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.

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