Sunday, August 29, 2010

Owen Howard's Compelling "Drum Lore"

“Drum Lore” (BJURecords) is an auspicious recording by Owen Howard, a member of the Brooklyn Jazz Underground. As Howard explains, the genesis of this disc came from his participation in a jazz workshop’s composition class when someone asked why he a drummer was participating. The result is the eleven performances which, in addition to Howard’s “Roundabout,” include compositions by Peter Erskine, Tony Williams, Billy Hart, Jack DeJohnette, Paul Motian, Ed Blackwell, Al Foster, Denzil Best, Chick Webb (with Benny Goodman and Edgar Sampson) and Shelly Manne and dispel the myth about drummers and composition. Howard provides a brief overview for each composition performed. On this recording, in different combinations, are John O’Gallagher on alto sax; Andy Middleton on tenor sax or soprano sax; Adam Keller on alto sax, tenor sax or soprano sax; Alan Ferber on trombone; Frank Carlberg on piano; and Johnny Wiedenmueller on bass, in addition to Howard on drums.

The opening “Bulgaria” by Peter Erkskine is transformed from a trip performance to a quintet with Middleton’s soprano snaking through the shifting meters before Carlberg enters with some free tempo playing complemented by Howard’s responsive drumming. Another quintet performance, Tony Williams’ “Arboretum” features interesting counterpoint between O’Gallagher’s alto and Ferber’s fuzzy trombone before Wiedenmueller solos, followed by swinging, concise solos from O’Gallagher, Ferber and Carlberg. Howard notes the melodic qualities of many of Billy Hart’s compositions, and this is evident on “Duchess.” Howard features himself a bit more prominently on Jack DeJohnette’s “Zoot Suite,” which mixes some jump blues horn riffing through the different parts of the composition with shifting tempos and moods. This is one of the two performances where I am quite familiar with the original recording by DeJohnette’s Special edition on ECM, and this fares well in comparison with the original, with the three saxophones all contributing here with Middleton’s soprano especially evocative here. Paul Motian’s “It Should’ve Happened a Long Time Ago,” with Kolker’s bass clarinet blending with O’Gallagher’s alto to provide an elegiac quality to this performance.

Another performance that I am familiar with is Ed Blackwell’s “Togo,” which I believe was originally performed with Old and New Dreams. Howard rearranges this into a slightly larger group as Ferber’s trombone replaces Don Cherry’s trumpet, while O’Gallagher and Kolker (on tenor sax) replace Dewey Redmond’s sax. Ferber languorously states the theme before the three horns state it on a number based on a Ghanian folk melody. Howard calls this a tour de force for Blackwell, but also for him as he transverses distinct time feels on his solo. “45ยบ Angle,” is a lesser known composition of Denzil Best that Howard invests with a lively calypso feel with Middleton standing out with a lively tenor sax solo backed by Howard’s crisp playing. Howard’s own “Roundabout,” is inspired by Miles Davis’ “Circle in the Round,” with a shifting pulse and some lovely playing from Ferber, Kolker and O’Gallagher, with Kolker’s soaring soprano playing particularly standing out. “Stompin’ at the Savoy,” is one of the foundational numbers of swing jazz and Howard provides some modern musical coloring in his arrangement with which he tries to impart a jam session flavor that has some lively playing.

It is easy to lose sight of what a superb job on drums Owen Howard plays throughout. Even when not upfront, his playing complements and pushes the soloists through these fascinating compositions that is a lesson that student at the jazz workshop hopefully by now has learned. Howard notes he has at least 30 other tunes composed by drummers that he would have loved to have used and intimates that a Volume 2 may be forthcoming. The music on this fabulous recording certainly would make such a sequel very welcome. Owen Howard’s website is Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records link, from which this can be purchased, is Among other sources for this CD is amazon who has “Drum Lore” is available on cd and mp3. It can also be downloaded on itunes.

I was supplied a review copy by the publicity firm for BJU Records.

Oh yes, those copyright blues.

Jazz Wax is a fascinating blog by Mark Myers.  Today he ran an interesting blog entry inspired by the donation of the Savory Collection to the National Jazz Museum which included some truly historical live recordings and includes this thought: "What you may not know is that a firestorm has been raging among the jazz cognoscenti since the news first broke in mid-August. At issue is whether the recordings will ever see the light of day commercially. There appears to be a hornet's nest of U.S. copyright issues looming. In addition, there's the very real threat that whatever the museum does release digitally will immediately be pirated by European record labels and sold here for less."

Mark Myers then in discussing this issue provides a concise discussion of the differences in copyright laws in the United States and Europe and provides the interesting thought questioning whether copyright law should be providing annuities to the grandchildren of the creator.

In addition to this he observes the new Maynard Ferguson Mosaic set and some recent Cds including a  concise review of Eden Brent's excellent new CD, Ain't Got No Troubles, as well as pianist-composer, Amina Figarova's Sketches.  Earlier this week, the blog ran a multi-part interview by Mark with Phil Schaap on Charlie Parker. This is a blog well worth following.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Kenny Neal Helps Bring Surf Club Live Back

Not a completely accurate title insofar as Surf Club Live has been presenting live Latin music since the previous live blues show. Kenny Neal headlined with Bad Influence opening for a terrific evening of music.Several folks commented that they had not seen the Surf Club so crowded for a blues show and it was perhaps a reaction to the blues returning after such an absence.

