Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Taking the Blues Time Machine to April 1977

This is my blues column from the April 1977 Buffalo Jazz Report which had the great Roy Haynes  on the cover. My column was relatively lengthy, and included a Blues On EP segment which I will post next week. have noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Note that Southern Record sales from which I obtained some releases no longer exists, and of course Living Blues is no longer published in Chicago. Many of the recordings I reviewed are not easily found these days. Also the scheduled Jimmy Dawkins' performances mentioned did not happen as Jimmy was fed up with the music scene at the time. Big Joe Turner and Lloyd Glenn were replacements. I have corrected typos and spelling errors in the original review.

After a month that brought Muddy Waters, Bobby Bland and B.B. King legendary blues artist, Robert Jr. Lockwood, will be appearing at.the University of Buffalo Folk Festival Friday evening, Ap i I 15. (The festival runs through Sunday the 17th). Lockwood, the stepson of Mississippi bluesman Robert Johnson has played and recorded with many of the greats such as Sonny Boy WiIIiamson (with whom he appeared on the famous King Biscuit Time radio program in the early 1940s), Little Walter, Muddy Waters, Eddie Boyd, Willie Mabon, Otis Spann and Roosevelt Sykes. One of the blues finest guitarists, his fluid chord-work should also appeal to jazz enthusiasts. He has influenced many other guitarists including B.B. King and the late Freddie King.

A number of new albums came my way this month documenting the less well known of America's folk traditions. Queen Ida and the Bon Temps Band is heard on Zydeco (GNP Crescendo GNPS 2101) a fine collection of musical gumbo. Queen Ida is the only zydeco artist to have an album other than Clifton Chenier. Playing a push-pull diatonic accordion (as opposed to a piano accordion) behind her brother AI Lewis' guitar and vocals, a set of very relaxed enjoyable music results. The music is more traditional cajun though about half the album is in a bluesy frame. Very infectious.

Live recordings document blues from Fort Worth/Dallas and Saint Louis. Robert Ealey and His Five Careless Lovers Live at the New Blue Bird Nite Club is an infectious and rock-ing set recorded in Fort Worth (Blue Royal BR 300) as singer Ealey, tough keyboard player Good Rocking Ralph and a mostly young white band go through a series of blues and boogie. Highlights include a nice Sweet Sixteen, Black Night and a hot Further on Up the Road. Good party music.

Clayton Love, once pianist for Ike Turner, turns in a bluesy, if somewhat short, set, Mississippi Music, Mud & Misery (Flash Back Records), recorded at the Carousel in St. Louis. Love, a very mellow singer and strong pianist, plays as producer Sid Wallace raps for over seven minutes about Mississippi and the blues and the various people from there (emphasizing his (Sid Wallace's) home town of Tunica. This goes into a nice rocking blues Big Question. A fast Worried Life Blues opens the second side which also includes a really nice St. Louis Blues and a nice treatment of Tore Up, an Ike Turner song that Otis Rush has also recorded. Key to the Highway closes with some harp backing. The only reservation of this album is the playing time, as the music is fine.

Barrelhouse Records has a small catalog of blues and rockabilly records. Of the three latest releases one is a sure winner, the other two are plagued by some recording problems. Bring Me Another Half a Pint (BH 09) features some of the lesser known Chicago harp players. Drummer Kansas City Red is heard with harpist Nate Armstrong to fine advantage on Money Tree and sounds like Robert Jr. Lockwood on Lockwood's tune Mean Black Spider. Nate Armstrong's Red Light Boogie is a fine chromatic harp feature. Easy Baby has gentle vocal and strong harp on his Good Morning Mr. Blues. Sonny Boy McGhee turns in two strong performances, sounding very much. like his mentor John Lee WiIIiamson. Earl Payton's tracks are pleasant but recorded when he had a broken arm and don't allow him to show his ability. Billy Branch turns in an assured vocal on Hootchie Kootchie Man and brilliant harp work recalling Walter Horton. Billy currently travels with Willie Dixon and is a name to remember. Steve Wisner recorded these sides and the sound is good. Special note must be made of Walter 'Big Red' Smith's guitar work. Steve also produced the fine Good Rockin' Charles album on his own Mr. Blues label.

George Paulus own productions for his label, Blind Joe Hill's Boogie in the Dark (BH-08) and Joe.Carter's Mean and Evil Blues (BH-07) feature what is interesting music, but the vocals of both are poorly recorded making it difficult to estimate their abilities as vocalists. Blind Joe Hill, a one-man band from Akron, Ohio is less affected as his abilities in the Jimmy Reed mode are well preserved. Through a wide range of material, Boogie in the Dark, Tin Pan Alley, Hideaway, Manish Boy, Sweet Home Chicago and She Gotta Go, he proves adept on harp guitar and keeps the beat with bass drum and high hat cymbal. As Tim Schuller's liner notes claim, Joe Hill is an artist of 'incredible singularity'!

Joe Carter is a fine slide guitarist who can recall both early Muddy Waters and Elmore James: With just Big Red's second guitar and drummer Johnny Junious he produces rocking music. I can't make any judgment on his singing because of its distorted character, though on the Elmore James tunes I'm Worried, It Hurts Me Too, Shake Your Moneymaker and Dust My Broom a certain enthusiasm is apparent. A nice treatment of Robert Jr. Lockwood's Take a Little Walk With Me is also included. Only one tune.really falls apart and that is Muddy's Blow Wind Blow. Despite its flaws an enjoyable set that makes one wish more care had been shown to the details. If George Paulus is trying to get a down home sound, he perhaps succeeded too much.

I have seen the Queen Ida in local stores, the others I ordered from Living Blues, 2615 N. Wilton Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60614, (Southern Record Sales, 42 North Lake Ave.. Pasadena, Calif. 91101 can also supply). The new Living Blues should be available when you read this and includes an obituary article on Freddie King (with interviews) and big feature on Son House; Willie Dixon currently has a column and extensive reviews and news is also included. Single copies now cost $1.00 and a six issue (1 year) subscription runs $5.50. Serious blues fans should check it out if you haven't already.
Finally, WBFO will be bringing in Jimmy Dawkins to the Tralfamadore Cafe the last weekend in May (May 27-29). Jimmy is the most original guitarist to emerge in the blues in the past 10 years and will be bringing some tough West Side Chicago Blues to Buffalo. More details next month.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Jim Byrnes St. Louis Times

While living in Canada for a number of years, Jim Byrnes grew up in St. Louis, Missouri and his new CD, St. Louis Times (Black Hen) is a salute to the blues music and artists who influenced him during his youth and adulthood. Subtitled Songs From and About St. Louis, this recording provides his take on music from such St. Louis icons as Chuck Berry, Albert King, Little Milton and “Stump” Johnson, as well as the likes of Lonnie Johnson and W.C. Handy, and several originals by Byrnes and producer Steve Dawson. In addition to the vocals and guitar of Byrnes and Dawson’s guitar, Dawson brought together a rhythm section of Daryl Havers on keyboards, Jeremy Holmes on bass and Geoff Hicks on drums. John Hammond ( a long-time friend of Byrnes) guests on four selections adding harmonica to three selections, slide guitar to one and shares a vocal on one, while Colleen Rennison shares the vocal on one selection.

