Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Dan Blake's Intriguing The Aquarian Suite

Saxophonist and composer Dan Blake has a new release on BJU (Brooklyn Jazz Underground) Records, The Aquarian Suite, where he leads a piano-less quartet with Jason Palmer on trumpet, Jorge Roeder on bass and Richie Barshay on drums. Blake has quite a background having performed with such artists as Esperanza Spalding, Anthony Braxton, Kenny Werner, Danilo Perez, and Ricardo Gallo.

Listening to Blake’s compositions and the performances here, one musical point of reference is the classic Ornette Coleman Quartet and bands such as Old Dreams and New Dreams. While perhaps having a bit less overt blues-flavor, Blake and his quartet play marvelously. The horns display quite a bite along with their very expressive soloing, at times floating over the foundation provided by Roeder and Barshay. But this duo enliven the tempo for the horns who engage in an intriguing dialogue on Mister Who, fluidly negotiating mood and tempo changes. The mood changes on the lament, “The Best of Intentions, with the two horns interweaving their lines. “How’s It Done” starts with the rhythm section, especially Roeder setting the mood, before Blake takes a torrid tenor sax solo followed by Palmer who starts in a relaxed vein but builds heat as his solo. Barshay also takes a crisp drum break here.

The press release accompanying for The Aquarian Suite notes that many of the performances here reference masters of the bebop era so that Mister Who takes cues from Monk’s Skippy, while How’s It Done was an effort to evoke the classic Clifford Brown and Max Roach Quintet. The composition Aquarian is dedicated to Anthony Braxton whom Blake refers to as an icon of creative music. While it might have been helpful if Blake’s comments on his music had been included, the performances more than stand without explanation.

The mix of Blake’s stimulating writing with the high level of the performances, both in terms of the intelligent and spirited solo, and high level of the ensemble playing result in this excellent release. It is available from Brooklyn Jazz Underground Records (, Dan Blake (, and other retailers.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video of Dan Blake in performance.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Red Holloway Was a Hard Swinging Saxophonist

Delmark has just issued the label’s debut recording by the veteran tenor saxophonist, Red Holloway, Go Red Go! A contemporary of Von Freeman and the late Johnny Griffin at Chicago’s fabled Du Sable High, he came up under the tutelage of Captain Walter Dyett who advised his students to practice outside to develop their sound. Particularly important influences on Holloway were Ben Webster and Sonny Stitt, leading to his big, rich tone and fleet agility which certainly did not inhibit his ability to straddle the blues and jazz worlds growing up. He played on a number of classic Chicago blues sessions as well as jazz dates. His career has run the gamut to backing Charles Brown in the studio in the late sixties (with Charles calling out Red by name on a choice tenor solo) to the 1989 Locksmith Blues, recording for Concord that was co-led with Clark Terry.

Go Red Go! finds him blowing with vitality backed by organist Chris Foreman and his trio (guitarist Henry Johnson and drummer Greg Rockingham). Its a swinging buoyant date opening with a lively Love Walked In. Legendary guitarist George Freeman takes over the chair for Holloway's late night blues, I Like It Funky. The title track is a retitled rendition of an Arnett Cobb sax sender as he takes off at rugburning tempo, followed by the more romantic feeling of the standard Deep Purple, a prime vehicle to display his sensuous ballad playing with his vibrato evoking Webster with a fair amount of vibrato in his sound.

Holloway also provides his own take on Stardust, one of ballads Webster was most associated with. Sonny Rollins classic calypso St. Thomas, is an unusual choice perhaps but Foreman’s solid unison playing and chording underneath his dancing solo adds to its charm and Johnson takes a nice solo here as well. There are strong interpretations of Bags Groove, and Antonio Carlos Jobim’s bossa nova classic,“Wave. Guitarist Freeman rejoins him for the delightful reworking of blues legend’s Roosevelt Sykes’ Keep Your Hands Off Yourself, that closes this album as he enthusiastically delivers the vocal with Foreman anchoring the performance and getting greasy during his solo that precedes the solos by Holloway and Freeman. Holloway may not be a great singer, but the entire performance is simply too much fun and ends a finger snapping, toe tapping recording of first rate jazz for lovers of tenor sax and organ jazz. he ain’t getting older, he’s just aging marvelously.

Red Holloway passed away on February 25, 2012. He would have been 85 in May and he had a career that spanned several decades. This review originally appeared in the July 2009 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 318) and I received a review copy from Delmark. Here is some Red Holloway in performance. 

Monday, February 27, 2012

Margie Baker And Her Musical Friends Live

After a career in education (she has a Doctorate), Margie Baker, has had a new career as a jazz and blues vocalist. Mentored by Dizzy Gillespie, one night she was coaxed out of the audience by a guitarist friend at Henri’s Room at the San Francisco Hilton to sing a song, and she immediately got a job from Conrad and Barron Hilton. Part of her repertoire stems from the music she heard growing up in the Fillmore District of San Francisco, and with five of her musician friends (and educators themselves), she regularly performed at Rasselas in the Fillmore District. Margie’s friends here include Fred Berry on trumpeter; Omar Clay on drums; Duncan James on guitar; John MacKay on the Hammond B3; and Don Ramsey on saxophone and flute. They bring a depth of blues and jazz experience here.

Her newest CD, Margie Baker and Friends Live at Rasselas is subtitled: “A Musical History of the San Francisco Fabulous Fillmore District of the Forties.” As she explains in the accompanying booklet: “I gave the musicians one ultimatum: the three hour gig must consist of the music that nurtured me… African-American music of the 1930’s and 1940’s (sometimes referred to as race music). And the music includes a number of familiar songs associated with Louis Jordan, Faye Adams, Duke Ellington, Joe Liggins, Percy Mayfield, Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines, Billy Eckstine, Roy Milton, Nat Cole, James Moody, and Buddy Johnson and Billy Holiday, with performances that are rooted in the swing and jump blues era but given a seventies organ lounge flavor.

Margie Baker is a wonderful singer who puts plenty of feeling in her singing while maintaining a relaxed quality to her delivery. This is notable on the fine rendition of “Shake a Hand where saxophonist Ramsey and guitarist James make their presence felt. On Don’t Get Around Much Anymore, Berry takes a nice muted solo with MacKay laying the foundation on the B3 while Clay keeps the groove in the pocket. Another Ellington ballad I Got It Bad and That Ain’t No Good, shows Baker in a subdued mood along with some nice chording from guitarist James and muted trumpet accompaniment from Berry.

Next up are a pair of tunes from the Louis Jordan starting with Early in the Morning, with Clay setting forth the groove before Don Ramsey rips off a tough tenor sax solo raising the temperature of the performance. Don’t Let the Sun Catch You Crying is among my favorite of the ballad performances by Jordan with Berry’s trumpet responding to Baker singing about “Mama got salty, you made her so sore.” She really caresses the lyric here and one also appreciates how the band does not feel the need to fill in every space around the vocal. MacKay gets to take his B3 down in the alley on this. Joe Liggins’ I Got a Right to Cry, is taken at a moderate tempo with Ramsey taking another tenor sax solo with the organ and guitar comping under him. James tastefulness as an accompanist to Baker’s strong singing, is perhaps best shown on his playing on Please Send Me Someone To Love. Fine Brown Frame beings a more playful vocal (in the vein of a Nellie Lutcher) along with bouncy backing with Berry playing wide open.

Billy Eckstine sang the ballad, I’m Falling For You, with Earl Hines Orchestra although it is not as familiar as the famous blues associated with him, Jelly Jelly, on which Baker also gives her interpretation to. On the latter tune Ramsey sets the tone with some potent tenor during the opening choruses before she delivers this uptown blues classic. Her vocals on these sandwich a punchy rendition of Roy Milton’s R.M. Blues, with a booting sax solo. The rendition of the Charlie Parker blues, “Parker’s Mood,” is with the lyrics King Pleasure added for his classic vocalese rendition.

The King Cole Trio’s Straighten Up and Fly Right, with a nice jazzy guitar break is followed by Baker’s terrific rendition of the Buddy Johnson ballad Since I Feel For You. She really delivers the goods on this ballad and she is equally home on another Buddy Johnson lament I Wonder Where Our Love Is Gone. Another highpoint is her rendition of Billie Holiday’s God Bless The Child, that opens with a verse from Herbie Nichols, Lady Sings the Blues.

Margie Baker is a wonderful singer who with her wonderful group celebrated the music of the 1940s and 1950s with plenty of feeling and enthusiasm that 2003 evening at Rasselas and we are thankful that over an hour of this joyous performance is available for listeners.

This review originally appeared in Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 334, March 15-May 1 2011) and I am pleased to now post on the blog. Margie provided me with the review copy. A week ago I posted review of Margie Baker’s Live at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society which I am supplementing with this post.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Louisiana Red at the 2008 Ponderosa Stomp

2008-0429_Ponderosa_Stomp-610 by NoVARon
2008-0429_Ponderosa_Stomp-610, a photo by NoVARon on Flickr.
We mourn the passing of Iverson Minter, better known as Louisiana Red on February 25. Louisiana Red had a recording career that stretched six decades, starting with recording for Chess Records in 1952 and including the wonderful Memphis Mojo for Ruf Records, which I reviewed this past October.

Red's music showed varied influences including Muddy Waters, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker and Lightnin' Hopkins. He was adept at the slide guitar styles of both Muddy Waters and James, and adapted some of their tunes for his own use, employing original, often chilling lyrics that arose from his own life and situations.

He recorded frequently and generally at a high level for a variety of labels. With his passing, another link to the blues vintage age of the fifties and sixties has passed, but even more important, an original musical voice has been stilled.

Jimmy "T-99" Nelson Was Indeed A Legend

Jimmy “T-99” Nelson is among the last of the shouters that arose during the swing era and who flourished in the early years after World War II when jump blues was a major part of the rhythm and blues market and before rock and roll adversely affected the careers of more adult oriented performers. Nelson, heavily influenced by Big Joe Turner, established himself on the West Coast and had some recordings make the rhythm and blues charts including the seductive slow blues, Meet Me With Your Black Dress On (not the Black Drawers tune made famous by the Cheathams) and T-99 Blues, a song named after the famous Texas highway and at least partially derived from Honeydripper Blues, first recorded by St. Louis singer Edith Johnson (I believe) and later a signature tune for that great blues and barrelhouse pianist, Roosevelt Sykes (The popular rhythm and blues hit, The Honeydripper, by Joe Liggins is a completely different song).

Nelson’s hit had him backed by the Peter Rabbit Trio, and they two recordings along with other wonderful blues from the early fifties waxed for Modern Records have been reissued by English Ace on Cry Hard Luck. He even recorded for Chess Records in the 1950s and later settled in Houston where he continues to reside. Rounder issued his first comeback album, Rockin’ And Shoutin’ The Blues, in 1999, followed by the marvelous Take Your Pick on Nettie Marie in 2002. Nettie Marie has just issued his latest disc, simply titled, The Legend, a disc where he is backed by mostly Roomful of Blues alumni including Duke Robillard (guitar), Sugar Ray Norcia (harp), Matt McCabe (piano), Marty Ballou (bass), Neil Gouvin (drums), Sax Gordon (tenor sax), Doug James (baritone sax) and Carl Querfurth (trombone).

Its a solid effort opening with an original, The Devil’s Sending Up a Blessing to You, which employs the It Hurts Me Too melody) and a nice personalized reworking of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help Me, although Nelson and the band do not quite capture off the ebullience of Louis Jordan’s classic calypso number Run Joe. Most of the songs are Nelson’s originals and he is a witty writer and the band capably delivers I’m Sick and Tired of You, where he tells his woman “I can be bad by myself,“ One Step At a Time, with its nice walking groove, or Sunrise Blues, whose lyrics evoke some of Joe Turner’s classic sides with a strong tenor sax solo by Gordon.

While this is a very good album, it was not quite as strong as it could have been. The band plays a bit too tightly and a bit looser, limber feel would have made it a bit more swinging. I would love to hear Nelson backed with some of the musicians that made Deacon John’s Jump Blues, the standard for recent efforts in this vein. Otherwise, it is gratifying to hear that he remains in strong voice.

This review originally appeared in the August 2005 DC Blues Calendar. I do not remember whether I purchased this or received a review copy.  Here is a video of Jimmy doing one of the classics that his main influence, Big Joe Turner first sang.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Avery Sharpe Honors His Mentors

Bassist Avery Sharpe is perhaps best known for his lengthy tenure with the great McCoy Tyner who he joined in 1980. A varied career, he has worked with such significant artists as Art Blakey, Archie Shepp, Dizzy Gillespie and Pat Metheny in addition to his long tenure with Tyner. He has also recorded a number of highly praised albums that showcase his original compositions. On his JKNM Records label, he has issued Legends and Mentors: The Music of McCoy Tyner, Archie Shepp and Yusef Lateef, on which he plays homage to them, first performing an original dedictated to each as well as two compositions by each. For this disc he has brought together a band that includes John Blake on violin; Joe Ford on saxophones as well as flute; Onaje Allan Gumbs on piano; and Winard Harper on drums. Blake and Ford both are also alumni of Tyner’s band.

The first trio of tunes is Sharpe’s Big Mac, his salute to Tyner followed by Tyner’s Ballad For Aisha and Fly With the Wind Big Mac brings together distinctive voicings of Blake’s violin and Ford’s alto along with strong solos. Tyner’s Ballad For Aisha has a middle-eastern flavor which Blake’s violin brings to the fore with Gumbs maintaining the flow after which Ford enters on soprano sax followed by Sharpe taking center stage. Sharpe launches Fly With a Wind, which one assumes Sharpe, Ford and Blake played numerous times with Tyner. The exhilarating composition never grows stale.

The Chief is the tribute to Archie Shepp, and its stately melody also features one of Ford’s strongest solos here, with Sharpe’s solo serving as a bridge to Blake. Shepp’s Steam is a lovely waltz while Ujaama hits a hot tempo with Ford back on alto and Blake solo is followed by Gumbs and Ford, with Sharpe solid anchoring the performance.

