Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Chris 'Bad News' Barnes Live

Chris 'Bad News' Barnes

Introduced as from Hells Kitchen in New York City, Chris Barnes logged over 2000 performances as a member of Chicago's Second City comedy troupe. With that background, he brings a certain live dynamism to a blues concert stage. This CD was recorded on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, produced by Tony Braunagel and engineered by Johnny Lee Schell, both of the Legendary Blues Band. His backing band includes the remarkable Steve Guyger on harmonica, Gary Huey on guitar, Sandy McDonald on piano, A.J. Pappas on bass, Matt Scurfield on drums, Mark Earley on sax, Doug Woolverton on trumpet and Gracie Curran on backing vocals.

This is party music played loud and sometimes lacking in subtlety as best illustrated by Barnes doing his original, "Hungry & Horny" set to the music of Earl King's "Come On (Let the Good Times Roll)." As he huskily shouts out his vocals, he receives tight, brassy backing. Sometimes the musicians rock out as guitarist Huey overplays on the cover of Muddy Waters' hit "Hootchie Cootchie Man." It is arguably Barnes' weakest vocal. Then Little Walter's "Boom Boom (Out Go The Lights" is taken as at too fast a tempo.

There is a credible rendition of Bo Diddley's "You Can't Judge a Book By Its Cover," and an imaginative rearranging arrangement of "It's Tight Like That," set to a "Bo Diddley' groove. Also, Big Bill's Broonzy "Keep Your Mind To It" is set to an understated New Orleans groove with exceptional solos from Sandy McDonald and Steve Guyger. There is also covers of Don Nix's "Going Down," and the Allman Brothers' "Whipping Post," with the latter number showcasing Huey's blues-rock slide guitar.

The CD closes with the Eddie Floyd classic, "Raise Your Hand." It has one of Barnes' better vocals. The performances here display his showmanship. and if he is not a consistently compelling blues performer, Chris Barnes is an entertaining one. This CD certainly will enliven many a party.

I received my review copy from Vizztone. Here he performs "Raise Your Hand."

Monday, December 30, 2019

Johnny Rawls I Miss Otis Clay

Johnny Rawls
I Miss Otis Clay
Third Street Cigar Records

Soul-Blues singer and guitarist Johnny Rawls has a new release whose title track is a salute to his friend, the late Otis Clay. "I Miss Otis Clay" is Rawls' first album for Third Street Cigar Records after a long association with Catfood Records. He had a long association with Clay that included an album they did together in 2015, "Soul Brothers" on Catfood. The musicians backing Rawls are Larry 'Mr. Entertainment' Gold on guitar, Johnny 'Hi-Fi' Newmark on bass, Cadillac Dan Magers on keyboards, Scott Kretzer on drums, Ric Wolkins on trumpet, and Mark Lemle on sax.

The album opens with the insistent groove of "California Shaking Again," as he sings about part tying all night along. Rawls wrote all the songs here and sings with the same low-key, but the subtly urgent approach that has made him so popular. These are well-crafted original soul-blues numbers handsomely backed and performed. Then there is "Give a Toast to the Blues," where he notes that the blues make you feel good and then salutes blues greats like B.B. King, Bobby Bland, Albert King Etta James, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Junior Wells, and others. The horns add a nice punch to this number. The title track is a marvelous tribute where Rawls first talks about Otis Clay's background and then how good a singer he was as well as being Rawls' good friend. Magers is outstanding on keyboards (both piano and organ) here.

On "I Can't Let Nobody," and "Can't Read Your Mind," Rawls captures the groove and feel of the classic Hi Recordings by Clay and O.V. Wright in whose band he played. His vocal on the latter number stands out as he pleads for his woman to give a sign of what she wants from him. Then there is the dance floor pleaser, "Slow Roll It," where he tells his lady to squeeze and hold him close as she had all the movements. This CD closes with a beautiful performance of a poignant ballad, "The Wind."

Johnny Rawls produced this recording (Third Street Cigar's John Henry was executive producer). It reflects Rawls' considerable recording experience and his attention to getting the sound right. Rawls' recordings and performances have reached both the blues and southern soul audiences. The superb "I Miss Otis Clay" is another outstanding Johnny Raws recording that will also have this wide appeal.

I received a review copy from Third Street Guitar Records. Here is Johny singing "I Miss Otis Clay."

Sunday, December 29, 2019


Various Artists

With an overabundance of blues artists recording tributes to rock icons, "Vanthology" stands out. One reason that this tribute to Van Morrison works is that producer Jon Tiven has collected a number of blues and soul legends to perform songs associated with the legendary Irishman, setting this apart from many similar concept discs which seem to have an overabundance of blues-rock guitar pounders.

The performers here include Little Milton, Freddie Scott, William Bell, Bettye Lavette, Eddie Floyd, Sir Mack Rice, Syl Johnson, Otis Clay, Son Seals, Ellis Hooks, Chuck Jackson, Henry Butler, and Bobby Patterson. The producer deliberately did not use horns on this to distinguish these interpretations from Morrison’s originals. The studio band is anchored by Butler with Tiven on guitar, wife Sally Tiven on bass and Simon Kirke on drums who provide funky, sympathetic backing for the awesome vocal talent here. Highpoints among the exceptional performances here include Little Milton’s rendering of "Tupelo Honey," William Bell’s rendition of "Have I Told You Lately," Freddie Scott’s "Brown-Eyed Girl," Bettye pleading vocal on "Real Real Gone." and Eddie Floyd’s Crazy Love. It is a special treat to her Sir Mack Rice, writer of that overplayed staple of blues bar bands "Mustang Sally," take up Morrison’s own bar band classic, "Gloria."

Morrison has been heavily influenced by blues and soul artists, a debt he has freely acknowledged in developing his own distinctive body of music, and some of these the artists pay tribute in this very fine release.

I likely received a review copy from Evidence Records. This review originally appeared in the May-June 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 268). Here is Sir Mack Rice doing "Gloria."

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Take 5 With Jimmy Noone

New Clarinetist Jimmy Noone was a pioneer of early jazz. His Wikipedia entry summarizes his career - 'Jimmie Noone (April 23, 1895 – April 19, 1944) was an American jazz clarinetist and bandleader. After beginning his career in New Orleans he led Jimmie Noone's Apex Club Orchestra, an influential Chicago band that recorded for Vocalion and Decca Records. Maurice Ravel acknowledged basing his Boléro on a Jimmie Noone improvisation. At the time of his death, Noone had his own quartet in Los Angeles and was part of an all-star band that was an important force in reviving interest in traditional New Orleans jazz in the 1940s."

For this Take 5 we look at his somewhat brief but influential career. he led a group at the Apex Club whose personnel also included Joe Poston (alto saxophone), Earl Hines (piano), Bud Scott (banjo and guitar) and Johnny Wells (drums). Later an Alex Hill would take over the piano chair. We start with what is likely his most famous recording, 'Sweet Lorraine."

