Tuesday, February 07, 2023

Jimmy Rushing The Bluesway Sessions

Jimmy Rushing
The Bluesway Collection
Charly (UK)

The present collection from English Charly puts into one double record package, the two ABC-Bluesway albums Rushing recorded in the sixties and these are among his last studio recordings. (He did record a later album for RCA) but show no diminution in his vocals. Ten titles come from a session that the late Oliver Nelson produced and include such notable sidemen as Clark Terry on trumpet, and fellow Basie
alumni Dickie Wells on trombone.

Nelson provided some interesting arrangements with a somewhat modernistic touch trying to provide a more up-to-date sound. Rushing is in heard on some standard fare including a swaggering ‘Everyday I Have the Blues’, "Berkeley Campus Blues" (an updating of “Harvard Blues” from Rushing days with Basie that also was an attempt at topicality with comments on then current student demonstrations and having the Berkeley Blues with Ronnie Reagan around the bend), and “You Can’t Run Around”
which features a nice trombone solo from Wells and some nice playing on the organ.

The remaining sides come from a session that Bob Thiele produced and included Dickie Wells,
tenor saxophonist Buddy Tate (another Basie alumni,) pianist Dave Frishberg, and guitarists Wally Richardson and Hugh McCracken. Rushing is in good form on his classic "Sent For You Yesterday", and their is some fine band work and ancxcellent Buddy Tate solo on "Tell Me I'm Not Too Late”. On
"Crying Blues”, the playing by one of the guitarists and Frishberg behind Rushing is splendid. The last selection "We Remember Pres" is an instrumental tribute to the great saxophonist Lester Young.

In summary, some very rewarding listening that I do not regret buying, and a release that those with a taste for swinging sounds would do well to check out. It is interesting that this was released on Charly as opposed to the sister label Affinity which specializes in jazz releases.

This review dates from 1986 or so when this vinyl reissue came out. I may have written this for Cadence  but am not positive.  You may find this on ebay or similar sources of used recordings. Here is "Everyday I Have the Blues.

I have 'retired' from writing reviews for publication, but I will try to rescue some of my older reviews as well as briefly comment on things that interest me in the blog in the future.

Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Delmark Blues Reissues

Here is a composite review of several Delmark Blues reissues that appeared in Issue 218 of the Jazz & Blues Report (1997). I likely received review copies from Delmark.Some of these may still be in print and others may be available used. Check out delmark.com for availability on disc, vinyl and digital downloads.

These releases are among the latest recordings from Delmark Records’ back catalog to be issued on compact disc with additional tracks (including alternate takes and unissued songs) expanding each of these from their original vinyl format. 

Luther Allison’s first album, Love Me Mama (DE-625) will certainly be of great interest given Allison’s phenomenal resurgence in the past couple years. These 1969 recordings with bassist Mojo Elem, drummer Bob Richey, guitarist Jimmy Dawkins on rhythm, and saxophonist Jim Conley still sound fresh with the rawness and passion Allison brings to his performance. B.B. King's influence is highly evident from the opening Why | Love the Blues, a transformation of Why | Sing the Blues, and renditions of 4:00 O'Clock in the Morning, the title track (a version of Rock Me Baby) and You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now. But King’s stamp was more evident on Allison’s guitar and choice of material than his vocals, which this writer has always compared to the vocals of latter Elmore James, with strong renditions turned in of Dust My Broom, and The Sky is Crying. Allison’s experimentation with the wah wah pedal are intriguing in his exploration not only of their tonal palette, but use for a rhythmic springboard. Allison’s fans will definitely want these, but they hold up for more than historical value).

Jimmy Dawkins is represented by his third album, Blisterstring(DE-641), which adds pianist Sonny Thompson to Dawkins’ band that included Jimmy Johnson on rhythm guitar. Dawkins sings with as much passion here as on any recording he ever made, and the band is as good as he ever had with plenty of space for Dawkins gritty, trebly guitar with effective remakes of such blues classics as Feel So Bad, Blue Monday (the Smiley Lewis song), and Blues With a Feeling, along with an instrumental take of Ode to Billie Joe. Along with these is a fine original topical blues, Welfare Line. Several unissued titles fill out this session which is far better than Dawkins subsequent recordings over the past two decades.

