Thursday, September 30, 2010

Blues in Black & White Documents Blues History

Blues in Black & White
The Landmark Ann Arbor Blues Festivals as photographed by Stanley Livingston
2010: Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press

Two weeks prior to the Woodstock Festival, in 1969, on the University of Michigan Campus, the first Ann Arbor Blues Festival was held. I neither attended Woodstock or the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. The Ann Arbor Blues Festival was the one of the two I wish I could have attended. It was a gathering of blues legends that one would never see the likes of again. In 1970 a second Blues Festival was held and then after a short hiatus, the festival returned as the Ann Arbor Blues & Jazz Festival for a few more years, with a somewhat broader palette of music that now ranged from Son House to Sun Ra, the Art Ensemble of Chicago to Otis Rush. The University of Michigan Press has published “Blues in Black & White” a celebration of those path making festivals centered around the marvelous photography of Stanley Livingston, one of several photographers who documented this event.

Livingston passed away in mid-September, 2010, but lived to see publication of this book that he worked on with his former photographic assistant, Tom Erlewine, who is the book’s editor and designer. The previously unpublished photos here were from thousands he took at the festivals. Livingston had never heard blues until he attended the first Ann Arbor Festival. He recalled, “When I arrived, Howlin’ Wolf was playing. I was struck by the intensity in his eyes. He had a scowling, expression, but then he’d smile just like a little baby. He was the greatest.”

Seeing Wolf and the others he knew he had to photograph them and that is what he did. and he did so, marvelously. The book presents candid backstage and performance shots that capture a young Luther Allison (Ann Arbor was a breakthrough performance for him); Howlin’ Wolf; Mississippi Fred McDowell (in performance and with a little child hugging him); Doctor Ross; Johnny Winter and pianist David ALexander (n/k/a Omar Sharif) hanging out; Lucille Spann and Sippie Wallace, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells (together and separately); B.B. King; Otis Rush; Papa Lightfoot; Victoria Spivey, Johnny Shines and a laughing Robert Lockwood; Charlie Musselwhite with Freddie Roulette playing lap steel guitar; Roosevelt Sykes backstage with Big mama Thornton and Big Joe Williams; Johnny Winter and Luther Allison playing guitar together; Magic Sam (a nice sequence of shots, one of which includes (an unidentified Eddie Shaw on saxophone) as Sam smiles and Bruce Barlow looks on); Lightnin’ Hopkins: Mance Lipscomb; Son House (one where he and his wife sing a gospel number a cappella and the other shows Son intensely playing guitar); Albert King (including one picture where Robert Lockwood is hugging him on stage); Muddy Waters; Otis Rush; Mighty Joe Young; Bonnie Raitt accompanying Sippie Wallace; Jimmy ‘Fast Fingers’ Dawkins; Freddie King; Hound Dog Taylor; J.B. Hutto; John lee Hooker, Juke Boy Bonner; Bobby Bland; Pee Wee Crayton; John Jackson (with his characteristic warm smile); Koko Taylor; and Robert Pete Williams. I am sure I may have omitted a few names but as you can see, this was a veritable Blues Hall of Fame and very few of the performers shown here are still alive. But this book is more than photos of blues legends. These are classic images of the performers and performances as Livingston gives us a sense of the intensity and joy on stage and back stage. As Peter ‘Mudcat’ Ruth is quoted on the back cover, “These photos are works of art.”

The book includes an introduction by Jim O’Neal who discusses how the Festival impacted him and led to the beginning of the magazine, Living Blues. Michael Erlewine, who founded the All Music Guide, provides a History of the Ann Arbor Blues Festival as well as an interview with Howlin’ Wolf. Blues in Black & White also includes brief biographies and suggested recordings of the artists pictured (and this also serves as an index for the photographs). The book also strikes me as beautifully printed with the images wonderfully reproduced. It is a no brainer that anyone who considers themselves a blues lover needs this book. This reviewer also suggests that it is among the finest recently published books of music photography.

For purposes of FTC Regulations, I purchased this book.

Joe Louis Walker Was and Is a Blues Survivor

Going back through the archives at the Jazz & Blues Report I came across my review of Joe Louis Walker’s Blues Survivor that was on Verve/Gitanes. In light of my review of his just issued Blues Conspiracy, I thought it would be useful to look back 16 years to a review that appeared in the January/February 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 188).

Joe Louis Walker’s first studio album in several years, Blues Survivor, is also his first for Verve, and it will hopefully provide him with recognition outside of the world of blues aficionados. Produced by Walker and John Snyder, this superb effort incorporates variety of musical sources for a thoroughly modern, yet tradition rooted, album of blues. Those familiar with Walker’s prior recordings won’t be surprised by his performances here, but will recognize how he has continued to hone his singing and guitar playing. His performances are thoughtful, and passionate, with a razor’s edge attack, displaying the ‘relaxed intensity’ that marks blues. With the exception of a great remake of Howlin’ Wolf’s Shake For Me (where he uses the Electric Flag’s arrangement for Killing Floor), Sarah Brown‘s Bad Thing, and Patrick Norris’ Put You Down Baby, the songs are originals by Walker or his long-time bassist, Henry Oden. The opening Help Yourself is a gospel-tinged number with an upbeat message and some well-played slide, with Lucky Peterson on organ and the Singing Corinthians (a gospel group Walker once was a member of) adding vocal backing.Walker’s Rainy Nights has a nice lyric set against the Ramblin’ on My Mind/Dust My Broom melodic motif, but taken at relaxed trotting tempo, and featuring an excellent slide solo with Walker sounding like Elmore James crossed with Robert Nighthawk. Henry Oden’s My Dignity, another outstanding performance, has melodic echoes of the jazz standard Walking and the Bobby Bland hit Ain’t Doing Too Bad and sports a great tenor sax solo by Richard Howell in addition to Walker’s tough vocal. These are high points on a terrific album full of top-notch performances. Blues Survivor shows Joe Louis Walker to be more than a survivor. He is equally adept as a writer, vocalist and guitarist, and one of the most compelling voices in the blues today.

16 years later, the last sentence of the review still holds true. I would say that Blues Survivor likely will be on any list of Joe Louis Walker’s best recordings. Given how good his recordings are, that says a lot. It appears Blues Survivor may be out of print but there are sellers on amazon that have new and used copies that you can check out (or you try ebay). Neither amazon nor itunes has this available for download.

King's Daughter Claudette Delivers the Blues Her Way

Being the youngest daughter of B.B. King might open some doors, but Claudette King certainly would have had people taken note of her talent in any respect. Dan Bacon at Blues Express was certainly taken with her vocals and in the late nineties started recording an album by her with guitarist Bobby Murray and others which was halted when Claudette’s mother was seriously ill. A couple years ago Bacon brought in Steve Savage to help with the project, and they redid the vocals for the earlier tracks as well as contact Dennis Walker and Alan Mirikitani to write new songs and help fill out the disc on a session that included veterans Jim Pugh on keyboards, Richard Cousins on bass and Lee Spath on drums with Mirikitani handling the guitar. The result is the new Blues Express disc, “We’re Into Something,” which showcases her vocals that mix blues and soul into a personal style that reminds me of Carla Thomas.

A couple of songs from the nineties session opens the disc with Tim Brockett’s “Can I Walk You To Your Car,” is a brassy shuffle with a hot guitar solo from Bobby Murray that is bookended by her seductive singing as she invites her baby to walk her to her car which is not too far. Walker and Mirikitani penned the soulful ballad “Too Little Too Late,” which Claudette delivers the lyric of her cheating man coming home and asking forgiveness that is a bit too late. “Playing With My Friends,” was originally done by Robert Cray and B.B. King, with Frankie Lee adding his impassioned singing to Claudette on a terrific rendition of this number with another choice solo from Murray. Another Walker-Mirikitani ballad, “This Ain’t How I Planned It,” has her sing about what she dreams of her man to be home at night, and in contrast her man claims to be working late and this ain’t how she planned it. “Rock My Soul,” is a Murray composition that Frankie Lee recorded around the same time. Not as much a shouter in her delivery as Lee is, her heartfelt singing gives her own performance on this a distinct and equally appealing character. “Isn’t Peace The Least We Can Do,” is a jazzy, gospel number with a nice tenor sax solo from Mike Vannice and followed by another poignant indigo ballad “Easier Alone,” where she includes some vocal gymnastics into the upper register in her delivery of the

According to Frank-John Hadley’s liner notes she did record a blues and country album in Europe that was available briefly, but for practical purposes in the United States this is a debut recording, and it is one that will have blues and soul fans take notice of a strong voice that will hopefully be enriching our ears for a long time.

This review has appeared in jazz & Blues Report. For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy of the recording was provided by the record company or a publicist for the recording

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Take a Sea Cruise With Joe Louis Walker

This is a review of the latest Joe Louis Walker CD from Stony Plain (his third for the label).

One would be hard pressed to find anyone in the past thirty years who has put together a body of recordings as deep and substantial as Joe Louis Walker. Especially his initial recordings on Hightone and then on Verve-Gitanes, Walker has been able to be forward looking as well as rooted in the tradition. Few approach his versatility as both a guitarist and as a vocalist. While his post Verve recordings may not have been on the same level as these earlier masterpieces (and one would be hard-pressed to name a half dozen other recordings the past two decades that approach these blues masterworks), Walker still remains a fervent and quite entertaining performer.

Now on Stony Plains Records, Walker has a new release, “Blues Conspiracy: Live on the Legendary Rhythm 7 Blues Cruise,” that he views as a companion to his two volumes of “Live at Slims” and the “Great Guitars,” that both date from the 1990s. This is a live recording taken from January, 2010 performances on the Cruise with most of these performances featuring Walker and his band joined by guest artists who were on the cruise. Walker’s Band included Linwood taylor on guitar,Kevin Burton on keyboards, Henry Oden on bass and Jeff Minnieweather on drums with guest appearances by the likes of Mike Finnigan on organ and vocals; Johnny Winter, Duke Robillard, Tommy Castro, Tab Benoit, and Kirk Fletcher on guitar; Mitch Woods on piano; Curtis Salgado on vocals; Jason Ricci, Kenny Neal and Watermelon Slim on harmonica; Keith Crossan and Deanna Bogart on saxophones; and Tom Poole on trumpet. These tracks all feature guests on the performances with the exception of one. A good number of the performances here are of songs Walker has previously recorded, but several selections seem not to be have been previously waxed.

From a standpoint of a fan, the guests add a dimension of special occasion that does not always translate to an audio recording. Also, the performances may take away from the focus of the performances with some rough edges and perhaps a bit more emphasis on soloing. Generally these pitfalls are avoided, and the performances are quite fine if they do not quite reach the level of the two volumes of “Live at Slims,” arguably among the toughest live blues recordings of the past two decades. Things start off on a solid note on “Slow Down GTO with Mike Finnigan’s organ joining Walker and his band (and its great that bassist Oden, a Boss Talker from 2 decades ago is back with Walker), and followed by “Ain’t That Cold,” where Johnny Winter’s slide embellishes Walker’s fervent singing. Curtis Salgado and Mike Finnigan share the vocals on the OV Wright classic, “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry,” which is enjoyable but slightly messy and frenzied in execution. Tommy Castro and the horn players join in on the rocking rendition of Travis Phillips’ Louisiana rock’n’roller “Eyes Like a Cat.”

Kirk Fletcher adds some nice guitar to the rendition of Lowell Fulson’s “Ten More Shows to Play,” but “Born in Chicago,” suffers from too many musical cooks with Jason Ricci, Nick Moss and Paris Slim adding solos for a performance that seems longer than it should have. In contrast, “Sugar Mama,” with Watermelon Slim added on harmonica, is the longest track, but allows Walker to stretch out for some inspired playing along with Slim’s nice harp on a performance that seems to take little time at all. Kenny Neal joins on “A Poor Man’s Plea,” adding some Slim Harpo flavored harmonica on Junior Wells’ “A Poor Man’s Plea.” “Its a Shame,” is the track showcasing Walker’s band and Linwood Taylor is featured on guitar here, followed by another jam as pianist Mitch Woods and guitarists Tab Benoit and Paul Nelson join Walker for “747.” Even if not as tight as Walker’s earlier takes on this song, this track is fun way to close this recording and certainly, warts and all, is a worthy addition to his considerable body of music that he has graced us with for such a lengthy period.

My previous reviews of Joe Louis Walker's Stony Plain CDs on this blog are of "Witness to the Blues" and "Between A Rock And The Blues."

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy was supplied by the publicity form for the record company.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Jason Moran at 2010 Rossyln Jazz Festival

Just a note of congratulations to pianist and composer Jason Moran who has just been awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Moran is a brilliant pianist and a remarkable composer as well. Additionally, he takes inspiration from classic recordings. In live performance he will play a Billie Holiday or Bert Williams recording and then he and his trio improvise off it. For example on his latest album "Ten" with his band The Bandwagon, he does a rendition of Williams' "Old Babies." At the Rossyln Jazz Festival on September 11, 2010, Moran played the century old recording by Williams which was the launching point for a remarkable improvisation. In addition to his own marvelous band, he also is a member of Charles Lloyd's quartet. Truly a remarkable pianist who has been celebrated with what is informally referred to as a genius grant.

Again, congratulations to Jason Moran.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Deke Dickerson's Lively Night at Duff's

I came across guitarist extraordinaire Deke Dickerson as he served to organize backing bands for headliners at the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. Often Deke would be used to accompany some of the rockabilly or country oriented acts, but he could also be heard behind a bluesman like Lazy Lester as well as a Dale Hawkins. The core of his music might be old time country guitar mixed with some surf guitar. Plenty of country swing and twang with some jazz and blues accents added, like James Burton meets Duane Eddy with other genre hopping just like the backing band of the Modern Sounds whose approach may be rooted more in jazz and swing traditions, but provides a thoroughly compatible and sympathetic backing as they did for blues and boogie woogie stylist Carl Sonny Leylard as I blogged last September,

There is a great picture of Deke with a 4 neck guitar in the inside cover of the live recording by him and the Modern Sounds, “Live at Duff’s Garage” (Major Label/ Ventrella) and the material that ranges from honky tonk to rockabilly to country to jazz and blues includes such driving rockers as “Mexicali Baby,” a terrific rendition of Lazy Lester’s “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter,” (with Patterson on harmonica here) the rockabilly vocal on “Snatch It and Grab it,” a spirited rockabilly polka instrumental “Early American,” and the jazzy “Lover Come Back To Me” (and no he doesn’t evoke dinah Washington). Listening him introduce “Ain’t No Grave Deep Enough,” as a country song that pyschobilly fans seem to like reminds me of some of the material Commander Cody waxed three decades ago, while “Good Time Gal,” features Patterson on steel guitar. Then there are covers of songs from Porter Wagoner, Conway Twitty, and Willie Nelson number (introduced as if Otis redding would have done it if Otis Redding was .... (well I am not giving away all of his intros)). This is a live recording (as suggested by the title), and sound is really good which matches the music.

Anyway, listening to this makes me wish I was at Duff’s that night. This ain’t blues or jazz, but it is a helluva lot of fun to just put on. Hey I paid for this with my own money and give a big thumbs up. Oh for those interested Deke has a website, from which you can order this (as well as from better online retailers like

James Cotton Remains a Blues Giant

James Cotton’s career as a musician extends some 66 years and while he no longer handles the vocals, he still wails on the harmonica. His latest CD is “Giant” on Alligator features his band of the past several years: Slam Allen on guitar and vocals; Tom Holland on guitar; Noel Neal on bass and Kenny Neal, Jr., on drums in addition to Mr. Superharp himself. Its refreshing that for this latest Cotton recording, they did have Cotton with his band and eschewed the superstar guests. Slam Allen certainly has developed into a solid singer with plenty of personality, and Tom Holland has become one of the most highly regraded traditionally-oriented guitarists around today and little need be added about Noel Neal and Kenny Neal, Jr. This is a great band as the many who have seen them will readily testify.

There are a few originals here in addition to interpretations of classic blues of which “How Blue Can You Get?” “Since I Met You Baby,” and “That’s All Right” are the best known that to these. I know the opening “Buried Alive in the Blues,” by Nick Gravenites has been recorded a lot, but it is relatively new to these ears and it receives rollicking shuffle treatment here with plenty of Cotton’s harp. “Heard You’re Getting Married,” is a slow blues penned by Allen and Cotton with more crying harp. A pair of Muddy Waters tunes follows, with the slow rendition of of “Sad Sad Day” standing out with terrific slide guitar from Tom Holland who evokes Waters’ classic style. Another Allen-Cotton original “Change,” follows with a churning rhythm and a rocking solo from Allen. Allen does a pretty solid job singing “How Blue You Can Get.” The song is handled pretty straight and Noel Neal takes a bass solo with Cotton’s harp adding commentary to the bass solo. A hot instrumental, “In the Quickness,” has a short guitar break from Allen and is followed by the Ivory Joe Hunter ballad “Since I Met You Baby,” which again serves to showcase Cotton’s harp with a serviceable vocal from Allen. Holland plays some lovely guitar behind the vocal on this in addition to Cotton’s strong playing responding to Allen’s vocal. The band rocks on Muddy Waters’ “Going Down Main Street,” which includes some strong guitar before Cotton quotes his classic instrumental “The Creeper,” as he takes the song to its end. Allen follows with a first-rate vocal on “That’s All Right,” that also sports first-rate harp. “Blues For Koko,” a moody instrumental by Cotton is dedicated to the late Koko Taylor, concludes this disc on a high note. Mention should be accorded to Tom Holland’s accompaniment of Cotton’s dazzling, virtuosic harp on this.

Bruce Iglauer notes that Cotton has cut nearly 30 albums in his career. That does not include the many recordings he played on as a sideman. “Giant” simply is a strong addition to Cotton’s rich musical legacy and is also valuable to document the terrific music that Cotton has been playing with his working band.

For purposes of FTC regulations, the review copy for this was sent to the writer by Alligator Records.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Christian Howes Fiddle Takes Listeners Out of The Blue"

This writer had the pleasure of seeing violinist Christian Howes perform at the DC Jazz Festival performance as he was part of pianist Marian Petrescu’s band in a tribute to Oscar Peterson. He dazzled with his technique but his music was playful, thoughtful and passionate. His new recording on Resonance Records is “Out of the Blue” and is with a group including Robben Ford. Besides Ford, other players on this album include pianist Tamir Henderson, organist Bobby Floyd, bassists Ric Fierabrazzi (electric) and Kevin Axt (acoustic) and vocalist Sharon Hendrix.

Chick Corea’s “Fingerprints,” a take on Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints,”is first up with its exhilarating violin from the leader followed lively solos from Henderson, Axt and then Ford with the tempo taken down. Often labelled a blues-rock guitarist, Ford is quite home in this jazz setting and eschewing some of the more rock-oriented elements of his playing. His playing adds a nice contrast to Howe’s rich, flowing tone. The Fats Domino classic “I’m Walkin’,” is taken at a crisp gait as Howe lovingly embellishes the melody with his marvelous playing. Howes rendition of Horace Silver’s “Cape Verdean Blues,” swings under his twisting, driving violin lines, while “Gumbo Klomp,” is a light second-line finger-snapper with both keyboards present and Ford’s slightly crackling tone adding to the festive feel. Howe’s opening playing on the title track evokes to these ears old-timey music before his moody solo followed by some crisp staccato playing from Ford that contrasts with Howes’ moody playing.

Sharon Hendrix handles the vocal on the R&B flavored “Seek and Ye Shall Find,” with some really nice organ from one-time Ray Charles organist, Floyd and Ford shines here as well before his playing is the counterpoint for Howes vocalized playing. “Bobby’s Bad,” is a lively Howes original that is built on a memorable funky riff and dedicated to Floyd, his one time mentor. Carla Bley’s “Sing Me Softly of the Blues,” is a marvelous performance with both Howes and Ford (arguably the best of his superb playing on this) hinting at “C.C. Rider” in their statements here. Ford is not on the the hot pepper tempo rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “When Will the Blues Leave,” with Howes working off Henderson here along with solos from Axt and Rosenblatt. The disc closes with Booby Floyd on piano opening a delightful duet with Howes on the classic “Sweet Lorraine.”

“Out of the Blue” is a delightful album that with its bluesy foundation is both substantial and accessible. Howes swings and plays thoughtfully, mixes in some humor yet never loses his feeling on this very appealing recording.

This review has appeared in the September 2010 Jazz & Blues Report. The review copy was provided by either Resonance Records or a publicist for the release.

Taeko's Intriguing Vocal Stylings

I have been listening to many jazz vocalists lately. the following is a review that first appeared in Jazz & Blues Report. 

Born in Japan, yet assimilating American Jazz and singing it with few indications of her origin, Taeko brings a variety of influences into a varied musical program for what is her second recording, “Voice” (Flat Nine Records). She is backed by a group led by co-producer, drummer Doug Richardson (he also is heard on melodica) with Greg Lewis on organ, Lou Rainone on piano, Kevin McNeal on guitar, and Gaku Takanashi on bass and wah wah guitar. Its a band that can lay down some funk as well as dreamy romanticism.

Opening up is a vocal adaptation of Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” “Get Up,” with lyrics from Juanita Fleming, Taeko hiply delivers the lyrics against the familiar music, followed by her singing and scatting the Jon Hendricks lyrics for the Monk-Hawkins collaboration, “I Mean You (You Know Who).” “Soochow Serenade,” was a 1940’s hit in Japan and she delivers the Japanese in a lovely fashion with Rainone’s effective, spare piano. She whispers and cajoles the meaning out of Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues,” in an understated manner. I should not imply she is a sultry singer, because she can belt out a lyric and moan, scat like a Rex Stewart trumpet solo with all sorts of half valve effects. She scats and trumpets out the lyrics of “A Clear Day,” before a swinging, rolling piano solo, followed by her original, “Spring Nocturne,” where she goes from a whisper to an all out delivery, followed by her cooing of the Doug Carn lyrics to the Brazilian samba tinged Wayne Shorter composition, “Infant Eyes,” as she entreats the one with infant eyes “To make your dreams come true,” with a lovely guitar solo. “Biwako,” a folk song about Japan’s largest lake and her home town is heard in both Japanese and English renditions is handled with a mid-tempo backing with Richardson taking a melodica solo. Greg Lewis’ organ sets the tune for Ted Daryll’s lyrics to Stanley Turrentine’s “Sugar” (with its refrain, “he’s sugar to me”), followed by an Ellington indigo ballad, “I Didn’t Know About You,” accompanied by McNeal’s lovely guitar. “Stand,” showcases her ability to provide a jazzy interpretation to the Sly Stone stone soul funk classic with her horn like scatting.

An intriguing recording by a vocalist who displays considerable vocal range as well as her choice of material.

The review copy for this was provided by the publicity firm handling this recording.

Derek Trucks Band's Multi-Genre and Multi-Cultural "Roadsongs" Excels

Derek Trucks is one of music’s most interesting bands and their recordings always appeal to many. They are even better as a live band and this is their most recent live recording. This review is several months old and appeared in Jazz & Blues Report and I made a few minor stylistic changes.

As good as their studio recordings have been, The Derek Trucks Band is an even better live band that is unquestionably a reason for the groups popularity. Vocalist Mike Mattison in the booklet for this states it simply, “This was a multi-generational, multi-cultural, and above all, live band.” (emphasis in original). They have previously issued “Live at the Georgia Theater” on the band’s own, and a Live DVD was issued after the “Songlines” album, that have displayed this. “Roadsongs” has been issued by Sony legacy and is a two CD release (106 minutes of music and priced as a single CD) that is the Trucks’ Band first live CD issued by a major label. It was recorded in April, 2010 at The Park West in Chicago with the DTB of Mike Mattison on vocals; Todd Smallie on bass & vocals; Yonrico Scott on drums and vocals; Kofi Burbridge, keyboards, flute and vocals and Count M’Butu on percussion on vocals augmented by a three piece horn section that provide added color to the performances in their arrangements.

The Derek Trucks Band is centered around the phenomenal playing of Mr. Trucks whose highly vocalized playing brings elements of the blues slide guitar tradition, the blues-based style of Duane Allman as well as the sacred steel guitarists with whom Trucks has often shared the stage with. He constructs horn-like lines with his keen, whining tone conjuring up the human voice as the band rocks solidly behind him. Yonrico Scott is a terrific and responsive, jazz-rooted drummer, while Smallie keeps the groove steady and Burbridge is a strong keyboard player as well as accomplished flautist while M’Butu adds his distinctive rhythmic accent. Mattison is a soulful singer that brings a convincing voice to the blues, reggae, rock and other material represented here.

The music ranges from the bluesy “I’ll Find My Way,” and “Down in the Flood,” from Bob Dylan’s songbook; reggae with a gospel tinge on “Sailin’ On,” as a homage to John Coltrane on the Mongo Santamaria classic “Afro-Blues,” with Burbridge on flute stating the them e in unison with Trucks blistering guitar. “Get What You Deserve,” is built upon a familiar blues riff with a terrific slide solo. “Days Is Almost Gone,” is a soul ballad (with gospel roots), more splendid singing and stinging guitar. Bob Marley’s “Rastaman Chant,” is another extended instrumental jam for with Trucks incorporating a French Children’s song as part of his melodic development. A very strong rendition“Key to the Highway,” some terrific piano from Burbridge under Trucks driving solo. This disc certainly stands as a souvenir for fans of The Derek Trucks Band, but more importantly it is a superb recording by one of the most interesting and electrifying bands of any genre today.

For FTC purposes, the review copy was sent by either the record label or a firm handling publicity for this release.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Peaches Staten Belts Out Chicago Blues With Some Zydeco Seasoning

Peaches Staten is a new name to this writer and is one of the the unheralded blues artists that Swiss native Chris Harper intends to record and get wider exposure for. Staten is a tough vocalist with influences from Koko Taylor, Mavis Staples and Etta James amongst others. Originally from MIssissippi, she grew up in Chicago raised “on a steady diet of blues, soul, gospel and R&B” to quote Sandra Pointer-JonMike es who wrote the liner notes to Staten’s Cd “Live at Legends” (Swississippi Records). A world traveller, she has spent time in a zydeco band and an Afro Brazilian Samba Ensemble and worked around the world. On one of her song introductions she mentions living in Sweden. This CD was recorded at Buddy Guy’s Legends on the last Sunday before the club moved to its new location. She brings her voice and frottoir (rubboard) to the fore with a band that includes Mike Wheeler on guitar, Larry Williams on bass, Brian James on keyboards and Cleo Cole with Harper guesting on harmonica for several tracks.

She brings a big voice that is evident on her cover of Etta James “I’d Rather Be Blind,” which is solid if in the shadows of the original. This cover shows how strong a voice she has and her relaxed timing in her delivery. Much of this showcases her ability to project lyrics at varying tempo and also that she is a pretty fair songwriter. The opening “Long Distance Telephone Call,” opens with her urging the Legends’ crowd to put their hands together as she sings about missing her man who is so far away and has to hear his voice. The tempo slows down a bit for the soul-based “Don’t Rush Me,” followed by Chico banks’ “It Must Be Love,” which the late Banks wrote for Mavis Staples and Peaches delivers the lyric emphatically in a fashion that evokes Koko Taylor. Guitarist Wheeler is a very busy player which isn’t as much to this listener’s taste, but James’ organ is much stronger in laying the musical coloring and the rhythm is terrific. She takes the crowd to Louisiana for the zydeco romp, “Gotta Find My Man,” with James sounding like he is on an accordion as Staten plays the frottoir which she calls a washboard and Harper adds some nice harp. Its a very lively number with an irresistible groove as well as vocal. I can see this number getting the dance floor packed.

Peaches credits “I Know You Love Me,” to Tina Turner although the CD lists it as a B.B. King number. Harper is part of the driving accompaniment that evokes Howlin’ Wolf’s recording of “Killing Floor.” “Bad Case of Lovin’ You,” is a rocker originally recorded by Robert Palmer and later than Koko Taylor that Peaches emphatically delivers “Doctor, Doctor give me the news, I got a bad case of lovin’ you.” She picks up the frottoir for “Hole in the Wall,” a hard driving boogie blues rocker evocative of Z.Z. Top, before closing with Alberta Adams’ “Keep On Keepin’ On,” with James laying down some really nice boogie-inflected piano before she joyfully delivers the lyric about spreading the news that Peaches will keep singing the blues and that certainly is good news. Wheeler’s guitar is also much more appealing here with a jazzier touch exhibited.

“Live at Legends” is an impressive introduction to Peaches Staten whom we certainly will be hearing more about in the future.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I received the review copy for this from the publicist for Swississippi Records.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Boy Little's Radio Blues

Brett Littlehales, has been part of the DC music scene for decades, but it was not until recently, as leader of the Big Boy Little Band, that as a performer he has had the spotlight shined on him as a singer and a harmonica player. I should also note he is a well respected photographer having done a superb series of portraits of DC jazz legends for Washingtonian among his credits. He has been running the Thursday night jam (and playing one weekend night a month) at the Zoo Bar for I cannot remember how many years, and has had excellent musicians playing with him for such a lengthy period. In past couple years the Big Boy Little Band has been more visible playing at other clubs in the Washington DC metropolitan area. In 2009, they won the DC Blues Society’s Battle of the Bands and represented the Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis whee they made the finals and guitarist Matt Kelley was awarded the Albert King award for best guitarist in the finals. This has translated in more gigs locally including several area festival appearances. Also, being DC based it was easy for them to visit XM-Sirius’ Bill Wax and perform on Bluesville. The result is a new self-released CD by the Big Boy Little Band, “Live From the XM Satellite” (Big Train Records).

In addition to the harp and vocals of Littlehales, and Matt Kelley’s guitar (and vocal on one track), the band also includes Steve ‘Wolf’ Crescenze on bass and Robby Leebrick on drums. The band has a distinct sound with Kelley’s trebly guitar adding a menacing tone at times behind Little’s world-weary street smart lyrics with the crisp rhythm. This live recording in fact is pretty representative of the band’s music and 8 of the 9 selections are originals, with the Jerry Leiber and Artie Butler penned “Downhome Girl,” that Alvin ‘Shine’ Robinson had recorded. Like the original “Shuck and Jive,” that opens this, Littlehales vocal has a bit of cynical edge to it and Kelley takes a strong solo with a hard rhythmic focus before Big Boy sings about tossing her into the water and taking her to New Orleans and watch her dance to the Irving Bannister Band, a nice reference to the under-appreciated New Orleans guitarist who stayed with Littlehales immedately after Hurricane Katrina.

Kelley’s original “Deer Rifle,” has a bit more conventional feel as Kelley sings about finding a rifle next to his women’s bed set with a melody akin to “Forty Four,” with Littlehales harp effectively responding to the vocals. Maybe the highpoint is “The Heat and Humidity,” a gritty bit of urban storytelling about a woman shooting a man (on TV she never thought the gun would ever sound so loud) as Littlehales plays some tasty harp that is based on Alan Wilson’s solo (with a couple of quotes) on Canned Heat’s recording “On The Road Again,” while Kelley takes a tasty short break. With the spare backing from the rhythm it is a very impressive performance. “Twelve Bar Blues,” is a lively celebration of the blues and a litany of various blues bars, some no longer existing such as Big John’s to see Butterfield before heading to a joint on the corner of shuck and jive before heading to the Big Easy and the Maple Leaf and the Club DeLisle and John Lee Hooker with some very nice harp showing off his sweet tone. “Beg For the Money,” (to get to my girlfriend’s door) is a driving number with a rockabilly tinge. “Carondolet” opens with atmospheric harp with Kelley’s soft single note guitar contributing to the flavor as Littlehales spins a tale centered on New Orleans and a shotgun voodoo shack and one can almost smell the incense with the smokey vocal.

The disc concludes with “The Idiot Talking, with its churning rhythm and Littlehales tale of having a bad day and talking on and on until he noticed his baby had gone. Kelley has a nifty guitar figure he employs during the vocal chorus and also takes a driving solo and the Big Boy also picks up the Mississippi saxophone for one last time here. It is a strong closing to the band’s long-awaited (to its Washington DC based followers) debut album, and given how long Brett Littlehales has been playing, it is several decades overdue, but worth the wait. Their are nine songs and slightly under 40 minuets of music, but no fat or gristle, just lean meat. You can check out the band’s website, for information on where they are playing and how to obtain this CD, either by download or physical CD.

This review is a bit of local color for me as Big Boy Little Band hails from the Washington DC area and I live in the Virginia suburbs. My review copy (for purposes of FTC regulations) was provided by Brett Littlehales. Oh at some point the cd should be available at cdbaby and downloadable at itunes.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Van Der Elksen's Jazz Has Vintage Jazz Performance Photos

I have a penchant for books on music (especially blues and jazz) and photography. Books of photographs of blues and jazz musicians have a specific place in my heart, so when I saw on amazon the description of “Jazz” by Ed Van Der Elsken, I added it to my shopping cart but it wasn’t only until recently that I purchased the book. It is published in Amsterdam and it does include some introductory text which I am unable to understand since I do not read Dutch, but it contains a number of black and white photos from the fifties that look like they were taken during European tours by touring American Jazz Masters.

If the technical information on camera equipment and such matter is provided, it must be in portions of the text that I cannot decipher. In addition to the covers, there are 79 pages of photographs in this 7.2 x 6.8 x 0.6 inches hardback that weighs just under 15 ounces. I give the physical dimensions because most of my recent photo book acquisitions are not easily transportable, and despite being a hard cover, this is readily transportable. Their are audience pictures showing some showing unbridled enthusiasm and others more restrained. Notable groups include the Modern Jazz Quartet, Oscar peterson, Duke Ellington (one picture has him jubilant as he conducts the Orchestra) , Art Blakey with Lee Morgan, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong and the All Stars, Miles Davis on stage with Lester Young and with a big smile as Lester plays in one picture and Jimmy Rushing with Benny Goodman. Of course there is more here, but this gives some sense of who is included here. There is a grittiness in part from the grainy reproduction of many of these wonderful shots and there is a nice range of views including some from above like a two-page spread of Armstrong & the All Stars with the concert hall audience clearly visible. Van Der Elsken marvelously captures much of the flavor of the music in his images here. I have no regrets about purchasing this book and suspect lovers of vintage jazz photography will share my enthusiasm for this.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Saxophone Colossus Celebrates Sonny Rollins a True Musical Giant

Sonny Rollins recently turned 80 and part of the celebration is a superb new coffee table book, Saxophone Colossus: A Portrait of Sonny Rollins (Abrams 2010) with Photographs by John Abbott and text by Bob Blumenthal.

Photographer Abbott has been photographing Rollins for twenty off years and was JazzTimes cover photographer for a number of years. The images in here come from a variety of sources including festival and concert performances as well as at his home, both his former apartment near the World Trade Center and upstate form New York City. There are a number of formal portraits mixed with Sonny in a silhouette with a festival audience in front of him. There are shots of members of Sonny’s Bands in some of the performance shots as well as some of individuals who had associations with Sonny over the years including a 2002 portrait of Max Roach. There are also pictures of Sonny with Roy Haynes and Christian McBride taken around the time of Sonny’s concert to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of his Carnegie Hall Concert, and backstage as he examines album covers of his older vinyl albums that have been brought for signature. Black & White and Sepia toned images mix with color images and the images are marvelously reproduced.

Simply as a book of photographs of Sonny Rollins, one would have little trouble recommending this volume. Additionally it has the musings of Blumenthal on Sonny Rollins and his music. The book is divided into 5 chapters, each named for one of the tunes that Rollins recorded on the album “Saxophone Colossus,” which enables Blumenthal to provide some musical commentary on Rollins’ music and life. He not only discusses the specific performance but also a variety of other recordings and performances, and includes some discussion of the views towards Sonny’s music. This is obviously not a full biography of Sonny Rollins or a full detailed discussion of Sonny’s music, but Blumenthal’s discussion and the listing of performances in the Appendix provides a concise guide to the central core of Sonny Rollins considerable musical legacy.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I purchased my copy of this. I have seen it at one of the big national book chains and of course should be relatively easy to find online.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Ronnie Earl Spreads The Love

I first saw Ronnie Earl (Horvath) in 1978 when he was the guitarist with Sugar Ray & the Bluetones where they were backing J.B. Hutto at a New York club. At that time I bought an EP which included his rendition of some Earl Hooker number and his wonderful way with a guitar was evident then. In the years since he had a stint with Roomful of Blues before starting his own group, Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters, initially with vocalists, but increasingly oriented towards a straight instrumental focus. At the same time he collaborated on numerous recordings with a variety of blues greats and had such as Robert Lockwood guest on his own recordings. He is a dazzling guitarist who plays with a voice-like tone and can evoke mentors like Lockwood, Albert Collins and Guitar Slim while also displaying his awareness of the lessons of Grant green, Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery. I would be hard-pressed to think of another guitarist than can play straight blues, straight jazz and them a mix of the two that is so completely unforced, natural sounding.

His latest recording with the Broadcasters, “Spread the Love” (Stony Plain), was recorded in March 2010 with Dave Limina on keyboards, Jim Mouradian on bass and Lorne Entress on drums with Paul Kochanski playing bass on a couple selections, and Tim O’Connor and Jason James playing on “Blues For Slim.” From the opening moments of his take on Albert Collins’ “Backstroke,” to the last lingering country blues styled licks on “Blues For Bill,” one can be dazzled by Earl’s virtuosity yet soothed by his taste and soulfulness. “Blues For Donna” seems inspired by Lightnin’ Hopkins and one can almost Hopkins or Lowell Fulson singing “Lord have mercy, forgive me for my sins,” against his playing as he well spin of a cluster of notes and then a chord and a few riffs. His playing exhibits awareness of the lesson that Albert king that the silence and space between the notes say as much as what one plays.

Kenny Burrell’s “Chitlins’ Con Carne,” is given a lively reading with Limina sounding quite nice on organ and then followed by a moving version of Duke Pearson’s “Christo Redentor,” that was first on a Donald Byrd album. Blues fans will know of this from Charlie Musselwhite, but Earl is really wonderful here with his guitar sounding vocalized here against Lumina’s deep organ backing. This is a rendition that will certainly join the others as a classic performance. The trio of instrumentals, “Happy,” “patience,” and “Miracle,” are marvelous tone poems, followed by Lumina’s rollicking “Spann’s Groove,” which he sets the tone on piano playing some boogie-laced piano before Earl enters with responsive, rocking riffs and complimentary chords and then takes off with some explosive playing. My favorite blues instrumental here is “Blues For Slim,” which Earl builds upon the foundation that Eddie ‘Guitar Slim’ Jones, provide for “Things I Used To Do,” and while he evokes Slim’s playing, it is as inspiration as opposed to simply copying. Earl also gives Jones co-composing credits here.

Ronnie Earl can takes us from the alley up into the heavens with his playing. He can play with grit yet touch us in our hearts and soothe our minds. As Earl’s friend, Rev. Deborah J. Blanchard, states about when Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters play, they “spread the love when their soulful notes brush the hearts of all of us who gather to listen and receive.” The level of Ronnie Earl’s recordings is generally of such a consistently high level and the superb “Spread the Love,” is simply the latest demonstration of this.

Per FTC requirements, I received the review copy from the firm handling publicity for Stony Plain Records’

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Smokin' Joe Kubek and B'Nois King Get Their Minds Back

Here is a review from October 1996 of the Bullseye Blues album by Smokin’ Joe Kubek Band With B’nois King, “Got My Mind Back,” that appeared originally in the October 1996 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 215). I was a bit more concise in those days. They will be appearing in College Park, Maryland on November 6, 2010 as part of the College Park Blues Festival that the DC Blues Society is helping produce. Their music seems to maintain the same qualities today as it did over a decade ago.

Dallas, Texan Smokin’ Joe Kubek’s icy demeanor on stage masks the incendiary flavor of his guitar, while B’Nois King provides a contrasting affable stage presence, and his solid rhythm guitar and jazzier guitar leads are combined with some fine singing, somewhat suggestive of a cool Otis Rush. The two have penned the ten songs on this album which range from Got My Mind Back with its hot groove and Kubek’s hot slide, or the fine slow minor key blues I’m Here for You, which captures the flavor of Otis Rush’s better seventies recordings. Another slow blues, Cryin’ By Myself, also showcases King’s potency as a vocalist as well as letting him stretch out on a solid guitar solo. The instrumental All the Love There Is showcases King’s guitar with Kubek making use of various effects during his solo and his comping behind King, while Kubek’s use of wah-wah effects on She’s It is suggestive of Hendrix and Stevie Vaughan. Let Me Take Your Picture is a Chuck Berry flavored rocker with Kubek’s hot slide helping the number take off. Yet another fine release by one of the top Texas based bands around.

For more information on Smokin’ Joe Kubek & B’Nois King appearing in the DC area, see www. I note that this CD is apparently still in print.

Back in 1996 I likely received the original CD from Rounder Records.

Live 1966 Junior Wells Is Blues Lovers Treat

What a pleasant surprise it was to learn that Delmark was planning to issue a 1966 Boston appearance by Junior Wells. It was recorded shortly after the classic “Hoodoo Man Blues,” was issued but as Scott Dirks notes, instead of the band Junior was using in the clubs (that included Buddy Guy), he travelled with the Aces (Louis and Dave Myers, guitar and bass guitar respectively; and Fred Below on drums). The result is Junior Wells & the Aces, “Live in Boston 1966,” and is a release that will certainly raise the blood pressure of the many fans the late legend had. The hour long performance issued here includes twelves songs interspersed with Wells’ comments and introductions. For those who remember the live tracks on Wells’ Vanguard album “Its My Life Baby,” there with be some similarity although Louis Myers’ guitar style is very different from the more flamboyant fretwork of Guy.

