Monday, December 15, 2014

Buddy Tate Is A Texas Tenor

Buddy Tate was both a band mate of, and successor to, fellow Texas tenor saxophonist Herschel Evans. Both had played together in Troy Floyd’s Band and when Evans passed away at a young age, Tate was called to replace him in the Count Basie Band. Like Evans, Tate had a big sound drenched in the blues and like Evans, his playing contrasted with Lester Young. His playing was typical of what has become known as the Texas Tenor sound which includes such other masters as Illinois Jacquet and Arnett Cobb. After leaving Basie in 1949, Tate had a lengthy career leading his own Celebrity Club band in Harlem as well as extensively touring Europe. By the time the Sackville album, that Delmark recently reissued “Texas Tenor,” was recorded in 1978, many artists would travel as single artists and hook up with local rhythm sections. In the present case, Tate was hooked up with the terrific rhythm section of pianist Wray Downes, bassist Dave Young and drummer Pete Magadini for a session of ballads and standards.

This is a wonderful date full of swing and some marvelous ballad playing. The opening tunes “June Night” and “Someday Sweetheart” are swinging renditions of numbers that were popular in Tate’s youth. The latter number was recorded by Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver, although Tate’s version is more modern rhythmically than the versions by those pioneering jazz artists. “If You Could See Me Know” is a wonderful rendition of Tadd Dameron’s ballad displaying the warmth and tenderness generally characteristic of Tate with the rhythm section providing a light touch. The rhythm is hotter on the fine rendition of “I’ll Remember April,” with Downes adding some nice latin accents.

Tate is heard on clarinet on a bluesy take on “Georgia on My Mind,” followed by some somewhat breathy tenor on “Alone Together.” His swinging, nuanced tenor throughly delights on “Bye Bye Blackbird,” where his swinging, nuanced playing thoroughly delights. This Delmark reissue of the Sackville release includes two previously unissued selections, a lovely rendition of the Ellington-Strayhorn collaboration “Isfahan” (Tate evokes later day Ben Webster here), and “Lullaby of the Leaves” which provides another example of his clarinet playing with a woody, bluesy flavor.

Supported by a rhythm section, Tate is terrific throughout the marvelous “Texas Tenor.”

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is Tate doing the classic ballad "Blue and Sentimental."

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Freddy Cole's Singing the Blues

There is an appealing weariness in Freddy Cole’s treatment of a Bobby Bland recording “This Time I’m Gone For Good,” that is on  his new High Note album, “Singing the Blues,” On this release, Cole handles classic blues themes and some originals that also include mournful ballads. Simply singing here, he is accompanied by John Di Martino on piano, Harry Allen on tenor sax, Randy Napoleon on guitar Elias Bailey on bass and Curtis Boyd on drums with Theresa Hightower sharing vocals on two of the eleven songs.

Derrick Lucas’ liner notes note that the music on this recording reflects the era in which Cole grew up that was “the final generation of African-Americans to view the blues as their own popular music and culture,” and the renditions contained “reflect the elegance of the blues represented by Charles Brown, Percy Mayfield, Amos Milburn and Ivory Joe Hunter and of course, Freddy’s brother Nat.”

It is 50 years ago when Freddy Cole recorded his first album that contained a rendition of Freddie Spruell’s “Muddy Water Blues.” His current rendition begins this CD in a very appealing manner. A real highlight is the rendition of “Goin’ Down Slow,” which reflects the Oliver Nelson-Stanley Turrentine rendition of the song that is set to the groove of Percy Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation.” Allen’s marvelous tenor sax and Napoleon’s fleet guitar evokes memories of Charles Brown’s terrific 1990s group with the late Clifford Solomon and Danny Caron. Another song that captures this ambiance is brother Nat’s “My Mother Told Me” with terrific short solos from Allen and Napoleon.

Cole’s relaxed vocal is matched with Theresa Hightower’s vivacious one of “All We Need Is a Place” about getting it on to snuggle and more. Cole penned the original blues that lends the album its title as he warns this girl she will be singing the blues one of these mornings, she will be miserable and while he won’t be happy, Freddy will feel great. “The Ballad of the Sad Young Men” is a moody lament about sad young men drifting through their lives while growing. Allen’s tenor adds to the melancholy of the performance.

Steve Allen’s “An Old Piano Plays the Blues” closes this album with Allen’s tenor again complementing Cole’s mournful vocal along with a deftly played solo from Di Martino. Freddy Cole’s “Singing the Blues” indeed captures the sophisticated eloquence of the blues of late forties and early fifties. Not simply Freddy Cole’s fans, but fans of the late Charles Brown and his contemporaries should enjoy this recording of late night blues and ballads.

I received my review copy from High Note Records.  Here Freddy Cole is performing Muddy Water Blues.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Charles Davis For the Love of Lori

With a six decade career that includes associations with such iconic artists as Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Sun Ra, Ben Webster, Kenny Dorham, Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, Illinois Jacquet, Freddie Hubbard, Johnny Griffin, Ahmad Jamal, John Coltrane, Clifford Jordan, Cedar Walton, Sam Jones, Billy Higgins and countless others, Charles Davis has not recorded as frequently as a leader as his talent as a saxophonist, composer and arranger merited. Perhaps best known as a baritone saxophonist, he is on tenor sax on his new recording “For the Love of Lori” (Reade Street Records). On this session he is joined by a superb band that includes pianist Rick Germanson; trumpeter Joe Magnarelli, trombonist Steve Davis; bassist David Williams and drummer Neil Smith.

The Lori, on the beautiful title track, is his late wife Lori Samet-Davis who passed away and the beautiful ballad is one way of his coping with the loss. His wife’s passing was not the only loss Davis suffered as his long-time musical collaborator, Cedar Walton, was supposed to be on this recording but passed away prior to the September 2013 recording date so Rich Germanson replaced him while Walton’s long-time bassist Williams helps anchor this album along with the marvelous drummer, Neil Smith.

The wonderful opening selection “Beques” displays the authority of the ensemble, whether soling or playing as an ensemble. Davis’ arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “What’ll I Do?” provides a lazy feel and after Davis states the theme on tenor, Magnarelli mades judicious use of a mute before Steve Davis masterful solo which is one of the album’s many pleasures. Julian Priester’s “Juliano” is a bright swinger as Steve Davis swings gruffly followed by Magnarelli’s forceful trumpet that segues into the leader’s robust tenor as the rhythm section pushes the performance along (Germanson takes a well conceived solo as well). It is followed by the leader’s salute to Kenny Dorham, “KD” that spotlights Magnarelli’s lyrical and driving playing.

Charles Davis warmth, strength and lyricism as a ballad player is evident on the title track while Smith’s drumming is wonderful in adding embellishments under the solos and the ensemble portions. In addition to his wonderful playing, Germanson contributed the arrangement for the first-rate hard bop rendition of Cedar Walton’s “Cedar’s Blues,” which also allows him to stretch out with the first solo over Williams walking bass line and Smith’s subtle rhythmic accents. The closing “I'll Be Seeing You” is a nicely paced and wistful rendition of this standard.

From the loss of his soul mate and a close friend, Charles Davis has found the strength to bring together the excellent band and music that makes “For The Love of Lori” such a delightful and marvelous hard bop recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Charles Davis in performance.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold

Produced by Duke Robillard, Billy Boy Arnold’s new Stony Plain recording “The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold” has him performing songs he has long loved along with originals, early R&B songs, blues/jazz standards and some rare soul gems. Arnold’s vocals and harmonica are backed by Robillard’s guitar and band with Bruce Bears on keyboards, Brad Hallen on bass and Mark Teixeira’s drums with a horn section of regular Robillard associates Rich Lataille, Mark Earley and Doug Wooverton.

Arnold can be an effective vocalist but with some exceptions, including a compelling West Side Chicago blues-styled remake of B.B. King’s “Worried Dream” (with some great Robillard guilt), and the classic Chicago blues shuffle groove of Arnold’s original “What’s on the Menu Mama,” most of this is simply pleasant. Arnold’s use of harp on an old Mack Rice soul classic “Coal Man” gives it a different flavor, but his limited range and simple vocal style doesn't render a strong impression on the old Eddie Miller classic “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” or “Nat Adderly’s “Work Song” (with Oscar brown’s lyrics). These are not bad performances, but there are many better recordings of “Muddy Water” (thinking Lou Rawls and Carmen Bradford) and Gregory Porter has placed his stamp on “Work Song.”

There is a nice variety of material and Duke has provided solid settings for Arnold’s singing with solid playing by all including nice slide guitar from Duke on “99 LBs.”  Bears plays some rollicking piano on ”Muddy Water,” and displays a jazzy touch on “St. James Infirmary.” Arnold adds nice harp throughout in his distinctive style and the ensemble give a touch of Southern Soul in the backing for the remakes of “Coal Man” and Joe Tex’s still relevant topical song “A Mother’s Prayer.” They also do a solid job in backing Arnold on a nicely done Ray Charles cover, “Don’t Set Me Free” 

The Blues Soul of Billy Boy Arnold" is an enjoyable recording with a couple of stand-out selections.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is Billy Boy from several decades ago strongly singing a Jimmy McCracklin classic.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Chris Smither Is Still On The Levee

Still on the Levee” (Homunculus Music/Mighty Albert) is a double disc retrospective of Chris Smither’s 50 odd year career in new June 2013 recordings. Smither is a singer-songwriter whose performances and songs have a Dylanesque flavor as well as deep blues roots in his direct finger style guitar playing. As Charlie Hunter, his former co-manager observes, Smither’s guitar style is 1/3 Mississippi John Hurt, 1/3 Lightnin’ Hopkins and 1/3 himself.

The two CDs cover a pretty wide range of songs by Smither and display his position as a significant composer and lyricist. There is the wistfulness of "Song of Susan" to a fine original blues "Another Way To Find You" that evokes Robert Johnson riffs with a heartfelt vocal and strong harmonica backing. Allen Toussaint adds his piano to "Train Home" that lends a slightly different flavor behind Smither's vocal as he waits for a train to take him home.

Smither's gravelly vocals have a restrained quality that adds to the appeal. "Lola" is a bluesy folk number with exceptional lyrics and restrained rollicking piano backing. "Shillin' For the Blues,” which features members of Morphine, has interesting backing including softly recorded baritone sax by Dana Colley. Loudon Wainwright III joins Smithers on the lively "What They Say."

With his world weary vocals and the deft, but restrained, accompaniment, it is no wonder that Smither's "Can't Shake These Blues" Produced by David Goodrich (who plays on much of this), “Still on the Levee” is a recording that showcases this remarkable singer-songwriter as he considers some of his favorite and most memorable songs.

I received this from a publicist. Here he performs in concert "Love You Like a Man."

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Billy Branch Blues Shock

It has been years since Billy Branch’s last recording, a Japanese CD shared with guitarist Carlos Johnson, a decade ago. Thankfully Blind Pig has issued a new release by Branch and the Sons of the Blues, “Blues Shock,” that is a thoroughly entertaining, wonderfully played recording that showcases Branch’s heartfelt singing and songwriting on an imaginative, varied program. He is joined by Dan Carelli on guitar, Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi on keyboards, Nick Charles on bass and Moses Rutles Jr. on drums (and one vocal). Ronnie Baker Brooks guests on one track on guitar and vocal and the Chicago Horns led by Bill McFarland add punch to three tracks.

There is plenty of funk, down home groves and stellar musicianship. The CD opens with “Sons of the Blues” penned by Branch and poet Sterling Plumpp, on which Branch sings “some people don’t know my name because all they got is a very weak game, I am the son of the blues (2x).” Set against a strutting funk groove Branch lets us know he “is the man who makes the news” before blasting off a fiery harp solo set against the punchy horns. It’s followed by Branch picking up the chromatic for a terrific cover of “Crazy Mixed Up World,” which would make up Little Walter smile, especially his solo and special note should be made of the contributions Carelli and Ariyoshi provide with their fills in supporting the lead.

The title track is a punchy number built over Carelli’s slide guitar riff with the horns with Branch singing about a feeling coming over, it ain’t pneumonia or the flu, but its a crazy, funky feeling one can’t shake, the “Blues Shock.” It’s followed by the amusing “Dog House” as Branch and Brooks sing sleeping on the couch and the spouse leaving kibbles and bits for dinner. After this wonderfully paced performance, there is a straight cover of Shorty Long’s early Motown groover, “Function at the Junction” followed by the disc’s most remarkable performance, “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time,” about Gerri Olivier who owned the legendary Palm Tavern in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood for about 50 years. The Palm was a legendary place near the Regal Theatre and Branch recounts her coming from Jackson, Mississippi as part of the Great Migration and celebrates the Palm and the many legends who performed there before the Palm was torn down a few years back. There is a definite country-soul flavor to this remarkable performance that serves as a tribute to a remarkable lady.

Ariyoshi contributed the instrumental “Back Alley Cat” which allows Branch to showcase his harp set against Ariyoshi’s rolling piano. A rousing boogie rendition of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” is followed by Moses Rutles Jr.’s amusing vocal on”Slow Moe” highlighted by Rutles almost stuttering vocal and effective use of stop time by the band. Branch’s lyric about Slow Moe taking his time, as well as being built to last is supported by some superb harp in his backing. “Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn” is a burning shuttle with an amusing lyric (I’ll keep on churning till that butter comes”) and rollicking piano and harmonica solos.

An instrumental “Song For My Mother” closes this recording exhibiting his marvelous tone as well as his construction of his solo. It concludes one of the most stimulating recent blues recordings. “Blues Shock” mixes a variety of material and moods and will make one laugh as well as listen to Branch’s storytelling here along with some stunning musicianship.

I received my review copy from Blind Pig Records. Here is a video of "Blues Shock.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Linsey Alexander - Come Back Baby

I found Linsey Alexander’s first Delmark album, “Been There Done That” to be “the most impressive blues recording which is one of the finer blues albums I have heard this year (2012).” Now Delmark has issued his follow-up “Come Back Baby!” which has the singer and guitarist joined by a band that includes guitarist Breezy Rodio; keyboards from Roosevelt Purifoy, bassist Greg McDaniel and drummer Pooky Styx with Bill McFarland leading a horn section and Billy Branch contributing harmonica to three selections.

The album opens with “Little Bit of Soap,” one of two songs Alexander did not write. This is a terrific performance as he sings about washing this women out of his life with a great vocal and guitar that brings to mind seventies B.B. King. The album is at its best with his soulful vocals and clever lyrics. The playing behind him is strong and the one criticism I have on several selections would be the buzzsaw guitar tone on several selections including that heard on the intense original “I Got A Woman.” Perhaps the tone is supposed to match the intensity of his vocal her as he tears into the lyric of his woman being more woman than he will every need. The tone detracts from fully enjoying the fiery solo here. This tone is also employed on the reworking of “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” that provides a new arrangement for the Otis Rush classic recording. An excellent slow blues “Too Old To Be A New Fool” showcases some searing guitar with a cleaner tone along with superb chromatic harmonica from Branch.

Alexander’s wit is displayed on the shuffle “Call My Wife,” on which he wants his wife to open the door for poor Linsey, who is so drunk he lost he car and car keys. Billy Branch channels Rice Miller mixed with Walter Horton with some exquisite harmonica on this. Alexander is also known as “The Hootchie Man” as reflected in his funky dance number “Booty Call.” “Things Done Changed” has a serious lyric as Alexander as recalls Jim Crow days, segregated bus stations and buses and the like, set against horn riffs and a solid electric piano solo by the remarkable Purifoy (he also played a strong solo on “Booze and Blues’), followed by strong, stinging guitar.

Despite this writer's reservations on the guitar tone on several tracks (and others will disagree), “Come Back Baby" is a strongly performed recording that exhibits plenty of fire from Alexander with his fervent singing and searing guitar.

I received my review copy copy from Delmark Records. Here is the opening “Little Bit of Soap.”

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Don Pullen's Richard's Tune

A welcome re-release by Delmark from the Sackville label is Don Pullen’s Richard’s Tune. Originally released in 1975 as “Solo Piano Album,” the album takes its title from the title track which was dedicated to Muhal Richard Abrams. Pullen first attracted attention as a member of the “New Thing” with recordings for ESP, but later was working in rhythm and blues. He worked with such perfomers as Big Maybelle, Ruth Brown, Irene Reid, Arthur Prysock and Nina Simone before joining Charles Mingus for what is considered the bassist's last great band along with drummer Danny Richmond and saxophonist George Adams. After Mingus death, he would form a quartet with Adams and Richmond.

The five compositions performed on Richard's Tune, (including two takes of Big Alice), illustrate what Stuart Boomer describe in his liner notes as “a lyric historicism, a capacity to invoke the past in the light of the absolute present and presence, drawing at will on the history of jazz and its still potent roots in blues and gospel.” This aspect is evident on the title selection which ranges from the post-Monk piano tradition (some evokes Randy Weston to these ears) and includes a brief dense, percussive segment that mixes with the general lyricism of much of his playing on this. His playing here  also illustrates his precise touch.

The longest selection is a dedication to Malcolm X Suite (Sweet) Malcolm (Part : Memories and Gunshots), a number that, with elegance, lyricism and passion, mixes Pullen's gospel and soul roots with percussive free passages for a musical tour de force. It is followed by Big Alice, a bouncy number with a rhythm and blues underpinning. Boomer notes that this was rare sideman original that Mingus would perform with his group and here it is a joyous performance with its almost New Orleans feel . Song Played Backwards is played in reverse of the note sequence that Pullen composed. It is densest and most percussive performance on this rerelease.

Don Pullen passed away in April, 1975 at the age of only 53. Delmark is to be thanked for making Richard’s Song readily available again as it is a buoyant, passionate display of Don Pullen’s piano mastery and marvelous compositions.

I received my review copy from Delmark.

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Erin Harpe & the Delta Swingers' Love Whip Blues

The Delta Swing is a fine original as Harpe calls listeners out to go swinging from Cambridge to Memphis. It is played with a relaxed groove and features strong harmonica. The rendition of Willie Brown’s Future Blues exhibits the tight ensemble playing supporting Harpe’s vocal although some might find the tempo a bit fast here. Bob Margolin’s slide guitar enhances the fine reworking of Lucille Bogan's The M&O Blues. Good Luck Baby is an original with a bit of reggae flavor.

There is jaunty adaptation of an old William Moore recording, One Way Man, followed by a similarly buoyant rendition of Pick Poor Robin Clean. That was originally waxed by Virginia songster Luke Jordan. Gross adds a mandolin solo and Countryman taking a bass break here. After the call to the dance floor of Virtual Booty Blues, the Delta Swingers perform Charles River Delta Blues, a lovely rendition of William Brown’s Mississippi Blues. This William Brown (solely recorded by Alan Lomax) is a different individual than the Willie Brown of Future Blues who is best known for an association with Son House and Robert Johnson.
Erin Harpe & Jim Countryman performing at the Archie Edwards Blues Heritage Foundation
A solid rendition of John Prine’s Angel of Montgomery closes out this most enjoyable recording. Listening to Love Whip Blues, one appreciates why this group has been developing a large following around Boston. In fact, they won the Boston Blues Society’s Blues Battle and will be competing in Memphis at the 2015 International Blues Challenge. One certainly expects more will be heard from them.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here are they performing a lovely rendition of Charles River Delta Blues from that same performance. After that is a duet performance of that song by Erin and Jim Countryman at an Archie Edwards Blue Heritage Foundation concert.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Mississippi Heat Sends Out A Warning Shot

Pierre Lacocque's Mississippi Heat have a new release on Delmark, Warning Shot, that will be welcomed by the band's fans and likely make new fans from listeners. Lacocque’s leadership along with his songwriting and marvelous harmonica playing (Charlie Musselwhite is quoted calling it tasty and brilliant) is joined by one of the most underrated vocalists in the blues, Inetta Visor; vocals and guitar from Michael Dotson; guitar from Giles Corey; bass from Brian Quinn; and a vocal from Kenny Smith who shares the drum chair with Andrew Thomas. Former band member Carl Weathersby is on guitar on a couple tracks, Neal O’Hara is on keyboards, Ruben Alvarez is on percussion and Sax Gordon handles the saxophones.

The opening Sweet Poison is an imaginative original, built upon the Elmore James broom dusting riff with Lacocque's fine harp riding over Dotson’s crisp slide playing. The band pushes the groove behind a superb vocal from Visor. Years ago she might have been described as a moaner as opposed to a  shouter, but her nuanced singing is thoroughly a delight. You get a sense of the vivacious quality of her performances listening to her, but the joy she has singing is evident when one sees Heat live (or on the band’s Live DVD “One Eye Open, Live at Rosa’s” on Delmark). Sweet Poison is followed by the rollicking “Alley Cat Boogie” with pumping piano from O’Hara and an exuberant vocal from Visor.

An original Come To Mama sports Caribbean rhythms (handled by Thomas) while Corey takes the guitar lead sounding like he’s playing through a Leslie amp. Gordon takes a tough tenor sax solo, while Lacocque’s solo suggests some of Walter Horton’s playing (thinking of Horton’s take La Cucaracha). More terrific harp along with Corey’s jazzy guitar is heard behind Visor’s moving singing on a reworking of a Ruth Brown recording, I Don’t Know. Dotson takes a capable vocal on Yeah Now Baby with its North Hills Country meets Muddy Waters rhythms.   

Birthday Song, is a funky, buoyant original that provides blues and soul revival bands with an alternative to the standard birthday song. Corey is in a Santana mode here with Gordon and Lacocque riffing in support. Dotson’s guitar lead on his bouncy rocker, Swingy Dingy Baby evokes the late Texas guitarist Cal Valentine. Too Sad To Wipe Way The Tears has a low-key backing with terrific Lacocque’s harp in a Sonny Boy Williamson II manner. Dotson’s restrained slide playing is exceptional. 

Set against a crisp shuffle groove and Gordon’s one-man sax section, the instrumental rendition of Your Cheating Heart  showcases Lacocque’s wonderful harp. Gordon takes a booting solo on this. A Part of Special a funky Visor original whose  backing vocal chorus, the horn arrangements (and a sax solo that would have King Curtis smiling) and a terrific vocal suggests some classic 70s Aretha Franklin (she is really good here). 

The terrific Warning Shot features tight ensemble playing (one of the things that Lacocque has always focused on with this band), excellent new original material, interpretations of songs that have not been recorded a zillion times, strong solos and the wonderful blues and soul vocals of Inetta Visor. 

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. For those near Washington DC, Mississippi Heat is at Madam's Organ on Friday October 17. Here is a video of Mississippi Heat performing.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Evergreen Class Jazz Band Plays Early Tunes

Delmark's latest releases include a re-release of Jump Records Early Tunes 1915-1932 by The Evergreen Classic Jazz Band. Originally issued in 1995, this CD has them rendering  interpretations of songs from the mid-nineteen teens until the early thirties. This Seattle ensemble is led by Tom Jacobus who plays brass bass (tuba) and string bass; and includes Craig Flory and Jake Powel on reeds; David Holo on cornet; David Loomis on trombones, kazoo and vocals; Dan Grinstead on piano; Al LaTourette on banjo; and Dale Roach on drums.

The brief notes on the back cover note that many of these performances were originally done by larger ensembles, but the Evergreen Classic Jazz Band (particularly Jacobus) have arrangements of these for the octet. This is a nicely performed traditional jazz album with an effort to evoke the sound and feel of such bands as Jimmy Noone, Erskine Tate, King Oliver and His Dixie Serenaders and Tiny Parham. There is plenty of spirit to be heard in the classicist approach they have starting with the exuberance of the opening Stomp Off, Let’s Go, to the swinging rendition of an early Bennie Moten recording Ding Ding Blues.

There is the twenties Oriental exoticism of Tiny Parham’s On the Bay of Old Bombay, with nice cornet from Holo, who may be overall the most consistent, and least dated sounding solicit here. The reeds of Flory and Powel are displayed to good effect on the lovely rendition of Jimmy Noone’s Apex Blues. The vocals on a King Oliver recording Got Everything are pretty corny (think about Rudy Vallee on a megaphone) but the plunger mute playing is solid. Loomis’ gutbucket trombone is a counterpoint to Powel’s soprano sax on Sidney Bechet’s Blues in the Air, which is followed by a lively performance of Fats Waller’s Minor Drag.

The rendition of the Joplin/Marshall Swipesy Cake Walk is in a classic ragtime orchestra vein (think about Joplin’s “Red Back Book’), while  Grinstead does a solo rendition of the Joe Jordan rag Nappy Lee. The novelty  Play Me a Frigid Air, has a dead pan vocal of the somewhat inane lyrics and followed by a strutting rendition of Stock Yards Strut. This was perhaps trumpeter Freddie Keppard’s most famous recording. It is played with stop time effects and a nice clarinet solo. Folks will know She’s Funny That Way from the classic Billie Holiday recording (He’s Funny …). The rendition here employs Jimmie Noone’s arrangement with  lovely playing although a forgettable vocal.

Other remakes include a lesser known Louis Armstrong Hot Five recording Put ‘Em Down Blues and a solid rendition of Duke Ellington’s Ring Dem Blues, although Powel’s bass sax solo sounds a bit awkward. This a pleasant traditional jazz recording with a number of vibrant performances. Those who enjoy this should check out the Delmark recordings of the youthful contemporary Chicago ensemble, The Fat Babies.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a 2014 performance of Stomp Off, Let’s Go.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Lucky Peterson - I’m Back Again

Blues Boulevard’s new Lucky Peterson album I’m Back Again is a release of music from the excellent DVD/CD set on BlackbirdMusic/ Soulfood by The Lucky Peterson Band Featuring Tamara Peterson Live At The 55 Arts Club. The eleven performances on this release are available on the DVDs and the CDs of the earlier set, but are limited to those that featured Lucky and not the others which featured Tamara. Lucky’s backing band included Shawn Kellerman on guitar, Tim Waites on bass and Raul Valdes on drums. It is a hard-rocking, tight band that did a fine job supporting Lucky (heard on organ as well as guitar).

I wrote, reviewing the DVD/CD set, “The material ranges from Lucky’s reworking of blues classics such as You Shook Me, I’m Ready, and Who’s Been Talking, along with Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s Ta’ Ta’ You. He takes out the slide for Dust My Broom, while getting really greasy on the B-3 on I’m Back Again, as well as Rico McFarland’s Giving Me The Blues. Listening to these performances again, my views haven’t changed.

Those having Live At The 55 Arts Club, will have no reason to buy this fine reissue, but others may want to get this strong sampling of Lucky Peterson (and his excellent band) today.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Lucky performing Who’s Been Talking, although from a different performance.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

How Long How Long Blues

Today's blog is devoted to simply presenting a number of renditions of a song most associated with Leroy Carr, How Long, How Long Blues. This was a major hot for Carr and became one of the true blues classics.

First up is Carr's original recording

Second is Tampa Red although I wish we just had the music, not the video and audio of a 78 playing.

Ida Cox's How Long Daddy speaks about that southbound train. It predates Carr's recording. Cox was one of the early blues greatest talents.

Kokomo Arnold also did a terrific rendition of this

Let us not forget some superb instrumental piano renditions including Count Basie

And no instrumemntal rendition touches me as much as that by the great Jimmy Yancey.

A year before he died, Jimmy Yancey did this with Mama Yancey singing wonderfully

Carr' song was a favorite of blues shouters like Jimmy Rushing, Jimmy Witherspoon and Big Joe Turner. Here is the Boss of the Blues singing it from the essential album The Boss of the Blues Sings Kansas City Jazz.

Other singer-pianists have done including Memphis Slim and Champion Jack Dupree. I have included Dupree's rendition from 1945.

It has been a song that jazz performers have interpreted such as Coleman Hawkins. There is a superb duet performance by Archie Shepp and pianist Horace Parlan on the terrific album Trouble in Mind. Here is Coleman Hawkins.

Among recent blues renditions, I consider the best to be from pianist Butch Thompson and guitarist Pat Donohue. Here is Thompson channeling Jimmy Yancey as I close this blog post.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Cookers Time and Time Again

Of course it is simplistic to describe The Cookers as an band of Hard Bop All Stars, but certainly the music here has its roots in the over 250 years of aggregate experience its members have. With one exception, Donald Harrison replacing Craig Handy on alto sax, the group’s line-up remains the same with Billy Harper on tenor sax, Dr. Eddie Henderson and David Weiss on trumpet; George Cables on piano, Cecil McBee on bass and Billy Hart on drums. The members of The Cookers have experience playing with some of the greatest jazz artists of the past half century including Art Pepper, Dexter Gordon, Lee Morgan, Herbie Hancock, Charles Lloyd, Max Roach, and Art Blakey. Additionally, every member is a leader of their own right as well as being notable composers and players.

Motema Music has issued their fourth CD, Time and Time Again and the album brings forth some vintage compositions such as Billy Harper’s Sir Galahad which was from his 1973 debut album Capra Black, while Cecil McBee contributes two new compositions. Other compositions are from the pens of Cables, Weiss and Hart for a program of music whose vitality is convincing proof that band’s name is deserved on the nine performances heard here

The tone is set with the opening Sir Galahad which opens with some very robust playing from Hart, followed by Weiss, Harrison and Cables. McBee’s original blues Slippin’ and Slidin’ provides a chance for the members to show the continual relevance of the blues with Harper, Weiss and McBee showcased with fine work. Cables Double Or Nothing is another burner with Harrison and Weiss shining before Hart explodes in his solo. It is followed by Cables tribute to the late Mulgrew Miller, Farewell Mulgrew with Weiss’ providing the horns arrangement whose ensemble playing sets the atmosphere for Cables playing being stately and moving. Harper again displays just how riveting a tenor saxophonist he is on Weiss Three Fall followed by the composer’s hot trumpet and terrific support from the rhythm section.

The title track, a Harper original is built upon a bass ostinato from McBee and includes more stirring playing from Harper, Henderson and Cables along with the superb rhythm section. The mix of strong compositions, solid ensemble playing with the superb rhythm section and the mix of technical mastery, passion, imagination and inventiveness make Time and Time Again another outstanding recording by The Cookers.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video related to Sir Galahad and the album.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Corey Harris - Fulton Blues

Corey Harris’ Fulton Blues, originally issued by Corey, has been reissued with a couple of bonus tracks added on Blues Boulevard Records. As noted on his Corey’s website, “Fulton is a community in Richmond, VA that is older than the city itself. From its docks on the James River, the first African captives were marched to the city’s slave market to be sold into bondage. This Black town on the east end of the city endured for more than 300 years until its land was seized and the families living there were forcibly evicted in the name of greed masquerading as progress.”

Fulton Blues presented some new and classic blues songs and “the fourteen songs on the album range from love, loss and longing to celebration, tragedy and triumph.” In addition to Corey Harris vocals, guitar and banjo, others on this recording include Chris ‘Peanut’ Whitley on keyboards; Gordon ‘Saxman’ Jones on saxophones and horn arrangements; Jason “Brother’ Morgan on bass; Ken ‘Trini Jo’ Joseph on drums, Hook Herrera on harmonica and Joshua Achalam on percussion.

This is the first recording I have heard Harris in a urban blues setting as on the opening Crying Blues, a lyric of lonesomeness with Saxman Jones providing simple horn riffs in support. It sounds like he may be playing two saxophones at the same time which may account for the somewhat simplistic horn arrangements. The solo Underground sounds like a blues about the underground railroad with its allusions to the devil being out on in the broad daylight and how the devil broke up the family. With its simple backing that evokes the late Ali Farka Toure, and Harris’ performance here is similarly mesmerizing. A solo original, Black Woman Blues, exhibits a John Lee Hooker-North Mississippi Hills groove.

While Harris is known is best known for his adaptation of delta styled blues, the title track is a start lyric about the now gone community set against a adept Piedmont finger style accompaniment with Herrera adding support. Herrera is also present on Harris’ moving rendition of Skip James’ classic Devil Got My Woman. Harris’ banjo feature, Black Rag is a lively number with lyrics suggestive of Blind Willie McTell’s Kill It Kid Rag, and also sports a nice saxophone break. An insistent R&B styled rendition of Catfish Blues, has strong sax playing. It is followed by a delightful cover of Blind Blake’s That Will Happen No More, and then Lynch Blues with an accompaniment that evokes Cherry Ball Blues, but stark lyrics that open “What do I see hangin’ beneath the tree …” Harris’ deep singing, his repeated guitar riffs and Herrera’s harmonica make for a deeply moving performance.

The original release of Fulton Blues closed with the full band on an instrumental Fat Duck’s Groove, that allowed Harris to display his electric guitar playing with his crisp and clean fretwork. A couple of live performances are bonus tracks that were not included on the original release. Both Better Way and Esta Loco reflect Caribbean influences on Harris, ska on the former and latin on the latter. These are pleasant performances, if not having quite the gravitas of the rest of this CD. Fulton Blues is an impressive recording that illustrates Corey Harris’ ability to revive and invigorate older blues songs and styles. 

I received my copy from the publicist or the record company. I had purchased a copy of the original release. Here is Crying Blues from Fulton Blues.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Nighthawks 444

It has been a couple of years since The Nighthawks had a new recordings and EllerSoul has just issued 444. This is the second CD since drummer Mark Stutso joined original Nighthawk, Mark Wenner (harmonica), Paul Bell (guitar) and Johnny Castle (bass) and is a nice mix of blues and real rock and roll that continues the band’s four decades plus musical journey.

The music is a mix of originals and forgotten musical gems such as The Du Droppers Walk That Walk that kicks this disc off on a rocking groove followed by a solid rendition of the Tracy Nelson-Gary Nicholson Living the Blues that showcases Wenner’s formidable harmonica playing along with the crisp instrumental and vocal backing. Castle wrote 444 A.M. which provided the album with its title with Bell adding some rockabilly touches on his solo (reminiscent of Castle’s one-time employer, Bill Kirchen) on a bit of kick-ass rock and roll. Stutso takes the vocal on the impressive bluesy reworking of You’re Gone, a bluegrass original borrowed from Stutso’s brother-in-law.

Wenner’s Honky Tonk Queen comes off as a cross of early seventies Rolling Stones and honky tonk country followed by the hot rockabilly reworking of Got a Lot of Livin’ from Elvis’ movie Lovin’ You. In contrast the rendition of Crawfish, from the film, King Creole, has a swampy feel. Castle sings High Snakes, a moody lament of lost love, that he co-wrote with Bill Kirchen. Stutso provides a forceful vocal on a Gary Nicholson’s Nothin’ But The Blues. Wenner does a straight cover of the Muddy Waters classic, Louisiana Blues, before the album closes with Castle’s lovely country-folk number Roadside Cross that closes this recording on a different musical tenor.

444 is more of a roots recording with country and rock influences mixed with the band’s blues foundations. Solidly played and performed, the appeal of 444 will extend beyond the band’s existing fans to those who love American roots music.

I purchased this as well as subsequently received a review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of them in performance doing a couple songs from the recording.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

John Mayall - A Special Life

John Mayall returns with his first album in 5 years, “A Special Life” (Forty Below Records) with Rocky Athas on guitar; Greg Rzab on bass and Jay Davenport on drums with C.J. Chenier singing on two tracks and playing accordion on one. There are three new Mayall originals along with one of his older compositions and one by Rzab, to go along with covers of songs from Clifton Chenier, Jimmy Rogers, Eddie Taylor, Sonny Landreth, Albert King, and Jimmy McCracklin.

While one might be hard-pressed to call myself a Mayall follower, I found this recording enjoyable with several real fine performances here. The CD opens with C.J. joining Mayall on a solid rendition of Clifton Chenier’s blues Where Did You Go Last Night.  C.J. plays his piano accordion to go  with Mayall’s piano  on this performance played at such a nice tempo. The rendition of Sonny Landreth’s Speak of the Devil is more in the vein of blues-rock in its execution and Athas’ guitar playing although crisply played is in this vein. Mayall’s cover of Jimmy Rogers classic That’s All Right is taken a bit faster than normal (although not rushed or frantic). Mayall's  harmonica and Athas’ guitar accompaniment are effective in its simplicity and restraint. World Gone Crazy is an original about the madness we experience throughout the world as we are “guilty living in our crazy times.”

Mayall is on lead guitar (and contributes the organ backing) on a cover of Albert King’s Floodin’ In California, and takes a nice solo, if somewhat generic sounding one. He picks up the harmonica as well lay down some rollicking piano on a reworking of Eddie Taylor’s recording of Big Town Playboy (Little Johnny Jones had recorded it first) that is one of the best selections here with its peppy (not frenzied) shuffle groove. The title track is a reflective look back at the good fortune he has enjoyed with a refreshingly understated backing. C.J. Chenier joins to help on the vocal for McCracklin’s I Want To Know. Like a Fool by Athas and Rzab is a nice slow original with Mayall singing that it ain’t right his woman toys with his affections and left him feeling like a fool.

The closing Just a Memory is a wistful Mayall original reflecting about a past love and closes this release on an enjoyable note. John Mayall’s music might not make my best of 2014 list, but there are more than enough pleasures to enjoy in A Special Life.
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the opening track Where Did You Go Last Night. The youtube post includes a link to purchase this on amazon.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Ruthie Foster Sees The Promise of a Brand New Day

Ruthie Foster is one of the most thrilling singers in American vernacular music today. A singer and songwriter with roots in gospel and classic R&B, she has also been embraced by roots and blues audiences for her stirring performances. For her most recent recording Promise of a Brand New Day (Blue Corn Music), she recruited Meshell Ndegeocello to produce it (as well as contribute bass). Ndegeocello observed that she “wanted this album to highlight Ruthie’s voice and also communicate her vibe, give a fuller picture of her artistry and ability. She really trusted me with the music and I think we've made something that complements and holds its own alongside the power of her voice.”

Ndegeocello played bass and enlisted her regular guitarist, Chris Bruce (Sheryl Crow), and keyboardist Jebin Bruni (Aimee Mann), plus drummer Ivan Edwards and backing vocalist Nayanna Holley. Foster did request two special guests: guitarist Doyle Bramhall II and singer Toshi Reagon. Promise of a Brand New Day includes seven songs written or co-written by Foster, most of them “songs with messages—because that’s important to what I do,” she explains. “Maybe that’s from growing up with people like Mavis [Staples] and a lot of strong women who have come before me, who are great singers but also have a message.” Furthermore the other songs themselves are also very strong in this same manner.

Singing the Blues is a strong R&B performance about finding a new home, writing a new song, and finding a rhythm to help her get through things as she keeps singing the blues which never gets old to her. Let Me Know, which features Doyle Bramhall II’s guitar, has a gospel-inflected vocal set against a steady rocking groove which contrasts with the country soul feel of My Kinda Lover. The Ghetto was originally recorded by The Staples Singers with its evocative lyrics that bring inner city life alive while the late Willie King’s Second Coming is a folk-blues protest song noting that they could kill Ruthie’s body but not kill her mind like they could kill John Brown but not his mind. With the simple acoustic guitar backing and spare organ accompaniment it is a powerful performance.

Other remarkable songs include a collaboration with Stax legend William Bell, It Might Not Be Right, about gay love where she notes that it might not be right for some folk, but it is all right for this girl. Other songs include the ballad Learning to Fly, with its memorable line “Everybody knows that a seed must die so a flower must grow” sung with the warmth and genuineness that marks Foster’s singing throughout. After the moving a cappella Brand New Day there is, Complicated Love, a bittersweet song of dealing with difficult times in a relationship.

It has been said that some singers could make reciting the phone book sound good. Ruthie Foster makes one want to recite it with her. Promise of a Brand New Day is simply the latest marvelous chapter in her body of recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is her singing Brand New Day.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

B.B. King: The Life of Riley

B.B. King: The Life of Riley (Emperor Media/MVDVisual) is a documentary film by John Brewer that traces the King of the Blues career from his days growing up as a poor Black in Mississippi to his present iconic musical stature reflected by the countless awards he has received including the Kennedy Center Honors and the Polar Music Prize. The film is narrated by Morgan Freeman and incorporates interview clips from King, childhood acquaintances, music peers, and contemporary rock artists who have been influenced by King’s music, particularly his guitar playing.

The documentary traces Riley King from his very humble beginnings growing up in a plantation economy to his emergence as a major rhythm and blues artist to the period of crossing over and his current status as a musical icon. There are interviews which those who knew B.B. when he was growing up along with folks who played a part in his emerging career including Rufus Thomas, Joe Bihari (who produced so many of B.B.’s greatest recordings for the Modern group of labels) and Robert Lockwood as we get the picture of the plantation youngster who develops his musical skills, becomes a music personality and becomes a consistent recording star while starting a grind of hundreds of touring dates a year that he only is starting to slow down from today.

The film takes us from these humble beginnings to his iconic status today as his crossover from the Chitlin Circuit to the mass market is detailed with discussions of his signing to ABC-Paramount; the recording of The Thrill Is Gone; the performance and recording of Live at Cook County Jail: his participation in the legendary concert associated with the Ali-Foreman Rumble in the Jungle; other recording sessions including those with Leon Russell and members of the Crusaders; and his collaborations with Eric Clapton and U2. In addition to appreciations from a various pop-rock luminaries including Clapton; Dr. John, Bonnie Raitt, Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi; Kenny Wayne Shepard, Carlos Santana, Slash and others, there are a variety of performance clips including some from his appearance on Ralph Gleason’s Jazz Casual TV show, and some from a recent DVD of a concert at Royal Albert Hall (I cannot recommend the DVD from this performance). Also included is a clip of King receiving the Polar Music Award (the equivalent of a Nobel Prize) from Swedish King Gustav.

There is little, if anything, about King’s very successful collaboration with Bobby Bland in the mid-70s (and a clip from Soul Train of the two would have been quite enjoyable). Also, while some of B.B.’s band members are interviewed, one wishes that they had interviewed folks like Ron Levy (who played piano with B.B. in the 1970s (he was with B.B. King in Africa) and whose stories about playing with King would have been enlightening). Also in lieu of, or in addition to, the rock stars, it would have been illuminating if more performers of color, such as his contemporary Lloyd Price (who would have insights on the African concert that Price helped organize), and contemporary guitarists such as Vernon Reid and James Blood Ulmer, had been asked for their insights with respect to B.B. King’s influence and legacy. Extras in the DVD package include a portion of the  Royal Albert Hall concert and some interviews with some of the rock stars who appear in this documentary. Life of Riley is a well put together documentary that the general audience should enjoy, although long-time King followers will be not fully satisfied with it.

I received a review copy from the MVD Entertainment Group. Here is a trailer for the film.

Tuesday, September 09, 2014

Christian Jacob's Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert

Raised as a classical pianist, exposure to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five at the age of 9, turned Christian Jacob onto jazz. The pianist continued studying classical piano (he studied at the Paris Conservatory) but after finishing these studies he attended Berklee where he studied and played with Herb Pomeroy, Phil Wilson, Hal Crook, and Gary Burton amongst others. He is perhaps best known for being co-leader, arranger and pianist with the Tierney Sutton Band. He has also performed with (amongst others) Maynard Ferguson (who produced his first albums), Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, Randy Brecker, Miroslav Vitous, Benny Golson and Bill Holman. Now he has produced his first solo piano recording, Beautiful Jazz: A Private Concert, (Wilder Jazz) with his renditions of thirteen timeless standards.

This was recorded in Los Angeles at the Zipper Concert Hall on a Hamburg Steinway Model D Grand, although without a live audience and the sound is wonderful, although one may need to listen on headphones, or turn up the volume, to hear all the nuances of Christian Jacob’s playing. It goes without saying that he brings considerable technique to his interpretations of such songs as How Long Has This Been Going On, That’s All, It Might As Well Be Spring, Tea For Two, One Note Samba, Body and Soul and Giant Steps, along with Stravinsky’s Etude No. 4 F# Major. This latter number might be the simple best example of his piano technique while the other performances display his lyricism and thoughtful improvisations with the performances of That’s All, My Romance, Tea For Two, One Note Samba, and Giant Steps standing out, along with remarkable interpretations of Body and Soul and September Song.

Beautiful Jazz is an appropriate title as this is an album full of fresh, thoughtful, and lovely interpretations of the standards heard here.

I received my review copy from a publicist. While not a solo performance, here is Christian Jacob playing in his trio.

Tuesday, September 02, 2014

New Dr. John CD Is Good But Little Spirit of Satchmo

Purported to be a tribute to Louis Armstrong, Dr. John’s new Concord Records album even reflects that in its title, She-Dat-De-Dat: The Spirit Of Satch. Listening to this I find it more satisfying as listening to this as simply a Dr. John album with songs somehow associated with Louis Armstrong. With arrangements primarily by his trombonist Sarah Morrow and the good Doctor, the music is more in the spirit of Dr. John and for a tribute to a gentleman whose legacy might be summed up by a title he recorded, Swing That Music, there is little swing but plenty of funk. This is despite the presence of such marvelous guests as Nicholas Payton, Terence Blanchard, Wendell Brunious, James Andrews, the Five Blind Boys, Ledisi, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Bonnie Raitt, Shemekia Copeland, the Dirty Dozen and Arturo Sandoval along with Reginald Veal, Herlin Riley, Pancho Sanchez and Ed Petersen among those playing on these sessions.

One does notice the omission of anyone with direct ties to Louis Armstrong here such as Jewel Brown who was a member of Armstrong’s touring band for years, and Catherine Russell, daughter of Luis Russell, the leader Louis Armstrong’s big band for years before in disbanded. Russell herself has revived a number of Armstrong songs on her wonderful recent recordings (and most definitely in the spirit of Satchmo) and would have made as wonderful a participant as anybody here.

Looking at the material, there are only a few numbers that have a strong connection with Armstrong and core to his performance while several core songs of Armstrong’s music including When It’s Sleepy Time Down South (Armstrong’s theme song) and When the Saints Go Marching In (Armstrong’s recording with his big band popularized a number that has become overplayed perhaps).  That’s My Home is a musical cousin to Sleepy Time, and one can understand Dr. John being uncomfortable with the its lyrics. While Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child was performed by Armstrong, and is a nice vehicle for singer Anthony Hamilton, there is nothing about this song or performance that makes one think of Armstrong. The same can be said with Sweet Hunk O’Trash that Armstrong performed with Billie Holiday in a movie and seems to be chosen as a vehicle for a duet with Copeland. Armstrong played on the original Trouble in Mind, and one wonders that a more inspired vehicle for Copeland might have been this with simply Dr. John and just Nicholas Payton on trumpet.

There is a lovely rendition of What a Wonderful World (although hardly a core part of Armstrong’s repertoire when he was alive) with the Five Blind Boys to open this album and there is a fresh, funk and hip-hop rendition of “Mack the Knife” with Mike Ladd adding a rap. Also Tight Like That, with Arturo Sandoval’s trumpet is totally reworked into a Latin number. The duet with Bonnie Raitt on I’ve Got the World on a String is nice but the only thing Dr. John’s “Gut Bucket Blues” has in common with Armstrong’s Hot Five recording is its title. The performance bears little resemblance to Armstrong’s original although Payton is brilliant here and it is a nice blues vocal and performance. Despite some bombast in the arrangement, Dippermouth Blues is also far removed from King Oliver’s original or the various renditions (including under the name Sugarfoot Stomp, and becomes rollicking New Orleans funk with James Andrews (Trombone Shorty’s brother) playing  hot trumpet while Doctor John sings some scat phrases he wrote (including the title of this album), That’s My Home is one of the songs here that most evokes Armstrong’s music as does Memories of You with some outstanding playing from trumpeter Sandoval.

The closing When You’re Smiling, with the Dirty Dozen, has a lively Afro-Cuban groove and a solid vocal from the good Doctor. And there is certainly nothing to fault Dr. John’s performances here. The problem is the subtitle of the album, The Spirit of Satch. If you simply called this Ske-Dat-De-Dat, I suspect few would make a connection with Louis Armstrong from listening to it other than observe several songs were associated with Armstrong. At the same time, viewed as a Dr. John album it certainly will appeal to his many fans and on that basis I have no problem recommending this.

 I received a review copy from Concord Records. Here is the song Gutbucket Blues as performed by Dr. John followed by the Armstrong Hot Five recording, Gutbucket Blues.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Selwyn Birchwood - Don’t Call No Ambulance

Mentored by Sonny Rhodes and winner of the 2013 International Blues Challenge, Selwyn Birchwood impresses with his enthusiasm as well as his talent. This writer had the pleasure of seeing him in Fall of 2013 before he signed with Alligator Records, who have recently issued his first CD for the label, Don’t Call No Ambulance. On this album, Birchwood brings his vocals as well as guitar and lap steel with an excellent band comprised of Regi Oliver on saxophones, bass clarinet and flute; Donal ‘Huff’ Wright’ on bas and Curtis Nutall on drums. Guest appearances are made by Joe Louis Walker on Slide Guitar; Josh Nelms on Rhythm Guitar; RJ Harman on Harmonica; and Dash Dixon on Keyboard.

Selwyn’s raspy, gravelly voice have led some to liken him to Tom Waits, a comparison that does surface several places on this recording of originals. He is a fairly solid guitar slinger as displayed on the rocking opener Addicted, but much of the appeal of Don’t Call No Ambulance is the interaction between him and the saxophones of Oliver and the tight backing Wright and Nutall provide. Oliver’s baritone sax often functions like a rhythm guitarist as he doubles on the bass line and adds to the drive like on the title track, where Birchwood conjures up a North Mississippi Hill Country groove as he sings that he feels so good and if he falls down, don't call no ambulance. This strong selection is followed by Waiting in the Lion's Den, where Birchwood  evokes Waits with his raspy, almost spoken, vocal as Oliver, supporting him supports on sax and flute, takes a muscular baritone sax solo.
Rico Oliver and Selwyn Birchwood in Silver Spring MD, October 2013

Joe Louis Walker guests on slide guitar on The River Runs Red. This is a funky tune with Oliver providing punchy Memphis styled horns. Love Me Again is a soulful ballad on which Birchwood sings about a love he lost and wants back as he "can smell the rain in the air, thunder rolling in... feel the mist kiss against my skin, I was a fool in the past, did not know what I had … let the rain fall so my tears don't show, can you find the strength to love me again.” There are a couple of topical songs including Tell Me Why with the leader's buzzing lap steel guitar over Wright’s funky bass. The hard rocking feel contrasts with the low-key, down-home playing on Overworked and Underpaid. RJ Harman’s harmonica enhances the atmosphere while Birchwood adds a lap steel solo on his complaint about working life.

Dancers will savor the pop-flavored She Loves Me Not with Oliver again standing out. The slow blues, “Brown Paper Bag” about a destructive drinking problem, has has some of Birchwood’s fieriest playing. The album closes with a return to a Hills Country groove and some slide guitar that suggests Mississippi Fred McDowell for the closing Hoodoo Stew as he sings about the thirteenth day on a Friday night. It is the close for an impressive varied recoding that is sure to get Birchwood a higher profile.

I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Selwyn Birchwood is featured at the DC Blues Festival on Saturday August 30 in Washington DC and at Alonzo's Memorial Picnic on Sunday August 31 in Rosedale MD. For more information on these shows, see Plenty of Labor Day Weekend Blues in Washington and Baltimore. Here is a video of the Selwyn Birchwood Band performing tell Me Why.

Record Makers And Breakers Is Story of Independent Record Industry

Record Makers and Breakers 
John Broven
University of Illinois (2009 640 pages)

John Broven, the author of Rhythm and Blues in New Orleans and South to Louisiana, to important studies of regional Louisiana music, has authored an important new volume Record Makers and Breakers. Subtitled Voices of the Independent Rock’n’Roll Pioneers, Broven has provided an invaluable history of the many small independent labels that helped launch most of today’s contemporary music. While his prior books had a primary focus on the artists, while discussing some of the regional labels and the men who were behind the label, the aim of the present volume is a focus on the emergence of the small labels and other aspects of the independent record scene through interviews with the label owners, A&R folk, juke box operators, independent distributors, radio personalities and some performers.

This history of the Independent record Industry is documented in 480 pages of the main body of the text which Broven developed in interviews over the past several decades. There are 97 photographs of some of the people discussed, and appendices with US Record Sales, a listing of Independent Record Distributors over several points of time, a listing of pressing plants, a listing of many postwar record labels and their current owners, list of record men in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, biographical data on Record Makers, and those he conducted oral history with. The are 44 pages of End Notes, and 11 pages of Bibliography that includes a list of selected reissues from these small labels and a very extensive index.

Taking us from the early days of the Indie labels including a couple like Capitol and Mercury that would become majors, we learn about how the Bihari Brothers and others started recording performers to have records for juke boxes they company serviced. We join John R and other radio legends as they start broadcasting rhythm and blues on radio sponsored by Randy’s in Nashville and meet other characters and innovators. There is Sam Phillips in Memphis who starts recording Howlin' Wolf and others for the Bihari Brothers and then when he feels that the Biharis were not doing him right sends Rocket 88, to Leonard Chess and soon Joe Bihari himself is traveling in the Deep South with Ike Turner recording Elmore James, Sunny Blair and others leading to the eventual resolution of the dispute with Chess that gives Howlin’ Wolf to Chess and Roscoe Gordon to the Modern labels and results in Phillips forming Sun records.

It isn't simply the well-known stories like Sam Phillips and Sun that is the subject of Record Makers & Breakers. The meat and potatoes of the book focuses on the personalities and the doings of independent record companies. Leonard Chess and others get into their cars laden with records and travel to meet distributors, juke box operators and disk jockeys. This iss a world of payola for dee-jays and free records for promotional persons. Labels would provide their distributors with 1000 records to distribute to mom and pop stores and other retail locations while adding another 300 for the distributor to use when visiting dee jays and other promotional activities. Then there was the small independent pressing plants that were used, and if luck struck and one had a hit,  the label hopefully would get paid so it get more copies pressed. One hears about how  artists got ripped off, but the labels themselves often were on a tightrope in their constant battle to keep producing hits and stay in business.

The focus on the labels and distributors is initially on the R&B and hillbilly labels and some of the regional labels that focused on ethnic music such as cajun music, but there are slight detours into the world of children’s music as well as the New York office of a British label that licensed the music of various independent labels for English release. There are shady characters and mob connections, bootlegging of smash hits and the payola scandals along with the decline of the independent labels during the sixties and seventies as the major labels fully embraced rock’n’roll.

This only suggests some of the threads that Broven weaves together in this history of the post-war Independent Record labels. There are some independent labels that are not discussed, but practically every single major label that led to the rise of rock’n’roll gets its due. Obviously in considering the history of popular music, the performers and styles are prominent. However, without the business  of producing, manufacturing and distributing for sale, and broadcast, music, the music simply does not get disseminated and distributed. Record Makers And Breakers is a book that anyone seriously interested in understanding today's  popular music and the development of the record industry needs to obtain.

I likely received a review copy from the publsiher or a publicist for the publisher. This review was written several years ago, but I do not believe it was published. There is a paperback edition for this book and it is available as an ebook.