Monday, December 31, 2012

Notable recordings of 2012 - Part 1

The first of several days recapping some of the finer jazz and blues releases that came out recently. Today I focus on recordings I reviewed in the first half of 2012.

New Jazz Recordings

Bass clarinet specialist Jacob Stein had a marvelous Delmark release, The Story This Time. "Stein has put together a fine band for the musical explorations heard on this very absorbing recording." 

Catherine Russell had another album of musical treats with her latest album, Strictly Romancin’ (World Village). It is the vein of her well received Sentimental Streak and Inside This Heart Of Mine, with a similar program of mostly long forgotten blues, ballads, love songs and swing from the twenties to today.

The Planet D Nonet, a group of musicians from the Motor City who perform a range of music issued a terrific double CD, We Travel The Spaceways: The Music Of Sun Ra (East Lawn Records).

The Rick Germanson Quartet had one of several excellent Live at Smalls recordings on the clubs Smalls Live label. Pianist Germanson was joined that night by the trumpet of Dr. Eddie Henderson, the bass of Paul Gill and the drums of Lewis Nash for some sterling hard bop. 

Saxophonist Paul Carr, who produces the annual Mid-Atlantic Jazz Festival in Maryland each February, had a terrific recording, Standard Definition (PCJ Music), on which he was joined by  Terell Stafford (trumpet), Joey Calderazzo (piano), Mike Bowie (bass) and Lewis Nash (drums). It was selected by Capital Bop as among the best 2012 jazz recordings by DC area artists.

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. "The mix of Blake’s stimulating writing with the high level of the performances, both in terms of the intelligent and spirited solos, and high level of the ensemble playing result in this excellent release."

Evan Christopher had a new release in his Clarinet’s Road series, In Sidney’s Footsteps(STR Digital Records). As indicated by the title, the music of Sidney Bechet is inspiration for the music here, although not all the performances are of songs recorded by Bechet. "There is a presence to his clarinet and the performances on this wonderfully recorded album that continues to delight after repeated listening. In Sidney’s Footsteps may be Evan Christopher’s most exceptional recording yet. Given the high level of his prior albums, that is saying something."

Harmonica wizard Gregoire Maret had an eponymously titled debut recording for Entertainment One. 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.

Another release by the SmallsLive label in its Live at Smalls series of recordings was by the trio of tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama, Bopjuice. This excellent location recording evoked the classic Sonny Rollins Live at the Village Vanguard.

New Blues

About Heritage Blues Orchestra, And Still I Rise (Raisin’ Music) I wrote "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.

Mark Hummel’s Blues and Lonesome: Tribute to Little Walter (Rockinitus Records) is an excellent compilation from recordings he has made over the years in homage to Little Walter.

Michael Roach 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. 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

Fifty years after Big Bill Broonzy’s passing, Billy Boy Arnold recorded a tribute album, Sings Big Bill Broonzy on Electro-Fi.  "This recording was heralded in Bob Riesman’s Broonzy biography, and its release has met the expectations for it. Today, one might find it hard to appreciate how significant Big Bill was in the history of the blues. Along with Riesman’s book, this tribute recording addresses that in a fine and spirited manner."

Guy Davis issued a memorialization of his one-man show, 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.

Quintus McCormick, Delmark release Still Called The Blues. Delmark's Steve Wagner recalled his reaction when he first heard Quintus McCormick when recording his 1st Delmark album, Hey Jodie. “Wow this cat could be the next Johnnie Taylor!” 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. This will appeal to a very wide grouping of blues lovers and is proof that Quintus McCormick is among today’s finest blues and soul performers.

Nathan James had an excellent Delta Groove CD, What You Make Of It, with his touring band, The Rhythm Scratchers. " I was not familiar with Nathan James’ music prior toWhat 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."

Reissues or Newly issued Vintage Jazz and Blues Recordings

Dr. Robert E. Sunnenblick produced for his Uptown label a Dexter Gordon live album, Night Ballads Montreal 1977. Gordon was with his band of Eddie Gladden on drums, Rufus Reid on bass and George Cables on piano. This CD has over 70 minutes of ballads which might  be a bit much for some in one sitting. Still the terrific music makes this a highly recommended addition to the body of Long Tall Dexter's recordings. 

Reissue Universal released on its Hip-O-Select label, the four-CD Heart & Soul: A Retrospective, that in its four CDs surveys Etta James recordings from her debut as The Wallflower doingRoll With Me Henry, for Modern Records to the previously unissued 2007 recording of Rodney Crowell’s Ashes By Now. This was issued prior to her passing.

