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.