Sunday, January 28, 2007

Charles Brown's Legend lives on

I had the pleasure to see Charles Brown a number of times after first seeing him at the New York club Tramps in the Summer of 1982 I believe. Charles Brown was a remarkable pianist and a major influence on many performers. The very first album by him I had the pleasure to own was Legend on ABC-Bluesway that came out in 1969 or 1970. I have had it several times on vinyl as this session with the late Earl Hooker as well as Mel Brown on guitar was an absoulute delight. It was reissued on CD in 1993 or 1994 and here is the review I did for Jazz & Blues Report at the time of reissue. Unfortunately this is out of print and may only be obtained at a premium.

MCA has reissued Charles Brown’s Bluesway album, Legend, that featured the late Earl Hooker, along with Mel Brown on guitar, and Red Holloway on tenor saxophone, on their One Way Out label. One is treated to somewhat lengthy, relaxed jams on such Brown classics as Drifting Blues and Merry Christmas Baby, both with incredibly tasty guitar from Earl Hooker, warm vocal duets with Dottie Ivory on I Want to Go Home, and All Is Forgiven (which Brown claimed in the notes to have written for this session), a high-spirited instrumental The Combination, and a couple of other songs that Brown and group really hit it off with. While these are extended performances, nowhere does one feel that the performances are too long. Its a warm, friendly session with Charles trying to bring back those good old days of Dinah Washington, Nat King Cole, B.B. King, Big Joe Turner, and last but not least, Charles Brown, near the end of I Want to Go Home. This album should have revived Brown’s career in the early seventies. Unfortunately it didn’t, but with his well deserved success of recent years, it certainly is nice to have it available again. Recommended.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Sonny Rollins Honored With Polar Award

Having received the new album, Sonny Please, Sonny Rollins latest recording in the mail today, I was even more delighted to receive by email the latest Newk's Time - The Sonny Rollins Newsletter and find out that he and composer Steve Reich were honored with Polar Awards, which were announced Thursday at the Royal Swedish Academy of Music in Stockholm. The Polar Awards are the equivalent of Nobel prizes for Music. The two Americans will receive the one million kronor prize from Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf in Stockholm on May 21.

The academy said it tapped Rollins, 76, for raising "the accompanied solo to the highest artistic level -- all characterized by a distinctive and powerful sound, irresistible swing and an individual sense of humor."

On February 1st, a reception and press event will be given by the Consul General of Sweden in New York to honor the winners of the Polar Music Prize Award for 2007.

The website for the Polar Music Awards from which I downloaded the picture of Sonny and which has a full list of winners of this award.

Sonny Rollins website has more information and news on the Saxophone Colossus.

Congratulations Sonny. You are so deserving of this honor. You continue to astonish with your music.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

Some Love from another Blues King

Alabama bluesman, Willie King, has developed a following with his strong juke joint blues that mixes his own take on classic delta and Chicago blues with a topical-protest slant to some of his own material. His music might loosely described as Howlin’ Wolf mixed with Mississippi Fred McDowell with some R.L. Burnside seasoning for a driving, almost hypnotic mix. His most recent Freedom Creek release, One Love, certainly will satisfy his fans as he launches into Sweet Potato Man (“I’m your sweet potato man, I want to work for you.”) with its relentless groove, followed by I Like It Like That, opening with stinging King guitar and a funk groove while guitarist Debbie Bond and Wllie Lee Halbert second his vocal lines in a manner similar to that heard in to some zydeco acts. Ride Sally Side is another North Hills rocker as he sings about having getting together in the old days and just pitching down a wonderful time, while Holing (sic) the Line, with some emphatic harp and sax, sports a lyric about other people trying to wreck one’s life but don’t worry as long as you hold the line. Writing in the Sky (Katrina), a slow blues with a John Lee Hooker feel, has King reflecting on the horrible hurricane that wreaked havoc through the Gulf Coast (“Did you see the handwriting in the sky all the way from Africa.”), while the one cover, of Howlin’ Wolf’s Spoonful, benefits from the slowed tempo with King one of the few vocalists able to successfully to evoke Wolf when singing. Mamaluchi mixes the Hideaway melody with a tinge of Jimmy Reed for an easy going rocker as King sings about going to get his baby. The title track is an upbeat lyric about how we are all interconnected despite what seems to make us seem different and that brings us hope for better. There is nothing fancy about the music here, and its similar to a lot of other ‘primitive-sounding’ juke blues, but Willie King places his own stamp on simple, driving music and has a focus in his performances that provide the performances with more personality than similar efforts by others. Its music for listening, but more importantly its music to dance and get one’s groove on with.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Excellent new Holmes Brothers CD

