Tuesday, February 25, 2014

John & Sylvia Embry - Troubles

The release of a long out-of-print album by the late John & Sylvia Embry, Troubles on Delmark, is an occasion for blues fans to rejoice. The album by the two (who had divorced when they recorded it) was originally titled After Hours when issued on Razor Records and the present release also includes a 45 by Johnny I Love the Woman and Johnny’s Bounce (which are the last two tracks here) along with previously unissued tracks (tracks 8-12). Embry was working at Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge, Theresa’s and other clubs, sometimes with Sylvia, who was a regular member of Lefty Dizz’s Band (playing bass) at the time. Others on these recordings include Riler Robinson on guitar and vocals, and drummer Woody Williams on drums and second vocals.

The result is some raw Chicago blues mixing Sylvia’s gospel-rooted vocals and Embry’s direct, searing guitar. The songs are straight-ahead blues best exemplified by Sylvia’s crying shout on the title track as he forcefully delivers a line about being accused of murder “but God knows I don’t even have a gun.” This raw blues is simply played. Like the late Son Seals, there is no artifice or emoting. Sylvia Embry sings her heart out while John Embry’s guitar compliments the pain expressed by her vocals.

There is a nice mix of material including the opening medium tempoed shuffle I Wonder Why; a cover of Brook Benton’s Lie To Me, with Sylvia showing a bit more subdued attack; and I’m Hurtin’ with Embry’s nice Dust My Broom slide guitar backing. Woody Williams trades vocals and raps on a soulful medley of The Falcons’ I Found a Love with Jerry Butler’s Rainbow, as John Embry adds responsive fills. The Jimmy Reed classic, Going To New York, is taken at a brisker tempo than the original with a nice driving solo. It is followed by a solid rendition of Mustang Sally with Williams taking the vocal initially before Sylvia delivers the chorus before John Embry takes a sharp guitar break. This is far from the hackneyed renditions of this song one usually hears three decades later.

Among the previously unissued songs, Sylvia’s Gonna Find My Baby is a strong original blues while Early Time Blues is a raucous reworking of Junior Parker’s Mother-in-Law Blues and Razor Sharp is a hot instrumental shuffle feature. The spirited rendition of Roosevelt Sykes’ Keep Your Hands Off Her,” with Sylvia and Williams splitting the vocal, is evocative of Got My Mojo Working. After Work is a fine atmospheric instrumental followed by a strong vocal and playing by Riler Robinson of Worry Worry. These two performances were location recordings.

Why John Embry stands out throughout as a strong guitarist, and displays much fervor on his rendition of Freddie King’s I Love The Woman. Listening to this selection and the rest of this release, one can imagine a somewhat smoke-filled club where John and Sylvia Embry laid down the blues in the same forthright fashion as heard on this most welcome reissue.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a taste of this recording.

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