Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Marc Myers - Anatomy of a Song

Anatomy of a Song
Marc Myers
New York: Grove Press
2016: 323 +xiii pages

Marc Myers is a Wall Street Journal columnist who writes on music and other cultural items as well as is responsible for the award-winning Jazzwax blog. The present book is a compilation of an ongoing column he writes about the stories underlying of the iconic songs of rhythm and blues, country, pop, reggae and more which he tells through the recollections of songwriters, recording engineers and the artists themselves. This is reflected by the subtitle "The Oral History of 45 Iconic Hits That Changed Rock, R&B and Pop."

Myers takes from Lloyd Price's 1952 smash "*Lawdy Miss Clawdy*" to REM's "Losing My Religion." most of the material is taken from actual interviews with individuals such as discussing "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" with Price, Dave Bartholomew and Art Rupe of Specialty Records, providing details of how the song came about. I was not aware that the phrase "Lawdy Miss Clawdy" had been used by a black radio announcer, but I was aware that it was used in an earlier Bartholomew recording featuring Tommy Ridgely (a point not mentioned here). I was not aware of how Bartholomew heard Price at the piano and had him audition for Rupe and then  record it with Fats Domino on piano, Earl Palmer on drums and using a head arrangement. When released, Price had the sole writer's credit, and he made an observation how amazing that was at a time record company folks regularlyclaimed partial writer's credit.

 Discussing Little Willie Littlefield's "K.C. Loving," Mike Stoller gives the primary details on the song that was written as "Kansas City", why Ralph Bass retitled it for release, as well as discussing the Wilbert Harrison hit and how the that version had a slight change to the lyrics and they needed to contact producer Bobby Robinson to correct the writer's credits so they would get their royalties. Also Hank Ballard guitarist Billy Davis and James Brown saxophonist Pee Wee Ellis described the versions by their leaders. It is interesting that Stoller discusses that after he and Jerry Leiber wrote it, showing the song to Littlefield and giving cues on how he should play it and then it was recorded at a session led by the legendary saxophonist Maxwell Davis. I do note that, in a Blues Unlimited interview decades ago, Littlefield claimed to have written the song, although Leiber and Stoller have rebutted this claim in the past.

 We get the perspective of Ronald Isley on the Isley Brother's hit "Shout," while Katherine "Kat" Anderson Schaffner," one of the singers of The Marvelettes gives insight on the early Motown hot "Please Mr. Postman," Dion Dimucci details his song and hit, "Run Around Sue," and co-songwriter Jeff Barry (with Phil Spector), vocalist Darlene Love, Dixie Cup singers Barbara and Rosa Hawkins, producer Mike Stoller and musician Artie Butler talk about "Chapel of Love." On this latter number I was not aware that Phil Spector had recorded Love singing it and then The Ronettes, but not happy with it. Eventually the Dixie Cups recorded it with Wardell Querzergue arranging it, with Stoller adding touches, and then after a United Artists distribution deal fell through had to start a label to issue it.

In addition to Keith Richards' recollections of "Street Fighting Man," Jimmy Page recalls the making of "Whole Lotta Love" (where he explains it was Robert Plant's use of lyrics from a Muddy Waters trouble that caused them legal trouble as his riff the music was based on was not similar to the Wille Dixon song they were sued for infringing). Then there is Linda Ronstadt recalling the Stoney Poney's hit "Different Drum," Gladys Knight on "Midnight Train To Georgia," Grace Slick on "White Rabbit," Tammy Wynette on "Stand By Your Man," Joni Mitchell on "Carey," Jimmy Cliff on "The Harder They Come," and Smokey Robinson recollects writing "My Girl" for The Temptations.

I did find a very minor error. In discussing The Righteous Brothers "You Lost That Loving Feeling." In his introductory passage, Myers mentions that the Brothers signed to Philles Records. Interviewed for the documentary "The Wrecking Crew" (and included among the bonus features with the DVD and on iTunes), Bill Medley recalls that Phil Spector leased their existing contract. Medley along with the songwriters were interviewed by Myers, while for The Wrecking Crew, he was interviewed along with the studio engineers. The details on the production of this classic recording are similar, but there seems to be a bit more detail in the Wrecking Crew bonus feature (which likely can be accessed on YouTube).

It is fascinating to read the back stories on so many hit, and iconic, songs. Overall this is a fun, very readable volume that would make a wonderful gift to music lovers. The back cover includes a number of short quotes that will give an idea of the tenor of the 45 highly readable pieces.

I purchased my copy. This is now available in paperback.
 

Monday, December 11, 2017

Chickenbone Slim Chickenbone Slim

Chickenbone Slim
The Big Beat
Lo-Fi Mob Records

Chickenbone Slim is the alter ego of Larry Teves, a San Diego based musician who started playing guitar in 2011 after playing bass in many bands for many years. Years of playing in a variety of blues and rockabilly bands is reflected in the performances here where he is backed by Big Jon Atkinson on harmonica, guitar and bass; Marty Dodson on drums and Scot Smart on bass. Recorded at Greaseland Studios, Kid Andersen engineered and mastered this and played guitar on one of the nine songs here.

With austere, relaxed backing and Slim's relaxed, unforced and grainy vocals, some of the songs has an ambience similar to the Baton Rouge based 'swamp blues" of Lazy Lester, Lonesome Sundown and others. The opening title track features superb harmonica as well as Slim's own smartly, played solo while "Me and Johnny Lee" is an even better performance in this vein as he sings about being as lonely as he can be as after she broke his heart is just him and Johnny Lee. "Long Way Down" has a bit more grit in the manner of a Tony Joe White, and a biting guitar solo from Scot Smart, as he sings about meeting his lover on the long way down.

The country-flavored "Hemi Dodge," has Kid Andersen on guitar and mournful harmonica from Atkinson, while there is a folk performance with just his acoustic guitar accompanying his vocal on "Vodka and Vicodin," his best friends as he is out of luck. There is an insistent groove to "Long Legged Sweet Thing" as Slim hammers out his vocal against skeletal backing and strong harp, while "Man Down" has a West Side Chicago feel with a boogaloo rhythm.

The closing "Break Me Of a Piece" returns us to the swamp blues vein and ends a most entertaining album of gritty performances that evoke the golden period of fifties and sixties blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is a promo video for this recording.


Andy Adamson First Light

Andy Adamson
First Light
Andros Records LLC

Ann Arbor, Michigan based pianist-composer-bandleader Adamson's influences include John Coltrane, Mahavishnu Orchestra and Chick Corea and over 50 years worked, and composed, in a variety of styles. This new release has nine of his straight ahead and jazz fusion compositions with a band including Brennan Andes on bass; drummer Jonathan Taylor; trumpeter Ross Huff and saxophonist Dan Bennett.

This is tight quintet that plays strongly on a varied program that opens with the Coltrane-flavored title track that showcases the leader's fluid piano style along with Bennett's robust, high intensity tenor sax. "Corner Store" is a latin-accented number with a nifty piano riff underlying this high-spirited quintet performance with shifting musical textures with Adamson and Bennett soloing. The opening of "Twilight in the Making" has a romantic tone before it transitions into a fusion evoking mode. Bennett's free-sounding tenor interacting with the leader's piano is at the front of "Velvet Sunset," followed by "Divided We Stand." "High Street Roundabout" is another engrossing performance with spirited tenor sax and piano with bassist Andes and Taylor ably backing and complementing them through shifts in tempo and textures from that the Adamson's lyrical improvisation to the more buzzsaw, vibrato-laden tenor of Bennett.

If Bennett and Anderson have most of the spotlight on "First Light," Huff's blistering trumpet is featured on the vibrant hard bop "Sunny Side Up," which also has a brief, taut solo from Taylor. It is a strong conclusion to this very memorable recording of modern jazz.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Andy Adamson in performance.


Sunday, December 10, 2017

Johnny Rawls Waiting For The Rain

Johnny Rawls
Waiting For The Rain
Catfood Records

Another new Catfood release for the veteran soul-blues singer-songwriter-guitarist Johnny Rawls again backed by bassist Bob Trenchard and the Rays. This one is produced by Jim Gaines and is a mix of originals and interesting interpretations of some familiar songs sung with plenty of heart by Rawls set against the Rays' idiomatic backing that is rooted in the classic Memphis sound of Stax and Hi Records.

