Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Blues Guitar Women reviewed by Mark Thompson

Blues Guitar Women
Various Artists
Ruf Records
Disc 1 – 15 tracks/67:20
Disc 2 – 14 tracks/49:33

This collection has a number of things to offer to serious Blues fans. To start, it is divided into two discs: Contemporary and Traditional Blues Women. Together the 29 tracks show the universal appeal of Blues music. The musicians range in age from teenagers to ninety-plus years. One is from Canada (Sue Foley), another from Yugoslavia (Ana Popovic) and a third from that Blues hotspot, Finland (Erja Lyytinen)!!! Some are household names while others barely escaped obscurity.

Their styles cover the entire spectrum from the quiet elegance of Etta Baker’s Piedmont–style playing through the juke-joint for the Mississippi hill style of Jessie Mae Hemphill, moving on to the hard rockin’ contemporary style of a new group, the Lara Price Band featuring Laura Chavez on guitar. These ladies burn through a version of Buddy Guy’s “Can’t Quit the Blues” to open the first disc in fine style. Next comes Debbie Davies with plenty of always fine playing on the humorous “Takin’ it All to Vegas”. Another newcomer to the scene is Erja Lyytinen. She updates the Elmore James slide-guitar style on “Dreamland Blues”. If the rest of her forthcoming US release sounds this good, look out!!!!! Other highlights include veteran Barbara Lynn showing her considerable skills on the instrumental “Lynn’s Blues” and a duet by Maria Muldaur & Bonnie Raitt accompanied only by Raitt’s slide guitar. They take you to church with the gospel standard “It’s a Blessing”.

The second disc features mostly acoustic Blues with two artists associated with the Music Maker Relief Foundation starting it off. Precious Byrant offers a jaunty take on “Fool Me Good” while Algia Mae Hinton proves she has not lost her ability to sing or pick the guitar at seventy-plus years young. The real bonus on this disc is the last four tracks. The closing number comes from Memphis Minnie, one of the first Blues women to achieve fame through her recordings. It is said that Minnie could play as well as any man in addition to belting out impassioned vocals, as you hear on “In My Girlish Days”.

The other three cuts are from Mattie Delaney, Elvie Thomas and Geechie Wiley. If these names aren’t familiar, don’t worry about it. Each woman recorded several songs and then disappeared into history. Nothing is known about them except for the records they made. I was particularly excited to hear Wiley again. I had heard another track by her several years ago that was outstanding. She starts “Skinny Legs Blues” with a booming guitar lick before singing about sex and death in a voice that still resonates with emotion.

The set includes a full-color booklet pictures and brief biographies of most of the women. Ruf has put together a strong package that runs the gamut of the Blues spectrum. The two discs contain a wealth of Blues that will appeal to the new fan or the veteran listener. Make sure to grab a copy of this one!!!!

Black Lucy’s Deuce reviewed by Mark Thompson

Black Lucy’s Deuce
Lee Gates
The Music Maker Relief Foundation
10 tracks/50:05

Listening to this disc, I was surprised that I hadn’t heard much about Lee Gates, seeing as how he has lived in Milwaukee the last forty-plus years. According to the liner notes, Gates has play blues clubs in town on a regular basis. It’s amazing that a player with his talent isn’t better known in our area. One listen to his latest recording will have you scratching your head wondering the same thing.

This disc was recorded on the spur of the moment – live with no overdubs – and is named after Mr. Gates guitar. The ten songs were created by Lee in the studio but all of them stand the test of repeated listens. The backing band includes Cool John Ferguson on guitar and Sol on bass. Both of them have recorded discs for the Music Maker label. They provide solid backing that allows Gates to display the joy and enthusiasm he has for playing Blues guitar.

“Get Drunk Baby & Party All Night Long “ gets the disc off to a rousing start with Gates vocal encouraging his woman to do what the title says. It is followed by a song that resembles “The Thrill is Gone” and has a similar theme. Gates named the song “My Wife Left Me a Long Time Ago” and again, the title says it all. Gates takes a lengthy solo full of emotion, then gives Cool John a chance to play a bit. The track ends with a slow fade that gives you a chance to hear more tasty guitar from Gates. Another highlight is “Too Much Traffic in My House Today”, a slow blues that has Gates lamenting about strange goings-on at his house before he takes out his frustrations on Black Lucy.

Gates handles the vocals on the disc and it sounds like time may have robbed him of some of the power and range that he once had. That doesn’t mean the vocals are bad. They simply aren’t the strength of the disc. The spotlight on this recording rests squarely on the excellent guitar work by Gates. He never plays too fast, too loud or too many notes. He simply expresses the mood of each song through his guitar. Cool John Ferguson has several opportunities to demonstrate his guitar abilities and more than holds his own.

I really enjoyed this recording on the first listen and have found more to like with each listen. Get a copy from Music Maker when it is available – all of their discs are on sale for $10 each. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed with this one.

My Head is Bald – Live at Vern’s Friendly Lounge reviewed by Mark Thompson

My Head is Bald – Live
at Vern’s Friendly Lounge
Tail Dragger
Delmark Records
13 tracks/60:50

Tail Dragger – James Yancy Jones – has been a fixture in clubs on Chicago’s West Side for more than 40 years. His vocals perfectly represent the hard living, rough & tumble existence of the area’s population. His stature in the Blues community can be measured by the caliber of the musicians backing him for this live date – the great Billy Branch on harp, Lurrie Bell, Jimmy Dawkins (one track) and Kevin Shanahan (Jimmy Burns) on guitar plus Bob Stroger on bass. Jones wrote seven of the tracks on this recording that also includes one tune by Dawkins.

The disc opens with Branch introducing Tail Dragger, who launches into “Sitting Here Singing the Blues” as a way of explaining why he now must do his singing on stage from a chair these days. The band creates a tough backdrop for Tail Dragger’s gruff vocals as members of the audience shout out their approval. On “Prison Blues”, Tail Dragger laments about his wife who turned her back on him when he got into some trouble. The tale rings true as the singer served several years in prison in connection with the death of another singer, Boston Blackie, after a public feud. The slow Blues tune has Tail Dragger chastising his wife for not being there when he “...was down one time,” and instead of supporting him, takes up with another man. Jimmy Dawkins joins the band for the title tune, another highlight on the disc. Branch blows sweet harp fills before Dawkins shows once again that he deserves more recognition for his guitar playing than he has received over the years.

Tail Dragger definitely was in good spirits for this date. Delmark has wisely left in four snippets of his talks to the audience between songs. These pieces clearly show that Tail Dragger loves performing. He gets outstanding support from the veteran band, laying down the old school, tough ensemble sound that has been steadily disappearing in recent years. The harp work of Branch is outstanding throughout the disc. The show has a few flubs but that just adds to the realism of a live recording. This disc is a fine testament to the talent of Tail Dragger and to the band - well worth a listen !!!

I Got Wild reviewed by Steve Jones

I Got Wild
Big Joe Williams
Delmark Records
20 tracks/62:05

Number three of my Delmark reviews in this newsletter is Big Joe Williams newly released CD “I Got wild.” Recorded in February 1958 in St. Louis and in Chicago in July 1961, Bob Koester set down these 16 song tracks, a short interview and some studio chatter. Joe enjoyed some commercial success back in the 60’s after hooking up with Bob Dylan and ending his Delmark stint, but Bob explains in the liner notes that they remained close friends until Joe returned to spend his latter years back home in Mississippi.

What can be said about Big Joe Williams that has not been said? A blues legend, his mastery of the 9 string guitar was exceptional. This CD shows Joe still well on top of his game. Traditional blues on a 9-string, with a little bass accompaniment on three tracks by Ransom Knowling give us down home roots music as it used to be played in the delta. No fanfare, no big arrangements, no fancy amplification; just a man, his guitar and his blues.

In a CD like this there are no “favorites,” Each song holds it’s own place in blues history and Joe’s vocals and guitar give us a glimpse of were the blues came from. Tracks like the opening “Coffee House Blues” take us to a day less complicated than we live in now. “Studio Blues” lets Joe express himself about his recording studio blues. “She Are My Sunshine” gives us a bluesy take on this folk classic. But as I said, there are no bad tracks here, jisy and amazing set of songs sung and played for us as they have been for over a hundred years, Bravo to Bob Koestner for giving us this music back!

Tore Up from the Floor Up reviewed by Steve Jones

Tore Up from the Floor Up
Zora Young
Delmark Records
13 tracks/66:30

Zora Young belts out the blues with the best of them, but what most impressed me with this CD was her restraint. Yes, the vocal pyrotechnics she can launch remain spectacular, but Zora seemed at her best when she takes it down a few notches and growls out a ballad like Muddy Waters’ “Two Trains Running.” She shows restraint, but occasionally unleashes her power in emotional outbursts of energy. I enjoyed the CD and, especially, this track.

Her 5 original songs shined, including the upbeat title track, a slow number about “Toxic” relationships, and a double entendre filled track called, “Handy Man.” Mixed in are some great blues covers and some classics. Don Robey’s “Ace of Spades,” “Rainy Night in Georgia” and the medley of “Since I Fell for You/Sihouettes” allow Zora to show off some of the depth of her repertoire. She began in Gospel, went into R&B and now pretty much can hold her own in any musical genre.

This CD contains a dozen songs and an interview with Zora. Listen to the interview first to set the stage for what’s coming up, then sit down, play the twelve musical tracks and enjoy Zora Young doing what comes best to her- being herself!

All Your Love I Miss Loving- Live at the Wise Fools Pub Chicago reviewed by Steve Jones

All Your Love I Miss Loving- Live at the Wise Fools Pub Chicago
Otis Rush
Delmark Records
13 tracks/67:35

I’m not sure if all of the readers of our newsletter are old enough to remember Professor Peabody and his sidekick Sherman from the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. They used to travel back in time using their Wayback Machine, having one misadventure after the next. Well, old Bob Koester has done some equally impressive magic over at Delmark Records; he has produced CD-versions of the Wayback Machine in the CD release of Otis Rush “All Your Love I Miss Loving- Live at the Wise Fools Pub Chicago.” When the first guitar chords from this CD hit your ears, you will be brought back to a time when you were younger, thinner, had more and darker hair, and also when electric Chicago Blues were at their pinnacle in January of 1976.

Otis and his backup performers were obviously comfortable together and put on a superb show. Backing up Otis were our very own Bob Levis on rhythm guitar, Alberto Gianquinto on electric piano, Bob Stroger on bass and Jess Green on drums. Chris “Barcelona Red” Mason and Rawl Hardman lend a hand on alto and tenor sax on tracks 8 through 12. The tapes from the show at the Wise Fools Pub have just a tad of noise on them, but they do not detract from the ambience of the performances. This CD is an important bit of history that has been recovered and must be a part of anyone’s collection of blues.

The recording was the result of cooperation between the then-new, part-time radio station WXRT and their 7-Up Uncola “Unconcerts,” Ken Rasek (a collector of music who pioneered live recording techniques), and the Wise Fools Pub. Rush is relaxed, smooth and comfortable; he gives a performance far greater than we have heard on most of his studio recordings. His guitar slams into your consciousness with the opening bars of “Please Love Me.” You will immediately get drawn into a toe-tapping, head nodding session of 12 superb tracks that make you yearn for being back in the day. “You’re Breaking My Heart” slows the pace down on the next track; the guitar wails a mournful opening tune that tears your soul out and stomps it dead. This is guttural and visceral blues. A novice to the genre would be converted lock, stock and barrel to the blues by merely listening to this track.

Otis slips and slides through the title track with his trademark vocals and guitar next- this is truly phenomenal. Blues standards like “Mean Old World,” High Society,” “It Takes Time,” “Gamblers Blues” and “Sweet Little Angel” never got pressed into vinyl, recorded on tape or digitized better than on this CD. 30 years have passed since this show happened, but one is transformed back to that era just by listening to this CD. 12 outstanding tracks comprise this album; it is the Holy Grail of Otis Rush CDs. Get it, listen to it, and cherish it. It doesn’t get any better than this.

Live at Blues on Grand reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Live at Blues on Grand
Reverend Raven
featuring Madison Slim
Nevermore Records
13 tracks/75:08

With a name like "Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin' Altar Boys," you have to wonder what this band is all about. Well, with the CD "Reverend Raven Featuring Madison Slim Live At Blues On Grand" that question is answered. This CD is all about the blues.

Reverend Raven has brought together a very talented band. As the main driver of the band, Reverend Raven is the real deal with his awesome guitar style, large vocal presence, song writing ability and band leadership quality. The band features Madison Slim on the harmonica. Madison Slim is a harp player's want list fulfilled. He has the whole package going on as his tone and ability with both the high and low end is evidenced on every track. His deep feeling and depth take after the likes of Big Walter Horton and Slim Harpo. His interlocking play with the Reverend ties this whole CD together.

Spencer Panosh's drum talent is just outstanding on every track. He is always there but never annoying so it is a constant pleasure listening for the drummer. Spencer is a driving force behind this band. Bringing up the bass line is Andre Maritato's steady tempo setting style. He is a very tasteful bass player. This whole combination makes this a powerful blues band.

The CD is filled with a combination of tunes by Reverend Raven, Freddie King, Chester Burnett aka "Howlin' Wolf," Rice Miller aka "Sonny Boy Williamson" and Slim Harpo. With this being a live recording, you could expect overplaying and unnecessarily long solos by just about anyone but this is not the case here. The Reverend has control of this show. The vocals are all understandable and sung with feeling and dynamics. This is true with all the players.

"Please Let Me Explain" is one the the best tunes on the CD for me. Madison Slim does an awesome rendition of the Rice Miller tune. Also the Reverend's vocals and guitar licks make this tune a standout.

Reverend Raven's song writing abilities are shown off in three tunes on this disc. These songs are "Loving You," "I'm Your Honeyboy" and "Bee Hive Baby". "Bee Hive Baby" is a tribute to Slim Harpo. There is the vein of "Baby Scratch My Back" throughout this tune. Reverend Raven does some serious chicken scratching here along with Madison Slim's high end harp playing.

This is a recording for blues fans to get! You can also visit Reverend Raven at his web site at www.reverendraven.com. Reverend Raven and the Chain Smokin" Altar Boys will be at Nino's Big Cities on March 31st. See you there.

Live and Dangerous reviewed by Harmonica Joe

Live and Dangerous
Bryan Lee
Crosscut Records
14 tracks

Bryan Lee's CD "Live and Dangerous" was recorded live at the Spectrum in Montreal, Canada in October 2003. The band consists of Bryan Lee on vocals and guitar, Brent Johnson on guitar, Bruce Katz on the Hammond B3 and keyboard, Johnathan "Cujo" Limjuco on bass and, last but not least, Craig Panosh on drums. This is a great lineup.

"The Bounce" is an instrumental tune that sets the stage for the rest of the show. Good bluesy guitar trade-offs between Bryan Lee and Brent Johnson are interspersed with B3 playing by Bruce Katz. The bass line and drum beats bring it all together.

"The Walk" gets going with Bryan's unique vocal style. You hear the New Orleans influence and also what I would call a chirp at the end of some verses.

"Don't Take My Blindness for Weakness," which is written by Bryan, gives us some insight into blindness. Bryan writes about this in several of his tunes. "Don't take my blindness for weakness, because I'm just as good as you." sums it up. This tune has it all- great vocals, lyrics, guitar licks and the B3 hanging in the back. He also gets the crowd into this tune.
"Second Line Home" gives the drummer, Craig Panosh a time to shine. Bruce Katz also shows his abilities on the keyboard on this. Bryan works the fans again.

Moving on to "Blues On My Mind," an upbeat minor key tune, Bryan shows that he indeed has the blues on his mind. His voice is very grabbing with great depth and clarity. Again, he also works the crowd on this tune.
"Hug Me Till It Hurts" is a great choice for this CD. The beat, vocals, lyrics and great guitar solos are depicted in the old blues style.

Bryan does his version of Ike Turner's "Gave You What You Wanted." "Ain't my fault you didn't get what you got" continues the lyrical message in this song.

The last two tunes are written by Bryan Lee. "Six String Therapy" has great lyrics. It features Brent Johnson on the guitar and Bruce Katz on the Hammond B3. "Memphis Bound" gives us more of their guitar work. Listen to the lyrics on this one. "Hey, Hey, The Blues Are All Right" brings the audience back to a grand conclusion.

It is all good on Bryan Lee's CD "Live and Dangerous." Check it out at www.justin-time.com or at Bryan Lee's own personal web site www.braillebluesdaddy.com. Bryan Lee will be at Big Cities Lounge March 14, 2006. Do not miss this show.