Friday, January 29, 2016

Ronnie Earl And Friends

Ronnie Earl
And Friends
Telarc 83537

1- All Your Love; 2 - Rock Me Baby; 3 - I'll Take Care of You/ Lonely Avenue; 4 - Mighty Fine Boogie/ 5 - One More Mile/ 6 - Bad Boy/ 7 - Twenty-five Days/ 8- No More/ 9- Last Night/ 10 - New Vietnam Blues/ 11 - Marie/ 12 - Blue and Lonesome/ 13 -Looking Good. 68:17

Earl, g; Dave Maxwell, p (exc-13); Jimmy Mouradian, b (exc-3, 10, 13); Levon Helm, d (exc. -13); Luther 'Guitar Junior' Johnson, -1, 6 vcl, g; Kim Wilson, vcl, hca - 2, 5, 8, 9, 12; James Cotton, hca - 4, 5, 8; Irma Thomas, vcl -3, 10; Michael 'Mudcat' Ward, b -3, 10; Paul Marrochello, g -10; Tim 'Juice' O'Connor, g -10. Woodstock, NY. Oct. 30, 31 and Nov. 1, 2000.

This is an all star session led by guitarist Ronnie Earl on Telarc. Those heard on this include Luther’ Guitar Junior’ Johnson, Levon Helm, David Maxwell, Irma Thomas, James Cotton and Kim Wilson for a program of blues mostly performed in the Chicago blues vein. While several recent albums have displayed Earl’s very interesting fusion of jazz and blues, this album marks a return to a straight blues setting.   Earl is joined by an excellent band that includes piano from Dave Maxwell and drums by Levon Helm of The Band.  Vocals are shared by Kim Wilson, Luther ‘Guitar Junior’ Johnson and Irma Thomas. In addition to several tracks featuring both of their harmonicas, there is a harmonica duet by Wilson and Cotton.

Dave Maxwell strongly evokes the spirit of Otis Spann on his feature "Marie." Two instrumentals serve to spotlight Earl, one being the short closing rendition of Magic Sam’s "Lookin’ Good." Luther Johnson contributes a top notch version of Magic Sam’s "All Your Love." Irma Thomas does a wonderful rendition of Bobby Bland’s "I’ll Take Care of You," which segues into Ray Charles’ "Lonely Avenue."  Her other vocal is "New Vietnam Blues," a updating of Junior Wells’ recording, "Viet Cong Blues," reflecting the social changes of the past three decades.  Kim Wilson shines as a vocalist on "Rock Me Baby" and James Cotton’s "One More Mile," one of the titles that have both Cotton and Wilson on harmonica.

There is terrific playing throughout, whether the interplay between the harmonicas of Cotton and Wilson on "Mighty Fine Boogie," Earl’s evocation of Mel Brown and Buddy Guy on the Irma Thomas vocals, and Maxwell’s consistently solid piano. There are a couple places where Earl’s playing strikes one as a bit busy (particularly "All Your Love"), but his playing never overwhelms the vocal. And Earl quite capably plays the supportive role on the tracks with Cotton and Wilson, adding some nice fills. This is quite an enjoyable blues album.

This review was written for Cadence from who I wrote this review in 2001. I have inserted paragraph breaks. Here is Luther 'Guitar Jr." Johnson and Ronnie Earl performing together.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016



1 - Blue ‘n’ Boogie/ 2 - Stringin’ the Jug/ 3 -God Bless the Child/ 4 - Autumn in New York/ 5 - Ugetsu/ 6 - Bye Bye Blackbird. 68:03.

Ammons, ts exc. 4 & 5; Stitt, ts -1, 2, 6, as -4; Cedar Walton, p; Sam Jones, b; Billy Higgins, d. Baltimore, MD. June 24, 1973.

This is a welcome addition to the available collaborations between Gene Ammons and Sonny Stitt. Recorded during a performance for The Left Bank Jazz Society, it features some good spirited tenor wailing by the pair who each also have a solo feature. For a location recording the sound is more than acceptable, especially for the time recorded although the rhythm section is a bit down in the mix. The terrific rhythm section of Walton, Jones and Higgins is featured on Walton’s “Ugetsu.” Ammons has some intonation problems opening on “Blue n Boogie” that dissipate as he warms up before Stitt takes his turn exhibiting a lighter tone and a bit less gut bucket in his solo before they start trading choruses and quoting pop tunes and blues. Zan Stewart notes that “Stringin’ the Jug” should be titled “String and the Jug” reflecting Ammons nickname for Stitt, and the performance is taken at a torrid tempo which provides little problem for the pair. Ammons has a bluesy reading of “God Bless The Child” that stays pretty true to the melody in contrast to Stitt’s reworking of the melody in “Autumn in New York,” with the alto accentuating the difference in his tone and attack on this day. After the trio’s superb performance of “Ugetsu”, Ammons and Stitt close out on a lengthy, medium tempoed, “Bye Bye Blackbird,” which provides a solid ending to a solid document of what surely was a terrific day to have been in Baltimore.

I likely received a review copy from Cadence for whom this review was written. While not from this album, here are Jug and Sonny doing "Blues Up and Down."


Monday, January 25, 2016

Staying Warm With The Cool Sounds of Albert Collins

I live near Washington DC and like many on the East Coast from the DC area to New York City we got hit with a Snowzilla of a Blizzard.Still having Cabin Fever, I thought I might warm folks up with some Albert Collins, after all he did get the nickname "The Iceman," and known for his cool sound.

Here is Albert Collins with Duke Robillard and Debbie Davies doing Frosty

Here is Albert Collins Ice Pickin' live when A.C. Reed was in his band

As Albert tells the Ladies, he's their Iceman.

