Blues Reviews
Aug/Sept 2017

Rock And Roll Music: The Songs Of Chuck Berry
Ace CD

Recently departed rock ‘n’ roll pioneer Chuck Berry, with his enduring guitar licks, cheeky cockiness and catchy, often brashly attitudinal songs about cars, girls and sweet sixteen dance parties, had an instinct for what the kids wanted to hear before they did and gave it to them on 45 after 45 in the mid-1950s. His initial recording, “Maybellene,” was issued in May, 1955 and sold a million in a matter of weeks and was followed by other gems like the anthemic “Roll Over Beethoven,” the genre-defining “Rock And Roll Music,” the watching-the-clock “School Day,” “Almost Grown,” “Thirty Days” and “Carol.” Significantly, however, the flip-side of that first single, “Maybelline,” was the slow-paced, reflective “Wee Wee Hours” that revealed Berry’s deep blues roots along with traces of rockabilly and the then just-developing rhythm ‘n’ blues. This 24 title compilation shows what a wide-ranging influence Berry had with, often tepid, covers by the likes of Don Covay, the Beach Boys, John Hammond, the Swinging Blue Jeans, MC5, Marty Robbins, John Prine, Jay & The Americans and the Hollies. More laudatory efforts are offered by Buddy Holly (“Brown Eyed Handsome Man”), Elvis Presley (“Too Much Monkey Business”), Jerry Lee Lewis (“Little Queenie”), Sleepy LaBeef (“You Can’t Catch Me”) and Dave Edmunds, with his arousing “The Promised Land.” As the last paragraph in the New York Times obituary notes: “Mr. Berry’s music has remained on tour extraterrestrially—”Johnny B. Goode” is on golden records within the Voyager I and II spacecraft, launched in 1977 and awaiting discovery.” Indeed.—Gary von Tersch

Martin Lang
Ain’t No Notion
Random Chance Records

There’s a new generation of Chicago blues today and Martin Lang is cruising the forefront of this wave. Martin is mainly a harp man and with his third CD “Ain’t No Notion” he’s telling it the way it is. He ain’t a singer who’s picked up a harmonica, this is serious business and his sound proves it. This album has all the usual Chicago suspects, Oscar Wilson of the Cash Box Kings on most vocals, Billy Flynn and the California Kid Rusty Zinn on guitar, Dave Waldman piano, Jimmy ‘Upstairs’ Murphy or Illinois Slim on bass and Dean Haas drums. These guys pull off a classic Chicago sound that could have been recorded in the Chess Studio by Little Walter and the Aces. Filling this “Notion” with an even mix of covers and originals, vocals and instrumentals, Martin is getting his Lang thang on.
Lang takes the vocal on the mellow groove of Frank Frost’s “Backscratcher” and plays his harp through a Leslie speaker on this laid back swampy classic. From here Oscar Wilson takes the vocals on two Little Walter tunes, “Blues With A Feeling” and “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” emulating these classics both on harp and Wilson’s vocal tone. Another classic, Junior Wells’ “Come On In This House” here Wilson’s vocal allows the harp to lead the entire song rather than just between verses. The loping gait of Jimmy Rogers’ “Walking By Myself” has the harp front and center as Flynn follows his lines on guitar then Billy’s own tune, “Blues Today” takes a darker tone as his guitar stands out above the fray. With five instrumentals that range from a mid register harp jaunt of “The Hard Ten” with the guitars trading licks before stepping out on a solo to the “10:30 Blues” where the piano leads the rhythm as guitars run around the straightforward harp lines. Herbie Hancock’s classic “Watermelon Man” has Zinn’s guitar running through a Leslie speaker, churning the rhythm as Lang blows the melody and everyone solos. The “Chromando” title fits as Lang’s deeper chromatic tone is pitted against Flynn on mandolin rockin’ like Johnny Shines and Zinn flashing on guitar then mellowing to the “Mile High Blues” reminiscent of Little Walter’s “Sad Hours.” Lang returns to vocals on Jimmy Rogers’ “You’re The One” doing an impressively soulful rendition and finishes with a greasy original “Hip Twist,” his vocals have a slight quiver to match his harp.
Martin Lang may be the new blood in Chicago blues but his newest CD “Ain’t No Notion” proves he’s here to carry on that sound and bring it back to the energy level it was created in.—Roger & Margaret White

