Sunday, June 30, 2013

Long Tall Deb Says Raise Your Hands

Its always a pleasure to hear a previously unfamiliar talent and to my delight, I discovered Long Tall Deb with her release Raise Your Hands (VizzTone). A Texas native, but currently based in Ohio, Deb Landolt, is a marvelous singer that can range from a whisper to a scream (to paraphrase an Allen Toussaint song title) and backed by some marvelous musicians including John Popovich on keyboards, Sean Carney and Dave Clo on guitars, Melvin Powe on bass and Jan Roll on drums. To this core band are appearances on various tracks by (amongst others) Damon Fowler, JP Soars, and Jimmy Thackery on guitars, Victor Wainwright and Reese Wynans on organ, Phil Pemberton, Shaun Booker, Big Llou, Nikki Scott, Michelle Swift on vocals and background vocals, and the Roomful of Blues Horns. 

This album has its origins in a series of impromptu writing sessions, affectionately referred that began in the fall of 2011. Landolt, John Popovich and bassist Melvin Powe would gather with new song ideas and jam on themes and variations. Often in between his international tour dates, Columbus stalwart Sean Carney joined the fun. These songs would be developed by their collaboration and Nashville producer dave Clo further refined these originals along with two covers, Tom Waits’ New Coat of Paint and Ian Moore’s Muddy Jesus, that comprise Raise Your Hands

The music here is quite striking. Its wonderfully produced but Deb Landolt is clearly the star who possesses a rich, expressive voice and sings in a natural fashion exhibiting nuance as well as power. The songs are first-rate as well starting with the opening What Would A Good Woman Do, in which Deb sings her complaints about an overbearing husband that wants her to do her bidding and ends in a spirited verbal repartee with Phil Pemberton. A theme of unworthy men also marks Hush Your Mouth, where she basically is telling the fool the best time is when he just shuts up, and Finally Forgot Your Name. These are wonderfully soulful performances but contrast with Let’s Get Lost where she tells her man that they need to get away and just get down to it. 

Train To Tucson is a lively celebration of taking the west-bound train to Tucson with some nice slide guitar from Colin John with the band providing a rockabilly feel. The title track is a gospel-tinged song about lifting herself (and listeners) from down times and the efforts of naysayers to cut oneself down. Damon Fowler’s blues-rock guitar and Victor Wainwright’s organ add punch to Ian Moore’s Muddy Jesus which transfers the Christian story from the Middle East to the Rio Grande who gets shot down crossing the river. Colin John’s slide guitar opens To Find His Home with Nikki Scott sharing the lead vocal on a gospel-based plea for tolerance and love of one’s fellow man no matter what their race, nationality or religion (“I see so-called Christian people killing their brothers in your name.”). 

This recording closes with Deb, backed just by Popovich’s piano, providing a lovely rendition of Tom Wait’s New Coat of Paint. It is an intimate sounding performance which provides a nice contrast to the varied band performances. Long Tall Deb shows poise and maturity throughout Raise Your Hands. There is plenty of heart and soul exhibited by her and band on this excellent album.

I received my copy from the record label. Here is Long Tall Deb and Muddy Jesus.

Saturday, June 29, 2013

Tail Dragger - Stop Lyin'

A surprising new release on Delmark makes available the first recordings byJames Yancy Jones, better known as Tail Dragger, Stop Lyin’. It was recorded at the time Tail Dragger had been been performing with various bands, but had yet to make to make music his career. He had been working as a truck mechanic and a log distance hauler (including traveling down south to haul back catfish from Mississippi for the Delta Fish market) On Stop Lyin’, he was backed by a band that included Johnny B Moore and Jesse Lee Williams on guitar, Eddie ‘Jewtown’ Burks or Little Mac Simmons on harmonica, Willie Kent on bass and Larry Taylor on drums with Lafayette Leake
adding piano on two selections. 

Tail Dragger’s music is very much in the vein of Howlin’ Wolf that Justin O’Brien, in the liner notes, observes was an “over-the-top take on Wolf’s delivery.” Two of the nine songs here So Ezee and My Head Is Bald were issued on Jimmy Dawkins’ Leric label and the others appear on a recording for the first time. Tail Dragger’s songs here are all originals although some modeled on Wolf’s recordings so the groove of Where Did You Go might evoke Smokestack Lightnin’ or Commit a Crime, whereas the use of the Dust My Broom riff on Alabama Bound similarly suggests Wolf’s Highway 61. Their is some nice slide guitar on the latter number. Tail Dragger was, and is, an appealing singing although his vocals lack the articulation of the Wolf's singing.

In addition to the blues performances, this cd is filled out by the lengthy spoken Tail’s Tale, a fascinating and frank bit of oral history that provides some sense of the time and place of this recording. The songs are nicely played and performed and this will appeal to fans of old school Chicago blues.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a video of Tail Dragger with Rockin' Johnny doing My Head Is Bald.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Little Willie Littlefield at the 2009 Ponderosa Stomp

2009_Ponderosa_Stomp_Night_1-1021-Edit by NoVARon
2009_Ponderosa_Stomp_Night_1-1021-Edit, a photo by NoVARon on Flickr. Copyright Ron Weinstock
Sad to hear the news that Little Willie Littlefield passed away on June 23 in Holland at the age of 81. The Texas born pianist and singer was part of the West Coast blues scene of the late forties and early fifties and his music was in the vein of Ivory Joe Hunter, Charles Brown, Amos Milburn and Floyd Dixon. He is best known for his recordings of "K.C. Lovin'" (better known as "Kansas City" from Wilbert Harrison's monster hit) and "Ruby Ruby" but outstanding recordings he made for Modern and Federal included "Happy Payday" and "Its Midnight." He had been living in Holland for the last 35 years and rarely performed in the US in this period. I was lucky to see him perform at the 2009 Ponderosa Stomp where his solo performance had a vigor that belied his age. RIP.

Here is Little Willie Littlefield performing "Kansas City"and a performance with Candye Kane.

Rory Block's Tribute to Mississippi John Hurt

Stony Plain has just issued Avalon, the fourth of Rory Block recordings that pays tribute to some of the blues legends that inspired her and from whom she learned in developing her own music. To me this is a far better recording than her Reverend Gary Davis tribute where some of her vocals, or should I say shrieking on some vocals, made several of the selections unlistenable. 

While her vocals may sometimes come across as mannered, Block avoids going over the top on this. Importantly, Block evokes Hurt’s rolling guitar style and genial vocals without attempting to imitate his playing. She adds spoken and verbal asides in retelling the stories Hurt sang (Avalon is a particularly effective adaptation) and employs overdubbing to build up her guitar accompaniments for renditions of familiar songs associated with Hurt as Louis Collins Blues, Candy Man and Pay Day. Got the Blues Can’t Be Satisfied is an especially apt example how Block places her own stamp on Hurt’s music. 

In addition to her interpretations, Block contributed an original, Everybody Loves John, that recalls a little of Hurt’s life as well as how everybody loved Hurt as well as his music. It is the opening track on what is a marvelous and moving salute by Block to one of the most beloved artists located during the sixties blues revival.

I received a review copy from a publicist.  

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Ruff Kutt Blues Band's That’s When The Blues Begins

Formed by Bassist James Goode with Anson Funderburgh on guitar for a previous self-issued recording that benefited the Blues Foundation’s HART Fund, the Ruff Kutt Blues Band returns with a second album That’s When The Blues Begins on VizzTone. On this collection of new recordings the band is fronted by vocalist Finis Tasby (on what may be his final recordings given the severe stroke he recently suffered) and Zac Harman who also plays guitar. Others on this session include Wes Starr on drums, Ron Jones on saxophone, and keyboardist/engineer Gentleman John Street on keyboards. 

From the opening song, Deep Elam Blues where Finis sings “I live on Elm Street, I got the deep Elam blues, I play my guitar on Elm Street, I got the deep Elam blues … I see women come and go, I wish I could make one of them mine …” to the closing When a Bluesman Goes to Heaven, where Harman sings about Pinetop jamming with Sammy Myers, Little Milton and others, this a full dose of nothing but the blues. Goode writes some solid no frills blues songs, Anson is riveting on guitar and Tasby and Harman sound great delivering the lyrics. 
Zac Harmon, James Goode, Finis Tasby, Anson Funderburgh (courtesy VizzTone)
Don’t It Make You Cry is a nice blues about Tasby’s woman leaving him that evokes the Big Jay McNeely-Little Sonny Warner classic, There Is Something on Your Mind, with Ron Jones standing out on sax here. Harman is showcased on the easy rocking shuffle Oh Woman, as well as Blues Ain’t a Color, (“The blues ain’t a color, its the way you feel”). Harman’s soulful singing will be no surprise to those familiar with his recordings and live performances. Jones has another strong sax solo on Oh Woman.

It also helps that the band gives first-rate backing through the varied moods and grooves from the slow drag of Deep Elam Blues, and the funky underpinning of Blues in My Blood (another song displaying Goode’s way with words), as well as on “Oh Woman.” They never rush things and their crisp, yet understated playing enhances the singing. It is welcome, when so many records marketed as ‘blues’ sound like album-rock, to hear first-rate blues played as on That’s When The Blues Begins.

I received my copy from the label. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Global Noize Reimagines Sly and the Family Stone

The music of Sly and the Family Stone was innovative and has influenced so many artists. Sly Stone's music's impact can still be heard today. Reflecting this influence is an extraordinary release by Global Noize, Sly Reimagined on the Zoho Roots label that shows how Sly and the Family Stone remain contemporary. 

Jason Miles is the instigator (along with DJ Logic) behind Global Noize and this release.  Jason came to notice with his groundbreaking synth programming for Miles Davis’ ‘80s recordings Tutu, Music from Siesta and Amandla, and later contributed to a genre-crossing array of artists as well as a variety of legacy-based dedications to Marvin Gaye, Ivan Lins, Vandross, and Grover Washington. Miles, a visionary conceptualist, producer, arranger, composer and keyboard wizard, has organized this tribute to the legendary Sly and the Family Stone with a remarkable group of contemporary singers and musicians including, but not limited to) (b DJ Logic; vocalists Nona Hendryx; Roberta Flack; Fatu; Maya Azucena; and Mike Mattison; guitarist Will Bernard; trumpeters Ingrid Jensen and Barry Danielian; saxophonists Jay Rodriguez and Ron Holloway; bassist Amanda Ruzza; and drummer Greg Errico (Sly’s original drummer).

Miles first saw Sly and the Family Stone opening for Jimi Hendrix in 1968 and has been listening and playing their music over the past 40 + years. As he writes in the liner notes “Making an album of Sly’s music has been on my mind for over a decade. I saw the opportunity to reintroduce this great music and re-imagine Sly’s music for 21st century sensibilities.” Sly’s original music itself transcended categories while contributing to the development of funk and fusion. His original recordings still have a freshness to them. What Miles has done here is to provide a broad musical palette in rendering some of the classic songs that Sly left us, fusing, funk, jazz and hip hop for the stirring musical results.

What one hears is Sly’s music that captures the spirit of Sly’s originals without imitating them. Perhaps it is the presence of Errico on the opening Time who sets forth the groove as Nona Hendryx handles the vocal. Ingrid Jensen channels Miles Davis with her trumpet behind the vocals of Roberta Flack (mostly repeating the title) and James D Train Williams on It’s a Family Affair, while Jay Rodriguez takes a couple of tenor sax breaks. This performance is one of two presented here in two separate mixes, and in both cases illustrate the skill Jason Miles has in mixing the various musical elements together. I was not familiar with Maya Azucena, but her vocal on Fun set against a tough funk groove really got my attention, and her vocals on You Can Make It If You Try, (shared with James D Train Williams) and Stand, are equally outstanding. Rodriguez does some serious bar walking on his sax during You Can Make It If You Try, on which Jensen is heard playing without a mute. 

I don’t want to slight the leader’s keyboards either. Not only did he organize this and create the arrangements of the songs, but his playing also is an integral part of these terrific performances.  Sly Reimagined shows how contemporary Sly and the Family Stone's music remains today. Just like Sly's original recordings, this is serious musical fun for listening and partying..

I received my review copy from a publicist. I note that today (when this is posted) will be a CD release event at Joe's Pub in New York City.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

RIP Bobby Bland

PICT1619 Bobby by NoVARon
PICT1619 Bobby, a photo by NoVARon on Flickr.

Jerry Mason of the Boogie Report, just posted that the passing of Bobby Bland has been confirmed. Bland was one of the greatest blues singers of the post-war period with a career that started some sixty odd years ago. One of the Beale Streeters with Johnny Ace and others, Bland's made a number of classic recordings for Duke, ABC and Malaco Records that influenced countless blues, rock and soul performers. I was fortunate enough to see him perform over the course of several decades and even if his range lessened over the years, his vocals are models on timing and phrasing that would-be blues singers would do well to study.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Eagle Flies on Friday

Some renditions of T-Bone Walker's "Call It Stormy Monday"

Here is the legend himself:

The great Vi Redd with Count Basie, singing and wailing on the tenor sax. This clip inspired me to make this post.

B.B. King

Eva Cassidy

B.B. King (again) and Albert Collins

Diana Reeves and David Peaston

Albert King and John Mayall

Bobby Bland, Johnnie Taylor and Bobby Rush

Last Buddy Guy with Carlos Santana and Barbara Morrison

Thursday, June 13, 2013

James Cotton Is A Cotton Mouth Man

In 1953, James Cotton entered the Sun Studios in Memphis to make his first recordings. 60 years later, Alligator has just issued Cotton’s latest, Cotton Mouth Man. The title song was a number that Tom Hambridge and Richard Fleming wrote that Cotton liked and he got together with them and they wrote a number of new songs many based around Cotton’s life. These comprise almost all of this album that Hambridge produced in Nashville. In addition to Cotton’s regular band of Darrell Nulisch on vocals, Tom Holland on guitar, Noel Neal on bass and Jerry Porter, Hambridge brought in as guests Joe Bonamassa, Gregg Allman, Keb Mo, Warren Haynes, Ruthie Foster, Delbert McClinton and Colin Linden with Chuck Leavell playing keyboards on much of this. Its been about two decades since Cotton lost his singing voice, so he is relegated to the harp here.

The title track is a warp-speed boogie with Cotton wailing on harmonica with Joe Bonamassa ripping off a solo as Nulisch sings about Cotton’s harp does all of his talking while Hambridge hammers away mechanically on drums (he plays better elsewhere). Midnight Train, opens with Cotton hoarsely speaking “Midnight Train to Mississippi,” and then comes off as an amplified Sonny Terry, while Chuck Leavell’s keyboards fit in with Cotton’s band. Gregg Allman takes the vocal on what is a straight train blues about the whistle blowing and his baby going away. Keb Mo has a strong vocal on Mississippi Mud, slow blues where Cotton’s harp and Leavell’s piano stand out.. 

The lyric of He Was There, traces Cotton’s career from recording to Sun and moving to Chicago with Cotton’s band augmented by Leavell wailing behind a fine vocal from Nulisch. Warren Haynes sings and adds driving blues-rock slide guitar for the rocking Something For Me which is followed by Ruthie Foster singing the lyric on the excellent Wrapped Around My Heart. Nulisch is terrific as Cotton and band revive Muddy Waters’ Bird Nest On The Ground

Keb Mo returns to sing over the low-key backing on Wasn’t My Time To Go. This is a song about Cotton outliving his parents and siblings, as well as surviving a crazed gun man at a Chicago bus stop, with a refrain that so as long as Cotton can still blow, it ain’t his time to go. After the driving Blues Is Good For You, Cotton backed solely by Colin Linden’s resonator guitar, delivers the whiskey soaked vocal (not far removed from talking) on the closing Bonnie Blue

As displayed on Cotton Mouth Man, James Cotton, and his harmonica, remains a formidable performer and is well-served by this varied and exciting recording.

I received by review copy from Alligator. Here is a clip of Mr. Superharp in performance.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Frank Wess and Magic 101

Veteran Tenor Saxophonist Frank Wess was 89 when he recorded Magic 101 that has just been issued on IPO Recordings. On this he is accompanied by another jazz veteran, the remarkable Kenny Barron piano along with bassist Kenny Davis and drummer Winard Harper. With this superb band, Wess weaves his magic (a bad pun but it is Wess' nickname) over a program of standards, mostly ballads. 

From the opening moments of Irving Berlin’s Say It Isn’t So, to the last lingering notes of Duke Ellington’s All Too Soon, Wess plays with warmth and imagination while Barron mixes deft restraint with energetic solos while Davis and Harper deftly push things along. Harper is especially wonderful with his use of brushes at times as well as pushing things along crisply when appropriate. But Wess is the heart and soul of the music here. Both Lester Young and Ben Webster, two of his main influences, always thought about the lyrics of the songs they played, and on the lovely The Very Thought of You, Wess shows just how well he learned this lesson. Harper’s deft cymbal work embellishes Barron’s lovely solo here as well.

Wess’ own Pretty Lady is a lovely ballad followed an exquisite rendition of Come Rain or Come Shine. After another lovely reworking of a standard, Easy Living, Barron provides a bit of sophisticated blues piano to introduce Blue Monk, with Wess’ tenor contributing to the late hours feel of a blues-drenched performance of this jazz classic. The set closes with an unaccompanied rendition of Duke Ellington’s All Too Soon, which the Duke wrote as a feature for Ben Webster, that exhibits the full breadth of the warmth and tone of Frank Wess. 

Bret Primark entitled an upload of Wess performing Lush Life with his Washington DC high school classmate, the late Dr. Billy Taylor, “When Frank Wess Plays a Ballad, Ben Webster Smiles.” The wonderful Magic 101 has much that will make us (and would make Ben Webster) smile.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the youtube clip I referred to in my review.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Lisa Biales Singing Her Soul

Lisa Biales has a new recording out on Big Song Music, Singing My Soul. The Ohio based singer, songwriter and guitarist is backed Cincinnati-based pianist Ricky Nye (who also produced the album) and the Paris Blues Band who includes Thibaut Chopin on upright bass, Anthony Stelmaszack on guitar and Simon “Shuffle” Boyer on drums.

This is a change in pace for her as nine of the ten songs on this are interpretations of vintage material in contrast to her originals. Biales interprets songs associated with Blu Lu Barker, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Sippie Wallace and others. Opening is her straight cover of Barker’s peppy A Little Bird Told Me, followed by her rendition of Sister Rosetta Tharpe’s Strange Things Happening Every Day, likely the most familiar song here.

Biales roots includes country as well as blues as indicated by the lovely bluegrass-infused rendition of Mississippi John Hurt’s Let the Mermaid’s Flirt With Me, with fiddle and mandolin in the backing. Hey country-based singing also lends a nice flavor to Sippie Wallace’s bawdy You Got To Know How. Magic Garden is the only original here and her honey-sounding performance benefits from Doug Hamilton’s violin and Bill Littleford’s guitar. A lovely reading of Careless Love is followed by an evocative I Only Have Eyes For You (modeled on The Flamingo’s hit) with Nye and Stelmaszack playing tastefully behind her. Biales has played Patsy Cline onstage and Write Me In Care of the Blues, was a song she uncovered researching the part, and she certainly does wonderfully on this traditional country gem. The recording closes with the title track, another Sister Rosetta Tharpe composition, that Lisa and the band provide a crisp reading.

Lisa Biales is an appealing singer who brings a mix of roots influences to Singing My Soul, a delightful, if not earthshaking recording of old school country, swing and blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of Lisa performing Magic Garden.

Sunday, June 09, 2013

Sista Monica at the 2013 Tinner Hill Blues Festival-1997

The annual Tinner Hill Blues Festival was at Cherry Hill Park in the City of Falls Church, Virginia for a full afternoon of blues. 

Perhaps the highlight for me was Sista Monica Parker and her band that included the DC area's marvelous Deanna Bogart on saxophone. Sista Monica Parker is aA vocalist with power and nuance, she can caress a lyric before belting out her heartbreak or defiance. Mix in her ability to communicate with the audience in introducing her songs and her excellent band with Danny B on keyboards, and one has one superb blues performance.

Pearl Bailes, Eleanor Ellis and Gina DeSimone of the Acoustic Blues Women
It was a day of marvelous blues which opened with acoustic blues by Sheryl Warner and the Southside Housewreckers (Greg Kimball on guitar and Rick Manson on harmonica) and The Acoustic Blues Woman (Eleanor Ellis and Gina DeSimone on guitars, Pearl Bailes on harmonica and Pat Quinn on bass) both providing lively versions of classic blues from the twenties and thirties. Roy Bookbinder played a mix of classics from Gary Davis and Pink anderson as well as originals in the style of early ragtime influenced blues.
Beverly 'Guitar' Watkins
The mood got electric with Albert White and Beverly 'Guitar' Watkins representing the Music Maker Relief Foundation with Sol Roots on bass. White is a very soulful performer on his own and did a couple songs before Ms. Watkins, whose career extends over 50 years told her she was back in business. Besides her guitar theatrics, one of the highlight's was her rendition of Roy Lee Johnson's "Mr. Moonlight" which some will be familiar from The Beatles cover. Johnson and her were members of Piano Red's Band (I believe it was known as Dr. Feelgood & the Interns at the time), and still play together at times.

Next up was Sista Monica who I already have raved about. After Monica, Daryl Davis came on the pump some boogie woogie, blues and rock and roll. Chris Polk was with him on guitar and Deanna Bogart joined Daryl for his set as Daryl showed why he is a "Boogie Woogie Man," and even channeled Chuck Berry in his set (Daryl is Chuck's East Coast pianist).

Chris Polk on guitar and Daryl Davis
The only mis-booking was Mary Ann Redmond whose set only gave a nod to blues, although she is a fine singer and her band with guitarist Dan Hovey is excellent. Just that it was not blues. The day closed with Big Bill Morganfield channeling his legendary father Muddy Waters with some fabulous blues opening with "Blow Wind Blow Wind," and included "Hootchie Kootchie Man." His band included two harmonica players. It ended a fabulous day of music. I was pleased to volunteer at this festival which has one of the strongest blues line-ups in the Mid-Atlantic region. Congratulations to Nikki and Ed Henderson, the moving forces behind the Tinner Hill Foundation and the Festival.

Saturday, June 08, 2013

Phil Wiggins and the Chesapeake Sheiks

It was a wonderful evening at the State Theatre in Falls Church Virginia last night as the Tinner Hill Blues Festival kicked off with a terrific evening of acoustic blues headlined by John Hammond.

Opening was Phil Wiggins and the Chesapeake Sheiks which surprised and delighted with a performance that included some gypsy jazz inflected swing as well as blues. What a terrific set of material that included Duke Ellington's "Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me," the standard "Rosetta" that is best associated with Earl 'Fatha' Hines and "Roberta," which was one of the great tunes that Phil did with John Cephas.

The excellent band included Matt Kelley on guitar, Marcus Moore on violin, Eric Shranek on bass and Ian Walters on piano. It was a refreshing set and when I asked about whether this showed a bit of the late Howard Armstrong's influence after the show, Phil mentioned he had done some of this material with the late West Virginia performer, Nat Reese.

Roy Bookbinder was marvelous with his wry humor, wonderful guitar playing (one of Reverend Gary Davis' students) and John Hammond conjured up Robert Johnson, John Lee Hooker and Big Joe Williams in a fabulous set.

I should mention that I am a volunteer with this wonderful festival that continues today at Cherry Hill Park.