The material includes songs associated with Albert King, Little Milton, Fontella Bass and Bobby McClure, Chuck Berry, W.C. Handy, Peetie Wheatstraw and Lonnie Johnson along with four Byrnes / Dawson originals with the performances ranging from pretty straight renditions of Albert King’s I Get Evil and the Bass/McClure You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone), to the traditional jazz inflections added to James ‘Stump’ Johnson’s The Duck Yas Yas Yas, St. Louis Blues, and Wheatstraw’s recording of Cake Alley. Dawson’s use of pedal steel adds an usual flavor to the cover of Chuck Berry’s Nadine, while Little Milton’s That Will Never Do is rendered in a somewhat austere stripped down setting.

Byrnes’ grainy vocals appeal with their sincerity and natural, thick molasses delivery helped by the understated backing from the rhythm section. He delivers the lyrics in an unforced matter, often with a bit of humor as on his duet with Hammond on The Duck Yas Yas Yas, with some nice clarinet from Jim Hoke and trumpet by Steve Herrman. He displays the most urgency on the duet with Rennison on You’ll Miss Me (When I’m Gone), while indicating a touch of Peetie Wheatstraw’s on Cake Alley where he employs the Devil’s Son-In-Law’s “oh well well” vocal embellishment. Tom Colclough plays the fine the clarinet on Handy’s famous St. Louis Blues, along with Dawson’s fine National slide guitar to support Byrnes of-the-beat vocal. The originals are solid tunes with The Journey Home being exceptional with recollections of the Mississippi, listening to the Dodgers and the Cardinals over the radio, and the Illinois Central trains with Dawson’s telling guitar responses to the latter.

An affectionate salute to his home town, Jim Byrnes St. Louis Times delights with his heartfelt, and fresh, renditions of some vintage blues and originals The varied settings add to the listening enjoyment of the amiable performances on this engaging CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here Jim Byrnes in is recent performance doing St. Louis Blues.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Holmes Brothers Brotherhood

The Holmes Brothers, Wendell, bassist/songwriter/vocalist, Sherman Holmes and drummer/vocalist and brother-in-spirit Popsy Dixon, have a new Alligator album Brotherhood. It is the 5th for the label and 11th overall since they had their first Rounder album in 1991. Since the days at Dan Lynch’s in New York City, the trio have been spinning a mix of blues, soul and gospel for thirty-five years with an ever increasing fan base.

Brotherhood opens with Wendell’s original Stayed At The Party, a secular gospel number with Wendell’s lyrics very telling about he would not have done some wild things when younger if he knew he would live so long. It bookends the performances on this CD with the Brothers fervent rendition of Amazing Grace that closes this CD. There are many performances to savor including the wonderful harmonies on Ted Hawkins’ I Gave Up All I Had, and the cover of a Earl Hooker recording of Ike Turner’s You Got To Loose, with Glenn Patscha on Wurlitzer piano echoing Big Moose Walker’s piano on Hooker’s late sixties recording. There is a terrific sax solo (from John Ellis) on this and nice use of backing vocals.

The soulful country-tinged lament, Loving You From Afar, is a marvelous duet between Wendell and daughter Felicia. The jaunty shuffle My Word Is My Bond has a terrific vocal from Wendell and nice guitar, while Sherman is featured on Drivin' In The Drivin' Rain, where he wants get back to his woman’s arms. Popsy provides the soulful rendition of William Bell’s My Kind of Girl. There is much more to enjoy about this.

One must acknowledge producers, Glenn Patscha, Chris Bruce, and Hector Castillo who helped produce another excellent blues and roots stew by The Holmes Brothers. Alligator Records, on its web page devoted to the trio, correctly state that “The Holmes Brothers …are true treasures of American roots music.” Brotherhood is yet another treasure by them.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here is a video of The Holmes Brothers in performance.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers EponymouslyTitled CD

Unfamiliar with Lincoln Nebraska’s Josh Hoyer and the Shadowboxers, their self-titled and self-produced recording left a definite impression from the first note. Led by vocalist, keyboardist and baritone saxophonist Hoyer, the band includes Benny Kushner on guitar and vocals, Justin G. Jones on drums, latin percussion and vocals, Brian Morrow on bass and vocals, Tommy Van Der Berg on trombone and Mike Dee on tenor sax with a trio of backing vocalists for a collection of soul and funk with some blues accents.

Hoyer himself is a big voiced soulful singer who might be compared to New Orleans blues-eyed soul blues boss, Luther Kent. He sings powerfully with a similar authority to Kent, although the program here are all his originals. Hoyer and the Shadowboxers are a terrific band evident from the opening Shadowboxer with the band hitting a deep groove and coming off like a contemporary New Orleans funk band. The horns (with trumpeter Russell Zimmer added on this track) come off as tight and full of punch while the rhythm section gets a deep soulful groove down.

Hoyer has cast a marvelous web with his use of overdubbing allow him to play some greasy organ and add bottom to the horns with his baritone sax while crafting the vocals (and backing vocals) into driving, stone solid soulful performances. The crisply played Close Your Eyes has a more mellow feel to it with its gritty lyrics about people scrambling to try to find what they are looking for. His horn arrangements frame the vocals and he even takes a gutty baritone break before some bluesy guitar runs from Kushner. Illusion gets back to the funk with its topical message about many everyday things being an illusion and things not being what they seem and living in strange times, before Van Der Berg’s strong trombone solo.

The remainder of the eight tracks are equally performed strongly. Its a varied set of performances that show influences from Memphis, Chicago (think Tyrone Davis) and New Orleans, but put together for this very impressive release. Josh Hoyer is a first-rate vocalist and the Shadowboxers are soulful and funky. Based on their terrific release, I can see them performing much more often outside of their Lincoln, Nebraska base.

I received my review copy from a publicist. You might check out their website, http://joshhoyerandtheshadowboxers.com, for more information. Here is a video of them in performance.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Gloria Estefan Sings The Standards

Gloria Estefan certainly is among the best known vocalists in the world today ever since her days fronting the Miami Sound Machine. Sony Masterworks issued at the end of 2013, The Standards, a celebration of the American Songbook and more as it international song classics sung in English, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and French, some with new lyrics written by Estefan backed by a big band or a full orchestra with arrangements from Shelley Berg.

One can’t fault her singing of such timeless songs as Good Morning Heartache or They Can’t Take That Away From Me, nor find much to criticize in the full, often lush backing, although her singing is more in the vein of a pop singer (or a torch singer). Certainly she won’t make anyone forget Billie Holiday with the opening song, no matter how good it is. It is a matter of taste and musical preference for this listener, but this one wished she was less formal in her delivery, although her rendition of I’ve Grown Accustomed To His Face is quite lovely with nice acoustic guitar and a lighter accompaniment.

Hearing her sing a less familiar song as Jobim & de Moraes’ Eu Sei Que Vou Te Amar, sung in Portuguese, has the advantage of one not being able to compare it with iconic recordings of the song. Joshua Bell provides the violin solo on the romantic The Day You Say You Love Me for which Estefan provided English lyrics. Dave Koz adds alto sax to the Gershwins' How Long Has This Been Going On, while she duets with Laura Pausini with her Spanish lyrics on Charles Chaplin’s Sonrîe, aka Smile.

It is refreshing to hear a recording of standards not simply copy well-known arrangements for the repertoire here and Gloria Estefan sings extremely well throughout, even if this is not to my taste. The Standards is marvelously recorded and received a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here she is seen performing They Can’t Take That Away From Me.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon Live in Japan

It was a surprise to hear that Delmark was going to release for the first time in the United States recordings made of Sleepy John Estes during Japanese tours from the mid-1970s. The performances have finally been released on Live In Japan With Hammie Nixon, which bring together 19 songs from four performances by the pair. A Japanese quartet, Yu Ka Dan, joins them for four songs.