The songs include “Feelin’ Good,” a staple of his repertoire followed by “Man Downstairs,” where he quotes “Mellow Down Easy,” in his solo. He has fun playing with audience at time and clear they are having a good time as he launches into “Worried Life Blues,” with Below helping kick it off with his identifiable drum roll. “Junior’s Whoop,” suggests his fusion of funk and traditional blues as the groove again evokes “Mellow Down Easy,” as urges his woman to come on and scats a bit followed by a tough harp break. Over forty years later, renditions of “That’s All Right,” and “Look On Yonder’s Wall,” would hardly be exciting, but Wells sings strongly on what likely would have staples of his club performances. No such complaint can be made about Wells’ “Messing With the Kid,” which is very similar to Wells’ “Chicago The Blues Today” recording, with Myers playing some of the same riffs as Guy behind the vocal. “Hideaway” is a feature for Louis Myers’ guitar and taken straight before Wells comes in on harp over half way through. Dirks suggests that both “If You Gonna Leave Me,” and “I Don’t Know” (note the Willie Mabon recording), sound like Junior put them together from fragments of songs and illustrates his ability to make these sound like finished songs and display his personality. Myers takes a nice solo on the former number, while Wells opens the latter number on a harp with a nice shuffle groove that evokes his mentor, Sonny Boy ‘Rice Miller’ Williamson’s “Don’t Start Me Talkin,’” and even sings a couple lines in a Rice Miller vein. Myers handles one vocal here, “Got My Mojo Workin’.”

Sound is a slight bit muffled, but that is due to the source material and the restoration does a really good job in presenting the music. It is also handsomely packaged in a digipak. Scott Dirks writes that the power of Junior’s personality comes across here and this writer certainly will not disagree with that assessment. The one omission is lack of information of where this was recorded other than in Boston. (Today, October 6, I learned that it was recorded at the fabled Club 47 in Cambridge). This is a wonderful addition to the Junior Wells discography and certainly should appeal to his fans and fans of solid Chicago blues. 

I received a review copy directly from Delmark Records.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Bobby Parker Is Watching His Step

Bobby Parker has been tearing up Washington D.C. area clubs for the past three decades. This Louisiana native was raised in Los Angeles, but the musical bug hit him, and by the mid-fifties he was playing with Paul Williams' band, backing up numerous R&B legends at the Apollo and on tour. Later he moved to DC, where he was a mainstay in the 14th Street clubs. In more recent years he has played a variety of Washington area venues. Bobby recorded a fine 45 for Vee-Jay which included a superb minor-key blues, Blues Get Off My Shoulder, with the first recording of You Got What It Takes (later a hit for Marv Johnson). A year later, he recorded for the Philadelphia V-Tone label, Watch Your Step, which was based on Dizzy Gillespie’s Manteca (with a bit of Ray Charles influence) that was by Spencer Davis. This record led him to be invited to Europe in the late sixties where Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page was one of his fans, and tried to sign him up to that label. He did record for Blue Horizon, cutting the great It’s Hard But It’s Fair.

The release of Bent Out of Shape by Parker on Black Top will certainly open a lot of ears that haven’t heard these rare records, or seen Bobby in performance. Bobby Radcliff told this writer that twenty years ago, Parker was as good as the better known Chicago stars like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy, and I understand from others, that this recording is not different from what Parker was doing twenty years ago. Having watched Bobby for several years one could sense here was someone special, and this recording captures it. The album is comprised of Bobby’s originals with the exception of the Carey Bell song, Break It Up, that Bobby often opens his live dates with. The remakes of his early recordings are all strong performances. Watch Your Step is a particularly hard-hitting reworking of his V-Tone recording, although without a vocal chorus. The title track is evocative of some of the late Z.Z. Hill’s recordings, but the band here plays with more of an edge, and Parker’s fiery guitar matches his deep soul singing. Bobby’s A-Go-Go actually a mistitled Go-Go Blues),his tribute to the Go-Go music scene, is perhaps the weakest track here, but that aside, the music here is first rate and almost worth the wait for it to come out. This is simply one of the best blues releases on Black Top of the past few years, set apart not only by Bobby’s strong guitar playing, but by his fervent, soulful blues preaching.

This review appeared in the March 1993 (issue 179) of Jazz & Blues Report. “Bent Out of Shape,” is currently out-of-print on CD but one may be able to locate it on ebay or from blues music vendors. Downloads of the album are available on itunes and amazon. I likely received a review copy of this. In my review I did not note that John lennon took Bobby’s riff for a couple of Beatles songs.

Robin Rogers New CD is Reason to Celebrate Her

The release of Robin Rogers’ new Blind Pig CD, “Back in the Fire,” should have been a cause of celebration and a further step in her career’s evolution and growth. However, serious health issues have arisen (discussed below) that may soon still this powerful and soulful voice. The comments of her many admirers and friends suggest that this will be a considerable loss, both in musical and personal terms. I have not had the pleasure of meeting her or seeing her perform, but statements from fellow blues-woman Debbie Davies, and XM-Sirius blues programmer, Bill Wax, make it clear that she is a very special person, not simply a special talent.

And what a voice she has. She sings with complete authority and total conviction which is evident on the opening track, “Baby Bye-Bye,” that starts with hard hitting guitar from her husband Tony, before Robin emphatically tells her ex that the only one he loves is himself and he ain’t gonna steal Robin’s pride. Tony Rogers builds a nice solo here with the rest of the band solidly keeping the groove (and in the case of Mark Stallings on organ add to the atmosphere). Its a strong performance of a striking lyric. Robin adds nice harp to “Second Time Around,” with Kerry Brooks on bass, producer-drummer Jim Brock and Stallings on piano maintaining an easy shuffle groove with Robin taking a nice harp solo on a lively performance. “You Don’t Know,” takes down the heat down as Robin sings in a low-key manner about how she has rested in the shadows and let love pass her by as she has been hurt too many time. Again, the Rogers have such a way with words and Robin sings with as much soul here and Tony adds a sweet guitar solo.

Photo by Bob Hakins
courtesy of Blind Pig Records
Among other selections, Robin marvelously interprets the Little Willie John classic “Need Your Love So Bad,” with horns part of the backing and Bob Margolin guests and palys a strong guitar solo. “I Know I Done Wrong,” is a lively number with a New Orleans flavored groove as Robin admits she has been a bit wild. In this disc of wonderful performances, the most powerful may be “Don’t Walk Away Run,” Chuck Glass’ song of spouse abuse as Robin entreats her friend to get away from the abuser who drinks too much and loves to fight with no one his own size. The simple backing helps make Robin’s urging that her friend “leave him tonight before the morning sun, don’t walk away (pause) run,” stand out even more. Robin’s harp also adds to the mood on this compelling performance.

This terrific recording is counter-balanced by the fact that less than a month prior to its release, Robin Rogers, who had hospitalized for sever liver problem, was diagnosed with liver cancer.  A scan prior to surgery revealed an untreatable cancerous tumor on her liver.  She is not a candidate for a liver transplant so she had been sent home for hospice care. A trust fund has been set up to help with medical expenses and also aid for Tony who will be out of work. Like most musicians, they do not have health insurance and depend on touring income for their livelihood.  Expenses for hospice care, medicine, and everyday living will be extremely high.  Much of this is taken from from the Blind Pig Records website, which also has information on how one can help Robin and Tony and provides information on benefits as well (there is a Facebook page, Robin Rogers Benefit Central), and to a paypal link on the Charlotte Blues Society's homepage  to make direct donations. There is also a direct link to Robin Rogers’s webpage,, from which one can directly purchase Robin’s CDs including the excellent “Back in the Fire.”

For FTC purposes, Blind Pig records sent the review copy of this. I also have separately purchased a copy of this recording and made a donation to Robin. I hope that other blues and music fans will take my lead and buy some of her wonderful music from her website.

Friday, September 17, 2010

JW-Jones No Longer Prodigy

Canadian blues artist JW-Jones continues to mature as a performer and his latest CD, “Midnight Memphis Sun” (Ruf), certainly will enhance his reputation as it shows his maturation as a vocalist in addition to his continual development as a guitarist. The promise of his earliest recordings, that displayed some awkwardness as a vocalist, was shown to reached fruition in his previous CD, “Blueslisted.” The present CD title refers to the fact this was recorded in Memphis at the Sun Studios. It is a robust collection of blues with jump blues and Memphis soul strains integrally mixed in the material. Jones also has special guests Hubert Sumlin and Charlie Musselwhite, who each lend their talents to three tracks each.

A Memphis soul groove (riff suggestive of “Midnight Hour”) is evident for the opening “Off The Market," which is followed by a jumping rendition of a lesser known Lowell Fulson number, “Love Grows Cold.” Both performances display his solid singing and slashing guitar with echoes of Ike Turner’s use of the whammy bar on the latter. Jones' playing is both thoughtful and passionate. With Musselwhite’s harp added to “Kissin’ in Memphis,” Jones delivers, in a low-key fashion, a lyrical homage to some of the musical greats that painted Memphis blue in the fifties through seventies. The driving ”Cuts Like a Knife,” comes from Bryan Adams. Here Jones sings about how his women threw things away with plenty of strong guitar as well as nice organ from Jesse Whitely. “Born Operator” with Hubert Sumlin, is about a shady character who ran Ponzi scheme and stole other folks dreams. The performance has musical echoes of Magic Sam, evident in Jones playing that contrasts with Sumlin’s sizzling single note work.

Musselwhite returns behind Jones’ easy vocal on Brownie McGhee and Sonny Terry’s “Burnt Child.” In contrast, Jones’ rendition of Jimmy Reed’s “I Don’t Go For That,” has rollicking piano and jumping rhythm from Larry Taylor on bass and Richard Innes on drums, and is far removed from Reed’s lazy style. It is a storming Chicago blues stomp with Jones fleet single note solo echoing some of the Memphis greats from the early 50s before Musselwhite’s explosive harp solo showcasing Musselwhite's fat tone. Jones’ “Mean Streak,” mixes his menacing guitar sound with the spare backing from Taylor and Innes to evoke some of the doomy recordings that James Reed and Johnny Fuller recorded for Bay Area blues producer Bob Geddins. Jones may not be quite up to the level of those giants as a singer, but this splendid performance shows how he knows how to build atmosphere in his performances and knows that loud and frantic vocals and playing simply are no replacement for thoughtful, yet passionate performances. “Howlin’ With Hubert” is a nice instrumental shuffle with Jones and Sumlin trade solos. 

Sumlin also guests on the closing track, “Games,” with its driving, churning groove and after Sumlin’s solo, Jones enters, basing his solo on “Got My Mojo Working” and adding some Freddie King riffs here. It is another display of Jones growth from a blues prodigy to a seasoned veteran whose music makes blues fans of all stripes take notice. It is a solid ending to yet another first-rate recording by JW-Jones.

This review first appeared in Issue 329 of Jazz & Blues Report (September 2010), and I have made some stylistic changes for the blog. The review copy was provided by the publicity firm for Ruf Records.

Steve Wiggins Entertaining Blues and Boogie Mix

Florida native Steve Wiggins may have started southern rock growing up, but in more recent years his musical focus has become directed more to blues and jazz and the result is The Steve Wiggins’ Band first blues album, “Precious Cargo” (SteveWho? Entertainment) that was recorded live at the Marina Civic Center in Panama City, Florida. In addition to wiggins on piano and organ, the band consists of Lenwood Cherry Jr., on drums and vocals; Bruce Herbert on bass guitar and vocals, and Wally Tirado on saxophone. It is an intriguing change to have a guitar-less blues band. In addition to the ten live performances, there is one studio recording with a guitarist added.

There is not much deep about the music here. Good time blues and boogie with some jazz and gospel inflections. “Steve’s Boogie,” kicks this disc off with barrelhouse boogie piano mixed with riveting sax and chicken fried organ. Its followed by a rendition of song “Cold Shot,” associated with Stevie Ray Vaughan with Herbert handling the vocal and Tirado’s raspy sax being the primary solo voice along with Wiggins’ Hammond B-3. I’m not really a fan of James Taylor’s “Steam Roller,” which is vocally handled first by Herbert and and then Cherry, but Wiggins opens with some deep blues piano and organ and Tirado adds to the atmosphere with his sax. “Doin’ My Thing” features Cherry on vocals. opening with Wiggins pounding the ivories and a bit of a funk groove when Tirado wails.

Cherry penned “Black Cat Woman,” with an insistent rhythm that has Wiggins and Tirado prominent in the backing as Cherry sings about this woman on the other side of town that likes to get down and has a spell on him. “Roosterfish,” is a solid jazz-inflected instrumental which is followed by John Lee Hooker’s “Dimples,” with rollicking keyboards and an affable vocal by Wiggins. The tempo slows down for Cherry singing, “My Last Tear,” with Tirado’s sax and the band hinting of “Stormy Monday,” as Wiggins gets down in the alley on piano and organ. Next up is a rendition of Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man,” followed by a solid rendition of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” Cherry may not be Bobby Bland or Bill Withers, but he does a very credible job delivering this lyric as well as the others. This is followed by the studio recording, another rendition of “Doin’ My Thing,” with a little bit fuller sound with the addition of guitar in the backing .

What stands out on “Precious Cargo,” is Wiggins really strong piano, Tirado’s raw sounding tenor sax and Cherry’s solid vocals. The band is pretty solid as well. band. The shortcoming may be that not all of the material here is strong. Still, this disc displays Steve Wiggins Band as the entertaining group they are.

This review has been stylistically and grammatically corrected from the version that appeared in Jazz & Blues Report issue 329. The review copy was provided by the firm handling publicity for this release.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

New Orleans' Icon Grandpa Elliott's Sweet Street Blues

This review is several months old, but during the broadcast on NBC of the NFL season opener between the saints and the Vikings, at one point they showed Trombone Shorty and Grandpa Elliott jamming in the French Quarter. This review originally appeared in the May 2010 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 324) and the review copy was provided by a publicist for the record label.

Playing for Change, according to its website (, began a decade ago, the brainchild of Grammy-winning music producer and engineer Mark Johnson. Utilizing innovative mobile audio/video techniques, it records musicians outdoors in cities and townships worldwide. 

For ten years, Johnson and his team traveled the globe, with a single-minded passion to record little-known musicians for what would become Playing for Change - its name evoking the coins thrown to street musicians as well as the transformation their music inspires. They have had a documentary on public television try to bring peace and positive change through music. Through Timeless Media they have an arrangement with Concord Music Group to issue some of the music they document from South Africa to Santa Monica to New Orleans, in the case of their newest release by Grandpa Elliott “Sugar Sweet,” (Playing For Change).

In September, 2006, they came to New Orleans as that city was in the beginning of its recovery from Hurricane Katrina to find Grandpa Elliott. Grandpa Elliott is a fixture of the French Quarter scene, regularly seen singing and playing harmonica on the street at the corner of Royal and Toulouse. While much of what Playing For Change does brings the studio to the street, in this case they did a studio recording session with the Playing For Change Band in Spring 2009 which was led by Reggie McBride on bass and included musicians from around the world with the guitars of Louis Mhlanga andJason Tamba, the keyboards of Michael Thompson, the drums of Peter Bunetta and the djembe of Mohammad Alidu worth notting. There are also guest appearances from Keb’ ‘Mo, Joe Krown and Kirk Joseph.

Elliott has a wonderful voice as he sings a variety of mostly blues & R&B classics including Bobby Bland’s “Ain’t Nothing You Can Do,” Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do,” Little Milton’s “We Gonna Make It,” and Sam Cooke’s “Another Saturday Night.” While Bland sings the opening song as someone suffering heartbreak, Elliott’s warm, rich vocal, set against an Afro-Caribbean groove is reassuring in tone, which also falls into the mood of the lyric of “Share Your Love,” another song from the Bland songbook as well as his wonderful reading of “We’re Gonna Make It,” with a soulful country tinge and a nice harmonica solo that owes as much to jazz players as Little Walter. “Sugar Is Sweet,” is a Caribbean a slightly saccharine love song that gives this disc its title. 

There is a spirited live club recording of Buster Brown’s “Fannie Mae,” followed by a rendition of Charles Brown’s “Please Come Home For Christmas,” backed by Joe Krown on Wurlitzer piano and Kirk joseph on tuba that concludes this somewhat short (37 and a half minutes) but thoroughly engaging recording.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Swississippi's Amiable Chicago Blues

Swiss native Chris Harper left his business in his homeland to become immersed in traditional blues styles, and in conjunction with Dave Katzman, a Chicago music scene veteran, founded Swississippi, a label devoted primarily to record traditional blues artists who aren't being recorded. ‘Swississippi Chris Harper himself is among the featured performers on one of the label’s initial releases on “Four Aces and A Harp,” which has him with blues veterans Jimmy Burns, John Primer, Robert Stroger and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith, with Katzman, Little Frank Krakowski, and Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith appearing on various tracks in support. Half of this is recorded with acoustic backing and half with electric backing with vocals being shared by Harper, Burns, Primer and Big Eyes Smith with one from Tail Dragger.

This is an very pleasureable collection of performances, although of mostly familiar material from the opening electric moments of “Hand Me Down My Walking Cane,” as Jimmy Burns emphatically delivers the song many know as “Look on Yonder’s Wall,” with nice slide guitar to Primer’s easy rendition of Rice Miller’s “Fattening Frogs For Snakes.” Harper showcases some adept harp playing whether in a Little Walter vein as on behind Willie Smith’s rendition of “Sloppy Style,” to the more intimate playing style Rice Miller often utilized on the closing number. Playing acoustically provides a different character to “I Smell Trouble,” that Burns sings so well. Harper sings in an affable manner with a jazzy inflection on his original “Blues is My Life,” with some nice piano backing from Marty Sammon, before a nice harp solo displaying a nice tone and musical imagination. Primer takes the able vocal on a shuffle rendition of Lightnin’ Hopkins “Mojo Hand,” with Peaches Staten adding rhythm on a washboard. Willie Smith’s revisits his “Born in Arkansas,” musically set to the “44 Blues” melody, which allows his country harp with Harper’s more modernistic playing. More of Harper’s playing, with some choice piano support from Arriyo, is featured on the lovely treatment of Duke Ellington’s, “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore.” The rendition of the Muddy Waters recording “Forty Days and Forty Nights,” with Burns handling the vocal, benefits from the acoustic setting, almost a back porch feel, while Tail Dragger does his Wolf impersonation on “Evil is Going On.” Primer does a fine revival of Muddy’s “Long Distance Call,” although Harper’s accent is evident on his vocal on “Worried Life Blues,” credited here to John Estes, but still is an appealing, solid performance.

Overall, this is a collection of solid performances. Given the derivative quality of most of the material, this recording necessarily stands in the shadows of the originals, but still there is a congenial quality that makes for a very entertaining recording, although one would be hard-pressed to call this essential.

For FTC regulation purposes, this was received from publicist handling Swississippi Records.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Doug MacLeod at the DC Blues Festival

I first heard about Doug MacLeod through his album, "No Road Back Home," an album that certainly holds up decades after it was originally issued. One of the tracks, "Its the Blues," which opens as he recalls being with George 'Harmonica' Smith and William Clarke in Oakland and staying in this fleabite hotel before launching into the song about that night's performance. While that recording featured Doug with a band, and today he plays solo, the core of his music is there: his storytelling, conversational introductions and interaction with the audience and his vocal delivery which exemplifies the notion of "relaxed intensity," that I believe Bruce Bromberg first employed about Lightnin' Hopkins.

"No Road Back Home," also included perhaps his most famous composition, "Nightbird," which was a favorite of the late Washington, DC radio programmer, Jerry "The Bama" Washington. perhaps that is where the late Eva Cassidy heard it, and her version is one that Doug feels is the best. So much so, that he no longer performs it, but a recognition of how strong her rendition was.

At the Carter Barron on September 4, Doug spun his stories and played some mighty fine acoustic guitar. As I was photography the festival, I was not carrying a notebook or recording song titles. But one song he did perform, "The Long Black Train," that was on his first album, and also on the more recent (2008) Black & Tan album, "The Ultrecht Sessions." On this recording he is joined by bass and percussion on some tracks, but not this one. But back to Doug's performance, one is struck by his soulfulness, his strong musicianship, and the humor. And while he is a masterful acoustic blues player, at no point does his playing overshadow his songs or his vocals.

I do not recall the last time Doug had been in the Washington DC area, and in any event he should be on the left coast of states more frequently. I actually purchased "the Ultrecht Sessions," after his performance and it is a superb reminder of this terrific performance.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Samuel James Powerful Blues Storytelling

Still in his twenties, Samuel James has become in just a few years a prominent name in the world of acoustic blues. Born in a musical family, his grandfather was a blues guitarist and performer of his generation while his father played piano and trombone. Busking in Ireland to survive after he broke up with a woman, he has mastered a variety of instruments while working in the acoustic blues vein, which he cherishes “the intimacy of one man screaming his heart out…a conversation between him and his audience as opposed to between band members. When I think of the best, most intimate forms of entertainment—maybe a flamenco guitar player, or a stand-up comedian, spoken word—it’s one individual. There’s a power there. You can’t listen to Son House or Skip James and tell me that an electric ZZ Top can touch that.” While he is rooted in the blues traditions of the past, his personal vision permeates his songs and performances. His third album, “For Rosa, Maeve, and Noreen,” is on Northern Blues and according to the publicity for this disc, “reflects Samuel’s live performances as much as one can, but more importantly it showcases why Samuel James doesn’t consider himself a bluesman per se, but a songster and storyteller within a style of music.”

His storytelling begins with “Bigger, Blacker Ben,” about Klansmen burning a cross on Ben’s lawn and the resulting confrontation with the cowardly racists. His performance uses a percussive accompaniment accented by slide guitar and somewhat typical of his freeform song approach that one hears through much of this. There are some similarities to the one-chord approach of some of the North Mississippi Hills Country style. I find his swirling accompaniments, and free-form song structures evoke the late Robert Pete Williams. “Cryin’ Blind,” illustrates this with his emphatic playing behind a vocal where he proclaims to his woman, “where were you when I was cryin’ blind, where were you when I was doing fine.” “Joe Fletcher’s Blues” features nimble fingerpicking as he sings about going to the boatyard so they can teach him to sail so his woman can’t pick up his trail. ‘A Sugar Farmhouse Valentine” sports lively 12-string playing, while “I’ll Break Your Promise,” with some moody slide guitar, has a ethereal feel suggestive of some of Skip James recordings. One of the song’s referenced by the album’s title, “Rosa’s Sweet Lil Love Song,” has a genial accompaniment as he sings about traveling just to see Rosa’s smile, and to get into her arms. He plays banjo on “Darlin’ Maeve,” which starts as he starts telling about her drinking six mountain jacks, and can’t count the money she stole, but still she thrills him to his soul, then as stepping up the tempo as he recalls picking her up off the ground last saturday and taking the rap from her thefts and other misdeeds. There is a spirited banjo accompaniment enlivens “Miss Noreen,” a story about a lady who dances to a banjo man for the crowd at a rough bar, The Buzzard’s Craw. “Trouble on Congress Street Rag,” is a free-form instrumental that displays his agile finger picking. “John Ross Said,” is a somber, moving song about the courthouse and President Jackson’s uprooting of the Cherokees from their home and land. The rest of the songs have their own intriguing elements whether his acapella vocal on “Wooden Tombstone,” or his lively use of multiple instruments on the closing “Path of Ashes.” He doesn’t shout his vocals as almost speaking them as his performances are somewhat conversational. Samuel James’ music is distinctive and fresh sounding. The result is a most beguiling recording that evokes older blues styles but is full of contemporary stories. Northern Blues recordings should be readily available from better retailers like and amazon as well as itunes.

The review copy was received from a media firm handling Samuel James’ publicity. This review previously appeared in the Issue 323 (January 2010) of Jazz & Blues Report, which can be downloaded at

Little Milton's Stax'd Best

After the sale of Chess to GRT and its eventual demise, the best place for Little Milton was to join the Stax where he produced several albums before that legendary label also folded. Milton may be best known for this Chess/Checker recordings as well as the Malaco recordings after Stax folded. But its clear listening to the reissue “The Very Best of Little Milton,” this was as musically fertile a period of his recording career as any.

And checking out some of the titles he recorded for Stax shows why. Among the classics he recorded for Stax were “That’s What Love Will Make You Do,” “Walking the Back Streets and Crying,” and ”Little Bluebird.” Then he made his own renditions of songs associated with others like “Tin Pan Alley,” or “Women Across the River,” and place his own stamp on them. And perhaps the most classic in this vein was his interpretation of Charlie Rich’s country hit, “Behind Closed Doors,” but given Rich’s strong ties to Southern blues and soul, it is no surprise his songs translated so well when handled by a strong soulful blues performance by Milton.

Milton’s impassioned vocals and strong guitar playing is matched by typically fine backing, from among others, The Memphis Horns, and the use of strings is complementary, not syrupy here. This is a strong compilation of one of the true blues masters who passed away too young.

For purposes of FTC regulations, I do not remember if I received a review copy of this or purchased this.