In any event the music was terrific. Bad Influence certainly puts together a strong spin on mostly Chicago styled blues with fine playing from Michael Tash and Roger Edsall (on slide guitar as well as harp) and bassist Bob Mallardi, Edsall and Tash being fine vocalists.

It is easy to take Kenny Neal for granted, but he is such an exceptional singer and guitarist and his band of family members is first-rate that you don't notice how strong and tight they are. Kenny does not blast his blues at you, rather his slightly laid back approach is so effective because of the relaxed intensity he brings. In addition to his wonderful originals like "Let Life Flow," he can take such standards as "The Things I Used to Do," and "Baby What You Want me To Do," and make them his own. It is easy to take him for granted, but blues fans, please don't.

Congrats to the DC Blues Society for producing this show and we are happy blues is part of Surf Club Live's musical menu.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Bird and Prez Live

Sunday August 29 will be (I believe) the 90th Birthday of one Charlie Parker, a musical trail brazer, who life and music has been recounted, celebrated and mythologized. The Jazz Blog, has been running an interview with Phil Schaap who has been doing a show devoted to Parker’s music for over thirty years and well worth reading.
Also this weekend WKCR in New York is broadcasting its annual Lester Young and Charlie Parker Birthday celebrations. All Lester Young Friday and all Charlie Parker on Saturday.

Eden Brent's New Recording Is Marvelous

Eden Brent certainly has emerged as one of the most promising new artists in the blues world. Most recently she was the winner of the Pinetop Perkins Blues Piano award at the 2010 Blues Music Awards, and she certainly will be winning more acclaim for her latest disc, “Ain’t Got No Troubles” (Yellow Dog Records). Produced by guitarist Colin Linden, this disc was recoded in New Orleans with George Porter, Jr. on bass., and Bryan Owings on drums with appearances by Tracy Collins on trumpet, Emil Hall on alto saxophone, Jeff Albert on trombone and Jon Cleary on the Hammond B3. The musicians complement her flowing, boogie-laced piano and her husky, unforced vocals. She reminds this listener for some reason of the late Katie Webster (perhaps it is the groove of the opening “Someone to Love”) with a huskier voice. Besides her own fine lyrics, the bouncy backing the song also sports some nice Crescent flavor horn lines.

The title track is a spirited song about maybe lacking possessions but “ain’t got no troubles on my mind,” with Linden adding some nice slide guitar to the bouncy piano and rhythm and later some second line horns add to the musical stew. The band drops out on “Blues All Over,” where he smokey vocals is matched by her strong, deft piano.  Colin Linden contributed “Later Than You Think,” a nice wry lyric that she delivers with her typical sassy delivery, while her “Leave Me Alone,” has a wistful lyric that she delivers in a soul-styled manner. “Let’s Boogie-Woogie,” is an exuberant romp that is one of the better original boogie woogie numbers this writer has heard in several years with some strong boogie woogie playing. “My Man,” strides in a high-spirited manner (despite the very restrained playing from the band), as Eden celebrates her lover who makes every date be “like a jubilee.” “If I Can’t” has lovely acoustic picking from Linden as Brent sings that “If I can’t kiss you honey, Don’t want to keep my idle lips.”

The album closes with “Goodnight Moon,” displaying a more reflective side of her and it closes this disc on a very high note. “Ain’t Got No Troubles,” mixes a marvelous pianist and vocalist with strong material, sympathetic backing and varied, imaginative programming resulting in a terrific recording that should appeal to blues and roots music fans. This is one of the better new recordings I have heard this year.

The review copy of the disc was provided by Yellow Dog Records

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert Salutes Pioneering Band

Following the very successful CD “Things About Comin’ My Way: A Tribute to the Music of The Mississippi Sheiks”, Black Hen Music has just released a DVD, “The MIssissippi Sheiks Tribute Concert,” featuring some of the performers who appeared on the CD along with some who didn’t. Some performers from the album like the Carolina Chocolate Drops, Madeline Peyroux, North Mississippi All Stars, Kelly Joe Phelps and Bruce Cockburn. Some performers like John Hammond and the Vancouver gospel trio, The Sojourners, perform different songs than on the original CD and Van Dyke Parks who arranged O Susanna’s performance on the CD is a performer here.

The concert was filmed over two nights at the Capillano Performing Arts Theatre in North Vancouver, British Columbia resulting in this nearly 80 minute DVD. Steve Dawson put together a house band for all the performances here which is in contrast to the original recording which used a house band for some sessions but not for all and one result is a sameness in feeling among some of the selections. The opening of the video is Dawson discussing how this happened followed by an opening scene when some autobiographical comments by the late Sam Chatmon are read to a string band accompaniment of “Sitting on Top of the World.” Performances vary by artist opening with O Susanna’s rendition of “Things About Comin’ My Way,” which did not sound completely convincing to these ears, and the very strong “Who’s Been Here,” by dave Alvin and Christy McWilson.” The Sojourners perform “Sweet Maggie,” a somewhat unsatisfactory rendition of a song similar to “Corrine Corrina.” Geoff Muldaur on banjo leads the band on a rendition of “Poor Boy,” that strikes me as owing as much to Gus Cannon as the Chatmon family but he sounds comfortable in the very busy accompaniment.

