Thursday, February 12, 2015

Benny Turner's "Journey"

Benny Turner has has a distinguished career playing bass and anchoring the bands of his brother, the legendary Freddie King; another Chicago blues legend Mighty Joe Young, and the late Queen of New Orleans, Marva Wright (with whom this writer best knows him). Additionally he pioneered playing bass behind gospel acts and played with the likes of Dee Clark. He has just issued his third recording (the first this writer has heard) as a leader, “Journey” on Nola Blue.

One often looks beyond a sideman who may sing a couple or two opening numbers before bringing on the main act. However, from the first notes of “Breakin’ News,” one quickly becomes aware of the authority Turner brings as a vocalist, not simply a strong bass player who anchors a band. With the handsome production, solid shuffle groove, brassy horn arrangements (from Turner and saxophonist Jason Mingledorff), Marc Stone’s guitar and effective use of backing vocals he convincingly delivers his lyrics about the relationship being over and “ain’t no more crying.” The mood turns down home on “Don’t You Ride My Mule” with Sunpie Barnes adding his harp and Charles Moore rhythm guitar, while Turner’s regular drummer Jeffrey ‘Jellybean’ Alexander lays down the groove and Josh Paxton adds the keyboards here in lieu of Turner’s regular collaborator Keiko Komaki who plays on most of the recording. On other selections, Derwin “Big D” Perkins is on rhythm guitar.

Other selections display Turner’s way with a word in addition to his singing including the reflective “How I Wish” as he sits in his rocking chair wishing his woman was here with him and the topical “What’s Wrong With the World Today” that touches on issues of homelessness, violence and other matters as Turner sings that “We need love” on this closing track. Another number that should resonate is the soulful ballad “Worn Out Woman” with its theme of a woman’s work never being done, getting the kids on the bus and then dust the house. Turner even takes up the guitar and kazoo for the relaxed, down-home instrumental “My Mother’s Blues.” with twin keyboards and Alexander playing lightly on bass drum and cymbal.

The variety and strength of material, the strong work by the band and Benny Turner’s heartfelt and persuasive vocals make “Journey” a gem of a recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Benny Turner in performance at the 2013 French Quarter Festival in new Orleans.

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