Monday, January 9, 2012

Sittin' on the Right Side of the Blues reviewed by Mark Thompson

Sittin' on the Right Side of the Blues
Bernie Pearl - with Mike Barry
Major Label Recordings
15 tracks/65:32

This live show was recorded in February of this year at Boulevard Music in Culver City, California. Bernie Pearl is an old-school acoustic bluesman who studied with many of the legendary musicians who experienced career rejuvenation during the blues & folk revival in the 1960's. He had the distinction in 1968 of becoming the first all-blues FM DJ in the Los Angeles area. His partnership with Harmonica Fats created a potent acoustic duo that garnered several W.C. Handy Blues Music awards nominations in the mid-1990's. Pearl has been playing guitar for over fifty years, developing an intricate finger-picking style that takes listeners back to the formative years of the blues genre.

The set list features tunes from a number of Pearl's mentors including Lightnin' Hopkins, Mance Lipscom and Mississippi Fred MacDowell. Pearl picks out a sprightly rhythm on MacDowell's "I Believe I'll Carry My Hook", using slide on a national steel guitar. His slashing slide work on "New Hollow Log Blues" offers a fine contrast to Pearl's deep, resonant vocal. More impressive is Pearl's ability to capture the essence of the Lightnin' Hopkins guitar style on "Jailhouse Blues". He slows the pace down on Hopkins "Shinin' Moon", playing a number of dazzling runs while Mike Barry provides a walking bass line. Pearl continues to show his debt to the masters with a stirring cover of the Son House standard, "Shetland Pony Blues". His powerful singing continually diverts your attention from his masterful guitar work. The forceful run-through of Mance Lipscomb's "Night Time is the Right Time" is another highlight of the disc. Pearl plays more outstanding slide guitar in the hard Delta style on "I Can't Be Satisfied" but his vocal effort lacks a similar intensity.

There are six original compositions written by Pearl, including two instrumentals. "Outside Boogie" is based on a Magic Sam guitar riff but Pearl spins complex variations on the theme that demonstrate the extent of his skills. In the introduction to "I Ain't Hurt", Pearl denies stealing any licks from Mississippi John Hurt while acknowledging that when a guitarist does three finger picking in the key of G, it is almost impossible to avoid comparisons. He pays tribute to the musicians who influenced him on the title track, his warm, heartfelt vocal ringing out over the driving pulse from his guitar. "Flat-Footed" is a humorous commentary on financial hard times spiraling out of control. The liner notes with the disc state that "You Can Break My Heart" is incomplete and different. You will agree when you hear it as it is lyrically challenged and the pieces do add up to a coherent package, although Pearl lay down several fine solos.

The closing number is a favorite of Pearl's, Fred MacDowell's " Shake 'em Down", and his energetic rendition is another highlight of the disc. Pearl's fingers dance across his guitar's fretboard as he uses his slide to create the propulsive drive required for this tune. At the same time, his unforced, warm vocal contrasts nicely with his metallic guitar tone. There is plenty to enjoy on this project. Pearl obviously learned his lessons well. Blues lovers who are looking for a more traditional blues sound should snap this one up right away.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

No comments: