Blues Access Fall 2001
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New Releases

All CDs reviewed by the BLUES ACCESS editorial staff. Discs that have been given full reviews in this or previous issues of BLUES ACCESS are quoted with the reviewers initials in brackets.    Note: Be sure to send us two (2) copies of all new releases.


The Aces
… and Guests
Storyville† STCD 8049

Recorded live in Chicago in 1975, shortly after the Myers brothers reformed the group after laying off for more than a decade, this CD includes guest appearances by guitarists Joe Carter and Bobby King, singer Johnny Drummer (who does a terrific turn on "Sweet Home Chicago") and others. Louis Myers’ guitar is alternately sharp and greasy, laying down fleet lines on "You’re the One" and stinging staccato on "Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong," and Dave Myers’ large and to-the-point bass playing is just about perfect throughout. Drummer Fred Below, "king of the Chicago beat," is rock steady and typically graceful, although Marcelle Morgantini’s vocal-biased recording is only fair and most of the band’s subtlety is lost in the murk. About half of the material on this CD is previously unreleased.

— Dave Kirby

Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes
Louisiana Red Hot 2EZ 4201

Former Kansas City Chief Bruce Barnes, a.k.a. Sunpie, likes to play a little music when he’s not working the day gig as a tour guide at Jean Lafitte National Park in New Orleans. A first-rate harp player, able accordionist and convincing vocalist, Sunpie works out of a deep Creole groove and brings a strong African/world beat feel to the sessions as well, resulting in one of the most summer-ripe and danceable sets to come down the road since Olu Dara’s In the World. Juju, Jamaica, a tribute to Johnny Adams and even a couple of blues songs make this a supremely enjoyable collection of music.

— Mark Gallo

Bigtown Playboys
Western World
Indigo† IGOXCD 546

Only Ian Jennings remains from the original Bigtown Playboys lineup, and. Western World finds Big Joe Louis fronting the band with a powerhouse vocal style that recalls Big Joe Turner and other blues shouters. Dave Wilson’s six-string chops are potent yet restrained, and the top-shelf horn charts and strong piano work mark the return of this revamped outfit. Louis’ self-penned cuts fit seamlessly into a program of West Coast and New Orleans numbers by Pee Wee Crayton, Percy Mayfield, L.C. McKinley and others.

— Craig Ruskey

Blues Jumpers with Haywood Gregory
Livin’ Like a King
Summit Cross 8084149552

If all the cool daddies, zippers and setzers of the late ’90s had hired even one singer with the talent of veteran Savannah, Georgia, jump-blues expert

Haywood Gregory, the swing revival might not have died so quickly. Gregory, who replaced the Jumpers’ vocally-ailing Eldridge Taylor two years ago, has great lung-power, chooses his shrieking spots carefully and is funny and enthusiastic, battling with saxophonists Mike Hashim and Dan Alvaro for control of the party song "Sinner." Perhaps owing to bandleader Joseph Geary’s presence on the drums, the Blues Jumpers build effectively from the rhythm section up, with the pianists and guitarists jumping in rather than piling on.

— Steve Knopper

Doyle Bramhall II & Smokestack

With a famous name (his father is a minor Texas blues legend who played guitar with Stevie Ray Vaughan in the ’60s and ’70s) and a familiar sound (Allman Brothers, right down to the big church-like organ), Doyle Bramhall II seems poised to dominate classic-rock radio playlists everywhere. Rehashing the same era looted by Lenny Kravitz and the Black Crowes for the last decade, Bramhall distinguishes himself with a soaring coo and sensitive-guy lines like "Show me how to live right, baby." Smokestack, a trio with drummer J.J. Johnson and bassist Chris Bruce, makes everything long and airy, almost to jazz-fusion levels, leaving Bramhall plenty of room to stretch out. Dig his homage to Jimi Hendrix on "Smokestack."

— Steve Knopper

John Brim
Jake’s Blues
Anna Bea ABCD 499

Seventy-nine-year-old John Brim’s recorded output isn’t exactly prolific: "Jake’s Blues" marks his first trip to the studio in six years and one of only a handful of sessions cut during his 60-year career. Backed by a tight band led by guitarist Billy Flynn, Brim brings an energy to the set that belies his age. The opening "Tougher Times" sets a traditional tone for this set of 13 originals by Brim or guitarist Jan Arenas. The Ice Cream Man’s vocals sound a bit tired in spots, but he remains a convincing tunesmith and tale-teller nonetheless, as demonstrated on the acoustic "No Place I Go" and the rousing "Moving Out Too" and "Hey Baby."

— Mark Gallo

J.C. Burris
Blues Professor
Arhoolie 497

The nephew of Sonny Terry and an obvious apostle of Terry’s vigorous, phonetic harp style, one-man performer J.C. Burris was just returning to full-time performing after years of recuperation from a crippling stroke when he cut these tracks in 1975. He had spent much of the ’60s playing intermission sets for Lightnin’ Hopkins and John Lee Hooker at Bay Area clubs, and you’d never know the guy missed a day of playing in his life. Each of these cuts carries its own story steeped in the primitive blues traditions of rural North Carolina, and a few feature Burris introducing them with a narrative from his youth or through his limber-limbed wooden doll, Mr. Jack. His voice is resonant and genuine, his harp playing is just this side of remarkable and the recording is immaculate. The CD also features a few unreleased cuts that didn’t make the original vinyl release. Excellent.

— Dave Kirby

The Calvanes
In Harmony: West Coast Doo Wop
Hightone HCD 8130

Most die-hard oldies fans don’t remember the Calvanes, because the quintet’s best-known Doo-Tone singles — "Don’t Take Your Love From Me," "One More Kiss" — weren’t heard outside of California. Now a quartet featuring original tenors Herman Pruitt and Bobby Adams, baritone Fred Willis and bass-man Jimmy Corbett, the Calvanes still deliver those entertaining old-school blends with rich precision. Flaws? Pruitt’s lead falters on the passionate make-out numbers, and the playlist is larded with faithful recreations of songs made famous by other regional acts. That said, their disc-ending multi-group tribute, "Memories of El Monte," is a showstopper by any standard.

— Ken Burke

Steve Cohen & Jim Liban
Hot Air

Veteran harp players Jim Liban and Steve Cohen, his one-time acolyte but now peer, have teamed up on a CD that is so musically natural and unpretentious that I can, without hesitation, call it one of the best roots recordings to come out this year. Liban has forged his own identifiable sound that pays homage to his masters without slavish imitation, so Cohen lets Liban show ’em how on harp and instead applies his big talent to some T-Bone Walkeresque guitar playing and exceptional vocalizing. The high level of musicianship and the excellent choice of material — including "Parchman Farm," "My Babe," "Louise" and "Walkin’ Blues" — makes Hot Air a very satisfying listening experience. To obtain a copy, log on to

— Kathleen Rippey

Robert Cray Band
Who’s Been Talkin’
Mercury 314 546 700-2

Thanks to Mercury’s "Blues Classics Remastered and Revisited" series, listeners can look back fondly on this 1980 artifact of Robert Cray’s humble beginnings as a straightforward traditionalist who was just getting his feet wet as a writer. Even then Cray possessed a fine singing voice, and his guitar cut to the chase with its wiry, reedy tone. Songs by Willie Dixon, Howlin’ Wolf and O.V. Wright sit nicely next to Cray’s early compositions. Good first effort. Who could have predicted the super-stardom that was to follow?

— Jon Martinez

Willie Dixon/Jimmy Reed
Big Boss Men
Indigo† IGOXCD 543

Here’s an odd pairing for a blues CD. Willie Dixon and Jimmy Reed don’t actually play together on Big Boss Men, but both the live recordings that make up this set stem from Liberty Hall in Houston, Texas. Dixon’s 1971 date is backed by Lee Jackson’s fine guitar and the tasteful harp of Big Walter Horton, with Clifton James holding down the backbeats. Johnny Winter blazes through "Tore Down" and sits in on the instrumental, "Roach Stew." The Jimmy Reed tracks from 1972 feature an uncredited band, though Winter is listed and adds some unobtrusive guitar. Sound quality is fair to good at best, but the extensive notes are adorned with some excellent photos. While not an essential purchase, this album has its stronger moments.

— Craig Ruskey

Duke Tumatoe & the Power Trio
Pompous & Overrated
J-Bird JBD 80359-2

Let’s assume Duke is kidding about the power trio and is telling the truth when he sings, "Something is wrong with the blues, ’cause I can’t get down like I used to do." This recording is so lackluster it makes you think he might better go into stand-up comedy than continue going through the motions of playing the blues. Pompous & Overrated is a live CD, recorded in three different nightclubs, but one is hard-pressed to hear much audience response. You get the impression throughout that nobody in the band really cared enough to turn in a good performance. I’ve heard Duke do much better.