Estes was a marvelous storyteller and songwriter with a crying, expressive voice and a rudimentary guitar style with which Nixon would supply supporting vocals (with a few lead vocals as well) along with his deep harmonica style, kazoo and jug. The two mix in songs that were staples of Estes’ repertoire including Broke and Hungry, You Shouldn’t Say That (with Nixon sharing lead vocals), Stop That Thing, The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair, Divin’ Duck Blues, Rats in My Kitchen and Brownsville Blues, along with standards “Corrina Corrina,” and I’ll Be Glad When You’re Dead, You Rascal You, and spirituals Holy Spirit, Don’t You Leave Me (sung by Hammie) and Jesus Is On the Mainline. The performances are done simply and directly with Estes crying vocals at the forefront with Nixon accompaniments providing much of the musical interest, whether his responsive harmonica, or buzzing kazoo and jug (as heard on Corrina, Corrina).

This is wonderfully recorded and one can hear the appreciation shown by the Japanese audience, including the response when they start The Girl I Love, She Got Long Curly Hair, indicating more than passing familiarity with Estes’ recordings. Yu Ka Dan does a nice job adding their accompaniment on several tracks including a lovely Love Grows In Your Heart, Estes’ rendition of Careless Love.

Steve Tomashefsky accompanied the pair on their Japanese tours and wrote the liner notes recapping the time they spent over there and I presume is the voice introducing them on track 12. Nixon did most of the song introductions and storytelling on stage. This are among the last recordings the two recorded together and is heartfelt blues  from two giants of early blues. As wonderful as the music is, some may enjoy this better by listening to it in parts rather than straight through.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here are Estes and Nixon from a European telecast during an American Folk Blues Festival tour.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Rip Lee Pryor - Nobody But Me

There is nothing fancy about the new CD by Rip Lee Pryor, Nobody But Me (Electro-Fi). Pryor is the son of the late blues legend and blues harmonica pioneer, Snooky Pryor, but started learning to play harmonica when his father had dropped out of music. He played with his dad for a time, but in recent years had walked away from music, and recently resumed after bouts with gambling problems and cancer (now in remission). On this Rip Lee plays harmonica (using a rack) and guitar with Alex Fraser or Bucky Berger adding drums on several selections.

His father and John Lee Williamson (the first Sonny Boy Williamson) are obvious influences on his playing especially on the opening Shake Your Boogie that both Sonny Boy I and Snooky recorded. His guitar playing is pretty bare, just laying down a bare bass riff on most selections over which he sings and plays his crying harmonica. He is a very expressive singer (like his take on Elmore James’ You Gotta Move, but also handles the humor of Rice Miller’s rendition of an old English folk song, the delightful Wake Up Baby, with Fraser’s bass and circus drum adding support.

The title track is an original with Rip Lee laying down some boogie guitar to get a rocking groove which underlies his driving harp solo. Another original Lonesome, is a moody slow blues with some strong harp to accent his pleading vocal. Heard The News, credited to Snooky, is an easy boogie shuffle that incorporates Good Rocking Tonight, I Feel So Good as well as Snooky’s own Boogie Twist. Stuck on Stupid is a Rip Lee original with a Jimmy Reed boogie groove. His father’s Pitch a Boogie Woogie has Berger’s drums which helps propel the easy rocking boogie performance here with some real fine harmonica here.

The music here is pretty straight-forward and as Scott Bock observes in his liner notes, Rip Lee has a pretty stripped down sound. Nothing fancy perhaps, but Rip Lee Pryor proves he doesn’t need Nobody But Me for a straight dose of classic Chicago blues that is increasingly rare.

I purchased this.  Here is a video of Rip Lee Pryor in performance and he will be at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival this July and the link is to my Festival preview.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Taking the Blues Time Machine To March 1977

This is my blues column from the March 1977 Buffalo Jazz Report which had Benny Goodman on the cover. My column was relatively lengthy, and included a Blues On EP segment which I will post next week. There would be no column for February issue as the Blizzard of 1977 that paralyzed the city around the time the issue would have come out. I have noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Note that Southern Record sales from which I obtained some releases no longer exists. The albums I reviewed (with the exception of the Gabriel Brown and the Albert King) are available as CDs (although they may be on different labels) with the exception of the Gabriel Brown. The Otis Rush Japanese live album is available on Delmark as So Many Roads.

Lot of live blues in the Buffalo are in March. Muddy Waters will be joined by James Cotton and Johnny Winter at Shea's Buffalo on Saturday, March 12. Saturday, March 19 finds Bobby Bland and B.B. King at the Shea's Buffalo. Robert Jr. Lockwood, who was supposed to have been at UB Feb. 4 will be a featured act at the UB Folk Festival the weekend of April 15 and 16. Lockwood will most likely be playing Friday night April 15. More details next month.

Gabriel Brown is a country blues artist, who, during the forties and early fifties, was based in New York. An English reissue of his music Gabriel Brown and his Guitar (Policy Wheel PW 4592) reveals him to be a talented performer. Brown's singing reminds me of Kokomo Arnold, a one-time Buffalo resident (60 years ago) whose music influenced many blues artists including Robert Johnson. Brown's guitar work is interesting and the selection of material is varied. Highlights include "I'm Gonna Take It Easy with slashing bottleneck guitar, Cold Love and the mildly pornographic "It's Getting Soft. While external packaging is somewhat skimpy, a booklet with all known biographical information and lyric transcriptions is included. There is some surface noise but these are on the originals and the sound is overall pretty clear. There are 18 selections including two 1930s recordings by one Poor Bill on which Gabriel may have played 2nd guitar. A very worthwhile reissue which, like the Otis Rush live album, Southern Record Sales can supply.

Albert King's new Utopia album Albert Live (CYL2-2205) was recorded at Montreux. It is a double record with generous playing time (almost 90 minutes) as Albert tackles a wide variety of material from Watermelon Man to Stormy Monday, with the typical intensity and featuring his pinched note guitar playing. On one long number, Jam in A Flat he is joined by rocker Rory Gallagher (who is on other tracks). and bluesmen Louisiana Red and Lowell Fulson. The packaging is nice, though Robert Palmer's notes are media-hype.

Hard Again- Muddy Waters -(Blue Sky PZ 34449) is Muddy Waters first album since leaving Chess. Musically this is a pleasant set with support from Johnny Winter, James Cotton and Joe Willie 'Pinetop' Perkins. The presence of Winter and Cotton should help sell this though others could have replaced them without hurting the music. 'Pinetop' proves to be a worthy successor to the late Otis Spann and does play some brilliant blues piano. Tunes include reworkings of Muddy's Mannish Boy and I Can't Be Satisfied, Willie Dixon's I Wanna Be Loved and several new tunes that are in the same mould. Muddy seems to sing strongly but the recording mix I find grating. Johnny Winter should be thanked for helping Muddy get more recognition, and also some financial rewards, which is a nice way to show his appreciation for Muddy. Muddy has made many of the classic recordings in the Chicago band blues idiom and in comparison to them this album suffers. With such recent blues albums as those by Otis Rush and Son Seals out I can't give this anything but a qualified recommendation.

Otis Rush's very first record, I Can't Quit You Baby was a top ten record on the r'n'b charts in the mid-fifties. Otis, despite being one of the finest and most individualistic performers in the post- B.B. King guitar dominated blues, has never been able to achieve, much less maintain, a position of popularity and recognition as one of the blues' premiere performers. As both a singer and guitarist Rush bows to no one and has been compared favorably to the legendary country bluesman Robert Johnson. Rush on record has been hard to find until recently. Last year Delmark released Cold Day in Hell a fine album that was Otis' first American recording issued in 7 years. Bullfrog Records has just issued Right Place, Wrong Time (301) which Otis recorded for Capitol Records in 1971, but which Capitol chose not to release.

I refer you to the liner notes for speculation why this excellent set wasn't issued as this is probably the finest set of Otis Rush out and one if issued a few years back might have established Otis as a publicly recognized master of the blues. The album is tightly produced with horn arrangements recalling many of Albert King's fine Stax recordings of the time. Rush's guitar work also suggests King, though Otis is a more fluid guitarist and a stronger, more intense vocalist than King (which is high praise indeed.)

The material on this set is varied and the recording mix provides for Otis' guitar work to be properly framed. Material includes rave-ups like Tore Up and Natural Ball, cooking instrumentals Easy Go and I Wonder Why and the slow blues on which Otis lets his soul out. The title track and Take a Look Behind are bound to become blues classics and are masterpieces of the modern blues idiom as Otis' anguished singing is couple with blistering guitar. This album is a must for blues enthusiasts.

Also Trio Records of Japan has issued Blues Live (PA-3086) featuring Otis live in concert with just a rhythm section doing cooking renditions of I Can't Quit You Baby, All Your Love, and So Many Roads before an enthusiastic Japanese audience. This is available from Southern Record Sales, 42 North Lake Avenue, Pasadena, California 91101 though its price as an import may deter some buyers it is a most impressive workout. Delmark Records owns the American rights to this, though it may be some time before they issue it. They can supply the Bullfrog release which hopefully wiII be in local stores. Bullfrog Records is tied to Advent so stores carrying Advent should be able to get this. (If you write to Southern Record Sales, mention you read about them here). {{As noted this is available as So Many Roads}} on Delmark}}

Alligator is a small label that has excellent distribution locally and an impressive small catalog of modern blues. Son Seals' new set Midnight Son (AL 4708) is an excellent set of hard, intense blues sung with guts and played with Son's stinging Chicago guitar. Tight horn arrangements along with Son's cooking band has produced a varied set from the funky No, No Baby, the driving Don't Fool With My Baby to the slow Going Back Home, which should win Son new fans. This is even better than Son's first album, (Alligator AL 4703). Alligator also has excellent albums by Hound Dog Taylor, Big Walter Horton, Fenton Robinson and Koko Taylor out and they show concern for preparation and programming which sometimes small and major labels don't provide.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Lena Seikaly - Looking Back

Lena Seikaly is one of the Washington DC area’s finest vocalists with the clarity of her singing along, her control of her pitch and vibrato and the instrumental quality of her phrasing and scatting. One could cite a number of influences, and Ella Fitzgerald may be one, but the overall quality of her singing is akin to Roberta Gambarini. Her third, self-priced album Looking Back has her backed by the Chris Grasso Trio (Grasso, piano; Zach Pride, bass; and Lenny Robinson drums), the go to trio to back jazz vocalists in the Nation’s Capital. Also present is the marvelous guitarist Paul Pieper, whose subtle single note solos and chords add to the wonderful accompaniments here.

The eleven songs here take us back to what John Edward Hasse calls the “golden age of American songwriting” (mostly from the twenties and thirties) with emphasis on material recorded by Ethel Waters, Billie Holiday, and Ella Fitzgerald. I am not familiar with I’m Nobody’s Baby, which gets things off on a swinging note, with some scatting, a crisp drum break and wonderful piano. Fascinating Rhythm opens as duet with Pride with her scatting before the full group enters. Her phrasing is such a delight to listen to and Pieper adds a choice solo before she scats in unison with him for a few bars on this delightful performance. Her rendition of Foolin’ Myself suggests Billie Holiday in her phrasing, with the clean, restraint shown by band adding to the performance's feel.

The settings here lend freshness to familiar songs. A duet with guitarist Pieper results in a lovely,  lively Please Don’t Talk About Me When I’m Gone, while on the Gerald Marks- Walter Hirsch ballad, Baby, What Else Can I Do, Grasso and Pride provide relaxed backing. Donald Heywood and Will Marion Cook’s collaboration, I’m Coming Virginia, may be better known today from the Frankie Trumbauer- Bix Beiderbecke recording, but  was popularized by Ethel Waters. Seikaly and the trio are a bit more vigorous performing it. It is followed by a moody I Cover The Waterfront. Duke Ellington’s I Love You Madly is a pretty duet with bassist Pride. Pieper’s guitar replaces Grasso’s piano on Guilty, which in addition to Pieper’s sublime playing has Pride taking an arco bass solo while Robinson’s tastefully employs brushes.

Of special interest is Irving Berlin’s Supper Time whose lyrics take the perspective of an African-American wife and mother whose lost her husband to a lynching. Written for Ethel Waters, this has been previously done by Roberta Gambarini with the late Hank Jones on piano. Simply accompanied by Grasso, she straightforwardly sings the lyrics. The simplicity of the performance delivers the stark imagery of Berlin’s lyrics powerfully,

With superb backing, imaginative and varied settings for the songs, Looking Back is another wonderful recording by Lena Seikaly. I have seen Lena Seikaly perform on a number of occasions, and this recording captures  the qualities that make her live performances so marvelous. Her website is lenaseikaly.com, and this CD is available on cdbaby.com.

I purchased my copy. I should not that I saw her perform this on April 19 at Loew's Madison in Washington backed by Grasso and Pride and she was wonderful as usual. She will be appearing Friday April 25 at a special Jazz Appreciation Month Take 5 program at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art's Kogod Courtyard dedicated to the music of Ella Fitzgerald. The Museum's website says she will be part of a performance by the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra on a program that will highlight Ella Fitzgerald’s collaborations with big bands, including the Count Basie Orchestra and the Duke Ellington. More information can be found on the Museum's website. Here she performs After You're Gone from her new album.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Jimmy Johnson
End of the Road
Ruf Records

Jimmy Johnson’s infrequent albums are always occasions of great interest for blues lovers. With his wiry guitar attack and high tenor vocals, the Chicago bluesman has produced some very distinctive and fine recordings. This new one is another strong addition to his discography. Johnson has contributed some fine originals like the opening Roots of All Evil (about money, and sporting a trumpet solo by
Jimmy Johnson at the 2007 Pocono Blues Festival
Claude Egea), End of the Road which contains an appearance by the late Luther Allison who rides the song out with a fiery short solo, and The Street You Live On, with its lilting reggae beat.

In addition, Johnson’s covers of Thunderbird Davis’ Blue Monday, Black Night and Cut You Loose are fresh, with crisp funky arrangements. Throughout this, Johnson plays in his recognizable style that perhaps show the influence of Otis Rush and Albert King more than others, as well as delivering his vocals without too much in the nature of hysterics.

In addition to his fine band, Johnson is backed by a nice horn section that includes jazz trombonist Frank Lacy and saxophonist Paul Cerra in addition to trumpeter Egea. With Johnson being in strong form both vocally and instrumentally, he has produced a very fine release.

