Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Billy Branch Blues Shock

It has been years since Billy Branch’s last recording, a Japanese CD shared with guitarist Carlos Johnson, a decade ago. Thankfully Blind Pig has issued a new release by Branch and the Sons of the Blues, “Blues Shock,” that is a thoroughly entertaining, wonderfully played recording that showcases Branch’s heartfelt singing and songwriting on an imaginative, varied program. He is joined by Dan Carelli on guitar, Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi on keyboards, Nick Charles on bass and Moses Rutles Jr. on drums (and one vocal). Ronnie Baker Brooks guests on one track on guitar and vocal and the Chicago Horns led by Bill McFarland add punch to three tracks.

There is plenty of funk, down home groves and stellar musicianship. The CD opens with “Sons of the Blues” penned by Branch and poet Sterling Plumpp, on which Branch sings “some people don’t know my name because all they got is a very weak game, I am the son of the blues (2x).” Set against a strutting funk groove Branch lets us know he “is the man who makes the news” before blasting off a fiery harp solo set against the punchy horns. It’s followed by Branch picking up the chromatic for a terrific cover of “Crazy Mixed Up World,” which would make up Little Walter smile, especially his solo and special note should be made of the contributions Carelli and Ariyoshi provide with their fills in supporting the lead.

The title track is a punchy number built over Carelli’s slide guitar riff with the horns with Branch singing about a feeling coming over, it ain’t pneumonia or the flu, but its a crazy, funky feeling one can’t shake, the “Blues Shock.” It’s followed by the amusing “Dog House” as Branch and Brooks sing sleeping on the couch and the spouse leaving kibbles and bits for dinner. After this wonderfully paced performance, there is a straight cover of Shorty Long’s early Motown groover, “Function at the Junction” followed by the disc’s most remarkable performance, “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time,” about Gerri Olivier who owned the legendary Palm Tavern in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for about 50 years. The Palm was a legendary place near the Regal Theatre and Branch recounts her coming from Jackson, Mississippi as part of the Great Migration and celebrates the Palm and the many legends who performed there before the Palm was torn down a few years back. There is a definite country-soul flavor to this remarkable performance that serves as a tribute to a remarkable lady.

Ariyoshi contributed the instrumental “Back Alley Cat” which allows Branch to showcase his harp set against Ariyoshi’s rolling piano. A rousing boogie rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is followed by Moses Rutles Jr.’s amusing vocal on”Slow Moe” highlighted by Rutles almost stuttering vocal and effective use of stop time by the band. Branch’s lyric about Slow Moe taking his time, as well as being built to last is supported by some superb harp in his backing. “Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn” is a burning shuttle with an amusing lyric (I’ll keep on churning till that butter comes”) and rollicking piano and harmonica solos.

An instrumental “Song For My Mother” closes this recording exhibiting his marvelous tone as well as his construction of his solo. It concludes one of the most stimulating recent blues recordings. “Blues Shock” mixes a variety of material and moods and will make one laugh as well as listen to Branch’s storytelling here along with some stunning musicianship.

I received my review copy from Blind Pig Records. Here is a video of "Blues Shock.

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