— Kathleen Rippey

Frank Frost
Harpin’ on It
Westside† WESM 633

Singer and harmonica man Frank Frost may be best remembered for his "Big Boss Man," recorded by Sam Phillips in 1962, which featured Frost’s gutsy harp, Sam Carr’s succinct drumming and Big Jack Johnson’s guitar. If anything, these cuts made at a pair of sessions four years later demonstrate just how good this band was. Frost’s spare but melodic harmonica soars on the instrumental shuffle "Harp and Soul," weeps lonesome on the gorgeous "Janie on My Mind" and growls subterranean on "Ride With Your Daddy Tonight." The basic trio is augmented here by studio bassist Chip Young and, on a few cuts, second harpist Arthur "Oscar Lee" Williams. The band works gracefully through a program of mostly originals and pays tribute to Muddy Waters ("Got My Mojo Working") and Howlin’ Wolf ("Pretty Baby"). Frost’s singing is distinctive and self-assured, and this excellent reissue pays the late bluesman his justifiable due.

— Dave Kirby

Jazz Gillum
It Sure Had a Kick
Indigo† IGOCD 2132

Though not a household name in his time, and certainly not one now, Jazz Gillum still maintains space in many LP and CD collections. It Sure Had a Kick compiles 24 cuts of solid BlueBird blues, and so reliable an artist was Gillum that he remained with the imprint for 14 years: These recordings span 1938 to 1949, and Gillum is joined by Blind John Davis, Big Maceo Merriweather, Willie Lacey, Big Bill Broonzy and other labelmates. "The Blues What Am" from 1947 is a brilliant piece about superstitions, pushed along by the insistent drumming of Judge Riley, while Gillum’s version of the Robert Lockwood nugget, "Take a Little Walk With Me," is fine and relaxed. Guitar Pete Franklin showing up on the final two titles is a bonus, liner notes by Neil Slaven are detailed and complete session notes fill out the set.

— Craig Ruskey

Steve Gornall
Steppin’ Out
Golden Gate GGR 777

Electric Bible of the Blues
Golden Gate GGR 31399

Steve Gornall was damn near the king of the Detroit blues-bar circuit when he packed for San Francisco in 1996. His first foray into the Northern California studios yielded Steppin’ Out, a solid effort on which he is joined by keyboardist Jimmy Pugh, Don Bassey on bass and Kevin Hayes on drums.

Gornall is a muscular guitarist who avoids cliché power chords, though he is certainly a fan of volume. The nine originals and a cover of Wolf’s "Who’s Been Talking?" showcase Steve’s diversity, from the straight-ahead "Howl Wind Howl!" to "Honk If You Have the Blues," a gridlock instrumental that paints a vivid picture.

Pretentious title aside, Electric Bible of the Blues is a 13-tune set of rockin’ blues that seems to pay homage to his roots, romping and rocking with as much joy as impressive chops from the Hendrixian wah-wah opener, "Please Listen to My Pleas" to covers of "Bad Bad Whiskey" and "It’s Too Late." "Hook, Line and Sinker," an electric blues update of the Smiley Lewis classic, is a real booty-shaker, "Lover’s Blues" replicates "Somebody Loan Me a Dime," and "Peaches & Cream" surprises with first-rate National Steel-style work.

— Mark Gallo

Henry Gray
Plays Chicago Blues
Hightone HCD8131

The 75-year-old former Howlin’ Wolf pianist’s fourth solo album is a

catchy revival of the ’50s Chess sound. Producer/blues harpist Bob Corritore enlists the aid of Howlin’ Wolf drummer Chico Chism, the Fabulous T-Birds’ Kid Ramos and Muddy Waters guitarist Bob Margolin to achieve a rowdy, authentic-sounding mix. While not in the same league as Otis Spann, Gray’s pounding piano boogie keeps the rhythm section jauntily in the pocket. The choice of standards and Gray’s original songs is only so-so, but the kick-ass execution makes this one hard to resist.

— Ken Burke

Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac
Show-Biz Blues
Receiver RDPCD 15

Peter Green’s duration as Fleetwood Mac’s lead guitarist was short-lived, but this two-disc set of previously unissued tracks — the companion to 1998’s Vaudeville Years — effectively demonstrates Green’s incredible talent. Backed by one of the tightest rhythm sections of the time, the guitarist shines on a sizzling seven-minute reading of "Black Magic Woman" (alone worth the price of admission) and indeed throughout the two hours of studio and live recordings laced with strong doses of Danny Kirwan and Jeremy Spencer. Definitely recommended!

— Craig Ruskey

Buddy Guy
Music Club 50163

This uneven collection of tunes from the late ’70s and early ’80s moves between over-the-top live tunes ("Tell Me What’s Inside of You," "Done Got Over You," both tributes to his major influence Guitar Slim) and studio cuts, covering a period when Guy was running Legends and enjoying a larger-than-life status amongst only the most dedicated blues cognoscenti. There are some sweet things in here, especially the soulful "You Can Make It If You Try" and the infectious shuffle, "Love Is Like Quicksand" (backing brother Phil), with its chicken-pickin’ licks and airtight accompaniment. But the overdriven guitar-effect showiness of "Poison Ivy" and "Have You Ever Been Lonely" are throw-away pyrotechnic exercises embedded in excessive production that buries Guy’s stunning guitar talent. No Buddy Guy CD is all bad, though, and predictably, the best moments here are very, very good.

— Dave Kirby

Ted Hawkins
The Unstoppable Ted Hawkins
Catfish KATCD 176FP

Ted Hawkins was far more popular in Europe than in his native America, even after his major-label breakthrough, The Next Hundred Years, put him on the colonies’ radar. This soundboard-to-Walkman recording of a December 1988 London concert showcases Hawkins’ plaintive busking style, rendered in heart-wrenching tunes like "The Lost Ones" that speak of loss and pain and the grace to endure both. Hawkins’ style was pure street performer: plenty of old standards ("Your Cheatin’ Heart"), folk staples ("Please Come to Boston") and other odds and ends. This naked, unapologetic recording, including vocal missteps and light onstage patter, may or may not be the best document of Hawkins’ lamentably short-lived contribution to our music, but it’s as close as you’ll ever get to a live Hawkins show — and, for fans at least, that makes this CD indispensable.

— Dave Kirby

Dave Hole
Outside Looking In
Alligator ALCD 4881

Dave Hole’s business card should say "Guitar Hero." He’s the ultimate fast-fingered electric bluesman, flashing his bottleneck prowess at every possible moment in these Bad Company-style hard-rock songs. The 35-year veteran of Australian nightclubs is a decent singer, too, from the minimalist Eric Clapton school, but the real reason to buy Outside Looking In is for the solos. They come fast and often, barely waiting for the opening "Jenny Lee" lyric to recede before leaping in with dramatic siren tones. Hole frames everything he sings with similar bursts of slide theatrics, and the formula is ineffective only on "Out of My Reach," a heartbreak ballad that needs a better voice, not a technical expert shoving his guitar in your face.

— Steve Knopper

James Hunter
Kick It Around
Ruf 1039

The English-born Hunter not only writes songs and plays guitar but bears the influence of legendary singers Clyde McPhatter and Sam Cooke in his vocals. His tight, almost subdued guitar figures play smartly off a horn section that seems aligned more with ska than jump blues ("Dearest Darling," "Tell Her for Me"). Whether channeling Cooke’s distinctive half-yodel on sweet rockaballads ("Mollena," "Strange But True") or raving through scalding R&B ("Night Bus," "Believe Me Baby"), Hunter and crew execute with invention, taste and economy. Diggers of classic R&B are well advised to seek out this little gem.

— Ken Burke

L.A. Jones & the Blues Messengers
Live at the Pink Panther
MD Studio BB07

A by-the-numbers blues guitar hero display, captured live and (perhaps unfortunately) unedited. Jones is a proficient, very fast guitarist with a big fat tone — now how ’bout some playing from the heart and not with rote licks? Jones manages to tone things down on "Searchin’ for a Love," but otherwise it’s mostly full speed ahead. The Los Angeles native is accompanied by a pick-up rhythm section on this set recorded in Italy.

— Jon Martinez

Lloyd Jones Struggle
Small Potatoes
Burnside BCD 0422-9

This Portland, Oregon, product demonstrates a strong command of R&B, swing and funk flavors, all blended well with an unobtrusive modern sheen. Jones sings with great conviction, and his guitar work packs the same swagger — succinct, stinging leads with a brittle, acidic tone that cuts to the bone. Combine this with a propulsive, airtight rhythm section and a punchy horn section and you’ve got quality contemporary blues with an eye toward the dance floor.

Jon Martinez

Oscar Jordan
Mister Bad Luck
Oscar Jordan Records

A promising self-released first effort from young guitar-slinger/songwriter Oscar Jordan, who has dexterity galore — his frenetic blues riffing is clean and super-fast, and he’s able to shift between different styles and tempos with ease. Slow blues, Chicago-style, the dirty funk all inform Jordan’s original tunes. Now if he can add something unique, he’s a good bet to take it to a higher level.

Jon Martinez

Jo Ann Kelly
Tramp 1974
Mooncrest† CRESTCD 063

Jo Ann Kelly’s death in 1990 took away a voice that could growl like Ruth Brown or squall as if possessed by Memphis Minnie. Tramp 1974 gives us more than an hour of earthy blues, R&B and soul with yeoman support from Brit-blues vets Danny Kirwan, Keef Hartley and others. The studio version of Lucille Bogan’s "Jump Steady Daddy" with only Bob Hall’s piano backing is simply brilliant, and a handful of concert recordings fills out this fine set.