Dawson himself does a reflective country-flavored rendition of “Gulf Coast bay,” far remove from the old time string band. Of course that is one of Dawson’s aims, to take the songs and appreciate them as such, more so then the performances. Bob Brozman’s contributions as a sideman on several tracks as well as his rendition of “Church Bell Blues,” strikes me as stronger than his contribution to the CD. John Hammond adds harp here and a couple more performances. Robin Holcolb’s rendition of “I’ve Got Blood in My Eyes For You,” comes off as overly melodramatic which Alvin ‘Youngblood’ Hart’s “Livin’ In a Strain,” is a fine rendition of a song that Kelly Joe Phelps handled on the CD. Colin James nice a nice job on the mid-tempo blues “Keep On Tryin’,” but one wishes for a bit sparer backing. John Hammond’s rendition of “Kind Treatment,” does not strike me as strong a vocal as his fine “Stop on Listen” on the disc, and its odd that one of what some who call the group’s signature tunes is not presented on this disc. Hammond’s performance is not bad, just a little mannered.

No doubt most will find these performances entertaining (and they are). However, with respect to the CD, I observed the relatively few performers of color and that is even more evident here. Even more important, the logistics of the concert including the use of a house band leads to the music here having less of the flavor of an African-American string band. I certainly do not dispute not having a collection of covers, and allowing performers to bring there own personality, but this DVD would have been more satisfying if several of the performances had a different spin to them.

This DVD was provided by the publicity firm for Black Hen Records.

Igor Prado's Strong Brazilian Blues Moves

The blues certainly developed an audience and players around the world. Guitarist Igor Prado hails from Brazil and his latest recording (and my introduction to his music) is “Watch Me Move” (Chico Blues). I purchased this from, where they succinctly describe this as “They make the kind of rockin blues with a traditional approach you used to be able to find here in the US.........This LIMITED EDITION release features strong singing, super song selection and SCORCHING guitar.” Not an inaccurate couple of sentences.

Guitarist and vocalist Prada, along with brother Yuri on drums, Rodrigo Mantovani, bass and Denilson Martins on saxophones, mixes hard modern blues and Memphis Soul with some ripping guitar (fans say of Johnny Moeller’s wild playing will go for Prada’s playing here and he is a pretty strong vocalist. Some pretty straight covers of “Knock on Wood,” and “Signed, Sealed and Delivered,” along with rearranging the old Ray Charles stomp recording “Messaround,” and reworking as if The Power Station did it as a blues. The title track is one of Junior Wells’ funk numbers, amiably take on Lil Bob’s “I Got Loaded,” while “Gene’s Groove,” is a hot organ instrumental allowing Martins to showcase his robust tenor sax while Igor Prado showcases his jazzier chops, while the closing “Ice Man Groove,” is a rocking funky instrumental that is clearly inspired by the late Albert Collins who seems probably Prado’s greatest influence as a guitarist and who would be proud to have inspired such a solid musical offspring. Occasionally, Prado’s accent can be heard in his vocals but he sings with authority and never sounds forced. As Charlie at Bluebeat Music said, “Watch Me Move,” “features strong singing, super song selection and SCORCHING guitar.” This is a recording I will be returning to again and again and I give this a big thumbs up.

For FTC purposes, I purchased this CD.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Kashmar & the Pontiax Sound Solid Blue Two Decades Later

I was not familiar with Mitch Kashmar until his fine recent Delta Groove releases. But he has been playing and singing the blues for several decades and Delta Groove has just issued Mitch Kashmar & the Pontiax’s 1989 LP “100 Miles To Go,” that shows he was no overnight sensation. In the notes he states that there were three versions of the Pontiax, but the trio of guitarist, Jon Lawton, bassist ,Jack Kennedy and drummer, Tom Lackner were in all versions while guitarist and saxophonist Bill Flores joined for this band which took the group on the road. With the original ten songs, two new ones have been recorded minus Lawton. The liner booklet quotes both William Clarke and Kim Wilson from 1989, and this writer makes the assumption the quotes were on the original vinyl release and listening to this recording.

Certainly one can understand the enthusiasm Clarke and Wilson had about this band and recording. Kashmar & the Pontiax, based on this recording were turning out strong blues in the vein of Clarke, Wilson, Rod Piazza, James Harman and Mark Hummel. Kashmar’s music perhaps bears the strongest similarity with the robustness of his vocals and his harp playing, and his band was, and is, terrific. From the opening notes of the jumping “Night Creeper,” where Kashmar sings about his partying ways to the closing notes of his topical “The Petroleum Blues,” the music is of a high level with good songs and great playing. Two instrumentals showcase Kashmar’s ample harp chops, with William Clarke’s “Horn of Plenty,” being a choice harp duet as Clarke guests here. Kashmar’s interpretation of “Long As I Have You,” a Willie Dixon song, stands up to Little Walter’s original to indicate how good the music can be. Fans of Kashmar’s earlier discs will wonder why it took him so long to get established, but in any event, just enjoy.

For FTC purposes, the review copy of this was sent by a publicity firm for Delta Groove.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Bill Savory's Incredible Jazz Collection

One of the most interesting pieces of news this week was the NY Times article on the donation of the Bill Savory collection of nearly 1000 discs that he recorded in the hey dey of swing music to the National Jazz Museum in Harlem. Bill Savory was an audio engineer who was a friend of a number of jazz musicians and made recordings off the the radio for his own enjoyment, using 12 and even 16 inch aluminum or acetate discs, sometimes recorded at 33 1/3 rpm which in the words of the NY Times article, "allowed Mr. Savory to record longer performances in their entirety, including jam sessions at which musicians could stretch out and play extended solos that tested their creative mettle." 

The Times ran a separate story by Times Jazz Critic Ben Ratliff and describes some of the performances and describes what was a remarkable Coleman Hawkins performance of “Body & Soul” that was made several months after Hawkins’ classic commercial recording. Included with this story is a video that provides an overview and an interview with Doug Pomeroy who discussed the state of the discs, some of which could not be recovered at all and the steps taken to restore and digitize the music from other discs.

Finally, the Times has on their website some short audio-clips of performances including Hawkins, Lester Young and a blues jam by Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller and Jack Teagarden.  

The Jazz Lives blog has their own overview of this story.   Their blog notes that the National Jazz Museum will be presenting four programs on these treasures as part of their Tuesday evening JAZZ FOR CURIOUS LISTENERS series, held from 7:00 – 8:30PM at our Visitors Center, 104 E. 126th Street, NY, NY 10035.  

September 7 – You Won’t Believe It – An Overview
September 14 – Tenor Madness – Lester Young/Coleman Hawkins/Chu Berry/Herschel Evans
September 21 – Trumpet Titans – Louis Armstrong/Roy Eldridge/Harry James/Bunny Berigan
September 28 – Jam Sessions – Benny Goodman/Bobby Hackett/Lionel Hampton/Slim and Slam

Monday, August 16, 2010

Muddy and Elmore's Music echoes in "Louisiana Red Sings The Blues"

I have long owned the LP, “Louisiana Red Sings The Blues,” in its original Atco release. Recently the 2007 Wounded Bird reissue of it  was available on sale at a cut-rate price from Blue Beat Music and I included it in my most recent order from them. At the time this was recorded, Louisiana Red was a fixture on the New York City blues scene, though then as now, not receiving the acclaim or enjoying the remuneration he deserves. Born Iverson Minter, he was raised in New Orleans and then later in Pittsburgh by relatives. His music, then and now, shows considerable influences from Muddy Waters, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin’ Hopkins, and was reflected in his recordings. The first Red sides I heard included one “Gonna Play My Guitar,” as by Rocky or Playboy Fuller, where playing fierce slide guitar in the vein of Muddy Waters he lays down a challenge to the late king of Chicago Blues. Recordings for various small labels led to a modest hit with “Red’s Dream,” and imaginative reworking of Big Bill Broonzy’s “I Had a Dream.” This led to an album, “Louisiana Red’s Low-Down Back Porch Blues.”

The present album was recorded a couple of years later and had Red backed by a variety of New York area musicians, including Bill Dicey on harmonica, Tommy Tucker on piano (and drums for one track), Robert Banks on keyboards, Don Cook on piano and Leonard Gaskin on bass. Musically, its solid Chicago styled blues as shown on covers of Muddy waters’ Rollin’ Stone,” “The Same Thing,” and “Louisiana Blues,” where Red sings and plays in a manner to satisfy Muddy’s admirers. “I Am Louisiana Red” and “I come from behind the sun,” is a solid performance using the “You Don’t Love Me,” although the rhythm section is a bit ragged. “Country Playboy,” has some ragged band work behind Red’s forceful singing. “The Story of Louisiana Red,” has an autobiographical lyric starting from his harrowing childhood (his father was murdered by the Klan or a similar racist gang) and set to the “It Hurts Me Too” melody. “Some Day,” is a somewhat messy take on a James Brown groove, but Red’s “Dust My Broom,” variant, “Freight Train to Ride,” is a solid rocking performance with strong slide guitar. “Red’s New Dream,” is a bit fantastical with him dreaming on Mars and the head man on Mars wanting to know whether he should take a rocket to Earth with Red started nibbling a chitlin’ before letting the Martian taste a pig foot and collard greens which and some humorous jive about Uncle Sam coming to Mars and tax the craters. Its a fun lyric, although a bit incoherent compared to the earlier "Red's Dream."

Red has continued to record extensively these past few decades. He penned a number of very personal, moving songs and has a number of albums, some of them excellent. He has recorded a number of excellent albums for Blue Labor (I believe they have been reissued), Earwig and Ruf. “Louisiana Red Sings The Blues” is a solid recording that may be hardly essential, but holds up over the years. It may be worth checking to see if this is still available at a bargain sales price.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

For Eddie King "The Blues Has Got Me"

Back in 1987, the Dutch Double Trouble label put out a terrific LP by Eddie King & Mae Bee Mae, “The Blues Has Got Me.” It documented a brother sister partnership that was ended as Mae returned to Atlanta and her husband while King (real surname Milton) played for a long spell with Koko Taylor. In 1998, Roesch Records issued an excellent release by King which won a Handy Award for Comeback album, but over a decade later, King has unfortunately sunk into obscurity, which is a shame because of the excellent music he recorded and displayed in live performances.

Black Magic has just issued the Double Trouble album on CD and added three previously unissued selections and it certainly is a cause for celebration. The band is King, Sir Lucky King on rhythm guitar, Lendell ‘Slim’ Moore on guitar, Joe Roland on bass and James Mason drums with Golden Wheeler on harp of three tracks, Allen Batts on keyboards for three tracks and Earl Crossley adding tenor sax on three. It opens with a driving rendition of Bill Coday’s ”When You Find a Fool,” a song I am oddly familiar with from Koko taylor’s recording. King’s vocal and the band’s hard driving approach may be better than the late Queen of the Blues. Great single note guitar solo from Slim Moore on this. The title track is a burning blues with Moore again on lead guitar, as King takes a great vocal. Wheeler’s harp kicks off “Love at First Side,” on a nice shuffle. Mae Bee Mae first takes the vocal mike for “The 12 Year Old Girl,” reversing the sexes of the Elmore James’ recording. “99 Pounds,” is a tough Ann Peebles number where Mae Bee struts about good things like her coming in a small package.

After Eddie’s able cover of Albert King’s “Laundromat Blues,” Mae Bee Mae delivers the nifty “Able Mae Bee,” (reworking a Mabel John classic) with its clever lyrics and funky groove that showcases her delivery. It is followed by another her slow blues, “He’ll Drain On you,” where she testifies that nothing wrong with an old woman going with a younger man with King adding stinging slide guitar except he’ll drain the woman for her money and automobile and all your loving. After King’s nice rendition of B.B. King’s “The Woman I Love,” Mae Bee pays a homage to Lucille Spann’s “Country Girl Returns,” which is retitled here as “Buttermilk and Cornbread,” as she sings that if you don’t put anything in, you can’t get anything out. As she describes feeding her man her chitlins, her big yellow yams, her buttermilk and cornbread, one gets a sense more is involved than food with King’s guitar being very strong in the vein of the late Sammie Lawhorn. New to this disc is king’s nice rendition of the Eddie Giles easy going soul rocker, “Losin’ Boy,” and Mae Bee’s fine rendition of Denise LaSalle’s “Man-Sized Job,” where she tells her man to left the home work half-done to get out of the way and let a boy do a man-sized job, with King delivering tough guitar here. The disc closes with a funk-based instrumental, “Eddie’s Thang.” with a solid bass groove.

The disc partially reproduces Robert Pruter’s original liner notes, with the rest on Black Magic’s website,, although the CD does not note which selections are previously unissued. This is a highly recommended disc. Eddie King produced some recording gems and this observer concurs with Robert Pruter’s assessment “As far as Mae’s singing goes, KoKo Taylor move over.” I would expect some of the strong music here to be interpreted by some of today’s blues artists. If Eddie and Mae Bee are able, then perhaps they will both get a new day in the Blues Sun. I purchased this from BlueBeat Music, but I would assume other blues specialists also carry this.

Alabama Mike's Strong Sophomore CD Has Deep Roots

Several months ago, This writer purchased a CD by a West Coast based singer, Alabama Mike, that I had been unfamiliar with. The disc, “Day To Day,” showed a forceful singer working in a mix of post-war blues styles. The backing wasn’t as consistently up to his level as a vocalist, but the promise certainly was there. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing him perform at the Pocono Blues Festival, and while there his drummer Scott Silveira gave me a copy of his new CD, “Tailor Made Blues” (JukeHouse Records/ 9 Below Productions).

Born in Alabama, Mike Benjamin has developed into a terrific vocalist as the 11 performances testify to. His fervent vocals at different times evoke Little Johnny Taylor or Luther Allison. While there is a varying personnel on these tracks, Scott Silveira on drums and Scot Brenton on guitar or harp are constants on most selections with Jon Lawton contributing songs and guitar while bass duties are shared between Kedar Ray, Willie Riser and Randy Bermudes. Tom Holland of James Cotton’s Band also contributes two songs and plays guitar on three selections. Benjamin himself contributed three songs and co-wrote another. The disc mixes uptown brassy blues shouters with more down-home Chicago-flavored blues.

Opening with the uptown “Tailor Made,” the album gets into a more down-home vein with the topical “Ghetto Life,” followed by “Eddie Lee,” an original number that suggests “Little Red Rooster. The driving “Go Ahead” by Jon Lawton has his inspired slide and Brenton’s complimentary harp as he tells his ex-woman he will be long gone. “I’m Gone,” is a wistful acoustic blues with Lawton’s acoustic harp, Ray’s bass and Brenton’s harp as Mike weaves his song about ‘baby I am going and hit road.” Jon and Sally Tiven’s uptown flavored “Enough to Keep Me Holding On,” is followed by one of the stand-out tracks on this disc, “Moon Dog Howl,” a Wolf-styled number with great harp and the twin guitars of Tom Holland and Scot Brenton weaving their mesmerizing guitar lines as Mike moans about howling around the back door and her man being gone now with Bermudes and Silveira laying down a crisp groove. “Stop Putting Me On,” is a nice blues-ballad with a hint of swamp pop seasoning with Sid Morris’ piano and Doug Rowan’s saxophones and a booting tenor solo. Its really hard to take a number that has become so associated with another artist, but Mike takes “Hoo Doo Man,” associated with the late Junior Wells, and places his own stamp as the performance comes off as if John Lee Hooker had reworked it with again some fine piano from Sid Morris and harp by Brenton. It is perhaps the other stand-out track here, which is not to take the rest of this recording lightly as everything here is first-rate. It is just that “Moon Dog Howl,” and “Hoo Doo Man” stand out in this elevated company. This is available from 9 Below Zero productions (, and I presume it will be available on cdbaby and better mail order retailers.