This review originally appeared in the November/December 1999 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 242). It is available from third party sellers on amazon. Photo of Jimmy Johnson © Ron Weinstock. Here is a video of Jimmy Johnson performing with Dave Spector.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Tweed Funk First Name Lucky

I have become aware of the Milwaukee based blues and soul band Tweed Funk from some very positive remarks on social media. Tweed Funk has a new recording, First Name Lucky on Tweed Tone Records that I understand is their third CD. Tweed Funk is fronted by a powerful vocalist, Joseph ‘Smokey’ Holman. The quintet backing him includes guitarist JD Optekar, bassist Eric Madunic, drummer Nick Lang, saxophonist Jon Lovas, and trumpeter Kevin Klemme. One selection also includes Brian Lucas’ harmonica. Seven of the 11 songs were written by Optekar. He is an able guitarist and the horns add punch and both are fine soloists while the rhythm section keep the groove going.

The party feel is exhibited on the funky Time to Burn. Their cover of Let the Good Times Roll is good but does not stand out. It is interesting they cover Black Joe Louis’ Sugarfoot but Smokey’s vocal comes off as strained. In contrast, they provide a nice cover of Lil Bob and the Lollipops I Got Loaded (familiar to some from Los Lobos’ cover. It is incorrectly credited to Peppermint Harris whose I Got Loaded is a different song), with Lovas contributing a nice tenor solo. The slow blues, Sippin Misery, stands out. It has a 3 o’clock in the morning feel with Smokey’s low-key vocal, Optekar’s jazzy guitar here (and he might use this attack elsewhere) and marvelous playing by Lovas and Klemme (the latter making nice use of horns) for a magical performance and shows just how good they can get. In contrast to this wonderfully paced performance, the closing Get It On sounds a bit frenzied. Slowing the tempo down a notch might have  led Smokey’s vocal to have more impact.

Tweed Funk’s First Name Lucky  is an record perfect for parties with a mix of blues and soul.

Received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of Tweed Funk.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So - A Round Goal

Keefe Jackson’s Likely So is a seven person all-reed group led by the Chicago saxophonist and bass clarinetist. The international group includes fellow Chicagoans Mars Williams on alto, soprano and sopranino saxophones and Dave Rempis on alto and baritone saxophonists; Waclaw Zimpel from Poland on clarinet and alto clarinet; and Swiss players Marc Stucki on tenor saxophone, bass clarinet and harmonium; Peter A. Schmid on baritone, bass and sopranino saxophones, bass clarinet and e-flat clarinet and Thomas K.J. Mejer on contrabass and sopranino saxophones.

The seven piece ensemble performed at Jazzwerkstatt Festival in Berne, Switzerland on February 20, 2013 and Delmark has issued a recording from that evening A Round Goal. As Larry Kart notes in the liner notes, Jackson used the opportunity to explore his compositional voice in an all-read ensemble. he provides the structure for the players to improvise and interact with each other in this meeting of some participants of todays jazz avant grade.

The performances include passages of collective improvisation as well tranquil solo interludes and the structures Jackson has established allows for the fascinating and thoughtful interplay between the seven players along with the development of musical colors. Jackson, on the first of two bridge solos heard here displays warmth and a concern for tone and timbre, whereas Stucki on Wat Ist Kultur?, exhibits a focus on the upper reaches of the tenor (in a 60s Pharaoh Sanders manner) with the ensemble establishing a foundation for his explorations. Mejer’s contrabass sax sounds like a bowed bass solo on My Time Is My Own, before the ensemble cradles the coda of this and leading into Pastorale where Mejer helps establish the foundation for this intriguing performance with a rhythmic motif. Williams alto evokes bagpipes opening the title track as he plays over the ensembles repeated riff before he launches into the higher reaches with some fiery, Ayler-esque improvisation before Rempis barrels in on baritone with slurs and screeches in his torrid solo.

This is imply a snippet of some of the music to be heard on A Round Go. Keefe Jackson’s Likely So was quite lively that evening resulting in the music here that rewards listeners with music to stimulate and fascinate them.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a short video clip.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Sheba Butter On My Rolls

Mississippi born Sheba Beck has travelled many miles (literally and figuratively) since leaving the life in a Mississippi sharecropper’s family as a youngster. Growing up in Florida music became her calling as she play din various types of groups ranging from rhythm and blues and jazz to the blues she sings today. She has endured hardships, and abusive relationships, but her experiences provide a foundation for the music heard on her recent self-produced recording Butter on My Rolls. Sheba is backed by George ‘Chocolate’ Perry on synthesized strings, bass, drums and synthesized horns; Michael ‘The Dog’ Gauthier on keyboards, synthesized strings and synthesized horns, Walter ‘Roach’ Thompson on guitar; and Chuck Juntzman on slide guitar. While this writer isn’t a fan of synthesized horns and strings, they are functional and provide musical color. The backing fortunately is from real musicians as opposed to drum machines.

While some songs may sound generic, and the backing sometimes gets frantic (the boogie woogie shuffle Oh So Good taken at too fast a tempo), Sheba is a wonderful, soulful singer who caresses her lyrics while belting out a line or two for emphasis. She never sounds strident, and is compelling on slow blues (Real Good Woman who wonders about all those no good men) or soulful ballads (Can’t Help Lovin’ My Man and Don’t Say Goodbye). She gets down and bawdy celebrating her  well-packaged Big Man, telling other women to find their own good big man. She shows her presence on the rocking funky Pourin’ Rain, but the album's finest gem is the talking blues Blues of My Soul, with slide guitar backing where she recalls growing up in Mississippi and her mother taking her to Florida. She is a marvelous storyteller. She follows it with the title track, a song suggestive on some of the vaudeville blues of the twenties but with a lyric of today.

There may not be anything fancy about Sheba or Butter on My Rolls, but her vocals and songs ring true and full of heart. If the backing is mostly functional, there is nothing wrong with that when one is supporting a singer with the character Sheba manifests throughout.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video to promote this recording.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Jon De Fiore's Yellow Petals

Drummer-composer Jon De Fiore leads his piano trio of bassist Adrian Moring and pianist Billy Test on a new recording, Yellow Petals (Third Freedom Music). The three have been playing together for four years resulting in the cohesiveness and empathy exhibited in playing De Fiore’s compositions that covers a range of settings and musical inspirations ranging from adaptation of a work by Chopin, to the musics of Spain and South Africa.

One can hear a definite influence of Bill Evans in the general tone of De Fiore’s trio with being a fluid, lyrical player while bassist Moring provides the axis for the trio’s interactions with De Foire himself quite a rhythmic colorist. The opening Demise, adapted from a Chopin prelude, provides little clue to its classical origins in the trio's inventive performance. The second composition Live For Tomorrow, Forget Today, is built upon a ostinato bass motif and De Foire’s shimmering cymbal work with some free,almost anarchic, piano from Test, along with dynamic drumming from the leader.

The music of Spain is the inspiration of Orange that opens with the leader’s intricate stick work that helps set the mood for Moring’s opening solo over the leader’s spare playing before fireworks in De Fiore’s solo and then Test. The spirited InKleined, is inspired by the Argentinean pianist and composer, Guillermo Klein,  who is a major influence on De Fiore. This performance exhibits the marvelous interplay between the three. Moring’s walking bass drives the spirited Where Does The Wind Blow, with Test generating plenty of heat as well.

The closing Yellow Petals, written in memory to De Fiore’s mother, is a moving and evocative performance which opens with spare solo piano before De Fiore and Moring join in with their own muted accompaniment and solo. It is a fitting end to a high-spirited, engaging piano trio recording

I received my review copy from a publicist.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Taking the Blues Time Machine Back to January 1977

This is my blues column from the January 1977 Buffalo Jazz Report which had Lee Konitz on the cover. The column had my review of the best blues releases of 1976, and there were not nearly as many back then as today so it was a bit more manageable as well as hoping for more live blues to actually be brought to Buffalo. There would be no column for February issue as the Blizzard of 1977 would paralyze the city around the time the issue came out. I have noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz. Note that the Living Blues mailing address has not been valid for many years, and the vinyl LPS I mention are no longer in print (with the exception of Sweet Blood Call as an expanded CD).

For this column I'd like to first go over what I consider the best blues albums of 1976. The best was perhaps Robert Jr. Lockwood and the Aces, Blues Live in Japan (Advent 2807) featuring Lockwood's stunning jazz-blues guitar and enthusiastic readings of blues standards. Mr. Johnson's Blues (Mamlish 3807) is the first American lp devoted to reissuing the classic and innovating work of Lonnie Johnson whose place in blues and jazz history is underappreciated. The best album by a previously unrecorded artist is Good Rockin' Charles (Mr. Blues MB 7601). This a fine set of Chicago blues with relaxed yet gritty singing and harp from Charles.

Honorable mentions for outstanding albums go to the two Joe Turner albums Nobody in Mind and In the Evenin' (Pablo). Otis Rush Cold Day in Hell (Delmark), When Women Sang the Blues (Blues Classics), Windy City Blues:The Transition and Detroit Ghetto Blues (Nighthawk), and Louisiana Red Sweet Blood Call (Blue Labor). As can be seen most of the finest al-bums were on small collectors labels (the major exception being the Joe Turners on Pablo). The big names in blues turned out either disco blues, Albert King with a pleasant album on Utopia, empty endless boogie, the Iive James Cotton album, or a Iive jam which never really ignited (B.B. King and Bqbby Bland). The small labels can turn out more interesting music perhaps because they don't expect to sell a gold album and don't compromise the music for sales. And the blues can progress as Jimmy Dawkins' has proved without losing its identity in a disco or funk setting.

1977 could be a year of some very fine recordings. Alligator records promises a Son Seals album, Delmark has re-issues of early Junior Wells among others ready, RCA's Utopia subsidiary has a Clifton Chenier in the can, Trix has Robert Jr.· Lockwood playing twelve-string coming soon and hopefully much more. Of course I will let you know what is available, and what it sounds like. 

Other items of interest. Living Blues continues to be a source of interesting informative articles, reviews and interviews. The Record Runner carries current issues and a years subscription (6 issues) costs $4.00 sent to Living Blues Publications, 2615 N. Wilton Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60614. 

It is possible that live blues may soon be coming to Buffalo in a format similar to the Tralfjazz series with perhaps comparable prices (depending on the act). for the entire night, etc. I would be curious about reader response.as any indication of support for this before it is undertaken is important. Artists being contemplated include Robert Jr. Lockwood, Sleepy John Estes and Hammie Nixon, Otis Rush, JohnnyShinesand others. Please write me in care of the BJR with your comments and suggestions. There has been Iittle Iive blues brought to Buffalo in the past few years and such places where blues was typically booked, an example being the Coffeenouse series at UB, haven't had blues in a year and a half. Imagine a series on American folk music which ignored the most basic American folk music. Blues can be brought and brought in an imaginative fashion. WBFO's David Benders, when head of the Coffeehouse, brought in not only folk blues but also a working Chicago Band, Son Seals, who played in the Rathskellar. It is to be hoped that the Coffeehouse committee at UB shows more imagination this year (1977) than in the past year and a half and brings blues both as pari of the Coffeehouse Circuit and as more than token representatives at the folk festival. I am willing to assist any organization that brings live blues to Buffalo and can be reached at either WBFO or the BJR. (David Benders incidentally hosts. Codfish Every Friday on WBFO at 10 PM to 11 PM which has blues featured about once a month.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Terry Hanck Gotta Bring It On Home To You

Saxophonist and vocalist Terry Hanck has a rhythm and blues party on his new Delta Groove release, “Gotta Bring It On Home To You.” The CD is by The Terry Hanck Band and Friends which has Hanck and his band of guitarist Johnny ‘Cat’ Soubrand, bassist Tim Wager and drummer Butch Cousins joined by friends guitarist (and producer) Chris ‘Kid Andersen; guitarist Debbie Davies; keyboardist Jim Pugh; Baritone saxophonist Doug James; pianist Bob Welsh; organist Lorenzo Farrell and background vocalists Lisa Leu Andersen and Dennis Dove.

Bringing his vocals with a touch a grizzle and his mix of King Curtis yackety-yak with Junior Walker honking, Hanck and his friends bring together a lively part of rocking R&B on Elvin Bishop’s Right Now Is The Hour evoked Hank Ballard; the straight blues Peace of Mind with Soubrand sounding like a cross between Magic Sam and Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson; the swamp pop flavored My Last Teardrop, although the performance shifts midway into a West Coast R&B rocker; the King Curtis influenced organ sax groove of T’s Groove; and the  straight cover of Tommy Ridgely’s classic instrumental Jam Up.

There are plenty of production touches such as the cheesy fafisa organ used on Pins and Needles that lends it a Tex-Mex flavor. Hanck’s band is excellent and the guests all acquit themselves quite well. Also, production and recording is excellent, as expected with Delta Groove. Gotta Bring It On Home To You is another fine CD from Hanck.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a video of the Terry Hanck Band with some booting sax to kick things off.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

21st Tinner Hill Blues Festival -June 13-June 15

Teeny Tucker and Robert Hughes at 2009 DC Blues Festival.
Falls Church, Virginia hosts a weekend of Blues, Brew and BBQ with the 21st Tinner Hill Blues Festival which runs Friday June 13th through Sunday June 15. The Festival, which is a tribute to the late Northern Virginia Blues Legend John Jackson, will feature the blues talents of Shemekia Copeland, Teeny Tucker, Mississippi Heat and Ursula Ricks as well as area favorites Tom Principato and Cathy Ponton King. The Tinner Hill Blues Festival is produced by The Tinner Hill Heritage Foundation which celebrates the legacy of the first rural Virginia NAACP chapter that was founded in 1915, which they will be celebrating the centennial in January 2015.

Friday, June 13th the Festival opens with Shemekia Copeland at The State Theatre, 222 N. 33 1/3” on Telarc which Howard Reich of The Chicago Tribune called “a gripping, stripped-to-basics release that reaffirms her position as one of the great hopes for the art form.”
Shemekia Copeland at 2009 Pocono Blues Festival
Washington Street in Falls Church. Shemekia Copeland is the daughter of Texas legend Johnny Clyde Copeland and began singing with her father while a teenager. After her father passed away, she started performing on her own and signed with the Alligator label with whom she had several award winning recordings before signing with her current label Telarc. Shemekia is a two-time Grammy nominee, multiple Handy Award-Blues Music Award honoree, winner of several Living Blues Critics and Readers Awards for Outstanding Female Blues Vocalist as well as DownBeat Award Winner for Rising Star Blues Artist. At the 2011 Chicago Blues Festival, In addition, the city of Chicago, state of Illinois, and Joyce “Cookie” Threatt, daughter of Koko Taylor, surprised Shemekia onstage with her mother’s tiara, and crowned her “The new Queen of the Blues” at the Chicago Blues Festival. Her most recent album is “

Opening for Shemekia will be Sol Roots. Sol Roots is a fine guitarist (actually multi-instrumentalist and singer that creates a blend of energetic rock, raw blues, reggae, and funk, all delivered with deep soul. Sol, who regularly plays at such venues as The Hamilton Live and JVs, has toured with many roots, funk, and blues legends around the world as a part of Music Maker Revue (and accompanied Beverly Watkins and Albert White at the 2013 Tinner Hill Blues Festival).

Saturday, June 13, the Festival moves to Cherry Hill Park on Park Avenue in Falls Church. In the morning, there will be acoustic blues played at the weekly Farmer’s Market held in the Falls Church City Hall Parking lot. There will be other events held including a panel discussion TBA before the main program begins at Cherry Hill Park.

This year’s Saturday line-up is headlined by Teeny Tucker. Teeny is the daughter of Tommy Tucker, best known for one of the great blues standards, High Heel Sneakers. Teeny has developed into a singer of great power and nuance whose performances include her salutes to some of the great blues women of the past and choice originals. Her powerful singing will conjure up memories of such legends as Lavern Baker, Big Mama Thornton and Koko Taylor. In fact, her rendition of Koko’s Voodoo Woman opens her new album Voodoo To Do You. Teeny’s band is led by an outstanding guitarist Robert Hughes, who in addition to being a terrific musician and collaborator with teeny, is an outstanding photographer who was recently named Ohio Professional Photographer of the Year. About her album Keep The Blues Alive, I wrote that the album “will certainly build Teeny’s audience. There is some exceptional material on this and Teeny is fabulous.”

Mississippi Heat is a band that is led by harmonica player Pierre Lacocque who also contributes most of the new material. Mississippi Heat has always been a band that has focused on an ensemble sound and supporting its singers and for over two decades been playing strong Chicago blues. Lacocque himself plays in the Little Walter tradition. The band has a marvelous vocalist, Inetta Visor who has been with the group since 2001. Her powerful, Etta James-like voice on Footprints On The Ceiling, Glad You're Mine, and One Eye Open are always highlights of the performances. Other members of the band include guitarist Michael Dotson, bassist Brian Quinn and crummy Kenny “Beedy Eyes’ Smith. Kenny Smith, like Shemekia Copeland and Teeny Tucker, is a child of a legendary blues artist, in this car the long-time drummer with Muddy Waters, Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith. Of the Mississippi Heat’s last Delmark recording Delta Bound, I wrote “One continues to get impressed by Mississippi Heat. Pierre Lacocque continues to write interesting and varied new blues songs which are rooted in the blues and not blues-rock. Match the material with the tight backing, strong solos and excellent vocals and he continues to bring us after 20 years first-rate and fresh-sounding, new blues.”

Baltimore’s Ursula Ricks has been a presence on the Baltimore and Washington blues scenes for a couple decades, Ursula Ricks certainly sounds poised to break out to the National music scene and her recent recording My Street (Severn Records) displays another singer of considerable maturity. She is a powerful singer, whose 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. About My Street, I wrote “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 am not the only person to notice this as she will be appearing at the Pennsylvania Blues Festival as well.
Tom Principato

Other performers on Saturday include Baatin, Tom Principato and Cathy Ponton King. Tom Principato is one of the most celebrated, blues and roots performers in the Washington DC area. An able singer, he is a fabulous guitarist rooted in blues but who incorporates rockabilly, swing jazz and country boogie into an irresistible sound. One of the few guitarists who could spar with the late Danny Gatton, Principato always puts on some energetic performances. watching him perform, one will understand why he is in demand in Europe. Of a recent recording A Part of Me, I wrote that it “is a typically strong album by Tom Principato with a varied collection of material, superbly and imaginatively performed and sung straight from Tom’s heart.” Cathy Ponton King is another local favorite who brings plenty of warmth with her heartfelt vocals and guitar playing. She always has a terrific band and you never know whether saxophonist Ron Holloway or pianist Daryl Davis might show up to play with her this day.

I will be updating this blog post with more information as it becomes available on the Festival including the Sunday, June 15th, Blues Brunch. For more information on this year’s festival, check out http://tinnerhill.org/blues-festival.

All photos in this blog entry © Ron Weinstock. Here is a video of Ursula Rick.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Bob Corritore's Taboo Harp Feast

Bob Corritore has a new album of blues harmonica instrumentals, Taboo on Delta Groove. Corritore, a Chicago native who moved to the Phoenix area in the 1980s, has been a significant figure in the blues world as a radio host (his excellent “Those Lowdown Blues” on KJZZ on Sunday evenings), a recording producer, a promoter who created a thriving blues scene in Phoenix and a superb harmonica player.

Corritore has lent his considerable talents to terrific recordings by such folks as Henry Grey, Dave Riley, Louisiana Red, Big Pete Pearson and John Primer. He has had several albums under his own name, but these have often been compilations mostly of his work with a variety of blues performers. Taboo is an album of 12 blues instrumentals that feature Corritore’s swinging and fat toned harp playing backed by a crackerjack combo of guitars Junior Watson, keyboardist Fred Kaplan, bassist Kedar Roy and drummer Richard Innes. Two of the twelve selections have guitarist Jimmy Vaughan and organist Papa John DeFrancesco on which saxophonist Doug James also plays (he plays on one other number.

On the album cover, Charlie Musselwhite observes” Not many people can do an all instrumental harp CD and keep it interesting all the way through.” Having some dream backing musicians certainly helps as does a nice array of grooves and feels. Corritore is a player not simply possessing a big harp tone, but also one who displays a nuanced phrasing and a strong sense of swing that is heard on the somewhat exotic sounding title track as well as the driving Harp Blast, a hot shuffle in the vein of Little Walter, while another harp feature, Ruckus Rhythm evoked the brilliance of the late Jerry McCain’s classic Steady. Fabuloco (For Kid) is a nice salute to Kid Ramos with a Tex-Mex groove.”

Mr. Tate’s Advice is one of the two selections with organist DeFrancesco and Vaughan but Corritore’s unison playing with saxophonist James is also noteworthy on this jazzy performance. His unamplified chromatic playing on Fifth Position Plea contrasts with the fat atmospheric amplified sound on Many a Devil’s Night that would make Little Walker and George ‘Harmonica’ Smith proud. There is more outstanding chromatic on another Little Walter inspired instrumental, Bob’s Late Hours. On all three selections, Watson’s guitar is the perfect foil for the leader.

The terrific rhythm section provides such backing throughout while keeping the groove at a nice, relaxed tempo. Taboo is a marvelously performed, recorded and programmed CD of blues harmonica instrumentals. To paraphrase Charlie Musselwhite, it is a dandy of a CD.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here Bob Corritore is seen with Bob Margolin at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Sly5thAve's Marvelous Akuma

Akuma (Truth Revolution Records) is the debut recording of Sly5thAve (aka Sylvester Uzoma Onyejiaka II). The release of Akuma comes as the Nigerian born, New York- based saxophonist came off a national tour with Prince. Based in New York, Akuma represents an effort the synthesize his Nigerian roots with jazz, soul and global music for an impressive debut displaying considerable maturity in his compositions, arrangements and his playing.

The core band includes Sly5thAve (Sax); Ross Pederson (Drums); Daniel Foose (Bass); Hajime Yoshida (Electric Guitar); Keita Ogawa (Percussion); and Jay Jennings (Trumpet). Appearing on various selections include Brad Williams (Acoustic Guitar and producer of the recording); Cory Henry (of Snarky Puppy on Piano and Wurlitzer) Phil Lassiter (Trumpet); John Leadbetter (Flute), Zach Brock (Violin), Denitia Odigie (voice).

The performances of Sly5thAve’s compositions bring together a memorable melodic lines, charged rhythm sections, intriguing horn voicing, thoughtful, often energetic solos throughout and a marvelous display of dynamics throughout. The opening three part Suite For Ogbuefi includes a wonderful solo from guitarist Yoshida the builds in intensity before the leader teaks over with some forceful playing that takes the performance up a notch. With Henry’s marvelous playing on the Wurlitzer, and Foose a solid anchor one can appreciate the imaginative coloring that Pederson adds here.

The title track displays some of the leader’s African roots in its theme and the rhythmic core of it. Leadbetter’s flute is added for musical coloring while Jennings takes the initial solo with some bright, interesting playing that suggests a definite familiarity with the likes of Woody Shaw and Freddie Hubbard. “Bach” opens with the leader playing unaccompanied before the ensemble enters playing very lightly under Brock’s hot, soaring violin that segues into a nice trumpet. Security has a lively, danceable groove and a strong piano solo. Deme features lovely voice and showcases Yoshida’s fleet playing.

Road to Abuja is a percussive introduction to Abuja with its its mix of propulsive percussive rhythms, and unison horn passages to frame the solos by Yoshida’s single note playing; and conversational, explosive, interplay between Sly5thAve and Jennings. It is an understatement to say Akuma is an auspicious debut given the strong and memorable playing that will leave a strong impression on listeners. It is a marvelous and very contemporary recording.

I received my copy from a publicist. Here is a video trailer for this release.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

J.T. Lauritsen - Play By The Rules

Blues has become an international music and a recording by Norwegian harmonica-accordion player (Jan Tore) J.T. Lauritsen, Play By The Rules (Hunters Records) illustrates this. For nearly 20 years he has led The Buckshot Hunters who have had several well received recordings. The present recording was recorded at sessions in Memphis and Oslo, Norway and has appearances by Victor Wainwright, Anson Funderburgh and others on various tracks. Greg Gumpel or Willie C. Campbell on bass, Wainwright on keyboards and Josh Roberts are common to the Memphis recordings while Atle Rakvåg on bass, and Ian Frederick Johannessen on guitar are on the Oslo sessions. Jon Grimsby is drummer throughout while guitarist Arnfinn Tørrisen and keyboardist Paul Wagnberg are heard on both sessions.

Lauritsen impresses on this marvelously varied group of performances. One would be surprised listening to him sing to discover English is not his first language. He sings in a natural,relaxed fashion and the supporting musicians do a bang-up job in backing him on some nice covers and originals. William Bell’s Everyday Will Be Like A Holiday starts this recording off on a nice southern soul vein followed by the Crescent City groove on Lauritsen’s original Next Time, with  zydeco flavor provided by the leader’s accordion with Wainwright taking a rollicking piano solo. Te title track is a nice slow blues with Josh Roberts adding slide guitar. Billy Gibbons on harp joins Lauritsen on a easy rocking shuffle rendition of Walter Horton’s Need My Babe, taken as a medium shuffle which is followed by Wainwright’s Memphis Boogie, that he gets off to a rollicking start followed by Roberts crisp solo and then more boogie woogie piano before the leader steps up.

We are taken back to New Orleans on Big Joe Maher’s Ever Since The World Began, which then followed up by a fine take on the Cookie and the Cupcakes swamp pop classic Mathilda. Like the rest of this recording, it is wonderfully played and sung at the right tempo. Anson Funderburgh adds strong guitar to Find My Little Girl as Lauritsen sings about going back to Dallas, Texas to find his little girl while plays rhythm guitar on the atmospheric take on Gillian Welch’s Valley of Tears.

The performances on Play By The Rules never come off as hurried or frantic and there is a genuine soulful quality to J.T. Lauritsen’s vocals that make this release well worth noting.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of J.T. Lauritsen.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

The Blues Time Machine Takes Us Back To December 1976

This is my blues column from the December 1976 Buffalo Jazz Report which had Dexter Gordon on the cover to promote his appearance at the Tralfamadore Cafe in November. As I noted the first 58 issues of Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) have been digitized and can be downloaded from the University of Buffalo Library system. The website for these archived issues is: http://digital.lib.buffalo.edu/cdm/landingpage/collection/BuffJazz

Clifton Chenier is the undisputed master of zydeco music, a hybrid form which mixes the· cajun music of the French speaking population of Southwest Louisiana with blues. His latest album on Arhoolie, Bogalusa Boogie (1076), is his seventh for the label. It is as usual a thoroughly ingratiating set as Clifton's mastery of the accordion, his warm good-humored vocals (most of which are in cajun French) and a tight band, which features his brother Cleveland ori rubboard and 'the honking r'n'b tenor saxophone of John Hart, brew a musical gumbo that is one of his best sets. Highlights include Je Me Reveiller Ce Matin, a French version of B.B. King's Woke Up This Morning, with Clifton's accordian playing King's guitar part, One Step at a Time, where Clifton adds Jimmy Reedish harmonica and the stomping instrumental Ride 'Em Cowboy. Clifton is about to have a double album set released on Utopia and I can't wait for it. One warning about this music - exposure to Clifton's good time music can be addicting and his output for Arhoolie is uniformly high though this set is especially fine. 

Arhoolie is one of the finest labels of blues and folk music. J.C. Burris' One of These Mornings (1075) features the bluesy vocals and harmonica of Sonny Terry's nephew whose music is the dominant influence. This is a warm set which includes a couple of pieces where J.C. plays the bones. A highlight on this album, which was recorded live, is Inflation Blues. J.C. is unaccompanied.

Blues Classics is subsidiary of Arhoolie and has a catalog of excellent reissues. The latest release When Women Sang the Blues is a valuable reissue of women singing down-home, or rural, blues, as opposed to the vaudevile blues of Bessie Smith, Ida Cox and others. Excellent performances by Lillian Glenn: Chippie Hill (with excellent accompaniment from Georgia Tom Dorsey and Tampa Red), Memphis Minnie and Willie B. Huff are included. There are also two excellent collections of Memphis Minnie on the Blues Classics.

Nighthawk Records is a new label that apparently will  be specializing in reissues of rare postwar blues  records. Their initial release of four albums are of a uniformly high standard and produce many cases of the rural flavor city blues so popular among enthusiasts. As they all are fine releases, I will simply describe their contents and mention some of the performers heard. Windy City Blues: The Transistion (101) features one side of pre-World War 2 recordings including Pinetop Sparks' Everyday I Have The Blues (the first recording of the song) Washboard Sam, Sonny Boy Williamson and Robert Jr. Lockwood. The second side includes Lockwood, Tampa Red, and Tony Hollins in post-war recordings.

Chicago Slickers: 1948-1953 (102) features more classic Chicago postwar blues including Johnny Shines' classic Ramblin', and rare performances by Little Walter, Floyd Jones and Homesick James among others. These two Chicago antho-logies nicely complement Chicago Blues, The Early 50s (Blues Classics BC 8) and On the Road Again (Muskadine 100), two classic anthologies of Chicago Blues.

Lowdown Memphis Harmonica Jam (103) features Hot Shot Love's wild Harmonica Jam, six tunes by the great one-man band Joe Hill Louis, Walter Horton and Willie Nix (with a young James Cotton) that boogie up a storm. Detroit Ghetto Blues (104) includes Louisiana Red (as Playboy Fuller and Rocky Fuller). Baby Boy Warren (whose Hello Stranger is a remake of Sonny Boy Williamson 1's Mattie Mae and has Sonny Boy 2 on harmonica) Walter Mitchell, L. C. Green and other generally obscure names in a set of blues that reflects the influence of Sonny Boy 1 in the reworking of his songs, and in the various harmonica players who appear on these sides. Albums on the Blues Classics label incidentally complement these issues also.