Gentle Giant, a performance that features changing tempos opens with some marvelous flute from Ford, while Sharpe takes an unaccompanied solo followed by Harper’s thoughtful drum solo. Lateef’s slightly exotic Morning, with its delicate, dance-like rhythms is a strong feature for Ford on tenor while the uptempo Because They Love Me is an exhilarating romp with Ford again on tenor and Blake and Gumbs both playing impressive here. Lateef’s music perhaps has not remained as much in the forefront of the jazz world as that of Tyner and Shepp, and hopefully tthesef performances will rectify that.

Legends & Mentors is a loving tribute by Sharpe and his colleagues of three of the past century’s major jazz artists who are done proud by the performances here.

This review originally appeared is the April 2008 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 303). I received my review copy a publicist for this recording. Avery Sharpe’s website is and he has a new recording out, Running Man.

Here is Avery Sharpe with his trio doing Mr. P.C.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Lori Williams at Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Opening the last evening of the 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival was a wonderful vocalist Lori Williams who was backed by a terrific band of Allyn Williams on piano, Michael Bowie on bass, Mark Prince on drums and saxophonist Tracey Cutler. Here she is pictured with Bowie and Prince.

Heritage Blues Orchestra Is Still Rising

At the last Pocono Blues Festival, one of the acts was Bill Sims Jr. and his daughter Chaney doing a variety of material rooted in deep acoustic blues, spirituals and field hollers. Sims was a marvelous guitarist and vocalist and his daughter sang marvelously as well. It was to my delight that a new recording by a new group, Heritage Blues Orchestra, And Still I Rise (Raisin’ Music) featured them along with Junior Mack in a collection of blues, hollers and spirituals that bring a sophistication to them while preserving the rawness of the source material. This album by “H.B.O.” is produced by Larry Skoller, also includes the harmonica of Vincent Bucher (Matthew Skoller on one track), the drums and percussion of Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, and a horn section led by Bruno Wilhelm that provides fresh settings for some of these songs.

As Smith emphatically laying down the rhythm, Bucher wails on harmonica, and Mack and Sims lay down a delta-flavored guitar accompaniment, Mack delivers a strong vocal on Son House’s Clarksdale Moan, with horns added during the performance. Chaney takes a vocal on C-Line Woman with Mack and Sims providing a response as Kenny Smith provides the second-line rhythms and Clark Gayton provides a bass line on his sousaphone/tuba. I believe it is Mack that handles the vocal on Big Legged Woman, with the horn section adding musical coloring.

The horns are more prominent as is Bucher’s energetic harmonica on a hot shuffle rendition of Catfish Blues, with Bill Sims strongly delivering the lyrics with some interesting interplay between harmonica and the horns. The interplay between the vocals and horns marks Leadbelly’s Go Down Hannah, with a lovely vocal on this dirge by Chaney Sims. I believe it is Junior Mack that plays the driving slide guitar behind the three-part harmonies on the spiritual Get Right Church, as Smith emphatically lays down the groove.

The remainder of this release is equally stirring and moving. The playing by Sims, Mack, Bucher and Smith is terrific throughout. Smith’s ability to play in very contrasting and different rhythmic styles is noteworthy. The horns certainly are interesting, add rhythmic punch to these recordings even if not always seamlessly integrated into the performances. The horns stand out during In the Morning, and the closing Hard Times. The latter traditional blues is transformed into a three-movement performance, opening with a stirring vocal by Chaney that hints at Skip James, followed by a mournful horn interlude, and concluding with Junior Mack taking a vocal chorus to kick off a brief funky jam that fades out during Wilhelm’s fervent tenor sax solo.

The foundation of the Heritage Blues Orchestra are the voices of Junior Mack, Bill Sims, Jr., and Chaney Sims who bring such a range of moods and emotions in the marvelous vocals here. This trio could do a recording without instrumental accompaniment and be as compelling as they are here. And I Shall Rise is an compelling, contemporary exploration of African-American musical roots.

This is scheduled for release on February 28. I received a review copy from a publicist. And here is a promotional bit for this release.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Can't Keep Sista Monica Down

One of the most impressive blues performers of the past decade has been Sista Monica Parker. She certainly can belt out a vocal, but also can powerfully deliver a lyric without raising her voice, and she has always led terrific bands. Word that she had overcome serious health issues was certainly welcomed by knowing blues fans and she has another superb new recording on the Mo Muscle label, Can’t Keep a Good Woman Down.

In addition to her regular band, anchored by Danny B. Ceconcini on keyboards, there are guest appearances by Larry McCray and Chris Cain on guitar. She presents us with a program of 11 originals (well one is a James Brown adaptation) and two covers to show that the “lioness of the blues” is back and as strong as ever.

Sista Monica at 1997 DC Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
The title track and the closing, It’s Good to Be Alive, obviously relate to her overcoming her recent health problems. Cookin’ With Grease is a rocking, funky number that has her recall her musical roots and lets folks know that when the groove is right, you really are “cooking with grease,” while Put It in the Crock Pot is a funky tribute to James Brown and the JB’s that the Godfather would likely appreciate. Both Willie Nelson’s Funny How Time Slips Away and Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Gonna Come, have been recorded extensively. Her performance of the Cooke classic is solid but she really puts more of her stamp on Funny, with her delivery of the lyric.

Songs like Show Me What You’re Working With, Put Your Money Where Your Mouth, The Truth and The Bigger They Are the Harder They Fall, certainly represent what Solomon Burke once described as “the woman of today” who doesn’t take nonsense from her partner. This is not to say that Sista Monica cannot be romantic as she caresses the lyric of Leave the Door Open and Surrender to Love.

Sista Monica is as compelling a vocalist as anyone in the blues and with this disc has added to her substantial body of recordings. This will be among my favorites of the year and is highly recommended.

This review appeared in slightly different form in the September-October 2005 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 276) and the August 2005 DC Blues Calendar, and my review copy was provided by Sista Monica. Sista Monica is still putting out some great music. Her most recent album is Living In The Danger Zone band information on her music can be found at My review copy was provided by Sista Monica.  Below is Sista Monica performing.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Roy Haynes at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival Day 2

The great Roy Haynes leading his Fountain of Youth Band this past Saturday at the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival. He is going to be 87 next month but plays with as much enthusiasm and vigor as if he was in his twenties.

A link to days of 52nd Street, Roy has played and recorded with about every significant jazz artist from Lester Young, Charlie Parker and Sarah Vaughan to Gary Burton, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, Chick Corea, Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy, and John Coltrane.

Famous for his distinct style, 'snap, crackle and pop,' it was his second appearance in the Washington DC area in a few months, and this performance was perhaps even better than his one at the Kennedy Center, in the less staid atmosphere at this event.

Long may Roy Haynes continue to inspire and amaze us.