As stated, I was given this CD to review by Scott Silveira of 9 Below Zero Productions.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bob Corritore's Bluesy Friends Help "Harmonica Blues" Shine

Bob Corritore has been championing blues for four decades, first while living in Chicago and producing albums by under-recorded harmonica masters Little Willie Anderson and Big Leon Brooks, then later after moving to Phoenix, Arizona, as a radio programmer on KJZZ as well as the operator of The Rhythm Room where so many blues greats and lesser known acts have played over the past couple decades. Corritore is a pretty fair harmonica player with a swinging touch and a nice fat tone and has recorded and played with many over the years, which have been represented on various compilations under his name or by the artist (such as a superb Robert Lockwood album). Delta Groove has just issued a solid new compilation of 15 performances, “Harmonica Blues,” on which Corritore adds his harp to a varied group of artists, some of whom are no longer with us.

The opening “What Kind of Man Is This,” has him supporting the late Koko Taylor with a solid band that includes the Bob Margolin. Louisiana Red is in fine form backed by Corritore and Rhythm Room regulars Chris James and Patrick Rynn, while Dave Riley, with whom Corritore has shared albums with is solid on a tune by the late Frank Frost. Its interesting hearing the late Nappy Brown on the Piedmont-ish “Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes,” with atypical guitar from Kid Ramos and Johnny Rapp lending this a unique feel. Eddie Shaw is present for “1815 West Roosevelt,” an atmospheric instrumental with Shaw’s raspy sax complimenting Corritore’s harp, while Robert Lockwood reworks “That’s All Right,” with henry Gray on piano for a terrific take on the Jimmy Rogers classic. Big Pete Pearson really tears vocally into “Tin Pan Alley,” with Chris James and Johnny Rapp’s guitar among the sup[port and Corritore sounding terrific on chromatic harmonica.

Tomcat Courtney, another down home bluesman that Corritore has championed and recorded struts on “Sundown San Diego,” while That’s My Baby,” is a slightly frenzied Eddy Clearwater rocker. “Things Have Changed,” is a strong performance by pianist Henry Gray with the late Chico Chism, while Pinetop Perkins is heard on an engaging, if unremarkable “Big Fat Mama.” Chief Schabuttie Gilliame does a fresh take on “No More Doggin’” as if it was John Lee Hooker’s song, while Honeyboy Edwards has the company of Corritore, James and Rynn to help hold his performance of “Bumble Bee,” together. Carol Fran’s “I Need to Be Be’d With,” is a terrific vocal and the disc closes with a solid Little Milton performance that is a bit more down home in its flavor. It is a solid ending to a very spirited compilation of very good to superb performances. Bob Corritore’s solid harp enlivens all of these performances, but at no time does he overshadows the blues legends and masters he shares the recordings with on this most entertaining compilation of real deal blues.

The review copy was sent by the publicity firm for the recording company. Delta Groove’s website for this release is Harmonica Blues.  

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steve Freund's Guitar and Vocals Hits Right Notes.

Guitarist Steve Freund established himself as part of the Chicago scene several decades ago working with blues legends like Sunnyland Slim. Relocated to the San Francisco area, he has matured into a terrific blues guitarist, rooted in the classic Chicago blues (one hears tinges in his playing that evokes Muddy Waters, big Broonzy, Luther Tucker and others, but he has mixed in with a jazzy style that also shows his listening has extended to Grant Green, Wes Montgomery and others. He has just issued his first album in six years, “Lonesome Flight” (9 Below Records), with some originals and several choice covers.

The disc opens with a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy, “Hey Mr. Bill,” with some deft guitar evoking Broonzy’s masterful swinging style with a lyric asking Big Bill to play the blues as Steve feels so lowdown. and his music helps Steve more than Bill can realize. The title track has tinges of Muddy and Luther Tucker in Freund’s playing backing about hearing his father died and Steve Freund packed his suitcase, went out into the night and caught that Lonesome Flight. The backing band includes some pretty fine harp from Scot Brenton. “Boogie in the Rain,” has an easy shuffle groove with the backing including droning guitar and harp one that lends this a sound like it was a tribute to the original version of Canned Heat with Henry Vestine and Alan Wilson. What’s nice about this performance is how relaxed the groove is. “LaMorr is Blue,” is a jazzy instrumental with Freund using an box to get an organ-like tone, while “Still Pickin’” is based on Elmore James’ “Pickin’ the Blues.” which allows Freund to pay homage to James as well as Earl Hooker with his playing here. John Brim’s “Tough Times,” receives a lyrical updating with references to lacking health insurance and bills being long overdue and Brenton contributes more fine harp here. “On Highway 101” is a rocking number (musically a reworking of the “Rollin’ & Tumblin’ & “Meet Me in the Bottom”) with a lyric about riding to the West Coast with Sunnyland Slim. He does a more than credible version of King Curtis’ “Let Me Down Easy” (Freddie King did the original), followed by a nice shuffle rendition of mandolinist, Johnny Young’s “Keep On Drinking,” further illustrating Freund’s ability to take a tune and make it his own.

Freund may not be a great singer, but he is ably delivers the songs in a genuine sounding manner. His fine playing and the understated backing by his find band anchored around bassist Burton Winn and drummer Robi Bean, is responsible for much of the success of the performances. Five selections, including “Still Pickin’,” “Tough Times,” “Let Me Down Easy,” and “Keep On Drinking,” have Randy Bermudes on bass, and former Robert Lockwood drummer, June Core. All these elements make Freund’s “Lonesome Flight” a noteworthy new release for blues enthusiasts.