Tom Hoskins recorded and interviewed Hurt at the time of his location of Mississippi John Hurt on March 3, 1963. These recordings, the first since Hurt recorded in the 1920s, were issued on a fascinating new release on Spring Fed Records, Discovery: The Rebirth of Mississippi John Hurt. Wonderfully remastered, the CD has 19 tracks including a previously unissued and lengthy interview where Hurt and his wife talks about his early life and recordings, and life after those recordings.

Barbecue Any Old Time: Blues From The Pit 1927-1942 (Old Hat Records) is a relatively recent compilation of vintage jazz and blues recordings that celebrate barbecue, the distinctly southern American form of cuisine, usually slow--cooked over a pit. "This mix of lively downhome blues and rollicking early jazz and vocal harmony recordings is a definite musical feast well digesting like the delicious culinary tradition the songs salute. WIth the excellent annotation and engineering of the source material, this is an excellent collection."

Ruf Records issued a double CD set by Omar and the Howlers, Essential Collection. This is a career and label spanning compilation that covers the two or so decades of the recording career of Omar Dykes. I noted that nothing on this was less than first-rate.

Among the better reissues celebrating 40 years of CTI was the CTI Masterworks release of Stanley Turrentine’s Don’t Mess With Mister T. The addition of bonus tracks make this even stronger a reissue than a simple reissue of the original album would have been.

An excellent compilation of modern West Coast Uptown Blues is the English Ace collection of Al King and Arthur K Adams, Together: The Complete Kent and Modern Recordings. I wrote that this "is an important reissue of two powerful, if neglected blues artists (although thankfully Adams is still with us and continuing to make strong, original music)."

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.  This is a very welcome, overdue, and highly recommended, reissue of Parker’s singles from the first decade of his recording career. 

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Earl Thomas at 2012 PA Blues Fest

I probably saw less blues and R&B this past year than in prior years. One of the top blues act I had the pleasure of seeing was San Francisco based earl Thomas who brought a raspy, deep soul, church-rooted vocal attack backed by a crack rocking blues band to the Pennsylvania Blues Festival in July. Not only did his vocals hit you in your gut, but his old school showmanship was quite compelling as well. Here was some terrific music with both substance and form.  Here is another image from that great show.

20121220 Brad LInde Ensemble and Brass at Kogod Courtyard-1030372

This was an evening of classic Christmas Music as if it was performed by a slightly more radical version of The Birth of the Cool Orchestra. Brad Linde with Sarah Hughes put together a terrific ensemble, his quartet augmented by four brass. It was the monthly Take 5 concert at the Kogod Courtyard at the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Mavis Staples Urges Us To Have A Little Faith

One of the highlights from this summer’s Pocono Blues Festival (2004) was the performance by Mavis Staples. Her set included some classics associated with the Staple Singers and what was then a preview of the recently issued Alligator disc, Have a Little Faith. This new album will be welcome for Ms. Staples’ many fans and gain her new fans. 

While the material is religious in nature, the basic messages of songs such as the title track, God Is Not Sleeping, In Times Like These and Step Into the Light can move persons of all faiths. The mood of many songs is mostly reassurance in these very troubling times we live in. There are some nods to the unsettled times on There’s a Devil on the Loose, while a couple of songs, Ain’t No Better Than You and At the End of the Day, promote the idea that whatever our state in life, we are all basically the same. As she sings on the latter number that whether one is a Wall Street broker or a fruit cart vendor, “At the end of the day, we’re all the same.” 
Mavis Staples at 2010 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock

She recalls her late father on Pops Recipe, singing about he taught how to sing and how to live and gave his family all his love and everything he had to give. A Dying Man’s Plea is a moving rendition of See That My Grave is Kept Clean, with additional lyrics that Pops Staples had added with nice dobro and fiddle from John Rice. The album concludes with a new rendition of Will the Circle Be Unbroken, which was the first song the Staples learned to sing as a family and was a hit for them on Vee-Jay. 

Produced with Jim Tullio who adds percussion, bass and guitar on various tracks, Mavis Staples sings brilliantly with so much passion. The musicians in the studio provide a most sympathetic backing, with a bluesy-soul feel on most of the songs. This writer may be a religious skeptic but these performances move me. This is clearly among the best recordings (blues or otherwise) of this year. 

This review appeared in the October 2004 DC Blues Calendar and the November-December 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 271). I received a review copy from Alligator.  Here is her with her dad Pops Stales and her sisters, The Staples Singers doing one of their classics.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Nora Jean Is Going Back to Mississippi

The following review originally appeared in the October 2004 DC Blues Calendar as well as the November-December 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 271). I have made a few stylistic changes since the original review. I likely received a review copy from Severn Records and it is available. She has a new recording Good Blues from 2011 which I have not heard but will have to check out. Nora Jean is now Nora Jean Wallace and her website is website is

I recently reviewed a cd from Nora Jean Bruso, a Chicago based blues singer, who really impressed many at this year’s Pocono Blues Festival. That cd was comprised of interpretations of some well known and lesser known blues. Severn has just issued a new album by her, Going Back to Mississippi (Severn Records), which is comprised solely of originals, so she is presenting her own “musical vision of the blues, rather than interpreting the vision of others.” 
Nora Jean Bruso at 2004 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock

She has a strong backing band that include Carl Weathersby or Dave Spector on lead guitar, Rob Waters on keyboards, Ron Graham on saxophone, Harlan Terson on bass and Marty Binder on drums. Bruso’s powerful vocals will suggest Koko Taylor to many (Koko is her idol). She does have a similar background, as she, like Taylor, moved to Chicago after having deep southern roots (Bruso grew up in Mississippi).  Her roots are lyrically expressed in the title track, a shuffle where she talks about going back because that’s where her baby is as well as Miss Mae’s Juke Joint, that celebrates the juke her grandmother operated. 

She gets down in the alley on a superb slow blues, All My Life, with some nice sax in the accompaniment, while sings in a more relaxed manner on Broken Heart, with its caribbean-flavored groove. She takes us to New Orleans on the rhumba, I’ve Got Two Men, (one of whom has to go) with a nice solo break from Dave Spector. Don’t You Remember is a slow blues that evokes Someone Loan Me a Dime, with Bruso telling her baby how sweet their love used to be and how their relationship changed. Carl Weathersby is particularly impressive here in his instrumental responses to Bruso’s vocal and his solo. 

With this new release she has gone beyond the promise shown on her earlier disc and has shown herself as among those who will carry on and follow Koko Taylor and keep “this great music alive and vital.” 

Here she is singing Going Back to Mississippi

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Wallace Coleman's Lively Harmonica Blues

I first saw Wallace Coleman playing with the late Robert Lockwood, Jr., and had the pleasure of seeing him with that late legend as well as leading his own groups over the years. The following review appeared in the the September/October 2002 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 259). I am not sure if I received a review copy from the publication or purchased this. 

Wallace Coleman was part of Robert Lockwood Jr.’s band through the sixties and until recently where his Little Walter inspired harp was a delight to those who caught him with Lockwood. His new album is Live at Joe’s (Pinto Blue), a recording done live in the studio, not a club. 

Wallace Coleman at 2012 Pennsylvania Blues
Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
The band provides a steady, swinging foundation. The guitarists get their solo spots but their playing does not intrude when Coleman is in the fore. Nothing startlingly original here perhaps, but Coleman and band do a solid job in evoking the classic Chicago blues sound which will appeal to those who love that sound.There is nothing fancy about the music here as Coleman displays his stylistic indebtedness to Walter on a program of mostly classic blues including JukeOne More Chance With You, and Tell Me Mama, as well as songs associated with Jimmy Rogers, You’re the One and My Last Meal, and Muddy Waters’ Young Fashioned Ways. Throw in a few originals including the slow Hard Life with some nice chromatic harp playing and the jazzy Love Spell, and one gets a nicely sung and played set of performances that are centered on Coleman’s very likeable, unforced vocals and fluid harp playing. 

Here is Wallace Coleman in performance.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Ronnie Earl Plays With Heart & Soul

The review below was part of a review of several Black Top Records compilations issued by Shout Factory in 2006 and appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (issue 286). I may have received this directly from Shout Factory or from the publication. Reviews of the Anson Funderburgh and Guitar Shorty compilations have already run. I have made some stylistic changes. I should point out that a  number of the Black Top recordings are available in reissue or mp3 and you might want to check collector's choice music as well as Amazon and other websites for the Black Top recordings.

Ronnie Earl has established a lengthy catalog since leaving Roomful of Blues with albums on Bullseye Blues, Telarc and Stony Plain in addition to his fine discs on Black Top. Heart and Soul; The Best of Ronnie Earl. Starting with Smokin’, we hear Earl expanding his musical palette incorporating jazz influences in his playing and repertoire over the years leading to his instrumentally recordings of recent years. 

Vocalists supported by Earl include, Sugar Ray Norcia (with whom Earl recorded as Ronnie Earl Horvath in the late seventies before he joined Roomful of Blues) handling Guitar Slim’s You Give Me Nothing But the Blues; Darrell Nulisch on the fittingly titled Soul Searchin’; Kim Wilson on I Smell Trouble; and Mighty Sam McClain on the stunning Earl original, A Soul That’s Been Abused from Hubert Sumlin’s Blues Party

Instrumental features include a wonderful interpretation of Earl Hooker’s Blue Guitar as well as trading licks with Duke Robillard on What have I Done Wrong, from a 2005 Stony Plain recording, before closing with an instrumental rendition of Drown In My Own Tears, that features the great David ‘Fathead’ Newman. 