The Holmes Brothers new Alligator album, State of Grace, is another solid disc by brothers Wendell and Sherman Holmes and drummer Popsy Dixon. Listening to this disc, like most of their recordings, one gets a mix of soulful R&B, gospel, country and blues which certainly transcends simple labeling of the trio as a blues group, a term that becomes increasingly meaningless but also one that does disservice to them. There are some choice originals like Sherman Holmes wonderful country soul ballad, Close the Door, and remakes of pop classics such as Nick Lowe’s (What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace Love and Understanding. Wendell Holmes handles the lazy southern funk of Gasoline Drawers. Rosanne Cash joins Wendell on a lovely rendition of Hank Williams’ I Can't Help It If I'm Still In Love With You, with some lovely mandolin from Larry Campbell behind the very heartful vocals. Glenn Patscha adds accordion and Campbell is on fiddle to add some cajun flavor to a lively rendition of John Fogerty’s Bad Moon Rising, while Popsy Dixon handles the vocal on Glenn Patscha’s Three Gray Walls, a terrific song that sounds like a classic R&B song from the pre-Beatles period. Joan Osborne takes the vocal joined by the Brothers on Those Memories of You, another soulful reworking of a country song, while Levon Helm joins in for I’ve Just Seen the Rock of Ages. Other delights include Sherman’s interpretation of he soulful-folk of Lyle Lovett’s If I Had a Boat, Wendell’s handling of George Jones’ Ain’t It Funny What a Fool Will Do, and his own Standing in the Need of Love, a strong blues original with a strong guitar solo from him as well, and the closing rendition of Lyle Lovett’s God Will where Popsy is at the forefront. The album displays the attention to good songs, solid musicianship where there is a recognition that understatement is often a virtue and marvelous singing that has been the hallmark of The Holmes Brothers recordings for the past few decades. This terrific disc is easily recommended even if difficult to classify as fitting within any particular genre.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

John Németh's Magic Touch

John Németh

One of the real pleasures I have is hearing a new voice that just blows me away being rooted deep in the blues tradition, yet singing and playing with an authority that would have been at home on a blues recording 40 years ago. Born in Idaho, John Németh has been growing a body of followers including guitarist Junior Watson and Steady Rollin’ Bob Margolin and after a couple of CDs has signed with Blind Pig and has a new CD, Magic Touch, that is a stunning release. He is a wonderful singer that to this listener suggests Junior Parker mixed with Bobby Radcliffe (with a hint of Joe Louis Walker) and an equally superb harp player. This CD is produced by Anson Funderburgh (who plays on 1 track) with Németh backed by a terrific band that includes great Junior Watson on guitar and Kaz Kazanoff and the Texas Horns. Németh blasts off with a strong reworking of Junior Wells’ Blues Hit Big Town (great harp along with the vocal) before followed by the funky originals Blue Broadway and the title track, both sporting strong crying vocals and terrific playing from Watson (who gets into a rock and roll vein on the title track). Willie Dixon’s Sit and Cry the Blues, was one of Buddy Guy’s earliest recordings and the version here with Watson’s evocation of Ike Turner’s trebly playing on Guy’s original as Németh’s convincingly the lyrics in his natural soulful style. She Did Not Show sports some harp in a Rice Miller vein on a blues set to the Sittin’ on Top of the World/ Some Cold Rainy Day melody, while Up to No Good evokes Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home, with more exquisite harp playing. Come On, a polka-blues (yes you read that correctly) closes this album on a fresh, delightful note. Blind Pig in their publicity for this suggests that Magic Touch “is destined to be one of the most remarked upon releases of 2007.” Well it is January as I write this, but they are likely right, as this is simply terrific and hopefully Németh will do some touring in support of this.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A few links on a bluesy note

On the post-war blues list there was a post about so videos of artists associated with the Music Makers Relief Foundation as well as a link to a very good review of the CD-DVD Various Artists - Drink House To Church House: Songs & Stories From The Roots Of America Vol. I & II. The review by Richard Marcus is well worth sharing.

I have the blog Jazz & Blues Music Reviews on My yahoo page. Tim sometimes writes brief reviews but is always interesting with links to articles from newspapers or magazine as well as podcasts. he himself puts together a very fascinating podcast of jazz and blues every so often.

One of the podcasts that I have been turned on to by Tim is illasounds, which has a number of wonderful, thematic podcasts of great jazz recordings. If you go to the page and down the list, you will even see a terrific one of classic acoustic pre-war blues. If you want to sample the music of Thelonious Monk, or early free jazz or some contemporary salsa, these podcasts are terrific.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Honeyboy Edwards- A Favorite Album By Him

While I have enjoyed the music of David 'Honeyboy' Edwards over the years, I have regarded him not quite of the level of his contemporaries from the Delta such as Big Joe Williams, who was his early mentor. Still he has one CD that stands out among his various ones, Earwig's Delta Bluesman which still stands out today. His is a 1992 review from Jazz & Blues Report.

Earwig Records (along with British Indigo Records) has just issued Delta Bluesman, a retrospective of Honeyboy Edwards' career which includes his Library of Congress recordings, one recording with Floyd Jones and Kansas City Red from the Old Friends session, and several recent recordings, some solo and some with band including Carey Bell, and Sunnyland Slim and others, where he recreates his 1951 Who May Your Regular Be, performs the previously unrecorded riverboat blues Katie Allen, and John Lee Williamson’s Eyes Full of Tears. Also interspersed are excepts from recent interviews of Honeyboy including his recollection of Alan Lomax coming to record him for the Library of Congress, as well as recollections of such seminal blues performers as Peetie Wheatsraw and Tommy McClennan. One can hear echoes of Robert Johnson in Water Coast Blues and Charlie Patton in a Just a Spoonful, and the short version of Stagolee isn’t far removed from John Hurt except Honeyboy’s attack is far more percussive. But the dominant influence on Honeyboy’s music is Big Joe Williams whose approach is echoed in Honeyboy’s personal blues interpretations. Wind Howlin’ Blues is a nice song on which Honeyboy adds some simple rack harmonica. If Honeyboy had never recorded or been located, the Library of Congress recordings would have been recognized as the work of a significant purveyor of the Delta blues. Honeyboy did make several recordings for small commercial labels, and after being found in Chicago by Pete Welding has recorded several times that certainly have been enjoyable, although generally not of the level of his Library of Congress recordings. Of the more recent recordings, two band cuts stand out, Kate Allen and Decoration Day, as Honeyboy forcefully sings with Carey Bell adding some strong harp fills and Sunnyland Slim contributing a rocking underpinning. Solo blues like Black Cat and Rocks in My Pillow are nicely rendered. This release succeeds in its intentions, and is a highly recommended collection for fans of down home blues.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Blues is Alright Tour Is Coming

Just a heads up about a terrific tour of many of the leading acts on the Southern Blues Tour that will be making stops in a number of major cities. Acts include Roy C, Bobby Bland, J Blackfoot, Bobby Rush, Clarence Carter, Floyd Taylor and the Johnnie Taylor Revue, Latimore, Marvin Sease, Theodis Ealey, Sir Charles Jones, Mel Waiters and Shirley Brown.

Having seen the majority of acts, it looks like an incredible evening of music although given th revue nature of the show, if everyone performs, no one except a couple acts will get to do more than a few numbers. I should point out that there are some who do not consider this blues (see The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings whose editors presumably like their blues bleached), but to many of us, especially the community out of which the blues arose, this is still the blues.

Here is the link: The Blues Is Alright Tour

Sunday, January 14, 2007

The Good Doctor Cures the Boogie Disease

This is a review I did in 1992 of Dr. Ross for Jazz & Blues Report. Dr. Ross passed away in 1993 and I am fortunate to have seen the one-man band perform at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival several times in the late 1980s.

