Monday, January 31, 2011

Bobby Broom's Guitar Meets The Music Of Thelonious Monk

Having spent the past few years in Sonny Rollins Band, guitarist Bobby Broom certainly had a certainly pronounced visibility. It was his second stint with the jazz titan, and certainly establishes his credentials as a musician. He has a recent (2009) trio album as a leader “Bobby Broom Plays For Monk” (Origin Records) where he is joined by Rollins drummer, Kobie Watkins and bassist Dennis Carroll. As the title in dictates, this album is devoted to the music of Thelonious Monk with renditions of eight Monk compositions and two numbers that Broom associates with Monk. This Monk tribute album even has the cover art as a take-off on the cover of the classic album, “Monk’s Mood.”

This is an album that it pays to listen to attentively and appreciate how beautifully recorded it is and some of the subtleties in the performance and the interaction between the three. Broom plays pretty straight here without any feedback or other guitar effects. Broom’s approach to Monk’s music is with an ear to the melodies and the performances likely will not appeal for those looking for high energy guitar. This approach works best with certain of Monk’s melodies like “Ruby, My Dear,” where his deliberate use of chords and single notes runs heightens the beauty of Monk’s music. Broom will quote other songs in his solos like “Chicago, Chicago” during “In Walked Bud.” He softly comps behind bassist Carroll on the latter solos while Watkins keeps the steady pulse. “Lulu’s Back In Town” is as good a
n example of his tone and their is some trading of fours with Watkins. Most of the compositions, such as “Bemsha Swing,” and “Evidence," should be familiar to many and the least familiar composition by Monk on this is Work,” with some intricate playing. “Work” is followed by a lively rendition of “Rhythm-a-ning.” The album concludes with Bobby solo on "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

This is a splendid, thoughtful treatment of Monk’s music by guitarist Broom and his trio Bobby Broom is performing as part of the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival just outside of Washington, DC during President’s Day weekend and I look forward to catching his performance at that event.

Bobby Broom has discussed Monk's music on a short video which the Jazz Video Guy has uploaded on youtube.

I purchased this CD.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

With The Original Pin Stripe Brass Band Plenty Of Chances To Dance

The resurgence of Brass Bands in New Orleans starting with bands like the Dirty Dozens led to the emergence of many such groups by the mid-nineties. One bar, the recently closed Donna’s, featured Brass Bands every night for many years. Many recordings have taken place, ranging from bands that were more traditionally oriented to others that infused street music and rap in their repertoire. A number of recordings also have documented these groups over the past few decades. One of my favorites from the 1990s was one by the Original Pin Stripe Brass Band that appeared on Orleans Records and is still available (check out that has Your Last Chance To Dance and the bands more recent recording, I Wanna Go Back To New Orleans, in stock). The following review appeared in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 204).

Few types of music can be as invigorating as that played by a New Orleans Brass Band. The recent resurgence in such bands may be illustrated by such groups as the Dirty Dozen or Rebirth. Part of this revival of the brass bands is The Original Pin Stripe Brass Band who have an exhilarating album available (on Orleans Records) titled Your Last Chance to Dance.

Like other bands in the vein they mix parade tunes and hymns with blues and jazz classics. Opening is an exuberant hymn, Lord, Lord, Lord, “You’ve been so good to me,” they declare as the irresistible second line groove kicks off. The funk continues on Dave ‘Fat Man’ Williams’ I Ate Up the Apple Tree, With leader Herbert A, Margavey, taking lead vocal while punching out the groove on snare drum and others responded with a group vocal response before a bit of New Orleans polyphony in the instrumental portion. Rhythm & Blues classics like Higher and Higher and It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye are transformed with second line grooves, while other songs include spirited treatment of the legendary Paul Barbarin’s The Second Line.

Bands like this help keep the brass band tradition very much alive, and the album illustrates the observation of Jerry Brock in his liner notes that units like Pin Stripe may be traditional but are anything but stagnant. A wonderful collection of joyous music that will enliven any event.

I do not remember whether I purchased this CD or obtained a review copy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Rev. Gary Davis 1952 Recordings Newly Issued

One of the masters of acoustic finger-style guitar in the Piedmont tradition, the legendary Reverend Gary Davis exerted considerable influence on a whole variety of musicians who had the opportunity to see him and perform. There has plenty of Gary Davis albums that are available including a Yazoo reissue of his early recordings (including some secular sides), albums on Smithsonian Folkways, Prestige Bluesville, and more. Shanachie has a marvelous 3-CD box of various live performances from the late fifties and early sixties and various anthologies contain examples of his spectacular holy blues.

Field Recorders Collective is an group of collectors who have recorded mostly old-time string-band music but have issued some cajun and creole recordings. In 2009 they released a CD of the music of Dink Roberts, a banjo player whose music as a link between the African-American traditions and Appalachian styles. Among the five releases for 2010 is one of Reverend Gary Davis, “1952 Wire Recordings from the Collection of John Cohen.” Cohen, who founded the New Lost City Ramblers with Mike Seeger & Tom Paley in 1958, was introduced to Davis at a 1950 Leadbelly concert and with his brother Mike, he made these wire recordings of Davis at Davis’ Harlem home in 1952. These recordings, accordingly, predate the 1953 tape recordings of Davis that have been issued on Smithsonian Folkways.

