In today's edition of the Chicago Tribune, one of the featured articles was the last in a series by music writer Howard Reich on Blues music in Chicago, a piece entitled “Is this the twilight of blues music?”.
Reich identifies a number of serious issues including the continued loss of legendary musicians like Pinetop Perkins, Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith as well as a suffocating lack of exposure in major media outlets even in the city that claims the music as its own. The writer also comments on the difficultly that newer musicians have in gaining a foothold in the blues clubs, even though it makes sense for the clubs to nurture new voices that might catch the ear of a new generation of listeners.
If blues music is dying, you would never know it after you listen to the first major label release by Toronzo Cannon. Schooled in southside clubs like Theresa's Lounge, Cannon has been honing his craft in Chicago clubs for over a decade as a leader and a sideman for artists like Wayne Baker Brooks and Joanna Connor. Now his blistering guitar work, knock-out songs and soul-wrenching vocals make it clear that Cannon has the ability to help keep the blues tradition alive and vital.
Check out “Chico's Song”, Cannon's celebration for the late Chico Banks with a foot-stomping rhythm, sweet guitar licks and Matthew Skoller's superlative harp playing. On the opening cut, “She Loved Me”, Cannon explores the darker side of life with a guitar tone that harks back to Hound Dog Taylor. Special guest Carl Weathersby shares the spotlight with Cannon on “Hard Luck”, both men laying down incendiary guitar solos, with Weathersby breaking a string in the process.
Cannon gets first-class support from Roosevelt Purifoy on keyboards, Larry Williams on bass and Marty Binder on drums. Rhythm guitarist Lawrence Gladney co-wrote seven tunes with Cannon and contributed two originals - “Come On” finds Cannon bemoaning his fate after the end of a relationship and pleading his lover to return home while “Baby Girl” has a funky, strutting beat that underscores Cannon's exuberant performance. Weathersby returns on “Earnestine”, handling the lead guitar parts while Cannon focuses on singing while Purifoy dazzles with a brief solo on the organ.
On the title cut, Cannon slows the pace to describe a man losing control of his life, taking the song to an unexpected conclusion. He avoids making the vocal too strident, which adds to the sense of despair. Another highlight is “Open Letter (To Whom it May Concern)” that finds Cannon using a distorted vocal to comment to on the sometimes cutthroat nature of the Chicago blues scene. The song features an insistent guitar lick and more stellar harp accompaniment from Skoller. Cannon displays his soul influences on “You're a Good Woman” with Purifoy on the Rhodes electric keyboard. Another highlight is the smoldering rendition of Nina Simone's “Do I Move You”, with Cannon's earnest vocal matched by his impeccable guitar work
Delmark Records deserves praise for continuing their tradition of releasing recordings by working Chicago blues musicians. While some fear for the future, Toronzo Cannon uses vibrant material coupled with his unbridled enthusiasm to provide ample evidence that the blues tradition is safe in his hands. His energetic approach is sure to connect with blues lovers all over the world. Expect to see this one on some of the lists for top Blues recordings for the year!
Reviewed by Mark Thompson