Here’s a collection with several good things to offer, starting with straight-up beer-joint blues of the sort you’d expect from Left Coast toughman Smokey Wilson and strong stuff from South Side Slim, an emergent talent who’s very likely to gain attention from those who enjoy fireball guitarists like Melvin Taylor and Michael Hill.
SSS is all over the place on this CD. His rhythm guitar work is vital, persuasive and full of chunk on the funky kickoff cut, "My Woman Is Gone." He wrote "Seven Days," a gripping song about life on death row, and he slathers on acidy wah-wah by the ton, wringing blood-roiling sonic cascades from his guitar.
And then what does Slim do but go unplugged on "Country Road," offering tasty acoustic chord choices quite unlike what most blues-folk go for in this mode. On the upbeat "B.B. Is the King" he’s tonally unlike the subject of his homage but pours on action-packed, single-string leads of the sort B.B. popularized. And if that wasn’t enough, South Side Slim produced this CD.
But let’s not forget Wilson, who — like Chicago’s Byther Smith — often sings verses that are unrhymed, even inchoate, but still give vivid visuals. On "My Woman Is Gone," his salty pipes have you picturing the singer aimless on the streets, sans shelter due to his woman’s ire. On "I Know What You’ve Been Thinking" he’s thuggish, apt to cause a dame’s disappearance. And, on the selections he sings, his feisty lead guitar is also featured.
Noted bassist Curtis Tillman doesn’t play on this set — Oklahoma Ollie’s the bass man — but he shows up to sing on three cuts. Only one of his songs stands out, a take on "Woke Up This Morning" called "Confucious" boasting a sequence of risqué asides that may get you in trouble if you play this song at a party. Two of his remarks are so baldly, crassly sexist that women may well gnash their teeth and storm from the room.
Kudos to the accompanists on this set: Keyboards, saxes and drums are well played, and some very intense harmonica is heard from Tetsuya Nakamura. On "Seven Days" he plays some ferocious harp, right in sync with Slim’s wah-wah eruptions but cleverly set back in the mix so the two elements alloy perfectly.
The liner notes say this music is about what you’d hear on any given night in South Los Angeles. If that’s the case, South L.A. is a happenin’ place. Not only is it a forum for stalwarts like Wilson and Tillman but a font for such relative youngbloods as SSS, who’s definitely a breakout-worthy contender in a crowded arena.
— Tim Schuller