Barrelhouse pianist Speckled Red is celebrated for his twenties recording of the bawdy The Dirty Dozens, along with some other celebrated recordings. He was Delmark’s first blues artist, and The Dirty Dozens (DE-601) makes available the label's first blues release. This is rough hewn barrelhouse and boogie woogie as Rufus Perryman (Red's real name) rocks the eighty-eights on new recordings of Right String, Wrong Yo Yo and Wilkins Street Stomp in addition to his signature song. Also included is his take on the classic Cow Cow Blues and the previously unissued numbers include a terrific take of Early in the Morning along with two alternate renditions of the Dozens that are raunchier than the issued version and are not suitable for airplay or young, impressionable children. While his timing occasionally was eccentric, he played with an irresistible drive and his exuberant vocals are reminiscent of the greatest of all blues pianists, Roosevelt Sykes.

Also for blues piano fans is the anthology Blues Piano Orgy (DE-626) which brings together selections by Red, Roosevelt Sykes, Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Memphis Slim, Curtis Jones and Otis Spann. The Spann track, Three-In-One Blues dates from the session that produced Junior Wells’ Southside Blues Jam and is a duet with drummer Fred Below on one of his last recordings. Sykes is heard on four numbers featuring his strong two-fisted playing a rendition of the dozens, Kickin’ Motor Scooter, while Sunnyland Slim bellows his vocals with his distinctive piano accompaniment, including a tasty rendition of one of his signature songs, Everytime | Get to Drinking. Little Brother Montgomery's selections mix stride and ragtime to his barrelhouse attack, and his classic No Special Rider is among the tunes reprised here. Two selections by Memphis Slim (not on the original album) were originally recorded for the United label with a band that included Matt Murphy's incisive guitar. The under-appreciated lyricist and singer-pianist Curtis Jones is heard on three numbers, including two of his signature pieces, Lonesome Bedroom Blues and Tin Pan Alley Blues. This album never has less than a genial quality to it and is a tasty sampler of some very significant blues pianists.

Saturday, December 03, 2022

Larry Garner Baton Rouge

Larry Garner
Baton Rouge
Verve / Gitanes

| recall some statement by one of the new hot-shot teenage ‘blues’ guitarists out there responding to the question of how can he play the blues given his lack of experience by responding that it was hard being a teenager. Whether one takes this as another sign of the dumbing of America, one notes that while this act might get written up in People Magazine or whatever and be hyped by one of the Blues Brothers, that modern day minstrel act, Larry Garner, perhaps one of the most gifted singer-songwriters in the blues world today, can’t get his new Verve-Gitanes album, Baton Rouge, released in the United States. Available only overseas, | was lucky to find a copy.

Like his previous recordings have evidenced, Garner is able to draw on his experiences working in a chemical plant and raising his family and the experiences of others in his community to spin his stories and songs, whether singing about the Juke Joint Woman, or an addiction to video poker in New Bad Habit, with nice horns added. Musically, there is a similarity to the blues of Kenny Neal, although one might call Garner a bit leaner and more laconic in his attack. Garner is joined here by Larry McCray who adds his very insistent guitar and joins Garner with vocals on a couple of songs, including the amusing Blues Pay My Way, where Garner notes how he can’t fail as a musician or when he returns to the chemical plant, everyone will joke “We told you so,” and Airline Blues, where the two trade memories of missing their planes. The conversational quality of Garner's lyrics and musical approach unquestionably helped make it sound like the two had played together for years. 

Garner's back porch philosophizing hits strongest on The Road of Life, while he matches his anti-drug lyric about no one overdosing on the blues to a reggae groove on High on Music. The title song, Go To Baton Rouge, closes this album and is a travelogue about where to find the blues in Louisiana, and as he says, “Come to Baton Rouge if you are looking for the blues.” 

This is an album that deserves to be heard and made available in the US. Whether Polygram (corporate parent of Verve-Gitanes) will change its mind is unlikely, but at least they can make this an easier to find import.

This review originally appeared in the July-August 1997 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 223). I likely purchased it. As I type this blog entry, it is available although one might need to check out vendors of used records. Here is Go To Baton Rouge.

