Tuesday, March 27, 2007

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 !!!

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