Rawls has a controlled style that is akin to the smoldering heat of a pit barbecue than steak over an open flame, though he can let loose when needed.. The title track is a strong original co-written with Trenchard and keyboardist Dan Ferguson as he sings about rain washing away guilt, sin and pain with a crisp guitar solo from Dennis McGhee set against punchy horns. It is followed by the Trenchard-James Armstrong penned "Las Vegas," is a wonderful performance with a backing horn riff reminiscent of "Turn On Your Love Light,"although I am not enamored the lyrics mixing playing games and religion. "Waiting For a Train" from Rawls and Trenchard is a nice low-key number with a jazzy tinge and followed by a wonderful rendition of Bobby Womack's celebratory "I'm in Love."

"Blackjack Was a Gambler" is a terrific easy rocking bit of storytelling about a back alley gambler and rambler while Rawls also ably puts his own stamp on Bob Dylan's "I Shall Be Released," and then does a nice cover of the Tyrone Davis hit "The Turning Point," and a driving rendition of Syl Johnson's "We Did It." The soulful ballad, "Stay With Me," provides a close to Rawls' latest soul-blues gem. Rawls may not break new ground on his latest release, and those familiar with Johnny Rawls will know what to expect on a predictably strong recording, while this serves as representative of his music for those new to his music.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Johnny Rawls from a 2017 Boise Blues Festival.



Saturday, December 09, 2017

Junior Wells Southside Blues Jam


Junior Wells
Southside Blues Jam
Delmark

I purchased the vinyl version of Junior Wells' Delmark album “Southside Blues Jam” upon its original release in 1970. The release was an effort to capture what a listener might hear at the baled Chicago blues club, Theresa’s, on a Monday night when Junior Wells and others including Buddy Guy would be featured. Wells and Guy were joined by Louis Myers on guitar, Ernest Johnson on bass, Fred Below on drums and Otis Spann on piano for what was his last studio appearance on record. Delmark has reissued an expanded “Southside Blues Jam” with the original eight selections supplemented by 7 bonus tracks, one of which is an alternate take, another is a warm-up fragment and another is some studio patter.

It was a recording that was quite easy to enjoy. There was a loose spontaneous feel to the performances that Junior and company put their stamp on starting with a easy driving rendition of “Stop Breaking Down” that Junior learned from the first Sonny Boy Williamson’s recording (adapted from Robert Johnson) to a cover of Guitar Slim’s “Trouble Don’t Last” where Buddy takes the lead vocal with Junior adding a rap to the performance. Topicality was heard in the issued take of “I Could Have Had Religion” where Junior dwells on Muddy Waters being out of action at the time and “Blues For Mayor Daley.” There are covers of songs from Muddy as well as a nice rendition of the second Sonny Boy Williamson’s “In My Younger Days.” Wells mixes his blues harp (very much in the spirit of the second Sonny Boy) with his mix of vocals and James Brown funk while Guy and Spann are in strong form.

The unissued performances have their appeal, although listening to them one can understand why the selections on the original CD were chosen. There is a decent cover of Little Walter’s “It’s Too Late Brother,” with Well’s exhorting Spann to rumble on the bass keys as he talks about the blues being funky. “Love My Baby,” a reworking of Arthur Crud-up’s “So Glad Your Mine,” and set to the “Hootchie Kootchie Man” groove with blistering string bending from Guy and Spann’s rumbling piano behind Wells’ vocal. The alternate of “I Could Have Had Religion” is a more traditional performance about a mistreating woman without the reference to Muddy Waters’ health. It has solid Louis Myers’ guitar, while “Rock Me” is done as a dedication to Muddy Waters. The closing “Got to Play the Blues” is an amusing original set to the groove of B.B. King’s (then contemporary recording), “Why I Sing the Blues” with Wells singing about singing the blues and throwing in impersonations of other singers.

This expanded “Southside Blues Jam” is handsomely packaged (credit Kate Moss) with a booklet that contains Bob Koester’s recollections of the session and Michael Cuscuna’s Rolling Stone review of the original LP release and the sound is quite good. This reissue, with its additional tracks, will be welcome to a wide range of blues lovers including those having the original LP.

I received my review copy from Delmark. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Here is Junior with Buddy Guy doing "Little By Little" on a PBS show in 1971.