— Craig Ruskey

John Mayall
Back to the Roots
Polydor 314549424-2

Back to the Roots presents Mayall in his prime as a competent frontman and as a bandleader who was instrumental in the fusion of blues with rock in the ’60s and early ’70s. The album features appearances by Mick Taylor and Eric Clapton as well as other gifted players like Larry Taylor, Keef Hartley and Sugarcane Harris.

Choice cuts include the preachy "Accidental Suicide," an anti-drug number prompted by the death of Jimi Hendrix, a funky "Groupie Girl" and "Dream With Me," complete with groovy flute hooks and psychedelic blues licks courtesy of guitarist Harvey Mandel.

All in all, it’s a valuable document of the seminal work of an influential musician and bandleader who often goes unrecognized as an innovator.

— Mike Emery

Michael Messer
King Guitar
Catfish KATCD 183FP

If all Michael Messer could do was play the 12-string slide guitar, that would be plenty — he can do the electric solo thing ("Diving Duck"), and he can build a song’s backbone into a one-man train imitation ("Living in Rhythm"). But the British singer-songwriter is also meticulously aware of his own history: The title track, refreshingly, isn’t about Messer’s own chops, but those of Steve Cropper, Muddy Waters and other guitarists who’ve inspired him. He also draws natural lines between American folk and blues, Jamaican reggae ("Lone Wolf Blues") and contemporary African music ("Right Hand Road").

— Steve Knopper

Johnny Otis Presents Barbara Morrison

J&T JT 106

Johnny Otis took Barbara Morrison under his wing in the mid-’70s after being struck by her voice, talent and presence, and she subsequently traveled the U.S. and Europe with his band. Ms. Morrison cuts to the heart for most of the 45 minutes here with a vocal style set somewhere between the gruffness of Tina Turner and the panache of Little Esther Phillips. Covering the familiar terrain of jazz and lounge styles, tough blues shuffles and R&B, the band features a tight horn section and Johnny’s vibes, piano and organ. Morrison especially shines on the medley of "That’s All Right/ Someone Else Is Steppin’ In."

— Craig Ruskey

Anders Osborne
Ash Wednesday Blues
Shanachie SH 744

Osborne’s fifth release (his third for Shanachie) is a bit more introspective than his previous efforts but still retains a strong dose of New Orleans funk. A resident of the Crescent City since 1990, Osborne stretches way out on this recording and delivers a program of compelling songs deeply rooted in his own psyche. He still gives us the funk, the rock and the roll, but he also reveals maturity and vulnerability in the several songs where he sings of good love and spiritual growth. With more than sympathetic backing by a few of New Orleans’ finest — including tenor man Tim Green, modern sousaphone pioneer Kirk Joseph, Davell Crawford on piano and Cyril Neville on percussion — Osborne sweetens the sessions with a couple of impressive guest artists: Jonny Lang and Keb’ Mo’. A must-have album if you’re an Osborne fan, and a great way to get to know him if you’re not hooked yet.

— Kathleen Rippey

Johnny Otis Show
Cold Shot
J&T JT 107

This was regarded as an instant classic when it first hit the LP racks over three decades ago. Finally finding its way onto CD, Cold Shot is decent blues, but there’s no previously unreleased material to flesh out the mere 30 minutes of the album program. Johnny plays multi-instrumentalist, his son Shuggie adds guitar, and Delmar "Mighty Mouth" Evans contributes the excellent vocals. The mix is bothersome, with the volume coming up for some solos but laying completely flat for others. Remastering would have helped immensely, but the CD sounds very much like the vinyl version, minus only the scratchiness.

— Craig Ruskey

Lee Roy Parnell
Tell the Truth
Vanguard 79589-2

Recorded at Muscle Shoals Sounds, Tell The Truth lopes along with a pleasingly laconic and soulful Southern vibe you’d expect to emanate from this hallowed studio. Parnell’s economical, low-key delivery, with every note conveying emotion and not flash, mirrors this atmosphere. There are effective guest shots from Bonnie Bramlett, Delbert McClinton and Keb’ Mo’, and the Mississippi Mass Choir is especially welcome on "Brand New Feeling." All in all, a solid and soulful piece of work from Parnell.

— Jon Martinez

Bill Perry
Fire It Up
Blind Pig BPCD 5069

The powerful one-two punch that opens Fire It Up — "Itchin’ for It" and "Clean Thing" — suggests that all has not been well with Perry’s spirit and that he may have had to deal (successfully, it would seem) with some personal demons. Perry’s vocals and guitar are appropriately gruff, with gritty, searing slide work and slyly phrased vocals leading the way.