Various Artists
Swamp Pop By The Bayou: Let’s Get Together Tonight
Ace CD 1499

This is the third volume in Ace’s ongoing Swamp Pop By The Bayou series and, like its predecessors, features nearly thirty tracks that oscillate with the irriguous heat of the bayou and indubitably filled the local Gulf Coast dance floors “where couples could enjoy a bit of buckle polishing on the slow numbers with skirts swirling while the tempo increases” as liners author Ian Sadler colorfully puts it. Picks include all four numbers by still-active swamp pop pioneer Warren Storm (particularly “Jailhouse Blues” and “If You Don’t Want Me”) along with a lively instrumental titled “Crazie Babie” by Texas Guitar Slim AKA Johnny Winter, “I Know It’s A Sin” by rockabilly singer Rocket Morgan (with Katie Webster on lusty piano) and “Go On, Go On,” a rocker featuring the also still-active South Louisiana and SE Texas legend, Jivin’ Gene. Early swamp popper Rod “This Should Go On Forever” Bernard also delivers the goods on probably his finest Mercury single “Let’s Get Together Tonight” from 1959 as well as Doug Ardoin and his fellow cajun Boogie Kings on the downbeat “Lost Love.” Little-knowns Amery Lynn, Charles Page, Ken Lindsey, Gabe Dean and Louisiana Hayride performer Charlotte Hunter also impress, especially Lindsey with his full-steam-ahead rendition of Peppermint Harris’ classic “I Got Loaded.” Let the good times roll!—Gary von Tersch

Jim Allchin
Sandy Key Music

Jim Allchin has made many decisions that shaped his life; you could say Allchin has been leading up to his new CD, “Decisions,” his whole life. Raised on a farm in a tin-roof home built by his father in rural Florida, his interest in fixing farm equipment led to his decision to study engineering at the University of Florida. He supported his studies by playing guitar in bands, graduating with a degree in Computer Science from Stanford. He helped develop computers as we know them today before retiring as a senior designer and executive from Microsoft. After all that what could he do but return to the passion that made it all possible, his guitar? With this third self-produced release as songwriter, singer and guitarist he’s enlisted Tom Hambridge as drummer and producer, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Michael Rhoades on bass, Bill Bergman’s sax with Pat Buchannan and Bob McNelley on additional guitars. Using all tube amps, vintage guitars and the Heart Attack Horns he’s made all the right “Decisions.”
Taking off with the loping swing of guitar fuzz and B3 organ blasts, Allchin sings the blues of the daily grind of an “Artifical Life.” The guitar tips a hat to Texas-style Freddie King, Jim’s vocals toughen with authority as the horns drive like a freight train against the insidious rat race he found at “The Mexican End,” then with power chords like the MC5 wailing Jim rushes into “Bad Decisions” before falling back to his heartfelt lyrics and bluesy guitar to “Blew Me Away.” A crisp ringing guitar that sings like a lap steel and the Hammond B3 as Allchin trades verses with Keb Mo and Wendy Moten’s backing vocals giving “Healing Ground” an almost spiritual resolve before returning to the more earthly desires of “She Is It” with light piano and quivering organ but Allchin’s vocals are the main feature. Dueling rapid arpeggios rise and fall through “Don’t Care” while “Stop Hurting Me” might have Jim’s strongest vocal with the piano and horns punching it up as the guitar wails the finale. A rousing instrumental, “Just Plain Sick” has a blazing rockabilly swing of boogie piano with Allchin’s guitar emulating Bill Haley’s guitarist, Franny Beecher, and T-Bone Walker hitting some of the fastest, wildest licks you’ll hear. Two bright spots of pure guitar artistry are instrumentals featuring a different band with Kenny Greenberg on guitar, Steve Mackey’s bass and James Wallace playing keyboards. “After Hours” reminds me of Jeff Beck with his guitar faintly crying like whale songs and “Destiny” could give a nod to Roy Buchannan.
There comes a time when you step away from a chosen path and follow your heart. Jim Allchin has made some pretty good “Decisions” in his lifetime, this new release is one of them.—Roger & Margaret White

Paul Butterfield
Live in New York 1970
RockBeat 2CD 3316

Born in Chicago in December, 1942, ill-fated Paul Butterfield was America’s leading white blues harmonica stylist. Influenced by the likes of Little Walter, James Cotton and Junior Wells, he honed his craft in the rough and tumble South Side blues clubs and formed his first band in 1963 with two members of Howlin’ Wolf’s touring combo (Jerome Arnold and Sam Lay) along with guitarist Smokey Smothers. By 1965 both Elvin Bishop (replacing Smothers), Columbia session guitarist Michael Bloomfield and keyboardist Mark Naftalin had joined up and, after an electrifying performance at that year’s Newport Folk Festival, Elektra Records signed them up. By 1967, Bloomfield had quit the band to work with Bob Dylan (and subsequently The Electric Flag) and with The Resurrection Of Pigboy Crabshaw, Butterfield’s third Elektra album, a horn section was added for the first time as the band was shifting direction. This double disc set was recorded in December, 1970 and radio broadcast from A&R Studios on WPLJ in New York City before a live audience. Joining Butterfield was alto saxist David Sanborn, soprano saxist Gene Dinwiddie, baritone saxist Trevor Lawrence, trumpeter Steve Madaio, bassist Rod Hicks, drummer Dennis Whitted and guitarist Ralph Walsh as they achieved new heights with a unique, hard-driving, blues-driven amalgam of rock, soul and jazz. Highlights include a pair of Hicks compositions (“The Boxer” and “So Far So Good”) along with extended recaps of both Charles Brown’s “Driftin’ Blues” and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign” and a couple of concert staples—”Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” and the strutting “Love March.” Great sound.—Gary von Tersch

