Wednesday, September 29, 2010

"Up One Side..." - The Crossroads Band (Blues Town Records, 2009)

By Malcolm Kennedy
The Crossroads Band out of Seattle put out a new CD in 2009 entitled Up One side… So, when I interviewed them last January, I asked a few questions about it like, how many tracks? How many originals? To which they replied, “What is original? Define original? Although we do write our own songs, we also do completely new arrangements and/or add additional lyrics to existing tunes.” I will use a term I saw in an old Bluesletter that I liked, coined by Terry Davis, and call them “original covers.”

The band’s new record Up One Side… has 15 tracks, clocks in at over 66 minutes and features cover art of the band in action (rotate it to the left) by award winning artist Dennis Hacker. There are 5 band originals and as on the last CD I Want It…Right Now, four members of the band take turns on vocals with the two front men, Dennis Ellis (vocals, tenor sax, baritone sax and flute) and Steve Bailey (vocals, harp, guitar, slide guitar, whoops and hollers), again taking on the majority. The band feels that the recording and sound qualities are both superior to their previous CD, which was a 2007 Best of Blues Award nominee for Best Washington Blues Album.

The songs on Up One Side… are very strong, starting with “Fannie Brown Got Married” and Dennis on vocals. Dan sings on the title track which he wrote while studying in Russia. The sax/ harp interaction is amazing. One of the things that Dennis and Steve do is play in harmony with Steve taking the lines of an additional sax. The effect is truly stunning. On “The Sun is Shining,” an Elmore James standard, they play more in the style of Hound Dog Taylor’s version. Dennis brings out his new toy (a baritone sax) and Steve plays some nasty slide guitar. Rollicking New Orleans style piano appears a couple of times and “Double-Eyed Whammy” will have you dancing in your seat. They finish off the CD with the iridescent instrumental “Big D Walks In.” Tasty sax solos and dazzling reed bending harp lines abound, along with interplay and harmonizing, seasoned guitar playing, polished key boards backed by a solid rhythm section with multiple vocalists. Up One Side… is hitting on all cylinders. This CD is very highly recommended.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

"The Well" - Charlie Musselwhite (Alligator Records)

By Malcolm Kennedy
The Well

One could scarcely have a conversation about blues harmonica players without mentioning the paragon of Charlie Musselwhite. With well over 40 years of playing and living the blues and somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 albums released, Charlie has become a living blues harp legend in his own right. From playing on the streets in Memphis to his days in Chicago's South Side clubs and his debut album back in 1967, Charlie's distinctive harp tone has been a fixture of the blues world. The Well marks Musselwhite's triumphant return to Alligator Records (he had 3 albums with the Gator in the early '90s including the highly acclaimed Ace of Harps.) Charlie moved to Chicago to try to find better paying work in a factory job and ended up with a driving job and in a way has been on the road ever since.

With the opening bars, Charlie's marvelous harp informs you that The Well is yet another fine offering by one of the true masters of the genre. I really enjoy the whole album; but several cuts still did stand out. Charlie plays mournful slide guitar on "Good Time" asking, 'won't somebody tell me where did all our good times go? I'd like to hear all about it if you think you know.' On "Sad and Beautiful World" Mavis Staples adds her soulful vocals mirroring Charlie's, as opposed to a duet with harmonies or call and response as is more common. Her vocals are just a touch behind his in the mix making for some interesting nuances. "Sonny Payne Special" is a storming harp fueled instrumental of the first order. On "Where Hwy 61 Runs," Charlie sings about the Delta region in Mississippi singing 'it runs from my back door down to the settin' sun.'

Although Charlie spent his first years growing up in the Hill Country before his family moved to Memphis when he was still a young child, he frequently went down to the Delta where his mother was from. It is a place that holds many memories for Charlie both old and new as he still has friends and relatives and a second home in Clarksdale. This brings up "Clarksdale Getaway," a flowing instrumental piece for harp and blues combo that I particularly enjoyed. It makes an excellent tune to turn up the volume, lay back and just let the music wash over you. I find I keep coming back to "Just You, Just Blues" with its infectious rhythm, choice touches of upper register harmonica, and deftly played ringing guitar of Dave Gonzales. Charlie is always good with a lyric too with lines like 'don't let that Cadillac women run all over you' and 'the blues is her companion and the world is her home', or 'to hot for the devil, just right for me' and 'I wish I could give you up; but you know I just dig the pain too much.' Charlie Musselwhite is a class act and there is a reason he keeps getting nominated and winning all those awards (24 BMA's, 6 Grammy nominations and many more) including his 2010 induction into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame and a trail marker on the Mississippi Blues Trail, The Well is a prime example why! Very highly recommended.

Friday, September 24, 2010

BlueZ in the Key of Me - Lady "A" (Self Released)

By Malcolm Kennedy
Bluez In The Key Of Me
The new release by Seattle's Lady "A" and her Baby Blues Funk Band is tight, funky old school R&B at its very best. If you have seen here live (very highly recommended by the way) you know that they put on a high energy, good time, fill the dance floor and keep them there shaking it until they drop show. Well Blue Z in the Key of Me follows suit with some sophisticated jazzy slow cheek to cheek numbers tossed in for good measure.

The Baby Blues Funk Band are Richard L. Mills on guitar, Gary Smith on bass and J. Oliver III on drums, keys and other instrumentation plus bass on three tracks. Oliver also had a hand in writing the music for a dozen of the 13 original tracks and lyrics on 6. Additional guest musicians, although track listings for them aren't noted, include Bruce Laing-harmonica, Steve Black-guitar, Butch Harrison-trumpet and Teri Anne Wilson-guitar. In addition to the 13 originals, 2 classic bonus cover songs Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" and Bill Withers' stupendous "Use Me" are included to round things out. The art, design and photography of Amanda Gresham of Delta Music Experience make for a very professional package.

The band stays tightly in the groove throughout and adds a punch when needed. On "Good Music, Good Gumbo" Miss White invites you to her house for a backyard bash singing "LJ Porter's in the house Red Hotz just might stop by before the night is out… this parties off the hook it started at four, 'cause I've got good music, good gumbo and all my good friends, all get together, the party begins. The CD opens with the title track a laid back blues with a slinky guitar solo. "Do Yo Thang" opens with harp and goes right into the funk with Lady A imparting sage advice to a friend to 'wake up and find yourself a new man.' "R U Ready" is party time dance music and "Still Leaving" is a slow soul blues torch song. "Use Me" doesn't have the punch and snap of Withers version; but the soul is undeniable and "Walking the Dog" is a joyful funky strut. In my opinion all but maybe the most hard core blues traditionalists will love this CD, and I think it could easily make converts out of some of them too! BlueZ in the Key of Me is definitely a keeper and deserves some attention. Go to a show and get a copy is my recommendation.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The 2010 Living Blues Awards

Congratulations to all of the 2010 Living Blues Awards recipeints. This years awards honor the following:

Blues Awards Readers' Poll
Blues Artist of the Year (Male): Buddy Guy
Blues Artist of the Year (Female): Shemekia Copeland
Hard BelieverBest Blues Album of 2009: Tommy Castro - Hard Believer - Alligator
Best Blues Album of 2009: (Historical Recording) Little Walter - The Complete Chess Masters - Hip-O Select
Best Blues DVD of 2009: Floyd Lee - Full Moon Lightnin'
Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar): B.B. King
Most Outstanding Musician (Harmonica): Charlie Musselwhite
Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard): Pinetop Perkins
Best Live Performer: Buddy Guy
Most Outstanding Blues Singer: John Nemeth

The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967)Blues Awards Critics' Poll
Blues Artist of the Year (Male): John Primer
Blues Artist of the Year (Female): Ruthie Foster
Most Outstanding Blues Singer: Bobby Jones
Most Outstanding Musician (Guitar): Joe Louis Walker
Most Outstanding Musician (Harmonica): Billy Branch
Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard): Henry Gray
Most Outstanding Musician (Bass): Bob Stroger
Most Outstanding Musician (Drums): Kenny Smith
Most Outstanding Musician (Horns): Big James Montgomery
Chicago Blues - A Living HistoryMost Outstanding Musician (Other): Sonny Rhodes - Lap steel
Best Live Performer: Chick Willis
Comeback Artist of the Year: Eddie C. Campbell
Artist Deserving More Attention: Johnnie Bassett

Best Blues Albums of 2009
Album of the Year Various Artists - Chicago Blues: A Living History
New Recordings/ Southern Soul Johnny Rawls - Ace Of Spades -
New Recordings/ Best debut Marquise Knox - Man Child - APO
Historical Reissue/ Pre-warV/A- Take Me To The Water - Dust-To-Digital
Historical Reissue/ Post-war Barbara Lynn - The Jamie Singles - Jamie

Saturday, September 18, 2010

“Raising the Bar” - Magic Slim & the Teardrops (Blind Pig Records)

By Malcolm Kennedy
Raising The Bar
Magic Slim (aka Morris Holt) is one of the last purveyors of electric Chicago blues who was there when the notorious South Side clubs were still in existence and the blues luminaries were still alive and performing. Raising the Bar clearly shows why Magic Slim is now considered a legend in his own right.

Since his days playing bass for his boyhood buddy Magic Sam back in the late 50’s, to forming the Teardrops in 1967 with his brothers Nick and Douglas (Lee Baby) on bass and drums, to making a name for himself across the US and Europe in the 70’s, Slim has been one of the toughest players around. Magic Slim has won WC Handy/BMA awards and recorded for several different labels. His first Blind Pig release was in 1990. At 73 he is still touring strong. Just last year he played locally at the Hwy 99 Blues Club on May 7th, the Untapped R&B festival, the Portland Waterfront Blues Festival and the Winthrop R&B Festival.

Raising the Bar does just that with 11 tracks of raw, gritty, rollicking blues with three originals and fantastic covers of JB Lenoir’s “Mama Talk to Your Daughter”, Elmore James “I Can’t Hold Out”, and songs like “Breaking Up Somebody’s Home” and “Part Time Love.” Slim’s originals are all strong, I found “Shame” to be one of the stand out tracks on the album.. Another excellent cut is Slim’s take on Roosevelt Sykes’ “Sunny Road Blues;” however, you won’t be finding any of Sykes barrelhouse piano here just string bending blues guitar. For lovers of rough and raw hard edged traditional blues, look no further than Magic Slim’s Raising the Bar.