Friday, December 08, 2017

Eyal Vilner Big Band Hanukkah

Eyal Vilner Big Band
Hanukkah
Self-produced

Composer, saxophonist and arranger Eval Vilner has come up with a uniquely original holiday offering. His latest re lease is an exciting and festive Hanukkah album, with his 16 piece big band on a repertoire of traditional Hanukkah songs, blending holiday melodies with sounds influenced by jazz and swing, Israeli, Jewish and Middle Eastern music, in addition to Brazilian Choro and Afro - Cuban rhythms. In addition there is a vocal trio on one selection and Israeli flute virtuoso Itai Kriss. It was recorded at one of the oldest synagogues in the U.S. - the Museum at Eldridge Street - a National Historic Landmark dating back to 1887 in what used to be a Jewish immigrant neighborhood and is now Chinatown.

The opening "Prelude" opens as the horns provide a classical choral played by the horns of a traditional song sung every day of Hanukah after the lighting of candles followed by "Maoz Tzur," where the band swings the melody with Vilner taking a fervent sax solo with Jack Glottman taking a crisp piano break with the full and coming across like the 50's Basie Band on the joyous romp. "Sevivon," inspired by the spin of the dreidel, has a strong percussive and Brazilian flavor, including a section dedicated to Batucada music (a drum ensemble) as well as some brilliant flute from, Itai Kriss. A vocal trio of three of NYC’s finest trad - jazz vocalists Tamar Korn, Martina DaSilva and Vanessa Perea, sing the Boswell Sisters inspired vocals on "Oh Hanukah," with a strong tenor sax solo by Evan Arntzen, along with the leader's clarinet break while Vilner's arrangement smartly frames the vocals and the sax solo. On "Mi Yemalel," Vilner plays the shofar to open this musical depiction of the Maccabees and their war on the Greeks who occupied Ancient Judea. Wayne Tucker continues, playing a Taqsim (intro, in traditional Arabic music, which sets the mood of a piece) followed by the harmonized trombone section followed by the saxophones and trumpets playing contrasting melodies.

A joyous bonus track, "These Candles" starting as a march before turning to an Ellingtonian flavored swing number and features the trumpet of Irv Grossman and the break all the doors down tenor of Michael Hashim. It is only available digitally, but complements this wonderful recording of Holiday music. This is available from cdbaby and other sources.

I received a download of this to review from a publicist. Here is the Eyal Vilner Big Band performing "Maoz Tzur."

Thursday, December 07, 2017

Paul McCandless Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe

Paul McCandless
Morning Sun: Adventures with Oboe
Living Music

This is described as "A Retrospective Celebrating 45 Years of Genre-Bending Iconic Mastery" and gathers 16 performances by McCandless with the Paul Winter Consort over this period of time with over an hour of music. McCandless, as demonstrated on the performances on this recording, that the oboe is an instrument that can be welcomed out the confines of the Western classical music tradition on performances capturing folk roots, jazz improvisation and new age sensibility. McCandless also brings the French Horn on several selections to the fore in a similar fashion.

Listening to McCandless' melodious playing certainly can bring a sense of calm and relaxation, even when playing some rhythmically spirited tunes. Their is a such a broad spectrum of musical settings represented, including the unusual instrumentation of the Consort that included when he joined it Ralph Towner's guitar, Winter's soprano sax, Colin Walcott's tabla, triangle an drums, and David Darling's cello starting with the the uplifting opening selection "All the Mornings Bring." "Elves Chasm," is a lovely solo oboe performance recorded in the Grand Canyon with the sounds of nature (birds and the Colorado River) in the background while "Whooper Dance" has voices of a pair Whooping Cranes echoed in the Oboe improvisation, and "Eagle," a duet with the melodic theme suggested by the cry of an African Fish Eagle.

A later version of the Consort with Oscar Castro-Neves on guitar, David Grusin on keyboard and John-Carlos Perea on vocal, performs "Witchi Tai Too," a Native American traditional healing song that Indian jazz musician Jim Pepper adapted. McCandless plays the opening on French Horn but later taking off on oboe after the first vocal chorus here. The Brazilian singer and guitarist Renato Braz is present on the lovely "Anabela," with lovely oboe accompaniment and sings wordlessly on "The Last Train," with a mesmerizing, soaring oboe solo. On the uplifting message song "Common Ground," there is marvelous McCandless accompaniment to later choruses of the song.