The review copy was provided by the record label. It is available from cdbaby, amazon and other sources.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Willie Buck's Vintage Blues Sounds Fresh Today

Willie Buck is a Mississippi-born, Chicago resident since the 1950s who is a solid Chicago blues singer who has been part of that City’s club scene for decades. In addition to singles issued over time, he had an album “The Life I Love,” recorded in 1982 and issued on vinyl in 1983 that Delmark has just made available supplemented by some live recordings from a couple years later. For the studio session he brought together some of the best Chicago blues players still living, including Louis Myers and John Primer on guitar, Little Mac Simmons and Dimestore Fred on harmonica, Big Moose Walker on piano and Dave Myers on bass for some classic Chicago blues in the vein of Muddy Waters and Junior Wells. Muddy is most evident as an influence based on Buck’s songs and vocal style.

This is a solid set of Chicago blues and one can imagine how entertaining Buck is in a club setting. Nothing musically original perhaps, but he sings with heart and the band just lays out the real deal as he opens with Muddy’s “She’s All Right,” followed by Buck’s original, “How Can I Be Nice To You,” which has a melody very similar to Muddy’s recording “Just to Be With You,” as Myers and Primer lay some nice single note runs and Walker pounds out some tough piano sounds. I guess that is the young Primer who is responsible for the fine guitar solo on B.B. King’s “I Got a Right To Love My Baby,” while Walker lays the foundation and holds things together on another Buck original “There’s a Time.” “Sweet Sixteen,” is credited as if it was the Big Joe Turner tune, but sounds like a slowed down rendition of the Chuck Berry rocker while the band turns in a terrific reworking of Little Walter’s ”Everything’s Gonna Be Alright.” There is also a lively rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “Found My baby Gone,” and the live recordings of “Don’t Go No Further,” and “Sugar Sweet.” The result is over an hour of strong traditionally rooted Chicago blues that one hears played so well less frequently nearly three decades later. Recommended.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was supplied by Delmark Records.  

Here is a video from you tube of Willie Buck singing a Muddy Waters song.


Sunday, August 08, 2010

Andy Cohen Has Deep Blues Roots

Andy Cohen has been playing older music styles on guitar, piano, dolceola and assorted instruments for several decades now and has a number of recordings over the year. His latest disc is “Built Right On The Ground,” on Earwig which ranges from stomping boogie woogie, Reverend Gary Davis influenced guitar rags, Memphis Minnie songs and a Woody Guthrie talking blues. On several tracks his is joined by his wife, Larkin Bryant on vocals and mandolin, or Kurt Anderson on vocal and guitar. As William Lee Ellis observes, “He had certainly been every bit the standard-bearer if not an outright genius when it comes to the interpretation of prewar blues and gospel music."

And what a choice of songs starting from the opening title track which was recorded eighty odd years ago from Blind Teddy Darby that captures the flavor of the original recording but with his deft picking and wonderfully delivered vocal comes out as his own. His updating of Sam McGee’s old-timey blues, “Railroad Blues,” features impressive picking along with an amusing lyric about voting for Obama because his mama told him to. I wonder how many who do their flashy Robert Johnson covers could do such a nice rendition of Henry Spaulding’s “Cairo Blues,” which is wonderfully paced and as well as sung. There is a credible, if hardly spectacular, rendition of Meade Lux Lewis’ “Honky Tonk Train Blues,” which illustrates his versatility as a musician. Cohen especially is adept at numbers that features fingerpicking in the vein of the Piedmont tradition, but also he is able to channel the facile, rhythmic playing of a Furry Lewis and Memphis Minnie as displayed on his interpretation of “Soo Cow Soo.” On “Jim Dickinson Stomp,” dedicated to the late musician and producer, he plays some lovely guitar in the Memphis style as well as the dolceola, followed by the sentimental Jimmie Rodgers tune “My Old Pal,” where Kurt Anderson takes the vocal (and the two collaborate on another Rodgers sentimental tune, “Miss the Mississippi and You”). “Temptation Rag,” was a piano piece (also recorded by reed players, Sidney Bechet and Benny Goodman), that gets a lovely and adept, guitar treatment in the manner of Gary Davis, which Cohen also gives Jelly Roll Morton’s “Grandpa’s Spells.” There is also a jaunty take on Big Bill Broonzy’s “Mopper Blues.” He returns to piano for a lively “Shake-a-You-Boogie,” which he learned from Blind Jim Brewer, “Shake a Boogie” (which likely was derived from John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson, and “Too Fat Boogie”). Cohen treats us with the amusing Woody Guthrie “Mean Talkin’ Blues,” before he and his wife (who is on mandolin) close out this CD with a marvelous rendering of the late Bobby Charles’ “Tennessee Blues.”

I agree with William Lee Ellis that in a perfect world, Andy Cohen would be as famous as Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder. “Built Right On The Ground,” showcases not simply how good a player he is and the extensiveness of his repertoire, but also the warmth and genuineness of his vocals. This recording is a must for lovers of acoustic and traditional blues.

This review has appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 327, July 2010) and the review copy was provided by the firm doing publicity for Earwig Records releases.