Isaiah “Dr.” Ross

Boogie Disease

Now a resident of the Detroit area, Isaiah “Dr.” Ross developed from a fine delta blues artist in the tradition of Big Joe Williams and Robert Petway into a one-man band. One of the artists who recorded for Sam Phillips, his early Memphis recordings have been reissued on Boogie Disease. Listening to the exuberance of the alternates to Boogie Disease and Chicago Breakdown, one can detect not only the strong delta rhythmic style of a Big Joe Williams (as well as northern transplant John lee Hooker), but also more than a bit of the influence of John Lee Williamson, reflected in a variety of songs including Going Back South and Polly Put a Kettle On. Of considerable note are his strong interpretations of such delta themes as Going to the River (Derived perhaps from Blind Lemon Jefferson, but played in the delta style), Shake ‘Em Down and Mississippi Blues. The latter is a Catfish Blues variant better known as Cat’s Squirrel and the source of the recording by the rock group, Cream. In addition to his youthful influences of John Lee Williamson and Tommy McClennan, one can also appreciate the impact of Muddy waters, and John lee Hooker, particularly on the hypnotic rhythms of Industrial Avenue Boogie, a reworking of Hooker’s Boogie Chillum.This is an updated version of a vinyl reissue, and Steve La Vere has updated his and Bob Eagle’s original liner notes. Some of you have heard some of Dr. Ross’ Sun recordings and will have an idea of the exuberant boogie and barrelhouse blues to be found here. Others are in for a treat with respect to these superbly rendered performances.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Henry Townsend & The Real St. Louis Blues

Arcola Records is a small label out of Seattle that has been building a very interesting catalog of downhome blues focusing on previously unissued recordings by significant stylists in older blues traditions. One of the recent additions to the catalog is the late Henry Townsend’s The Real St. Louis Blues. Townsend, who when he died had probably the lengthiest career on record in blues history, first recording in 1929 and recording in the 21st Century. In the pre-World War 11 era played (and recorded) with many legends including James ‘Stump’ Johnson, Lonnie Johnson, Henry Spaulding, Roosevelt Sykes, Walter Davis, Charlie Jordan, John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson and Big Joe Williams and his recording career extended from 1929 to the 21st Century and developed a distinctive style on both guitar and piano.
The recordings on this set derive from recordings that Arcola’s Bob West produced in August, 1979 at Henry’s home in St. Louis (and West playing second guitar on a couple tracks) and a Baldwin Piano Store in the city, and provide a pretty fair representation of Townsend as a bluesman displaying his rhythmic driving guitar and deep alley piano style matched with his doleful vocals. His style gives his rendition of Jesse Baby Face Thomas’ You’ll Never Find Another Man Like Me, titled here as Can’t You See (and credited to Henry) a bit more somber in its tone. His piano blues feature a steady bass and thundering right hand runs and complement his somber singing on Mercy, a take on a traditional blues theme; So Long, So Long, a somber goodbye song; Sad Story, a minor key blues, reminiscent of Walter Davis, that is a marvelous piece of blues storytelling as his woman says she is going away; and Let Her Go, a marvelous performance in the vein of St. James Infirmary as if Walter Davis sang it. Crying Won’t Make Me Stay (one of the songs on which West seconded Townsend) brings together the going down the big road blues theme with going and his woman’s crying won’t make him stay, which Townsend’s plaintive vocal delivers so convincingly. This is a marvelous collection of blues performances and absolutely recommended to fans of acoustic blues, although this reviewer recognizes that Townsend’s sober and thoughtful approach to the blues won’t be to everyone’s taste. Arcola should be available from better online retailers if one cannot locate this material in stores.

Here is a link to Henry's wikipedia entry

Friday, January 12, 2007

Jay McShann's Hootie Blues

The passing of the legendary Jay McShann this past year was one of many substantial losses the music world suffered. McShann led one of the last great Kansas City Big Bands which was noted for its blues playing and the fact that Charlie Parker was a member until he emerged as one of the forces behind the Bebop revolution of the forties. In the forties and the fifties her recorded behind any number of blues singers including Crown Prince Waterford and Jimmy Witherspoon (Mosaic is reissuing their classic RCA album) and then in the late sixties and early seventies recorded in the US and abroad for a variety of labels which showed him to be one of the great piano masters of blues and swinging jazz. He continued to perform and tour worldwide over the past thirty five years and in the past several years the Canadian Stony Plain label put out several very fine releases in the company of Duke Robillard.

Perhaps the last McShann CD to be issued in his lifetime, the 2006 Stony Plain disc, "Hootie Blues," was recorded in 2001 at Toronto’s Montreal Bistro, with the pianist-vocalist was accompanied by saxophonist Jim Galloway (whom McShann had played with a number of times over the past few decades), Galloway’s wife Rosemary on bass and Don Vickery on drums. This disc is a delightful set of chestnuts from McShann’s pen like 'Confessin The Blues,' 'My Chile' and the title track, along with a strong blues that I believe Witherspoon recorded, 'When The Lights Go Out,' as well as standards as '‘Deed I Do' and 'All of Me.' McShann still sounded fine at 85 when this performance occurred, especially in his piano playing, and the backing band is right with him. Galloway is very attractive player working within the swing tradition. McShann was modest about his singing, but his slightly nasal delivery, reminiscent of his one-time vocalist, Walter Brown, had a definite appeal, although his delivery perhaps shows a tinge of the years and he still sang and played the blues at a level most could only aspire too. In addition to some marvelous performances, there is an extended interview between Stony Plain’s Holger Peterson and McShann recorded in 2003 here he remembers his formative days and more, which is placed at the discs end so one can listen to at one’s leisure. A very enjoyable release which may not be among his finest recordings, but certainly has little to fault.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

If Recording Available Digitally Is It In Print?

The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings was recently published and I have some issues with it especially the exclusion of soul blues, but that is for another time. But they also generally omit recordings that are out-of-print so for example the two excellent albums that Bobby Parker recorded for Black Top in 1993 and 1995 are not discussed in that book (although they are discussed in other, older guides such as the All Music Guide to the Blues).
Visiting, I did a search on Bobby's name and discovered Parker's two discs are available for download such even if the original Black Top CDs are out-of-print, the music is in-print. Of course one does not get the packaging or liner notes. I should add that various CD dealers online do have the original CDs available. By the time they do an updated edition, the authors of this work are going to have to consider what does online availability of the music mean for the coverage they provide. Of course, other music guides will also have to face this issue.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Marcia Ball CD review

Here is a review from nearly a decade ago of Marcia Ball's Rounder album, Let Me Play With your Poodle that appeared in the Cleveland based Jazz & Blues Report in 1997 and the DC Blues calendar around the same time. This is the album where she first sang Randy Newman's Louisiana, 1927, a song unfortunately made timely in light of Hurricane Katrina. This was before the excellent guitarist Pat Boyack started his tenure with Ms. Ball with what became an excellent touring band.

Marcia Ball
Let Me Play With Your Poodle

Marcia Ball’s first new album in several years contains the same lively mix of New Orleans R&B, zydeco and gulf coast blues that have made her such a popular performer, mixing her smooth, yet so soulful vocals with her vigorous piano on a savory menu of musical treats - some vintage blues and some she newly penned. The title cut is a classic Tampa Red number that was also a staple of Lightning Hopkins’ repertoire that Ball dresses up in a hot zydeco arrangement and plays at a very hot tempo with Paul Klemper’s sax and Steve Williams guitar adding solo voices in addition to Ball’s Crescent City based piano groove. Others on this session include Derek O’Brien, Clarence Holliman, and Kaz Kazanoff. Also included is a rocking version of Clarence Garlow’s R&B classic, "Crawfishin’," and her own originals, like "Why Woman Cry" and "The Story of My Life," are sung in an unmannered, soulful fashion that is a real delight to listen to. Those who might quibble and suggest that Marcia Ball’s music lacks the grit and grime of some other artists would be ignoring her soulfulness, which can be heard in all of the performances here. And when she finishes Randy Newman’s ballad about the Mississippi River floods of 1927,"Louisiana, 1927," you’ll be ready to give this disc another spin.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Von Freeman Real Good

One of the unsung masters of the tenor saxophone, Von Freeman shows little sign of slowing down after all these years. A contemporary of Sonny Rollins, Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt, Freeman would have become a household name if he had left Chicago decades ago. Instead he eschewed fame to stay home mentoring musicians and playing primarily for his hometown fans. Freeman has been a most versatile musician who could play free jazz with the same authority as he could romp through a hard bop romp or get down into the nitty gritty on a blues (The legendary bluesman Sunnyland Slim was one of his earliest employers). Forty years ago, one of his admirers Roland Kirk got Atlantic to record him and in the past few decades has recorded mor extensively, including with his son Chico Freeman.

His latest CD on Premonition, "Good Forever," showcases Freeman on a set of ballads and blues, as he performs songs that in their time were his every day repertoire. He is accompanied by a wonderfully sympathetic trio of Richard Wyands on piano, John Webber on bass and Jimmy Cobb on drums. From the opening moments of "Why Try to Change Me No" to the closing breaths of "Didn’t We," Freeman brings his warm and full tone to these songs, breathing the unsung lyrics to life with his playing. The tenderness with he embraces "Smile," is especially enchanting and this certainly would make a wonderful background for a romantic evening. Lester Young’s influence on Freeman can be heard here, especially in Freeman’s attention to the lyrics in his playing here. Like his contemporaries Dexter Gordon, Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane, Freeman developed his own style and sound that is so evident here on another wonderful recording by one of the great tenor saxophonists of modern jazz.

Nice new set from Jackie Payne and Steve Edmonson

The Jackie Payne-Steve Edmonson Band had a critical success with their release of a couple years back, "Partners in the Blues." It was on Burnside and did not receive the exposure it deserved. Delta Groove, quickly becoming one of the more significant blues labels, has issued their latest release, "Master of the Game," a set of solid uptown blues with a hefty dash of Payne’s soulful vocals and Edmonson’s fleet modern blues guitar stylings. Payne is a veteran who first came to the attention of some from his tenure with the legendary Johnny Otis. Otis’s son, Nicky in fact anchors strong band heard here who back payne on a colelction of mostly originals which cover a range of typical blues themes from the 'Mean Evil Woman,' about a cajun woman who doesn’t treat men any good but got loving so good, to the 'Woman in Kansas City,' who will do anything for Jackie even selling her soul to the devil to keep him from me, which uses the 'Dust My Broom riff,' and the 'Sweet Land Lady,' who takes real good care of Jackie. Edmonson’s crisp solo here evokes Magic Sam. On the title track, set to a frustratingly familiar blues melody, Payne sings about when it comes to being a fool I am the master of the game, while 'A Fool Like Me' is a soulful original. Remakes include an enjoyable rendition of O.V. Wright’s 'A Nickel & A Nail,' that doesn’t quite come close to the heat of the original or Otis Clay’s marvelous tribute to his late friend, a strong rendition of 'Just the One' and a rendition of 'I’ll Take Care of You,' that might have been stronger with a slightly larger horn section and a bit less Memphis and more Joe Scott in the horn arrangements. Overall this is a very solid effort. Payne is a real good singer and the band is tight and can swing as well as rock. It is easy to recommend this album of uptown blues although I do not think it is as good as "Partners in the Blues."

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Artie 'Blues Boy' White's overlooked Home Tonight

The Penguin Guide to Blues Recordings INEXCUSABLY ignores contemporary soul-blues. I triggered a discussion at the yahoo Post-War Blues List at yahoo groups, which you might check out in the archives. This is one of many terrific recordings which should have been included (and it is available from Amazon among other places). My review is from 1997 and originally appeared in the Jazz & Blues Report from June 1997 as well as the DC Blues calendar from that time.

Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White
Home Tonight


Artie White serves up another serving of first rate soul-blues on the his new Waldoxy release, Home Tonight. Material or production wise, this is a typical Malaco/Waldoxy set, with a tight band of guitarists, Big Mike Griffin and Williams Andrew Thomas, bassist David Hood, keyboard whiz Clayton Ivey and drummer and co-producer Paul H. Lee. Add the Muscle Shoals Horns on the uptempo soulful opening number, when Artie tells his woman not to worry because Your Man Is Home Tonight. It’s followed by two straight-forward slow blues, "Somebody’s Fool", and a terrific new Travis Haddix authored song, "Man of the House", where Artie tells his woman he’s in a bad mood this morning and he just doesn’t give a damn, with Big Mike taking a nice stinging solo. The mood is reversed in Percy Strother’s soulful "If You Don’t Love Me," sung from the point of view of the woman whose man is too often out of the house, warning that there is someone to take her man’s place. The blues dominates this album with Johnson and Mosley contributing "Black Cat Scratchin’" as well as "The More You Lie to Me," a tasty number set to a Jimmy Reed groove on which Bobby Rush adds nice harp (he also adds harp to the closing country-flavored soulballad, "One Step From the Blues.") Waldoxy has hit the mark on this set. White is in terrific form and he’s given strong lyrics to work with on this release.

Otis Spann & Lightnin Hopkins

This is a review I did of the now out-of-print Mosaic Box of the Candid recordings by Otis Spann and Lightnin' Hopkins. The review as presented here is taken from the Cleveland Based publication, Jazz & Blues Report in its Septrember 1992 issue. Rereading it, I don't think there is much I would change about the review. You probably can pick up reissues of the Candid lps in some form or another on CD. Amazon does have Otis Spann is the Blues for $11.99 or something and lists a Japanese import of Lightnin' Hopkins in New York.

Otis Spann /Lightnin’ Hopkins
The Complete Candid Otis Spann /lightnin’ Hopkins Sessions
Mosaic Records has a well deserved reputation for its exhaustive reissues of classic jazz recordings that issue a particular performer’s complete output for a label or labels. For instance they have issued the complete Blue Note records of Thelonious Monk, Sidney Bechet, Albert Ammons and Meade Lux Lewis, and Larry Young, the complete Candid Recordings of Charles Mingus, the Complete Live Roulette Recordings of Count Basie, and the Complete Capitol Recordings of Nat King Cole. Not too long ago they issued their first package devoted to a blues artist, The Complete T-Bone Walker, 1940-1954 which compiled this pioneering blues artist’s recordings for Black and White, Mercury, Comet, Imperial and other labels. Mosaic has issued its second blues release, The Complete Candid Otis Spann/ Lightnin’ Hopkins Sessions (Mosaic MD3-139), a three compact disc or five record boxed set that puts together two masters of the postwar down home blues. The entire contents of Otis Spann is the Blues, Walkin’ the Blues and Lightnin’ in New York are released here along with a number of unissued titles and alternate takes. Black Cat, a Lightnin’ Hopkins tune that was originally issued on the Candid anthology, The Jazz Life, in edited form is heard here for the first time in its entirety. While Mosaic claims that 13 recordings from the the Spann recordings are previously unissued, four titles, including one of the takes of Baby Child and It Hurts Me Too, were issued in German reissues of Otis Spann is the Blues and Walkin’ the Blues. Candid was run by Nat Hentoff as a jazz offshoot of the Cadence label (home of the Everly Brothers), and in its two year history had an imposing roster of recordings. Its blues offerings were somewhat limited with Otis Spann is the Blues being the most famous blues release on the label. Spann is generally acknowledged as the major postwar blues pianist, and was a fundamental part of Muddy Waters band from the mid-fifties to the late sixties, as well as a major session player for Chess Records, recording with everybody from Muddy, Wolf and Sonny Boy to Chuck Berry. While the consummate band pianist, and a superlative accompanist (listen to his incredible work on Buddy Guy’s first and still best album A Man and the Blues), most of his band recordings were flawed by competent but not inspired bands, or production gaffes, like a session for ABC’s Bluesway label on which George “Harmonica” Smith’s harp was not recorded amplified. Nat Hentoff recorded Otis in a more intimate solo, or duet context (with Robert Lockwood’s tasty, jazzy playing) that many consider his finest recordings. Certainly instrumentals such as Walking the Blues,This is the Blues, Cow Cow Blues (mistitled Great Northern Stomp on earlier releases) or Otis in the Dark, are among the greatest examples of blues piano, but equally stirring is his renditions of Big Maceo Merriweather’s Worried Life Blues, his own deep blues, The Hard Way and the rocking It Must have Been the Devil. With his laconic, smokey delivery, Otis Spann was as expressive a blues vocalist as he was a pianist. Not to be ignored are Robert Lockwood’s four vocals, Take a Little Walk With Me, Ramblin’ on Mind, Little Boy Blue and My Daily Wish, which feature wonderful interplay between the two, or Jimmy Oden’s vocals, delivered in an grainy, slightly halting fashion including his standard Going Down Slow and such other great songs as Monkey Man Blues and Can’t Stand Your Evil Ways. The use of a vocal chorus on the two takes of Baby Child spoils that track for me, but this is less of a problem on Spann’s fresh interpretation of Tampa Red’s It Hurts Me Too. Of particular interest are the two takes of the talking blues Talkin’ the Blues, where Spann and Oden swap stories (Lockwood joins in on the second take included). I recall having Robert Lockwood on my WRUW-FM show Ramblin’ With the Blues back in 1971, and when we discussed these sessions he expressed his feeling the sessions would have been better if a full band had been used. While there can be little fault with the music produced (although some tracks are admittedly not classics) Lockwood’s point may be relevant in explaining why most of the tracks are done at a relatively slow tempo. This observation aside, the original Candid recordings have held up well since being recorded in August of 1960. Robert Lockwood is quoted reacting to the news that these were being reissued, “I’ll be damned, I think it’ll still sound OK.” He’s right, of course. The Hopkins Candid recordings are newer to me. Given the fact that only John Lee Hooker recorded more frequently between 1946 and 1970, it is easy to overlook a particular recording by him, particularly since his greatest recordings have to be considered his early recordings for such labels as Aladdin, Gold Star, Sittin’ In With, and Herald, and the genuine consistency of many of his recordings. If not among the essential Lightnin’ Hopkins sessions, his November 1960 Candid recordings were very good indeed. For one thing, several of his performances of such basic parts of his repertoire as his blues about the stuttering boy who tries to tell his boss about a farm fire, Mister Charlie and the boogie blues Mighty Crazy, with its neat guitar playing receive extended treatment here along with Black Cat, described by Mark Humphrey as “Lightnin’s saga of wino race relations.” Another valuable aspect of the Candid session is the fact that Lightnin’ was recorded extensively playing the piano, including Lightnin’s Piano Boogie, Take It Easy and Come Go Home With Me, switching between piano and guitar on both of the latter two selections. A capable barrelhouse pianist, his playing does not reach the level of his guitar work. There are fine interpretations of John Lee Hooker’s When My First Wife Left Me, and his version of Going Down Slow, I’ve Had My Fun If I Don’t Get Well No More; each given a very personalized treatment. Like other Mosaic releases, this comes with a booklet containing biographies of Spann, Lockwood, Oden and Hopkins, discussions of each recording and complete discographical information. Also, there are a number of rare photos included in the handsome booklet that comes with these boxed sets. This is another superb Mosaic reissue. These sets cost $45.00 plus $4.00 shipping for either the 5 lps (MR5-139)or 3 cds ( MD3-139), directly through Mosaic Records, 35 Melrose Place, Stanford, CT 06902-7533, or credit card orders can be phoned to Mosaic at (203)-327-7111 or faxed, (203)323-3526. (Ron's note, Amazon listed a used copy of this from a seller for over $100.00. You can also try ebay or other rare record sources to try to get this. Mine is not for sale.)

Monday, January 01, 2007

Frankie Lee - Standing at the Crossroads

It was at least a couple decades ago that I first had a chance to catch vocalist Frankie Lee at the long gone NY club Tramps where he sdhared the stage with singer-steel guitarist Sonny Rhodes and backed by the New Jersey All Stars. After Rhodes was featured for the first set, guitarist Bobby Murray took the stage for an instrumental and the band changed from a competent backing groupm, to a tight, mroe focused unit and when Lee came up for his set, it was a terrific evening of soul-blues with his strong gospel-rooted singing and some strong material. Bruce Bromberg and Dennis walker produced an excellent album on Hightone, The Ladies and the Babies, and whenever Frankie Lee made it to the DC area at either Marc Gretchel's Twist and Shout or Tornado Alley, I made it a point to catch him. My significant other also was a fan of his (she is more a pop and country fan) and Gretschel even labelled her the President of the Frankie Lee fan club. Lee was featured at one of the early DC Blues Festivals although it has been several years since he has been in DC with the late nineties collapse of the blues touring circuit.
Lee has a wonderful new disc on Blues Express called "Standing at the Crossroads" that Dennis Walker produced and contains a mix of uptempo grooves like 'Where Have You Been All My Life,' and down in the alley deep soul (Johnnie Taylor's 'I Need Lots of Love' and 'Think What It's Doing To Me') along with some gospel mixed in including the Soul Stirrers (?) 'Mary Don't You Weep.' Some real nice support here and Lee is typically intense form. Hopefully this will get him a bit more exposur and also touring a bit more. This came to me a little bit too late to include in my Ouitstanding Blues of 2006 list, but well worth you checking it out.