Jon Martinez

The Persuasions
Might As Well … The Persuasions Sing The Grateful Dead

Grateful Dead/Arista GDCD 4070

Nothing really beats great songwriting. It’s no accident that Bob Dylan, Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Leiber & Stoller, Lennon & McCartney, Rogers & Hammerstein are so ubiquitously covered in American popular music. They were all able to create songs with timeless and universal qualities that lent themselves to a nearly infinite range of musical styles. Seemingly lost in the psychedelic circus that surrounded the Grateful Dead was the exceptional quality of songcraft represented by the band’s chief writers, Robert Hunter (words) and Jerry Garcia (music). Hunter’s lyrics were layered with multiple meanings and imagery that evoked some alternate folk Americana, and it wasn’t unusual for members of the audience at a Dead concert to get sudden flashes of new insight from songs they might have heard dozens of times.

Enter Jerry Lawson, Joe Russell, Jimmy Hayes, Jayotis Washington and Raymond X. Sanders, collectively known as the Persuasions, with Might As Well Over their long career these titans of a cappella have conjured a gospel-rooted, soul-inflected spirit out of the work of a continuum of composers that ranges from Kurt Weill to Sam Cooke to Elvis Presley. "Some songs, to us, just sound like ‘Persuasions’ songs," says lead vocalist Lawson. "We hear ’em and we know they’re for us. These Grateful Dead songs — they’re Persuasions songs."

From a list of 30 tunes suggested by Hunter and producers David Gans and Rip Rense, Lawson selected a dozen Hunter-Garcia compositions, another by Hunter alone, one by guitarist Bob Weir ("One More Saturday Night") and the beautiful traditional hymn "And We Bid You Goodnight," which the Dead learned from a 1965 recording by Bahamian guitarist Joseph Spence with the Pindar Family.

Lawson’s taste and sensibility prove to be unerring here. The group simply puts the songs on like comfortable clothes and wears them like their own. Among the choice renditions are "Ripple," "Sugaree" (given a bit of a "Soul Serenade" touch), a rocking "One More Saturday Night," and the sad, sweet closing duo of "Bid You Goodnight" and "Black Muddy River

— Red Rooster

Bobby Powell
Into My Own Thing: The Jewel & Whit Recordings 1966–1971
Westside† WESA 891

The wealth of great recordings by largely unknown legends that are floating around out there is amazing. Case in point: this collection of recordings by Bobby Powell, a great lost Louisiana R&B singer who now sings for the Lord. Judging by his early secular work, Powell was a contender: There are songs here that more than hold their own with more well-known work from the Golden Age of Soul. Powell’s powerful voice jibed with the sweet ballads as well as the frantic funk workouts. A very pleasant discovery.

Jon Martinez

Saffire — The Uppity Blues Women
Ain’t Gonna Hush!
Alligator ALCD 4880

Pleasantly derivative of other women boogie/blues singers old and new, Saffire — The Uppity Blues Women are always fun to listen to. The three women expertly mesh a variety of sounds — from light piano boogie to steamy ballads and double-entendre he-done-me-wrong laments — to fashion a diverse, mostly original repertoire underlined by sympathetic self-accompaniment. Saffire’s sound strays quite a ways from blues these days, incorporating more pop, rock’n’boogie and even country-folk stylings, but they’re good musicians and the combination of piano, guitar, fiddle and vocals keeps things stepping lively. You can’t go wrong with these gals.

— Kathleen Rippey

Ken Saydak
Love Without Trust
Delmark DE-751

What a joy to hear a skillful acolyte like Ken Saydak carrying on the great Chicago blues and boogie piano style a la Otis Spann, Lafayette Leake, Sunnyland Slim and Big Maceo Merriweather.

Ken Saydak is a worthy player compared to the above-mentioned masters. He’s added his own spin to the traditional piano styles with his unique, gritty vocals, superb harmonica playing and smart songwriting. Only a man who’s comfortable with emotion can fearlessly sing the words, "Now the world’s a big place and there’s plenty of space/ to put solitude to the test/ But what keeps us aligned is the comfort we find/ in expressions of tenderness."

Saydak is an exceptional piano player who breathes new life into a blues style that teeters dangerously on the edge of extinction. Any pianist who can tackle Spann’s "Great Northern Stomp" without being intimidated and add articulate embellishments of his own is well on his way to being able to claim his personal turf. This is a great CD.

— Kathleen Rippey

Byther Smith
Smitty’s Blues
Black & Tan† B&T 008

At 68, guitarist/vocalist supreme Byther Smith is one of the baddest bluesmen on the planet, but this collection of mostly covers is a departure for the prolific writer. "So Many Roads, So Many Trains" is delivered with as much authoritative power as young Otis Rush’s version, and he’s just as impressive on Rush’s "She’s a Good ’Un." Half a dozen more covers — including B.B. King’s "She Wants to Sell My Monkey," Eddie Boyd’s "Five Long Years" and Willie Cobbs’ "You Don’t Love Me No More" — bury the needle on the excitement meter. And the originals, highlighted by the sizzling opener "Ought to Be Ashamed," are every bit the equal of the warhorses.

— Mark Gallo

Studebaker John & The Hawks
Howl With the Wolf
Evidence ECD 26112

Studebaker John Grimaldi has one of the best one-two-three punches — guitarist-vocalist-singer — in the business. He blows Big Walter-inspired harp, plays slide guitar and sings about as good as anyone. He’s also one of the most sinister-sounding players this side of Howlin’ Wolf. But, with only a couple of exceptions, there’s nothing especially bright about Howl With the Wolf. There’s no doubting the power he brings to the set, though — just check out "Harpology," a cut that reminds a bit of William Clarke, or the slide work on "Lock & Chain" for affirmation. Criminally overlooked, the Studebaker man is a monster.

— Mark Gallo

Swamp Dogg
Cuffed, Collared and Tagged/ Doing a Party Tonight
Demon/Westside† 622

This CD offers complete versions of Jerry Williams Jr.’s third and ninth full-length Swamp Dogg albums from 1972 and 1980, respectively. This relatively unheralded soul/R&B singer was already a decade and a half into a career as a backup singer and solo artist when he cut the earlier of these two albums, which starts with a shockingly effective and beautifully wrought read of John Prine’s "Sam Stone." Williams’ voice is a pinched but extremely evocative gift, making up in expressiveness what it lacks in range. Some of the stuff here is cheerfully dated — the wah-wah guitar and rave-up soul backing vocals of "If It Hadn’t Been for Sly," the wallpaper horn section production values in "Captain of Your Ship" (from CCT) and the straight disco beats of "Party Tonite" and "Come a Little Closer Baby" — but Williams’ voice is a constant pleasure, and while most of this is FFO [for fans only] material, it’s still a worthwhile sampling of this guy’s colorful history.

— Dave Kirby

Little Johnnie Taylor
L.J.T/ Part Time Love
Westside† WESM 882

Combining both of Taylor’s mid-’70s Ronn albums with a few previously unavailable sides, this CD showcases Taylor’s stunning, gospel-honed soul-blues belting. His big hit, "Part Time Love," is included here, a searing dose of half-speed big-band blues testifying with Taylor’s performance moving seamlessly between blues and soul vocal flavors. This is a guy who didn’t so much sing a song as wrestle it to the ground, and even the slower, more saccharine bits — like the painfully dated-sounding ballad, "Just One More Chance to Be With You" — reveal a pure and compelling talent. Even amid the trappings of mid-’70s polyester soul — shouting horn sections, fuzz-wah’ed guitar, woo-woo backing singers and near-disco beats — this stuff has a decidedly timeless feel to it, and it may just have been lousy timing that kept this guy from being the star he sure sounds like here.

— Dave Kirby

Joe Tex
Oh Boy Classics Presents Joe Tex
Oh Boy Classics OBR-403

Low-budget, no frills Joe Tex Primer 101 — indeed, a perfect introduction to primal soul/R&B. All the hits are here: "I Gotcha," "Skinny Legs and All," "At the Dark End of the Street," "If Sugar Was as Sweet as You" — all examples of that perfect combination of great tune and great voice delivering it. Tex could pull off gospel flavors, funky soul and smooth ballads with equal verve. Not much in the way of liner notes, but the story is well told in the music.

Jon Martinez

Walter Trout
Go the Distance
Ruf 1067

With each successive album, Trout and his Radicals inch further into the rock side of blues. That’s fine, because the California-based singer-songwriter-guitarist is the best cat working that angle today. Despite the cacophony of ramblin’, scramblin’, electric guitar leads, hard-driving drums and organ solos, Trout’s spiritual nature shines like a beacon through every song. Indeed, when the amps are turned down, the former Bluesbreaker and Canned Heat hired hand transforms Springsteen-like imagery into achingly pure blue-eyed soul. Less a true innovator than an accomplished craftsman, Trout’s artistic progress continues to make small yet thrilling leaps forward.

— Ken Burke

Phil Upchurch
Tell the Truth
Evidence ECD 22222-2

A guitarist’s guitar player, Phil Upchurch has been around for many years, and he’s at his best here as he runs the gamut from straight jazz to pop, with a dose of blues for added texture. His influences — Wes Montgomery and others — shine through when Upchurch gives a clinic in tasteful playing on the unaccompanied "St. Louis Blues," although it comes in more than three minutes short of its listed eight-minute clocking. Phil even pulls out the harmonica for "She’s Alright." A fine piece of work.