The sereneness of "Sunset on the Great Sand Dunes" is followed by the lively Ralph Towner composition "Un Abra├žo (A Big Hug)" (which was McCandless' first recording on oboe). The stately "Sunderland," has lyrical French Horn framed in a pastoral setting while "Twilight" finds McCandless' French Horn improvising over Grusin's synthesized chordal journey. Bach's "Fantasia in G" was recorded by the Consort at New York's Cathedral of St. John the Divine employing the Church's pipe organ over which McCandless plays somewhat wildly over Bach's harmonies.

This wonderful retrospective closes with the tranquility of "Morning Sun," with the interweaving of the various solo voices (oboe, Winter's soprano sax and Eugene Friesen's cello). The marvelous compilation of music is accompanied by a 32 page liner booklet with essays, including an appreciation of McCandless' oboe playing, from Winter, a short autobiography by McCandless, and notes on each of the 16 selections from Winter with session information included. Of course McCandless' musical legacy also includes his decades with Oregon, but even this slice of his musical career is something to be savored.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is McCandless with Oregon performing "Witchi Tai Too."



Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Jimmy Carpenter Plays the Blues

Jimmy Carpenter
Plays the Blues
VizzTone

Veteran saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter is currently part of blues rocker Mike Zito's band, though he previously has lengthy stints with Jimmy Thackery and Walter 'Wolfman' Washington. Zito produced this and adds his guitar and vocals to Carpenter's tenor saxophone, bassist Bob Bridges, Matthew Johnson's drums, and Marc Adams keyboards with a variety of guests including guitarists Tony Diteodoro, Tinsley Ellis, Anders Osborne and Jonn Del Toro Richardson and keyboardists Lewis Stephens and Dave Keyes.

The ten songs heard include two originals and eight covers starting with Magic Sam's "You Belong to Me," and ending with a rousing Junior Walker's "Shotgun." Carpenter plays plenty of rousing, raspy saxophone in a Junior Walker-King Curtis--Boots Randolph vein throughout and, if not a great singer, is like-able with an unforced delivery as on the hot Little Walter shuffle "Too Late." The longest selection is "Jimmy Plays the Blues," a nice blues instrumental with plenty of space for his roadhouse saxophone. The other original is a piece of old-fashioned rock and roll, "Kid in My Head," with rollicking piano from Stephens in support of the leader's yakety-yak sax playing.

Jonn Del Toro Richardson adds some nice guitar support on the cover of "Blues With a Feeling," which has a booting sax solo as well, while Tinsley Ellis joins in for a musical dialogue with with Carpenter on a rendition of Freddie King's "Surf Monkey," and Anders Osborne contributes to an instrumental interpretation of Sam Cooke's "Change Is Gonna Come," which arguably has Carpenter's finest playing with a more attack employing a broader tonal range. Up next is a rousing rendition of King Curtis' "Preach," and then Otis Rush's "All Your Love (I Miss Lovin').' with fine guitar from Zito and another booting sax solo.

A straight cover of "Shotgun" closes this straight-forward, well played recording that entertains even if it breaks no new ground.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375). Here is Jimmy Carpenter playing "Shot Gun."

 

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Jimmy Carpenter Walk Away

Jimmy Carpenter
Walk Away
Threadhead Cultural Foundation/ VizzTone

Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter is perhaps best known as a member of Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington’s Roadmasters as well as playing with blues-rocker Mike Zito. He has recently issued a CD “Walk Away,” co-produced with Chris Finney with a core band of guitarist John Fohl: keyboards from John Gros; bass from Casandra Falconer and drums by Wayne Maureau. Carpenter handles vocals, saxophones and rhythm guitar with a variety guest appearances including vocalist Reba Russell, guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Mike Zito and trumpeter Anthony Gambrell (Carpenter’s band-mate in the Roadmasters).

Carpenter, known for his robust saxophone, shows himself to be quite an affable singer on the 13 originals here starting with the easy rocking “Can’t Let Go” that features some fiery Funderburgh guitar along with some grease on the Hammond B-3 from Gros. The crisp ensemble playing and the brassy horn arrangements are typical of the production throughout with plenty of punch. The title track has a southern swamp-rock feel with a strong R&B accent with Fohl’s guitar accenting the vocal before Carpenter takes one of several full-toned solos on his recording. “When You’re Ready” is a driving rocker with nice interplay between guitarists Fohl and Zito, along with Zito’s scorching guitar solo.

She’s Not You” opens with some commanding saxophone before a soulfully sung lament about this woman telling him he seems distant while he still can’t get over his ex on a number that is evocative of Bruce Springsteen. Another song suggesting Springsteen is the jaunty “Crazy ‘Bout You.” “Seventh Street Shuffle” is a greasy instrumental taken at a walking tempo while “C King Blues” is a feature for his sax with a loping tempo. The subject of “More Than Meets The Eye” causes heads to turn although her looks hide what is inside her. This has a Memphis funk backing with a similar feel to the blues-soul of “Hard To Be Cool.”

After the garage-rock flavored “On the Outside,” (where Carpenter is looking in), “Walk Away” closes with “Fellow Traveller” a duet with Reba Russell. Fohl’s judicious use of tremolo and Maureau’s stick work contribute to the wistful atmosphere here along with a nice sax solo. There is plenty of music to enjoy here as Carpenter shows in this recording that integrates his blues, country, soul, and pop influences, he is far more than a road house saxophonist.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. This review originally appeared in the January-February 2015 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 358). Somehow I forgot to post it before, so I am belatedly posting in now. Tomorrow I will be posting my review of Jimmy's most recent recording, "Plays The Blues." Here Jimmy Carpenter doing an in-store performance in New Orleans at the Louisiana Music Factory with a band including John Fohl and John Gros.




Monday, December 04, 2017

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra After A While

Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra
After A While
Blue Dot Records

An encounter performing in Europe first brought together California guitarist and band leader Anthony Paule with deep soul-blues singer Wee Willie Walker. This has led to the present recording where the one-time Goldwax artist is backed by a full band led by Paule. I recently reviewed a live album from the Notodden Blues Festival with a band led by Kid Andersen, about which I concluded "Wee Willie Walker certainly has it still and this live recording suggests just how moving and powerful a performer he remains." Walker is also present on a recent recording by Austrian organist Raphael Wressnig & Brazilian guitarist Igor Prado singing several songs that were associated with the legendary Little Willie John.

The present recording opens with the Memphis soul-styled "Second Chance," with the rhythm of Paule, Tony Lufrano on keyboards, Paul Olguin on bass, and Derrick 'D'Mar' Martin on drums laying down a form base for Walker's church-rooted singing with brassy horns. It was written by Christine Vitale, who contributed to several other songs including the title song and a performance (including the horn arrangements and Charles McNeal's wonderful tenor sax solo that evokes Little Willie John and other legends). Walker recorded George Jackson's "I Don't Want To Take A Chance," as a demo 50 years ago, but gets to record it anew for this marvelous rendition that again conjures up the classic R&B era of the 50s and early 60s. His soulful phrasing is supported by the handsome playing and Paule adds some nice chords and fills. Then we get a little big band treatment of the Lil Green classic "In the Dark," strongly sung in a manner that Little Willie John might have done it, and Paule takes a strong guitar solo in a jazzy-blues vein on this superb performance.

The message song "Hate Take a Holiday," has its call for love to take out hate, and folks of all colors and creed walk together in peace. teh recording has organ grease and a somewhat spare rhythm backing. It is followed by the Tex-Mex tinged romantic ballad, "Thanks For the Dance," with Paule on acoustic guitar on a song with a feel of a Drifters recording. There is a bit of Muscle Shoals funk underlying "If Only," while the soul ballad "Cannot Be Denied," is a lovely blue ballad. Both of these were written by Walker with Vitale and Paule. There is a stunning cover of a Little Willie John recording, "Look What You've Done To Me (not the Boz Scaggs song)," with brilliant playing from trumpeter Tom Poole and trombonist Derek James. Vitale and Paule's original "I Don't Want To Know," is a superb original blues in this same vein with a choice jazzy Paule solo.

After a punchy instrumental, "The Willie Walk," there is a wonderful duet with Terry Odabi updating The Clovers' hit "Lovey Dovey" followed by a return to the Memphis sound on a terrific soulful cover of the Mable John classic "Your Good Thing (Is About To End)." This is an excellent close to an imaginatively programmed and arranged recording, that showcases one of the last original soul singers. We should be thankful he is with us and  still sings with all his vocal talent intact on a terrific recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 375), although I had edited my original review to clarify some points. Here is Wee Willie Walker & The Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra performing at the 2015 Porretta Soul Festival.




Sunday, December 03, 2017

Johnny Nicholas & Friends - Too Many Bad Habits

Johnny Nicholas & Friends
Too Many Bad Habits
The People's Label

In the spring of 1977 I saw Guitar Johnny (Nicholas) & the Rhythm Rockers along with Johnny Shines and Walter Horton outside of Buffalo, NY. Around the time I acquired the album "Too Many Bad Habits" on Blind Pig (and somewhere I may still have the original vinyl album). Released in 1977, it was deleted by Blind Pig in 1978 shorty after Nicholas joined Asleep at the Wheel, and stopped touring under his own name. While he requested getting back the original masters back from the label, he was finally able (in January 2016) to get back the original multi-track tapes, masters, artwork and photos. After transferring the old tapes, he discovered a bunch of recordings that had not been released so in reissuing his lost album, he has been album to add new material to the original recording. These include performances from Shines, Horton and pianist Boogie Woogie Red, along with some having Asleep's Ray Benson and other luminaries.

I do not recall what tracks were on the issued LP but I believe they are all on the first of the two discs, which include some standout ensemble tracks "Looks Can Be Deceivin'" and the witty title track that displays how good a songwriter Nicholas was (and is) as he enumerates the things that his doctor tells him he should give up. There is some nice mandolin on the opening "Mandolin Boogie" along with a solid "Sittin' On Top of the World," with nice fiddle and sax as well. After a rocking band shuffle with Boogie City Red's piano, "Rock My Blues Away," there is a lovely showcase for Walter Horton's harmonica feature"Blues Walk," with Nicholas providing solid backing.

An a cappella cover of Son House's gospel shout "Grinnin' in Your Face," is followed by "The New Canned Heat Blues" a reworking of Tommy Johnson recording with Nicholas adding lyrics about taking Robitussin in lieu of Sterno, with Horton's adding harp to the vocal and acoustic guitar. Horton sings and plays on "West Wind," followed by Shines' feature, "Blues Came Fallin' Down," an excellent number using the "Rollin' and Tumblin'" melody. This performance sounds similar to those on Shines' early Testament recordings. More Shines and Horton follow on a lovely "Careless Love," and then an instrumental feature for Horton "Gettin' Outta Town," where Nicholas opens playing the melody for "The Dirty Dozens," before Horton shifts into  a familiar boogie instrumental of his. Having misplaced the discs, I am not sure if it is Shines' guitar heard behind Nicholas on a cover of "Hellhound on My Trail," that has solid Horton harp.

The second disc has a number of more showcases for Horton like his backing on "Pump Jockey Blues," and the instrumental, "Apple Grove Boogie," which has some slide guitar as well. "Prisoner Blues" is a slow blues with exquisite harmonica, while the brief, brooding "That's Alright Mama," comes across as brooding Hill Country blues. Boogie Woogie Red is featured on a rendition of Jay McShann's "Hootie Blues," followed by a straight take of Jimmy Rogers' "Money Marbles and Chalk," again with wonderful Horton harmonica. There is also more Big Walter on the folk-ish "Lonesome Traveler," and the lazy tempo shuffle "Froggy Bottom." The final track is a nice rendition of St. Louis Jimmy's "Soon Forgotten," with Boogie Woogie Red on piano and Big Walter on harp.

While there are  solid performances on the second disc, some have flaws such as "Believe I'll Make a Change," a "Dust My Broom" variation with the vocal being off mike initially. The alternate take of "Looks Can Be Deceivin'," is slower and not as fully satisfying. "Move on Down the Line," is a vocal duet with Horton, and probably would have benefited from being at a bit quicker tempo. These are not terrible performances.

In additional to his musicianship, one of Nicholas strengths is his singing and that he never forces or strains when he delivers his vocals. With the splendid playing, the music on "Too Many Bad Habits" may not be essential, but its re-release is most welcome with the fine performances by Nicholas and the welcome cameos and assistance of blues legends, Boogie Woogie Red, Johnny Shines and Walter Horton.

I note that the recording album was contemporaneous with the Blind Pig Walter Horton recording (which Nicholas is on) and originally issued at the same time, and I believe still available Also, Ron Levy played keyboards on the Guitar Johnny tour in 1977  I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a clip of Johnny Nicholas backing another Chicago blues legend, Snooky Pryor, at the 1991 Chicago Blues Festival.