Thursday, August 04, 2022

Jammed Together & St. Louis Jimmy

On the heels of their second batch of Original Blues Classics, Fantasy (under the guidance of Lee Hildebrand) has delved into the vaults of Stax Records to issue five albums of blues, soul and gospel. Of these Jammed Together (Stax MPS-8544) by Steve Cropper, Pops Staples and Albert King, is the only one that falls within Cadence’s coverage. Originally released (I believe) around 1970, this represented Stax’s attempt to hype their artists with a "Super Session’  type album combining three of the more noteworthy guitarists on their label on a bluesy program. (What’d I Say/ Tupelo/ Opus de Soul/ Baby What You Want Me To Do/ Big Bird/ Homer’s Theme/ Trashy Dog/ Don’t Turn Your Heater Down/ Water/ Knock on Wood) (40:16).

Three of the ten tracks are vocals with Aibert King taking a pleasant yocal on the opening Ray Charles classic, Pops Staples aptly handles the honors on John Lee Hooker ’s brooding “Tupelo” about floods in the Tupelo, Mississippi area, and Steve Cropper (best remembered for his associations with Otis Redding and Booker T.) sings (surprisingly well) on the soulful “Water." On these three selections as well as the other numbers, much space is given for the three guitarists to solo and trade licks. Like Super-Session and most albums of that ilk, this was directed at the “hard rock” audience that liked lots of flashy playing. Like most of those records, nothing here that is particularly memorable. A lot of flash, but little substance.

Even those Cadence readers with only a modest interest in blues will surely have heard of “Going Down Slow”, one of the most recorded blues songs of the past forty years. It was authored by James Oden who as St. Louis Jimmy recorded and performed extensively in the forties and early fifties with the likes of Roosevelt Sykes, Big Bill Broonzy, Sunnyland Slim and Muddy Waters. A car crash in 1957 left him with a stiff leg and his performing career slackened in the last years of his life. He did make an odd recording here and there, the most notable being a part of Otis Spann’s Candid sessions (originally issued on the Barnaby album Walking the Blues and more recently made available on Crosscut records), but otherwise was not as prominent as he had been.

Dog House Blues on Dutch AGB records (AGB 1701) collects 16 of his recordings (Going Down Slow/ Monkey Face Blues/ Poor Boy Blues/ Back on My Feet Again/ Nothing But Blues/ Soon Forgot You/ Strange Woman Blues/ One More Break/ Bad Condition/ Dog House Blues/ Biscuit Roller / I'm Sorry Now/ Shame On You Baby/ 1°11 Never Be Satisfied/ Drinkin’ Woman/ Why Work) and range from his first 1941 coupling of “Going Down Slow” to the wry Monkey Faced Blues” to "Why work” from 1953. With the exception of “Shame on You Baby" and “I’ll Never Be Satisfied”, which feature Sunnyland Slim, Roosevelt Sykes is the pianist. Big Bill Broonzy contributes some nice electric guitar to “Poor Boy Blues, “Back on My Feet Again”,

“Nothing But Blues” and  Soon Forgot You”, while J.T. Brown is on alto saxophone and Willie Dixon is on bass on the title track, and Eddie Chamblee’s tenor is present on “Biscuit Roller” and “I’m Sorry Now".

Oden was a pleasing, somewhat nasal blues vocalist He was an exceptional writer of blues lyrics and he phrased his singing to give proper emphasis to his well crafted lyrics. The songs here include some real classics and provide numerous illustrations of Oden’s skill in turning out songs whose lyrics stick in one’s mind.

In addition to Oden, this album provides a generous helping of Roosevelt Sykes’ piano. Sykes was one of the greatest blues pianists and is heard here on many marvelous accompaniments. His relaxed two fisted down in the alley playing is the perfect backdrop for Oden’s singing. Given the quality of the playing and the material, there is much for the blues fan to discover here.

This album, like many recent European reissues of pre-war blues, presents songs chronologically. Often, this doesn’t make for a completely listenable blues reissue. Even though much of the album is in either a slow or a medium tempo, Sykes splendid, piano and the varying instrumentation on the tracks provides enough contrast so that listening isn’t tedious. Packaging is functional, with the liner notes taken from the comments of Oden and Sykes in Paul Oliver's book, Conversation With the Blues In summary, there is some very fine blues to be heard here.

