Joe Policastro and drummer Bob Rummage take brief solos here).

With supple backing from Policastro and Rummage, Alden and Brown enchant throughout Heavy Artillery with fleet and lyrical playing. This is a marvelous recording.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here are the two in performance.

Wednesday, October 02, 2013

George Mitchell's 1967 Trip to the Mississippi Hill Country

George Mitchell
Mississippi Hill Country Blues 1967
University Press of Mississippi

In the Summer of 1967, George Mitchell made a trip to Mississippi looking for unrecorded blues singers. The trip was a historic one that indicated that there were a number of down home blues artists of considerable talent still performing older styles of blues at a very high level. These were not the first recordings Mitchell had made, but in providing the initial recordings of R.L. Burnside as well as rediscovering Joe Calicott, who had recorded over 45 years earlier, Mitchell’s recordings were revelatory. Arhoolie issued two albums from Mitchell's recordings under the title Mississippi Delta Blues, although the recordings today are thought of as Mississippi Hill Country Blues, the rubric applied today to the music of Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, Jesse Mae Hemphill and others. The trip also was the source for Mitchell’s classic book Blow My Blues Away.

In addition to documenting the music, through his camera Mitchell photographed these performers at home and with members of their families and community. The University Press of Mississippi has just published a terrific new book by Mitchell, Mississippi Hill Country Blues 1967 that reproduces many wonderful photographs that Mitchell took along with his recollections from that trip and interviews with a number of the performers he met including Burnside, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Rosa Lee Hill and Otha Turner. 

The pictures and words help us enter a world of house parties and picnics as we witness Johnny Woods on harmonica joining with Mississippi Fred McDowell. Mitchell was amazed by the fact they had not seen each other in 8 years when this happened. Then Mitchell recounts recording Calicott, who had made a few 78s with Garfield Acres and one under his own name, and a trip to one of the Hill Country picnics in a chapter titled Ain’t No Picnic If You Ain’t Got No Drums. R.L. Burnside is pictured playing guitar with a son or sons standing behind him. There are images of Joe Calicott playing his guitar on a porch and Fred McDowell reaching over Otha Turner to play the guitar Otha is holding and several pictures of Rosa Lee Hill that show the joy she exhibited despite the poverty she lived under.

An interview with Otha Turner provides backdrop for the Fife and Drum band traditions, but Turner turns out to be a fair guitarist himself. Turner is not the only representative of this tradition as several images feature Napoleon Strickland, who was fairly renown as a fife player. There are interviews with Jesse Mae Hemphill (Brooks), Rosa Lee Hill and Ada Mae Anderson, all of whom were related to the legendary Sid Hemphill who Alan Lomax recorded for the Library of Congress in the early 1940s. In addition to providing insight to their lives and the conditions they lived under, they also provided information on this great Hill Country legend  Jesse Mae Hemphill is the best known of the the three with her marvelous recordings, but like Mitchell himself, one is particularly taken with Rosa Lee Hill who as Mitchell says could stand as an inspiration for all. She was poor as anyone could be and lived in the middle of no where but was one of Mitchell's favorite persons, “That someone that poor could be that spirited and that full of life. …” Mississippi Hill  Country Blues 1967 is dedicated to her. 

Brief biographies presented at the end of this book all provide brief comments of what happened to the subjects after 1967 and a consideration of the legacy of these artists. Even if viewed solely as a coffee table book of blues photography (and the holidays are coming up) this book is easy to recommend. Inclusion of Mitchell’s recollections and interviews which help us understand the world of these performers, make this essential for blues lovers. 

I purchased this book. Some of MItchell's recordings from this trip have been reissued on Arhoolie CDs, while others are available in the Fat Possum box set, The George Mitchell CollectionHere is a link to the University Press of Mississippi blog that was posted before this book was published. It contains some sample photos.