Thursday, May 31, 2012

With Magic Slim Anything Can Happen

I have had the pleasure to review Magic Slim’s music over an extended period of time and he certainly has been among the greatest living Chicago bluesmen around. The following review appeared in the November 2005 DC Blues Calendar. There is something to be said about its conciseness. I likely received my review copy from Blind Pig.

Over a three decade plus recording career, Morris Holt, better know as Magic Slim, has remained a consistent force in the blues maintaining his basic sound despite the change in personnel over the years. Slim’s churning rhythms and stinging guitar with his straight-ahead gravelly vocals show little wear from the constant touring and performing and has built up a substantial catalog for his fans.

He has recorded a number of live albums including several in a series, Live at the Zoo Bar, on the Austrian Wolf Records label. Blind Pig has just issued his latest live recording, Anything Can Happen, recorded at Sierra Nevada Brewery in Chico, California and there is a companion DVD with slightly different songs included. With his present band of second guitarist Jon McDonald, bassist Chris Biedron and drummer Vernal Taylor, Slim does not disappoint on a mix of originals and a couple of covers.

This will not disappoint anyone wanting some real Chicago blues or Slim’s fans (although if you have a dozen Slim discs you may not need this one) and for the few of you who do not have any Magic Slim, this serves as a good introduction to his music.

Now enjoy a clip of Magic Slim performing live.

DC Jazz Festival Picks For June 1

This is the first post I am making to highlight some of the shows associated with this year’s DC Jazz Festival. I am specifically not highlighting the DC Jazz Loft Fest since I have posted on this already. I will may also pick a few other non festival shows around the DC Virginia area that should not be overlooked. I am posting this a day ahead of the date of performances.  For more information visit

The legendary bassist Ron Carter at the Bohemian Gardens for the first of two nights at this legendary DC club. Ron Carter may have recorded more than any bass player in history (he is on over 2000 albums) who first came to notice as part of the last great Miles Davis Quintet, and recorded with Eric Dolphy, Esther Phillips, Freddie Hubbard, Gil Evans and countless others.

Akua Allrich and Randy Weston trio at the Hamilton. The Hamilton, a relatively new venue in the Penn Quarter area, is across E Street from the Williard Hotel. Randy Weston has a recording career that now extends into its seventh decade and with deep roots in blues as well as the music of Monk and Bud Powell was among those pioneering by incorporating the music of Africa in his music. Here is Randy Weston playing his celebrated Little Niles.

Kristine Key is one of the DC area’s fine jazz vocalists and will be performing at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Below she is pictured at the 2011 Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival where she portrayed Billie Holiday in a theatrical production, Sistas Can Sa-a-ng.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Let's Ride With Little Junior Parker

It is odd to hear Herman ‘Little Junior’ Parker referred to as a fairly obscure figure in the history of African-American music as Dave Penny does in the liner notes of the excellent two-disc, Fantastic Voyage public-domain reissue, Ride With Me, Baby: The Singles 1952-1961. Parker in his unfortunately brief career was a significant and influential figure on the blues circuit. He headlined the Blues Consolidated tours with Bobby Bland at the time his Duke recordings were consistently on the charts. His Sun Recordings were covered by Elvis Presley, and Magic Sam was among many Chicago bluesmen to adapt some of his recordings. On his recording of Take Me To The River, Al Green dedicate the song to Parker, his cousin, who had passed on.

Fantastic Voyage has compiled all of Parker’s singles for Modern Records (One 78 and a duet with Bobby Bland); all of his Sun recordings (including alternate takes), and his Duke recordings through Annie Get Your Yo-Yo. In all there are 55 selections that showcase Parker’s smooth, soulful singing and harmonica style influenced by the second Sonny Boy Williamson, backed by solid bands including the Blue Flames with Matt Murphy) or Matt’s brother Floyd) on guitar to recordings with the Duke records house band led by tenor saxophonist Bill Harvey and trumpet player and ace arranger, Joe Scott.

Included are such landmark recordings as Feelin’ Good, and Mystery Train made for Sun and numerous hits for Duke that include Next Time You See Me, Mother-In-Law Blues, I Wanna Ramble, That’s Alright, Sitting and Thinking, Barefoot Rock, Sweet Home Chicago, Stranded, Driving Wheel, and In The Dark. It is interesting see how his music matured as his backings became more sophisticated and urbane. His rendition of Jimmy Rogers’ That’s Alright stands up well to Rogers’ original and his recording of
Sweet Home Chicago predates the song becoming the overdone blues anthem of recent years. There was a warmth in his vocals and when he played the harmonica on his recordings it gave a downhome feel to the urbane Duke sides.

He would continue to record for Duke for several more years and then for Mercury/Blue Rock, and Capitol. He continued to have some chart success until he passed away in 1971 from a brain tumor, not quite yet 40 years. Dave Penny provides a a concise survey of Parker’s life and music and full discographical information is included. Little Junior Parker was finally inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame thirty years later and now we have this very welcome, overdue and highly recommended, reissue of Parker’s singles from the first decade of his recording career.

This was a purchase.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

The Nighthawks Provide Another Damn Good Time!

The new album by The Nighthawks, Damn Good Time! is the first release by the venerable blues and roots band for the Severn label. It is also the first album since Mark Stutso replaced original Nighthawk Pete Ragusa on drums and vocals. Still with the Nighthawks is original member Mark Wenner on vocals and harmonica; Paul Bell on guitar and Johnny Castle on bass and vocals. As Mark Wenner observes, Stutso has now been with the band for years and 500 shows so the rhythm duo of Castle and Stutso provide a strong foundation as well as provide distinctive singing voices.

The feel of the playing here is a bit more of a country-tinge to these ears which shouldn’t be surprising given that Castle and Stutso have a bit of garage rock, rockabilly and country in the background. The country flavor is perhaps displayed most on Bring Your Sister, a pop-ish number that Castle handles the vocal on. An old Elvis recording, Too Much, is transformed with a lazy blues shuffle groove with Wenner taking the lead vocal and adding some nice harmonica. The title track originally a country number that is given a bluesy transformation which suggests Taj Mahal’s She Caught the Katy, with a strong lead vocal from Stutso and Wenner’s harmonica embellishments and solo is right on the money.

Other material includes Wenner’s interpretation of Nat King Cole’s stab at rock’n’roll, the bluesy ballad, Send For Me, while Castle energetically sings the lively revival of Jimmy McCracklin’s Georgia Slop, with Wenner’s harmonica coming off as a one-man horn section. Nightwork is a nice shuffle that the Nighthawks picked up from Billy Price and features Wenner on vocal and nice guitar from Paul Bell. Wilbert Harrison did the original Let’s Work Together as a one-man band. The able rendition here, with Stutso taking the lead, owes a bit to Canned Heat‘s cover version. Wenner handles the vocal on the jump-blues Smack Dab in the Middle, while Down to My Last Million Tears, is a swamp pop styled song with a bluesy edge and a fervent Stutso vocal.

Damn Good Time! is another fine effort in The Nighthawks extensive body of recordings that certainly will appeal to the many who flock to their shows every year. It exhibits that soulful singing and strong, rocking ensemble playing that they continue to lay down decades after they first started down the blues highway.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here are The Nighthawks in performance.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Johnny Rawls is a Soul Survivor

Catfood Records/Deep South Soul has a new release by the veteran soul and blues performer, Johnny Rawls, Soul Survivor. The album is aptly titled given that Rawls has been laying down his own brand of blues and soul since his days backing the legendary O.V. Wright and later as part of Rawls and Luckett who issued a most memorable release fro Rooster Blues.

Rawls has recorded and produced for a variety of labels including JSP and most recently Catfood/Deep South Soul, of which Soul Survivor is his most recent effort. On this new recording he is again joined by co-producer Bob Trenchard and the solid Texas studio band with the exception of the last track which was recorded in Montana. Together with Trenchard, Rawls has come up with nine originals along with a cover of O.V. Wright’s Eight Men, Four Women.

The opening title track, penned by Trenchard and keyboardist player Dan Furguson, has a nice lyric of Rawls traveling the highways playing his old school blues and soul with his crack band. He is the last of his breed to set one free on his one night stand singing about O. V. Wright and Johnny Taylor may be gone but he is going to keep their flame alive.

Hands Me Downs is a nice medium grooving about singing about tired about getting all these hand me downs whether his first guitar, used shoes, or his first wife, and he contributes a nicely shaped guitar break. He does a solid job of covering Eight Men, Four Women, even if he can’t quite vocally match Wright (I mean, who can). King of Hearts picks up the tempo with a driving groove and brassy horns, while Long Way From Home is a soulful ballad where Johnny sings about missing his woman and can’t wait until he is home with her.

Other songs include Drowning, a heartfelt lament about searching for his baby and drowning in a river of tears. Don’t Need a Gun To Steal, is a bit of cynical social commentary about politicians being paid off and there is a crook in every town. J.R.’s Groove is a funky instrumental that allows everyone the stretch out. The closing Yes has a touch of country flavor in the accompaniment (in part provided by Michael Kakuk’s dobro and lonesome sounding harmonica) behind Rawls’ strong singing.

Anyone familiar with Rawls recent recordings will know what to expect with the clean and crisp backing, idiomatic horn playing and Rawls committed vocals. Soul Survivor is another substantial recording by Rawls on Catfood/Deep South Soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist for the release which is scheduled to be issued on June 19. Here is a clip of Johnny Rawls in performance.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

On Eponymously Titled Debut, Grégoire Maret Spins Harmonica Lyricism

Grégoire Maret has emerged as new voice in modern jazz world specializing in the harmonica. He has developed an approach that has him enlisted by the likes of Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Cassandra Wilson, and Marcus Miller for their projects. He has also guested with the likes of George Benson, Jimmy Scott, John Ellis, Jacky Terrasson, Richard Bona, Sean Jones, Terri Lyne Carrington, Johnathan Blake, Kurt Elling, Robert Glasper, Lionel Loueke, and Jeff "Tain" Watts, Mike Stern along with some of pop music’s biggest names including Sting and Prince.

Raised in Switzerland, he went to the Conservatory in Geneva and then to pursue jazz studies, went to New York City’s New School. While After years as one of the most in-demand sidemen and guests in jazz (and beyond), Maret finally has made an eponymously titled debut recording for Entertainment One. On most of this he is backed by pianist Federico Gonzalez Peña (a longtime collaborator with Maret), along with bassist James Genus and drummer Clarence Penn. Cassandra Wilson and Marcus Miller both make guest appearances and the final track is a duet with jazz harmonica legend Toots Thielemans. Included are originals by Maret along with compositions by Pat Metheny, Stevie Wonder and Brazilian composers Ivan Lins and Milton Nascimento. There are also two suites that he and Peña collaborated on.

Maret brings a dreamy, lyrical and melodic approach to the harmonica displaying his obvious technical command but more importantly his ability to develop intriguing and captivating musical statements starting with his Lucilla’s Dream, that opens this followed by his lovely interpretation of Stevie Wonder’s The Secret Life of Plants, on which the acoustic guitars of Brandon Ross and Jean-Christophe Maillard are prominent in the accompaniment. Cassandra Wilson and Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts guest on the rendition of The Man I Love with a haunting vocal by Wilson and on which strings (arranged by Maret) are added.

Pat Metheny’s Travels displays how able Maret is able to develop a mood with his precise playing and his tones and Brandon Ross’ guitar serves as a counterpoint. One of the two suites here, Crepuscule Suite opens with Brazilian flavor and vocals before the second movement with Marcus Miller on fretless bass in a conversation with Maret and with Peña on piano with Watts on drums adding to the heat of Maret’s playing on the middle section.

Wordless vocals by members of Take 6 are heard on the ruminative Prayer with Peña adding some percussive accents in addition to his piano. Ivan Lin’s Lembra De Mim also again brings a Brazilian flavor to this charming interpretation. Children’s Suite is the other extended original contributed by Maret and Peña that is centered on Children’s Song, the middle section of the suite. Also delightful is the duet with Thielemans, O Amor E O Meu Pais which is also from the repertoire of the great Ivan Lins.

Maret’s playing is delightful and captivating. This is music that should have a wide appeal given the wonderful playing as well as the lyricism evident throughout this. Wonderfully recorded, Grégoire Maret’s self-titled debut should bring him well-deserved recognition.

My review copy was provided by a publicist for this release. Here he performs "The Man I Love."

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Guy Davis's Delightful The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues

Guy Davis has over the past couple decades established himself as amongst the finest acoustic blues entertainers. Child of the celebrated couple, Ruby Dee and Ozzie Davis, acting and music might have been said in his genes. In any case, his voyage to the blues started from the stage, and he was an understudy to the theatrical production Mulebone that was inspired by the folklorist and author, Zora Hurston. One of his understudy roles was to bluesman Kenny Neal, and after his time with this production he created a one-man show The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues. While the initial run lasted one week, it is a show that Davis has performed when he has an opportunity.

Davis has issued a memorialization of The Adventures of Fishy Waters: In Bed With the Blues on his Smokeydoke Records with assistance from Bob Porter which enables those who haven’t had the pleasure of seeing Davis perform this show to enjoy it. The music and stories are about 91 minutes and therefore spread over two CDs.

The mix of performances and story-telling is quite engaging as displays the warmth and humor that Davis brings to his performances. He mixes in a few interpretations of classic blues from Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Willie McTell, Robert Johnson and Big Big Broonzy with idiomatic originals that indeed have a strong rhythmic impetus.

One might compare Davis to the late Brownie McGhee or John Cephas as an agile, adept and fluid picker who also conveyed considerable feeling in his singing. To these splendid musical performances, Davis also tells stories that are amusing about hobos, and catfish stew and at other times chilling as when he talks about the lynching. The result is an interesting, provocative and marvelous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist for this release. Here is a video of Guy Davis in performance. Guy's website is

Friday, May 25, 2012

Capital Bop's DC Jazz Loft Series Needs Your Kickstart

I highlighted the upcoming DC Jazz Festival back in late April. Well the Festival starts in two weeks from today. One of the events associated with the Festival is the DC Jazz Loft Series that is being produced by the website Capital Bop, one of the DC area’s prime sources for what is happening jazz wise. Additionally they produce regular jazz loft shows highly upcoming performers and performers who have their own highly original approach to America’s musical art form.

To quote Luke Stewart and Giovanni Russonello, “We run, a website dedicated to promoting the city’s jazz scene by providing full-press coverage and by putting on concerts. … Since December 2010, we’ve been organizing D.C. Jazz Loft shows to spotlight this city’s vast and varied jazz talent in low-frills, exciting settings.” With respect to the DC Jazz Loft series, “[W]e’re proud to announce our return to the DC Jazz Festival for the second annual D.C. Jazz Loft Series. At three exciting shows next month, we’ll be presenting a tenacious argument for the relevance and power of contemporary jazz, and we'll be doing it at engaging, community-oriented venues." The shows at this year’s Jazz Loft series are:

June 1 // Todd Marcus Jazz Ensemble with D.C.'s Christie Dashiell Quartet, live at the Dunes. Baltimore’s Todd Marcus is among the few who specialize in the bass clarinet and is scheduled to lead his nine-piece ensemble headlining this show. Capital Bop notes that he leads a nine piece ensemble. “Thankfully, both Marcus’s oddball instrumentalism and his offbeat ensemble are astonishingly strong, modern and infectious. Few people improvise with more fervor or write music better than he does.” Opening will be vocalist Christie Dashiell featuring the former member of Howard University’s famed acapella group Afro-Blue. she’ll she’ll lead her own quartet through a blend of original compositions, and covers of jazz and pop songs.

June 2 // Tarbaby (Orrin Evans, Nasheet Waits and Eric Revis) with D.C.'s Kris Funn & Corner Store, live at the Fridge. Tarbaby is a jazz supergroup on a mission. Featuring pianist Orrin Evans (leader of the acclaimed Captain Black Big Band), bassist Eric Revis (a longtime collaborator with Branford Marsalis and a strong bandleader) and drummer Nasheet Waits (who performs with Jason Moran, among other greats), this band is uncompromisingly experimental and unabashedly outspoken. Opening will be bassist Kris Funn & Corner Store. Funn is currently a member of Christian Scott’s touring band, Corner Store, also features drummer Quincy Phillips of the Roy Hargrove Quintet. The band debuted at a jam-packed D.C. Jazz Loft where they “burned the house down, with Funn’s blues-battered bass lines, rocking originals, and dramatically danceable revisions of John Coltrane and Sam Cooke tunes taking center stage.”

June 9 // Jazz Loft MegaFest, feat. Marc Cary's Cosmic Indigenous with Lenny Robinson's Mad Curious and Elijah Jamal Balbed/Tarus Mateen/Lee Pearson II, live at the loft at 629 New York Ave. NW. “The series will culminate in a daylong Jazz Loft MegaFest on Sat., June 9. This won’t be any old concert: From 3 p.m. till 2 a.m., you’ll be immersed in a marketplace of improvised sound, visual art, quality food, drinks and creativity. We’re converting a gorgeous loft space on New York Avenue ( into a pop-up shop, music venue, art gallery, movie theater, and – with assistance from the foodies at the Taste of DC – an eatery and bar, catered by some of the top restaurants in the District.

With respect to Mark Cary, “His latest project, Cosmic Indigenous, throws everything into a pot and turns up the heat to a boil. The quintet is devastatingly danceable, which distracts you from how much creativity is happening onstage: Cary plays keyboard and laptop music, Malian singer and dancer Awa Sangho croons and yowls, two percussionists interweave (Sameer Gupta on tabla and drums, and Daniel Moreno on Latin percussion) and trumpeter Igmar Thomas brings a punchy rhythmic sensitivity to his melodic improvisations.”

Drummer Lenny Robinson is a DC fixture who plays with precision and grace, even at the swiftest tempos – but he’s also attuned to the malleability of a cymbal, or a snare drum. In his trio, Mad Curious, Robinson is joined by two of the greatest musicians in D.C. jazz, saxophone searcher Brian Settles and star bassist Tarus Mateen.

Tenor saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed is a young gun who plays every note like he’s got something crucial to prove. He swings hard, and calls up the memory of his forebears in the music such as John Coltrane, Dexter Gordon and Sonny Rollins. He will be accompanied by two veterans of the DC scene, bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Lee Pearson II.

This is quite a series of concerts and more that I highly recommend. Much of what I have taken is from Capital Bop’s own post on this series of shows, They have videos of several of the performers on that page. I am looking forward to attending a good portion of the performances at this year’s series. Tickets for the series can be purchased at the Capital Bop website.

Capital Bop is also engaged in a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to help produce this series. As I type this they still need to raise approximately 40% of their $4000 goal. I am one of those who are financially supporting this Kickstarter campaign and I encourage my fellow jazz lovers in the Washington DC area to show their support for the DC Jazz Loft Series, part of this year’s DC Jazz Festival. The Campaign is scheduled to end on May 31 at 11:00PM. Here is the link to the Kickstarter campaign,

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Nathan James Makes Plenty Out Of It

Nathan James mixes home-made guitars such as his tritar (a three string instrument made out of a washboard and axe handle) and other similar instruments (such as the baritone Washtar, a baritone guitar built over a washboard) with a deep knowledge of early blues styles as well as gospel and 50s to 60s blues and R&B. While he has recorded in a duo format with Ben Hernandez, on his new Delta Groove CD, What You Make Of It, he has his touring band, The Rhythm Scratchers with Troy Sandow on bass and harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums and percussion. James Harman (with whom James toured for three and a half years) plays harmonica on one track while saxophonists Johnny Viau and Archie Thompson are present on two.

It would be easy to look at James and his homemade instruments as a novelty, but he and the Rhythm Scratchers certain get beyond that to present a distinctive style with James’ natural sounding and assured vocals and thoughtful, propulsive playing up front with the rhythm section providing a solid foundation. This is evident on the solid cover of Jimmy McCracklin’s Later On, with the crisp rhythm underlying the vocal. On the next track, the propulsive groove of Get To The Country, on which Sandow wails on harp while James mix hard chords and agile picking, while Dodson adds some rhythmic accents here..

One treat is his reworking of Blind Boy Fuller’s Black Snake Jivin’ with his adept mix of finger picking and rapping the groove on the washboard with kazoo provides a skiffle feel at times. By the way, listening to this number (I am not familiar with Fuller’s original), it was clear that Fuller reworked Eddie Miller’s I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water which has become a blues standard. Miller recorded his song in 1936 and Fuller in 1938. There is a philosophical bent to Make It On Your Own, a soulful ballad nicely sung with more nice harp from Sandow.

James Harman wrote Rhino Horn and he guests on vocal and harmonica is built on a emphatic beat from Dodson while James’ lays down a slide-based backing on the tritar. What’s nice is the space in the performance which is characteristic of the entire recording. James and crew avoid trying the fill every aural space and allows the silences to speak as much as what is played. The rag-tinged Pretty Baby Don’t Be Late, has James on resonator guitar and kazoo with nice finger picking and a solid backbeat from Dodson and followed by Blues Headache, a lazy harmonica feature for Sandow with the bass-toned tritar slide providing a nice contrast. Pain Inside Waltz, found inspiration in cajun fiddle tunes with a poignant vocal. The horns add to the funk groove in James’ interpretation of Bobby Patterson’s “I’m a Slave to You,” on which James has a rollicking solo. The horns are also present for James’ First and the Most, a ballad that has a swamp pop feel to it.

After the insistent Hill Country Blues groove of You Led Me On, this disc concludes with what James calls a Homesick James’ inspired closing instrumental, Tri-Tar Shuffle Twist, with some nice slide that is suggestive of the late Chicago blues legend’s style that provides a fresh take on this style. I was not familiar with Nathan James’ music prior to What You Make Of It, but I was impressed to already acquire one of his prior recordings. There is some seriously good, original blues by Nathan James and The Rhythm Scratchers here.

Delta Groove Records provided me with the review copy. Here is Nathan James Trio at the 2011 Portland Waterfront Blues Festival.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

The Mannish Boys Blast Off With Double Dynamite

Delta Groove has issued a new release by The Mannish Boys, Double Dynamite, which is two discs of music. One CD evokes the classic Chicago blues sound of Muddy Waters, Little Walter and the like while the other CD is more rhythm and blues rooted with songs from Albert King, Jimmy McCracklin, James Brown and others. Scott Dirks in his notes suggests that The Mannish Boys are a virtual blues festival in a single band.

Sugaray Rayford has joined Finis Tasby to become the band’s prime vocalists and brings a contrasting approach with a bit more urbane, gospel-rooted approach to Tasby’s grainy, laconic style rooted in the blues of the southwest. Back on guitars are Frankie Goldwasser and Kirk Fletcher, and Delta Groove chief Randy Chortkoff on harmonica with Willie J. Campbell on bass and Jimi Bott on drums. then there is a fair amount of guests including appearances by James Harman, Mud Morganfield, Jackie Payne and Mike Finnigan on vocals; Elvin Bishop, Nathan James, Kid Ramos, and Junior Watson on guitar; James Harman, Bob Corritore, Rod Piazza, and Jason Ricci on harmonica; and Ron Rio, Mike Finnigan, Rick Wenzel and Fred Kaplan on keyboards.

The music on the two discs are traditionally rooted in some classic blues themes and grooves but the covers here never are simply copies. For one thing, instrumentation varies from the original recordings and if for example Finis Tasby’s rendition of Mean Old World is derived from Little Walter’s recording, employment of Elvin Bishop’s slide guitar gives it its own flavor. Sugaray shouts out Son House’s Death Letter on the first disc entitled Atomic Blues with Jimi Bott powering the groove as Goldwasser plays some Muddy Waters on steroids styled slide. His vocal delivery is much more relaxed on Bricks on My Pillow with Goldwasser swinging a bit on guitar her while Rob Rio boogies the ivories. Jackie Payne does a nice job singing a Muddy Waters medley of She’s 19 Years Old/ Streamline Woman, with more fine piano, Rod Piazza wailing on harp and Goldwasser sounding strong. Mud Morganfield conjures up his father on Elevate My Mama and Mannish Boy, with the latter modeled closely on Muddy’s version with Johnny Winter. Bob Corritore adds choice harp here. Chortkoff contributes an idiomatic Chicago blues-styled shuffle that Sugaray delivers vocally and Kirk Fletcher rips off a fiery solo. Goldwasser is featured on slide and vocals on Johnny Littlejohn’s Bloody Tears.

The second disc, Rhythm & Blues Explosion continues the fun and solid idiomatic performances. Born Under a Bad Sign sports a strong tasby vocal and searing Elvin Bishop guitar while Sugaray and and Cynthia Marley share the vocals on James Brown’s You’ve Got the Power, which has a crackling solo from Nathan James and solid horns in the backing. Another Albert King cover Drowning on Dry Land finds Fletcher having a bit of King in his tone behind Sugaray’s vocal. King also recorded James Brown’s Cold Sweat for Stax, and it is some of the inspiration for this Kirk Fletcher feature with Mike Finnigan on organ and Goldwasser adding some churning rhythm guitar while Bott gets the funky groove down. Finnigan on piano and vocals does a fine job on Ray Charles’ Mr. Charles Blues, with Fletcher in a jazzier mode here. Songs like Jimmy McCracklin’s Later On are particularly fine vehicles for Finis Tasby with Nathan James taking a torrid solo.

The remainder of the 26 songs are similarly potently performed and while there are mostly covers, few would be considered heavily recorded. To Scott Dirks suggestion that the Mannish Boys are a virtual blues festival, I suggest Double Dynamite is a virtual All Night All Star Blues Party.

I received my review copy from Delta Groove. Here is a video featuring finis Tasby singing. There are videos on their website,

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Dr. S.O. Feelgood and Chick Willis Highlights of Lamont's Blues Fest

Chick Willis takes to the crowd at Lamont's
It was a nice day of downhome blues, Saturday May 19 at Lamont’s for a Blues Festival in PoMonkey MD. Featuring mostly Washington DC area performers along with the Stoop Down day, a few hundreds came out to the picnic grounds and Entertainment Complex.

Chet Hines aka Dr. S.O. Feelgood
The day started with the Lady Rose Band. Lady Rose is a good singer and her band is tight although the guitarist sounded a bit heavy handed at times. Also, the material was mostly covers with a fair amount of funk and soul and less focus on blues. Chet Hines aka Dr. S.O. Feelgood was up next with one of the highlights of the day. With a tight trio of backing musicians, Dr. S.O. Feelgood encouraged the crowd to party while he sang about his preference for full figured women with meat on their bones singing. He brings so much personality and interacts with the crowd so well and at one point sang his heart out withour a microphone.

Jim Bennett
Members of Clarence ‘Bluesmen’ Turner Band were late, so to help pass the time, Jim Bennett, a local southern soul performer of note did a couple of numbers including a blues. Bennett is a smooth, expressive singer in the vein of a Jerry Butler. After a further delay Clarence ‘The Bluesman’ Turner and turned a lengthy set (which pushed back the starting time for two headliners) that included a nice rendition of Little Johnny Taylor’s “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing,” as well as some blues warhorses like “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Chick Willis
Next up was Chick Willis, backed by Bobby Parker’s rhythm section. Opening up with his “Rib Shack,” it was a set of songs that might be familiar from Chick’s fans, but performed with feeling and panache as he went out into the audience a couple times, before performing his classic “Stoop Down Baby” to the audience’s delight. Bobby Parker came on shortly after “Stoop Down,” bring up the rest of his band, opening with a solid rendition of Guitar Slim’s “(You Give Me) Nothin’ But the Blues,” and some Albert King numbers that sounded as solid as eve. Dusk was approaching, so we left before Bobby’s set ended. Afterwards, there was an after-party inside with the soul-funk Gridlock Band.
Bobby Parker
It was a gorgeous day of weather for the music. Lamont’s will be celebrating its 22nd year on June 9 with a soulful revue that includes Eddie Levert, lead singer of The O’Jays; Frank Washington, lead singer of The Spinners; The Hardway Connection, previous winners of the International Blues Challenge and other groups. The Dc Blues Society will be presenting a day of blues at Lamont’s July 21 with the Daddy Mack Blues Band and Preston Shannon headlining.
Dancing to the Stoop Down man, Chick Willis

Monday, May 21, 2012

Quintus McCormick Soulfully Plays The Blues

Delmark’s Steve Wagner recalls his initial reaction when first hearing Quintus McCormick when recording his 1st Delmark album, Hey Jodie. “Wow this cat could be the next Johnnie Taylor!” Well I might suggest a bit of Tyrone Davis and Artie ‘Blues Boy’ White as well after hearing McCormick’s new Delmark release Still Called The Blues. Wagner co-produced this with McCormick with either John Chorney or Roosevelt Purify on keyboards; Lovely ‘JR’ Fuller on bass; Pete Thomas on drums; Kenny Anderson on trumpet; Dudley Owens on tenor sax; Jerry DiMuzio on flute and baritone.

There is a nice mix of urgency in the vocals and crisp backing with some funk on the opening I Gotta Go, followed by a cover of Bobby Rush’s What’s Good For The Goose which opens with a humorous spoken spot. McCormick’s What Am I Gonna Do? is a fresh original in the vein of some of Tyrone Davis’ recordings. On It Won’t Work he reaches down to the bottom range of his voice while laying down a crisply defined solo. On his interpretation of the Johnnie Taylor recording that provides this album its title, McCormick contributes a lively solo and a fervent vocal.

That’s My Baby is a soulful ballad with DiMuzio adding flute. It is followed by some hard-edged, searing guitar that opens his cover of Little Johnny Taylor’s Everybody Knows About My Good Thing. This is the longest performance on this album and McCormick pulls out all the stops on guitar. I’m In Love With You Baby is another soulful song with the horns evoking classic sixties Chicago soul recordings such as by the Impressions. A nice rendition of the Beatles’ Oh! Darling, has raspy, uncredited tenor saxophone.

Always is a lament played in an understated manner opening with just vocal and his piano before the full band joins in. This closes with a credible, if not remarkable, cover of the Bob Seger hit, Old Time Rock and Roll. Still Called the Blues will appeal to a very wide grouping of blues lovers and is further proof that Quintus McCormick is among today’s finest blues and soul performers

I received my review copy from Delmark. I have previously reviewed his prior Delmark recordings, Hey Jodie! and Put It On Me! Here is Quintus performing. 

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Roy Gaines Is A Bluesman For Life

Another of my reviews from late 1998 that I wrote for the DC Blues Calendar, the DC Blues Society I then edited. Roy Gaines’ Bluesman For Life certainly played a part in reestablishing the veteran performer’s career and has been followed by a number of impressive recordings that I have previously posted. I do not recall if I received this for review or purchased it.

One of the best recent JSP releases is by guitarist Roy Gaines. Gaines, who as a teenager was battling T-Bone Walker and Gatemouth Brown in Houston clubs has been playing on the R&B circuit with all of the legends, including stints with Bobby Bland, Roy Milton, and the Crusaders. JSP has just issued his latest album, Bluesman For Life, and it is the best album of the blues guitar superman (to quote Real Blues editor and publisher Andy Grigg) this writer has heard.

T-Bone Walker is probably the strongest influence on Gaines, but his attack also owes as much to Gatemouth Brown and Brown’s musical disciples. His guitar playing sizzles and is full of imaginative twists and turns, while on a number of tracks his vocals suggest Long John Hunter. Whether singing about his devotion to blues on the title track (I’m not going to sell out, I’ll be a bluesman for life), or reworking Guitar Slim Something to Remember You By on You Went Back on Your Word, Gaines delivers his vocals with almost as much gusto as his fretwork here. He can go down in the alley on It’s Midnight Baby, while Roy Jumps the Gator is a hot guitar showcase modeled after one of T-Bone’s instrumentals.

This is another stunning release on an ever increasing important British label.

Here is Roy Gaines in performance.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Little Freddie King Still Chasing the Blues

A icon of the New Orleans music scene, Little Freddie King has a new CD on the MadeWright Records label, Chasing the Blues. There is nothing fancy about his blues. There is a bit the swamp blues of such folks as Lightnin’ Slim, Lonesome Sundown, Lazy Lester, Clarence Edwards, with some of the North Mississippi Hill Country blues of R.L. Burnside and Junior Kimbrough. His vocals and guitar as supported by drummer “Wacko” Wade Wright, bass guitarist Anthony “Sheets” Anderson, the harmonica of Lewis diTullio, Jr. and an uncredited pianist. They provide simple, direct backing which suits King well.

The influence of the swamp blues opening Born Dead, with its stark lyrics about hard times growing up in Mississippi, while the feel of Crackho Flo, with its simple lyrics, is more in the vein of some of the somber slow drag recordings of Junior Kimbrough. An uncredited pianist is added to Louisiana Train Wreck, with a simple Hill Country styled groove with King rapping the blues here. Got Tha Blues On My Back is another swamp blues with King’s guitar bursts complemented by as he sings about having the blues in a great big cotton sack.

Better is Pocket Full of Money, which adapts the melody of Slim Harpo’s I’m a King Bee, as he tells his women he has plenty of money and let him come inside. Back To New Orleans takes us back down in the alley.” An easy going instrumental, Little Freddie’s Shuffle has the harmonica more prominent. Better is the slow moody instrumental, Night Time in Treme. In contrast, another instrumental “Bywater Crawl” leaves little impression on the listener.

Little Freddie King is a wonderful entertaining performer who perhaps is limited as a guitarist and songwriter. He still has a way of delivering a performance. Chasing The Blues is not an essential blues recording but it has atmospheric and entertaining music.

I purchased this. Here is Little Freddie King helping the Louisiana Music Factory celebrate its 20th Anniversary. That is poet, activist and music historian John Sinclair introducing him.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Chuck Brown Godfather of Go Go Has Passed On.

Chuck Brown at 2009 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go Go, that uniquely Washington DC musical form of funk, passed away Wednesday, May 16 at the age of 75.

Chris Richards in the Washington Post obituary described what Chuck Brown did in creating the musical form, “Like a DJ blending records, Mr. Brown used nonstop percussion to stitch songs together and keep the crowd on the dance floor, resulting in marathon performances that went deep into the night. Mr. Brown said the style got its name because “the music just goes and goes.” In addition to his originals he adapted songs from Duke Ellington (It Don’t Mean A Thing Unless It’s Got That Go Go Swing); Louis Jordan (Run Joe); T-Bone Walker (Stormy Monday); James Moody's Moody's Mood and Memphis Slim (Everyday i Have The Blues) in his marathon medleys.

While Brown enjoyed some commercial success including “Bustin’ Loose” which topped the Rhythm and Blues charts for several weeks, neither he or other Go Go Bands were ever able to break Go Go outside of the DC metropolitan area. Locally, he was a King and his music inspired and was heard by generations of Washingtonians. I worked with those who went to Brown’s shows, just like their parents had done decades earlier and his recent shows had audiences from 18 to 60. He also played festivals worldwide as this writer saw him at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2009.
Chuck Brown at 2010 Tinner Hill Blues Festival
Brown’s brand of funk brought a wide range of musical elements including jazz, latin, gospel and blues, in addition to classic funk and soul. He himself acknowledged the impact of seeing DC blues legend Bobby Parker in inspiring him to be a guitarist and Parker remained a lifetime friend. The two did a couple of shows as part of the annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival, where Brown gave his spin on a number of classic blues songs. Parker himself was influenced by Brown and recorded at least one Go Go Blues number. Also, in conjunction with the Tinner Hill Foundation, Brown provided the narration to Beverly Lindsay-Johnson’s award winning short documentary film “John Jackson; A Blues Treasure.” This film is shown annually at the Tinner Hill Blues Festival.

Chuck Brown will be missed but his many musical achievements will long be part of the DC musical fabric.  Here is the link to the Washington Post obituary.

Here is Chuck Brown performing "Hootchie Cootchie Man."

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cookie McGee's Right Place

With all the attention being given some of the emerging female singer-guitarists, I would be hard-pressed to find a release as consistently satisfying both vocally and instrumentally as the debut album by Dallas, Texas’ Cookie McGee. Once again it is John Stedman and his JSP label who is responsible for releasing her Right Place.

McGee grew up as neighbors to the Freddie King family, and played in various bands with Freddie‘s kids, including Freddie Jr. after King passed away. She played in and around Dallas for several years. spent 1986 in New Orleans playing with Ernie K-Doe and Jean Knight until tiring of the musical rat race and laying down her guitar for several years. It was Tutu Jones that asked her to pick up her guitar for the 1997 Freddie King birthday tribute which resulted in Right Place which was produced by Andrew “Jr. Boy” Jones.

While Freddie King may have been an obvious influence, this writer hears more of B.B. King‘s influence than Freddie. The tight backing group here also evokes the sound of B.B.‘s recordings from the late sixties and early seventies, not simply because of McGee‘s solid, incisive guitar, but the splendid backing she receives Ron Mason‘s keyboards being particularly noteworthy as he fills out the bottom as well as contributes some telling solos. She matches her fretwork with a natural, appealing vocal style that renders her tales of relationships gone bad quite believable.

She contributes four originals including the opening One Way Ticket, which she got for her mistreating man and the crisp instrumental, Groovin‘ in Garland. The other songs are covers songs by other JSP artists including a very soulful reading of Percy Strother‘s Your So Called Friends, where she entreats her man not to let his friends break them apart; producer Jones’ amusing You‘re a Dog, with drummer Tommy Hill providing an amusing second voice to respond to the lyrics, and Jimmy Morella‘s Blueswoman for Life, a rocking shuffle that Roy Gaines also recorded on his recent JSP release. The album closes with a topical blues, Bottom‘s Falling Out, a commentary about the hard times for some now that the politicians in D.C. have basically eliminated the safety net.

The superior material along with the strong performance turned in by Ms. McGee make Right Place a most auspicious debut. Like her fellow Dallas blues players, Jr. Boy Jones and Tutu Jones, one suspects that she will be the latest JSP discovery‘ to capture the attention of one of the major American labels. She‘s got the talent and the voice that deserves to be heard.

The above review appeared in the DC Blues Calendar, either in December 1998 or early 1999. Unfortunately this release did not lead to her capturing the attention of other labels. It would be over a decade before she would have another release, One Way Ticket, on the Austrian Wolf label. Both CDs are available as well as available as downloads. I do not recall if I received a review copy or purchased this. Here is Cookie performing.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Larry Garner Deserves To Play Before Standing Room Only

I am a big Larry Garner fan and have been frustrated that his career has never reached the heights his music deserved. His JSP recordings and Gitanes-Verve recordings displayed a laconic style as well as some of the most original and astute lyrics of anybody over the past few decades. The following review was written for the DC Blues Calendar back in 1998 and while I was not overly enthusiastic of this recording, Larry will always be one of my favorites. This is available as a download and he has other recordings on Ruf that strike me as stronger as well. I likely received a review copy of this from the label or a publicist.

One of the more distinctive blues stylists around, Larry Garner has certainly made many take notice with his perceptive songwriting and his subtle musical attack. His latest album, Standing Room Only (Ruf), is entertaining and probably his most musically up-front album. It, however, suffers from relatively pedestrian songs. Songs like Do Your Personal Thing and Keep the Money seem rather ordinary when compared to some of the gems on his older recordings. The highlights may be his renditions of Gatemouth Brown The Drifter, and Henry Gray swamp-blues, Cold Chills.

When the album lists the producer as Jim Gaines (The Genius) you know something is up. Whatever his genius, Gaines has produced a record that is superficially exciting, but somewhat lackluster when compared to any of Garner earlier albums. In fact JSP has just repackaged, Too Blue, Garner’s second album, and a listen to these performances will perhaps enable some to understand just why Garner has become a favorite to many who know that the blues is more than simply loud guitar pyrotechnics.

Here is Larry Garner performing.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The Musical Living Joy of Véronneau

Based around the vocals of Quebec native Lynn Véronneau, Véronneau has established itself around the Washington DC area with its interesting blend of musical inspirations ranging from gypsy jazz, brazilian sambas, folk and Beatles. In addition to her, the group is comprised of Ken Avis on guitar, vocals and percussion, David Rosenblatt on guitar and percussion and Pete Walby on drums. On their self-produced recording Joy of Living (Véronneau Music), they are joined by David Kline's violin and
tenor saxophone.

Lynn Véronneau has a lovely voice immediately evident on the opening La Mer (known here in the States from Bobby Darin's recording Beyond the Sea), with the light backing of the guitars and drums and Kline's violin. She has a gift for Brazilian tunes including The Gentle Rain, Concovado, and One Note Samba, with the band providing subtle and complementary backing. This style is also present on the charming rendition of The Street Where You Live, with a nice single-note acoustic guitar solo as well as Kline's violin adding coloring. Saxophonist Antonuik adds a nice flavor on The Gentle Rain, that might suggest to some the Getz-Gilberto collaborations.

There is a enchanting rendition of the traditional Mexican Ranchera song, Cielito Lindo, that might be more familiar from performances of it by Mariachi Band and she also places her own stamp on Brazil. with her gentle longing beginning transformed into a lively samba. David Rosenblatt contributed an original instrumental Abertura do Verao (Opening of Summer), that is a lovely guitar duet, while Antoniuk returns for the lively closing "Blue Skies."

If there is a favorite selection on this, it may well be the lovely rendition of Lennon & McCartney's For No One, as she sings "she no longer needs you, in her eyes you see nothing," with a lovely violin break over the two-guitar accompaniment. The gentleness of the performance accentuates the heartache reflected in this classic Beatles number. She simply has a way of touching the listener's heart and this track may exemplify this best, but there is plenty of Joie de Vivre on this excellent recording.

Véronneau will be performing June 2 at the Creative Cauldron ( in Falls Church, Virginia.

I purchased this recording.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Strong Recorded Memories of William Clarke's Early Years

The following review appeared in the September/October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 286) and is another of older reviews (slightly revised) that I believe is forth sharing several years later. William Clarke was one of my favorite blues performers and person. I had a chance to talk and chat with him pretty much every time I saw him perform and he loved talking about blues as much as playing it. He was also someone who sounded different every time I saw him depending on his mood and what inspired him that day. We should be grateful for his widow Jeannette Clarke-Lodovici who still continue to keep his legacy alive. I recommend his Alligator releases of course, but the previously unissued and reissued Watchdog releases are generally excellent as well. I had purchased these and they are still available.

It’s been way too long since William Clarke passed away. While his Alligator recordings are central to his recorded legacy, his widow, Jeannette Clarke-Lodovici continues to supplement that body of music with previously unissued recordings. Two volumes of Clarke’s The Early Years, have been issued on Watchdog Records, and will certainly be of considerable interest to fans of Clarke, modern blues harp and the West Coast mix of jump and Chicago blues.

Clarke certainly sang with as much authority and conviction as he played the harmonica with his big fat tone (on regular harp as well as on chromatic harmonica), showing the influence of his mentor, the late George ‘Harmonica’ Smith. Smith is heard on both of the two volumes with playing on a terrific untitled slow blues on Volume 2, while Clarke’s harp is heard behind Smith’s vocal on Teenage Girl on Volume 1. Others who make guest appearances here include Smokey Wilson on Fine Little Mama on Volume 1 and Johnny Dyer on Volume 2.

A bonus on Volume 1 is the presence of Hollywood Fats on six tracks including Clarke’s easy rocking instrumental in the vein of Off the Wall, Hittin’ Heavy, the slow midnight after hours feel of a feature for his chromatic playing, Blues Afterwhile, as well as the imaginative rearrangement of Sonny Boy Williamson II’s Keep It To Yourself, set to the Help Me/Green Onions melody. Volume 2 sports his interpretation of Louis Jordan’s Early in the Morning, and his strong singing on The Feeling’s Gone, and Bloody Tears on My Pillow. Clarke was superb, not simply as a singer and harp player, but also was a fabulous songwriter.

These latest two posthumous discs are more than welcome additions to the available recordings by Clarke. The both contain a number of superb performances. The only quibble is the CD packaging could be printed a bit more sharply, but the music is wonderful. This is available from as well as and other mail order specialists.

Here is a little clip of William Clarke performing.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Lurrie Bell Knows That The Devil Ain’t Got No Music

A new Lurrie Bell recording, The Devil Ain’t Got No Music (Aria B.G. Records), represents a double departure from Bell’s prior recordings. First of all the album focuses on the sacred side of Lurrie’s repertoire and secondly the performances are rendered in a stripped down vein, mostly acoustically. Part of its origins was the years growing up as a child with his grandparents in the South that Lurrie spent playing and singing in church. After moving North, where he become known for his blues guitar and vocals, Bell would sing and play many of the songs heard on this new release around his home. The Devil Ain’t Got No Music was produced by Matthew Skoller and in addition to Bell, has guests Joe Louis Walker, Billy Branch, Josef Ben Israel, Kenny ‘Beedy Eyes’ Smith, and Bill Sims, Jr.

Its a bit more informal sounding than Lurrie’s electric blues recordings with producer Skoller presenting the performances in a variety of settings ranging from the opening Swing Low, Lurrie’s personalized interpretation of Swing Low Sweet Chariot, where his guitar and vocals are backed by Smith’s percussion and Sims’ hand claps as he vocally riffs on “swing low.” Joe Louis Walker contributes slide guitar and backing vocal to It’s a Blessing, while Lurrie’s vocals and guitar are joined by backing vocal on Thomas Dorsey’s Search Me Lord. Don’t Let the Devil Ride is one of several songs on the theme of stay away from the devil with Lurrie’s trebly guitar evocative of Magic Sam with Kenny Smith’s supportive drumming. On Muddy Waters’ Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You, Lurrie’s self-accompaniment channels Lay My Burden Down.

The title track was written by producer Skoller and based on a quote from Mavis Staples. With a small combo (with Skoller on harp) Bell notes the devil has fire, horns and a tail but the devil has no music so that’s why his home is hell. On Thomas Dorsey’s “Peace of the Valley” Bell adds string slapping while Joe Louis Walker adds whining slide accents to the fervent vocal. Smith’s percussion and Cynthia Butts background vocals are the stark backing for Bell’s delivery of Tom Waits’ Way Down In The Hole, which is where you want to keep the devil.

Bill Sims adds second guitar as well as provides the arrangement to Lo and Beyond, while Joe Louis Walker and Sims add their clapping and enthusiasm as Lurrie shouts I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own, which Walker wrote. Billy Branch is part of the unplugged small Chicago blues styled backing on Trouble In My Way, with Mike Avery and James Teague adding their backing voices.

The Devil Ain’t Got No Music concludes with a lengthy, solo rendition of Reverend Gary Davis’ Death Have No Mercy. As noted, it presents a definite different musical side of Bell. Bell sings with passion while the emphatic, percussive manner of his guitar style is evident. The unusual twists and turns his guitar playing often take is less prevalent but still it is certainly a release that is well worth checking out.

I received a review copy from a publicist for this release.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Women of the Blues Is Flawed Musical Review

“Women of the Blues” is a blues review that I mentioned last weekend in my overview of upcoming blues events in the Mid-Atlantic Region. As I write this it is in the second week of its three week run at the Creative Cauldron in Falls Church, Virginia.

On the Creative Cauldron’s website it is described as “present an original Blues music review featuring the lives and music of some of the greatest Blues divas of the 20th Century.” If they used Rhythm and Blues one might one have perhaps less objection but we have a self-described blues review yet a good portion of the songs are not blues. Furthermore as great as Billie Holiday and Aretha Franklin are, I would not use the word blues diva to describe them. Additionally, a blues review that include songs, blues-tinged as they may be, associated with rock singers Janis Joplin, Bonnie Raitt and Melissa Etheridge but nothing associated with Ma Rainey, Dinah Washington (who was labelled the the Queen of the Blues) or singer-guitarist Memphis Minnie, three of the most important women in the evolution of the blues, is inexcusable. I also note that there is also the omission of such significant contemporary artists like Denise LaSalle and Barbara Carr whose audience is still primarily African-American.

I have no issue with having a review including songs associated with Aretha Franklin or Etta James, but both artists did record blues songs. As much as Aretha’s recording “I Never Loved a Man” is one of the great records of the soul era, it is a soul record. Rather than that, it would have been interesting to have heard a rendition of “Ramblin’” which Aretha recorded which was one of several songs Aretha recorded that covered recordings by the great Big Maybelle. Similarly, three songs associated with Etta James are performed which may be songs identified with her, but are deep soul songs or the ballad “At Last.”

One realizes that within the confines of a cabaret review there are only so many songs that could have been performed, but I suggest Lil Green’s recording “Why Don’t You Do Right,” or “In the Dark,” Dinah Washington’s “Evil Gal Blues,” Dinah’s rendition of the standard “Trouble in Mind” or her “Gambler’s Blues,“ would better fit the description of the review. And Dinah was a blues diva. The last number incorporated in the lyrics one of the few actual blues that Billy Holiday recorded, and was covered by B.B. King and Otis Rush. I should say that the inclusion of the late Washington D.C. street singer’s Flora Molton, ”Sun’s Gonna Shine” is an unexpected, imaginative, and welcome, selection.

The four featured vocalists, Carolyn Cole, Ashleigh King, Shayla Simmons and Tarina Szemzo bring their voices although there is some unevenness. There is a nice rendition of “I Never Loved a Man” with the backing band but also with a cover of the Janis Joplin recording of “Cry Baby” which is as shrill sounding as Joplin’s own recording reproduces the shrillness of Joplin’s cover. The rendition of Alberta Hunter’s “My Castle’s Rockin’,” almost comes across as as a campfire sing-along. I had the pleasure of seeing this grand dame of American music and the blues sing this song and she had a presence and personality totally missing in the performance here.

The songs are tied together by a helpful narrative provided by the performers. The backing band, led by pianist Jonathan Tuzman, was uneven in the accompaniments. They sounded comfortable with contemporary material, but not on older material like as “My Castle’s Rockin’,” or songs associated with Billie Holiday as “Lady Sings the Blues,” and “Mean To Me.” This added to the uneven quality of the evening. The acoustic backing on the rendition of “Sun Is Shining” was nicely done.

This is not to say that the review was not entertaining. My better half enjoyed it very much as did most at the performance I attended. The unevenness of the performances may have been partially the result of it being the second night. There were enjoyable performances but I found only a few to be exceptional.

Here is a list of the songs performed including songs whose inclusion in self-described blues review I question. They are generally torch songs, ballads, deep soul or rock and I am not saying none of these songs should have been included since some illustrate the impact of the blues perhaps, but having more blues songs would have made the description of the review more accurate. I have italicized those songs which I would suggest are not blues: Blues in the Night/ My Castle’s Rockin’/ Down By the Riverside/ I Never Loved a Man/ I’d Rather Go Blind/ Lady Sings The Blues/ Wild Woman Don’t Have the Blues/ It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World/ A Good Man Is Hard To Find/ Mean To Me/ Hoochie Coochie Man/ I Need a Little Sugar In My Bowl/ Sun’s Gonna Shine/ Stormy Monday/ Strange Fruit/ Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out/ Women Be Wise/ Cry Baby/ At Last/ I’m the Only One/ Guilty/ Give Me One Reason/ Something’s Got a Hold On Me/ (One For My Baby (One For the Road)/ Proud Mary.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Freddie Hubbard's Straight Life

Straight Life is the latest reissue of Freddie Hubbard as part of Sony Music’s CTI Masterworks series celebrating 40 years of CTI. On this particular session Hubbard was joined by George Benson on guitar; Herbie Hancock on electric piano; Joe Henderson on tenor sax; Ron Carter on bass; Jack DeJohnette on drums; Richie ‘Pablo’ Landrum on percussion and Weldon Irvine on tambourine. The album has three songs that include two extended performances and one shorter interpretation of a standard.

There is a loose, jamming feel to the performances starting with the title track which is a Hubbard original on which Benson and Hancock take extended solos both built on repeated riffs with DeJohnette and percussion laying down the rhythm over which Hubbard seems to float above with his playing focusing on the middle. Irvine contributed Mr. Clean, is a mid-tempo cooker with a latin tinge as Henderson and Hubbard state its theme. Hubbard has a bit more heat in his playing and employing more of the upper register and is followed by some fervent playing from Henderson with Benson getting really gritty as well. The closing ballad, Here Comes That Rainy Day, is a lovely duet between Hubbard on flugelhorn with Benson on guitar. A nice conclusion to a reissue that may not be an essential part of Hubbard’s recorded legacy, but one with plenty of fire and cool.

I received a review copy from a publicist for the recording. Here is Freddie Hubbard at the DownBeat Awards performing Straight Life.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Michael Roach Is No Innocent Child

I recently had the pleasure to see Michael Roach at a performance in Falls Church, Virginia. Mike and I had an association with the DC Blues Society two decades ago, and I had been following his maturation as a performer over the years after he left his native Washington and moved to England. He has also become important as a blues educator and historian. Innocent Child is his most recording on his Stella Records label, and the source of many of the songs he performed that April night in Falls Church, Virginia.

Michael, who currently lives in Cheltenham, England, was fortunate to be mentored by such blues artists as John Cephas, Archie Edwards, John Jackson and Jerry Ricks, has developed into a formidable performer of the blues, rooted in the East Coast finger-style tradition. On this recording he is joined by harmonica master Johnny Mars on several selections as well as the Black Voices, an a-cappella group from Birmingham England. There is a selection of originals and personal interpretations of songs associated with Frank Stokes, Mississippi John Hurt, Josh White and Charlie Jordan.

The title track is a part autobiographical, part reflective about blues and the place of the African-American in the world. his children and the Black Voices join in this performance where he even evokes Mannish Boy singing he ain’t no “B-O-Y.” Mars adds his harp to a nice rendition on Frank Stokes What’s the Matter Now, where his finger style playing recalls John Hurt through the prism of Jerry Ricks. Michael noted in Falls Church performance that Ricks shared a tape that Hurt made for Ricks to teach Ricks his style. Rick’s influence is also present in performances of Hurt’s Got the Blues and Can’t Be Satisfied, and Staggerlee. Music at the Close of Day was written by Richard Journet after John Jackson’s passing, and Michael here reworks it for his heartfelt remembrance of Ricks.

There are several gospel performances here including Remember Me that is based on recordings by the Swan Silvertones and the Harmonizing Four. This, with the Black Voices, is performed in tribute to John Cephas. The Black Voices also join Mike on Jesus Knows I’m Coming that was originally recorded by Josh White with the Carolinians, and “Didn’t It Rain,” associated with the great Mahalia Jackson. Johnny Mars backs Michael on this rendition of the traditional number, Noah

More in the Piedmont blues tradition is Michael’s dynamic acoustic rendition of Junior Parker’s Mystery Train, as well as Be a Man, an evocative number adapted from a Brownie McGhee recording to which Michael added his words. The lyrics make reference to Detroit and DC, while the superb guitar playing would have made Blind Boy Fuller proud.

The varied repertoire here is matched by Michael’s natural, heartfelt vocals and adroit and thoughtful guitar. The result is the marvelous music on “Innocent Child. For more information on this recording and Michael Roach visit, and

This was a recording I purchased. Here is a video of Michael and the late Louisiana Red.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Dirty Dozen Asks What's Going On

With JazzFest having concluded this past weekend, it is worth looking back at an album the Dirty Dozen, one of the pioneering bands of the modern Brass Band scene issued after Hurricane Katrina with their interpretation of a classic Marvin Gaye album. This review originally appeared in the October 2006 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 287). I purchased the CD.

Like others from their home city of New Orleans, the members of The Dirty Dozen Brass Band have been greatly affected by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. With some friends they have their new album, What’s Going On, (Shout Factory), which reinterprets the classic Marvin Gaye album on a recording that is very relevant in light of the catastrophic events of last year in which the band members, like so many, lost their homes, and so much more.

More than their homes, they were distressed about the loss of their communities and personal treasures; photo albums and mementos of their travels were all destroyed. “I’m not talking about clothes and shoes and material things, but family albums,” says Roger Lewis. “I have a 7-year-old daughter. I had pictures of myself as a child, but I can’t share them with her because they were destroyed. All she’s really going to know is her dad as a 64-year-old man.”

The album opens with Chuck D rapping on the title track with a justified bitterness as the Dozen provides a sobering backing with Revert Andrews contributing a strong trombone solo. This followed by Betty Lavette take on What’s Happening Brother as she sings “Are things really getting better like the newspaper says … I just don’t understand what’s going on in this land … will the Tigers win the pennant, do they stand a chance …” with the tenor sax reaching to the higher registers behind her. Flyin' High (In The Friendly Sky), is taken at a medium tempo with a rather nice rendering of it before the tempo picks up as the members chant “Help Me Somebody,” with some nice spirited playing as the tune rides out. Nice trumpet leads Save the Children which also includes some nice sax work including Roger Lewis’ baritone, original member Kirk Joseph provides a foundation on the sousaphone and Jamie Mclean’s guitar brings African flavoring and rhythm. Ivan Neville guests on God Is Love, as Joseph and Lewis add the deep bottom behind his vocal as the brass punctuate the lyrics. G. Love raps the lyrics Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology) with the Dozen providing a sharp funk groove before the Dozen get a groove going on Right On, as Revert Andrews takes the lead on trombone prior to Kevin Harris’ tenor sax. The last instrumental, Wholy Holy, is rendered almost as a funeral dirge before they conclude with Guru rapping on Inner City Blues (Make Me Wanna Holler), concluding a very thoughtful and moving recording.

A portion of the proceeds from this CD will be donated to the Tiptina’s Foundation, benefiting the musical community of New Orleans.