Friday, March 25, 2022

Kurt Crandall - Starts on the Stops - YesterYear Records

Kurt Crandall - Starts on the Stops - YesterYear Records

Kurt Crandall mailed his new CD (I believe his fourth album to me), and after giving it a couple of spins, I checked out his website and discovered he is well-traveled as well as a seasoned performer. Currently living in the Richmond, Virginia area, Crandall has had stops in Kansas City, Washington D.C., Macon Georgia, Chicago, and Seattle. While living in Washington, he played with Jesse James & the Raiders, a band led by the late Jesse James Johnson, who played with Bo Diddley when the music legend lived in Washington.

Crandall has penned five original songs, and three instrumental. He also performs two covers. Two different bands back Crandall's harp and vocals. Guitarist Karl Angerer is on nine of the ten selections. There is a rhythm section of Bill Heid on piano, Aaron Binder on drums, and Rusty Farmer on upright bass on the first five tracks. On the other selections, Reid Doughten plays guitar on four songs with a rhythm section of Johnny Hott on drums, John Sheppard on electric bass, Clark Stern on piano, and Carl Bender on saxophones.

Crandall is a very appealing, unforced vocalist and a gifted harp player who at different times evokes William Clarke, Toots Thielemans, Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Junior Wells. Crandall also crafts some very appealing songs filled with honesty and humor as he leads his musicians in a set that might be described as West Coast Swing, a fusion of classic Chicago blues, West Coast Jump Blues with a dash of Memphis blues blasters. Things kick off with the lively "Skedaddle," with some Williams Clarke-styled chromatic harp, swing band drumming from Binder, and a dazzling, jazz-inflected solo from Heid, who mixes the sophistication of a Teddy Wilson with Junior Mance's funky blues. Heid's piano also shines on "Early Bird Special," a humorous tune centered on food specials some restaurants direct at the elderly. Crandall's Toots Thielemans styled chromatic playing is exemplary. There is some splendid diatonic harp on "Razz My Berries," an easy swinging shuffle. Another instrumental, "Beignets and Coffee," sounds like a variation on "La Cucaracha." After Crandall's harp solo, Angerer quotes Ray Charle's "Mary Ann" in his sterling solo.

With his opening harp solo evoking the second Sonny Boy, Crandall does a solid cover of the Little Willie John hit, "Home at Last," on an arrangement based on Junior Wells version (titled "Country Girl"). This track is one of Doughten's guitar features, and he scintillates here. Musically "Go Without Saying" evokes classic Johnny Guitar Watson recordings with some slashing Angerer guitar and some relaxed singing in the manner of a Roy Milton. After evoking "Sloppy Drunk" while singing about his "Bull Headed Woman," Crandall musically reworks John Lee Williamson's "Blue Bird Blues" as well as modifies some of the lyrics changing references to Jackson, Tennessee to Macon, Georgia.

Another well-paced and played instrumental, "Sidecramp," caps an album that will appeal to anyone who has enjoyed the music of William Clarke, Rod Piazza, Mark Hummel, Little Charly Baty, James Harman, and others in the vein. Kurt Crandall certainly has hit a musical grand slam with this outstanding recording.

I received my review copy from Kurt. This review has appeared in the March-April 2022 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 401). I made a correction of Jesse James Johnson's name that was wrongly listed in that review. Here is a very recent video of Kurt Crandall performing.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Jose Ramirez - Major League Blues

Jose Ramirez - Major League Blues - Delmark

Originally from Costa Rica, singer-guitarist-songwriter Jose Ramirez has been making a name for himself in the Blues World. While residing in the Washington, DC area, he won the 2019 DC Blues Society's Battle of the Bands. He then competed in the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge, where he finished second overall. Ramirez was poised to start touring in support of his debut album "Here I Come" when the Covid-19 pandemic put a wrench in his plans. He now lives in Florida and makes his Delmark debut with "Major League Blues," which he will be touring in support of. 