Thank You Paul Carr For Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival

Joey Calderazzo and Paul Carr

Paul is the moving force behind the Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival that just completed its third yearly happening this past President's Day weekend. Sunday, February 19, Paul and his saxophones led a terrific band of Joey Calderazzo on piano, Terrell Stafford on trumpet, Michael Bowie on bass and Lewis Nash on drums that in part was a celebration of Paul's superb new recording, Standard Definition, on which they all play. The live performance was a stunning cap to the weekend's varied program. Perhaps the highlight of this set was a duet between Carr and Calderazzo on Cheek To Cheek. Here are some photos from that set.
Michael Bowie, Paul Carr, Lewis Nash (obscured) and Terrell Stafford

I will be posting more on 2012 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in the next few days.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Ernie Hawkins Ain't no Whinin' Boy

A new album by the fingerstyle guitarist Ernie Hawkins, Whinin’ Boy, represents a change in pace. Hawkins, a disciple of the the legendary Reverend Gary Davis, has distinguished himself as a masterful guitarist in the blues and ragtime vein pioneered by Davis, as well as a teacher of that and other acoustic blues styles. The present album has him playing material in the vein of early classic jazz and pop in small group settings with the contributions of Paul Consentino on clarinet, Joe Dallas on trombone and James Moore on trumpet worth mentioning.

The album has him in a variety of settings including the skittle jazz band format with clarinet, trumpet, trombone, tuba and washboard backing for Jelly Roll Morton’s title track that opens the album with his understated vocal and simple rhythmic guitar. Clarinet is spotlighted on a reworking of Song (of the Islands), associated with Bix Beiderbecke as Hawkins’ comps in a pianistic vein. There is a brief washboard break. Dallas quotes The Wedding March to open the rendition of Makin’ Whoopee, with its wry opening lyric about weddings and that its not so bad being the groom. Hawkins delivers a simply delivered vocal. The Southbound Sneak, is a slow original Hawkins’ rag-flavored original with tuba and trombone followed by a rendition of the venerable Basin Street Blues, with a fuller band.

The amusing My Poodle Has Fleas has Hawkins adept ukelele backed by tuba and washboard. It is followed by a rendition of Little Brother Montgomery’s Vicksburg Blues, with nice harmonica from Marc Reisman. It is interesting to listen to this piano blues transposed to guitar. I’m Coming Virginia, associated with Bix Beiderbecke and Frankie Trumbauer, is reworked into a pensive guitar feature for Hawkins. Louis Armstrong’s Weather Bird (Rag) is reworked to showcase Hawkins’ adept finger picking and clarinet from Consentino. Bill Bill Broonzy’s Shuffle Rag, has nice harmonica while Hawkins’ evokes Broonzy’s early 1930’s guitar style. The skiffle-jazz band treatment of Rev. Gary Davis’ There Is A Table In Heaven, with trombone and clarinet (and brass bass) provides a fresh take on this performance.

This is an entertaining recording although Hawkins’ guitar perhaps is not as prominent here as on other recordings.

I received a review copy from Ernie Hawkins’ publicist. He is scheduled to open for John Mayall at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia tonight (February 21, 2012).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Margie Baker's Sassy Jazz and Blues Vocals

Born in a dirt-shack in East Texas, Margie Baker grew up to earn a Doctorate in Education and become a jazz and blues vocalist, being mentored by Dizzy Gillespie. After getting coaxed out of the audience by a guitarist friend at Henri’s Room at the San Francisco Hilton to sing a song, she immediately got a job from Conrad and Barron Hilton leading to her singing two nights a week (5 nights during the Summer) at Henri’s Room as well as occasionally at other Hilton’s. Former Paul Butterfield pianist Mark Natfalin often had Margie sing with his band at festivals and Jimmy Lyons booked her not only at the Monterey Jazz Festival but at festivals worldwide.

At the age of 68, CAP Records has just issued her first nationally-released album, Live at Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, a two-cd release with two sets from the Half Moon Bay venue just south of South Francisco. Guitarist Rodney Jones, Ruth Brown’s East Coast bandleader, is the best known of the backing band. Alan Steger and Shota Osabe are each heard on piano on one disc and synthesizer for the other disc while Harley White on bass and Omar Clay on drums completes the rhythm section. Horns are played by Fred Berry on trumpet and Michael O’Neill on saxophone.

This is a pretty diverse program including songs associated with Louis Jordan (Let the Good Times Roll), Bessie Smith (‘Gimme’ a Pigfoot), Count Basie (Goin’ to Chicago), Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing), Jimmy Reed (Baby ‘Whatcha’ Want Me to Do), Nellie Lutcher (Real Gone Guy), Willie Nelson (Ain’t It Funny How Time Slips Away), Charlie Parker (Parker’s Mood), Antonio Carlos Jobim (Favela), Julie London & Esther Phillips (Cry Me a River) and other blues and ballad standards.

Given her experience in performing over the decades, one should not be surprised how well she delivers this fairly eclectic repertoire with nice support and some very solid solos adding to the musical mix. There is plenty of sass and spirit as well as tenderness in how she can caress some of the lyrics and she is one of a many excellent older women vocalists (Alberta Adams and Odessa Harris from Detroit are two others that come to mind) that are similarly having careers blossom at this stage in their lives when they can go out and perform with a bit more regularity.

While this should be available at better stores, it is also available at

This review originally appeared in the March 15 - May 1, 2011 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 283). I subsequently have reviewed another album by Margie, the self-produced, Live at Rasselas that was issued in 2010. I will post that review a week from today. In addition to, also carries this.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Stanley Turrentine's "Salt Song" Part of Celebration of 40 Years Of CTI

Part of the celebration of the 40th Anniversary of CTI, Sony through its CTI Masterworks imprint has issued Salt Song by Stanley Turrentine. CTI was a good choice to showcase Turrentine’s blues-rooted attack and soulful sound and at this July 1971 recording he was joined in Rudy Van Gelder’s Studios by a band that included Ron Carter, Bill Cobham, Airto Moreira, Horace Parlan, Richard Tee and Eric Gale, among others

Freddie Hubbard’s Gibraltar is a straight-ahead swinger that showcases Turrentine warm, robust playing. Eric Gale’s blues tinged guitar provides a nice second solo voice with Airto adds percussion accents. The traditional gospel number I Told Jesus employs strings and a vocal chorus with Gale’s spare, bluesy guitar providing a foil for Turrentine’s vocalized tenor sax. Milton Nascimento’s title track has a Brazilian flavor with a lightly swaying groove as Turrentine solos vigorously. Turrentine, in addition to his blues roots (from the days touring with bluesman Lowell Fulson), was a superb ballad player as exhibited on I Haven’t Got Anything Better to Do, with strings added to presumably add a lush background. Turrentine’s atmospheric “Storm” closed out the original release. A bonus track is a lively boss nova, Vera Cruz from the album, Gilberto With Turrentine, with a fuller band having full flute and full string sections and arrangement by Emir Deodata.

This is a typically solid recording by Turrentine in a straight-ahead vein. While there was some sweetening to some of the music heard here, it was not done heavy-handedly and the result is a recording that sounds fine four decades later.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kenny Neal's Loving Tribute To Slim Harpo and His Father, Raful

Kenny Neal is among the most impressive of contemporary blues artists. Son of Baton Rouge legend Raful, he has been a progressive torch bearer of that city’s blues tradition and impresses by his uncrushed, at times lazy sounding musical style. Back in 2006 I purchased his tribute to Slim Harpo and his father. This has become a collector's item, but is available as downloads for those who can't afford what folks are asking for the actual CD.

The following review was the result of listening to him and appeared in the November 2005 Dc Blues Calendar, newsletter of the DC Blues Society. The review also appeared in the May/June 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 282). I have made some minor stylistic changes.

Kenny Neal at Surf Club Live, Hyattsville MD.  August 2010- Photo © Ron Weinstock
One of the most versatile as well as skilled blues artists working today, Kenny Neal has just issued a new disc that goes to the roots of his music, A Tribute to Slim Harpo & Raful Neal (True Light Entertainment). Originally this was a Slim Harpo tribute by him and his father, the late Raful Neal. They recruited James Johnson and Rudolph Richard from Slim Harpo’s original band to participate in this. Ten Slim Harpo songs were recorded when Kenny went on tour and in the interim Raful was diagnosed with bone cancer so Kenny was among those looking after his dad who passed away September 1, 2004. Going back to the tapes he listened to the tapes and decided to release what was initially a tribute to Slim Harpo also as a tribute to his dad.

Kenny shares the vocals with his father, with the exception of What a Dream on which James Johnson sings while the band captures the understated, laconic grooves that made Harpo’s originals so classic. Raful opens the set with a nice vocal and some harp on Rainin’ in My Heart, while Kenny and Raful swap harp riffs on Swamp Boogie. Raful comes across very appealingly on King Bee, Scratch My Back and Got Love If You Want It, while the two share the vocals on Late Last Nite, with Kenny taking the vocal prior to the harp break which is followed by Raful singing and closing the song with his nicely played harp, and Te-Ni-Ne-Ni-Nu where Raful takes the lead with Kenny joining in on the chorus.

Its nice to hear this played in such a nice relaxed manner, lacking the frenzy or overstatement that mars some rock interpretations of this material. Kenny Neal and his late dad have put together a small gem of a disc, and if playing time is a little short, there is no frills or filler here. Highly recommended.

Here is Kenny Neal and Lil Ray Neal doing Scratch My Back.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. Take Us To Area 52

Until listening to Area 52 by Rodrigo Y Gabriela and C.U.B.A. (ATO Records) I was not familiar with the acoustic guitar duo Rodrigo Y Gabriela. Listening to this disc I discovered that they initially were playing in a thrash metal band in their native Mexico. Going to Europe, they busked as an acoustic guitar duo, rooted in flamenco style and playing a wide range of material that included covers of metal and Led Zeppelin, although I must admit I have not heard their prior recordings.

This album, produced by Peter Asher, has them with by jazz pianist Alan Wilson who had a decade ago given them a jazz salsa recording with latin rhythms. Along with Wilson, they engaged some Cuban musicians to lend their rhythmic feel to this project. These musicians are the Cuba Universal Band Association from which C.U.B.A. derives. Prominent among these musicians Feliciano Arango Noa on bass and the percussion of Otto Santana Selis,

The intent was to redo songs from their two prior recordings However, after recording in Cuba, they felt they could add more guitars and also added some rock flavor to get away from a strictly traditional Cuban, and Latin sound. They also brought in some guest collaborators for this purpose as well which had pre-production and production in several countries. It is this fabulous mix of material, artists and performances that immediately captured my attention and led to my enthusiasm about the many pleasures to be heard here.

Cuban rhythms greet the duos opening guitar figures for San Domingo, with Wilson’s piano helping establish the mood as the horns and strings add to the heat while its one of the tracks that Gabriela experiments with a way way pedal. Samuel Formell Alfonso, of the great band, Los Van Van, is guest drummer on this exhilarating ride. Hanuman was a composition inspired by Carlos Santana and on these reworking Rodrigo added some electric guitar to his flamenco playing on a number that certainly evokes the great guitarist set against some horns and violin in the arrangement with some interesting flute from Jorge Liliebre Sorzano. The drumming of John Tempesta (of White Zombie fame) adds to the rock flavor over the hot afro-Cuban grooves.

An undeniable factor to the duo’s success is there unique mix of various traditions and style. On Ixtapa, after Wilson’s sedate opening followed by the acoustic guitar lead to state the theme , followed by a brief segment featuring percussion before a new movement joined by Anoushka Shankar on sitar who takes an extended, intensive solo followed by the vibrant flamenco styled guitars of the leaders on a mesmerizing performance. Carles Benavent guests on bass (with Noa on second bass) and Carlota Teresa Polledo Noriega guests on vocal for 11:11, with its mercurial tempo and more exquisite playing from the two (including a solo by Rodrigo on a Fender lap steel guitar) driven along by the brilliant rhythm section. Noriega takes her vocal during the closing moments with C.U.B.A. chanting in chorus as the performance fades. Other highlights include Master Maqui, on which the Le Trio Joubran add ouds to the mix of percussion and horn and Diablo Rojo, with the fiery rhythms and stunning flamenco accents of the guitars of Rodrigo & Gabriela as the horns add their brassy counterpoint.

In addition to the nine performances on the CD, this comes with a DVD containing a fascinating documentary discussing the recording of this album. This recording has been a revelation and this writer has already ordered one of their earlier recordings being impressed by this recording. Also, Rodrigo Y Gabriela will be touring North America this spring ( including dates at Massey Hall in Toronto, Radio City Music Hall in NYC, Warner Theatre in Washington DC and the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. If I was going to be at JazzFest this year, they would be my must see act no matter what act (and it would not matter if it was Trombone Shorty or Bruce Springsteen) might be on at the same time.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for the release. Here is a video of the two performing.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Looking Back At Superharps II - A Blues Harmonica Showcase

The following older review is from 2001 and likely was published in the DC Blues Society’s newsletter.

I have not heard Telarc’s initial Superharps session, but it was obviously successful enough for Telarc to follow it up with, Superharps II. The new volume features four blues legends, Chicago blues veterans Carey Bell and Snooky Pryor, and Louisiana blues legends Lazy Lester and Raful Neal (patriarch of the Neal clan). They are backed by a studio band that includes guitarist Kid Bangham and pianist Anthony Geraci.

It is only on the lengthy closing slow instrumental, Harp to Harp that all four play together. Each has at least one track on which they are the sole harp player. Various combination of players are heard on other tracks and all four acquit themselves capably although much of this material has been recorded by them before. Bell is his usual solid performer on a couple Muddy Waters tracks and Junior Wells What My Mama Told Me. I believe Snooky Pryor waxed Shake My Hand on his most recent Blind Pig album, and turns in a superlative performance on the jaunty Let Your Hair Down.

Lazy Lester’s four tracks do a very good job of evoking the classic Louisiana swamp blues sides with his remakes of Strange Things Happen and Blood Stains on the Wall being particularly strong highlights of this. Raful Neal's two selections are worthy additions to his body of recordings.

This is not a harmonica battle, but rather a showcase of four very strong blues personalties who get to showcase their music in the company of some colleagues for a very satisfying album.

