Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Bluesmasters – Volume 2 reviewed by Mark Thompson

The Bluesmasters – Volume 2
In Memory of our Dear Friends Pinetop Perkins & Hubert Sumlin
Direct Music Distribu-tion
12 tracks/41:48

The brainchild of guitarist Tim Tucker, this collection prominently features the names of two legendary musicians, pianist Pine-top Perkins and Howlin' Wolf's guitar player extraordinaire, Hubert Sumlin. They are listed on the cover of the disc along with Cassie Taylor, Hazel Miller, Eric Gales and Mickey Thomas. In the band listing on the back cover, the men are again listed. While several other musicians have notes attached detailing which tracks they appear on, there aren't any notes for Perkins or Sumlin. That is problematic as the duo appears on a total of three tracks.

Cassie Taylor, the bass-playing daughter of Otis Taylor, receives a healthy share of the spotlight starting with the opener, “Bring It Home to Me” (not to be confused with the Sam Cooke classic). Her saucy vocal injects some life in a song that suffers from weak lyrics. Even better is her performance on the Don Nix tune, “Same Old Blues”. Ric Ulsky's lush organ chords surround Taylor's emotionally-charged singing. She doesn't fare as well on “Talk to Me Baby” as her attempts to sound like a tough blues mama come up short but she recovers to give “I Just Wanna Make Love To You” a sensual reading. Taylor makes a valiant effort on Robert Johnson's “32-20 Blues” but is undermined by a rocked-out arrangement that features British blues legend Aynsley Dunbar on drums and Doug Lynn, who blows a lot of harp with really adding anything to the cut.

Taylor and Gales tackle Studebaker John's “Fine Cadillac” with Gales' shimmering guitar licks underscoring the dynamic vocal duet while Taylor and drummer Larry Thompson providing a pounding rhythm for Gales final guitar-melting solo. Thomas gets paired with Taylor on “I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water” with Rusty Anderson added on guitar. Taylor exercises restraint and develops some sense of intimacy while Thomas turns in a blustery performance that builds to a unhinged screaming conclusion. It is hard to believe that this is the same vocalist who hit the charts with “Fooled Around & Fell in Love” as a member of the Elvin Bishop Band.

Hazel Miller regularly performs as a member of Big Todd & the Monsters. She unleashes her powerful voice over the slinky, organ-drenched rhythm the band lays down on “Tangoray”, exhibiting a gritty spirit missing from much of the disc. Lynn and his harp make a solid contribution on the track as well as Miller's other feature, a heavy-handed rendition of “Big Boss Man” that finds Miller succumbing to the temptation to shout her blues away.

It isn't until the ninth track that Sumlin finally surfaces on “Red Rooster”. His understated guitar licks are overpowered by Thomas, who seems to think this is a Jefferson Starship record. Perkins settles into the piano chair on “Get Me a Car”, his customary rollicking piano lines almost drowned out by one last heavy-handed vocal from Thomas. Things quiet down a bit on the closing number, “Honest I Do”, with Perkins efforts taking a backseat to Taylor's robust singing and Tucker's aggressive playing.

As a tribute, this release veers far from the traditions that Perkins and Sumlin helped establish. There is little of the subtlety, playfulness or deep understanding of blues music that were a hallmark of their careers. But if your tastes learn towards the rock side of the blues world – and you have a high tolerance for boisterous performances – then this one will bring you plenty of listening pleasure.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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