Next up is a recording of "A Monday Date," that Earl Hines also recorded with Louis Armstrong.

Tampa Red and Georgia Tom as The Hokum Boys made "It's Tight Like That," a popular number of the era. Here is Jimmy Noone's recording.

He continued to lead groups in Chicago into the 1930s. Here he is heard with a group that included Gus Kelly on trumpet and Preston Jackson on trombone performing "Sweet Georgia Brown."

By the 194s he moved to California, leading a quartet as well as playing in an All-Star group that included Kid Ory that was broadcast over the air and hosted by Orson Welles. Here they perform, 'High Society."

Benny Goodman and countless other clarinet players were inspired and influenced by Noone. Noone was supposed to continue as part of the band on Orson Welles' broadcast, but his sudden passing was noted by Welles and memorialized by the band on the broadcast by "Blues For Jimmy." I add as a bonus the 1944 recording by Kid Ory to this playlist.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Fat Babies Uptown

The Fat Babies

The Fat Babies are an eight-piece jazz band interpreting classic styles of the 1920s and 30s. Founded in 2010 by string bass player Beau Sample, its members include Andy Schumm (cornet), John Otto (reeds), Jonathan Doyle (reeds), Dave Bock (trombone), John Donatowicz (banjo and guitar), Paul Asaro (piano), and Alex Hall (drums).

This is their fourth album for Delmark. Like their previous ones, this recording is a gem of traditional jazz, whether reworking King Oliver, some early Kansas City Jazz, James P. Johnson, and others or playing some original compositions that sound like they were from the 1920s and 1930s. A prominent example is "Uptown," composed by Andy Schumm. It evokes Bennie Moten, and the lesser-known George E. Lee Orchestra, with its steady gait and an opening solo from Bock on trombone working into trading licks between Bock and the other horns. Schumm wrote most of the arrangements. Doyle did arrange Bennie Moten's "Harmony Blues," with the vibrato-laden horn lines, hot cornet from Schumm, growling trombone, and a stately piano solo while Donatowicz provides a crisp rhythm on banjo. It is followed by Schumm's transcription and arrangement of Jesse Stone's "Ruff Scufflin'," with The Fat Babies transversing the intricacies of the melodic elements of this tune. The original George E. Lee Orchestra recording was one of the classics of Kansas City Jazz.

Asaro sings in the fashion of a crooner of a twenties sweet band on "Out of a Clear Blue Sky," with handsome backing and a clarinet trio chorus. After an evocative Doyle original, "Sweet Is the Night," there is the jumping James P. Johnson, "Thumpin' "N" Bumpin'." On the latter number, Bock and Schumm add a bit of heat with their short breaks. "The Spell of the Blues" is more of a torch song than an actual blues song that features crisp alto sax and cornet breaks. The spirited cover of Clarence Williams'"Harlem Rhythm Dance" features Schumm's fiery plunger mute cornet, Asaro's vocal, and Doyle's tenor sax.

There are few bands (Vince Giordano and the Nighthawks in New York is another) that play the music of the twenties and thirties as well as do The Fat Babies. "Uptown" is superbly played and an absolute delight for fans of early jazz.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records. Here are The Fat Babies in performance performing "It's Tight Like That," which is not on this recording.


Thursday, December 26, 2019

Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty

Janiva Magness
Change in the Weather - Janiva Magness Sings John Fogerty
BlueElan Records

This latest release from roots-blues diva Janiva Magness is a change of pace from her recent releases that leaned on her own songwriting. Here she interprets some of John Fogerty's most remembered songs, and for some of them lending a different view as sung by a woman. Supporting musicians include drummer Steve Wilson; guitarists David Darling (who produced this CD) and Zachery Ross; bassist Gary Davenport; and keyboardist Arlan Oscar. On one track Rusty Young adds dobro and guitar, and Aubrey Richard plays fiddle. There are guest vocals from Sam Morrow and Taj Mahal.

If I have any reservations it is what sounds like generic rock accompaniments to a couple of the songs such as the opening "Change in the Weather," with a freak-out blues-rock guitar solo. There are no complaints with Janiva Magness' singing. She has become one of the foremost blues and roots vocalists around. Mavis Staples is quoted in the press material that when Janiva sings "Soul music is alive and kicking," Her delivery of the songs is impeccable, bringing out some of the nuances of the lyrics.

Sam Newton (whose voice is suggestive of Fogerty) joins her for a spirited "Lodi." Her renditions of "Someday Never Comes" and "Have You Seen the Rain" displays her expressive range and are amongst her most powerful, and subtly passionate singing here. The more understated backing on the latter number enhances the mood as well. On "Don't You Wish It Were True," Taj Mahal adds his banjo and vocal. There is also slide guitar and a ragged groove as the two sing, wishing for a world with no more sorrow and hate. Slide guitar and a swampy groove underlie the cover of "Bad Moon Rising," while the rendition of "Fortunate Son" hews close to the Credence original with Magness singing with controlled anger fitting for the protest lyrics.

I am not familiar with all of the originals here, but particularly powerful is the performance of the less familiar "A Hundred and Ten in the Shade." It stands out with the stark simplicity of the music as Magness sings about "Bottomland hard as a gravestone… ." "Looking Out My Back Door," closes this album with a down-home, country feel with Rusty Young's dobro and Aubrey Richmond's fiddle adding to this tone. A few musical blemishes notwithstanding, Janiva Magness has certainly provided a superlative tribute to the music of John Fogerty.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here she performs "Have You Seen the Rain."

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps Live

Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps
Jesi-lu Records

Teresa James impressed this writer with her last two recordings, "Bonafide" and "Come On Home." The Texas-born, Los Angeles-based James & The Rhythm Tramps have a new "Live" CD from four-nights at Bogie's in Westwood Lake, California. As noted on the inside cover, there were four different versions of the Rhythm Tramps reflecting various tour schedules. The core band here includes her vocals and keyboards, husband Terry Wilson on bass, Billy Watts on guitar, Herman Matthews on drums, Lee Thornberg on trumpet, and Paulie Cerra or Ron Dziubla on saxophones. Others on some tracks include drummers Jay Bellarose and Tony Braunagel on drums, Joe Sublett on sax, and Darrell Leonard on trumpet.

"Live" is a lively mix of originals from Wilson and choice covers of blues and R&B sung passionately with strong, idiomatic backing. James opens with "In the Pink," naming some musical heroes, and singing that getting into the blues she now is in the pink. It is followed by a treatment of The Five Royales "I Like It Like That," with James' rollicking piano solo. There is a swamp-pop flavored "Put the Squeeze On Me," and the subtle, sultry soul of "Easier Said Than Done" with a terrific sax solo from Ron Dziubla.

Wilson's deep soul ballad "Forgetting You" takes us to Memphis with perhaps James' most intense singing with the horns coming off like The Memphis Horns, and Paulie Cerra short sax solo matching the fire of James' singing. More of a Motown groove is heard on "She's Got a Way With Men," who James sings won't have her way with her man. Cerra shines again here. Guitarist Watts plays Harvey Fuqua to James' Etta James on the fervent revival of the Fuqua-James 1960 Chess duet, "If I Can't Have You." It is followed by the New Orleans groove of Allen Toussaint's "Shoorah, Shoorah," with Tony Braunagel taking over the drum chair with James taking a piano break followed Joe Sublett's booting tenor sax solo.

Another standout track is a stunning slow blues performance, "The Day The Blues Came To Call," written by James and Wilson. It also has an incendiary guitar solo in addition to James' impassioned vocal. Other choice tracks include a strong cover of William Bell's "Everyday Will Be Like a Holiday," and the Tex-Mex feel of Glen Clark's "I Want It All," with James taking a crisp piano break. A hot, rocking salute to her home state, "Long Way From Texas," closes "Live" with James singing about making it home with fiery guitar and tenor sax solos. It concludes a terrific live blues and soul CD,

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here Teresa James & the Rhythm Tramps perform "Forgetting You."

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Chick Corea Trilogy 2

Chick Corea
Trilogy 2
Concord Jazz

The first "Trilogy" album was a three-CD collection of performances of the stellar trio of pianist Corea, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Brian Blade from two tours by the trio. About "Trilogy," I wrote in 2014 that Corea displayed "his continued combination of intelligence, imagination, technique, and passion. Collaborating with McBride and Blade, and the quests, his brilliance shines here." This can be said about the present double CD collection of twelve compositions performed during a 2016 tour.

The program on this double-CD release includes standards, classic jazz compositions and three of Corea's compositions. Corea unaccompanied opens "How Deep Is the Ocean" before McBride and Blade make their presence heard in on a terrific performance of this standard. It is followed by a spectacular performance of Corea's "5 Miles High" from his first Return to Forever recording. Listening to the three is listening equivalent to watching the Harlem Globetrotters do their basketball warmups. Corea's interpretation of Monk's Thelonious Monk's "Crepuscule With Nellie," is full of invention and surprise. After another wonderful ballad, "But Beautiful," with excellent brushwork from Blade and there is an animated rendition of "La Fiesta." Other standout selections include a stellar performance of Steve Swallow's "Eidertown" with stunning interplay between Corea and Blade and a superb McBride solo and a briskly-paced treatment of Miles Davis' "All Blues" with Corea dazzling.

"Now He Sings, Now He Sobs," was the title track of Corea's first trio album with Miroslav Vitous and Roy Haynes. McBride and Blade requested it for the tour, and the performance is its first official performance since 1968. Blade opens in with a parade-like groove before Corea enters on another lively performance with a lengthy, impressive Blade solo.  There are also terrific renditions of tunes from Stevie Wonder, Joe Henderson, and Kenny Dorham on another outstanding recording from Corea, McBride, and Blade. Whether this latest recording wins a Grammy or not, "Trilogy 2" is terrific.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019  Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387. Here is the trio performing Bud Powell's "Tempus Fugit."


Monday, December 23, 2019

Shannon Gunn Gunn's Ablazin'

Shannon Gunn
Gunn's Ablazin'
Jazz To The Bone Records

Trombonist-composer-bandleader Sharon Gunn is a prominent figure in the Washington DC area music scene. She leads the Firebird Organ Trio and the Sharon Gunn Quintet, both of whom are represented on this release, as well as Sharon Gunn and the Bullettes, Washington's all-women Jazz Orchestra. She has also played with the Bohemian Caverns Jazz Orchestra and served as a fill-in with the Diva! Jazz Orchestra. Drummer Kelton Norris is a member of the organ Trio and Quintet. Keyboardist Hope Udobi is the other member of the Organ Trio. The other members of the Quintet are Chris Barrick on vibes, Garrett Gleason on guitar, and Mikel Combs on drums. This present release includes compositions arising out of social issues and a few select interpretations of standards.

This is a fascinating recording with her compositions and her trombone.standing out. The opening "Orange Noise" is dedicated to all the lies on twitter and the accompaniment is appropriately agitated with Barrick providing another voice as Norris' free drum attack adds to the mood. Another composition that conveys an atmosphere of disgust with current events is "Babes in Cages is NOT OK." Barrick lays out a shimmering layer for the sonic explorations and explosions by Gleason and Gunn. With the trio, she has charming salutes to a friend, "Ellen," and the mother of another friend, "Ms. Cheverly." While her husky, gruff attack and soul might seem like not a perfect fit for a ballad, she invests plenty of passion into her performances.

"Cruash" is a peppy quintet number played with swagger followed by an original remake of the old standard, "Dinah." Taken at a relaxed and funky tempo, the performance of "Dinah" is considerably removed from the heated renditions by such artists as Louis Armstrong and Cousin Joe. The trio is heard in a cover of Erik Satie's "Gymnopedie #1," with a reflective tone in the performance. A lyrical trio arrangement of "Rainbow Connection" is the final track on a recording of original, intriguing material and imaginative, engaging performances.

I received a review copy from Kari Gaffney.  Here is Shannon and her Firebird Organ Trio performing "Caravan."

Sunday, December 22, 2019

Take 5 With Some Jazzy Holiday Music

Yesterday we had a brief playlist of Blues Holiday Music. Today with have a brief selection of Jazz Holiday Music. We open with a Christmas 1948 radio broadcast of Charlie Parker from the Royal Roost playing "White Christmas."

Next up is Louis Armstrong with 'Christmas in New Orleans."

I wonder if the same folks who claim "Die Hard" isn't a Christmas movie, would argue "Good Morning Blues" by Count Basie isn't a Christmas song, even though Jimmy Rushing wants to see Santa Claus.

Here is Duke Ellington with "God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen."

  Finally, we have Wynton Marsalis and Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra performing "Jingle Bells."

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Take 5 with Holiday Blues Music

This week I am not focusing on any specific performer, but rather a short playlist of holiday based blues.

We start with Blind Lemon Jefferson with Christmas Eve Blues.

 Next up is Louis Jordan with Santa Claus, Santa Claus.

Arguably the most famous blues associated with Christmas is Charles' Brown's, Merry Christmas Baby. Here is a live performance of Charles and Bonnie Raitt.

Here is Mabel Scott with Boogie Woogie Santa Claus.

Finally, one of my favorite recent holiday blues is Eddie C. Campbell's Santa's Messing With the Kid.

Happy Holidays everyone.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Fleur Seule Standards and Sweet Things

Fleur Seule
Standards and Sweet Things

Fleur Seule describes itself on its website as playing "Swing Era hits, Jazz standards, Salsa classics and Ballroom selections that will transport you to the 1940s: The times of big bands and glamorous evenings of live music and dancing in clubs renowned for their entertainment, Hollywood profiles, and musical variety. Led by vocalist Allyson Briggs, this dynamic band of old souls will have you humming along to timeless music." Besides Ms. Briggs, the band includes Andy Warren on trumpet, arranger and musical director; Jason Yeager on piano; Michael O'Brien on bass; Paul Francis on drums; Richard Miller on guitar; and Ivan Llanes on percussion. They have established themselves at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola, Birdland, The Rainbow Room and Tavern on the Green, and Michael Feinstein is a big fan. The performances on this 16 song CD give a clue why.

Allyson Briggs' singing is the focal point of the group's performances and appeal. She can sing in 7 seven languages and speaks in 4. She covers a variety of genres with at times a perky and flirty and other times intimate, delivery. She has a melodious voice and a nuanced sense of timing and phrasing who on occasion enlivens a vocal with some tuneful scatting. She is afforded delightful, congenial backing with Warren's mellow trumpet and Yeager's acoustic guitar being especially of note.

With such well-known songs as "Tenderly" and "Misty," one is not expecting very much, but Allyson Briggs sings exquisitely, and with considerable charm, throughout this recording. O'Brien takes an excellent Arco bass solo on "Tenderly," while Warren's plays superbly on the laid-back, heartfelt rendition of "Misty." There is a feeling in her numbers similar to Cyrille Aimee's gypsy jazz inspired performances. This might be most evident on her foreign language performances such as "Pielex Canela," "Zou Bisou Bisou" or "La Vie En Rose."

Other sweet treats include the lovely and elegant rendition of "I Only Have Eyes For You," the brisk and perky "Them There Eyes" with another first-rate Warren trumpet solo. Then there is "Shoo-Fly Pie and Apple Pan Dowdy," initially recorded by Dinah Shore and Julie Christy with Stan Kenton. This delightful performance is evocative of some of Nat King Cole's relaxed, swinging jive recordings. After a splendid, breezy bossa nova "Sweet Happy Life," this CD closes with magical renditions of the Gershwins' "Embraceable You" and "S'Wonderful." And that last song describes the superlative singing by Allyson Briggs and the excellent backing by the band. "Standards and Sweet Things" is simply wonderful.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here they perform "La Vie En Rose."

Thursday, December 19, 2019

Kelly Bell Know My Name

Kelly Bell
Know My Name
Phat Blues Records

A new album by the Kelly Bell Band is a cause of celebration, particularly for music fans in the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (the DMV). This new release of 'Phat Blues," With his band comprising of Dane Paul Russell (Harmonica), Frankie Hernandez (Bass/Vocals), John Robert Buell (Drums/Vocals), Rahsaan “Wordslave” Eldridge (Vocals/Percussion), Ryan Fowler (Guitars/Vocals) and Eric Robinson (Guitars/Vocals) he has his latest musical genre-bending effort. Others appearing include Dave Tieff, Julie Cymek, and Justin Schlegel on vocals; Ira Mayfield Jr. (acoustic guitars); Kirk Myers (on) keyboards; Russell McCray (alto sax); Bryan Ewald (guitar); The Phat Blues Horn Section of Zach Smith (trumpet and arranger), Davidson Smith (trumpet), Leigh Pilzer (tenor/baritone sax) and Todd Baldwin (Trombone), and strings played by Amy Shook (cello, viola, violin).

Plat Blues is not a traditional blues fans idea of blues. Instead, it is a genre-busting mix of blues, soul, funk, jazz, psychedelic rock, and hip hop. The opening "Long Train" is a hard blues-rock performance with a heavy, driving groove which shifts into a swinging jump blues "Last $4" with a riffing horn section (along with Russell's robust harp solo), and a jazzy guitar solo as Bell wants to fill up the dance floor. It displays much better than the opening selection, Kelly Bell's appealing, soulful singing. Sweetened a little by Amy Shook's strings, "First Moments" is a lovely classic soul ballad about only wanting to be with one.

Other songs include the irresistible groove of "Good Thing" with a rockabilly undercurrent, riffing horns, a scorching harmonica solo, and a spirited vocal duet with a woman (Julie Cymek?). There is also a funky celebration of what a woman does to Bell "You Don't Know" with a hip hop interlude echoing the song's chorus, and the atmospheric title track about a fight between his parents, his father leaving telling him to take care of mama and be strong. It has Bell's moving vocal supported by the backing vocalists set against an emphatic backing. "Every Time" is another stellar, slow soulful performance about this a lady that Bell is obsessed with, singing he never whats to be without her and can't live without her.

"In the Late Hours," is when Bell needs his woman as he hugs his pillow missing her with a saxophone adding commentary to his vocal with Shook's strings adding to the mood of Bell's urgent, pleading vocal. It closes this thoroughly entertaining and varied collection of performances. Wonderfully produced and recorded "Know My Name" should have everyone knowing who Kelly Bell is. His website is https://www.kellybellband.com.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for "Long Train."


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Mike Duke Project … Took A While

The Mike Duke Project
… Took A While
Little Village Foundation

It certainly did take a while for this recording Mike Duke to see the light of day. Bob Brown, who produced this album, recounts in the liner notes how he came across Duke's songs and music. In 1981 Brown, then manager of Huey Lewis & the News, received a cassette of four different songwriters, one of which was "Hope You Love Me Like You Say You Do," Brown called Huey Lewis, and it was included on his second album and became a top 40 hit. Brown notes that Duke's vocal on the demo blew him away. Shortly after that, Brown called Duke who sent him more demos, and two of which were also recorded by Huey Lewis. Brown and Duke eventually met and moved from the Atlanta area to the West Coast. Duke had been in the rock band, Wet Willie. He was a member of the house band at Slim's in San Francisco and with Delbert McClinton for most of the 1990s.

While many of the selections come from demos from decades ago, they sound very good opening with the nice deep soul performance "Little Miss Pigtail." Duke is a striking singer who injects plenty of feeling into his vocals as on 'Let Her Go and Start Over," a recording where one can hear the outlines of what would be a hit for Huey Lewis. Duke's vocal does not take a back seat to the better known Lewis. He still has quite a robust voice as on a 2019 recording "Let Me Be Your Fool Tonight." Although his backing band is the Zydeco Flames, this track has more of a Tex-Mex feel to it. "That's What I Like About the South" is a 1991 trio performance with Jack Pearson on guitar and Ike Harris on bass. This low-key performance has a relaxed, jazzy tinge and Pearson takes a single-note acoustic guitar solo. Another 2019 track, "I'm Not Sad Tonight" evokes some of The Band's recordings, while "Ain't No Easy Way," is a soul-flavored pop song that one might imagine a group like The Eagles having recorded. Then there is the country-flavored "Honey I Love You," and the passionate, gospel-flavored "Torn & Scarred."

After the variety of well-played and wonderfully sung performances, this recording closes with a live solo piano instrumental "Nicasio," with a New Orleans accent. It may have taken a while, but Mike Duke is a first-rate singer and performer as well as songwriter. Recognition of his talents is long overdue.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is a condensed promo for the CD.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Bruce Katz Solo Ride

Bruce Katz
Solo Ride
American Showplace Music

An album of solo blues piano without vocals might be as challenging for a listener as the pianist. Bruce Katz has met the challenge with "Solo Ride." I knew that Katz had played and recorded with such artists as Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, but unaware of his association with Greg Allman and John Hammond. I also was not aware that not only did he attend Berklee College of music, but was also a Professor of Piano there for 14 years.

This resume is only background for Katz's career of course, but Katz indeed produced a dozen solo piano performances that standup to continuous listening, not merely taken a few tracks at a time. One, of course, can hear influences such as the Chicago boogie-woogie masters Meade Lux Lewis and Ammons on the terrific original boogie-woogie, "Down at the Barrelhouse." Several selections indicate his love of New Orleans music, but his superb "Crescent City Crawl," sounds almost like an outtake from James Booker's magnificent "Classified" album. His touch and phrasing evoke the magic the Black Chopin usually produced. Another selection in this vein is "Red Sneakers." Other highlights include a straight instrumental take of Tampa Red's "It Hurts Me Too" out of the Big Maceo-Little Johnnie Jones-Otis Spann school, and the gospel-tinged "Praise House." "Dreams of Yesterday" has a classic country feel, while "Easy Living" is a nicely played solo in the manner of the late Charles Brown.

Katz displays his full command of the piano and blues related styles with a varied, and nuanced attack. The result is this first-rate terrific album of solo piano blues instrumentals.

I received a download to review from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is Bruce with a band performing a  boogie-woogie.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Lyn Stanley London With a Twist: Live at Bernie's

Lyn Stanley
London With a Twist: Live at Bernie's
A.T. Music LLC

This is the second of vocalist Lyn Stanley's tributes to the legendary Julie London. It is a follow-up to her wonderful "London Calling - A Toast To Julie London." The present recording was recorded Direct-To-Disc at Bernie Grundman's Mastering Studio in Hollywood, so this was a live-in-studio recording, but not at a club. It was like a high wire act as unlike a standard recording with tape, any 'mistakes' might be preserved or require a whole new recording. Stanley brought to the studio a band of guitarist John Chiodini (who co-produced this with Stanley), pianists Otmaro Ruiz and Mike Lang, bassist Chuck Berghofer, drummer Aaron Serfaty, and percussionist Luis Conte. Except for the pianists, the musicians also played on "London Calling." This band Stanley has named The Jazz Mavericks.

Like the prior CD, there is no attempt by Stanley to mimic Julie London. Instead, there is an attempt to create a similar mood to London's music, although Stanley's vocal technique and style is different from London's. In both cases, one gets an intimate sensuality with Stanley employing a sultry half-spoken soft sung delivery which often is set against sophisticated backing. Berghofer's bass opens "Route 66," a song that London never recorded by was written by her husband, Bobby Troup who played it often with Berghofer. It is followed by a cover of Bruce Springsteen's "Pink Cadillac." It is one of two contemporary numbers that Stanley attempts to perform in a manner that Julie London might have sung this. Pianist Ruiz and guitarist Chiodini standout on this behind Stanley's deliberate singing. I did find the rendition of Chuck Berry's "You Never Can Tell" less convincing.

Among other standout performances are an evocative interpretation of "Lover Man," with some deft and thoughtful piano; a beautiful "Blue Moon" with Chiodini's chorded guitar and Berghofer's firm bass line; and a lesser-known blue ballad from the World War II era, "Love Letters." Berghofer and Stanley open "Bye Bye Blackbird" as a duet before the full band provides a fuller setting. Perhaps her most exceptional vocal is a heartfelt "Body and Soul" with some wondrous backing followed by a lively performance of "In the Still of the Night" that closes this recording.

The sound, like Lyn Stanley's prior recordings, marvelously captures every nuance of the vocals and backing. "London With a Twist," might not be almost as satisfying a tribute to Julie London as "London Calling," but has more than enough charms to warrant considerable interest. It is available in a variety of formats.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the September-October 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 386). Here is "Route 66" from this album.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Windy City Blues

Various Artists
Windy City Blues 

This new compilation on Stax brings together selections from various Prestige blues discs featuring Chicago blues acts with a previously unissued Albert King session that Willie Dixon produced in Chicago. This 1970 session is simply stunning as he plays some very hot guitar and sings strongly while backed by a band with a full horn section that complements his performances. The opening track, The Lovin’est Woman in Town, is an original he would record later. Here he just tears into the song with his guitar blasting away on his solo as the horns riff behind him. Equally as good is King’s rendition of Dixon’s Put It All In There and Love Me To Death. One wonders why these songs were not issued until now, as they are first-rate Albert King. 

In addition to King, James Cotton handles Dust My Broom, while Otis Spann recreates his It Must Have Been the Devil. Willie Dixon handles a couple songs in an uptown vein with saxophonist Harold Ashby among those backing him. Billy Boy Arnold shows the influence of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson on Two Drinks of Wine, derived from Sonny Boy’s Early in the Morning. Sunnyland Slim advises us that The Devil is a Busy Man, one of three tracks backed by a combo that included King Curtis and an organist. Finally, three alternate takes by slide guitarist Homesick James close this disc out. 
Most of this is solid, if not exceptional, and it is well worth getting for the Albert King sides. They are that good. 

I likely received my review copy from Fantasy Records. This review appeared previously in the March--June 2004 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 268). You may have to check online for the current availability of this CD or its availability as a download.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Take 5 With Charlie Patton

Charlie Patton was one of the greatest of the early Mississippi down home blues artists to record in the 1920s. The best of his recordings for the Paramount label are among the greatest of all Delta Blues Recordings. Starting this short playlist is "Down the Dirt Road Blues." One hers his percussive, driving guitar and his rough, horse vocals.

One of his most remarkable performances is "A Spoonful Blues" some may be familiar with renditions by Mississippi John Hurt or Charlie Jordan, but what makes Patton's recording is that with his guitar and use of a spoken voice, he uses four voices in this performance.

Then there is his song relating to the floods that hit Mississippi with all the emotion he conveys in his vocal. This is the first part of the two-part 78.

Next up is "Mississippi Boweavil Blues" dealing with the insect that wreaked havoc on southern Cotton crops.

Finally we close this short list with "Pony Blues," which was one of his most popular numbers. This is tyaken from an original 78, not a CD reissue of the 78.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Carolyn Lee Jones Close Your Eyes

Carolyn Lee Jones
Close Your Eyes
Catn'round Sound

"Close Your Eyes" is the fourth album by the Dallas based chanteuse, Carolyn Lee Jones. She is backed by a variety of musicians, notably three associates who also contributed the arrangements here: Brad Williams on a variety of keyboards; Sergio Pamies on piano; and Dave Pierce on trombone. The program of what Ms. Jones describes as "songs … about the many faces of love."

 "Close Your Eyes," backed by the bubbly piano trio of Williams on piano, Jonathan Fisher on the upright bass and Andrew Griffith on drums, Jones enchants us with her honey-toned, sultry voice, her immaculate intonation and her swinging, delivery of the lyrics. This enchantment continues through the varied program with the soft, feathery opening on "No Moon At Night" with Fisher's steady bass, Griffith's graceful use of brushes and Williams deft, understated accompaniment and solo. Then there is a lovely rendition of Hoagy Carmichael's "The Nearness of You," where pianist Pamies leads a group that includes the flute of Daniel Pardo and guitar of Pepe Valdez to frame her enticing vocal. Pierce provided an original big, little band, arrangement of "That Old Black Magic," with a light funky groove as well as take a slightly rowdy trombone solo along with her wonderfully sung vocal.

Jones delivers a captivating rendition of the Frankie Valli hit, "Can't Take My Eyes Off Of You," with a bossa nova flavored backing, Pardo's lovely flute and a nifty solo from Pamies. It is followed by the swinging "When I Found You." Initially recorded by Peggy Lee, Jones makes this joyous celebration of love her own. Among the other outstanding performances is the hauntingly beautiful performance of "I Only Have Eyes For You," backed just by Williams on piano and synthesizer and Jeff Plant on electric bass. It is an exquisite closing track of an outstanding album by a superb jazz vocalist.

I received my review copy from a publicist. This review originally appeared in the November-December Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is a video of Carolyn Lee Jones performing.

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Ray Blue Work

Ray Blue

Tenor saxophonist Ray Blue is based out of New York who has been leading his own groups and recorded several CDs. He also has worked with such artists as Art Davis, Benny Powell, Eddie Henderson, the Charlie Persip Big Band, Wycliffe Gordon, Steve Turre, Ted Curson, and the Sun Ra Orchestra. The core band backing him on "Work" is Sharp Radway on piano, Jeff Barone on guitar, Essiet Okon Essiet on bass, and Steve Johns on drums. Also appearing are pianists Kirk Lightsey and Benito Gonzalez (each on two tracks), trombonist Ron Wilkins (on three selections), Belden Bullock on bass (one song), and Neil Clark on percussion (on three tracks).

Ray Blue is a straight-ahead saxophonist who has a warm tone and swings hard while wonderfully supported by a superior studio band. The title track is a lively Caribbean-spiced evocative of some of Sonny Rollins' compositions like "St. Thomas." As the group provides an infectious groove (aided by Clark's percussion), Blue introduces us to his velvety tone and fluid improvisation. Radway's sparkling solo follows this. There is a spirited, brief rendition of "Lift Every Voice and Sing," with Barone's horn-like guitar echoing Blue's tenor at times. Cannonball Adderly's "Sweet Emma" is taken at an appealing, lazy tempo with Wilkins adding his gruff trombone before Blue's brawny solo. Wilkins also adds his insistent trombone to the swinging interpretations of Jimmy Smith's "Mellow Mond," and George Coleman's "Amsterdam After Dark,"

Blues ballad playing is sublime as displayed his own "My Friend and I Took a Walk," with Benito Gonzalez on piano with John's brushwork exemplary. Gonzalez is also on one of two versions of "That's All," where Blue's cottony, measured playing would have brought a smile to Ben Webster. An equally marvelous rendition of this song done as a duo with Kirk Lightsey is the closing track. Lightsey and Bullock are present on a melodious ballad performance of "Teach Me Tonight."

Among other numbers here is a jaunty rendition of the old pop hit, "Our Day Will Come," and a swinging version of "Everything Happens To Me," that starts as a duet with Johns before the full band joins in. "Work" is an outstanding recording that showcases Ray Blue's marvelous, straight-ahead tenor saxophone.

I received a review copy from a publicist. This review appeared in the November-December 2019 Jazz & Blues Report (Issue 387). Here is Ray Blue from 2012 performing "Work."

Wednesday, December 11, 2019

Samuel Torres Alegria

Samuel Torres
Blue Congo Music

The latest album by Torres, the Columbian percussionist/composer/bandleader. About this CD, his fifth, Torres says "Alegria, which means "happiness" or "joy," presents eight original compositions that captivate and inspire." He elaborates, "in these somewhat dark and divisive times we need light and joy, and we need to share these things with each other to combat hate. On this project he has assembled a band of Michael Rodriguez & Alex Norris (trumpet & flugelhorn); Marshall Gilkes (trombone); Will Vinson (alto & soprano saxophones); Joel Frahm (tenor & soprano saxophones); Ivan Renta (baritone saxophone, bass clarinet & flute); Luis Perdomo (piano & Fender Rhodes); Ruben Rodriguez (electric bass), and Pablo Bencid (drums). Torres himself plays (congas, bongos, kalimba, log drum, cajon, maracas llanera, djembes, talking drum, güiro, timbal, tambourine, clave, shekere, shakers & EFX.

Torres not only has quite an ensemble assembled, but his compositions inspired the superlative performances. Among the eight stirring performances are "Salsa, Jazz y Choke," which certain will get pulses elevated. Salsa Choke is a Pacific Columbian urban music style that incorporates a Cuban pilon groove. There are excellent solos from trombonist Gilkes, pianist Perdomo, and Torres on congas, along with the punchy, spirited ensemble playing. Then there is "Barretto Power," A boogaloo dedicated to Torres' hero Ray Barretto with ear-catching solos from Ivan Renta on the baritone sax and drummer Bencid. "Little Grasshopper" is a feature for Torres on the Kalimba. It has a simple melody over a 6/8 rhythmic pattern with more fine ensemble playing. In addition to Torres on kalimba, the selection features Renta's lyrical flute. The title track is a spirited Cumbia which Torres also states has "elements of South American indigenous music." There are ebullient solos by pianist Perdomo and alto saxophonist Will Vinson here.

The other performances on "Alegria" are similarly full of high energy as well as scintillating solos and ensemble playing. Samuel Torres and his ensemble have put forth some top-notch Latin Jazz.

I received a review copy from a publicist. Here is Samuel Torres recently performing "Barretto Power" at Dizzy's in NYC.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Tad Robinson Real Street

Tad Robinson
Real Street
Severn Records

Tad Robinson's new album of blue-eyed soul, "Real Street" was recorded at Memphis' Electraphonic Recording and recorded by Scott Bomar, leader of the acclaimed Memphis soul band, The Bo-Keys. Robinson's vocals and harmonica are vocals and harmonica are backed by the legendary Hi Rhythm section of Charles Hodges – Hammond organ; Leroy Hodges – bass; and Howard Grimes – drums. They are augmented by Joe Restivo – guitar; Kevin Anker – Wurlitzer electric piano; Marc Franklin – trumpet; Kirk Smothers – sax; and Devin B. Thompson – background vocals.

Robinson and his band do an excellent job of recreating the classic Hi Records sound. Robinson and friends have contributed several choice originals, and they interpret songs from George Jackson, Roy Orbison, David Gate, and others. Certainly, an original like "Changes" with chugging rhythms comes off like a cover of a classic Syl Johnson number. Its memorable lyrics are about friends one has trusted have let you down, and then only love can help you negotiate the changes. There is a marvelous heartfelt rendition of a George Jackson soul ballad, "Search Your Heart," where Robinson pleads for his woman not to put him in misery. Robinson adds down-home harp on "Love in the Neighborhood." "Wishing Well Blues" is a soulful blues about his woman leaving set against this terrific rhythm section with biting guitar, punchy horns, orchestral organ, and a touch of harmonica.

Robinson takes the old Roy Orbison ballad, "You Got It," and transforms it into deep southern soul in a fashion that Otis Clay or Syl Johnson may have done it. Then there is a similar transformation of Bread's hit."Make It With You," by David Gates, into a classic Hi Records styled performance. Superbly backed by this terrific studio band and sung so fervently by Robinson, "Real Street" is a gem of contemporary Memphis-styled soul.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Tad Robinson performing "Love in the Neighborhood" from this CD.

Monday, December 09, 2019

Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander Celebrate Billie Holiday

Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander
It's Too Hot For Words: Celebrating Billie Holiday
Delmark Records

The Chicago-based jazz repertory ensemble, Metropolitan Jazz Octet's latest album, is an examination of the Billie Holiday songbook featuring vocalist Dee Alexander. It wasn't until they finished recording this that they realized that Holiday passed away 60 years ago. The original MJO was originally started in the 1950s by saxophonist & arranger Tom Hilliard. From the late '50s through '80s, Hilliard wrote many of the group's 150 (+) charts. As a professor at De Paul University School of Music, Hilliard taught three members of the current MJO. He bequeathed his musical library, passing the torch to the next generation. Now led by Jim Gailloreto, John Kornegay, and Bob Sutter, MJO consists of eight talented musicians who are active in jazz and music education in the Chicago area.

The current MJO initially started exploring Hillard's library, but since started including new works from its members. MJO consists of John Kornegay- alto sax and clarinet; Jim Gailloreto - tenor sax and flute; Peter Brusen - baritone sax and bass clarinet; Doug Scharf - trumpet; Russ Phillips - trombone; Bob Sutter - piano; Doug Bistrow- bass; and Bob Rummage - drums. On four selections, strings are added to enhance the recording. Ms. Alexander selected the ten songs that she and the MJO perform here. Members of the band contributed the arrangements. One exception is an arrangement by Thomas Matta, DePaul Jazz Studies professor.

Except for "Strange Fruit" and "Ain't Nobody's Business," the songs here have not been recorded 'to death.' Furthermore, those two numbers sound fresh in the hands of Ms. Alexander and the handsome arrangements here. As Neil Tesser observes in the liner notes, Dee Alexander does not try to imitate the phrasing or timbre of Lady Day. One thinks of Ella, Sarah Vaughan, and Dinah Washington as also sources of her art. What one has are her interpretations that make even the most familiar songs sound new. This is evident from the opening "Ain't Nobody's Business," with Jim Gailloreto's arrangement. Alexander's perfect pitch, phrasing, and her robust vocal, along with the horn setting and solos from Scharf, Phillips, and Gailloreto, make this one of the most outstanding interpretations of this song. Gailloreto's arrangement incorporates strings on the Gershwins' "Things Are Looking Up," in which his flute and the clarinets help engender a romantic feel with Sutter and Scharf in the spotlight. Alexander's vocal includes her magical delivery of the lyrics and her stunning scatting.

"The Blues Are Brewin'" is more of a song in the vein of "Blues in the Night," than a straight blues song. Alexander shows how dynamic a vocalist she is, at times, phrasing in a delicate manner and at other times, belting in like Ms. Washington. Scharf's arrangement gives a bluesy feel to "Strange Fruit," and Gailloreto takes a robust, almost gutbucket solo. Gailloreto's arrangement employs strings to provide colors and textures, providing a somber atmosphere to accompany the drama in Alexander's potent singing. The mournful trumpet and trombone set against the horns add to the mood of this classic protest against lynching. It is the darkest performance perhaps, but certainly, one that listeners will remember.

Between the marvelous playing of the MJO and the sublime vocals of Dee Alexander's, one cannot help but observe the rapport between them. There is magic in the performances of "I Wished on the Moon," "It's Too Hot For Words," or the heartbreak expressed "I'm a Fool To Want You." Dee Alexander and the Metropolitan Jazz Orchestra are so marvelous that one might almost forget that this sterling CD is a tribute to Billy Holiday. This is that good.

I received my review copy from Delmark Records.  Here is the Metropolitan Jazz Octet Featuring Dee Alexander performing "Things Are Looking Up."

Sunday, December 08, 2019

Cephas & Wiggins Homemade

Cephas & Wiggins
Alligator Records

 I’m sure many of your are already familiar with the talents of John Cephas, one of today’s leading exponents of Piedmont blues fingerstyle guitar, and a singer whose honey-tinged vocals suggest the legendary Big Bill Broonzy. One should not forget that his partner, Phil Wiggins is a marvelous master of the blues harmonica whose subtly nuanced playing and solos complement and enhances Cephas’ singing. The two have become favorites around the world with their distinctive sound.

"Homemade" is a mix of some classic blues songs that should be highly familiar to their many fans along with some strong original blues. Included are such staples of their live concerts as Blind Boy Fuller’s "Mamie" and "Pigmeat," Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur," and Skip James’ "Illinois Blues." While I believe some of these songs have been recorded by the duo before, those recordings may have been only on out-of-print tapes or records. All of these songs receive very personalized and thoughtful interpretations. Daryl Davis adds his strong piano to the rendition of "Worried Life Blues," which is dedicated to the late Big Chief Ellis, with whom Cephas and Wiggins played with years ago. There is also a fine idiomatic rendition of the classic "Trouble in Mind" which mistakenly lists the Richard Jones composition as traditional.

Additionally, the album contains a number of new songs including one about the dangerous "Spider Woman" that Mike McQuade contributed the lyric to while Cephas composed the melody. John, Phil, and producer Joe Wilson combined to put together the bawdy original, "Jelly Roll," and Phil wrote the original "Sounds of the Blues," on which he takes the vocal. Cephas’ describes his own "I Was Determined,"  simply as “That’s mine, my story,” as he sings about his life in music. This is another solid recording sought after by their already existing fans and certainly serves as a nice introduction to their music.

This review originally appeared in 1999 in issue 238 of the Jazz & Blues Report. I received my review copy from Alligator Records. Here are the two performing at the White House in 1999.


Saturday, December 07, 2019

Take 5 With Benny Carter

Prior to the arrival of Charlie Parker, there were three acknowledged masters of the alto sax, Johnny Hodges, Willie Smith, and Benny Carter. Hodges and Smith are best known for their associations with Duke Ellington and Jimmy Lunceford. Benny Carter had a career that went beyond such an easy linkage. He was a member of as well as led a big band. He also played the trumpet, was an arranger as well as being a composer. Today is a short playlist of "King Carter" whose career extended for many decades. We start with a 1933 recording, "Lonesome Nights."

Next up is Carter with Django Reinhardt from 1938 doing "I'm Coming Virginia."

Carter was a favorite of Norman Granz and his Jazz at the Philharmonic tours. Here he is with Coleman Hawkins performing "Blue Lou.

Here he performs a song of his that has become somewhat of a standard, "When The Lights Are Low," with the American Jazz Orchestra.

We close this brief playlist of Benny Carter's music with the Benny Carter All-Stars performing "Blues Walk" and Take the A Train."

Friday, December 06, 2019

Breezy Rodio If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It

Breezy Rodio
If It Ain't Broke Don't Fix It
Delmark Records

Billy Branch, in the liner notes to Breezy Rodio's new release, observes that "the mandate of record companies and audiences is to present vibrant quality new material." He then observes that this new release fulfills this. "He has produced a veritable smorgasbord of tasty songs that span the 1940s to the present."

Breezy Rodio has surrounded himself with a terrific band of Sumito 'Ariyo' Ariyoshi on piano, Dan Tabion on organ, Light Palone on bass, Lorenzo Francocci on drums, Constantine Alexander on trumpet, Ian Letts on alto and tenor sax, and Ian 'The Chief' McCarrie on baritone sax. Guests include Corey Dennison, Monster Mike Welch, and Kid Anderson. And they certainly kick off this album with a touch of a James Brown funk that segues into a shuffle. The horns stand out as does harmonica player Simone 'Harp' Nobile before Rodio takes his solo. On a talking blues, "Dear Blues," Rodio raps about his love of the blues before paying tribute to some of his heroes. First sounding like Albert King, he verbally salutes and then emulates B.B. King, Albert Collins, and T-Bone Walker. His love for Collins is also reflected in a sizzling instrumental, "The Breeze."

With Nobile's harp, Rodio performs an easy-rocking shuffle "From Downtown Chicago to Biloxi Bay" with a marvelously shaped solo. There is an excellent urban blues cover of B.B. King's "A Woman Don't Care." There also is a fine cover of a lesser-known B.B. King recording, "I'll Survive." "A Minute of My Kissing" is rock and roll mixed with Rodio's guitar evocative of Magic Sam. Pianist Ariyoshi stands out on this. Rodio does a bit of crooning on the jazzy "Look Me in the Eye," loriginally recorded by T-Bone Walker. Saxophonist Letts shares the spotlight here. Then there is a touch of soul for "Desperate Lover," followed by his autobiographical "Los Christianos," where he sings about his experiences in this Copenhagen district. The latter number features some deep singing and exquisite guitar. Another highlight is a moving, soulful rendition of 'Toots' Hilbert's "I Need Your Love."

A particularly noteworthy track is "Led to a Better Life," a gospel-infused tribute to the late Mike Ledbetter with Monster Mike Welch, who also solos on this. Corey Dennison shares the vocal duties on this moving selection. I found a couple of lyrics a tad off, and Breezy Rodio sings with a pinched, quivering vibrato that others might find to be an acquired taste. With the exception of these minor reservations, the music here is first-rate.

I received my review copy from Delmark. Here is a performance of one of the songs from this album.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Duke Robillard And His Dames Of Rhythm

Duke Robillard
And His Dames Of Rhythm
M.C. Records

This new release from Duke Robillard is a bucket item dream come true with him on acoustic arch-top guitar and occasional vocals along with his rhythm section of Bruce Bears on keyboards (with Kelley Hunt subbing on three tracks); Brad Hallen on bass; and Mark Teixeira on drums. There is also a horn section including regular collaborators Billy Novick on clarinet and alto saxophone; Rich Lataille on alto and tenor saxophone and clarinet; Carl Querfurth on trombone; and from Vince Giordano's Nighthawks, Jon Erik Kellso on trumpet and Andy Stein on violin, with arrangements mostly from Novick or Kellso. With these players, Duke has a program of songs form the twenties and the early thirties with the dames of Rhythm, Sunny Crownover, Kelley Hunt, Elizabeth McGovern, Maria Muldaur, Madeleine Peyroux and Catherine Russell handling the bulk of the vocals with Duke adding a couple.

The general tenor of the music here is early and pre-bop swing jazz as opposed to the jump blues of much of Duke's recordings. The music is handsomely played and the ambience is not far from that of Giordano's Nighthawks starting off with Crownover's bright, cheerful vocal, joined by Duke here, on the opening "From Monday On," with some terrific violin from Stein, and followed by Muldaur's wistful handling of "Got the South in My Soul," with Querfurth's growling trombone adding flavor, a lovely clarinet solo from Novick and a brief guitar break. Crownover has a naughty innocence on "My Heart Belongs To Daddy," with its light Latin groove and marvelous Novick arrangement.

Peyroux's is flirty on "Squeeze Me," however she lacks the emotional depth of Billie Holiday on "Easy Living," although she is nicely supported. Similarly, Elizabeth McGovern comes off lightweight on her interpretation of another number associated with Holiday, "Me, Myself and I." Catherine Russell is superb as always on a sublime rendition of Benny Carter's "Blues In My Heart," with John Kellso's superb arrangement and growling trumpet (along with Querfurth's similarly toned trombone) lending this sublime performance an Ellingtonian flavor.

"Please Don't Talk About Me When I'm Gone" features singing from Kelley Hunt with sparse backing primarily from Bears and Duke for the first couple verses, before the rhythm kicks in to back Mark Earley's tenor sax solo followed by Kellso's trumpet and then she leads the band on a rousing close. She also has a marvelous take on "Lotus Blossom," a number I am familiar with from Jimmy Witherspoon, and kudos to Rich Lataille for his arrangement. With the combination of Duke's guitar, her piano, Novick's clarinet, and Stein's violin, she does a marvelous rendition of the torch song, "If I Could Be With You (One Hour Tonight)."

Duke's own vocal features include the bouncy "Walking Stick," with Kellso's arrangement showcasing Stein along with Kellso's fiery trumpet, along with the gently swinging lament "What's The Reason (I'm Not Pleasin' You)." The instrumental "Call of the Freaks" closes this out with Duke playing Lonnie Johnson to Kellso's Henry 'Red' Allen on a nice rendition of a tune recorded by Catherine Russell's father, Luis in the early 1930s. If the vocals by Hunt and Russell stand out over the others here, it should be noted that there is appeal to all of the vocals, and does nothing to lessen the delights heard in Duke's revival of some musical gems from the distant past.

I received my review copy from M.C. Records. Here is "Squeeze Me," from the album.