Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors Aftershock

Lil' Shaky and the Tremors
EZV Records

Chris Vachon, Roomful of Blues' guitarist for the past 25+ years who also has co-produced their last 10 albums, alerted me to this group and project he is part of that he recorded, mixed and mastered. The rest of this group is Ed Wright, a solid blue-eyed soulful vocalist and bassist; Jeff Ceasrine on keyboards, and Larr Anderson on drums. Also heard are The Naked Horns on several tracks, Mike Rand on harmonica for a couple selections, Brenda Bennett who contributes a lead vocal on one selection, and sundry other musicians and backing vocals.

Much of this is in a soul-blues vein and showcases Wright's strong singing stands out especially on an surprising cover of Bill Withers' "Grandma Hands" that also has solid vocal backing from The Gospel Love Notes (and crisp Vachon guitar fills). If that is perhaps the standout track, his renditions of the O.V. Wright classic "I'd Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy," the George Jackson penned Ann Pebbles;' gem "Slipped Tripped And Fell In Love," or Syl Johnson's soul stomper "I Only Have Love." Wright and the horn augmented band give a gritty rendition of Bobby Bland's "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."

Several other numbers have more of roots-rock flavor including a strong take on Bobby Charles' "Why Are People Like That," a rockabilly-flavored rendition of a Willie Dixon's "I Love the Life I Live," and the closing "It's All Over Now," that is based on Bobby Womack's 1997 recording, not The Valentinos' original from the sixties. They complement the deep soul performances with some very fine playing throughout, and excellent production, that make for a very appealing recording for blues and soul fans.

I received my review copy from Chris Vachon. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is a video of them performing "I Wouldn't Treat A Dog (The Way You Treated Me)."

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Mike Neer Steelonious

Mike Neer

Steel guitar has generally been associated with western swing and honky tonk country, although there have been exceptions with sacred steel gospel players. There have been several notable blues lap steel players including Hop Wilson, L.C. 'Good Rockin'' Robinson, and Sonny Rhodes, and more recently Kenny Neal and Selwyn Birchwood. This is not to forget Freddie Roulette, whose playing with Earl Hooker and the Chicago Blues Stars (including his remarkable playing on "Summertime") and somewhat more recent recordings including the CD backed by Willie Kent and his band, "Back in Chicago," and the overlooked "Man of Steel," that included his recasting of Lee Morgan's "Sidewinder."

Now we have a intriguing new release by steel guitarist Mike Neer, a tribute to Thelonious Monk. Neer (who also plays ukulele, bass on "Ask Me Now" and adds percussion) is backed by Matt King on piano and organ, Andrew Hall on bass and Diego Voglino on drums and percussion with Tom Beckham adding vibes to two tracks. This is a tribute CD that does not take itself too seriously as Neer initially channeling in the Surfaris' "Wipeout" and the Ventures on the opening of "Epistrophy," Then there is the tinge of Western Swing on "I Mean You," with someone (Neer?) chanting like Bob Wills "Steelonious." The following selection, "Off Minor" is a bouncy performance with King on organ. King, is a more conventional keyboard player than Monk was, but the leader's arrangements for the whole group instill the Monkish flavor.

The two tracks with Beckham include "In Walked Bud" which is taken at a slower tempo than the usual buoyant groove while he provides musical color and texture to the lovely "Ask Me Now." Neer's rendition of "Ugly Beauty" is a lovely atmospheric performance, while "Blue Monk," which closes the CD is a nice moody rendition of this classic Monk blues with the rhythm section providing sturdy support. This recording is a delight with some fresh takes on Monk's music. You can purchase as a CD or as a download and Neer has information at http://www.steelonious.com/buy-steelonious/. I recommend purchasing it at bandcamp (mikeneer.bandcamp.com/album/steelonious) where if you purchase the CD, you also get a bonus download track in a briskly paced interpretation of "Well, You Needn't."

I purchased this. Here is a rendition of "Blue Monk."

Friday, October 27, 2017

Vivian Buczek Ella Lives

Vivian Buczek
Ella Lives
Prophone Records

Swedish vocalist Vivian Buczek has made her contribution to the Ella Fitzgerald centenary with this release. This is collaboration with pianist and arranger Martin Sjöstedt with bassist Niklas Fernqvist and drummer Johan Löfcrantz Ramsay. Also appearing on this are Mattias Ståhl on vibraphone; Fredrik Lindborg on bass clarinet and tenor sax; Peter Asplund on trumpet and flugelhorn; and Karl-Martin Almqvist on tenor sax.

The eleven numbers interpreted here include gems from Gershwin, Cole Porter, Jerome Kern, Ray Noble, and Duke Ellington and if these songs will be familiar, the arrangements provided by Sjöstedt along with Buczek's singing, result in lively and fresh renditions. The focus of course is Buczek's vocals. She not only possesses a lovely voice, but her vocals, including her scatting, display impeccable pitch, diction, timing. Her use of dynamics in her delivery of a lyric are marvelous. The backing is terrific too, with Sjöstedt marvelous in comping or soloing as when she wordlessly sings along with Asplund's flugelhorn on "Tenderly."

Highlights include her exquisite rendition of Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss" with Stahl's vibes accenting her vocal and Ramsey employing brushes; the terrific "The Man I Love," with lively backing, a stellar vibes solo, Sjöstedt superbly accompanying the vocal, and Asplund,  taking his own fascinating solo; the wonderful "The Very Thought of You," with strong tenor sax from Lindborg; and her superb scatting on "Lady Be Good," along with some fiery trumpet. Finally, one cannot understate the importance of the rhythm duo of bassist Fernqvist and drummer Ramsay on the consistently wonderful performances on "Ella Lives." Vivian Buczek has not only provided a stellar Ella Fitzgerald tribute but shows herself to be a fabulous jazz singer in her own right.

I received a review copy from the US distributor of this release. Here she performs "The Man I Love."


Thursday, October 26, 2017

Howlin' At Greaseland

Howlin' At Greaseland
West Tone Records

Some veterans and new names join together for a tribute to Howlin' Wolf that was recorded at Kid Andersen's' Greaseland studio and has a cover inspired by Wolf's Rockin' Chair album. Assembled for this besides Andersen on guitar, bass and piano, are Rick Estrin and Aki Kumar on harp, Lorenzo Farrell, Jim Pugh and Henry Gray on piano, Rockin' Johnny Burgin, Johnny Cat, and Chris James on guitar; Joe Kyle Jr, Patrick Rynn, Robby Yamilov and Vance Ehlers on bass; Derrick Dmar Martin, and Junior Core on drums; and Terry Hanck on sax, with vocals from Gray, Hanck, Alabama Mike John Blues Boyd, Lee Donald and Tail Dragger on vocals.

There are solidly played and sung performances in the manner of the originals, if not quite of the level of the originals. After all, there was only one Howlin' Wolf. Alabama Mike sings with urgency on "Meet Me In The Bottom," with Estrin's harmonica and Farrell's piano featured while "Smokestack Lightning," has the first of Boyd's vocals with Estrin doing a nice evocation of Wolf's harp over the solid vocal. Boyd also recalled seeing Wolf in 1956 visiting a school friend of his before launching into a rollicking "Riding in the Moonlight," with the spirit of Willie Johnson suggested in the guitar backing. After recalling, his father booking Howlin' Wolf in the sixties in suburban Chicago, Terry Hanck handles "Howlin' For My Darling," with a fine vocal and strong sax, while Johnny Cat emulates Hubert Sumlin.

Tail Dragger has a couple of recollections of Wolf here along with performances of "I'm Leaving You," and "Don't Trust No Woman," with his slightly muffled vocals with strong accompaniment from Rockin' Johnny Burgin on guitar, and Aki Kumar on harp. Henry Gray, who spent 14 years in Wolf's band, is backed by Chris James, Patrick Rynn, Ali Kumar (who shares the vocal) and Junior Core, doing a solid "Worried Life Blues." I believe this is the only song here not identified with Wolf. Also, Gray sings and plays "Little Red Rooster, with Kid Andersen's acoustic guitar the only other backing.

I am not familiar with Lee Donald, who is the strong vocalist on "Forty Four," and Boyd sings robustly on "Spoonful" that closes "Howlin' At Greaseland." While there is nothing earthshaking here, this is a fine, straightforward homage to one of the icons of the blues.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is John 'Blues' Boyd singing a Wolf classic not on this album, "Back Door Man."

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Jared Sims Change of Address

Jared Sims
Change of Address

An educator (currently Director of Jazz Studies at West Virginia University) who plays multiple reeds, Jared Sims as a performer focuses on the baritone sax. The title of this album reflects his move from Boston to West Virginia where he went to school. On this he is joined by Steve Fell on guitar; Nina Ott on organ, Chris Lopes on bass and Jared Seabrook on drums for a program of 7 tunes where he gets to display his rugged, energetic playing on seven originals.

The album takes off with the bouncy, funky groove groove of "Offer For Wilson, with Ott's greasy organ setting the mood for Sims to join in with his brawny attack. It is followed by "Seeds of Shihab," a tribute to one of his influences, baritone great Sahib Shihab, where his authoritative soloing is supported by a simple backing with Fell then taking a blues-inflected solo contrasts with the dark bottom sound of the leader's baritone. The soul-jazz flavor of this recording continues with "Ghost Guest 1979," which showcases guitarist Fell who employs a number of effects on his solo before Sims barrels in on the baritone. "Leap of Faith" is a tone poem with electronics creating aural textures that is the foundation for Sims' playing. "Forest Hills," named after a Boston neighborhood, is a spirited number with Fell's bluesy guitar making judicious use of tonal variations and effects. The opening to "Tower of Fazenda" establishes a morose atmosphere which Sims maintains as he plays with restraint followed by Fell's deliberate crafting of his solo.

"Lights and Colors," with a bouncy groove, and strong playing from Sims and Fell, closes "Change of Address," on a dance-able note. The playing, especially of Sims and Fell, captures the ear, even if the backing sometimes is only serviceable. Still an intriguing recording by a formidable baritone player.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).  

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

The Sherman Holmes Project The Richmond Sessions

The Sherman Holmes Project
The Richmond Sessions
M.C. Records

The origins of this album by the surviving member of The Holmes Brothers goes back to 2014, the year they were honored with a National Heritage Fellowship, the highest award given in the US for traditional arts. That same year they participated as master artists in the Virginia Folklife Apprenticeship Program where they mentored several young musicians. While they enjoyed the performances of those they mentored along with other traditional musicians, not long after in January 2015, Popsy Dixon passed away from cancer and then Sherman's brother Wendell died a few months later of multiple health problems. Sherman in that year continued to participate in the Apprenticeship Program mentoring 11 year old Whitney Nelson, and after backing her at the Apprenticeship Showcase, he was asked to sing a number in honor of Wendell and Popsy, and sat down at the keyboards to sing a traditional gospel number, "I Want Jesus." It was after that performance that Jon Lohman suggested they record this album.

Lohman suggests that in the spirit of The Holmes Brothers, this recording draws on a variety of genres and styles. While true, this recording has a strong bluegrass-Americana feel, with the blues and soul aspects somewhat less prominent. Lohman, besides producing this adds harmonica behind Holmes' vocals, bass and keyboards. Other notable musicians on this include Rob Ickes on dobro; Jared Pool on mandolin and telecaster guitar; Sammy Shelor on banjo; Jacob Eller on upright bass; and David Van Deventer on fiddle. Joan Osborne, long-time friend of The Holmes Brothers, adds her vocal on one track, while the Ingramettes add backing vocals to others selections.

Gospel songs are in fair abundance here ranging from the living bluegrass rendition of "Rock of Ages," with strong dobro and fiddle along with a terrific supporting vocal from one of the Ingramettes, the austere "I Want Jesus," with simple accompaniment (again with dobro prominent) and gospel chorus backing); the traditional African-American gospel rendered "Wide River," and a stunning bluegrass-rooted rendition of Carter Stanley's sentimental ballad "White Dove." There are strong heartfelt performances, renditions of Vince Gill's "Liza Jane" (not the similarly titled New Orleans number) and Jim Lauderdale's "Lonesome Pines." Toss in intriguing versions of The Band's "Don't Do It," and Creedence Clearwater Revivals' "Green River," with vocals that would likely have impressed Levon Helm.

There are two deep soul numbers, renditions of "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" (with a intriguing employment of traditional country instruments in the backing), and the James Carr classic, "The Dark End of the Street," with Joan Osborne guesting in support here. The Carr number has also been been one that a number of country performers recorded back in the sixties. The album closes with the Ben Harper composition "Homeless Child," with a powerful lyric, fervent backing chorus and focused backing. It is another heartfelt performance on this strongly performed and moving recording that may transcend classification but one that will enthrall those who simply love good music.

I received my review copy from M.C. Records. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here Sherman Holmes performs "Green River."

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Steve Howell Jason Weinheimer - A Hundred Years From Today

Steve Howell Jason Weinheimer
A Hundred Years From Today
Out of the Past Music

Steve Howell & the Might Men's "Yes I Believe I Will," I found to be "a delightful, congenial mix of folk, country and blues that will appeal to a wide range of roots music listeners." Howell's latest is an acoustic collaboration with Weinheimer, a member of the Mighty Men, as they interpret early jazz and blues numbers from a variety of sources including Mississippi John Hurt, Jim Jackson, Jack Teagarden, Louis Armstrong and Bo Carter.

Howell's easy flowing finger style guitar and genial vocals are supported by Weinheimer's bass starting with "Lulu's Back in Town" that was first popularized by Fats Waller. Howell does lack the exuberance that Waller had, with a low-key singing approach that is analogous to Mississippi John Hurt, even if he doesn't have quite the warmth of Hurt's vocals (but who does). Of the pleasures to be heard here are covers of a couple of Hurt's recordings including a marvelous "Louis Collins." There is a nice reading of Jim Jackson's "Kansas City Blues," along with the reflective title track that he learned from Jack Teagarden. An earnest "Basin Street Blues" is followed by the medley of "Limehouse Blues" and "After You've Gone" with superb finger style playing and a genial vocal on the latter number."

After a jaunty version of Bo Carter's "Who's Been Here" (Carter's rendering of "Alabamy Bound"), Howell closes this with an affecting rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "Rockin' Chair," that was a staple of Jack Teagarden and Louis Armstrong's repertoire, and often a highlight of Armstrong's All Stars when Teagarden was a member. Living Blues once characterized Howell as a "gentle, Deep South-inspired acoustic troubadour," and this thoroughly captivating, if brief, recording displays why with his affable and charming performances.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here the two perform "Kansas City Blues."

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Dave Stryker Strykin' Ahead

Dave Stryker
Strykin' Ahead

Guitarist Dave Stryker returns with his 28th album as a leader with the same supporting cast as last year's "Eight-Track II": his working organ trio of Jared Gold on organ and McClenty Hunter on drums augmented with vibraphone player Steve Nelson, the same configuration as on that recording. Unlike that recording's focus on pop hits of decades past, the present album features his originals along with re-harmonizations of several jazz standards.

His time with Jack McDuff and Stanley Turrentine certain are evident on the opening 14 bar blues, "Shadowboxing," with some strong organ in addition to guitar. It is followed by a nice "Footprints," that starts off in an understated fashion with intriguing chordal variations on Wayne Shorter's classic number as the performs starts simmering with a building intensity. Nelson provides a different tonal voice with his shimmering playing here followed by some more impressive guitar with Gold's organ smoldering as the performance reaches its end. Another original follows, the swinging "New You," a contrafact of the oft-played "There Will Never Be Another You," which was inspired by the Blue Note recordings of Larry Young, Grant Green and Elvin Jones.

There is an exceptionally lovely rendition of Billy Strayhorn's "Passion Flower," followed by the lively title track and then another excellent, atmospheric late night blues, "Blues Down Deep," with Stryker's technique, restraint, taste and imagination at the forefront. A bright rendition of Clifford Brown's "Joy Spring," with some lovely unison playing from Stryker and Nelson along with some of Stryker's most scintillating fretwork is followed by a enchanting "Who Can I Turn To," with some peppery guitar, and surging organ from Gold.

The album closes with a spirited "Donna Lee," with fast fluid fretwork along with Nelson's nimble mallets. I haven't mentioned Hunter, but his crisp, imaginative stick work adds rhythmic accents as well as drive these marvelous performances forward. With his latest, Dave Stryker continues to impress with his imaginatively conceived and superbly played recordings.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Dave Stryker performing at Small's in New York City.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Ronny Whyte Shades of Whyte

Ronny Whyte
Shades of Whyte
Audiophile Records

Perhaps there is nothing extraordinary of the latest release by singer-pianist Ronny Whyte, which is not to deny definite pleasures to listening to this recording of renditions mostly from the Great American Songbook. A veteran, he recently turned 80, has been a fixture on the New York scene performing in many of the city’s intimate supper clubs, night clubs and superior hotel lounges. Besides arranging the songs, he co-wrote 5 of the 16 selections on this release. Backing him are bassist Boots Maleson, guitarist Sean Harksness, Lou Caputo on tenor sax & Flute, Mauricio De Souza on drums, and Alex Nguyen on trumpet with Dave Stillman on drums on one track.

Whyte recently turned 80 and there are a few spots where his intonation may be a tad off, but that is a minor issue. It is delightful to hear his straight-forward treatment of "This Song is You" (with a bit of scatting), "Nina Never Knew," and "Linger Awhile," as well as his bossa nova original "It's Time For Love," and a Bossa Nova medley of "A Little Samba" & "So Danco Samba." He is a romantic as displayed on his own 'I Love The Way You Dance," and the ballad "Blame It on The Movies." Caputo is outstanding throughout on either tenor sax or flute such as on the sober ballad, "Some Of My Best Friends Are The Blues." Nguyen's trumpet also marvelously compliments Whyte like on "For Heaven's Sake." "I'm Old fashioned" is a splendid performance without horns that allows Whyte to showcase his deft piano playing along with brief solos from Maleson and Stillman.

A swinging "Dancing in the Dark," with choice solos from Caputo, Maleson and Harksness closes this delightful vocal jazz CD.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374). Here is Ronny Whyte in performance from 2007.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Bill O’Connell Monk's Cha Cha

Bill O’Connell
Monk's Cha Cha
Savant Records

Bill O'Connell 40 year career, where he has contributed substantial to both jazz and the Afro-Cuban musical traditions, including a stint with Mongo Santamaria and engagements with such hallowed improvisers as Sonny Rollins, Chet Baker, Gato Barbieri and Emily Remler. He also has a long working relationship with the late bassist Charles Fambrough that produced four recordings. Bill O'Connell latest recording is a solo recording from a solo performance at the Carnegie-Farian Room at the Nyack (NY) Library. Five of the nine selections are O'Connell originals, with four interpretations of standards.

The swinging opening "The Song is You" provides the first taste of the lyricism and improvisatory invention that O'Connell invests in his performance with his chords mix in with flowing arpeggios as he explores the familiar melody in several fashions. The following rendition of "Dindi" is a more pensive approach to Jobim's classic that illustrates his use of dynamics. The classic ballad, "It Could Happen To You" also exhibits his ability to extract so much from a melody, yet play in  a spare manner. The title track intertwines an evocation of "Misterioso" and "Well You Needn't," with him providing spicy Afro-Cuban flavor with his right hand. One might imagine the joyfulness of a performance by The Latin Jazz All-Stars, that he leads, on this composition. The striking, "Zip Line" has a lively tone, while "Hither Hills" is a lovely, reflective performance.

Among the remaining performances is a scintillating rendition of Mongo Santamaria's classic "Afro Blue." This is a fine homage to the gentleman who allowed him as a young man to hone his skills as a pianist, composer and arranger. Decades later, the performances here show just how he has further developed, producing this exceptional solo piano recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a Latin Jazz band rendition of the title track of this solo piano recording.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Janet Lawson Quintet

The Janet Lawson Quintet
The Janet Lawson Quintet
BBE Records

This is an expanded re-release of a Grammy nominated album by The Janet Lawson Quintet. It was originally issued on Inner City Records in 1981 and augmented by four selections from a tribute to Miles Davis in the late 1990s. Lawson was born in Baltimore before moving to New York for decades of performing as well as teaching. Recently she has had health issues and moved back to Baltimore to be with family. The Janet Lawson Quintet on the Inner City recording included Bill O’Connell, piano; Ratzo Harris, bass; Roger Rosenberg, sax/flute; and Jimmy Madison, drums. For the Miles Davis Tribute, Mike Richmond was on bass and Billy Hart on drums.

What becomes clearly evident on the opening "You Promised" is how commanding she was with her articulation and interpretation of lyrics, with her attention to diction and the nuances of words, through her phrasing, intonation, range and dynamics as well as magic of wordless improvisation lyrics with her, where her voice becomes another horn and becomes as important a solo voice as the instrumentalists, reflecting perhaps her studies with Warne Marsh. It does not hurt that she is backed by a superb band with O'Connell's soloing (and accompanying) brilliantly in addition to Rosenberg's flighty flute or meaty saxophone. Another stunning performance is of Fats Waller classic "Jitterbug Waltz," where Rosenberg's sax enters after Lawson opens it scatting the theme on a performance that seems modeled on Eric Dolphy's. Lawson's riveting scatted solo is followed my O'Connell's own fresh improvisation. "Round Midnight" generally lends itself to perhaps a more reflective tenor, but her scatting is followed by some brawny tenor sax.

From the Miles Davis session, there is an inspired interpretation of "It Ain't Necessarily So," with Mike Richmond adding a bass solo as well as a lovely "I Thought About You," and a stunning free-bop of "Joshua" from Miles' second great quintet. The remainder of this release is of a similar high level." The Press release for the British release mentions the inclusion of her rendition of Jobim's "Dindi," but that was not included on the review copy I received, so I am not sure whether that is included in the US release. The copy of the CD I received also did not list the personnel that I have included in this review. But with 72 minutes of often stunning music, this expanded "The Janet Lawson Quintet" makes for enthralling listening.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373).

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Ignacio Berroa Trio Straight Ahead From Havana

Ignacio Berroa Trio
Straight Ahead From Havana
Codes Drum Music

The organizing principle of drummer Ignacio Berroa is taking standards from the Cuban repertoire and reimagining them in a straight ahead jazz context. On this recording he is joined by pianist Martin Bejerano and bassist Josh Allen (Lowell Ringel substitutes on two of the ten songs) with Conrado "Coky' Garcia adding percussion on two tracks and Ruben Blades takes the lead vocal on one.

The approach can be heard on the opening "Alma Con Alma" that some may be familiar with from Ray Barreto's recording which comes off like a solid hard bop number that allows one to approach Bejerano's considerable technique as well as strong post-Bud Powell playing on this with Allen and the leader terrific supporting his fiery playing here, followed by Allen's own brisk, cleanly articulated solo and Berroa's hot solo. One not knowing the nature of this session would simply find this to be superb bop piano. A similar musical imagination invests the treatment of "Le Tarde," into a medium tempo swinging number with Bejerano engaging the listener with his fluidity, touch and nuance. The rendition of the Afro-Cuban Children's lullaby, "Drume Negrita" (some will know from Celia Cruz), has a latin tinge with the leader's drumming accenting the relatively spare piano lead. Ruben Blades is heard on "Negro De Sociedad" which is performed in a more relaxed manner than the hot salsa fashion that is incorporated at the beginning and end here.

Other delights include the bouncy "Los Tres Golpes," with Garcia's percussion adding to the driving groove, the reflective "Si Me Pudieras Querer," and the dazzling, spirited "Me Recordaras," that closes this fabulous recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373). Here is the Ignacio Berroa Trio in performance.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Steve Krase Should've Seen it Coming

Steve Krase
Should've Seen it Coming
Connor Ray Music

I am familiar with harmonica-player Steve Krase from his contributions to recent Trudy Lynn recordings. This his is apparently his fourth album, but first this writer has heard. He is backed by a band that includes co-producer Rick Romano on bass, David Carter on guitar, Richard Cholakian on drums, Randy Wall on keyboards and Alisha Pattillo on saxophones, with appearances from guitarists mark May and Bob Lanza, James Gilmore and backing vocals from Trudy Lynn. Six of the eleven songs here are 'covers' (including one credited to Kraze) and there are two explicit versions of two of the originals that are at then end of the CD.

 Krase says he wanted to make a fun record and he did so opening with a bouncy Romano-penned shuffle "Brand New Thang" with Mark May's stinging guitar along with his harp (the vocal likely overdubbed over the backing. The track displays his appealing, unforced vocals and skilled harp. It is followed by a take on a classic Little Walter recording, "Crazy For My Baby," distilled through Charlie Musselwhite's version with a rumba groove, backing vocals and solid chromatic harp. A bouncy rendition (with terrific harmonica) of an old Bobby Mitchell (and Fats Domino) recording "Let the Four Winds Blow," is followed by his lyrical updating of a Jimmy Rogers recording "The World's Still in a Tangle" (which actually goes back to Arthur Crudup, Robert Lockwood and Honeyboy Edwards) as he is building a bunker instead digging a cave and adding references to assault rifles and zombies. This is a wonderfully paced performance with steady backing and more terrific harmonica.

A bit of danceable rock and roll with Bob Lanza taking the lead guitar is "Shot of Rhythm and Blues," followed by the title track that Krase's brother penned with Pattillo's sax adding to the mood on this lyric along with a whispered vocal and then a lengthy jamming section where Wall and Carter also solo. There is a lively and imaginative interpretation of James 'Wee Willie' Wayne's "Travellin' Mood" (also a staple for Snooks Eaglin), followed by take on Clarence 'Frogman' Henry's "Troubles, Troubles," that is solidly played but taken at too quick a tempo. After a strong shuffle, "Make You Love Me Baby," comes the hilarious "Repo Man" as a modern bad ass who won't knock on the door, but will bang one's wife, but will take one's car, and nothing one can do because the repo man is coming after you. There is some terrific sax on this performance. This along with the title track are also heard in separate takes with explicit lyrics placed at the end of the CD. "Way Back Home" by Wilton Felder was originally recorded by the Jazz Crusaders. Krase has adapted Junior Parker's recording for this excellent, moody instrumental.

Certainly a solid recording as Krase is a very good singer and striking harmonica player with adept, steady support, and fresh material and takes on older songs making for a totally engaging recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the July-August 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 373), although I have made a few minor changes to the text. Here is a performance by the Steve Krase Band.


Saturday, October 14, 2017

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story

Survivor: The Benny Turner Story
Bill Dahl and Benny Turner
Nola Blue, Inc.
2017: 238 + xiv pages

This is a little gem of a book where Benny Turner, with Bill Dahl's assistance, tells his fascinating story from growing up in Texas along with half-brother Freddie King, moving to Chicago where he worked with his half-brother, along with various gospel, rhythm and blues and Chicago blues legends, spending time with Mighty Joe Young after Freddie passed until Young had medical issues, then spending years leading Marva Wright's Band, and after her passing taking up the spotlight as a leader and recording and performing under his own name.

The story begins as Turner goes into his family background, noting Freddie's real father who abandoned him and how he became King while Benny is named after his father. They grew up in Jim Crow Texas although it wasn't until several years passed that he experienced the humiliation blacks could be subjected to. While his father did not play, his mother did as did several uncles including Uncle Leon. Benny states his mother and Uncle Leon played songs from Robert Johnson and Leadbelly, which I take allegorically (as to songs similar to those of Johnson and Leadbelly) and not literally. What is more important than this is the closeness of his family, including his relationship with his half-brother and he helped Freddie in the cotton fields, although he was accidentally injured once and still has a four inch scar from it, and the accidental death of Uncle Leon. His mother also lay down the discipline as he was growing up.

The family moved to Chicago in 1950 with his father getting a job with a steel company assisting with molten steel and tipping buckets into molds. It was a whole new world of experiences including electric lights, indoor plumbing and Freddie wanting to see a refrigerator make ice and also getting enrolled in school and the like, with Benny initially enrolled in a predominantly white school where he faced racist bullying and after fighting out of a situation was enrolled in a black school, but even here he had to fight himself out of a similar situation except here it was neighborhood kids, but he also recalled experiences of police harassment simply walking back home form a movie theater.

Besides recalling some of the interesting characters in the neighborhood and other situations, he starting singing doo-wop with classmates and after awhile they even went to Chess Records hoping to record and met Rice 'Sonny Boy Williamson' Miller who they watched record with Turner recalling the interaction between the Miller and Leonard Chess. Benny would next cross paths with Miller while playing with his brother. Turner recounts his experiences auditioning for gospel groups and other vocal groups, and day jobs after his father was disabled after being hit by a car. He started playing guitar in a gospel group, the Kindly Shepherds with whom Turner traveled and made his first recordings. He recounts experiences traveling with them including harassment from police down south.

While his career was starting, brother Freddie's career was taking off. Turner notes the influences of Jimmy Rogers and Robert Lockwood on King's guitar style as well as King's admiration of Earl Hooker while also noting folks like Jimmy Lee Robinson that were in King's bands. He recalls Freddie taking him to see Howlin' Wolf who put King under his wing, and recalls Freddie recording "Spoonful" with the Wolf, a recollection that will bring back the controversy of decades ago on Freddie's claim of having recorded that backing Wolf. He also recalls Freddie playing with Robert 'Mojo' Elem and T.J. McNulty who Luther Allison would front after Freddie started going on the road (Luther told me this years ago and Turner includes a picture of a very young Luther with McNulty here).

The detail I have provided is incomplete but indicates the contents of this wonderful memoir that details his own musical career that included touring with Dee Clark which he spends some detail on and later he would play bass with The Soul Stirrers (the first electric bassist with a gospel group) as well playing with various Chicago blues and soul legends including Freddie in a band that included Little Johnnie Jones and Abb Locke. Later he would return to Freddie's band after his time playing with the Soul Stirrers though also spent time with Jimmy Reed and others before rejoining Freddie who he remained with until his passing detailing concerts, recording sessions and the like. And he was with Freddie until the end, remembering some conversations between the brothers, the last performance and the aftermath of his death.

After his brother's death, Mighty Joe Young got him into his band with whom he would play with until surgery intended to fix a pinched neck in his neck, instead left unable to play with that arm. Around this time, he moved to New Orleans although remaining close with Young until Young passed away in 1999. In New Orleans he started playing at the Old Absinthe Bar which unfortunately now is a daiquiri shop. Interweaving his experiences living in New Orleans was his hooking up with Marva Wright, who was a church-going woman starting as a blues singer although beginning her career singing blues. At the time Marva had a band of jazz players which she didn't like (in fact hated it), when she hooked up with Turner which was fine as he really preferred working with just one person like he had with Freddie and Joe Young. It was the beginning of a lengthy time as he became her band leader. There are recollections of her powerful singing, especially with the bishop, organist Sammy Berfect who passed in 1999, of a plane ride in Europe where all the band members were scared for their lives and being reunited with Tyrone Davis in New Orleans who he had not seen in years, and then seeing James Cotton in Brazil who he had last seen when Cotton had been in Muddy Waters' band. Hurricane Katrina of course interrupted Turner's life as it did Marva. Marva relocated to Baltimore, and Benny flew in to play a benefit for Marva at the now closed Bangkok Blues in Falls Church, Virginia a Washington DC suburb, that Benny includes a photo of himself from on page 197 (it was likely my photo although uncredited but I recognize the location), noting it was his 1st post-Katrina performance. Marva eventually came back to New Orleans and Benny rejoined her until she suffered a stroke in 2009 and passed in 2010.

After Marva's passing, Turner took the spotlight at last and the last chapter details some of the events such as going up to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with her niece Wanda when Freddie King was inducted, as well as paying a musical tribute to Marva Wright at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and later at the Rock'n'Bowl in New Orleans. Then he ran into an old friend, Sallie Bengtson, with whom he has partnered to release a number of recordings as a leader and this memoir, and recounts his tours over the past several years such as running into old friends, former Muddy Waters band-member Bob Margolin and Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks.

As Turner states near the book's end, he still has plenty to say and play and one certainly hopes that he does for many years to come. He shares here some observations on the state of the music today. He  may be a blues survivor, but he remains today a terrific musician who continues to enrich us today with his performances, recordings and this book. The lively text is also copiously illustrated with photos from Turner's entire life. This is highly recommended to all fans of blues music.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374).

Friday, October 13, 2017

King James & The Special Men Act Like You Know

King James & The Special Men
Act Like You Know
Special Man Industries

Having moved from Seattle to New Orleans in 1993, James Horn went from busking on the streets, playing in dozens of different bands and genres before forming King james & The Special Men who play their own raucous, second-line rooted music, rooted in the classic New Orleans R&B and rock of the fifties and sixties. The sound was honed playing residencies at various New Orleans music halls and drinking establishments, the most recent being the Saturn Bar in the Bywater. Horn's vocals and guitar is supported by: Ben Polcer on piano, bassist Robert Snow, guitarist John "Porkchop" Rodli, Chris "Showtime" Davis on drums, Scott Frock on trumpet and the sax section - Jason Mingledorff and Travis Blotzky on tenor with baritone man Dominick Grillo.

And he six tunes on this are originals that evoke the sound of some Crescent City classics such as the rollicking rump and roll, Professor Longhair styled groove of the opening "Special Man Baby," while the playing on the slow blues "Baby Girl," conjures up Guitar Slim's "The Things I Used To Do." "Eat That Chicken" was inspired by Jessie Hill, with the horns riffing a simplified "Fannie Mae" horn riff against a Fats Domino styled backing. "Tell Me (What You Want Me to Do)," is another classic blues performance with more than a slight hint of the early, bluesy Ray Charles (think of "A Fool For You").

"The End is Near" is a medium tempoed blues with some emphatic playing from the horns and rhythm with a Huey 'Piano' Smith flavor (Polcer is especially fine here) that leads into the disc's closing, and longest performance, "9th Ward Blues," a funky jam that recalls some of the Dr. John & the Night Tripper jams. It is a rowdy close to a joyous celebration and original take on classic postwar New Orleans rhythm and blues and rock and roll.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here they cover a Lee Dorsey recording.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Lightnin' Willie No Black No White No Blues

Lightnin' Willie
No Black No White No Blues
Little Dog Records

Based in Los Angeles, Lightnin' Willie has produced an album of original blues songs produced by Pete Anderson (who is on bass and harmonica) with Michael Murphy on piano/organ or Skip Edwards on Hammond B-3/ Accordion among those supporting Willie's vocals and guitars on the ten originals here.

Lightnin Willie's gritty vocals appeal with his low-key, straight-forward, unforced delivery with a slight touch of sandpaper while his guitar playing is clean and fluidly delivered. There is much to enjoy with the band's straight-forward uncluttered backing on these nicely paced blues. This can be heard throughout, whether the slow, doomy "Locked In a Prison" or the walking tempoed "San'N'Blue" that sounds like it should be titled "Sad'N'Blue." There is nice accordion on this and the following "Note on My Door," which has a jazzy feeling. This is followed by the rumba groove on "Heartache." "Phone Stopped Ringing" has guitar playing that partially incorporates Jody Williams' "Lucky Lou."

The playing time may be short (30 minutes) but there is some nice music. Perhaps there is nothing startlingly original on this, but the performances are entertaining, as well as consistently well played and sung.

I received my review copy from a publicist.  Here is a video of him performing "Locked In a Prison."


Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons With Phil Wiggins A Black & Tan Ball

Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons With Phil Wiggins
A Black & Tan Ball
Hearth Music

The Seattle-based duo of Ben Hunter and Joe Seamons were winners of the 2016 solo/duo competition of the Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge. Although blues may be their music's anchor, the duo move as easily into string band music, old-time jazz and ragtime. While some might liken them to songsters, a better term might be Black Americana in how they pull together so many threads of Black American roots music. They, in fact think of themselves as songsters, rather than thinking of their music as blues. The violin, mandolin and guitar of Harper; and the guitar and banjo of Seamons; are joined by harmonica master Phil Wiggins. Wiggins himself has explored similar musical threads, reflecting the influence of mentors and friends like Howard Armstrong and Nat Reese. Phil has indeed made a similar recording of varied music with The Chesapeake Sheiks, his Washington DC area group .

The album opens with Phil singing "Do You Call That a Buddy," that Louis Jordan recorded originally.   Louis Armstrong with his big band also recorded this with his big band. Phil may have learned this from Howard Armstrong. If Phil's vocal phrasing is a tad stiff, he brings out the lyrics' considerable humor. The versatility of the trio is  heard in "Shanghai Rooster," an old time string band number with some wonderful banjo from Seamons, fiddle from Hunter and harp from Wiggins. Then there is a peppy, delightful reworking of The Mill Brothers "How'm I Doin'," with the three trading lead and harmony vocals. Leadbelly was first to record "Po Howard," a song inspired by a black fiddler with an intricate mandolin-banjo-harmonica accompaniment.

There is solid interplay between Hunter's violin and Wiggins' harmonica on a surprising take on the jazz classic "Struttin' With Some Barbeque," with some sublime solos from both. It is followed by an Ellington classic "Do Nothin' Till You Hear From Me," with Wiggins taking the vocal along with adding some wistful harmonica. The rendition of "John Henry" is derived from that of Sid Hemphill and Lucius Smith.  Seamons on banjo sets the tempo along with Hunter 's fiddle and Wiggins' harmonica adding accents. A  rendition of Leroy Carr's "Longing For My Sugar" has superb harmonica and marvelous mandolin.

Although attributed to Sylvester Weaver's twenties' recording, the rendition of "Guitar Rag" is more akin to the instrumental workouts Wiggins and the late John Cephas would include in their performances. In addition to Wiggins terrific harp, Hunter is sublime with his fiddle, while Seamons' guitar provides steady backing. After the trio's reimagining of Lane Hardin's "Hard Time Blues," there is a stutter-step rhythms of their adaptation of William Harris' "Bullfrog Blues," with some fine harmonica and it is nice to have another cover of this to join Canned Heat's 50 year rendition.

"Bad Man Ballad" is a song that was collected from an unnamed Parchman Farm inmate by John and Alan Lomax, but recorded by a number of old timey artists like Clarence Ashley and Doc Watson. The string band rendition here employs the lyrics collected by the Lomaxes. A cover of the Mississippi Sheiks, "Stop and Listen Blues," an adaptation of a Tommy Johnson theme, has Wiggins singing set against a solid fiddle and guitar backing closing a terrifically engaging, genre-transcending recording. For more information on the recordings here, including the sources of the songs, visit http://www.benjoemusic.com/black-tan-ball.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2017 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 374), but I have made a number of stylistic changes. Here is a video of the three performing.