Here is Avalance

And here Albert is like many of us Snowed In

This weather may give one a Cold Cold Feeling

But Don't Lose Your Cool

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Chris O'Leary Gonna Die Trying

There is something about Chris O'Leary's music that strikes the listener immediately and it is the authority that he brings to his songs, and his songs have a reality to them that make his vigorous singing sound so powerful. O'Leary served in the Marines for 7 years and played for six years as a mem­ber of Levon Helm’s Barn­burn­ers, and this is reflected in his superb new American Showcase Music CD "Gonna Die Trying." In addition to his vocals and strong harmonica playing, he is backed by Chris Vitarello on gui­tar, Andy Stahl and Chris Difrancesco on sax­o­phones, Matt Ray­mond on bass and Jay Devlin on drums. In addition to his band, other players on this include Bruce Katz on piano & organ, Vin­nie Nobile on trom­bone, and Willa Pan­vini McCarthy & Libby Cabello on back­ground vocals. John Mooney is a spe­cial guest on one track.

One thing that strikes this listener from the first selection, "Can't Help Yourself," is his raspy, cleanly articulated, rapid-fire vocals. He commands our attention singing about going of the war and then returning home to find promises made before he served were empty; that jobs being exported overseas labor overseas with unions being blamed; and there being too little money for our war casualties today. Similarly powerful songs include "19¢ a Day," set against a crisp John Lee Hooker boogie groove, and the stark "Letters From Home," (opening with terrific guitar from Vitarello) where O'Leary sings of being terrified and lonesome in a dirty hole a thousand miles from home with desert winds chilling him to the bone in the god-forsaken combat zone. His vocal is compelling (his vocal dynamics is exemplary) and the backing is terrific. "One More Saturday Night," is a superb shuffle as he displays his formidable harmonica chops, on a song about about making it through the week, and needing one more Saturday night to let loose. The spirited "Harvest Time" has a New Orleans second-line groove with John Mooney adding slide guitar.

There is so much to like about Chris O'Leary and with excellent songs, and first-rate backing from his band and guests, O'Leary's "Gonna Die Trying" is sensational.

I received my review copy from the label. Here is he performing "Letters From Home."

Friday, January 22, 2016

Howlin' Wolf and Elmore James

Chester Burnett was well known as the Howlin’ Wolf, and The Chess Box is an excellent three compact disc boxed set which is a fine survey of his compelling recordings starting with a healthy dose of his early Memphis recordings for Sam Phillips with the great Willie Johnson on guitar through his classic Chicago recordings with the likes of Otis Spann and Hubert Sumlin. While some of his later recordings perhaps showed the wear from his health, the music remains as gripping, whether on his reworking of Charlie Patton’s Saddle My Pony, Smoke Stack Lightning, How Many More Years, I Asked For Water, Rocking Daddy, Spoonful, Who’s Been Talking, Back Door Man, Killing Floor and others. There is one recording from his London session album with a variety of rock superstars, a couple of solo acoustic selections recorded at the otherwise best forgotten psychedelic album and some brief excerpts from an interview. The booklet contains biographical information and a review of his music. Another classic boxed set reissue.

One artist who diffused Robert Johnson’s music was Elmore James, whose most celebrated recording, Dust My Broom, married Johnson’s riff from Rambling on My Mind, with the lyrics for I’ll Believe
I’ll Dust My Broom. Elmore recycled this along with several other themes throughout his recordings career that spanned from 1951-1963. His last recordings (from 1959 to 1963 (with the exception of a 1960 Chess session) were made for Bobby Robinson’s Fire, Fury and Enjoy labels. Recently I noted a fine Relic collection Rollin’ and Tumblin’, that had most of his best recordings for Robinson. Poor Relic, insofar as Capricorn has just issued Elmore James, King of Slide Guitar, The Fire/Fury Recordings, that may represent all of the songs Elmore recorded for Bobby Robinson. There is a booklet that includes remembrances of Elmore by Sam Myers, Bobby Robinson and others, a biography, general appreciation and discographical information. Although I have heard this on a preview cassette, the sound (like the Relic) seemed particularly good. Unless you already have the Relic, this is a must buy, and it isn’t extravagantly priced.

This review originally appeared in the December 1992 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 177)  (along with reviews of Lightnin' Hopkins box sets that was posted yesterday). I likely received review copies from the record companies. Both sets are available as downloads and can be obtained as used (although Collectables has also has a box set of the Elmore). While not perfect, a recent public domain reissue of Elmore James, The Ultimate Collection (Not Now) is a handy compilation surveying his recordings from the entire span of his recording career although includes a few accompaniments to others as well as his featured recordings).

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Lightnin' Hopkins Complete Aladdin and Prestige/Bluesville Recordings

EMI has a valuable reissue of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ earliest recordings in the two compact disc set, The Complete Aladdin Recordings. Containing 43 recordings over two compact discs, these recordings include Lightnin’s November 1946 recordings made with pianist Wilson “Thunder” Smith in Los Angeles including what would be such standard themes like Katie May and That Mean Old Twister. Hopkins’ second Aladdin session produced a couple of classics, his own Short Haired Woman (“I don’t want no woman who’s hair is shorter than mine.”), while Thunder Smith handled the vocal on Big Mama Jump, a theme that Hopkins would explore in later years. One of the real surprises of the early sessions is a raucous, rocking version of Tampa Red’s Let Me Play With Your Poodle. While the first thirteen selections pair Thunder and Lightnin’, the remaining 28 recordings (from November 1947 and February 1948 are solo performances which include some very distinctive treatments of other artists’ themes (although credited to Lightnin’ like You’re Not Goin’ to Worry My Life No More, adaptations of traditional Texas blues themes like J.T. Smith’s Howling Wolf, and his own unique guitar instrumentals like Lightnin’s Boogie. In part because of the duets with Thunder Smith, I found the first of the two discs to be the easiest to sit through. However, there can be little fault with any of the performances, and one of the valuable reissues of Hopkins’ early recordings.

