Roosevelt Sykes
Music Is My Business
The Blues Alliance 13010
There are two distinct sets of performances on Roosevelt Sykes' Music Is My Business, both recorded during the same session. The first of these groups, one which is wonderful and worth every penny of your blues-buyin' dollar, features Sykes on 10 rollicking solos. Sykes, who died in 1983, called himself "Mr. Piano" and "the Honeydripper," among other things, and he lives up to his self-billing.

These tracks, recorded in September 1977, when Sykes was 71 years old, find him in full command of his powers instrumentally and vocally. He sounds effortless on the title cut, with an easy-walking bass supported by captivating right-hand flourishes. "Mistake in Life," a cautionary tune about marrying the wrong woman, also finds Sykes transcending stock lyric phrases, while clearly staying within the blues domain: "That girl cut my pleasure in two, same as she had a pocket knife/I don't want you young boys and girls to make my mistake in life."

The other six songs on Music Is My Business find Sykes paired with, variously, Louisiana Red on guitar, Johnny Shines on guitar and vocal and Sugar Blue on harmonica. These are of the impromptu, shake-hands-and-record variety -- not bad, necessarily, but the fact is Sykes alone could create a hypnotic rapport with a listener. The insertion of ersatz Albert King and T-Bone Walker licks from Louisiana Red or jazzy electric fills from Shines (one of the most significant figures in blues history but not at his best here, with a thin, brittle guitar sound) is intrusive. It breaks the spell with what is at best a jam session. It's a skilled jam, to be sure; Shines sings on two cuts and Red does a nice job with vocals on "A Good Woman." Still, the ensemble lacks the character and authority evident in Sykes' solo work.

Bottom line: There's enough good Roosevelt Sykes material here to merit a healthy "thumbs up," but don't be surprised during those moments when the enchantment is interrupted.

-- Bryan Powell

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Boulder, CO, USA.