Of "Here I Come," I wrote that it was "not merely an impressive debut of a promising artist. Anson Funderburgh's top-flight production and a fabulous studio band provide the foundation for Jose Ramirez to showcase his gifted songwriting along with his terrific vocals and guitar playing. It is a superb recording." Much can be said about the present recording, full of solid idiomatic originals and a couple of choice covers. Six songs were recorded in September 2020 with Antonio Reyes on drums, Kenny Watson Jr. on bass, and Andre Reyes Jr on keyboards. Evan Hoffman is on Latin percussion on one track, and Shelly Bonet provides backing vocals on one track. The other four selections were recorded in Chicago in August 2021 with The Delmark All-Star Band of Bob Stroger on bass, Willie 'The Touch' Hayes on drums, Roosevelt Purifoy on Hammond B3, and Billy Flynn on guitar. Jimmy Johnson appears on one track for what was his final studio recording.

The present album is of a similar quality to "Here I Come," opening with the title track on which Ramirez trades licks with Jimmy Johnson. The title song alludes to him reaching the major league of blues by signing with Delmark. The lyric also notes some of his influences, including Johnson and Lurrie Bell. It is followed by the blue lament "I Saw It Coming" with Purifoy taking a chicken fried steak organ solo along with Ramirez's heartfelt singing. The other two tracks with the Delmark All-Star Band are fresh renditions of Eddie Taylor's "Bad Boy" and Magic Sam's "My Love Is Your Love." There is plenty of solid fretwork to go with the tight, complementary backing.

The others songs are similarly entertaining. Ramirez is a skilled songwriter who handles traditional themes of relationships quite well. There is a neat melodic hook to "Whatever She Wants," where his heart, soul, and pride belong to her. In addition to a pleading vocal, Ramirez's solo is striking with his phrasing and development. Also outstanding is the Latin-flavored "Are We Really Different" that might evoke early Santana with a bilingual vocal from his Ramirez. The other selections similarly display why Jose Ramirez has become a Major League Blues artist.

I received a review copy from Delmark Records. It has been a while since I posted new reviews, so happy to get this one up. Jose is currently touring in support of this album which you can check out on his Facebook page. Here is Jose Ramirez in performance.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

Introducing Juanita Williams Big Mo

This one is a totally unexpected release that is likely to be one of my favorite records of 1994. A  singer who this reviewer had never heard of prior to this recording, Juanita Williams has been the lead vocalist for the Airmen of Note (U.S. Air Force) for the past 20 years and traveled around the world, as well as regularly singing with her church choir.  She grew up listening to Aretha Franklin, Etta James, Sarah Vaughn, Ella Fitzgerald, and Ruth Brown and sees herself as partly carrying their torch.  

The wide-ranging repertoire on her initial release gives an idea of her breadth and power as a singer.  She handles tough Stax soul, like Mabel John’s Another Man’s Place with as much authority as T-Bone Walker’s blues-ballad I‘m Still in Love With You.  Producers Pete Ragusa,  Ed Eastridge, and Mitch Collins took their time recording this over a year and a half, mixing in some of the best Washington, D.C. talents, including Nighthawks’ Mark Wenner and Danny Morris, Jimmy Thackery, and Chuck Underwood in addition to the three producers.  Jazz guitar legend Joe Pass is present on the superb reading given to I’m Still in Love With You, which along with the Bobby Bland classic, Two Steps From the Blues, receive warm readings. 

There are solid renditions of Little Walter’s Crazy ‘Bout You Baby, which is patterned after the Ike and Tina Turner reworking of this classic, and One More Heartache, which touches up on the Paul Butterfield arrangement (from The Resurrection of Pigboy Crabshaw album).  The arrangements on Ms. Williams' renditions of Little Milton’s That Will Never Do, and Chuck Willis’ It’s Too Late (S)he’s Gone, have touches of the King Curtis arrangements for Freddie King.  

There’s great playing, and generally great singing. She is a powerful singer, and while there are a few moments when she sounds a bit strident, that is a minor point.  And on Two Steps From the Blues and I’m Still in Love With You, she is compelling. Having been introduced to Juanita Williams, this reviewer is awaiting her next recording.

This was a terrific recording, and unfortunately, Juanita Williams has not enjoyed a more prominent musical career although still a riveting performer. I have been a bit slack in posting to the blog, and hope to remedy this. The review I posted today originally appeared in the June 1994 Jazz & Blues Report. I likely ran this review in the DC Blues Society newsletter. I have made minor stylistic and grammatical changes and corrections. I likely received a review copy from Big Mo. Here is a relatively recent performance from Juanita Williams.