Another Lightnin’ Hopkins compact disc of great note is The Complete Prestige/Bluesville Recordings. This is a seven compact disc set with a booklet by Sam Charters that collects 111 recordings on six discs along with a seventh disc containing eight spoken excerpts from an interview that Charters conducted in which Hopkins recalled his early days and his influences. Included are the contents of eleven albums and a previously unissued 1964 concert at Swarthmore College.

The earliest recordings here date from the same time as Lightnin’s Candid recordings, while the latest date from 1964, and the sessions find him in a range of settings including two solo concerts; a session with Sonny Terry, bassist Leonard Gaskin and drummer Belton Evans; sessions with longtime Houston associates Harpist Billy Bizor, barrelhouse pianist Buster Pickens, bassist Donald Cooks and drummer Spider Kirkpatrick; and sessions on which the rhythm section was overdub. There is a startling range of material here from Ain’t It Crazy (the same song as Mighty Crazy for Candid), Back to New Orleans and/or Baby Please Don’’t Go), Green Onion, Little Sister’s Boogie, Katie Mae, Take Me Back, You Is One Black Rat, My Babe, Mean Old Frisco, Me and Ray Charles, Rocky Mountain Blues, I was Standing on 75 Highway, Mojo Hand. Included are some of Lightnin’s songs where he conjured up material on current events like Happy Blues for John Glenn.

There are many very fine performances, although some of the recordings with a rhythm section sound somewhat ordinary, and I would be hard pressed to find many recordings that rank with the very best of his recordings. Yet the sheer breadth of the material here, all imbued with his personal stamp as a blues singer and guitarist, make this a most highly recommended boxed set that should hopefully still be in the better local record stores. They can always order it for you.

This review originally appeared in the December 1992 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 177) and I likely received review copies from the record companies. Both sets are available as downloads and can be obtained as used.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Charles Brown Just A Lucky So And So

Charles Brown
Just A Lucky So And So
Bullseye Blues

Brown’s new Bullseye Blues album adds to the fine body of his recent recordings. The centerpiece of the backing is his excellent band with Danny Caron’s guitar, with its echoes of Oscar Moore as well as T-Bone Walker, and Clifford Solomon’s tenor saxophone, whose solos here show him to be the strongest horn player working in this idiom, with his solo on the remake of Black Nights, being particularly notable.

The big band charts add considerable punch with Wardell Querzergue’s arrangement on Drifting Blues building upon embellishments found in Johnny Otis’ treatment of the song. Song For Christmas is one of several non-blues and the strings add to Brown’s description of holiday times and spirits. Querzergue’s charts are never stodgy nor syrupy. Gloomy Sunday suggests Billie Holiday’s influence in how Brown delivers the vocal, although this performance sounds a tad lethargic. The Quintet shines on Danger with its New Orleans rhythms and superb solos from Caron and Solomon. Brown continues to show his considerable piano talent here and throughout the record.

There is no claim that this is Charles Brown’s best recent recording, but the handsome production insures that this is not simply more of the same (although excellent) music found on his recent albums.

I am pretty sure I received my review copy from Rounder Records at the time. This review appeared in the April 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 190). Here is a love performance from Charles Brown and his band.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Brad Allen Williams - Lamar

While busy as a sideman with the likes of Kris Bowers, Cory Henry and Jose James), guitarist Brad Allen Williams debuts as a leader on "Lamar (Allegro Music/Nail-Sojourn Records)." On this recording he is joined by organist Pat Bianchi and drummer Tyshawn Sorey for a solid collection of performances of originals along with some recognizable pop and soul tunes. Williams states that "This album is exclusively about creating and capturing a feeling …," and this is reflected not simply in how they play but also in recording this "with the three of us in one great-sounding room together using the best analog tape machines and a great analog engineer." This analog recording is available in vinyl.

This is is a lively varied organ trio with Williams up front starting with the lively interpretation of Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out," with Williams' fluid runs and Bianchi's greasy B-3. Williams blues, "201 Poplar," is a superb blues performance with an after hours feel with Bianchi helping color the leader's solo as Sorey deftly adds his accents. On renditions of the Glen Campbell hit "Galveston" and The Stylistics' "Betcha By Golly Wow," Williams employs a vocalized approach in his playing centered around the songs lyrics, with Bianchi and Sorey adding light support. "Euclid and Lamar" is a briskly played Williams original that showcases all three players and followed by a lovely rendition of the classic ballad "Stairway to the Stars."

After the loping groove of a bluesy shuffle "Culver Viaduct Rehabilitation Project" by the trio, Williams closes "Lamar" with a solo rendition of "More Than You Know." It is an exquisite close to a highly entertaining, excellent jazz guitar and organ trio recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364).  Here is "More Than You Know" from the recording.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Calvin Frazier This Old World’s In A Tangle

Calvin Frazier
This Old World’s In A Tangle

This disc is is Laurie Records’ second reissue of Library of Congress field recordings that Alan Lomax recorded in Detroit in the late thirties. Containing all of the blues Calvin Frazier recorded that are still extant on fragile acetate discs, it does not include his religious songs, upon the producer’s belief that they would not appeal to blues fans. This may be a miscalculation, given this disc’s unavoidable rough sound and the short playing time.

Frazier was a cousin of the late Johnny Shines, and was associated with Robert Johnson. Johnson’s influence pervades a good portion of the music here. The title track (heard in a fragment and a full version); I’m in the Highway, Man; She’s a Double Crossing Woman, and Highway 51 Blues, echo Johnson’s Kind Hearted Women, Terraplane Blues, and Dust My Broom. Frazier also sings with a Johnson-like falsetto. Other tracks include Frazier’s Lily Mae, that he later recorded commercially, and versions of The Dirty Dozens and Pinetop Smith’s Boogie Woogie. There are two short interview fragments included as well. Calvin Frazier would be a part of the post-war Detroit blues scene, although his recordings in a combo setting are far different from these country blues recordings.

Like the previous Laurie reissue of Sampson Pittman’s Library of Congress recordings, this is accompanied by a wonderful 40 page booklet with extensive information on Frazier, and full lyric transcriptions. The sound may deter casual listeners, and the playing time is somewhat scanty. Despite these shortcomings, this will be an essential purchase for country blues devotees.

This review originally appeared in the March 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 189) and I likely received my review copy from the record company. This is out-of-print but well worth checking for used copies of it. Here is Frazier's rendition of "Double Crossing Woman."

Friday, January 15, 2016

Dalannah and Owen Been Around A While

The Canadian duo of Dalannah and Owen is likely to raise comparisons to the jazz duo of Tuck and Patti, with the pairing of a vocalist against a string instrumentalist. In this case, the classically and jazz trained bassist and composer Owen Owen Owen backs the dusky tones of Dalannah Gail Bowen. Bowen, who was born of African-Canadian / Cherokee heritage,  has been a part of the Canadian blues, rock and soul scene for almost 50 years. This British Columbia duo made it to the finals of the International Blues Challenge and their Quest Records debut as a duo "Been Around A While." provides an indication of what makes their unique take on blues so appealing.

With the austere, sometimes stark backing of Owen, Dalannah is a most expressive singer whose nearly five decades of performing is reflected in the manner in which she wrings new meaning of such familiar numbers as Louis Jordan's forties hit "Early in the Morning," as well as her take on Robert Johnson's "Come On In My Kitchen." She has lived things and seen both the good and bad as she tells us in the opening title track with Owen displaying considerable virtuosity with a guitar-ish sounding solo (sounding overdubbed), nor does she put up with what her man is trying to do on "That Ain't It."

The way Dalannah stretches the lyrics along with her smoky voice can really grab one's attention on "Blues, Mother Of Sin." as well as get seductive on the slow, dirty dancing "Queen Bee." Of note are the renditions of Marvin Gaye's "Inner City Blues," and B.B. King's "Why I Sing The Blues," where Dalannah's compelling voice remind us of the continuing relevance of the songs.

"Been Around A While" is fascinating, often spellbinding, with Dalannah's moving, evocative vocals and Owen's simple, backing.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  This review appeared in the January-February 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364). Here they are performing "Come On In My Kitchen."

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Pinetop Perkins
Portrait Of A Delta Bluesman

While there hasn’t been a shortage of Pinetop Perkins albums in recent months, this new album is of particular interest as it is Pinetop playing solo. Intermixed with his music performances are his recollections, so this comes off as a musical autobiography.

Pinetop himself prefers playing with a band, yet his performances of such blues as Come Back Baby, Big fat Mama, Chains of Love, Grindin’ Man, Forty Four, Caldonia, Pinetop’s Boogie Woogie, and other songs here are played in a relaxed fashion that is still full of plenty of feeling. While most of these songs will be familiar from other band recordings, Walter Davis’ Come Back Baby is a particularly pleasing performance.

He discusses his influences, growing up, playing around the delta (He was with the King Biscuit Show) and joining Muddy Waters. An elder statesman of the delta and Chicago blues piano traditions, this unpretentious collage of music and recollections is a fascinating portrait of the blues piano legend and his music. Highly recommended.

This review originally appeared in the January-February 1994 Jazz & Blues Report (issue 188). I may have received my review copy from a publicist, the record company or the publication.  This may be hard to find as a CD, but should be available as a download.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Eddie Cotton One At A Time

As I write this review, I note that Eddie Cotton's new recording, "One At A Time" is a Blues Music Award nominee for Best New Artist Album. This is somewhat of a surprise since this is his second album for DuChamp in a couple years (2014's "Here I Come" was the earlier release) and this is his fourth album overall. Cotton was the winner of the 2015 International Blues Challenge, and while I have not seen him perform, his music has impressed me from the first time I heard his first two albums. His music is reminiscent of the late Little Milton although vocally there is a strong dose of Bobby Rush in the mix.

The band on "One At A Time" include Cotton's cohorts from the earlier album, Myron Bennett (bass), Samuel Scott, Jr. (drums), and Carlos Russell (harmonica on ‘Be Careful’). There are supported by James “Hotdog” Lewis (organ/keys), Kimble Funchess (trumpet), Jessie Primer III (tenor sax) and Mike Weidick (trombone). Cotton produced this (and wrote all 14 songs) while Grady Champion is the executive producer.

There is a variety of songs from the shuffle "Be Careful," to the low down back door man blues, "Better Deal," where Cotton sings about about having sense to know that no one can work every night, but that its plain to see that the back door man is getting a better deal than the hard working Cotton. He lays down some scintillating guitar while Hotdog Lewis lays down  greasy organ on a superb slow blues.  Set against a dance floor groove, Cotton's high pitched vocal celebrates his girl showing how life can be so sweet in the back seat parked on a "Dead End Street."

Other highlights include "Filling Me With Pleasure," with its electric slide groove, and Eddie wants  to know this lady better. In the philosophical "Hard Time," Eddie sings about lessons learned from his minister father, including that one should always do the best one can because the race against time is a hard race to win. This  has some of his most impressive guitar playing on the disc. Other songs include a celebration of his home state, "Mississippi," and "My Money," another back door man blues. There is a neat harmonica riff in the backing on this

I really like Eddie Cotton's music although I found some performances on this not as satisfying as on his prior recordings. His vocals sometimes sound pinched, and the backing not as supple. One might keep in mind that these comments are relative to Cotton's earlier recordings. If not Cotton's best recording, "One At A Time," still is a cut above most blues these days.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the January-February 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364) although I have made some minor stylistic changes from the published review. Here is Eddie Cotton's winning performance at the 2015 International Blues Challenge.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Larry Novak - Invitation

Neil Tesser, in the liner notes to "Invitation" (Delmark Records), observes that this is Larry Novak's first album in over a half century and its only the second album he's recorded under his own name, although one might have heard on on recordings by Louis Bellson (with whom he toured), Eddie Daniels, Terry Gibbs and Buddy DeFranco, and on the first Delmark disc pairing Von Freeman and Frank Catalano; as well as worked with Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan. He had lengthy residences at Mr. Kelly's and The London House and gathered the admiration of many including Oscar Peterson and became close to Bill Evans.

Evans had a great deal of impact on his music which is evident on the two opening numbers, a lovely solo opening "Waltz For Debby," and "Very Early," which introduces his trio of bassist Eric Hochberg and drummer Rusty Jones (who passed away in December of 2015). And it is a marvelous trio whose near telepathic interplay is terrific throughout on album whose songs were (with two exceptions) recorded by Evans.

The aura of Evans might hover over these performances, but they stand on their own as Novak is a pianist with a marvelous touch, who displays a fertile imagination and a crisp rhythmic flow. There is delight in the lively "The Days of Wine and Roses," and a stunning, feverish rendition of Gigi Gryce's "Minority," a stunning bop piano workout. The there is a lovely ballad playing on "Close Enough For Love," and the delightful interpretation of the must recorded "Yesterdays." The album closes with a hauntingly lovely solo performance of "Its Too Late Now."

One cannot understate the contributions of Hochberg and Jones, both in their support of Novak, and their own solo breaks that flow naturally within the performances here. Neil Tesser states when nothing that this was Novak's first album in half a century, "Let that sink in for a moment." Certainly listening to "Invitation," one shares his bewilderment that a pianist of Larry Novak's caliber could fly under the radar for so long. "Invitation" is a superb recording by an extraordinary pianist that finally is getting his due. It is a recording I will be returning to frequently.

I received my copy from Delmark.This review has appeared in the January-February 2016 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 364) although I made a few minor stylistic changes in posting to the blog. Here is a short video of Larry Novak performing.

Here is Larry Novak performing in 1991 as part of a Benny Goodman tribute with Herb Ellis, Milt Hinton and Butch Miles.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Blind Willie Mctell Pig ‘n Whistle Red

Blind Willie Mctell
Pig ‘n Whistle Red

This just-issued compact disc compiles McTell’s 1950 recordings for Regal Records. These were his first commercial recordings since 1937, and he was joined at the session by fellow Atlanta bluesman, Curley Weaver, who contributes lead vocals on several songs. These recordings stylistically are unchanged from his earlier recordings, and show little diminution in his guitar skills or his warmly expressive singing.

Highlights include the jaunty Talkin’ to You Mama, an updated version of Ticket Agent, and East St. Louis - a lively performance using a melody familiar from Red River Blues and Crow Jane. Other songs by McTell, including the sentimental Pal of Mine, and several religious songs that close this disc, give an indication of the breadth of his repertoire. The twenty selections include a couple of alternate takes, and the sound is fine.

This splendid reissue is attractively packaged with a lovely cover illustration, and Don Kent provides concise and informative liner notes, although no photo of McTell is included (although the current ediion of this has a McTell Photo on cover).

I likely received the review copy from Jazz & Blues Report (the review originally appeared in the November 1993 issue (Issue 186)). This is available as a download or used.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Magic Sam - Black Magic

While usually overshadowed by many writers in comparison to the earlier studio album, "West Side Soul," Magic Sam's "Black Magic" is in the opinion of some, including this writer, a better recording. Recorded in Fall 1968, with a superb band including Mighty Joe Young rhythm guitar, Lafayette Leake on piano, Eddie Shaw on tenor sax, Mac Thompson (brother of Jimmy and Syl Johnson) and Odie Payne, Jr. on drums, "Black Magic" is full of Sam's soulful vocals and wonderful guitar playing without any harried frenzied moments (for example the rendition of "Mama Talk to Your Daughter") or sometimes shrill, overwrought vocals ("My Love Will Never Die") that marred the earlier recording.

It is a pleasure to listen again to "Black Magic," in Delmark's new deluxe reissue with new, previously unissued alternate takes included. This release contains the ten selections that were on the original vinyl LP and 1994 CD reissue, six selections that were included on "The Magic Sam Legacy" and two previously unissued alternates. The additional eight tracks include three songs not on the original and alternate takes of four songs ("What Have I Done Wrong" is heard in two alternates).

There are so many pleasures listening to the flow of the music, the relaxed soulful intensity of Sam's vocals and the terrific backing with some solo space for Shaw and Young. Leake was a superb band pianist and Thompson and Payne made a superb rhythm foundation. The album opens with a marvelous take on "Just a Little Bit," the classic Little Willie John number that became a blues standard. He takes us back to his Cobra recordings, reworking "Easy Baby" as well as a take on Lowell Fulson's "It's All Your Fault," that he adapted for many recordings Then there is his wonderful rendition of Willie Cobb's "You Don't Love Me, Baby," followed by a terrific rendition of Freddie King's classic instrumental, "San-Ho-Zay," that is so wonderfully paced as well as played. The standout track remains for this listener Andrew Brown's "You Better Stop," where he tells Leake to "play those ticklish blues for me."

Of the songs not issued on the original album, Sam's reworking of his Cobra single "Everything's Gonna Be All Right, a musical sibling to the Fulson number, stands out along with a slow instrumental "Blues For Odie Payne." The alternate takes are pretty solid in their own respect, although with minor differences in the groove, Sam's vocal or perhaps a sudden end. The accompanying booklet reproduces Jim O'Neal's liner notes from the original release and the 1994 CD reissue, along with liner notes from The Magic Sam legacy" and updated with Bob Koester's own recollections of Sam and the music. This is a most welcome new Deluxe Edition of Delmark's classic blues albums, of which it is one of the finest.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is "Just a Little Bit," from Black Magic.

Friday, January 08, 2016

Otis Spann Sweet Giant of the Blues

Ace Records in the UK recently reissued a number of recordings that came out on Bob Thiele's Flying Dutchman and related labels. Included in these are albums that came out on the BluesTime subsidiary that included albums by T-Bone Walker, Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson and Big Joe Turner, along with otis Spann. Thiele had recorded Spann when he was at ABC-Paramount, producing for both Impulse and Bluesway. Both of the Bluesway albums had Spann backed by the Muddy Waters band. For BluesTime, Spann recorded "Sweet Giant of the Blues," which had Spann backed by Max Bennett on bass, Tom Scott on sax, Paul Humphrey on drums and Louie Shelton on guitar.

With this backing group, Thiele took Spann outside the straight Chicago blues setting of his previous recordings and tried to mix in some Latin and funk grooves of the time in an attempt perhaps to reach different audiences. Spann is in fine form, both on piano and singing. Bennett and Humphrey are solid  backing him. Scott plays well, although at times his playing comes across as  busy. Shelton is a good guitarist and his crisp playing on "Sellin' My Thing," a song in the hokum tradition, stands out but at other places his use of fuzz-tone, (perhaps a production decision ) is misplaced and is a distraction on otherwise fine performances like "Moon Blues." This latter title refers to the moon landing but Spann sings about having all that bread to send folks into space, but the cupboard is bare for us and baby we ain't going anyplace. Scott has a terrific flute solo on this with Spann adding splendid accompaniment under it.

"I Wonder Why" and the instrumental "Bird In a Cage" are other songs on which one wishes Shelton had put the fuzzbox away. Spann is terrific, and if not totally enamored with Scott's sax on the former number, I wish Shelton was absent on both. Thankfully he plays without effects on the slow blues "Hey Baby," and on Spann's gospel number "Make a Way," that closes this album. It is unfortunate that these flaws detract from an otherwise fine recording. Spann would have one other recording on BluesTime, the super-session, "Super Black Blues" with T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner and a terrific band that included George 'Harmonica Smith that Ace has also reissued and which I unequivocally recommend.

I purchased this.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

B.B. King Sweet Little Angel

B. B. King
My Sweet Little Angel

This Flair release is most welcome reissue of vintage 1950s recordings by the Beale Street Blues Boy that originally appeared on the English Ace label. It includes a number of his original chart-making hits such as the originals of Sweet Little Angel, Crying Won’t Help You Now (done at a nice loping tempo), Worry Worry and Clarence Garlow’s Please Accept My Love. There are some alternate takes, a solid instrumental version of Louis Jordan’s Ain’t That Just Like a Woman, along with the previously unissued String Bean, with his picking style almost like Gatemouth Brown.

These twenty-one titles come from a variety of sessions, some with his road band, others with Los Angeles studio bands. All represent prime B.B. King who was touring the chitlin circuit over 300 nights a year while squeezing in recording sessions, and creating a body of recordings that, along with those by T-Bone Walker and Muddy Waters, defined modern blues. But these are more than historic recordings. B.B. was after all a great singer, not simply a great guitarist. If he hadn’t been as great a singer, he wouldn’t have had the extensive popularity nor recorded as frequently, both of which facilitated his influence on other performers.

While it would have been nice to have discographical information, the music is what ultimately matters, and this is a vintage collection that may be the best available reissue of King’s recordings of this period. Essential.

This review appeared in the November 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 186) and I likely received my review copy from either the record copy or Jazz & Blues Report. You may still be able to find copies of the US release of this as well as the UK Ace Records edition.  Here is B.B. King performing "Sweet Little Angel."

Wednesday, January 06, 2016

Mighty Mike Schermer Blues In Good Hands

Marcia Ball's guitarist since 2009, Mighty Mike Schermer has played with a who's who of blues and roots acts including most notably Angela Strehli and Elvin Bishop, and recorded with Ball, Bishop, Maria Muldaur, Howard Tate, Sista Monica and many more. He has a new release under his own name, "Blues In Good Hands" (Finedog Records/Vizztone), mostly recorded at Kid Andersen’s Greaseland Recording Studios in San Jose, CA, with an A-List of musicians from the Bay Area, CA and Austin, TX music scenes including Paul Revilli, Tony Stead, Steve Ehrmann, Austin Delone, Nancy Wright, Terry Hanck, along with guest appearances by Marcia Ball, Tommy Castro, John Németh, and Carolyn Wonderland. Schermer penned the 13 songs (three in collaboration with others).

Mostly recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studio, and mixed by Andersen, this varied recording benefits from the uncluttered and clean production of these crisply delivered performances. Schermer displays his many talents on the opening "Baby Don't Stop," with his appealing gritty vocals and keen guitar (there is a nice Hanck solo here) with the rhythm section very tight behind him. While he may have a narrow vocal range, Schermer's understated, unforced singing has considerable appeal appealing. "Heaven's on the Other Side," has a nice lyric about struggling in his everyday with bill collectors and car not running with a catchy hook about not minding to go through hell if heaven is on the other side. Set against a funky vamp, he has a fiery, concise guitar solo. "It's a Pleasure" is a lovely ballad while a reggae groove anchors the peppy "One Tear At a Time," and then there "Wait-On-Me Woman," with Greg Izor's harmonica along with the relaxed shuffle groove.

The title track with Schermer's mix of his own experiences (how seeing Albert Collins perform and  conduct himself, changed Schermer's life, as well as how he and Terry Hanck were affected by Junior Walker's passing),  inspired him to write and perform songs that everyone could understand, that were real which everyone could feel. I usually dislike 'keep the blues alive' songs, but Schermer's lyric and  solid playing make this an exception. "Most People," with twangy guitar and a swampy feel is suggestive of some of Bobby Charles' songs. Marcia Ball adds piano to the rollicking "Barkin' Up The Wrong Tree," while Tommy Castro adds some fiery guitar to the slow blues "Stop Crying," while John Nemeth adds harmonica to the lazy Jimmy Reed groove of "Baby Be Kind."

There is so much to like about this recording. Schermer is a marvelous songwriter, guitarists and a singer with wit and heart. With the strong backing throughout, this is a gem of a recording.

I received my review copy from VizzTone.Here is a video of him in performance.

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

Earl Hooker Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker

Earl Hooker
Play Your Guitar Mr. Hooker

Buddy Guy has cited Earl Hooker as the greatest blues guitarist he ever saw, and many of his contemporaries remember his mastery of the guitar, both straight and his use of a slide. Possessing an awesome technique, timing and musical imagination, he was a favorite of many of his contemporaries, although he died of tuberculosis within a couple weeks of Otis Spann in April, 1970. What a loss, Chicago’s best blues players cut down within weeks of each other.
He was known as a guitarist, being an inadequate vocalist who usually let others handle the vocals. He recorded for King and Rockin’ Records and later recorded for Sam Phillips, although these sides remained unissued for years. The early sixties found him on Age and Chief, before he connected with Jim Kirchstein’s Cuca label out of Sauk City, Wisconsin. After Cuca, Hooker recorded albums for Arhoolie, Bluesway, Blue Thumb (with Ike Turner on piano) and Blues on Blues, and played on Bluesway albums by cousin John Lee (Hooker), Charles Brown, Jimmy Witherspoon, and Big Moose Walker, leaving a substantial legacy for those years.

Cuca actually issued an album titled The Genius of Earl Hooker, which suffered from the programming of all instrumentals. In the mid-eighties the Dutch Black Magic label issued Play Your Guitar, Mr. Hooker, which made available unissued Cuca recordings and alternate takes, along with two instrumentals, Earl Hooker Blues, and Dust My Broom, that pioneering European blues researcher George Adins recorded in 1968 at the Alex Club on Chicago’s West Side.

This is probably my favorite Earl Hooker album, with his vocal and guitar on the opening Swear to Tear the Truth being particularly urgent sounding. Most of this is comprised of instrumentals or accompaniments to assorted singers. A.C. Reed emulates the vocal style of namesake Jimmy Reed on She’s Fine, while Frank ‘Crying Shame’ Clark ably handles You Took My Love, and The Misfit (Got to Keep Movin’), and the gruff Muddy Waters Jr. sings Everything Gonna Be Alright.

There’s plenty of hot guitar as Earl shows his mastery of a variety of styles while A.C. Reed or Bobby Fields adds some hot tenor sax. Particularly impressive are his renditions of Albert Collins’ classic Frosty, and Otis Rush’s All Your Love. The two live recordings give Earl a chance to stretch out, and also contain a bit of Fred Roulette’s pedal steel guitar which increases their interest despite the sound quality of the location recording.

While this is a musical feast, an instrumental rendition of James Brown’s I Got You (I Feel Good) is omitted in this 13 track, 37-odd minute compact disc. Also the original vinyl album came with a detailed booklet with plenty of information on Earl Hooker, Cuca and its head, Mr. Kirstein. While it would have taken an extensive booklet to reprint all of the original notes, certainly some liner notes should have been included. While this is recommended, Black Top could have done better with this reissue.

I likely received a review copy from the record label. This review originally appeared in the September 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 184). This may be available on the used market but as a collector's item. Here is Earl Hooker, likely in Europe.

Monday, January 04, 2016

JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci Dirty Memory

"Dirty Memory" (Old Boy Network) by JJ Appleton & Jason Ricci is an energetic recording of unplugged blues by two quite accomplished players. Ricci is among the most accomplished harmonica players working in the blues and roots realms and he has an able partner in Appleton, a singer-songwriter and guitarist with support from either Tim Lefebvre or Neal Heidler on double bass. There are six originals from Appleton, two from Ricci and covers of Blind Willie Johnson’s “Nobody’s Fault But Mine,” The Rolling Stones “Black Limousine” and “It Ain’t No Use” from Gary “U.S.” Bond.

Appleton is a capable singer of the songs and he brings a driving percussive approach to his steel guitar playing as evident on the opening "Leaning Blues," rooted in the "Dust My Broom" riff with Ricci's harp all over the place. Blind Willie Johnson’s classic “Nobody's Fault But Mine” is an interesting interpretation, but is dwarfed by Blind Willie’s original. "Can't Believe It's Good" is a lively number that one could easily imagine being transformed into a full band performance and Ricci's unrestrained playing is very appealing here, like Sonny Terry on speed. Ricci's "New Man" opens with some really nice and imaginative harmonica playing behind Appleton's wistful vocal and followed by "Jason Solo," an unaccompanied virtuoso performance that might be viewed as a tribute to classic fox chase and train instrumentals. "At the Wheel Again" is another fine duet with spirited harp and steel guitar with Appleton singing about being the "devil's pawn singing an angel's song." I am not familiar with the Stone's rendition of "Black Limousine," but the enjoyable performance here (particularly Appleton's slide playing) evokes the Stone's cover of "Little Red Rooster." A similar groove (without slide) marks the cover of Gary 'U.S.' Bond's "It Ain't Use," which benefits from the restraint shown here.

A reflective, solo performance by Appleton, "Come On Over, Come On By," concludes a recording of acoustic blues that many will find to their liking.

A publicist provided my review copy. It was written for Jazz & Blues Report and likely will run in the January-February 2016 issue (issue 364). Here the two perform "Nobody's Fault."

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Albert Washington Step It Up and Go

Albert Washington
Step It Up And Go

Albert Washington is a singer-guitarist who made a number of singles from the late fifties to the seventies for such labels as Fraternity and Jewel, one of which, If You Need Me, was covered by the Rolling Stones. Born in Georgia, but a Cincinnati resident for most of his adult life, he hasn’t recorded for twenty years. Iris Records, an independent label that previously issued some notable jazz recordings has just remedied this with Step It Up and Go, a newly released album containing ten originals and a nice reworking of the Buddy and Ella Johnson classic, Since I Fell For You.

Washington suffers from high blood pressure, and near blindness, both derived from diabetes. While his voice can’t soar as high as on his classic deep soul recordings, this fifty three year singer certainly comes across as soulful as ever on a program of mostly modern blues with several tracks, such as Hard Days and The Good Old Days, showing more than a hint of southern soul.. He receives solid backing here, with horns on a few tracks, and harmonica on a few others, although horns suit his music far better than the harp.

Bruce Katz’s keyboards are particularly worthy of note, and Kevin Barry adds some nice guitar. The bass and drums simply provide a basic foundation, but without as much imagination as Katz and Barry. A couple of message tunes, Things Are Getting Bad and Leave Them Drugs Alone, add variety to his blues and soul laments like Hold On To a Good Woman, a fine slow blues with Katz and Barry both featured. A solid, promising return of a midwest blues legend.

This review originally appeared in the April 1993 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 180) and I likely received my review copy from either that publication or the record company. You may still be able to find this as a used CD. He would also record a follow-up for Iris, A Brighter Day. He passed away in 1998. Ace Records in the UK, in 2004, released an excellent compilation of his early recordings Blues and Soul Man.

Here is a vintage Albert Washington recording from the sixties.

Saturday, January 02, 2016

Pinetop Perkins and Jimmy Rogers Were Genuine Blues Legends

Nothing fancy about the music on "Genuine Blues Legends" (Elrob Records), a release by Chicago blues legends Pinetop Perkins and Jimmy Rogers with Little Mike and the Tornadoes. Harmonica player and leader, (Little) Mike Markowitz and his band of guitarist Tony O. Mello; bassist Brad Vickers and Michael Anderson did yeoman service backing the likes of tours by Perkins and Rogers up and down the East Coast in the late eighties through the mid-nineties. As Pat Morgan, the former manager of Perkins, recalls, Perkins started playing regularly with Little Mike after he left the Legendary Blues Band. Thid in fact resulted in Pinetop's first solo album "After Hours." Rogers and others including Hubert Sumlin, were featured regularly with the Tornadoes, who this writer saw numerous times at the legendary Bethesda, Maryland club, "Twist & Shout."

This is a typical evening of Pinetop and Rogers as they were heard on tour one night in Maine from 1988. Pinetop was never a very demonstrative singer. Rather, he could be very appealing with an easy going, comfortable delivery shown on a number of blues classics that would remain part of his repertoire for over three decades. These include Eddie 'Cleanhead' Vinson's "Kidney Stew," St. Louis Jimmy's "Going Down Slow" (titled here "Had My Fun"), the Larry Darnell hit "For You My Love," Ivory Joe Hunter's "I Almost Lost My Mind" (titled here "When I Lost My Baby"), and Clarence 'Pinetop' Smith's "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie." That number became a staple of Perkins repertoire decades before and led to his stage name. There is  plenty of Pinetop's fine, reliable piano and these performances are solid, even if he might have made equally fine performances of these songs  in his other recordings.

One wishes there was more of Jimmy Rogers' vocals than the three songs heard here. Rogers was one of the finest singers of Chicago blues with his relaxed, distinctive delivery lending appeal to a cover of "Big Boss Man" along with his own "The Last Time." Pinetop's playing is exceptional on this, and Little Mike and the Tornadoes add lively backing. Rogers addis his own distinctive guitar lines producing some gems of Chicago blues. Rogers adds his guitar into the backing for the rendition of "Pinetop's Boogie Woogie," that is a feverish and exhilarating a performance as Perkins ever produced of this number.

My main complaint about this release is the attribution of composer credit to Pinetop Perkins for "For You My Love" composed by Paul Gayten, and the aforementioned Ivory Joe Hunter and Pinetop Smith songs. Otherwise this is an entertaining reminder of the delightful, sometimes exciting, Chicago blues on tours like the one captured on this release. Perhaps not essential, but certainly a release fans of the two, and Chicago blues, will be interested in.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is Jimmy Rogers with James Cotton.

And here is Pinetop Perkins as part of Mitch Woods' Boogie Woogie Blow-Out.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Happy New Year

Happy New Year to all. here are a few videos for you to enjoy.

From Lightnin' Hopkins

and from Blind Lemon Jefferson

and from Charlie Jordan

and Lonnie Johnson

and a little Charles Brown

and from Roy Milton a New Years Resolution

And let us remember auld lang syne

First Bobby Timmons with the late Butch Warren on bass

Next Jim Cullen

and Dejan's Olympia Brass Band

and finally Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians