Monday, January 9, 2012

Trying to Hold On reviewed by Mark Thompson

Trying to Hold On
Diunna Greenleaf
Blue Mercy Records
14 tracks/58:12

For many blues fans, Diunna Greenleaf may be an unfamiliar name. But once you take a look at her resume, you find yourself puzzling over why more people haven't heard of this talented singer. She served for three years as the first woman president for the Houston Blues Society. For ten years, she was a vocalist for the Legendary Muddy Waters Band, which included other members like PinetopPerkins on piano, Bob Margolin on guitar and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. In 2005, Diunna and her Blue Mercy band won the award for Best Band at the International Blues Challenge sponsored by the Blues Foundation. Greenleaf has been nominated for numerous Blues Music awards, winning the 2008 prize for Best New Artist Debut. Her new recording makes it clear that she is one of the finest blues singers around.

Greenleaf chose to use some of her closest musical friends on this program of ten originals and three covers. The opening track, “Be For Me”, has Bob Corritore on harp, Margolin on guitar, Chuck Cotton on drums and Mookie Brill on bass. Greenleaf's powerful voice rides the loping rhythm while Corritore expertly provides accents with his harp. “I Can't Wait” is a simple tribute to blues music that Margolin's raw slide guitar turns into a houserockin' gem. Guitarist Chris James and Patrick Rynn on bass takes over for Brill on “I'm a Little Mixed Up”, a tribute to Koko Taylor as once again Margolin shines on guitar, Greenleaf's singing easily matching his intensity level. Corritore sits out on the title track, a tune that takes a hard, unapologetic look at the life of a blues musician and mourns the loss of legends like Perkins.

Fellow Texan Anson Funderburgh adds his distinctive guitar work to two cuts. “Sunny Day Friends” is a song Greenleaf wanted to record as a duet with Funderburgh's former musical cohort, Sam Myers. But Myers passed away before the session could be scheduled. Once again, her voice dominates the proceedings even with the addition of Ron Jones on sax and John Street on theHammond B-3 organ. Diunna gives another rousing performance on “I Got a Notion to Leave” with Funderburgh taking several tasty solos.

Other guests include Rich Del Grosso, who adds his mandolin to the acoustic gospel rendition of “Beautiful Hat”, and Smokin' Joe Kubek's stellar guitar work is delight on “Taking Chances”, which Greenleaf wrote for Kubek and his soon-to-be wife.
Diunna also explores her gospel roots. First, she gives a magnificent reading of “Growing Up and Growing Old” backed by sensitive accompaniment from Margolin and Corritore. Also included is a brief segment of Greenleaf's 102 year old grandmother, Sylvie Travis, singing “He Is Everything to Me” followed by Diunna raising her glorious voice unaccompanied in tribute on the same song.
Several tracks feature the Blue Mercy band with the slow-burn on “Double Dealing” presenting Greenleaf a chance to show her grittier side with guitarist Jonn Del Toro Richardson showing that he is the equal of the other guitarists on the project. Billy Branch sits in on the final track, “Cause I'm A Soldier”, a song Greenleaf wrote for at her brother's military funeral. She also served in the U.S. Army and you can hear the pride in her soulful rendition that pays touching tribute to all those who serve our country. She is the constant throughout the changing musical line-ups – her wonderful voice, compelling songs and strong performances make this a must-hear recording.

Reviewed by Mark Thompson

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