Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Night in Woodstock reviewed by Mark Thompson

A Night in Woodstock
Paul Rishell and Annie Raines
Mojo Rodeo Records
DVD run time – 66 minutes

Nominated for a 2010 Blues Music award in the “Best Blues DVD” category, this video package is the companion to the audio version of this live show released in ’08 to lots of critical acclaim. It captures a stellar performance by guitarist Paul Rishell and Annie Raines on harmonica. Recognized as masters of the acoustic blue styles, the duo also gets to perform with a full band, featuring Rishell on electric guitar. They get additional support from John Sebastian on harmonica and Bruce Katz on keyboards. The DVD includes two extra tracks absent on the cd – “Kansas City Blues” and Magic Sam’s instrumental, “Lookin’ Good”, that closes out the show.

The first five songs feature the duo alone with Rishell on steel resonator guitar. He lays down a sprightly rhythm of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Custard Pie” before picking a more intricate pattern on “Canned Heat Blues”. His slide playing on Johnny Winter’s “Dallas” builds to a ferocious conclusion . Raines backs Rishell with tasty harp licks that complement his work, especially filling in behind the vocal lines. Rishell’s deep, expressive voice really shines on “It’ll be Me”, done as an up-tempo piece by Jerry Lee Lewis. Rishell slows the pace almost to a standstill, holding on to notes at length to really capture the mournful nature of the lyrics. The spotlight shifts to Raines on the original “Got to Fly” as she takes the lead vocal and dazzles with her country-style harp licks.

Reed Butler joins in on bass, Rishell switches to an acoustic guitar while Raines breaks out her chromatic harp for Louis Armstrong’s “Old Man Mose”. The band keeps expanding as drummer Billy MacGillivray makes his entrance on “Blues on a Holiday” along with Katz on piano. Rishell’s forlorn vocal makes this cut another highlight.

Sebastian makes his first appearance on “Kansas City Blues”, playing some inspired harp while Raines switches to mandolin. Chris Rival adds his slide guitar to the mix. Rishell finally makes the move to electric guitar on “Moving to the Country”, his edgy vocal supported by a strong solo from Raines that reaches into the upper register on her harp. Even better is the marvelous rendition of “Blues Shadows” with Rishell firing off plenty of hot lead guitar in the style of B.B. King. Katz contributes a fine piano solo from the shadows, only his hands visible as they dance across the keyboard.

Raines takes the lead on Lazy Lester’s classic “I’m a Lover Not a Fighter”, singing with conviction. Sebastian returns on “Can’t Use It No More” as he and Raines trade harp licks. That leads to the big finale – a harmonica duet with Raines and Sebastian on “Orange Dude Blues” with the rest of the band sitting on the sidelines. Sebastian solos first on a diatonic harp with Raines on a bass harp in the rhythm role, then they switch things around without losing momentum.

The DVD features Dolby Digital sound and great close-up shots from a variety of camera angles, although Katz never escapes the darkness. An added bonus is the audio commentary track that includes Rishell, Raines and Sebastian. They fill you in on many details of the filming session including an hours-long search for the source of a loud noise that ended after virtually every cable in the entire sound system was replaced. You also hear about the romantic break-up that occurred on the dance floor during the set and one man’s attempt to revive his drunken friend right in front of the stage. Also included is instructions and chord structure on guitar from Rishell for two of the songs.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable package that makes it clear why Rishell and Raines were nominated for a second Blues Music award this year in the Acoustic Artist category. They deliver a memorable performance that highlights their instrumental skill and vocal talents on a wide range of material and styles. Don’t miss this one !!!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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