There will be few surprises among the songs or the performances of Davis on this recording which opens up with “I Am a True Vine” and concludes with “Twelve Gates to the City.” Among the highlights to these ears are “Please Don’t Drive Your Children Away” and his fervent rendition of “I’m Gonna Meet You At The Station,” both with plenty of his cleaned picked playing and hoarse shouted vocals. On a few tracks the spoken encouragement and vocals of McKinley Peeples are held as on the brief instrumental rendition of “Cocaine.” It is Peeples who takes the lead vocal and guitar on “I See the Sign of Judgement” where he salutes Gary Davis in his lyric, while the roots of Blind Boy Fuller and his musical followers are evident in “Tell Me, John,” with some brilliant picking here. Given the source of this material, the sound is acceptable although the treble end is a bit muffled. While there are other places to start with the music of Reverend Davis, this will be welcomed by his many fans and fans of fingerstyle guitar.

This can be obtained from Field Recorders’ Collective at their website, It is packaged in a mini-lp jacket with brief notes on Davis and the source of this disc.

I purchased this disc.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Remembering Robert Lockwood Jr.

Robert Lockwood at 2005 Pocono Blues Festival
In light of my retrospective of some of the music of Robert Lockwood in the past few weeks, I thought it might make sense to republish my obituary of him that appeared in the December 2006, Jazz & Blues Report. I knew Robert some 36 years, first interviewing for the Case Western Reserve University student paper in Fall, 1970 and having him on my blues show on WRUW. I had the pleasure to see him perform numerous times over the next thirty five years, in a variety of contexts including several memorable performances at the Pocono Blues Festival and at the Ponderosa Stomp backed by his long-time bassist, Gene Schwartz. One mistake in my review is suggesting Lockwood’s “Aw Aw Baby” may have influenced Roosevelt Sykes. Sykes recording of “Sweet Old Chicago” probably was earlier and also, as Bob Koester notes in an interview on Blues Revue’s website with Don Wilcock, includes a verse that is not in most renditions of “Sweet Home Chicago.” Koester also notes the song's origins predate Scrapper Blackwell’s “Kokomo Blues.”

Robert Lockwood, legendary and highly influential bluesman, passed away Monday November 21 at the age of 91. Born in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas, near Marvell, Lockwood started playing a pump organ when at the age of 11 a traveling blues performer named Robert Johnson started a dalliance with Lockwood’s mother. Johnson showed Lockwood some stuff on the guitar and while still a teenager started playing around the Delta region with Johnson, Aleck Rice Miller (better known as Sonny Boy Williamson), Johnny Shines, Elmore James and others. For a period he lived in St. Louis, where along with blues singer, Dr. Clayton, he traveled to Chicago. In Chicago, he he backed Doctor Clayton and also made his initial recordings for Bluebird that included songs that became blues standards such as “Little Boy Blue,” “Take a Little Walk With Me” and “Mean Black Spider.” That latter number, retitled “Mean Red Spider,” was the first commercial recording of one Muddy Waters.

Robert Lockwood at 2005 Pocono Blues Festival
He returned to the Delta region and joined up with Miller for a new radio show, King Biscuit Time, that was broadcast at lunchtime and was heard throughout the delta region. Lockwood was one of the earliest electric guitarists in the south so his play- ing inspired numerous performers including B.B. King and Muddy Waters. Lockwood left King Biscuit to do his own broadcast for a competing company, Mothers Best Flour, backed by the Starkey Brothers, a jazzy band with horns in which Lockwood could expand his musical repertoire to include the big band and jump numbers that could be heard on radio and in juke boxes. He was an admirer of Charlie Christian among others and songs such as “Exactly Like You” and “Chinatown, My Chinatown” were also numbers that were part of his repertoire (as well as that of Robert Johnson) busking on the streets.

Later Lockwood mentored BB King, trying to get King to improve his timing. King’s timing was so bad, that Lockwood was among those who told Bullett Records to have King record with horns to cover his bad timing. Eventually Lockwood ended in Chicago where he became a session musician for a variety of labels appearing on classic Chicago blues recordings by Eddie Boyd, Willie Mabon, Baby Face Leroy Foster, Floyd Dixon, Sunnyland Slim, and most notably Sonny Boy Williamson and Little Walter. He also recorded “Dust My Broom” before Elmore James did but Mercury sat on this record- ing and did not release it until later. His J.O.B. recording, “Aw Aw Baby” was perhaps the version of Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” that led to recordings by his good friend, Roosevelt Sykes and latter renditions by Junior Parker and Magic Sam that helped establish this as a blues anthem.
Robert Lockwood Being Honored at Pocono Blues Festival
by Blues Scholar Larry Hoffman with Lifetime Achievement Award
But the bulk of his work was supporting other artists and his marvelous chord work and single note runs behind Williamson and Little Walter were integral to these classic blues recordings. Lockwood toured with both and it was with Sonny Boy Williamson that he came to Cleveland in 1960 to play the legendary club, Gleason’s. He never left Cleveland and lived for the rest of his life there. 1960 was also when he was part of the legendary sessions that led to the classic Otis Spann albums, Otis Spann is the Blues and Walking the Blues.

During the sixties and early seventies he played local clubs while working delivering prescriptions for a pharmacy or as a painter. He was called on stage at the 2nd Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1970 which was followed by his first solo album, Steady Rolling Man for Delmark where he was backed by the Aces. He recorded a number of very fine albums for several labels with the two Trix albums, Contrasts and Does 12 both standing out. By the late seventies, he had stopped playing his Gretsch Chet Atkins model for a 12-string guitar and continued trying to come up with new sounds and songs at an age where many would retire or recreate past glories. He recorded a couple of fine albums with Johnny Shines for Rounder, although a severe stroke suffered by Shines limited the extent of the collaboration. He was honored with Handy Awards, induction into the Blues Hall of Fame and in 1995 President Clinton presented him with a National Heritage Award from the National Endowment For the Arts.

