Friday, September 18, 2020

Rah! Rah! The Claire Daly Quartet

Rah! Rah!
The Claire Daly Quartet
Ride Symbol Records

Claire Daly's new album, "Rah! Rah!," is a salute to one of her main musical inspirations, Rahsaan Roland Kirk. She was a student at Berklee College of Music when she first saw Kirk at Boston's Jazz Workshop. She saw him at a performance after Kirk had suffered a stroke. Still, she was overwhelmed that despite his apparent fragility, "but each night the music got stronger and better. He had this unstoppable quality. … He was such a force of nature. He made me so happy, and still does." To join her in her salute to Kirk, Daly, on baritone sax, flute, and vocals, is backed by her band of Eli Yamin on piano, Dave Hofstra on bass, and Peter Grant on drums. The program includes interpretations of songs composed by Kirk, standards Kirk covered, and two originals based on Kirk's tunes.

Daly's performances display her musical personality and make for rewarding listening. As she states, Kirk was a force of nature, and his performances of "Volunteered Slavery" and "Serenade for a Cuckoo" will overshadow the interpretations by others. That does not mean one should dismiss her robust renditions. Her flute playing is exquisite on "Cuckoo." At the same time, her mashup of "Volunteered Slavery" with Sly and the Family Stone's "Everyday People" showcases her burly baritone playing and her direct, genuine singing. Her baritone sax playing has an authority evident of the opening "Blue Lady," based on Kirk's "Lady Blues." This selection also introduces listeners to her excellent band with pianist Yamin displaying a measured touch over the swinging rhythm section.

Bassist Hofstra opens up "Funk Underneath," another showcase for Daly's appealing, sparkling flute. Then, she dances on the baritone playing an Afro-Cuban version of Kirk's "Theme For the Eulipions." Daly's delivers another charming vocal on "Alfie," with Yamin leading the trio with an understated, sympathetic accompaniment. There is more delightful flute from Daly on "Momentus Brighticus," her contrafact of Kirk's "Bright Moments," followed by some barreling bebop baritone on Charlie Parker's "Blues For Alice." Daly's displays her qualities on "I'll Be Seeing You." With Daly's first-rate band and her outstanding playing, "Rah! Rah!" is an exceptional recording and a memorable tribute to Rashaan Roland Kirk, full of bright moments.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Claire Daly has been playing the music of Rashaan Roland Kirk for years. here is a performance from 2010.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

King Vintage Vault Collectors Series

KING VINTAGE VAULT COLLECTORS SERIES

 Last month in the blues column the series of twelve reissues from the King-Federal catalogs was noted. Reviews appeared of the Freddie King and Ray Charles album. This· column will attempt to provide basic information on the rest of the issues.

 Little Willie John (King -5004X) collects 15 of the late gospel-tinged singer's greatest recordings. Theresi some duplication with Free At Last (King KS-1081) but most stuff here is otherwise previously unreissued. Originals of "Fever" (before Peggy Lee) and "Sleep" are special highpoints.

Bill Doggett (5009X) and Earl Bostic (5010X) collect a number of fine instrumentals by the organist and saxophonist. This was jazz-flavored instrumental R&B at its best. Doggett's fourteen sides include the classic "Honky Tonk" whereas tunes on Bostic's sides includes "Flamingo" and "Harlem Nocturne".

A good portion of the King catalog was old group sounds. While historically important the sides by the Ink Spots (5001X) and the Platters (5002X) are too sweet for my taste. Rock'n'Roll Oldies freaks will feel otherwise. Much more solid is the rocking album by Hank Ballard and the Midnighters (5003X). Among the 20 tracks are "Work With Me Annie," "Annie Had a Baby,"  "Annie's Aunt Fanny," "Finger Poppin' Time," and the original recording of "The Twist". Great party music with hot band and vocals. Good bluesy feel on much material.

Finally four albums tracing the career of the group The Dominoes. Volume One (5005X) includes their 14 big hits including the bawdy "Sixty Minute Man". Volume 2 features Clyde McPhatter (5006X) in 18 tunes including two duets with Little Esther (Phillips). Volume 3 features Jackie Wilson on 14 tunes (5007X) and Volume 4 collects 21 other tunes by the group (5008X). The Dominoes was a gospel influenced group capable of doing intense ballad interpretations and some nice bluesy 'numbers. Both McPhatter's and WiIson's albums are superb featuring some strong vocal performances. and like Vol 1 are worth checking into. These are historically important reissues which are also great for parties where you can pop your fingers and twist the night away. Here's hoping for more to come in this series.

I do not remember if I received these from the publication, a publisher or the record company. This review appeared in the March 1978 Buffalo Jazz Report (now Jazz & Blues Report) (Issue 49). Here is Little Willie John singing "Fever."

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Lloyd Jones Tennessee Run

Lloyd Jones
Tennessee Run
VizzTone

I have been a fan of Lloyd Jones since listening to his Trouble Monkey CD nearly 25 years ago. I found appealing his mix of blues and funk with a voice suggestive of Delbert McClinton (they have similar voices) and a guitar style that could evoke Guitar Slim, amongst others. Jones recently participated as part of McClinton's Sandy Beaches Cruise. He was then invited by McClinton's longtime keyboard player, Kevin McKendree, to record at McKendree's Rock House studio in Franklin, Tennessee. With McKendree on keyboards, Steve MacKay on bass, Kevin Blevins on drums, Jim Hoke on saxophone, Quentin Ware on trumpet, Roy Agee on trombone, and others, he put forth 14 songs, all composed in whole or in part by Jones. McClinton guests on one selection, as does Teresa James.

There is a classic R & B feel to many of these performances that open with "You Got Me Good." This song begins with a driving bass line evocative of "I Can't Turn You Loose," as Jones celebrates his lady who he asks how she got so sweet," Did you have to steal it from the bees/ Did you scratch up your knees/Climbing up all those trees." It is set against a tough horn backing and sung with total conviction. This whole album is well sung with pretty of enthusiasm and grit. Another noteworthy track is the rock and roll of "I Wish I Could Remember Loving You." It has the feel of a Chuck Berry song with McKendree channeling Johnnie Johnson with his rollicking piano. Teresa James adds a harmony vocal here while McClinton is heard with Jones on "Everybody's Somebody's Fool," with the songs down-home philosophy.

Other songs include a novelty number about misplacing one's phone, "Where's My Phone?" "A True Love Never Dies" is a terrific southern soul-styled ballad with one of Jones' most heartfelt singing and a superb, focused guitar solo. A New Orleans second-line groove enlivens "Bayou Blues" and "That's All I Want." The latter number also places the spotlight on Jim Hoke's raspy baritone sax. "Turn Me Loose" is a jump blues with a nifty guitar solo as Jones pleads to his woman that she doesn't love him anymore, so turn him loose.

Those familiar with Lloyd Jones will find much too enjoy here as I suspect Delbert McClinton fans will also. Jones sings and plays with energy and fervor supported by some top-notch playing. The accompanying booklet provides the lyrics, and one should not be surprised if other artists cover some of the songs. Kevin McKendree's production, in addition to his keyboards, is another factor resulting in a first-class recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Lloyd Jones in performance.



Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys


When I first put on Joe Willie Wilkins & His King Biscuit Boys (Adamo ADS 9507) I received a jolt. The opening "Mr. Downchild" and "Muddy Water's "Sad Letter" (a great version) had all the power of Muddy's great recordings from the early fifties . Wilkins was Robert Lockwood's successor as Sonny Boy Williamson's accompanist on the famed King Biscuit Time radio  program.

This album is his first lengthy exposure on wax and if there are occasional bum notes from the assorted accompanists don't let that deter you. Also, much of this album is from a live performance and if the sound isn't perfect, the music is funky and downhome. A truly great record of blues that anyone into Muddy, the Wolf or others will dig. My choice for album of the month.

I received a review copy from a record distributor. This LP had limited release and is extremely rare. I do not believe it was ever reissued. The review originally appeared in the June 1978 Buffalo Jazz Report (Issue 52). I am not aware of many other reviews of this recording. Here is "Mr. Downchild" from this album.




Monday, September 14, 2020

Sam Joyner When U Need a Friend

Sam Joyner
When U Need a Friend
Self-produced

Keyboardist-singer-songwriter Sam Joyner was born and raised in Chicago but is based in New Orleans, where his regular gigs include Spirits on Bourbon and Teddy’s Juke Joint. The latter club is in Zachary, Louisiana. On this session, he is backed by Benny Turner on bass; Jellybean on drums: Lil Ray Neal, Marc Stone, and Harry Sterling on guitar; and others.

The performances include the soul-blues of “Must Be Jelly” (not the William Clarke song), and the raucous Chicago blues shuffle, “Goin’ to Chicago.” Joyner is a robust, slightly sandpaper-toned singer who sounds at home in a variety of blues styles. His passionate singing on “Hard 4 Your Money,” is complemented by Lil Ray Neal’s B.B. King-styled fretwork. The semi-autobiographical “Them Bluez” is a showcase for some piano as well as his determined singing. Lil Ray Neal returns on a superb atmospheric slow blues, “Breakin’ Up Our Happy Home,” with a heartfelt vocal, a down-in-the-alley piano solo, and a “Long Distance Call" part spoken-part sung closing segment.

Other tracks of note include another solid shuffle is “Natural Born Luvah,” and “Onions Ain’t the Only Thing” with the cheesy keyboards. Marc Stone adds slide guitar on the title track that closes this CD. Sam Joyner certainly captures the listener’s attention with the authority and conviction he sings with. I wish the liner notes gave a bit more information about Sam’s career and provided information on who played on what songs. The music does speak for itself, however, and does so very impressively.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Sam Joyner performing at the 2017 International Blues Challenge Finals.



Saturday, September 12, 2020

Take 5 With Sonny Rollins

This week on Take 5 we present a short playlist of the great Sonny Rollins who recently turned 90 years old. Belated Happy Birthday to the Saxophone Colossus.

First up is one of Sonny Rollins first recordings as a sideman with Bud Powell, "Bouncing With Bud."


Next up is Sonny as part of Miles Davis' group playing, "But Not For Me."


Perhaps Sonny's most famous album is Saxophone Colossus with so several iconic performances. One of these was "Blue 7," which was subject to a famous analysis of Rollins' improvisation.



This album also contained one of Sonny's most famous calypso inspired numbers, "St. Thomas." Another famous calypso was "Don't Stop the Carnival." Here is his original recording with Jim Hall on guitar.


We close this short playlist with his rendition of "Without a Song," from his 9/11 concert.



Friday, September 11, 2020

Sugar Ray and the BlueTones featuring Little Charlie Too Far From the Bar

Sugar Ray and the BlueTones featuring Little Charlie
Too Far From the Bar
Severn Records

The new Sugar Ray and the BlueTones album is a corker of a recording. The regular cast of Anthony Geraci on piano, Michael 'Mudcat' Ward on bass, and Neil Gouvin on drums support Ray Norcia's vocals and harmonica. Handling the guitar on this recording is (Little) Charlie Baty playing on some of his last recordings. Duke Robillard, who produced this recording, adds his guitar to four songs. This stellar band is heard on nine originals from Norcia, Ward, or Geraci along with six covers of songs that have not become hackneyed from being over-recorded.

Norcia is superb, whether singing with his warm natural baritone or laying down swooping horn licks on the harmonica while the backing is stunning. Norcia's vocals flow naturally with a relaxed, mellow flow suggestive of Junior Parker and Fenton Robinson. His harp playing can rock like a Big Jay McNeely sax solo or warble like Sonny Boy Williamson. Baty's guitar sings whether comping, adding subtle comments to the vocal, or a sizzling solo. Robillard is more in a jazzy single note o his selections while Geraci is at the top of the game, at times channeling Otis Spann and elsewhere laying down his accompaniment with a jazz-tinged sophistication. The supple rhythm from Ward and Gouvin completes this sublime music.

The recording opens with a spirited reworking of The Five Royales "Don't Give No More Than You Can Take," with Norcia's ripping horn-like solo and Baty's explosive playing. It is followed by a first-rate rendering of John Lee Williamson's "Bluebird Blues" with Geraci superb while Norcia's harp evokes Rice Miller. There is plenty of humor in several songs, including the title song. It is about folks who go to a restaurant or bar and wondering when they will get served. After a swamp-pop flavored "Too Little Too Late," Norcia showcases his virtuosity on the energetic instrumental "Reel Burner." His playing on it is more James Cotton than Little Walter here. An excellent cover of Little Walter's "Can't Hold Out Much Longer," follows. One of the most original lyrics here is "Numb and Dumb" about a woman that has Norcia under her thumb as he wonders who she is taking home.

There is a somewhat frantic feel to "My Next Door Neighbor," with Baty blasting off with rockabilly-laced solo, although Norcia's vocal lacks the relaxed quality due to the frenzied tempo. On the cover of Otis Spann's "What Will Become of Me," Geraci is outstanding as channeling the legendary blues pianist behind Norcia's heartfelt singing. Robillard adds his touch to the jazzy feel of "What I Put You Through," as well as the standard, "I Got a Right To Sing the Blues." Another selection that Robillard is present on is Mudcat Ward's "The Night I Got Pulled Over." It is a talking blues with Norcia providing the narrative of a traffic stop without a reason because he fit a profile.

An alternate take of "Reel Burner" closes this album. That song title is an allusion to what Duke Robillard observed that the band was so hot that they even set a multi-track tape machine on fire. As hot as some of the performances are, others bring out different qualities and moods. Whatever the tempo or feeling, "Too Far From the Bar" is simply a stellar blues recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. (This CD is being released on September 18). Here is a video from 2019 of Sugar ray and the BlueTones with Little Charlie and Duke Robillard.

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Purdie Fabian Oswanski Move On!

Purdie Fabian Oswanski
Move On!
CAP Records

Purdie Fabian Oswanski is an unusual Hammond B-3 trio comprising Ron Oswanski on the Hammond B-3, Christian Fabian on the electric bass, and Bernard ‘Pretty’ Purdie on the drums. It is the bassist Fabian’s presence instead of a guitarist or saxophonist that makes this an unusual recording. Fabian also solos throughout as if a guitarist.

It is an entertaining, if flawed, recording, strongly rooted in soul and funk grooves. Fabian composed 5 of the nine tunes. Fabian's “The Red Plaza,” gets this set off to a rousing start with Oswanski’s orchestral organ and his funky bass lines, “84-85” is a funk track that doesn’t seem to go beyond the underlying bass vamp. Purdie keeps a steady groove throughout, such as on the “Move On!” More interesting is the rendition of “Can’t You See (You’ve Done Me Wrong)” with his through guitar-like single-note improvisation, and Duke Ellington’s “Love You Madly” with his soulful solo. The organist is to the fore on “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” Closing this album is an appealing cover of “So What” that showcases Fabian’s improvisatory skills. Oswanski also solos on this.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but this is an intriguing album of some appeal.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here the trio play "BPP Blues."
 

Wednesday, September 09, 2020

John Finley Soul Singer

John Finley
Soul Singer
Vesuvius Music

John Finley’s career has spanned more than five decades as a hit songwriter and a dynamic performer. He has had decades of experience performing live and touring, and his composition “Let Me Serenade You” by Three Dog Night brought Finley’s songwriting to the music charts around the world. Finley returned to his native Toronto after decades of living and working in L.A. In 2018, he was offered a record deal from Jaymz Bee and Lorenzo DiGianfelice of Vesuvius Music.

Finley’s first thought - to the labels delight - was to have Grammy and Juno winning producer and arranger Lou Pomanti at the helm. Pomanti also plays the keyboards on a set of performances ranging from strong blue-eyed soul to very fine jazzy cabaret singing. There is a touch of church music in the accompaniment of the opening “Let Me Serenade You,” that Finley wrote. Pomanti’s keyboards caress Finley’s high tenor testifying set against terrific backing. It sets the table for a varied program that follows with a romantic soul ballad, “I’m On Your Side,” and then “Go,” with its funky dance groove. Tony Carlucci’s muted trumpet helps create a late-night feel for the jazzy, atmospheric vocal on “What Time Can Do.”

Finley delights listeners throughout, including a heartfelt take on Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” while the original “Money Love” is an original that may evoke The O’Jays classic “For the Love of Money.” The latter number has a solid groove and excellent backing vocals behind Finley’s expressive singing. Finley delivers a superb jazzy vocal on the Buddy Johnson classic “Save Your Love For Me,” while his evocative vocal on the rendition of Charlie Rich’s “Who Will The Next Fool Be,” is equally top-flight. Allison Young’s tenor sax solo adds to the fervor of this marvelous performance that closes out an outstanding album of blues-eyes soul and jazz-tinged songs and vocals.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is John singing "Soul Singer."

 

Tuesday, September 08, 2020

Jay McShann, Last of the Blue Devils

Jay McShann, like Joe Turner, bridges the world of jazz and blues. The Last of the Blue Devils represents a new Atlantic issue (SO 8800) where he is joined by Paul Ouinichette, Joe Newman, Buddy Tate, John Scofield, Milt Hinton and Jackie Williams. McShann is known as the leader of the big band from which Charlie Parker emerged. Ouinichette a well known tenor player also was associated with McShann. McShann's band was known as a band that played the blues. Recordings in the 1940s with singer Walter Brown were quite popular and led to a limited view of his own talents which hopefully this album will rectify (along with other recent recordings including the wonderful duet album he did with Buddy Tate on Sackville).

This album should win McShann many new fans. It swings with a vengence with lots of bluesy swinging piano that shows slight traces of Art Tatum. McShann takes five persuasive relaxed vocals. He redoes "Confessin' the Blues" which he recorded with vocalist Walter Brown and has since been done by Little Walter, B.B. King and the Rolling Stones. Bird, Brown and McShann composed "Hootie Blues" which features some nice electric piano from him capturing an almost organlike flavor. McShann's singing is quite like bluesman Lowell Fulson and it may be more than coincidental that both come from Oklahoma.

Besides the five blues vocals, there are five instrumentals including one solo piece. McShann is in good company with especially good work from Tate and trumpeter Joe Newman. All told a most wonderful album that any lover of jazz or blues can iII afford to be without. Atlantic may be part of the WEA conglomerate but releases like this show that label founder Ahmet Ertegun still hasn't forgotten the music that the label was built on and we are grateful. Mr. Ertegun, may we have more of the same, please.

This review originally appeared in the Buffalo Jazz Report March 1978 Issue 49. I likely received a review copy from the Buffalo Jazz Report, now Jazz & Blues Report. This may be available on CD used or digital. Here is "Blues Devil Jump" from this album,

 

Monday, September 07, 2020

Horizons Jazz Orchestra Plays the Music of Lee Harris: "The Brite Side"

Horizons Jazz Orchestra
Plays the Music of Lee Harris: "The Brite Side"
Pineapple ARTS Management

The South Florida based Horizons Jazz Orchestra salutes the late baritone saxophonist, composer, and arranger, Lee Harris. With trumpeter Dennis Noday, Harris had formed the big band Superband to perform Harris' arrangements and compositions. Social media promoter Jeanette C. Piña championed this band. She supported a project to record Lee Harris' music faltered as Harris' health failed. Ms. Piña got Noday and the lead trombonist, Michael Balogh, to realize the project. However, Harris passed before the project could be finished. As some of the members of Superband moved on to other projects, Balogh and Ms. Piña decided to rebrand this big band as the Horizons Jazz Orchestra and make the debut album a tribute to their old friend.

Balogh recruited for this recording three old friends as guest artists who play on some, not all tracks. These are trumpeter Carl Saunders, drummer Jonathan Joseph, and woodwind specialist Billy Ross. Notable members of the Orchestra include the rhythm section of Gary Mayone on keyboards, Ranses Colon on basses, Luke Williams on guitar, and George Mazzeo on drums. Other notable band members include Scott Klarman, Joe Miletti, and Randy Emerick on reeds, and Dennis Noday on trumpet and flugelhorn.

This recording is a wonderfully played, welcoming collection of originals, and innovative arrangements of some classic songs. Harris' arrangements result in some very captivating performances. The opening "Red Apple Sweet" is a lively Harris original in several portions that sounds like a contrafact of "Wade in the Water." There is impressive section work before short solos from guest drummer Jonathan and Mayone on the organ before the tempo slows down, and Balogh plays a lovely solo. There is a gorgeous performance of "Pure Imagination" from the film "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory." In addition to the resonant reeds, Saunders showcases his brisk, bright flugelhorn playing here.

Harris's arrangement of Turner Layton's 1918 song, "After You've Gone," brings a modern tone to a song associated with traditional jazz groups. Mayone opens this energetic performance on electric piano, with solos from Klarman and Ross on alto sax and tenor sax respectfully before Saunders solos on trumpet against Harris' arrangement of the horns. Saunders' crisp trumpet is again in the spotlight on "The Fourth Dimension," an uptempo swinger. Randy Emerick's brawny baritone sax and guitarist Williams also solo on this number.

The title track opens with Mayone's repeated morse-code riff against a soaring melodic line before shifting tempo while incorporating the Christmas hymn "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen." On electric piano, Mayone takes a frothy solo followed by a bluesy tenor sax solo by Ross. Scott Klarman takes a dreamy soprano sax solo on "Summertime," with Harris' arrangement providing gorgeous horn voicings.

Closing the album is "A Train Bossa," Harris' imaginative reconstruction of the Billy Strayhorn composed Duke Ellington theme song. Ross' solo here shows a bit of Stan Getz's influence, while Saunders plays with crisply and a definite bite. It is a superb close to an outstanding big band recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is the Horizons Jazz Orchestra playing "The Fourth Dimension."


Saturday, September 05, 2020

Take 5 With Andy Kirk

One of the bands from Kansas City that many remember with fondness with Andy Kirk and the Clouds of Joy. A popular swing band of the thirties into the forties the bands' sound was attributable to the piano and arranging skills of Mary Lou Williams as well as the marvelous tenor sax of Dick Wilson. Balladeer Pha Terrell was also popular with the sides with his vocals selling many copies. This week we sample five choice recordings by this fabled band.

We start with the band's theme, Mary Lou Williams' "Walkin' and Swingin'."


Next up is Williams' arrangement of "Moten Swing," which arguably is the finest version of this song other than the Benny Moten Band's original.


Arguably their biggest hot was "Until the Real Thing Comes Along" with Pha Terrell's memorable crooning.


The band celebrated Williams with "The Lady Who Swings The Band."


We close this Take 5 with a feature for guitarist Floyd Smith, "Floyd's Guitar Blues."


Friday, September 04, 2020

Bobby Rush Rawer Than Raw

Bobby Rush
Rawer Than Raw
Deep Rush Records/ Thirty Tigers

It has been quite a few years since Bobby Rush's prior acoustic blues album, "Raw," was issued. "Rawer Than Raw" is another album of unplugged blues from the blues legend. On this release, just Bobby Rush with his voice, guitar, harmonica, and foot stomp, performing songs in tribute to Mississippi's blues heritage. Several of these songs come some of the greatest artists from that state, including Skip James, Skip James, Robert Johnson (Elmore James), Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, and Sonny Boy Williamson with several originals.

Classic blues recordings have always influenced Rush's music. He often reworked them when performing and recording. This influence is present with some of the originals here. One example is "Down in Mississippi," a reworking of J.B. Lenoir's "Mojo Boogie." Here and elsewhere Rush shows himself to be a more than adequate guitarist and harmonica player. Also, the robustness of his vocal belies his age.

There is also a capable, if not outstanding, rendition of Skip James "Hard Times." Howlin' Wolf appears to have left a deep impression on Rush, not merely in versions of "Smokestack Lightning" and "Shake It For Me." Wolf's influence also is heard in Rush's "Let Me in Your House." It is a one-chord blues with a repeated guitar riff with Rush's foot-stomping, adding to a mesmeric feel. Rush also performs an enjoyable jaunty reworking of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Don't Start Me Talking'," with his harmonica overdubbed over his vocal. There is a reflective original "Sometimes I Wonder," along with a spirited "Dust My Broom."

There is a consistent, entertaining quality in these performances. Bobby Rush shows himself a capable instrumentalist and invests considerable passion in his vocals on an entertaining album.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a promo for this recording.






Thursday, September 03, 2020

Mercy Dee Walton One Room Country Shack

Mercy Dee Walton
One Room Country Shack
Specialty

The many Specialty blues reissues of note include Mercy Dee Walton's One Room Country Shack. The title track, one of Mercy Dee's two top ten R&B recordings, may be familiar from versions by Buddy Guy or Mose Allison, but Dee's dry vocal really captures the starkness of his blues poetry. While compiler Billy Vera notes Mercy Dee's sophisticated lyrics bear some comparison to Percy
Mayfield, his themes and some of his lyrics reflect the rural sharecropping life he grew up in.

His three Specialty recordings are included here along with 18 other sides, some of which served as demos perhaps. Sides like Love is a Mystery show a bit of versatility as he is in the club blues mode of a Charles Brown, while Winter Blues almost sounds like a remake of One Room Country Shack,
although with totally different lyrics. A similar accompaniment is heard on Dark Muddy Bottom with its powerful depiction of a sharecropper's life getting up at 4:30 to hit up his beat up team. A boogie backing is found on other songs like Pauline while Get to Gettin', a duet with Lady Fox, is a New Orleans flavored rocker.

The unissued sides are a welcome addition to his sparse recorded legacy, and while there may be a certain sameness to some of the songs here musically, the wit and imagery of his songs, his understated vocal delivery and Texas blues piano make Mercy Dee's recordings a treasure to his fans.


I received a review copy from Fantasy Records which owned the Specialty catalog. This review originally appeared in the Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. Here is "One Room Country Shack."


Wednesday, September 02, 2020

Ron Thompson From The Patio - Live at Poor House Bistro Vol. 1

Ron Thompson
From The Patio - Live at Poor House Bistro Vol. 1
Little Village Foundation

I first became aware of Ron Thompson some blues 45s by Richard Riggins and Schoolboy Cleve in the 1970s that he played on, in addition to being part of the band an Arhoolie K.C. Douglas album. Thompson had associations with a variety of other blues performers, including John Lee Hooker. In the 1990s, Ron played Fleetwood's in Alexandria, Virginia, with Mick Fleetwood's Blue Whale, and I was impressed by his straight-ahead slide guitar blues and gritty singing. I was also delighted to see him on the 2006 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, where he was one of the performers. Those were the only times I had the pleasure to see him perform, but I believe I did acquire one of his CDs, which I enjoyed quite a bit.

For some 14 years, which ended because of the health issues that led to his passing earlier this year, Ron Thompson had a regular Wednesday night gig at the Poor House Bistro in San Jose, California. This CD captures eleven numbers from his performances on June 4 and August 6, 2014. On those evenings, Thompson was backed by Scotty Griffin on drums, either Dave Chavez or Gary Rosen on bass, Sid Morris on piano, and Jim Pugh on organ. Kid Andersen, who produced this release, adds guitar to a couple of tracks while harmonica wizard Gary Smith plays harmonica on one. Thompson attacks the songs here with a robust, raspy vocal style and a driving guitar attack. The performances exhibit a relaxed intensity. The music never sounds rushed, and Thompson sings with plenty of grit as well as spirit.

Things open with a dynamic, straight-forward rendition of Howlin' Wolf's "Meet Me in the Bottom," adding harmonica to his rhythmically nuanced guitar. This number, like Lightnin' Hopkins' "Bring Me My Shotgun," display how he was able to develop intensity over a simple one-chord motif. The latter song also demonstrates how much he internalized aspects of John Lee Hooker's approach on a moving, brooding performance. He also played idiomatic originals such as "Mardis Gras Boogie" that might evoke for some listeners some of Hooker's Vee-Jay recordings. Other songs include taut doomy renditions of "Tin Pan Alley" and "Sinner's Prayer" with stinging guitar complementing the fervent singing. On the former number, Morris adds first-rate piano while Pugh adds atmospheric organ on the latter song. There is a capable reworking of Little Walter's "One More Chance With You" with Gary Smith adding harmonica.

The musical temperature cools down with a heartfelt cover of Don Covey-Bobby Womack's soul ballad "That's How I Feel," before Thompson recasts Buster Brown's "Doctor Brown" into a hot "Dust My Broom" slide guitar shuffle. More slide guitar is heard on "When You Walk That Walk," which may be more Hound Dog Taylor than Elmore James. Kid Andersen adds his guitar to fill out the backing on these last two tracks that close this recording. Ron Thompson was a significant part of the California blues scene for several decades, and the marvelous music captured here shows how much he will be missed. This recording allows us to appreciate his legacy, and one can hope that more will be forthcoming.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video collage of partial performances of Ron Thompson at the Poor House Bistro.


Tuesday, September 01, 2020

The Legends of Specialty Part 3

Among recent reissues in Fantasy's The Legends of Specialty series are the second volumes devoted to Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield along with a volume of Art Neville's Specialty recordings. Another reissue, Shouting the Blues, includes Joe Turner's recordings for the Texas Freedom label Big Maceo's Specialty sides, and recordings by Smilin' Smokey Lynn and H-Bomb Ferguson. Musically, most of these recordings date from the heyday of jump blues, the late forties through the mid-fifties. All six releases contain Billy Vera's perceptive annotations and discographical information. 

By virtue of his success with his brothers today, Art Neville is perhaps the best known of any of these artists. His Specialty Recordings: 1956-58 collect the recordings he made after recording Mardi Gras Mambo with the Hawketts for Chess. These early sides include some demos along with such sides as Oooh Wee-Baby, Cha Dooky Doo, with its famous distorted guitar and a duet with Larry Williams on Rocking Pneumonia and Boogie Woogie Flu. These sides did not enjoy great commercial success when initially issued, and while there is unquestionable historical interest to some of these sides, and fans of New Orleans R&B will be interested, this is one of the weaker Specialty reissues. 

Shouting The Blues is dominated by some great jump blues by Joe Turner and Smilin' Joe Lynn. Turner's eight songs were initially issued on the Houston Freedom label and three (including the rocking Adam Bit the Apple) include Goree Carter's T-Bone Walker inspired guitar and a great jump band. Big Maceo had suffered a stroke and was unable to play at the time he recorded his enjoyable, but not essential 1949 Specialty recordings. On these, his protege Johnnie Jones took the piano chair. Smilin' Smokey Lynn was a Los Angeles based shouter heard with trumpeter Don Johnson's band. He is an enjoyable singer, if not in the same league as Turner. Many of his performances are rehashed versions of R&B hits. State Street Boogie reworks James 'Widemouth' Brown's Boogie Woogie Nighthawk, the torrid Run Mister Rabbit, Run, derives from Hot Lips Page, and Feel Like Ballin' Tonight, derives from Roy Brown's Good Rockin' Tonight. The imaginative Chesterfield Baby, celebrates Lynn's women who satisfies his soul. Closing with two previously unissued tracks by H-Bomb Ferguson, this is an interesting but not essential collection. 

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. I am splitting it up and will include this top paragraph with all three parts. I received my review copies from Fantasy Records. I am not sure about the availability of these albums, although one might check ebay. Here is Art Neville's Specialty Recording of Cha Dooky Doo.

Monday, August 31, 2020

Benny Rubin Jr. Know Say Or See

Benny Rubin Jr.
Know Say Or See
Benny Jr Music

Benny Rubin Jr. is another prodigious talent coming from the Detroit area. Born in Flint, Michigan, and raised in the Motor City, he discovered jazz, graduated from the Detroit School of the Arts, and worked locally with top local players including Wendell Harrison. He moved to New York, working with such folks as Adam Rudolph, Lonnie Plaxico, Danny Mixon, and the Harlem Society Orchestra. His second album as a leader, his alto and tenor saxophones, is joined by Lex Korten on piano, Adam Olszewski on bass, and Jk Kim on drums.

The album gets its title from three of his compositions on this recording. The album opens with a blues, “Know,” that he begins unaccompanied before the bass and drums enter to support his deep blues playing. “Say,” is a free jazz styled number with impressive piano from Korten before Rubin plays robustly on this stimulating free jazz tune. He is particularly strong playing at the tenor saxophone’s lower range. From the turbulence of “Say,” he shifts gear with a scrumptious ballad playing on “Darn That Dream,” that suggest the influence of Ben Webster and others. Based on Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” Rubin showcases his alto sax on “NYC Urge,” with exemplary quartet playing and a terrific Korten solo.

Rubin leads the quartet on a straight-ahead swinging rendition of Horace Silver’s “Kiss Me Right” that provides space for all the players. The original “Flint Water Crisis” refers to the still pressing issue affecting the residents of his birthplace. While starting with plenty of fire, Rubin’s solo builds in intensity as his solo, including overblowing at the tenor’s upper range as this performance develops.

The two final tracks, “Down They Go” and “Or See,” evoke the classic John Coltrane Quartet, with Korten’s Tyner-esque piano complementing Rubin’s channeling of Coltrane’s sound. Both numbers evoke the spiritual tenor of “A Love Supreme,” with each player bringing their own voice. Rubin’s playing is quite exciting here. These two tracks close this recording and displays the authority and imagination with which Benny Rubin Jr. plays. He also has composed several engaging originals and brought together a first-rate band, resulting in a superb recording. It is available on Bandcamp, https://bennysaxable.bandcamp.com/album/know-say-or-see-2.
 
I received my review copy from a publicist. Here he and his quartet performs "Down They Go."


Saturday, August 29, 2020

Take 5 With Charlie Parker

Today is the centenary of Charlie Parker's Birth which I will celebrate with five recordings from Bird. There is no effort to select the greatest Parker or whatever, but simply some great music.

1st up is a Red Norvo session with Bird, Dizzy Gillespie, Flip Phillips, Slam Stewart, Norvo Teddy Williams, Slam Stewart and Specs Powell playing "Hallelujah."


2nd is Parker's variations on the changes of "Cherokee" with a staggering opening, "Koko." Dizzy is on trumpet and piano, Curley Russell on bass and Max Roach on drums.


3rd track is "Relaxing at Camarillo."


Next is backing vocalist Earl Coleman on the blues "Dark Shadows."


Finally, a selection of Bird with strings, "Just Friends."


Friday, August 28, 2020

John Scofield Swallow Tales

John Scofield
Swallow Tales
ECM

With all the recordings over his esteemed career, "Swallow Tales" is John Scofield's first album as a leader for ECM. The present album is a celebration of the bassist Steve Swallow who Scofield has known since he was studying at Berklee some four decades ago. Swallow has played and recorded with Scofield over the years and Scofeld notes their rapport is such that "Sometimes when we play it's like one big guitar, the bass part and my part together."  Filling out the trio is drummer Bill Stewart. Scofield states about Stewart that What Bill does is more than ‘playing the drums,'" Scofield says. "He's a melodic voice in the music, playing counterpoint, and comping, while also swinging really hard."

This recording is devoted to Swallow's compositions which Scofield observes "make perfect vehicles for improvisation. The changes are always interesting – but not too interesting! They're grounded in reality with cadences that make sense. They're never just intellectual exercises, and they're so melodic. They're all songs, rather than ‘pieces'. They could all be sung." The performances of these nine tunes display the emphatic interplay suggested by Scofield's comments above.

Scofield's touch and technique is immaculate throughout while his solos are ingenious and thoughtfully constructed. Certainly there is a delicious precious quality to the opening selection "She Was Young" where Scofield's crafted lyrical playing is subtly supported. His guitar tone is exquisite while Stewart is adding a counterpoint with his rhythmic accents. Swallow himself adds a melodic solo on this softly played tune. Stewart's propulsive playing kicks off "Falling Grace" with the composer's neat bass line as well as Scofield's scintillating, twisting solo. Then there is the free-flowing bluesy feel of "Portsmouth Figurations," that was originally performed on Gary Burton's "Duster" album. There is effervescent playing on "Eiderdown," which also has a noteworthy drum solo. Another song to take note of is the lovely ballad "Away," with some pretty playing from the leader and Swallow with Stewart deftly and softly using brushes. "In F" is Swallow's contrafact of a Cole Porter number with  drum breaks featured in its head.

Besides being marvelously played, the performances are uncluttered with plenty of space for the music to breathe. There is so much to enjoy with the intriguing compositions, the imaginative and thoughtful playing and the rapport the three showcase. "Swallow Tales" is a gem of a jazz guitar recording.

I received a review download from a publicist. Here is a 2010 performance by this trio.

 

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Julio Botti Pure Tango

Julio Botti
Pure Tango
Zoho Music

"Pure Tango" is a collaboration between saxophonist Julio Botti and pianist Matias Lanfranco. Introduced to each other in late 2017, they performed a few tunes together and clicked immediately. While Lanfranco hails from a traditional tango tradition that features folkloric music, and Botti integrates modern jazz and nuevo tango, they blended seamlessly. They performed at the Teatro Coliseo in Argentina on September 8, 2018. While a great success, this concert was bittersweet for Botti. "I realized that it would likely be the last concert that my mother would witness," said Botti. His mother, who had struggled valiantly against cancer, would pass away four months later. Wanting to pay tribute and honor his mother, Botti was inspired to record the music from that concert.

Lanfranco and Botti collaborated in this production. After selecting the repertoire and crafting the sophisticated arrangements, Lanfranco came to New York to record the set, first tracking saxophone and piano, and later the rest of the instruments and vocals in Cordoba, Argentina. Botti observed, "This production is a new path for me, celebrating traditional tango, music which I had never performed, but was always somewhere within me." Kabir Sehgal comments in the liner notes, "Pure Tango" is a blend between the vivid colors that traditional tango offers, with its traditional instrumentation -- and the compelling sound of Botti's saxophone."

The blend of traditional tango with Botti's superlative sax makes for stirring listening, with performances ranging from an elegant chamber group to fiery rousing performances. There is "Taquito Militar" that sounds like a musical cousin to a Brazilian choro composition. The facility of both Lanfranco and Botti is evident here. His soprano sax has the warmth of a master clarinetist, and mention should be made of guitarist Gustavo Gancedo. Botti's gorgeous soprano sax is also featured on Lanfranco's waltz "Cuando Llueve," with Gancedo's acoustic guitar prominent. Pablo Ziegler contributed the arrangement to "Nostalgias." Botti's eloquent soprano sax is set against Lanfranco's stately piano and Alejandro Colombatti's bandoneon. "El Día Que Me Quieras" is an enticing duet between Lanfranco's elegant piano and Botti's pensive soprano sax. Another alluring duet between the two is Botti's 'Recordando" with a simple melody that evokes memories of his mother for Botti.

María Jose Rojas sings on several selections. She is a singer who imparts a dramatic flair on the lovely "Cualquiera de Estas Noches" with Botti's tenor sax snaking around her singing. Colombatti's bandoneon adds to the song's atmosphere. The beautiful tango "El Último Café" evokes the Charles Trenet song, "Que reste-t-il de nos amours?" (known in the US as "I Wish You Love.") While not credited on the album, Rojas stamps her personality on the spirited "Oro Y Plata." Botti adds a rousing tenor sax solo. Botti's tenor sax also lends to the bittersweet quality of "Una Canción," where Rojas sings about an alcoholic smitten by a lady.

Combining passion with the imaginative virtuosity of Botti, Lanfranco and the other performers, 'Pure Tango" is a superlative recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is Julio Botti and Matias Lanfranco performing "Nostalgias."

Wednesday, August 26, 2020

Robin McKelle Alterations

Robin McKelle
Alterations
Doxie Records

Vocalist Robin McKelle's new album has the singer interpret several songs by a diverse list of female innovators including Dolly Parton, Sade, Amy Winehouse, Adele, Janis Joplin, Carol King, Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell, and Lana Del Ray. Backing McKelle on this release is co-producer, pianist and arranger Shedrick Mitchell, acoustic and electric bassist Richie Goods, drummer Charles Haynes, guitarist Nir Felder. Saxophonist Keith Loftis and trumpeter Marquis Hill guest on one song each.

There is quite a variety in material and McKelle's approach to the tunes ranging from straight-ahead jazz singing to songs more in a Memphis soul vein. With a slight vibrato, an impressive vocal range, nuanced phrasing, and timing, she displays a thorough command of the material set against a choice rhythm section and Mitchell's first-rate arrangements. As McKelle says, "We fused jazz, soul, r&b, blues and rock all while keeping a continuity in the music."

From the opening Latin-tinged rendition of Amy Winehouse's "Back to Back" to the appealing duet with Mitchell of Carole King's 'You Got a Friend," McKelle shines. There are a number of highlights, including her own "Head High," which is set against a Coltrane-ish groove. Mitchell sounds like he is channeling McCoy Tyner while Keith Loftis' solo is terrific. In contrast to the full-throated delivery on "Head High," the low-key vocal on Billie Holiday's "Don't Explain" is complemented by subtle, restrained backing. Marquis Hill adds his muted trumpet to a plaintive vocal on Lana Del Ray's "Born To Die." McKelle has recorded a classic soul album, so one should not be surprised by her Memphis soul-rooted rendition of Dolly Parton's "Jolene," or the funky blues-rock rendition of Janis Joplin's "Mercedes Benz."

There is considerable charm in her relaxed, tender take on Joni Mitchell's "River," which one more illustrates how well she can instill her personality on such varied material. It is the consistency of McKelle's marvelous performances and backing that make "Alterations" such an outstanding album.

I received a download to review from a publicist. Here is a performance of "Don't Explain."

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Legends Of Specialty Series Part 2

Among recent reissues in Fantasy's The Legends of Specialty series are the second volumes devoted to Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield along with a volume of Art Neville's Specialty recordings. Another reissue, Shouting the Blues, includes Joe Turner's recordings for the Texas Freedom label Big Maceo's Specialty sides, and recordings by Smilin' Smokey Lynnand H-Bomb Ferguson. Musically, most of these recordings date from the heyday of jump blues, the late forties through the mid-fifties. All six releases contain Billy Vera's perceptive annotations and discographical information.

Not quite as consistent (as releases by Percy Mayfield and Roy Milton) is Rough Weather Blues, the second volume by Jimmy Liggins and His Drops of Joy. Vera suggests that Jimmy Liggins recordings are among the closest to rock'n'roll records of anyone of his generation. These sides feature some hard rocking rhythm sections along Saxophonist Harold Land and Charles 'Little Jazz' Ferguson on the earliest sides here which include an extended five minute plus jam on Charlie Parker's Now's The Time, while the latest sides include a undubbed version of Drunk, one of his biggest records. Maxwell Davis is present on many of the latter sides. Liggins, no mean guitarist, gets a fair amount of solo space particularly on the later recordings included here.

Brother Joe, was more commercially successful than Jimmy with a more mellow, melodic jump blues style. His first recordings were made for the Exclusive label and had such hits as I Got A Right to Cry, Tanya and standards like When It's Sleepy Time Down South, and When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano. While he remade some of his hits for Specialty, including The Honeydripper, he had hits with Pink Champagne and Frankie Lee. The second volume of his Specialty Recordings, Dripper's Boogie, collects 20 recordings that date from 1950 to 1954. His somewhat flat vocals have a certain charm. Several of the vocals are by Candy Rivers and Dell St. John. A solid pianist and arranger, he had smooth jump combos, often with saxophonists Willie Jackson and Maxwell Davis as he waxed hot on novelties like Boogie Woogie Lou or cool on ballads like Tenderly with Candy Rivers clean delivery. Dripper's Boogie is a remake of one of his Exclusive recordings that is marked by his deliberate, clipped phrasing. Those interested in Joe Liggins' output would be advised to check out his earlier Specialty volume first.

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. I am splitting it up and will include this top paragraph with all three parts. I received my review copies from Fantasy Records. I am not sure about the availability of these albums, although one might check ebay. Here is a popular Jimmy Liggins track, although not on this recording.

Monday, August 24, 2020

Shempei Ogawa & Noa Levy You Me & Cole

Shempei Ogawa & Noa Levy
You Me & Cole
Belle Records

"You Me & Cole" is an album of bass-vocal duets providing renditions of some of Cole Porter's songs. Ogawa hails from Okazaki, Aichi, Japan, who now lives in New York. Levy is an Israeli native who now lives in San Francisco. Levy and Ogawa first began playing together for a jazz history class at the California Jazz Conservatory and discovered their musical compatibility. They enjoyed the interplay of the duo format and started performing in clubs. A fondness for Cole Porter's music led to his arrangement of "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," for one of Levy's concerts. The performance then led to Ogawa transforming his big band arrangement of "I Get a Kick Out Of You" into a duet. With two duets completed, they focused on an entire album devoted to Porter's songs.

The skeletal settings for these duets allow listeners to appreciate their artistry and interaction between them. Levy is a singer to watch as she scats and vocalizes in addition to her delivery of the Cole lyrics, sometimes exhibiting drama and other times playfulness. Ogawa's accompaniments complement her singing as well as showcases his considerable technique. He can snap the strings on "I Get a Kick Out Of You" or exhibit his arco technique on "My Heart Belongs to Daddy," which he recast as a tango. There is a Sephardic tinge to Levy's vocal opening, "Just One Of Those Things." "Too Darn Hot"' opens with a memorizing bass riff leading into Levy's sensual vocal. There is a playful "Anything Goes" and a meditative, brooding rendition of "Love For Sale."

The clarity of the vocals and bass accompaniment make for a marvelous musical exploration into some of the greatest tunes in the Great American Songbook."You Me & Cole" is a captivating, delightful recording.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here the two perform I Get a Kick Out Of You."


Friday, August 21, 2020

Take 5 With Lonnie Johnson

Last week I had a short playlist of some of Lonnie Johnson's recordings as the featured artist. This week we have him with other performers.

First up we have him performing with Louis Armstrong. Here is Mahogany Hall Stomp.



Next up is a duet with Eddie Lang, Midnight Call Blues.



Lonnie also recorded some popular duets with some of the early women blues singers like Clara Smith. Here they are on You're Getting Old On Your Job. Alex Hill is the pianist.



Another early woman singer Johnson recorded duets with was Victoria Spivey. Here they are heard on. Here is "Lonnie Johnson & Victoria Spivey - You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now Pt. 1.



 We close this playlist with Lonnie Johnson accompanying Texas Alexander on Deep Sea Blues.


2020 Blues—New Music From Alligator Records

Various Artists
2020 Blues—New Music From Alligator Records
Alligator Records

This is a digital-only sampler from 5 albums that Alligator was going to release this year. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic intervened and eliminated nearly all live performances and the like. In Bruce Iglaur's words, "It's now clear that the pandemic and its results are going to continue for some time to come. We can't wait any longer to begin to share this great new music with the media and the public. … These albums are scheduled for later this year and early next year. 2020 Blues and each individual track will be available on all the popular download and streaming sites."

This compilation is a welcome teaser for the five upcoming albums. The first selection up is from Chris Cain, whose "I Believe I Got Off Cheap" is from an album to be released early next year. I have been quite a fan of Cain for years, and it is great that he will have a new album. This song is a terrific track on which he channels Albert King's guitar style paired with his soulful vocals. Following you is a selection from Selwyn Birchwood, "Living In A Burning House." From a release schedule for January, it is a typical first-rate performance from one of the real young blue bloods.  Also scheduled for release next year is a new Curtis Salgado album. The track "The Longer That I Live" is a stunning Memphis soul performance. If the rest of this album is this good, it is another most purchase.

Both Shemekia Copeland and Elvin Bishop-Charlie Musselwhite will have new albums out this year, Shemekia, in October and Elvin-Charlie in September. Both of their songs deal with the deep divide in our country now. Shemekia sings "Uncivil War," a plea for us to get along, although her plea "to listen to one another and, ultimately, come together" may strike some as naive. The striking performance is more Americana than blues, and it is good to see her showing how expressive she can be no matter the musical setting. The raucous "What The Hell?" is a rowdy duet with Bishop singing about things ailing our country and talking about what he likes about the President, which is nothing, Musselwhite wails throughout this track. It certainly makes one quite interested in their collaboration.

In summary, quite an appetizer for these upcoming releases with some terrific music. It is available from Alligator Records (https://www.alligator.com/albums/2020-Blues---New-Music-From-Alligator-Records/) and the usual digital outlets.

I received a download to review from Alligator Records. Here is a video of Chris Cain performing and channeling Albert King.



 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

The Legends Of Specialty Series Part 1


Among recent reissues in Fantasy's The Legends of Specialty series are the second volumes devoted to Roy Milton, Joe Liggins, Jimmy Liggins and Percy Mayfield along with a volume of Art Neville's Specialty recordings. Another reissue, Shouting the Blues, includes Joe Turner's recordings for the Texas Freedom label, Big Maceo's Specialty sides, and recordings by Smilin' Smokey Lynn
and H-Bomb Ferguson. Musically, most of these recordings date from the heyday of jump blues, the late forties through the mid-fifties. All six releases contain Billy Vera's perceptive annotations and discographical information.

The two prime reissues have to be Memory Pain (Specialty) by Percy Mayfield, and Groovy Blues (Specialty), by Roy Milton. Blues Poet is a label bestowed on many, but no more deservingly than on Percy Mayfield, who was also an urbane vocalist whose recorded such classics as Please Send Me Someone To Love, Strange Things Happening (both heard here in alternate takes), I Need
Love So Bad
and The Voice Within. While Specialty's earlier volume of Mayfield's recordings, The Poet of the Blues is the essential Mayfield collection, this contains a number of excellent performances (although a few rough spots may be heard), and has a 1960 demo of his Hit the Road Jack, that became a monster hit for Ray Charles.

Drummer-vocalist Roy Milton was Specialty's first and biggest star until Little Richard. The Oklahoma born Milton was nearly forty when his easy going shuffle R.M. Blues was a hit in 1945, and proceded to make numerous 'jump blues' recordings over the next decade as his band the Solid Senders produced a scaled down version of the territory big bands of the thirties (such as that of Count Basie or Jay MacShann). As Billy Vera notes, economic factors led to the demise of the big bands, while recording techniques improved to make it possible for a five to eight piece combo to have almost as much a punch as a full big band leading many swing era musicians like Milton to adopt the approach of the Count Basie riff-oriented blues-based territory band in a smaller configuration with bluesy novelty vocals, honking sax solos, solid riffs, bass-heavy boogie rhythm and a heavy accent on the second and fourth beats. Few succeeded with this formula as did Milton whose warmly delivered vocals and solid rhythm anchored a strong combo which featured the wonderful boogie woogie piano of Camille Howard (who also takes several of the vocals, but her singing is not as earthy as her playing). Milton was equally at home with a rocking shuffle, or a remake of a standard like On the Sunny Side of The Street (with his vocal indebted to Louis Armstrong), or My Blue Heaven. Big Band roots are revealed by the versions of One O'Clock Jump and I Want a Little Girl from the Count Basie canon, and Thomas Dorsey's Marie. While Camille Howard's vocal on the title track, Groovy Blues, is bland, the music here is anything but bland.

This review appeared in Jazz & Blues Report in 1993. I am splitting it up and will include this top paragraph with all three parts. I received my review copies from Fantasy Records. I am not sure about the availability of these albums, although one might check ebay. Here is Percy Mayfield singing Memory Pain.

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Gregg Martinez MacDaddy Mojeaux

Gregg Martinez
MacDaddy Mojeaux
Nola Blue Records

Trumpeter and vocalist Gregg Martinez (pronounced MartNEZ with the I silent) has been a part of the Louisiana music scene for five deuces as the leader of such groups as the King Fish, The Boogie Kings and more recently Gregg Martinez and the Delta Kings. While some of his inspirations come from New Orleans R&B and the soul end of Swamp pop, he is a first-rate blue-eyed soul singer with influences from Sam Cooke and Donny Hathaway to G.G. Shinn, Luther Kent, and Johnny Adams. Mac Daddy is a nickname he earned decades ago, while Mojeaux is a spelling of 'maqereau,' a man Creoles believe has an unusual power over women.

Produced by Martinez and Tony Daigle, Martinez's singing is supported by a stellar cast of musicians that include drummer Tim Courville, guitarists Tony Ardoin and Tony Goulas, bassist Lee Allen Zeno, B-3 organist Charles Ventre, and saxophonist Ronnie Eades. One song features slide guitarist Sonny Landreth, accordionist Anthony Dopsie, and rubboard player Rockin' Dopsie Jr. On the final selection, Lawrence Sieberth[ contributes piano and string arrangement. Between them, Martinez and Goulas provide four originals to go with the nine covers.

On a rendition of Ray Charles' "I Believe To My Soul," Martinez establishes just how superb a soul singer he is. It is an arrangement based on Donny Hathaway's recording and illustrates the strength of his singing. Following this song is a robust reading of Don Nix's "Same Old Blues" with the guitarist channeling Freddie King. Other strong covers include the deep soul classic, "You Left the Water Running," the Clarence Carter recording, "Snatching It Back," and Tyrone Davis' immortal "Can I Change Your Mind." Charlene Howard joins Martinez on a Stax-influenced interpretation of Hamilton, Joe Frank & Reynolds' "Don't Pull Your Love."

Of the originals, Guolas collaborated with Martinez on the soul groover, "This House," that sounds like an unissued Muscle Shoals soul recording. Guolas also wrote the ballad "Just Stay Gone" with a superlative vocal that evokes the late Johnny Adams. Then there is Martinez's "Eva Zelle," with Landreth's slide guitar, Anthony Dopsie's accordion, and Rocking' Dopsie's rubboard adding a zydeco flavor for a rollicking performance. A passionate cover of Randy Newman's "Marie," with only piano and strings, concludes an outstanding recording showcasing Gregg Martinez's superb singing.

I received my review copy from a publicist. Here is a video for his performance of "I Believe To My Soul."


Tuesday, August 18, 2020

The Lucky Losers Godless Land

The Lucky Losers
Godless Land
Vizztone

"Godless Land" is the latest recording from The Lucky Losers. Leading the band are by singer Cathy Lemons and singer-harmonica player Phil Berkowitz. The other members of the group are Ian Lamson on lead & rhythm guitars; Chris Burns on keyboards; Endre Tarczy on bass; and Derrick "D'Mar" Martin on drums. This album was recorded at Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studios and Kid Andersen guests on (lead & rhythm guitars, lap steel, organ, piano, Mellotron, sitar, and percussion. Michael Peloquin plays saxophones and adds the horn arrangements for one selection on which Mike Rose plays trumpet.

Like The Lucky Losers' previous two albums, this is a first-rate CD of blues, rhythm and blues, and roots rock. Nine of the twelve songs are originals by either Lemons or Berkowitz. Former Charles Brown bandleader Danny Caron co-wrote three of Berkowitz's songs. One wonders whether the fact the songs seem to linger in one's head after listening is because the songs are so well-crafted, or the performances are wonderful. The tight ensemble backing throughout is top-notch with subtle, intricate instrumental fills adding to one's enjoyment. I have been a Cathy Lemons fan since listening to her 2014 album "Black Crow," about which I commented about the "natural, relaxed and soulful quality" of her singing. She continues to impress me as an exceptional singer. If Phil Berkowitz is not quite as impressive a vocalist, he still is a real fine singer who complements her throughout.

Things start with Lemons' funky Memphis soul groover, "Half Of Nothing," with her forthright singing with Berkowitz displaying his harmonica talents. Kid Andersen and Lemons collaborated on the bouncy rhythms of the title track with lyrics set against trebly accompaniment. Berkowitz takes the appealing vocal lead on the crisply played "Mad Love Is Good Love" with Lemons adding a harmony vocal on a performance evoking late sixties and early seventies classic rock. Another choice pop-soul performance is Berkowitz's "Can't Keep Pretending" with a full-hearted singing.

The duet performances by the two are very much in the manner of Mickey and Sylvia as they trade playful banter between themselves. It is appropriate that they cover a lesser-known Mickey and Sylvia hot shuffle, "No Good Lover." They follow this song with an interpretation of Doc Pomus- Mac Rebennack's "Be Good" with Burns' piano evoking Rebennack and Andersen's use of sitar adding to the flavor of this performance. This performance most clearly displays the affection they have for each other. As good as these performances are, "Catch Desire By The Tail," maybe the standout track as the two exchange praises how they complement each other set against sterling backing. Then there is the delightful reworking of a 1930 Clara Smith and Lonnie Johnson duet, "What Makes You Act Like That," There is some neat acoustic guitar and Berkowitz's acoustic harmonica that enhance the duo's playful repartee.

A country-roots lament from Lemons closes this album. Like their previous recordings, there are first-rate songs, superb singing, and terrific playing. As I wrote reviewing their first album, there is not a bum note on this recording. They may call themselves the Lucky Losers, but listeners are big winners with their music.

I received my review copy from VizzTone. Here is a recent live performance by The Lucky Losers.