I am not sure whether this is really a Best of, but certainly is an excellent career retrospective of Mr. Earl’s music.

Here is Ronnie from 2012 doing a Kenny Burrell classic.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Jimmy McCracklin RIP

Jimmy McCracklin at 2008 Pocono Blues Festival
Photo © Ron Weinstock
Jimmy McCracklin, a fixture on the San Francisco Blues Scene for over six decades passed away, Thursday, June 20, 2012 at the age of 91. He was raised in St. Louis and his main influence would be Walter Davis, the popular recording artist. After a stint in the Navy, he relocated to the West Coast and was a mainstay of the blues scene there for over 65 years.

He first recorded in 1945 and later recorded prolifically for a variety of labels turning out numerous recordings ranging to thoughtful songs on the relations between the sexes including "My Time Is Limited," "Just Got To Know," "Yesterday Is Gone", "Every Day and Every Night" and "Think," along with dance numbers like "The Georgia Slop," and "The Walk." Some of his recordings were quite humorous like his adaptation of Memphis Slim's "Beer Drinking Woman," along with its sequel "Couldn't Be a Dream."

McCracklin's Band became known as the Blues Blasters and while in its early days included guitarist Robert Kelton, he was replaced by guitarist Lafayette 'Thing' Thomas who had a lengthy association with McCracklin and was guitarist on many of his most famous recordings including "The Walk." Add a booting sax and one had a group that could handle sober songs about relations breaking up, hot dance numbers and grooving boogies like "Club Savoy" about the Richmond, California club McCracklin played for years (set to the melody of Amos Milburn's "Chicken Shack Boogie").

His music was recorded by numerous artists including "Tramp," a hit for Lowell Fulson and then Otis Redding and Carla Thomas. Lonesome Sundown and Phillip Walker did a cover of "Stepping Up In Class," while Los Lobos revived "Georgia Slop." Freddy King incorporated part of "The Walk"into his classic "Hideaway," while Magic Sam covered "Every Day and Every Night" as performed "I Want To Know" in his live performances.

It was not simply the fact he was one of the blues strongest lyricists and song writers that made him important. He was a marvelous performer who I had the pleasure of finally seeing in 2008 at the Pocono Blues Festival where his performance belied the fact he was 87 at the time.

Here are some links of obituaries for him:

Jimmy McCracklin East Bay Blues Legend Dies.

Bay Area Blues Legend Had 65 Year Old Career

NY Times - Jimmy McCracklin, R&B Singer and Songwriter, Dies at 91

And here is the link to Bill Dahl's All Music Guide Entry as well as limited Discography.

Here is a video of Jimmy talking about himself, the blues and performing.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Brad Linde's Holiday Jazz

Brad Linde led a fascinating evening of holiday music on Thursday December 20, 2012 at the Kogod Courtyard in the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art. Saxophonist Linde's Quartet with fellow saxophonist Sarah Hughes was augmented by a brass ensemble for a terrific evening of holiday music. It was as if the Birth of the Cool Band interpreted Jingle Bells, and other favorites. Here is an excerpt from their performance of Sarah Hughes's arrangement of "Chorale of the Bells."

Friday, December 21, 2012

WAMA - How about Jazzing Up Your Hall Of Fame

Edward 'Butch' Warren belongs in
the Hall of Fame of Washington DC Music
I have in the past blogged about Washington, DC area musicians that have been long overdue for being honored by the Washington Area Music Association in their Hall of Fame, In the past I have noted the Bobby Parker, DC's Blues Legend and major influence on many artists including Chuck Brown; Haywood 'Little Sonny' Warner, one of the greatest blues vocalists from the area; and Mr. Personality himself, Lloyd Price, who was based in Washington for several years and who made musical history here. Their continued omission in WAMA's Hall of Fame reflects poorly on those in WAMA who make the selections for the Hall of Fame.

I do have a couple of names from the world of jazz that also deserve to be recognized.

Edward 'Butch' Warren is a Washington native that in the sixties was one of the leading hard bop bassist and part of Blue Note's House Rhythm Section (Sonny Clark on piano and Billy Higgins on drums) for many sessions such as Clark's Leapin' and Lopin'Dexter Gordon's Go and A Swinging Affair; Don Wilerson's Preach Brother! and Jackie McLean's Vertigo. He also recorded with Herbie Hancock, Takin' Off (with the original recording of Watermelon Man); Kenny Dorham's Una Mas; and Thelonious Monk's It's Monk Time. Warren, in fact, was part of Monk's Band for 1963 and 1964.   He has had hard times but his return to music in recent years has been very heartwarming and in 2011 he produced his first album as a leader, French 5Tet, that the website selected as among the five best new DC jazz recordings of 2011. Few have produced such a body of recordings as he participated on. Here he is seen playing Kenny Dorham's Blue Bossa in France. He played on Dorham's original recording.

Carter Jefferson was one of the fine tenor saxophonists who emerged in the seventies and was taken too soon from us in 1993. He played in the backing bands of The Temptations, The Supremes and Little Richard before playing with Art Blakey and Mongo Santamaria. Between 1977-1980 he was a member of Woody Shaw's Band, arguably the leading hard bop ensemble of that time. After his time with Shaw, he spent time with Elvin Jones, Roy Haynes, Cedar Walton, Jerry Gonzalez, Malachi Thompson, and Jack Walrath.  He only recorded one album as a leader, but left an impressive body of work on the recordings by Shaw and others. Here is carter Jefferson as part of Woody Shaw's great band.

There are others that are also worthy including the marvelous drummer, composer, educator and leader, Nasar Abadey; or the legendary pianist and composer, Freddie Redd, who recorded for Blue Note as well as composed music from the legendary play, The Connection. I am sure Michael West from the Washington City Paper and other publications, or Luke Stewart and Giovanni Russonello from could make additional suggestions. 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Smithsonian Holiday Jazz with Brad Linde & Sarah Hughes

Brad Linde and Sarah Hughes on Saxophone at the 2010 DC Jazz Festival's Jazz at the Phillips Collection.
Photo © Ron Weinstock

If you are in The Washington DC area tonight, Thursday December 20, you might want to check out the Holiday Program the Smithsonian's Museum of American Art is presenting in the Kogod Courtyard starting at 5:00 PM and continuing until the Museum closes at 7:00PM. It will be some cool yuletime jazz with The Brad Linde Quartet and a Brass Ensemble. The program is described as "Brad Linde and Sarah Hughes present an evening of holiday music arranged for their jazz quartet and brass ensemble. Listen to your favorite Christmas classics as you've never heard them in the Brad Linde Quartet's unique post-cool, free-bop style." In addition to the music, one can participate in a free drawing workshop during the Take 5! performances. Build your own sketchbook from recycled materials to take home. Workshops are in conjunction with the exhibition Abstract Drawings.

It marks the return of the monthly series of free jazz concerts at the Kogod Courtyard. Upcoming programs in the Take 5! series include saxophonist Elijah Jamal Balbed: Tribute to Wayne Shorter on Thursday, January 24  which is in tribute to Wayne Shorter's 80th birthday year. Elijah Jamal Balbed, will showcase Shorter's early works. On Thursday, February 21, Take 5! will showcase Trumpeter Mike Davis performing the music of the legendary Kenny Dorham, one of the mist significant trumepters of the bebop and hardbop period (1945-1965). 

For more information on these performances and the Take 5! series visit the Smithsonian’s website. Note that while the webpage has the performances running until 8:00PM, these performances will end by 7:00PM.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Almost Guitar Shorty's Best

The review below was part of a review of several Black Top Records compilations issued by Shout Factory in 2006 and appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (issue 286). I may have received this directly from Shout Factory or from the publication. Reviews of the Anson Funderburgh compilation has already run and another will run in the next few days. I have made some stylistic changes. I should point out that a  number of the Black Top recordings are available in reissue or mp3 and you might want to check collector's choice music as well as Amazon and other websites for the Black Top recordings.

David Kearney, best known as Guitar Shorty, was among the three major rediscoveries that Black top made (Robert Ward and Bobby Parker are the other two). The Florida born singer- guitarist was heavily influenced by Guitar Slim who made some choice recordings for Cobra Records and the LA based Pull label. For a period he was married to Jimi Hendrix’ stepsister and would swap ideas with the future leg-end. 

Kearney had recorded a wonderful My Way or the Highway for the English JSP label before joining Black Top where he recorded three albums, Topsy Turvy, Get Wise To Yourself, and Roll Over, Baby. After leaving Black Top, there were live albums on Collectibles followed by Evidence’s I Go Wild and more recently he signed to Alligator. Shout Factory’s The Best of Guitar Shorty: The Long and Short of It, is taken from the JSP album, the three Black Top CD and the Evidence. The highlights include a stunning remake of Hard Life, You Better Get Wise to Yourself, Swamp Dogg’s I Want to Report a Crime and a duet with Carol Fran, I’m So Glad I Met You

The two cuts from the JSP disc, No Educated Woman and Red Hot Mama, are almost equal to the Black Top discs which employed such first-rate players like Lee Allen Zeno on bass, Herman Ernest III, Shannon Powell or Raymond Weber on drums, David Torkanowsky on keyboards, Kaz Kazanoff on sax. Oddly the only number from Black Top that had South Central, his working band of the nineties, was a credible rendition of Hey Joe, a tribute to Hendrix which is ok, but there are some other selections that are missing, especially his rendition of Al Kooper’s (I Love You) More Than You’ll Ever Know, derived from Donny Hathaway’s recording. Hathaway was a major influence on Shorty as a singer, but you would never know it from most of which has been written about him that focuses on his guitar playing and Hendrix connection. 

With the more rock-oriented production of his recent recordings, his vocals also suffer. But if this gem had replaced a track from the Evidence album, then the title would be more accurate as opposed to really being Almost The Best of Guitar Shorty. Still this will have to do until Topsy Turvy and Get Wise To Yourself are reissued. The JSP is in print. 

Here is Guitar Shorty doing one of his signature songs, It's A Hard Life.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Franklin and Wiggins Live at the DC Holiday Market

Today Rick Franklin (guitar and vocals) and Phil Wiggins (harmonica) treated lunch time visitors to the DC Holiday Market to some acoustic blues and hokum. I caught the pair here performing the classic Blind Blake blues from the 1920's That Will Happen No More. Enjoy the video.

Michael Roach Has The Good New Blues

Former DC Blues Society president Michael Roach has been resident in England for several years now. He has become an influential performer as well as promoter and educator of blues there and in Europe where he has organized blues conferences and an annual Blues Week. At Blues Weeks, he has brought over as instructors the late John Jackson, Larry Johnson and Phil Wiggins among others. He has continued to develop as a blues performer too and as a songwriter and has two recent (as of 2003) recordings, Good News Blues and the just released Cypress Grove on his Stella Records label. 

The earlier disc, Good New Blues, also features sympathetic harp accompaniment from Ian Briggs and includes a number of Roach originals along with his often-topical originals including Pleading Insanity and the amusing Vote For the Wino on which his wife and daughter add an amusing chorus backup. He has become more than an adept guitarist too, which is not surprising when he was mentored by the likes of John Jackson, John Cephas and Jerry Ricks. And his adaptations of classic blues themes are not slavish recreations of earlier recordings.

With a bouncing riff, he reinvigorates Trouble is Mine as well as pays his respect to Big Bill Broonzy on a nice Keep Your Hands Off (Her). Bumble Bee Slim’s recordings are not often performed today, but Roach’s rendition of Bricks In My Pillow suggests that this popular blues artist from the 30’s deserves some reconsideration. The late Otis Williams penned the title track, and Mike integrates Williams’s recitations of his poetry into this fine performance. A reworking of the traditional Alberta that closes a varied and very enjoyable set of performances follows a heartfelt gospel performance Jesus Gonna Make Up My Dying Bed.

The just issued Cypress Grove is dedicated to the late John Jackson and found Michael recording a number of songs that he knew and recorded if only for archival purposes. In his own words on this recording Michael chose “to go for original sounds rather than releasing original material.” Included are Roach’s interpretations of Skip James’ Special Rider and Cypress Grove, Blind Boy Fuller’s So Sweet, and Furry Lewis’ Brownsville Blues, along with his renditions of traditional material like Lonesome Valley, C.C. Rider, Go Tell It on The Mountain and What Month Was Jesus Born. Again he brings his own touch to this material and sings in a simple, direct manner with plenty of sincerity. That Roach does Lewis’ Brownsville Blues is telling because Lewis is not simply among Roach’s favorite blues artists, but Roach’s guitar playing suggests Lewis’ style with its nicely rhythmic focus. 

There is an original from Roach as well as the closing song about the closing of the coal mines in Britain, Hard Times For the Working man, written by Bernie Marsden of the rock group Whitesnake. Another varied program that is full of heartfelt performances that demonstrate just accomplished a blues guitarist Michael Roach has become, but also how strong a performer he is. Information on these re- leased including how to order them can be obtained from websites, and/or, and it is well worth the effort in trying to get these.

The above review appeared in the July-August 2003 DC Blues Calendar and these releases still should be available directly from Michael. I have made a few stylistic changes. As performances he made earlier in 2012 in the DC area showed, he is among the finest living country blues performers. Here is Michael with harmonica player Johnny Mars at the 2008 Pocono Blues Festival.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Stories of The Chitlin' Circuit and Bettye LaVette

With the holidays approaching, there are plenty of books that might be of interest to those in your lives with interests in blues and jazz. A few days ago I posted a review of Ted Gioia’s The Jazz Standards. Here are a couple more books you might consider giving. 

The Chitlin’ Circuit

Preston Lauterbach’s The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock’N’Roll (New York: Norton) is a fascinating look at the development of the string of clubs and joints that emerged after the fall of the Theatre Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) Circuit. Lauterbach’s inspiration to write this book was a story he did on Bobby Rush for Living Blues. In it he introduces us to Sax Kari, a recording artist whose career went back to the 1920s with Butterbeans and Suzie. Kari then introduces us to an Indianopolis nightclub boss and racketeer neamed Denver Furguson and how in the 1930s he helped started what became known as The Chitlin Circuit.

In the early days, the Chicago big band leader, Walter Barnes, was among teh first to have tours arranged for him. Barnes, who recorded ten titles in the 1920s, was also a correspondent for the Chicago Defender, who contributed dispatches from the road in addition to the various stories he contributed on the black entertainment world. Its fascinating to learn his biography as well as his tragic, and heroic death, in the Natchez Fire in 1940 whose impact was still felt when Howlin Wolf recorded a song over a decade ago. Barnes and Ferguson are only some of the intriguing people we meet. Enabling Louis Jordan to tour was one way the Circuit started to develop. We also find the interrelationship between record companies and booking agents as well. 

The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock’N’Roll is a book from which I learned much and it is a very lively read. It has been available over a year and if you may have missed it, I do recommend it highly.

Bettye LaVette

David Ritz has assisted another legend from the rhythm and blues world with an autobiography. A Women Like Me from Bettye LaVette (New York: Blue Rider Press). Its a raw and compelling story that LaVette tells of a career marked by ups and downs and a life where she has been literally pimped out as well as had the fortune of being mentored and coming under the wings of those who truly cared her and helped her develop her talents. 

LaVette us from her musical upbringing in Detroit, her various recording efforts in the sixties and seventies with near brushes at stardom and the failure of various motherf******s to keep their word to the past decade or so where her star finally ascended to its rightful place. 

Be warned that the language here is raw and unfiltered and profane but the story rings with the truth of her recordings. This book has soul.

I purchased these books.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Eddie Burns Remembered With Snake Eyes

Word arrived by vocalist and harmonica player, Eddie Burns one of the centerpieces of the downhome post-war Detroit Blues Scene, passed away Wednesday, December 12, 2002. Burns was perhaps best known for being part of John Lee Hooker's Band for part of the fifties. The Mississippi native was influenced by John Lee 'Sonny Boy' Williamson and also Big Bill Broonzy. He was an adept harmonica player who was heard on Hooker's brilliant early recording of Burnin' Hell, on Sensation, along with the Chess album, The Real Folk Blues. He recorded a number of singles and some albums over the years for labels that included Harvey, Von, Checker, Blue Suit and Delmark. In 2002 I reviewed his Delmark album, Snake Eyes in the September/October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 259) which follows.

Delmark has recently issued this latest album, Snake Eyes, by another under recorded blues veteran, Eddie Burns. Burns is a veteran of the Detroit blues scene, including playing with John Lee Hooker on a number of Hooker’s finest band recordings. He shares some influences with Hooker including Tommy McLennan, but in addition to being a fine rhythmic guitarist he is a capable harmonica player indebted to John Lee ‘Sonny Boy' Williamson. 

Delmark, which has issued a couple of albums by his younger brother Jimmy. On Snake Eyes, Eddie Burns is joined by brother Jimmy on guitar along with pianist Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Nick Charles (brother of Magic Slim) and drummer Larry Taylor in an album of postwar ensemble blues. Playing both acoustic guitar as well as electric guitar and harmonica, Burns’ simple, effective playing and his straightforward plaintive singing result in delightful traditionally oriented blues. 

There are echoes of classic Muddy Waters’ stop-time grooves on Night Shift, while the rollicking Papa Likes to Boogie evidences the influence of Williamson. A spirited remake of the Drifters’ Your Cash Ain’t Nothin’ But Trash, is joined by a tasteful cover of Memphis Slim’s Lend Me Your Love. wile Going to New Orleans is similar to recordings by Otis Spann and Lonnie Johnson. The two Burns play acoustic guitars on the shuffle Treat Me Like I Treat You

The backing band is wonderful, and with Burns’ honest and heartfelt performances, Snake Eyes is a gem.

I probably received a review copy from Delmark and I have made some minor stylistic edits. Nick Charles is not Nick Holt, who was Magic Slim's brother, but a different person. Thanks to the members of the Facebook group, The Real Blues Forum, for pointing this error. Also on that forum was a suggestion that Burns harmonica with John Lee Hooker in 1949 (the Burnin' Hell session) may have been the first recording of amplified harmonica on record.

Friday, December 14, 2012

A Few Blue Notes

The Oxford-American has just published its Annual Music Issue which this year is dedicated to the and music of Louisiana, Trah-La-La-La, Louisiana. Its the fourth of a 12 year series looking at the music associated with a southern state. Included are the usual essays exploring significant artists like Jason Berry on Professor Longhair (pictured on the cover), Amanda Petrusich on the creole accordion pioneer Amédé Ardoin, and New Orleans and Jazz by Stanley Crouch and the writings take us from Cosimo’s studio to the Louisiana Hayride. Included is a diverse recording of music from a variety of Louisiana Artists including Clarence Garlow’s “Bon Ton Roula”; a lesser known Professor Longhair recording; zydeco and cajun music from Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas as well as Octa Clark & Hector Duhon; cajun rock from Cleveland Crochet; Rev. Utah Smith’s fervent gospel classic “Two Wings”: classic soul from Johnny Adams as well as Margaret Lewis’ original of “Reconsider Me,” which Adams recorded as well; then there is some funk form the legendary New Orleans Band, the Gaturs as well as from Lil’ Buck & the Top Cats (who included Lil’ Buck Senegal and Stanley ‘Buckwheat’ Duval); “Shirley” by the 16 year old John Fred (a few years before Judy in Disguise With Glasses; Dr. John; and Kid Ory. This issue is available at Barnes and Noble (where I purchased my copy) and I would presume better independent bookstores. You can also purchase this from the Oxford American directly, and here is the link to their website,

The Wire is devoted to a variety of improvised music. The current issue has a feature on legendary free jazz saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and his music and art. Included besides the feature on him is an overview of his very extensive recording career that ranges from fundamental works of the free improvisational scene in Europe to his collaborations with artists like Sonny Sharrock, Bill Lasswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson. I purchased my copy at Barnes & Noble

Taste of Treme: Creole, Cajun, and Soul Food from New Orleans' Famous Neighborhood of Jazz by (2012: Ulysses Press) is a cookbook by a self-described Cajun and Creole foodie ( and this profusely illustrated volume presents recipes with new twists on such classic New Orleans favorites like Muffuletta Salad, Chargrilled Oysters, Crawfish and Corn Beignets, Shrimp and Okra Hushpuppies; Chicken and Andouille Gumbo, Roost Beef Po’ Boy, Bananas Foster and more. Also included are cultural facts about the music, architecture and dining that make up Tremé. I should mention I received a free copy because I gave permission for them to include a coupe of images (Uncle Lionel Batiste (page 16) and saxophonist Roger Lewis (page 134)). I am not a cook but this is a wonderfully designed and illustrated volume that I am sure will provide some inspiration for the culinary folk out there. Here is the Christian Science Monitor review of the book,

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Anson Funderburgh & The Rocket's Best!

The review below was part of a review of several Black Top Records compilations issued by Shout Factory in 2006 and appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (issue 286). I may have received this directly from Shout Factory or from the publication. Reviews of the other two compilations will run in the next couple weeks. I have made some stylistic changes. I should point out that a  number of the Black Top recordings are available in reissue and you might want to check collector's choice music as well as other websites.

Shout Factory has been reissuing product from the catalog of the Black Top label, arguably the label that from the mid-eighties through its demise in the nineties, had the strongest catalog of blues releases in that period. Earlier releases included the discs of Solomon Burke, and a Hubert Sumlin one. Three new releases are “Best of” collections centered on three of the label’s artists that do include recordings these performers made for other labels.

It was ironic that I received, Blast Off -- The Best Of Anson Funderburgh & The Rockets, the day word that Sam Myers, the great Mississippi vocalist had passed away. It is odd that this reissue does not mention featuring Sam Myers who appeared on most of the Rockets discs after Myers joined Anson and his varying line-up over the years, especially since the band took off as one of the preeminent blues bands after Myers became featured. 

The above is not to say that the band was shabby with the original vocalist Darrell Nulisch who certainly turns in an amiable performance on Earl King’s Come On, but a younger Nulisch simply had not developed the authority that Myers brought with his singing and harp as evident on A Man Needs His Loving, Moose John Walker’s Ramblin’ Woman or Buddy Guy’s reworking of Barrett Strong’s Money, $100 Bill. Additionally Myers brought his considerable harp talent to the recordings and live dates. Anson himself displays his sizzling playing as well as his impeccable taste, and is featured on Down at JJ’s. While the backing personnel changed over the years, they remained a tight, swinging outfit. 

There are numerous pleasures to be heard on all 17 selections which is compiled from all nine Rockets recordings, including selections from the two Bullseye Blues albums and the two with Nulisch and one certainly hopes that at least a few of the Rockets CDs featuring Sam Myers including Sins, Rack ‘Em Up, and Tell Me What I Want to Hear, are issued in their entirety. 

Here is a video clip of Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets featuring the late legend, Sam Myers.