Lockwood’s influence on blues guitar is under appreciated. Guitarists Louis Meyers, Matt Murphy, Eddie Taylor and Luther Tucker are among those Lockwood touched in the fifties and sixties and more were influenced in latter years. Bob Dylan reportedly asked Lockwood to show him some tips on how to play some of Robert Johnson’s songs.

I was fortunate to know Robert for over 35 years. Some folks meeting him could view him as arrogant, but if they checked out what Robert told them they would discover he was simply stating facts. I found him quite engaging with a very dry, wry sense of humor, and someone I am pleased to have known and had interviewed on several occasions. His death coming on the heels of Ruth Brown’s passing is another great loss for the blues community. The sweet sound of his playing still resonates in my head and I will miss him as a performer and a person.

I took the photos that are part of this blog entry.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Robert Lockwood's Solo Blues Mastery

My last post examining some of the classic recordings of Robert Lockwood, Jr., involves two solo recordings. Delta Crossroads was reviewed in the September-October 2000 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 247) while The Legend Live was reviewed in the March April issue (Issue 267). It is ironic because Lockwood, when I met him in 1970, was not very interested in performing in a somewhat archaic musical style. Yet for someone not fond of performing solo, he did make fine recordings in this vein. I have made minor editorial changes from the originally published reviews. Both of these recordings are still in print. 

Delta Crossroads 

Robert Lockwood, Jr., remains a national blues treasure who still sounds as fresh and vital today as he did decades ago. Telarc has issued a new cd, Delta Crossroads, which is surprising in that it is a solo acoustic album with Robert rendering fine performances of a number of his stepfather, Robert Johnson’s songs, along with several other blues standards and some of his own originals.

This is not his first album as an acoustic blues performer. He recorded Plays Robert & Robert on a French label which since has been reissued in the US on Evidence. Lockwood has included tracks on prior albums in this vein. Robert has recorded most of these songs in the past, although perhaps under different titles. For example, his This Little Girl of Mine was recorded with his band as Hold Everything on Lockwood’s first Trix album and this writer is familiar with other renditions by him of most of the Robert Johnson songs.

Johnson’s 32-20 Blues that opens this album may be the one song I have not heard him record before, but he recorded Dust My Broom even prior to Elmore James, although it never got issued, and he did Rambling on My Mind on his Steady Rolling Man album for Delmark. Lockwood plays with his usual skill and sings straightforwardly and without any artifice. Its nice to hear renditions of performances of such classics he regularly performs as C.C. Rider and Leroy Carr’s Mean Mistreater and In the Evening. The latter number is juxtaposed with a rendition of Love In Vain, which uses the latter tune’s melody.

This is beautifully recorded and produced by Joe Harley and is a worthy addition to his growing body of recordings. I hope Telarc (or another label) does not keep us waiting too long for a full album of Robert and his great band.

The Legend Live

This brand-new Robert Lockwood, Jr. album on MC Records, The Legend Live, is a solo performance recorded at The Rhythm Room in Phoenix last July. There is little in the way of surprises in the material covered, which ranges from a quartet of Robert Johnson songs (including Sweet Home Chicago, Love in Vain and Rambling on My Mind), and several blues standards including Leroy Carr’s How Long Blues and In the Evening, plus Johnny Temple’s Big Legged Woman.

Lockwood was a sideman when Roosevelt Sykes waxed Feel Like Blowin’ My Horn for Delmark, and he brings a bit of panache to this along with the swing classic Exactly like You. Having played the twelve string nearly thirty years, it is no wonder that he is able to get such a distinctive sound to match his unique, sophisticated playing while his vocals give no indication that he was 88 when he recorded this. This is another excellent addition to his discography.

It’s two bad that the wonderful live Japanese recordings he made with the Aces in the 70’s, along with a superb 90’s Japanese album are currently unavailable in the US, but this will have to suffice for those wanting a document of his marvelous live performances.

Tomorrow, I will post the obituary I wrote of Robert Lockwood Jr., after his passing. I likely received review copies for these from Jazz & Blues Report.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Seriously Raw Vocals By Cee Cee James

Vocalist Cee Cee James might be described as a Janis Joplin inspired vocalist from the Northwest. While her recent studio album, “Low Down Where the Snakes Crawl,” left this listener with a mixed reaction. This writer was more than pleasantly surprised to discover how much he enjoyed her new CD, "Seriously Raw: Live At Sunbanks" (FWG Records). James has been performing for several decades and had a solid backing band of Rob “Slide Boy” Andrews on rhythm guitar and slide; Chris Leighton on drums, Dan Mohler on bass and Jason Childs on drums at a semi-annual festival held at a Washington State resort.

With a few originals mixed in with a bunch of covers James and her deliver a spirited set with some blues-rock touches in some of the accompaniment, but performances that are delivered with a relaxed groove, never coming across as frenzied or hurried. Expecting the worst from an opening rendition of Robert Johnson’s “
Crossroads Blues,” I was delighted by the nice, relaxed pace of the performance that owed little to Cream’s blues-rock version, or Elmore James’ spirited slide version. And James’ raspy vocals might evoke Joplin, but she sounded relaxed in her delivery without straining. The contrast between the strong idiomatic slide of Andrews and the more blues-rock style of Childs added interest but the rhythm duo were superb in helping deliver this performance. Her vocal on “I Ain’t Superstitious” moves from casual to fervent with which she mixes in some witty spoken interjections as she exhorts her band and the audience to get silly with it. This latter song has a solid solo where Childs builds off the groove.

Then there are originals like “
Make It To The Other Side,” with a nice shuffle groove and her two Joplin covers, “Mercedes Benz” and “Me and Bobby McGee,” where she exhorts the spirit of Joplin, although the quality of her voice will make comparisons between her and the legendary singer inevitable. But James’ lively and infectious performances with the superb backing she gets, make for spirited listening that stands on on its own as she places her own stamp on “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” “Nutbush City Limits,” and Luther Allison’s “Living in the House of the Blues.”

Seriously Raw” is a seriously fun listening experience. Incidentally, some of her chat with the audience is on a track after the 13 performances. It might be interesting to listen to once, but will wear thin on repeated listening. Thus one can easily avoid listening to this bonus track.

My review copy was supplied by a publicist for the label

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Roy Gaines High Class Big Band Blues

The “Bluesman For Life,” Roy Gaines, has his first recording in nearly a decade with “Tuxedo Blues” issued on Gaines own Black Gold label. Gaines last US disc was the excellent 2000 Severn release “New Frontier Lover.” Also in 2000, Gaines recorded a CD in Japan on the P-Vine label, “Guitar Clashers from Gainesville, Tokyo,” with Japanese guitarist, Mitsuyoshi Azuma. Gaines, who took up guitar inspired by t-Bone Walker, has toured, played and recorded since the fifties including studio work with the likes of Bobby Bland, Junior Parker, Big Mama Thornton, and Jimmy Rushing, as well as played with such legendary musicians as Roy Milton (at the age of 16), Ray Charles, Chuck Willis, Billie Holiday and Harry Belafonte. His recording career started with albums for the RCA Groove subsidiary and then albums for a variety of independent blues labels producing highly acclaimed recordings like “Bluesmen For Life,” “Lucille Work For Me,” and “New Frontier Lover,” that displayed his marvelous guitar playing and virile vocals.

Tuxedo Blues” is a big band album which the spotlight focused on Roy Gaines vocal and guitar. In the booklet accompanying this, Gaines talks about what was involved in putting this recording together as well as inspiration. The music harkens back with the relationship between the blues and jazz spheres were much closer such as with the Territory bands, such as the Blue Devils, Bennie Moten, Count Basie and Jay McShann, as well as the bands of Lionel Hampton and Budd Johnson. After all T-Bone Walker fronted big bands and Gatemouth Brown led a big orchestra in his early days. This is the tradition Gaines pays homage to here which isn’t far removed from some of his recordings such as “New Frontier Lover,” with their substantial horn players and arrangers, although the big bands here produce an even richer, fuller sound. The music may be dressed up to be at home at the most elegant ballroom yet Gaines’ performances never lacks grit.

While Gaines acknowledges the great Jimmy Rushing as a major vocal influence, his sound reminds me of the classic B.B. King of the late fifties and early sixties. The opening “
Send For Me,” which was a hit for Nat King Cole has a nice full horn section before Gaines adds a nice solo. Gaines wrote the civil rights themed “Blues From Hell,” with his brother Grady, recalling 400 years and how long must he wait to be free from hate with a hard swinging George Pandis arrangement. Roy’s old friend, Joe Sample, is at the keyboard on the lively “Gold Old Days,” with Gaines relaxed vocal phrasing surrounded by Leslie Drayton’s rich arrangement, with Sample laying down a lively piano solo followed by some jazzy fretwork from Gaines.

Roy previously recorded “
Thang Shaker” on the P-Vine “Guitar Guitar Clashers from Gainesville, Tokyo,”and against John Stevens’ arrangement lays down some scintillating guitar on a lyric where Gaines boasts I’m your thang shaker, i’m your lover shaker … so let your belly button roll, let it roll, all night long,” with another sophisticated piano solo from Sample. Leslie Drayton’s arrangement of an old Louis Jordan classic “Inflation Blues,” helps frame a strong rendition of this number than in this writer’s opinion bests B.B. King’s similar big band recording of several years back. Quincy Jones wrote “Miss Celie’s Blues (Sister),” for the movie “The Color Purple,” and Grady is playing guitar in the club scene when this is performed in the film. Here Gaines comes across almost as a crooner in delivering this lyric which features an New Orleans inspired instrumental section with Jackie Kelso is on clarinet, Mike Daigeau adds gutbucket trombone and George Pandis lays down some hot trumpet. Gaines collaborated with New Orleans legend Edward Frank on a lovely blues ballad “Come Home,” with a generally restrained vocal and a nice vibraphone solo from Onaje Murray.

Reggae Woman,” originally “Calypso Blues” by Nat King Cole, opens like a jumping blues stomp to which are added some Jamaican ska rhythmic touches with a lively John Stevens arrangement with a nice guitar break with a jazzy tone and nice mix of single note runs and chords. Joe Sample’s fellow Crusader Wilton Felder adds some Texas tenor for the sole instrumental on this, a slowed down, midnight slow drag reworking of the Michael Jackson hit, “Rock With You.” “Route 66” opens with just the rhythm with Sample and Gaines each taking a chorus or two before the horns kick in and Felder and Jackie Kelso get to strut on tenor and alto sax retrospectively. Gaines’ off the beat vocal adds to the appeal of the interpretation here.

Tuxedo Blues,” is yet another impressive addition to Roy Gaines highly underrated discography. He is in fertile form throughout this and the superb big band settings would make almost anybody fronting them sound good. The result is a superb disc that should have wide appeal to fans of blues and jazz.

For FTC regulations purposes, a publicist sent me the review copy of this CD

Monday, January 24, 2011

Esther Phillips Gripping CTI Recordings

This is the second part of my consideration of the neglected Atlantic and Kudu Records of Esther Phillips. The first part was yesterday.

After her time with Atlantic, Esther Phillips, signed with Kudu, a subsidiary of the CTI, Creed Taylor’s innovative Jazz label and made a series of seven albums that produced more superb music as well as some of here biggest artistic and commercial success. This period of her work is also generally ignored by many writers on the blues, but if the blues is about the facts of life, can their be a more gripping blues recording than Esther’s narrative about “the world can watch you die” with her “white power dreams,” in her unforgettable and chilling rendition of Gil Scott Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.” The smoldering funk rhythm and big band horns and strings arrangement is perhaps far cry from the stereotypical guitar dominated blues band, but few recordings of the past four decades hit the listener’s gut as this.

Home Is Where the Hatred Is: The Kudu Years 1971-1977” is an anthology of 18 selections from Esther Phillips’ seven CTI albums on the Australian RavenRecords label. In light of Sony’s recent initiation of a significant reissue program to mark 40 years since CTI’s birth (with a fine 4 CD reissue “CTI Records: The Cool Revolutions”), one can expect the rerelease of remastered editions of the original albums that are anthologized here. The first five selections are taken from the Grammy nominated album “From a Whisper to a Scream” (the one I believe that Aretha handed her Grammy to Esther for). The title song of the from the pen of Allen Toussaint and a powerful, soulful performance of a love gone sour with Esther begging her man to forgive her for overlooking the needs and wants of her man, with swirling strings, flute and horns adding to the mood. Eddie Floyd’s country soul classic “‘Til My Back Ain’t Got No Bone,” is a particularly strong soul vocal about having to keep walking to find her baby.

Three selections follow from the follow-up Grammy nominated “
Alone Again, Naturally,” with her remarkable slow-drag tempo reworking of Bill Withers’ “Use Me,” being another highlight as is Esther revisiting “Cherry Red,” on a rendition that evokes the midnight hours that is at least equal to the Atlantic big band version with spare keyboard accompaniment and spare, evocative guitar allowing her vocal to soar. her compelling rendition of Joe Cocker’s “Black-Eyed Blues,” served as the title track of Esther’s third Kudu album. Also from that album was another Bill Withers composition “Justified,” with a funky groove as she shows and cajoles her man “I’ve forgiven you every time you’ve lied,” but enough is enough and she’s living him and is justified.

From the “Performance” album came a funky-rocking version of Clarence Carter’s “
Doin’ Our Thing” with some nice guitar as well as the topical “Disposal Society,” from Eugene McDaniels with its mix of pre-Green ecological sentiments and disposal relationships, disposal plates and disposal love “dispose of me before I dispose of you.” A discofied rendition of “What a Difference a Day Makes,” may be the most familiar selection here with the audible background moans distracting from an assured vocal with an appealing vocal. From that same album comes the moody “I Can Stand a Little Rain,” with effective use of sound effects. Obviously the dance version of “Unforgettable” was an attempt to follow-up “What a Difference,” while Jackie DeShannon’s “Pure Natural Love,” also sports a dance groove. From her last Kudu album, “Capricorn Princess” comes a superb ballad performance, “I Haven’t Got Anything Better To Do,” and the CD closes with a terrific live rendition of “God Bless The Child” with the CTI All Stars that was only issued in Germany and Japan with her distinctive nasal tonality and jazzy phrasing, with the All Stars taking a tempo shift behind a short guitar solo after which they slow things down as Esther evokes Billie Holiday to close this marvelous performance and compilation

Esther Phillips would record for Mercury after leaving Kudu and then die in August, 1984 of liver and heart failure at the age of 48. She left behind a legacy of blues, jazz and soul vocals that frankly still are under appreciated. These Kudu recordings are an important part of Esther Phillips legacy that await your discovery.

I presume that CTI the original CDs will be coming back into print and remastered. It should be noted that the original CTI/Kudu albums were mostly recorded at the Legendary Rudy Van Gelder’s studios and were known for the distinctive packaging as well as superb audio.

This was reviewed from a CD I purchased.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Esther Phillips Never Stopped Confessin' The Blues

With a career spanning five decades, Esther Phillips left an impressive legacy of music. She is of course known as a blues singer from her early recordings as Little Esther as part of the Johnny Otis Show. As a thirteen, she recorded “Double Crossing Blues,” with the Robins and had other hits on Savoy with Otis including “Mistrusting Blues” with Mel Walker and “Cupid Boogie” among a number of hit recordings. Later she signed with Federal where she only had one chart record, “Ring-A-Ding-Doo,” but had some great sides including “Brother Beware,” and “The Deacon Moves In,” the latter with the Dominoes. She also had a fine interpretation of Big Mama Thornton’s hit, “Hound Dog.”

In the mid to late fifties, she was still touring the western states where Kenny Rogers, then a struggling performer, saw her and introduced her and introduced his brother, Lelan who co-owned the Lenox label. Signed to Lenox, she recorded, in 1962, her first hit in a decade, a remake of an old Ray price C&W charter, “Release Me,” leading to her recording her an album of country and western songs. After Lenox went bust, Esther ended up on Atlantic which bought her Lenox masters as well as recorded a number of superb sessions. her first hot for Atlantic was “
And I Love Him,” a cover of the Beatles hit that so enamored the British stars that they flew her over to England to perform on a British television show with them.

If one looks at some blues references works such as the Euro-centric Penguin Guide as well as the latest edition of Blues Records, one does not find Esther Phillips recordings represented after her Federal days. This means that her Atlantic albums “
Burnin’” and “Confessing the Blues,” are not considered. “Burnin’” and “Confessin’ the Blues,” are paired on a Collectables reissue and also were sampled in Rhino’s compilation of Esther’s Atlantic Recordings.

“Blues Records” does state that it is a selective discography, but one notes that perhaps they should have listened to some of these albums. The Penguin Guide generally ignores even Bobby Bland’s recent recordings, including some selected by The Blues Foundation for its Hall of Fame, while including recordings that would not be out of place in a book on rock recordings.

It might reflect that some African-American recordings often do not like to be described as blues singers. The late Tyrone Davis was one, not that he didn’t like or respect the blues, but they felt that they could sing so much more. Perhaps reflecting the time in the post-war era when black singers were usually given blues material to perform. I recall Ruth Brown in the eighties might have made a similar statement, although a decade later the great rhythm and blues pioneer would show no such qualms with being called a blues singer, and she continued to record more than simply blues. Whites want to be called bluesmen or blues women because it supposedly lends them credibility. When they play rock, it allegedly is taking the blues in new directions. I realize this commentary is oversimplified, but many of these same folks will be among those criticizing hip hop as having no connection to blues, ignoring the facts that both blues and rap (soul, doowop, gospel, jazz) are part of the African-American River of Song).

Both of these recordings have made a strong impression on this listener. “
Burnin’” is a live recording that was recorded at Freddie Jett's Pied Piper, in L.A. The live recording was with a trio or maybe a quartet I believe, and later King Curtis overdubbed horns, and other musicians. He did a rather startling good job in the overdub as it sounds seamless. It is a mix of material from standards and pop tunes to the blues. It opens with a marvelous swinging rendition of Aretha’s “If I Lose This Dream,” that displays her growth into a more mature, richer singer with a nasally vinegary sound mixed with a strong does of the Queen, Dinah Washington, with the overdubbed punchy horns extremely effective. Her wonderful rendition of the Beatles’ “And I Love Him,” is dedicated to the lovers in the audience is followed by her “Cry Me A River Blues,” in which she transforms the torch song identified with Julie London into a hot jump blues with her incorporation of Leroy Carr’s “After the Sun Goes Down,” and the Pete Johnson-Joe Turner classic “Roll ‘Em Pete.” For those who have “The Johnny Otis Show Live at Monterey,” this is a separate contemporaneous recording of this. “Release Me” follows and shows that 8 years after first waxing this, she displays a similar soulful approach to country material as did Ray Charles. If the marvelous vocalist, Janiva Magness, did a similarly styled rendition of this number, would folks claim this ain’t blues. The fact that she was at home in a sophisticated vein to do “Makin’ Whoopee” or handle the ballad, “If It’s the Last Thing I Do,” does diminish the blues core of the music here, and can their be any complaint with her wonderful rendition of Percy Mayfield’s “Please Send Me Someone To Love.”

And the fact that “
Confessin’ the Blues” finds her with her big band does not make this stunning Atlantic studio date any less a blues album than Joe Williams with Count Basie, Sonny Parker with Lionel Hampton, Jimmy Witherspoon or Walter Brown with Jay McShann or Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson with is own groups. What a delicious selection of material including “I'm Gettin' 'Long Alright,” which sounds like a tough number out of the Dinah Washington songbook (and it may well be), the classic Cecil Gant ballad “I Wonder,” the Walter Brown-Jay McShann hit “Confessin’ the Blues.” She gets so seductive on the Lil Green classic “In the Dark,”while she shows how she can boogie her man’s woogie on “Cherry Red.” Then there is a terrific big band arrangement for her interpretation of Leroy Carr’s “In the Evening.” The highlight though is a terrific medley taken primarily from Dinah Washington (“Blow Top Blues” and “Long John Blues” and Billy Eckstine (“Jelly Jelly Blues”) that also incorporates bits of Eckstine’s “Stormy Monday Blues” (not T-Bone’s “(Call It) Stormy Monday”) and other songs. It is also a medley she would perform in Monterey with Otis. The disc also includes a couple of standards but doesn’t change the fact that this is an album substantially of blues performances of the highest order. Maybe that is the problem in that Esther is a vocalist and that the album lacks the focus on rocking blues guitars and is too ‘sophisticated’ to be blues for some blues ‘authorities.’

Both of these recordings show how good the blues could sound when handled by someone who certainly had lived through some real hard times in both her relationships and her addiction, yet was an experienced and mature vocal stylist. Paired together by Collectables, this is a terrific “Blues” CD that may have overlooked by some.

Esther continued to make significant and powerful recordings and I will consider an Australian compilation of her Kudu recordings tomorrow.

I purchased this CD.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Whistlin' Alex Moore's Texas Blues and Barrelhouse Piano

One of the many blues discoveries of the sixties, pianist Whistlin’ Alex Moore had recorded for Columbia and Decca in 1929 and 1937 respectively. Modern/RPM recorded him in 1951 (some 1948 recordings were unissued at the time) before Chris Strachwitz recorded him in 1960 for Arhoolie Records. leading him to play clubs and festivals including the Amercian Folk Blues Festival in 1969 which also included Magic Sam, Earl Hooker, John Jackson, and Clifton Chenier. While in Europe he recorded in Stuggart, germany which was issued as “Live in Europe.” In 1987, Moore was granted a National Heritage Fellowship by the National Endowment for the Arts, becoming the first African American Texan to receive such an honor. (Wikipedia is the source for this statement). Later he recorded an album for Rounder before passing in 1989 at the age of 90. Arhoolie Records still has in print the fine From North Dallas To The East Side, which is available from Arhoolie’s website. It is available as a download from itunes or amazon. I reviewed it back in the September 1995 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 204) which I now share with you.

The late Alex Moore was born in 1899 and died in 1989, not too long after Rounder issued his final album. The Texas blues and barrelhouse pianist recorded back in the twenties and thirties, including several accompaniments. Growing up at a time when ragtime and stride influences were reflected in many piano blues recordings, his earliest waxings (available on Document) reflect a thoughtful artist, but rarely have him busting loose with fast boogie woogie runs.

He was located by Paul Oliver and Chris Strachwitz in the summer of 1960, and the album of the recordings made back then was one of the earlier Arhoolie albums. It is reproduced here along with eight recordings from a 1947 session and two others made during the famous 1969 American Folk Blues Festival Tour. The full range of his repertoire is explored here, including several adrenalin pumping uptempo numbers, such as the opening Whistling Alex Moore Blues, which display his penchant for boogie woogie. His salty, husky vocals are matched by his firm and imaginative playing. The pinnacle of this release is the 1947 tracks that include the spectacular Alex’s Rag with its stride and ragtime touches. These were not titled on the original acetate discs so Chris Strachwitz has given them titles, and a slightly younger Moore (he wasn’t quite 50 then) is reflected by the vigor in his singing and playing. Even in the two 1969 European recordings there is no tentativeness in the piano, and there is plenty of grit in the singing.

Moore’s songs also reveal him as a blues poet of note and this is the best distillation of his contributions as one of the great early Texas blues pianists.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Buddy Scott & Big Daddy Kinsey Sang Real Deal Blues

Here is a vintage review of albums by Bid Daddy Kinsey and Buddy Scott, who may not be household names, but produced some solid work. I note my comments in the review about Verve issuing this material which was not stuff that would have been the most commercial type of recording to market as ‘blues.’ Scott died not long after his CD was released, while Kinsey (who died in 2001) had a subsequent album on Verve. Thankfully they viewed things in other than strictly commercial terms. My review originally appeared in the August 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190) when it was still a print publication in Cleveland. Amazon shows the releases below available from other sellers.

Two releases, Buddy Scott’s Bad Avenue and Big Daddy Kinsey’s I Am the Blues, are companions on Verve to Joe Louis Walker’s Blues Survivor. They are both more traditionally oriented than Walker’s album, and Verve’s release of these albums indicates that Verve is not intending to market rock records as contemporary blues. Neither Buddy Scott or Big Daddy Kinsey are household names, nor are they guitar heroes. These are both solid Chicago blues artists who were reared on the music of Sonny Boy Williamson and Muddy Waters, and deliver renditions of the classic blues in a classic Chicago blues fashion.

Verve’s release of Buddy Scott’s Bad Avenue is particularly interesting since Scott is a Chicago club singer who has made few recordings, the most notable ones being as Scotty and the Rib Tips as part of Alligator’s Living Chicago Blues series. The music here is a bit less soul-influenced here than the Alligator recordings. Renditions of Merle Haggard’s Today I Started Loving You Again and Sam Cooke’s Bring It On Home To Me (using the same melody as Charles Brown’s I Want to Go Home), involve a fair amount of testifying. The songs associated with Little Walter, My Babe and Blues With a Feeling, both feature some very fine harp from Billy Branch, and while neither Rock Me or Big Boss Man are particularly novel numbers, the choice of Wake Up Old Lady from the second Sonny Boy Williamson ( going back to an old English ballad), is a refreshing change of pace with the song rearranged as if Howlin’ Wolf was going to sing it, while the traditional Big Fat Woman incorporates B.B. King’s Please Love Me arrangement. In addition to a couple of originals from Scott, the album closes with the fine title track that was penned by the recently deceased Lefty Dizz. Scott is a strong, straightforward singer and effective guitarist although his rhythm guitarist Joe Moss takes the lead on Big Boss Man. In all, a very solid date.

Lester ‘Big Daddy’ Kinsey may be familiar from albums on Rooster Blues and Blind Pig, and as the father of most of the members of the Kinsey Report. I Am the Blues is dedicated to Muddy Waters who is an obvious influence on Kinsey as a singer and as a guitarist. He is backed here by Buddy Guy on the title track and an all star cast including son Donald, Jimmy Rogers, James Cotton, Billy Branch, Pinetop Perkins, Lucky Peterson, Rico McFarland, Ray ‘Killer’ Allison, Calvin Jones and Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith. Included are several titles Waters had axed years ago including Walking Thru the Park (with an explosive Sugar Blue harmonica solo) , Mannish Boy and Got My Mojo Workin’, while renditions of Little Red Rooster, Don’t You Lie To Me and Nine Below Zero are done in similar form. Big Daddy Kinsey contributed three songs, the anti-drug song, Somebody’s Gonna Get Hooked Tonight, Good Mornin’ Mississippi, where he plays slide in a manner that recalls Muddy, and his tribute to the late Albert King, The Queen Without a King, with guitarists Donald Kinsey and Rico McFarland playing in an Albert King style. There is no great surprises here, just a strong session of Chicago blues. Incidentally, Kinsey has toured Europe with Pinetop, Jimmy Rogers, Calvin Jones, Willie Smith, Jerry Portnoy and Luther Johnson, Jr., as part of a Tribute to Muddy Waters, and there is a possibility that this group of artists will tour the US in the spring, 1994.

I do not recall my source of the review copies back in 1993-1994, as to whether it was from Jazz & Blues Report or from Verve directly.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Robert Lockwood Finds His Blues Groove

Continuing my survey of recordings by Robert Lockwood, Jr., he made one recording to be issued on a major label, with I Got To Find Me A Woman on Verve. which I reviewed in the April 1998 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 230). It had some very special guests, Joe Louis Walker who had Lockwood as a guest on his Great Guitars Verve recording, and B.B. King, who Lockwood mentored and helped when B.B. was starting out. It was a friendship that lasted through Robert’s lifetime. When I met Robert for the first time at his Lawnview Avenue Cleveland home, he had on the mantle of his fireplace a picture of him, Muddy Waters and B.B. King. This disc is still available on CD or as a digital download.

It has been quite awhile since Robert Lockwood, Jr. had a new album, I Got To Find Me A Woman (Verve), and for it to be on a major label makes it more welcome. There are guest appearances by Joe Louis Walker and B.B. King who each appear on two tracks. One surprise is that Gene Schwarz, Robert’s long-time bassist was not on this session, replaced by Richard Smith, along with saxophonist, Maurice Reedus; harmonica player, Wallace Coleman; guitarist Charles ‘D.C.’ Carnes; pianist, Robert ‘Red Top’ Young; and drummer, Jimmy ‘Gator’ Hoare.

While Robert has previously recorded almost all of the songs here, the renditions here sound fresh, whether a solo version of Robert Johnson’s Walking Blues, or the band renditions of Take a Little Walk With Me with Joe Louis Walker taking an incisive solo, or Little Boy Blue, which, like Walkin’ Blues, has some nice slide from Lockwood. Lockwood’s rendition of Roosevelt Sykes’ Feel Like Blowing My Horn is a duet with Walker, who also plays with Lockwood on the rendition of Leroy Carr’s How Long, one of several tracks to sport some fine harp from Coleman.

Robert once kidded this writer during an interview for not remembering that Johnny Temple’s big record was Big Legged Woman, so it is surprising to find the song credited here to Charles Brown, and Johnny & Shuggie Otis. I don’t blame Robert, but rather blame whoever at Verve was responsible for the songwriting credits. Coleman’s harp is particularly outstanding on this selection. The longest track is My Daily Wish, that Lockwood originally recorded with just Otis Spann on piano for the classic Candid album Otis Spann is the Blues. Reedus stretches out on sax, and D.C. Carnes on six-string guitar with Lockwood comping behind both on twelve-string, as well as adding his characteristic fills. King plays on the title track. It sounds like King’s guitar was overdubbed over the vocal and band track. This perhaps explains why the backing sounds a touch tentative. King takes the first two and closing solos, while D.C. Carnes takes a crisp, biting solo for the third break.

Lockwood always has been a straight-forward singer, who eschewed any gimmicks or histrionics in his delivery. The vigor of his singing belies his years, and he is particularly effective with his casual approach on My Daily Wash. His off-the-cuff approach also works well on Paul Gayten’s, For You My Love and Memphis Slim’s Everyday I Have the Blues. Both performances feature jazzy arrangements with bop voicings and sound very different from Lockwood’s earlier recordings of the songs. The freshness of the arrangements in part explains why Lockwood is so effective in performing songs that generally have become stale in far lesser hands. Lockwood takes fine solos on both tracks, which also showcase excellent piano from Young and saxophone from Coleman, and are perhaps the highpoints in a varied and consistently entertaining disc by one of the true legends of the blues.

For FTC regulation purposes, I likely received a review copy from Jazz & Blues Report.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shemekia Copeland's Deluxe Alligator Blues

Shemekia Copeland impressed me the first time I saw her perform as she was with her father, Johnny Copeland. I had heard amazing things about this teenager and on the night in 1995 or 1996 at Tornado Alley in Wheaton, Maryland, she sang a few numbers backed by Johnny’s band exhibiting a poise as well as power that belied her age. I believe it was Bill Wax (now of XM-Sirius Bluesville) who said she reminded him of a young Irma Thomas. And her dad was beaming on stage listening to his baby perform. Her late father undoubtedly would not be surprised by how far his daughter as come, being one of the biggest attractions in the blues today.

Alligator, for whom Shemekia recorded her first four albums, has just issued the latest in its “Deluxe Edition” series of reissues with 16 selections (over an hour of music) compiled from these four releases as well as an Alligator Christmas release. Along with her live performances, these recordings have established her reputation and these do provide a good sampling of these recordings. She really shouts out these out against solid bands. What is striking is how good she is, how solid the bands are but the songs stand out more from what she invests in them as many of these songs are solid, if somewhat idiomatic. One song that stands out is her father’s “Ghetto Child,” which has become a cornerstone of her performances, but her lament on the state of current radio, “Who Stole My Radio?” is better sung than the lyrics perhaps deserve. Other songs like a toast to a lady’s salon in ”Sholanda’s,” are a bit more original. That song along with the fine late night lament “Don’t Whisper,” are songs Shemekia collaborated with others in writing. This latter number has a fine vocal where Shemekia has turned the heat down, but it still smolders. Other songs include here include the burning “Turn the Heat Up,” and the acidic “Salt In My Wounds.”

This “Deluxe Edition” includes a booklet with all the session information of the performances and a poster whose the back containing Bruce Iglauer’s reflections on her as well as rare photos of Shemekia. It is a fine retrospective of the music Shemekia Copeland recorded for Alligator and especially for those lacking a CD by her, serves as a welcome starting point to her powerful blues.

The review copy was provided by Alligator Records.