— Craig Ruskey

Various Artists
Call Back Lost Time: The Cobra and Artistic Recordings of Ike Turner, Betty Everett and Buddy Guy
Westside† WESA 843

These seminal recordings from three blues/R&B greats may sound dated, but the raw emotion they contain is downright refreshing in contrast to the cookie-cutter sterility that so often passes for the blues these days. The collection includes gripping snapshots of Guy’s pre-Chess work as a featured artist that capture the young guitarist on his way to molding his B.B. King inspiration into something explosive and unique. Ike Turner’s Kings of Rhythm were cutting tough, swinging R&B on their own and as a back-up band, and they’re as infectious here as ever. Ms. Everett’s strong, gospel-influenced sound, backed here by Willie Dixon’s band, laid the basis for her later success with the VeeJay label. Call Back Lost Time provides a fascinating look back at a vibrant, lost and sorely missed time.

Jon Martinez

Various Artists
goin’ down south blues Sampler
Inside Memphis ISC-0510

This 11-artist collection was made to augment the Visualizing The Blues photography exhibit, which isn’t represented here. Source tapes drawn from slick studio sessions (Daddy Mack Blues Band, Sandy Carroll) and demos seemingly recorded in unfinished basements (R.L. Burnside, Junkyardmen with Mose Vinson), the set boasts a mismatched archival sound much appreciated by collectors though bewildering to outsiders. Besides showcasing his label’s own old-timey stars like Last Chance Jugband, compilation producer Eddie Dattel provides true value by giving exposure to Loretta Velvette, a rasping, teary-voiced angel, and to foot-stompin’, reed-poppin’ harmonica man Blind Mississippi Morris.

— Ken Burke

Various Artists
Not the Same Old Blues Crap II
Fat Possum 80342-2

A generous helping of the modern-day Delta and Mississippi hill-country blues from the crankiest and most self-effacing traditional blues label you’re likely to encounter in this lifetime. A couple of reference points make the CD a little easier for the lightweight — R.L. Burnside growling through "Going Down South" and "Walkin’ Blues," for example — but much of the collection features lesser-known artists. The bright, ballady "Easy Rider" from erstwhile singer/mostly fishing guide Scott Dunbar (recorded in 1970) is lithe, folky and absolutely gorgeous. Robert Belfour’s dark, elegant "Black Mattie" is all primitive howl, and Paul "Wine" Jones shows up in two different incarnations: the weird and steely remix (with drum machine) of "Goin’ Back Home" and the aggressive acoustic number, "I’m Gonna Leave." Add a dose of Super Chikan’s vaguely surfy "El Camino" and a couple of Junior Kimbrough cuts and you’ve got — well, something weird and beautiful and likely to give self-styled purists a little pain right here.

— Dave Kirby

T-Bone Walker
Back on the Scene: Texas, 1966
Indigo† IGOXCD 540Z

Originally released as Home Cookin’ on the Jet Stream label, this UK collection was recorded in Texas during two sessions in the mid-’60s while Walker was riding the blues revival, and T-Bone is clearly on his game. Staples like "Good Boy" and "She’s My Old Time Used to Be" share the space with a very nice "Further on Up the Road" and a sultry, simmering "I Used to Be a Good Boy," with its lightning guitar licks and gently impassioned Walker vocals. A couple of cuts sound like T-Bone is just phoning it in, and the sound quality is a tad thin in places, but overall this is a very good document and will serve well as either collection filler or introduction.

— Dave Kirby

Lee Shot Williams
Somebody’s After My Freak

Following up his last ECKO CD, She Made a Freak Out of Me, Lee Shot Williams unfortunately maintains the same focus here. The only saving grace is "Back in Trouble Again," a slow blues track with a strong vocal. Sequencing may be a way to keep recording expenses down, but there’s little here to hold the interest of blues fans, and Williams’ only self-penned contribution, "Freakology," is dismal at best. I’d say it’s about freakin’ time to leave this theme behind.

— Craig Ruskey

Chick Willis
From the Heart and Soul
Rock House RH 00042

Chick Willis, although not a major figure, still manages to put out fine blues and blues-based music, and From the Heart and Soul is no exception. This 40-minute disc finds Chick leading a tough band with some sparkling horns through ten tracks — eight of them originals — and firing on all cylinders. This is a good mixture of straight blues and soul, packed with plenty of trembling guitar. Chick shines on the opener, "Ribshack Blues Café," and on "One-Eyed Woman." While he breaks no new ground, this fine journeyman deserves wider exposure.

— Craig Ruskey


©2001 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA