Thursday, March 10, 2011

You Can't Keep a Big Man Down reviewed by Mark Thompson

You Can't Keep a Big Man Down
Big Joe & the Dynaflows
Severn Records
12 tracks/40:50

I have been a fan of Big Joe Maher's work ever since I heard his 1994 release on the gone-but-not-forgotten Black Top Records label. The title cut contained a humorous description of the perils of a night spent drinking too much alcohol. The rest of the project expertly mixed blues with R&B and jazz influences, all delivered by Maher's potent singing voice over the solid rhythms generated by the leader's drum kit. His third recording for the Severn label follows a similar formula with equally fine results.
Maher loves to work that spot where blues and jazz intersect, so his music always features hip vocals over a swinging beat punctuated by stinging guitar licks and a smooth horn section. The band that brings his musical vision to life include Rob McNelley on guitar, Bill Campbell on bass, Dennis Taylor on the saxophones and Kevin McKendree on keyboards. All but Campbell have been members of Delbert McClinton's band ( Taylor passed away last year). McKendree also filled the role of producer for the sessions.

Maher gets the party going right from the start, belting out the title song as he emphatically claims that life's trial and tribulations will never get the best of him. McNelley delivers the first of his many impressive guitar solos. Another original, “Property Line”, uses a funky groove to underscore Maher's tale of an escalating neighborly dispute with Taylor forming a one-man horn section. McKendree's work on the organ is another highlight. When the pace slows down on “Nothin' But Trouble”, Big Joe delivers a smooth vocal, ripe with resignation at the financial misery currently surrounding the world.

“Evangeline” has a swaying rhythm that would be perfect for the old dance move, the Stroll. McKendree plays piano in the classic New Orleans style on the song, written for the young daughter of Maher's cousin. “Supercharger” is Maher's stomping tribute to the late, great guitarist Earl Hooker. McNelley incorporates some of Hooker's trademark licks into his fiery performance that will leave you wanting more.
Filling out the disc are a batch of covers that show that Maher has unerring good taste in good material. The band gives B.B. King's “Bad Case of Love” a New Orleans feel, with Taylor's saxes riffing behind Maher's spirited singing. Billy Wright's “Watcha Gonna Do” is a supercharged workout with Big Joe shouting the blues with style. Another highlight is Maher's portrayal of a tormented lover on “Someday”, his voice crying out in pain and praying for retribution. Jay McShann's classic, “Confessin' the Blues” has been covered many times but the Dynaflows do it as a straight blues tune, with McNelley playing some more fine guitar over McKendree's pounding piano licks. “I'm to Blame” is invigorated by Taylor's sax work, McKendree's pumping piano and another forceful vocal from Big Joe. The closing number, “What the Hell Were You Thinkin'” finds Big Joe exhorting a cheating lover to come to her senses as McKendree channels Jerry lee Lewis on the piano.

If you have never had the pleasure of listening to a Big Joe & the Dynaflows recording, this is the perfect place to start – plenty of irresistible rhythms, excellent singing and stellar musicianship. Be advised - falling under the spell of this fine release will soon have you searching for copies of Big Joe's five previous releases. This one is highly recommended !!!

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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