Lightnin Hopkins Life and Music Celebrated by Alan Govenar

One of the blues most iconic artists, Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, is the subject of a welcome new biography, “Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues” (Chicago Review Press), by writer and photographer Alan Govenar. Govenar has written a number of books including “Texas Blues : The Rise of a Contemporary Sound,” as well as a musical “Blind Lemon Blues,” that has been performed Off-Broadway.

Hopkins was celebrated during his life for his ability to spin songs seemingly out of the blue, for his sometimes acerbic commentary on people, the relationships between men and women and current events, while performing for two very different audiences, the urban working class folk that bought his commercial recordings and frequented the bars in Houston’s black community and the white audience that was first introduced to his music during the folk revival and later when he became one of the most respected performers on the blues circuit from the sixties through his death in 1982.

Hopkins was born in rural Centreville, Texas. At the time Texas was pretty racist, with lynchings happening far too frequently. In this world, life was rough and hard and often violent. Hopkins’ dad was shot to death over a card game when he was three. Shortly thereafter his oldest brother, John henry left because he would have killed the man who shot their dad. He grew up in a world of country suppers and square dances, and had to share in the farm work. he learned to play guitar as well as dance as a youngest and this enabled him to give up the hard life of farm work. Relying on interviews of those who knew the young Hopkins, as well as Hopkins’ own recollections (some were issued on one of the many recordings he made), Govenar shows the develop of the young artist who would spend time with Blind Lemon Jefferson and Texas Alexander. Alexander was a particularly important person for Hopkins and their travels together would be reflected in some of his repertoire.

Hopkins would settle into Houston whose Black Community had a varied night life ranging from the upscale El Dorado Ballroom Club to neighborhood bars for the working and country folks. It was the later venues that Lightnin’ would play at. To middle and upper-level residents of the Third Ward, he was likely invisible. Then he was discovered by Lola Cullum, who had discovered Amos Milburn and had taken the pianist out to California where he recorded for Aladdin Records in 1946. As a follow-up to Milburn’s success she brought Hopkins and pianist Wilson “Thunder’ Smith to record. While Hopkins played on Smith’s “Rocky Mountain Blues,”, Hopkins on acoustic guitar, SMith on piano and a drummer, he recorded “Katie Mae Blues,” and “Mean Old Twister.” It was at the session that Cullum nicknamed Hopkins Lightnin’. These recordings would start one of the most prolific recording careers in blues history and were unusual in the use of acoustic guitar, since Hopkins played electric on nearly every recording he made until he recorded during the folk revival when some producers insisted (based on some false notion of authenticity), that he play acoustic. Not all did so, as Chris Strachwitz who started Arhoolie Records in part because of Hopkins. Strachwitz had been a fan of Hopkins juke box recordings and would record Hopkins using electric guitar for the recordings that would be issued on Arhoolie as well as some he made for other labels such as Poppy (later reissued on Tomato).

Govenar tracks Hopkins’ recordings after his initial Aladdin sides, through he recordings at Bill Quinn’s studio for Gold Star and other labels, Bobby Shad, the Herald label and then Mack McCormick who was first to record Hopkins for the folk music market, followed by Samuel Charters, Strachwitz and others. Hopkins, like his contemporary John Lee Hooker, was one who would record for any label willing to pay him, and he insisted in being paid in cash which may relate to Hopkins having minimal education and essentially being illiterate as well as a general mistrust of whites. So he would insist on cash payments, and eschew royalties. Then he would complain he was underpaid by the record company, while asserting he received substantial cash payments.

Govenar traces Hopkins’ career as a recording artist and performing artist, noting the changing nature of those who booked and managed him. Mixed in are accounts of his performances including recollections of those who saw his performances and his differing persona for his two different audiences, who related to his music in fundamentally different fashions. The interaction between Lightnin’ and those watching him at the Third War neighborhood bars was far different from the restrained, but attentive white audiences that proved to much more financially lucrative. While Hopkins had a guarded personality, he does flesh out some of his personality as well as provides a cogent discussion of Lightnin’s songs and music, ranging from his ability to spin songs out of current events to his development of “Mr. Charlie,” which with his spoken introduction, became a staple of his performance.

“Lightnin’ Hopkins: His Life and Blues” is a celebration of Hopkins’ life and music. There are a couple of minor factual errors. There is a reference to a performance at Toronto’s New Yorker Theatre which John Hammond opened as being in 1978, but unless this was a repeat booking, I am certain this show was in 1977 because I was living in Buffalo and went with my friend Paul to catch this show, one of the two chances I had to see him perform. In 1978 I was living in the New York area, and did not return to Toronto until 1984. Also Terry Dunn, the owner of Tramps, was remembered as a Texan but in fact was an Irish immigrant whose origins would be hard to miss. Still these are minor errors and do not detract from the invaluable biography Govenar has provided us.

In addition to extensive endnotes and a selected bibliography, Andrew Brown and Alan Balfour have contributed a fifty page discography of Hopkins extensive recording career which includes much new information including correcting the identity of the steel guitarist who recorded with Hopkins in 1949 for Gold Star. It was Hop Wilson, not Frankie Lee Sims as long suggested, who can be heard on “Jail House Blues,” and “‘T’ Model Blues.” In addition to Govenar’s narrative, this discography ensures that this will be the standard reference on Hopkins for years to come. In summary, this is an invaluable addition to the blues literature.

This was received as a review copy from publisher.