Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Ledisi Sings Nina

Ledisi Sings Nina
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Ledisi remembers waking up in New Orleans hearing her mother sing, "…and everybody knows about Mississippi Goddam!" Later she learned it was Nina Simone. While in Oakland in her 20s, she was depressed and hearing Simone sing "Trouble in Mind" over the radio. It woke me up. I was feeling discouraged for being different, for being the oddball that liked every style—blues and jazz and Broadway and hip-hop. I had sung every club in the Bay Area, done every gig. Nina's voice said to me I was not alone. Her voice saved my life and woke me up and taught me to be fearless. I had two pieces of luggage and moved to New York City after that."

In the past eight years, Ledisi has produced and toured popular tribute shows to Simone and performed concerts on television, in major concert halls, and at music festivals, featuring her interpreting Simone's songs and explaining her importance and history. This EP album is the culmination of these projects that reveal the depth of Ledisi's continuing sense of gratitude and debt to Simone. The world-renowned Metropole Orkest conducted by Jules Buckley with arrangements by Jochen Neufer and others provides the backing for the majority of the seven songs she brings her voice to. "I'm Going Back Home" features the all-star New Orleans Jazz Orchestra directed by Adonis Rose. "Four Women" is powered by Ledisi in the company of other vocalists of similar stature: Lisa Fisher, Lizz Wright, and Alice Smith. "Wild Is The Wind"—with Spanish guitar, piano, and drums—is the album's sole live recording taken from the 2020 PBS special broadcast Ledisi "Live: A Tribute to Nina Simone."

Listening to Ledisi here, one can perhaps detect Simone's influence as well as Ledesi's own voice with her rich vocal palette, impeccable pitch, diction, and phrasing, along with an impressive mastery of vocal dynamics. This is heard whether she is belting out "Feeling Good" with the full tonal colors provided by Metropole Orkest or the relaxed treatment of "My Baby Just Cares For Me." On the latter number she playfully updates cultural references to the likes of Lana Turner with references to Beyoncé and Halle Berry. There is some wooly, muted trombone of this track. Then there is a wonderful bilingual reading of Jacques' Brel's "Ne Me Quitte Pas (Don't Leave Me)," with the Orkest's horns adding to the longing mood of this rendition. A driving arrangement propels The Metropole Orkest's backing on her full-throated singing on "Work Song" along with a terrific tenor sax solo.

The other tracks are equally striking, including the closing "I'm Going Back Home," with punchy gospel-infused backing and a second-live groove by the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. Like Simone, Ledisi is a singer who defies categories, as is demonstrated throughout this release. The only complaint is that one wishes there was more music here.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is Ledisi singing a tribute to Nina Simone at the Apollo Theater in New York City.

Monday, September 20, 2021

RIP Warner Williams


Just heard this sad news about Warner Williams. The first time I saw him was when the DC Blues Society and The House of Musical Traditions presented a show featuring Paul Geremia. Warner Wiliams, who I was not familiar with, opened the show and blew us all away. Pretty soon with harmonica player Jay Summerour, they were regulars at jams and shows as Little Bit of Blues. 

Prince George Community College regularly presented a show in February called Juke Joint Saturday Night that opened with Warner and Jay and then The Hardway Connection. I remember Nick Spitzer booking Warner and Jay to open for Joe Louis Walker at the Barns of Wolf Trap. Introducing Warner and Jay, Nick mentioned calling Warner to get some info for his introduction and the grandson answered and said that Warner did not want to talk, he did not want to be famous. Well in the DC area among blues lovers Warner was famous. He was brilliant and yet so full of joy as he turned a country honky-tonk tune into a Piedmont blues romp, "Hey Bartender, there's a big bug in my bear."

Warner had a repertoire that spanned old Tin Pan Alley songs, children's songs, honky-tonk country, and Blind Boy Fuller. In the DMV in the 90s, we had Archie Edwards, John Cephas, John Jackson, and Warner Williams. We were so fortunate and with Warner's passing, an era has ended but there are young voices to keep the tradition alive and growing.

RIP Mr. Warner Williams.

Sunday, September 19, 2021

Lightnin' Hopkins -Shootin’ Fire - April 11, 1969

Lightnin' Hopkins -Shootin’ Fire - April 11, 1969 - Cicadelic Records

A release of the legendary, and iconic Lightnin’ Hopkins that includes previously unissued studio recordings should be of interest to anyone that calls themselves a blues lover. Cicadelic Records has is- sued “Shootin’ Fire - April 11, 1969” which contains 18 tracks from that date and two recorded in August 1961. 

The original recordings were produced by Roy Ames and some selections have been issued with bass and drums mixed too high and the guitar lead too low with excessive reverb to make Lightnin’ sound con- temporary. This release has re-mixed the four track originals without the previous studio misjudgments. Accompanying Hopkins on these recordings are Cedric Hayward on piano, Lawrence Evans on bass and Ben Turner on drums.  

The blues is on Lightnin’s mind, as he says before launching into the opening track, “Born In The Bottom,” a semi-autobiographical number as he was born in Warren’s Bottom, Texas, although there are times he wished he was born dead. It is a pretty powerful performance with his spoken interludes and familiar biting guitar. It sets the pace for 77 minutes of deep Texas blues. “Rainy Day in Houston” is a similarly paced performance as Lightning sings that if it keeps on raining, papa can’t make no time. And when he tells this woman who is not paying him no mind, but “A Man Like Me Is Hard To Find.” Lightning can be hard to back with his tempo shifts and occasionally stretching verses beyond 12 bars, but the trio is solid on this moving performance. 

One issue for more casual listeners may be the predominance of similarly tempo-ed slow blues, but he does pick up the pace on “Movin’ On Out,” as he will move early, so people won’t see him make his way. The changes of this suggest “What’d I Say,” although the performance is a bit more measured. “Shinin’ Moon” is a theme Hopkins recorded before as he sings about the shining look pretty, shine down through the trees as he can see his baby when she don’t see him with some impressive guitar. “Feel Like Ballin’ The Jack” was originally recorded for Aladdin as “Feel So Bad,” and it is Lightnin’s thinly disguised rendition of BigBill’s classic “I Feel So Good.”

Lightnin’s sense of humor is manifest on ”Stinkin’ Foot,“ as he tells his lady to put her shoes on, while on ”December 7, 1941“ Lightning sings about the Japanese bombing Pearl Harbor over a quarter century after the fact. ”My Baby Ain’t Got No Shoes,” set to the ”This Train/My Babe“ melody, deals with the theme of poverty and deprivation as his baby also has no place to go, and is followed by a slow blues with a similar theme ”My Baby Was Crying For Bread,“ as he sings she has taken all his money and threw it all away so, it ain’t right the baby crying. ”My Little Darling“ is Lightnin’s reworking of the Cecil Gant ballad ”I Wonder,“ while a lively instrumental ”Go Ahead“ segues into ”Battle Hymn of the Republic.“ Similarly an alternate (Lightnin’ rehearsing with the bassist) of “Movin’ On Out” segues into “When the Saints Going Marchin’ In.” 

The two last musical performances here, “Baby Please Don’t Do Me Wrong” and “Good As Old Time Religion,” are from April, 1961 and are strong performances with good piano and rhythm. The album closes with a brief “I’m Shooting Fire.” where he plays a few riffs but explains why musicians have a tough time playing with him. The liner booklet gives some overview of the music and the circumstances of the recording along with photograph of the recording contract and cancelled checks. Some of the comments on the songs are a bit superficial, and a couple of performance sound not quite finished, but this is certainly a welcome addition to Hopkins’ very extensive discography. Musically, he rarely disappoints and that is the case in this reissue of down-home Texas blues. 

I purchased this CD. This review appeared in the July-August 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 367). Here is Lightnin' performing "Stinkin' Foot."

Saturday, September 18, 2021


Neo-Classic Blues

This is Gaye Adegbalola’s most recent “embrace” of the classic blues and the classic blues women, Accompanied by pianist Roddy Barnes, Gaye interprets some well- known, and rescues some more obscure songs from the earliest days of blues recording. In addition, she sings several originals that are presented in the same vein as the early blues foremothers.

From the opening moments of Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom to the last notes of Roddy Barnes’ Summer Sky, we are treated to some exquisite performances. There is a fair number of selections associated with Ma Rainey in addition to the opening track that include Yonder Come the Blues, Prove It to Me, and the immortal See See Rider, all of which Gaye delivers wonderfully with Barnes’ complimentary backing. The bawdy The Dirty Dozens receives spirited treatment as does does Lucille Bogan’s BD Woman Blues. Another Bogan song, Sloppy Drunk, is taken at a distinctively slower tempo than Ann Rabson performs the number with Saffire. Gaye’s original, Twisted Woman Blues fits in seamlessly with Sippie Wallace’s Up the Country Blues, while her ballad How Can I Say I Miss You, compliments her rendition of the Duke Ellington-Paul Webster classic, I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good

A couple of songs from blues history are also refreshed by Gaye here, Perry Bradford’s Crazy Blues, the bluesy Perry Bradford song that Mamie Smith recorded to launch the blues craze, and Alberta Hunter’s Down Hearted Blues that was Bessie Smith’s first recording. In addition to the wonderful performances, Gaye provides short but insightful comments on all the songs. This is simply a marvelous disc of blues performed with so much heart and panache that is unreservedly recommended.

This review appeared originally in the July-August 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 269). I likely received a review copy from a publicist. This still should be available at finer sellers. Here is a video of Gaye and Roddy Barnes performing I Got It Bad and That Ain’t Good.


Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Robert Pete Williams - The Legacy of the Blues.

This is a review that I wrote in Fall 2006 and published in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288). This is the last review from that group of Sonet Blues reissues reviews.

Robert Pete Williams was discovered by folklorist Harry Oster while recording prisoners at Louisiana’s infamous Angola State Penitentiary. These recordings that originally were issued on the Folk-Lyric label (later acquired by Arhoolie on whom they have been reissued) certainly made some aware of Williams' stark, somber style of performances.  These performances drew on Williams' harsh life experiences  and were played in a manner reflecting Blind Lemon Jefferson's influence as channeled into the one-chord droning approach similar to that found in the early recordings of John lee Hooker and the recordings of Junior Kimbrough. 

His recordings led to his eventual freedom, although not until a probationary period where was almost an indentured servant farmer. Subsequently Williams recorded for Prestige-Bluesville, Ahura Mazda (perhaps reissued on Fat Possum) and this album, originally part of The Legacy of the Blues series. The ten performances here are representative of Williams unique art with his deeply personal lyrics, created out of the hard life he and others shared but distilled through his own experiences as in his re-recording of Angola Penitentiary Blues where he recalls “Locked me down, they tried me for my life; April the 6th, 1956, they sent me to Angola; Not to lie, not to lie, they tried me for my life; Cried, let’s keep the poor boy.” Come Here, Sit on My Knee features his bottleneck style that he learned from his friend, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the performance sounds derived from Shake ‘Em On Down and other McDowell numbers, while Late Night Boogie, has him in his understated vocal singing about late at night blowing his horn with his unique guitar accompaniment. 

Williams music requires the listener’s attention although this disc sounds like it is among his most accessible recordings. Give Robert Pete Williams music some time and its virtues will hopefully become evident to you. 

I likely received my review copy from Jazz & Blues Report. Here is Robert Pete Williams performing.

Sunday, September 12, 2021

Reviews from April 1988

Notes Hot & Blue - This was a column of reviews I wrote for the DC Blues Society's original newsletter, the DC Blues Calendar. This is from April 1988 when it was a two-page flyer. The front-page noted the Blues Society was presenting a concert with Friz Hollway and John Dee Holeman. As noted from my review, Lonnie Brooks was appearing at the Bayou on April 4th.

Lonnie Brooks, in town at the Bayou on the 4th, has a new Alligator album, Live From Chicago- Bayou Lightning Strikes. Brooks has always had strong rock roots, first being part of the Louisiana swamp pop scene before moving to Chicago. This is a pretty tasty set of rocking blues and rhythm & blues which is sure to appeal to those who like blues laced with rock which strikes me as more bouncy than some other recent Alligator albums. As a label on the cover says, this is "Genuine Houserockin’ Music”.

The English Krazy Kat label has been issuing a variety of albums of blues, rhythm'n'blues, and gospel from the Gotham family of labels. A typical album is Big Band Blues (KK814) which includes several swinging selections by the great blues shouter Jimmy Rushing with a band including Bill Doggett and a variety of Basie alumni, a track by J.B. Sumners who sang with Tiny Grimes, three tracks by singer Tiny Tim (Timothy Flair, not the 60s" pop figure), and a jumping band led by trombonist Ernie Fields. Solid swinging and jazzy stuff.

A recent reissue, Alley Special (KK 820) represents  Sometime of a coup. This album includes Muddy Waters’ first commercially issued recording, "Mean Red Spider" from 1946 appeared on the 20th Century label as by James ‘Sweet Lucy" Carter. Muddy sings strongly and is backed by an urban blues band which includes strong piano and alto sax but some awful Soprano sax. Other recordings on this include the fine Detroit bluesman, Baby Boy Warren, a previously unissued Eddie Burns track, a track by harmonica player Sonny Boy Johnson (influenced by the 1st Sonny Boy Williamson) and several tracks by Texas bluesman Wright Holmes.

More unissued Eddie Burns along with some excellent John Lee Hooker can be heard on Detroit Blues 1950-1951 (KK 816). The Hooker sides are Strong solo recordings including an early version of “House Rent Boogie". The Burns selections feature some tough harp and a rough down home blues band with John Lee Hooker's quitar evident on a couple tracks. Great Downhome blues.

I likely received a review copy of the Lonnie Brooks from Alligator Records. I likely purchased the three Krazy Kat releases (which were English). The Krazy Kat label no longer operates and I believe its releases are out-of-print although maybe available as CDs from Collectables.

Saturday, September 11, 2021

Sunnyland Slim Legacy of the Blues

This is a review that I wrote in Fall 2006 and published in the November-December 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 288). I will be posting other reviews from this every few days in next couple weeks.

Universal Music on the Verve label has released the second batch of CDs in its series, The Sonet Blues Story. These sides make available albums from the 1970s that were issued in Europe on the Sonet label although some were imported in the United States and some were even issued in the US, as GNP-Crescendo issued The Legacy of the Blues recordings stateside. This latest batch includes more from that series along with other albums that Samuel Charters had produced for Sonet. I will be posting these reviews every few days.

Albert Luandrew, the legendary Chicago pianist known as Sunnyland Slim, is represented by some 1974 solo recordings recorded in Stockholm for The Legacy of the Blues. With his unique touch and his vibrato-laden vocals, Slim is heard hear on ten solid performances that includes such staples of his repertoire as She’s Got a Thing Goin’ On, Bessie Mae and She Used to Love Me

Slim’s strong two-fisted piano and singing is displayed on the rocking Gonna Be My Baby while he gets down in the alley on Couldn’t Find a Mule singing about “Oh Captain,” and his own recasting of Woman I Ain’t Gonna Drink No More Whiskey” singing about how his woman and whiskey take advantage of him laying down firmly played but spare bass while pounding out some strong right hand lines. The longest track Days of Old recalls his early days where he experienced the harsh conditions of a southern black laborer in the dark segregation days. 

Slim remained a foundation of the Chicago blues scene until he died in 1995 at the age of 88 and these recordings are a welcome reminder of his well-documented legacy.

I likely received my review copy from Jazz & Blues Report. Here is Sunnyland Slim performing.