Here is Raful Neal.

Here is Snooky Pryor

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Janiva Magness Does Move Me

Janiva Magness has certainly established herself in the past few years as among the finest singers of blues and classic rhythm & blues. She has a new Alligator release coming out soon which i hope to post a review of next week. The following review originally appeared in the May 2006, DC Blues Calendar, then the DC Blues Society’s newsletter. I was provided my review copy from either the record label or a publicist.

Since first listening to one of vocalist Janiva Magness’ recordings, this writer has become impressed by her singing. I hear echoes of the great women R&B divas of the forties through sixties in her without her sounding like she is imitating anyone,. She has developed her own distinctive, recognizable sound where she has avoided developing any detracting mannerisms and impresses with her clean, soulful delivery. With Canadian guitarist Colin Linden, she has co-produced her latest recording, Do I Move You? (Northern Music), and its another superlative effort from her.

Linden shares guitar duties with Rick Holmstrom and Jeff Turmes (Turmes also plays bass and saxophones on several selections)), Richard Bell on Piano and B-3, John Whynot on the Wurlitzer and Stephen Taylor Hodges on drums. Turmes and Linden have contributed several originals to complement the fine interpretations of songs from several different sources, including a wonderful rendition of the Delbert McClinton and Gary Nicholson penned soul-ballad, You Were Never Mine.

Magness brings to life a range of emotions and moods from the opening I’m Just a Prisoner, where she is a prisoner to her love for the man, the celebratory I Want You to Have Everything, where lets her man know there is nothing too good for him ever since he told her he loved her, to the closing A Man Size Job, where she finds the younger man able to do the man sized job her former lover could not fill. A Turmes’ original Don’t Let Your Memories, is a wistful acoustic performance with a reflective lyric and a melody that evokes Key to the Highway. The title track is a Nina Simone penned blues that Magness delivers so seductively. Linden adds some nice atmospheric guitar, judiciously employing reverb with the rhythm section just right without any overstatement.

The production here is exemplary, providing atmosphere and enhancing the wonderful vocals here. The performances keep sounding fresh after listening to this several times over a few weeks time on a truly splendid release.

Here is Janiva in performance.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Mike Morgan & The Crawl - Texas Men

Mike Morgan & the Crawl is one of the acts that emerged on the late lamented Black Top label with a rootsy tinge blues attack that was especially rooted in the traditions of Texas and the Gulf Coast. Starting in 2002, Severn Records started issuing new recordings by this band. Later they issued a CD of Morgan with fellow Texan Randy McAllister. Here are two reviews from a few years back of the Mike Morgan and The Crawl releases with some minor editing to reflect the republication. Severn Records provided me with the review copies.

First up is a review from 2002 of Texas Man, that originally appeared in the September/October 2002 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 259).

Veteran Texas bluesman Mike Morgan’s new album Texas Man (Severn), brings together Gulf Coast gumbo and guitar shuffles with a healthy dose of Hound Dog Taylor inspired Chicago slide boogies.

Originally issued in Holland, Texas Man opens with the title track, a shuffle that celebrates Morgan’s Texas origins and Texas blues. Renditions of Guitar Gable’s swamp blues instrumental Guitar Rhumbo and Morgan’s original Whoa My Darlin’, show how comfortable he is working within the Louisiana Swamp Blues vein. The latter number almost sounds like a new Lazy Lester number while Wild About You Baby, Gimme Back My Wig, Taylor’s Rock and See Me in the Evening, are Hound Dog Taylor-styled slide guitar romps. Five Thousand Miles From Home is a terrific slow blues with Riley Orborne’s organ contributing nice atmosphere.

Among the others who can be heard backing Morgan’s earnest singing and strong fretwork are guitarists Jon Moeller and Anson Funderburgh, and harmonica player Gary Primich. Perhaps nothing musically original here, but everything is done so well and with enthusiasm and spirit. One will have a hard time not tapping one’s foot listening to this.

The following review of Live in Dallas appeared in the April 2004 DC Blues Calendar.

Severn has just issued the latest cd by them,, Live in Dallas. Paired with second guitarist Chris Zalez, bassist Rhandy Simmons and drummer Kevin Schermerhorn, Morgan treats the Dallas club crowd to some rocking music.

Much of this is originals, although Morgan and (Lee) McBee did not write the classic Earl King number Those Lonely, Lonely Nights. Nothing profound here, just hard rocking blues for an enthusiastic Texas crowd as he tells his lady he loves her too much on One of a Kind, while on Frankie Lee Sims’ Frankie’s Blues, he slows down the groove and delivers the vocal in a straightforward, effective manner. Mother--in-Law Blues benefits from the nice easy groove that Morgan & the Crawl hit.

Perhaps some of the lengthier performances might have benefited from some editing, but that is a minor quibble. Morgan is a steady singer and a guitarist who really works the groove while spinning out his lines and the Crawl is rock solid behind him, resulting some entertaining blues.

Here is Mike Morgan & the Crawl in performance.

Monday, February 13, 2012

JW Jones' Solid Blues

Another older review. This review from 2004 is of a marvelous Canadian bluesman, JW Jones. The review appeared in the September-October 2004 Jazz & Blues Report although I have made minor changes. I have previously blogged about his last recording, He has a new CD coming out called Seventh Hour. He is using the release of this CD in part to raise money to help battle Cystic Fibrosis. Here is the link to help fund this release and help the fight against Cystic Fibrosis.

Canadian JW Jones' Northern Blues release, My Kind of Evil perhaps shows how International the blues has become. Kim Wilson who helped produce and guests on several tracks is among those who mentored the Ottawa-based Jones who has developed into a solid guitarist with a disc reminiscent of efforts coming from several West Coast artists, although this is a band with a full-horn session and not led by a harmonica player.

Wilson himself has two fine vocals on Willie Mabon's I Don't Know and the Smiley Lewis classic, Blue Monday, while Colin James sings on What You Do to Me and You Got Me (Where You Want Me). Jones himself shows he has learned his lessons well with B.B. King, Johnny Guitar Watson, Ike Turner and others being detectable influences as he opens with a rocking original Shake That Mess with a nice groove and hot guitar. With James singing Johnny Watson's What You Do to Me, Jones plays a homage to Watson's early twisted guitar stylings set against a hot New Orleans rhumba groove.

Jones also has really developed as a vocalist as shown on several tracks here. A couple of instrumentals also display Jones skill and thoughtful playing and given his growth as a vocalist, choice covers and solid original material and first-rate studio band, J.W. Jones has produced a fine recording.

Here is JW Jones performing.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Curley Bridges Has The Keys To The Blues

Another review from 1999 that I likely wrote for the Dc Blues Calendar, at the time the DC Blues Society’s newsletter which I edited. I do not remember whether I received a review copy from Electro-Fi or purchased this CD. He has at least one more release on the label.

North Carolina born pianist Curley Bridges was a part of D.C‘s music scene in the fifties and sixties when he was member of Frank Motley & the Motley Crew. Among his claim to fame as arranging the Motley Crew‘s version of Hound Dog. He moved to Toronto in 1966 with Motley, and then set up his own band later. Since 1981 he lived in Barrie, Ontario, mostly playing solo gigs. The Canadian Electro-Fi label released his first cd, Keys to the Blues, a mix of blues, boogie and jump tunes performed in a no-nonsense style.

A strong singer, he gets plenty of space to showcase his two-handed piano style on material that will b somewhat familiar but given distinctive readings. The opening You Talk Too Much may be better known as Honey Hush that Albert Collins recorded, while he also sings Joe Turner‘s different number, Honey Hush, that he originally recorded with the Motley Crew. Rock Me Baby is given a funk rhythm, while the Brook Benton ballad Thank You Baby, has a tasty sax solo from John Deeham. Other songs are from Ivory Joe Hunter, Memphis Slim, Lowell Fulson and Dave Bartholomew.

While nothing spectacularly original is heard, Bridges‘ delivery of Every Day I Have the Blues and Good Rocking Tonight are fresh and vital. Chris Whiteley adds trumpet (nice muted work on Since I Met You Baby)or harp to several tracks. Overall, this album has many very enjoyable performances and Curley Bridges would certainly be worth bringing back to the States to perform.

The sentiments in that last sentence ring true today. He also has other releases on Electro-Fi including Live At The Silver Dollar, which I have purchased and have enjoyed for a couple of years. I presume these should be readily available. Electro-Fi’s web address is Here is a video of Curley Bridges performing.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Classic Muddy Waters Found

1999 brought a treat to Blues Lovers when Blind Pig issued previously unissued recordings by Muddy waters, The Lost Tapes. I wrote the following review in 1999 and it likely was published in the DC Blues Society newsletter. This recording is still in print.

Blind Pig Records has something of a coup with the release of a previously unissued live performance from one of the greatest blues performers of all time, Muddy Waters. The Lost Tapes presents Muddy from two 1971 West Coast shows with his band that included George ‘Harmonica‘ Smith, pianist Pinetop Perkins, guitarists Sammy Lawhorn and Pee Wee Madison, along with bassist Calvin Jones and drummer Willie Smith. The opportunity to hear Waters performing some of the staples of his repertoire with one of his best bands makes this a recording that should be of interest to blues lovers.

Songs heard here include, Honey Bee, Hootchie Cootchie Man, Walking Thru the Park, Trouble No More, Just to Be With You, She‘s 19 Years Old, Mannish Boy, Crawlin‘ Kingsnake, and Got My Mojo Working. While some of the songs may be overly familiar, the opportunity to hear Waters belt out the vocals in a robust fashion while showcasing his stinging slide on Honey Bee and Long Distance Call, makes it worth it.

This was a fine band although one wishes 19 Years Old was a brief shorter (although Lawhorn and Smith sound quite good on their solos). While probably not as strong as the Live Newport Jazz Festival album that appeared on Chess, The Lost Tapes, certainly is an important addition to the discography of one of the premier blues artists of all time. Incidentally, this is an enhanced cd, but the enhanced features only operate under the Windows operating system.

Here is a video of Muddy with George 'Harmonica' Smith doing Walking Thru the Park.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Ernie Hawkins is Bluesified

I have had the pleasure of seeing Ernie Hawkins perform a number of times over the years. He is a terrific blues guitarist and singer and among those who was influenced bib the great Reverend Gary Davis. I reviewed his album Bluesified back in early 2001 for the DC Blues Society newsletter and Ernie provided the review copy. At the time when he was touring with Maria Muldaur. Here is that review, with some minor changes.

Fingerstyle blues artist Ernie Hawkins has a delightful new album, Bluesified on SayMo Music. A student of Rev. Gary Davis, Hawkins also acknowledges Blind Willie McTell as a major influence. There are several gospel numbers mixed in with his blues and rag numbers which he plays and sings with charm and grace. Rev. Davis would be proud listening to Hawkins nicely executed rendition of Davis Slow Drag, along with a couple of Davis gospel tunes, one of which, I Belong to the Band, has a moving guest vocal from Maria Muldaur.

The title track is an acoustic small group number which seems to be based on the Walkin’ Blues melody with nice harmonica from Marc Reisman and bottleneck guitar from Hawkins. Lou Schreiber adds clarinet to two tracks, Riding on a Moonbeam, which is based on an African number, and Root Hog or Die, an old Harlem Hamfats number on which the clarinet and the almost marchlike rhythm section recast the song with a klezmer flavor.

His eclecticism in his sources is displayed on his heartfelt reworking of Merle Travis sacred song, I Am a Pilgrim, as well as Hawkins Rag, that derives from a song by Ted Hawkins, mandolin player for the classic string band, Gid Tanner and the Skillet Lickers. His indebtedness to Blind Willie McTell is heard on a fine rendition of McTell’s Broke Down Engine (with nice bottleneck guitar), and the concluding medley of Amazing Grace with three McTell numbers. If not a great singer, Hawkins natural and unforced delivery delivers lyrics with warmth and conviction.

Bluesified is a release that fans of acoustic blues will want to check out. I have also heard his Blues Advice, and Rags & Bones, both of which I recommend strongly. I have not heard his most recent record, Whinin' Boy. You can contact Ernie directly at: Ernie Hawkins, 6941 Blenheim Court, Pittsburgh PA 15208. His website has information on this and Ernie’s other recordings and his many instructional videos in blues and ragtime guitar styles. Better stores will be carrying this as well.

Ernie Hawkins is appearing in Washington, DC area on February 21, opening for John Mayall at The Birchmere in Alexandria, Virginia. Here is Ernie teaching a Reverend Gary Davis number.

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Joe Louis Walker Deals With The Hellfire

Joe Louis Walker recently joined Alligator’s roster of artists and his first album for that label, Hellfire, has just been released. It is produced by Tom Hambridge, who produced Buddy Guy’s recent recordings. Hambridge also plays drums and contributes songs to this release. Of the supporting personnel, the only names I recognize are pianist and organist Reese Wynans as well The Jordanaires who contribute backing vocals on a couple tracks. Hambridge had a hand in the first five tracks here, while Walker himself added five new songs as well. Having been listening to Walker since his first release in 1986 Cold Is The Night, he has produced a number of the best blues albums of the last quarter century. He certainly is passionate here, a term Bruce Iglauer uses in his liner notes, and there is much to enjoy, although not everything is perfect.

The album starts with the title track, a gospel-laced song with an impassioned, gritty vocal about avoiding the Devil’s lure. He plays a blues-rock guitar solo with a nasty distorted tone that is unpleasant to listen to. and undermines the appeal of the impassioned performance. The second track, I Won’t Do That, is a nice original with Walker singing about being faithful and that he won’t cheat or let his woman down. Walker adds a searing solo here. Ride All Night sounds like a Rolling Stones’ inspired rocker on which Walker convincingly sings and plays. Walker picks up the harmonica for a rocking shuffle, I’m On To You. The lyric is about knowing about the bad things his woman is doing. In addition to doubling on the harmonica here, he plays a crisp guitar
 solo. What’s It Worth has a nice lyric although it would have benefited from toning down the hard rock edges heard during the song’s choruses.

Soldier For Jesus, the first of Walker’s originals, and has a fervent vocal with the Jordanaires providing support. Walker brings a soulful edge to I Know Why, a lovely blues-ballad. Too Drunk to Drive is an amusing and delightful excursion into “rock and roll,” with rollicking piano and driving guitar. The lively Don’t Cry, is another performance with a spiritual message on which he sings that instead of saving his money he is now saving his soul. The disc closes with a cover of Hank Snow’s country classic, I’m Movin’ On, played with a boogie groove that Walker places his personal stamp on.

Walker has more of a presence on this recording than on some of his other recent ones. Hambridge’s production must be credited, although as noted at a few places the playing gets a little over-the-top. If uneven, Hellfire is still a significant addition to Walker’s body of recordings.

My review copy was provided by Alligator Records. Here is some vintage Joe Louis Walker from 1993.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Pinetop Perkins Was A Ladies Man

This was a review I wrote back in 2004 that likely appeared in the DC Blues Society’s newsletter.

While Pinetop Perkins has recorded a number of albums, one limitation has been the fact that he has a small core of songs that he repeatedly records. While his performances are solid, one does wish to get some fresh material. M.C. Records has just issued a new Pinetop Perkins, Ladies Man which avoids some of these problems by having Pinetop record accompanying some blues women including Deborah Coleman, Susan Tedeschi, Madiline Peyroux, Ruth Brown, Marcia Ball, Angela Strehli, Ann Rabson and Odetta. I believe this was recorded around the time of the 2003 Handy Award shows which enabled these recordings to take place. Pinetop's renditions of Leroy Carr's How Long Blues and Wilbert Harrison's hit Kansas City, don't break new ground but are typically pleasant performances amiably sung. It certainly nice to hear Susan Tedeschi sing Ivory Joe Hunter's ballad Since I Met You Baby with nice accompaniment, while Odetta gives us a strong rendition of Trouble in Mind with Ruth Brown's revival of her old friend, Big Joe Turner's Chains of Love, to which she embellishes with her own sassy self.

Pinetop Perkins at
2005 North Atlantic Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock
I was not familiar with Madeleine Peyroux who sings the delightful vaudeville-styled He's Got Me Goin'. Deborah Coleman sings Meanest Woman, credited to Muddy Waters but really Tommy Johnson's classic Maggie Campbell Blues. Marcia Ball duets on piano with Pinetop on Pinetop's New Boogie Woogie while I believe Ann Rabson shares the piano on a lovely Careless Love. Angela Strehli salutes the pianist with Hey Mr. Pinetop Perkins, a song that takes at its premise Pinetop's tall story of having written Pinetop's Boogie Woogie, which was recorded by the legendary Clarence 'Pinetop' Smith in the twenties when Joe Willie Perkins was a wee boy. It may have been a signature number for him, leading him to be identified for the song, but it was not his song. However, the nonsensical lyrics did prevent me from enjoying her performance.

This was a varied and enjoyable release that is distinguished from much of Pinetop’s recordings.

Here is Pinetop performing Miss Ida B.

Tuesday, February 07, 2012

Luther "Guitar Jr" Johnson Is Talkin' About Soul

Before joining Muddy Waters band, Luther “Guitar Jr.” Johnson had been a veteran of the West Side Chicago blues scene, playing for a period with Magic Sam and developed a strong style that blended in a strong dose of rhythm and blues flavoring in his music. That element has stayed with Johnson since he pursued a solo career. His new Telarc album, Talkin‘ About Soul, probably gives a stronger emphasis to this aspect of his music.

He is joined by a excellent studio band that includes David Maxwell‘s splendid piano, former Johnny Copeland sideman, Randy Lippincott‘s solid bass and fellow Waters‘ alumni Jerry Portnoy on harmonica. Opening with the title tune, a funky original by Johnson, he does an entertaining, but hardly overwhelming reading of Ray Charles‘ I‘ve Got a Woman which is followed by a solid rendition of Sam Cooke‘s Somebody Have Mercy, which may pale next to Cooke‘s original but is superior to Otis Rush‘s tepid rendition of a few years ago.

Next up is a nice medley of the Isley Brothers‘ It‘s Your Thing with Bobby Rush‘s adaptation of the Isley’s melody, I‘ll Pay You Back, which was a single by Magic Sam that was issued around the time of Sam‘s death. Some down home harp lends a bluesy flavor to the interpretation of Bobby Charles‘ soul ballad of back-stabbing folk, Why Are People Like That, while Johnson does a nice job with Freddie King‘s Lonesome Whistle Blues.

Ramblin‘ Blues is an attractive acoustic flavored number while a medley of You‘ve Got Bad Intentions with Crying Won‘t Help You is a solid blues performance. Suffer So Hard With The Blues is a terrific performance that is fervently sung and played, and suggestive of some of Buddy Guy‘s Chess recordings.

Overall, this is a nice mix of well played material that is sung with heart.

I have made minor revisions in the original review that appeared in the July-August 2001 Jazz & Blues Report.   Here is a video of Luther in performance.

Monday, February 06, 2012

Barbara Lynn Has A Blues and Soul Situation

Barbara Lynn is one of the great unheralded blues and soul performers. This was a review I wrote back in 2004 that appeared in the September/October 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 270). I have made some minor stylistic changes.

One of the pleasures of attending the Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans was the chance to see the legendary Barbara Lynn perform. Its been four decades when the left-handed guitarist singer and songwriter had a hit with You'll Lose a Good Thing, and while she had some other hits, none reached that level. Yet she is still well remembered by many from this recording.

Most recently she had albums on Bullseye Blues and Antone’s. The Texas Dialtone label is building a strong catalog of authentic Texas blues and Lynn is the artist on the label's latest release, Blues and Soul Situation. This is perhaps her best album of recent years with very strong material and a strong studio band.

She opens with a nice funky groove on the sultry You Make Me So Hot, where her man is making her burn enough and Barbara can't get enough. Against a hot New Orleans rhumba groove, Lynn tells her man what it mans to treat a women so mean on You Don't Sleep at Night, with Kaz Kazanoff taking a nice tenor solo as Nick Connolly lays down a Professor Longhair tinged piano solo.

Barbara Lynn at 2004 Ponderosa Stomp
Photo © Ron Weinstock
She warns the man on You Better Quit It before he pushes her too far. Moving on a Groove is a dance number with a groovy sixties feel to it (reminds me of Archie Bell & the Drells) while the following He Ain't Gonna Do Right (by the great songwriting team of Dan Penn and Spooner Oldham) may be the top song here as Lynn sings about how the man is using her for his toy, as he ain't gonna do Barbara right but rather do her dirty. She enlivens Slim Harpo's I Got Love If You Want It and Sugar Coated Love (associated with Lazy Lester) with Hash Brown adding the harp on the latter number.

She adds her very considered guitar throughout, but the focus throughout this recording is her singing and the soul she brings to these blues, blues ballads and soul serenades. This is a stunning release and its great to have Barbara Lynn in such great form.

Here is Barbara Lynn in performance at the 2010 Ponderosa Stomp.