Karen Lovely
Fish Outta Water
Self 2017

There is not one strictly twelve bar song of the dozen on this new album from Portland, OR-based chanteuse Karen Lovely, but it is indubitably a blues album, and a glittering addition to her oeuvre.
Lovely, who indeed has a lovely voice, also has a knack for choosing outstanding musician accompanists. On this release her rhythm section of Taras Prrodaniuk on bass and Matt Tecu on drums is impeccable, establishing a sturdy foundation without intruding on the spotlight. Alternating lead guitar duties are Rick Holmstrom (formerly with the Mighty Flyers and Mavis Staples) and Doug Pettibone; both are capable of scintillating invention, but instead remain restrained in service of the songs: this album is a primer in how great guitarists can make an ensemble better. A large cast of supporting performers lends a rotating hand, with dobro, violin, cello, marimba, sax, and cornet all occasionally appearing effectively.
The focus, and rightly so, is on Lovely, who vocals has never sounded better. She is capable of power, a slight country twang, and an undeniable eroticism. Oh, did I mention that she is pitch-perfect, with impressive range? Justifiably nominated multiple times by the Blues Foundation for a Blues Music Award as Contemporary Blues Female Artist, with this set she stakes her claim to more accolades.
Although there are no danceable rockers, the twelve tracks afford ample variety and consistently laudable music and lyrics. (Lovely was composer or co-composer of five; most were written by producer and multi-instrumentalist Eric Corne.) My usual practice is to place an asterisk beside a favorite tune listing as I review an album; I deployed many. After opening with three mid-tempo tunes distinguished by Holmstrom’s contributions, “Waking Up the Dead” prods the tempo, augmented by David Rahlicke on cornet and an insistent Tecu drumbeat. Holmstrom and Prodaniuk shine on “Big Black Cadillac,” and “Everything Means Nothing” hits a high point as Eric Ryland on slide guitar complements Holmstrom. “Hades’ Bride” maintains the stellar quality, with violin and cello emphasizing its country flavor.
There’s lots more. “Next Time” is a nod to future hopes, with Phil Parlapiano (apt name) providing delicious tinkly fill on the 88s, and “Nice and Easy,” the longest track at almost five minutes, displays Lovely at her sultry best in her lament at being the second choice of a lover.—”Fish Outta Water” is on my list of best albums of 2017! —Steve Daniels

Carl Perkins
Whole Lotta Shakin’/King of Rock/Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits/On Top
BGO 2CD 1288

Like his fellow Sun Records recording artists Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash, the progenitor of rockabilly guitar and one of my favorite songwriters, Carl Perkins, was born near obscure Tiptonville, Tennessee to destitute cotton sharecroppers in 1932 and, save for an unfortunate, near-tragic, career-altering car wreck outside of Wilmington, Delaware in March, 1956, would have performed his composition “Blue Suede Shoes” on the nationally broadcast Perry Como Show in New York City (instead of his stand-in label-mate Elvis Presley) and who knows what would have happened? The rest, as they say, is history. Following in Cash’s footsteps, in January 1958, the popular Perkins signed with Nashville’s Columbia Records. This two disc project collects all four albums that the country boy recorded for the much more mainstream concern—the first, Whole Lotta Shakin’, is one of my favorite LPs—but all four personify the on-the-edge rockabilly style that some folks swear he invented and, more importantly, never changed. After all, he was touted as the King of Rockabilly as he was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. And no less an authority than Paul McCartney averred that “If there were no Carl Perkins there would be no Beatles.” After Shakin’, throw on Carl Perkins’ Greatest Hits, where, with an expanded band behind him, he marvelously and slyly updates most of his legendary, self-composed Sun hits. Drop the beam anywhere you want on the other two albums—they each feature inventive originals alongside well-chosen covers. And for you Dylan fans (a long time Perkins admirer) there’s a co-write titled “Champaign, Illinois.” Worth the search.-Gary von Tersch

Brad Stivers
Took You Long Enough
Vizztone 2017

He’s young, he’s good, and his second album represents a meaningful entry into the blues rock and rockabilly world.
A finalist with his band at the 2014 International Blues Challenge, Brad Stivers now resides in Austin, TX. This set of ten tunes showcases Stivers’s deft facility on guitar; he also produced the CD, and composed half of the songs. On all tracks he is accompanied by dynamic drummer Nico Leophonte, who is adept at a laid-back groove as well as nimble syncopation and gyration. Bass is held down on most tracks by Odis Hill, with Bobby Perkins stepping in for a trio of cuts. Keyboards, sax, and backing vocals by Emily Gimble and Malford Milligan appear sparingly; Stivers is the cynosure.
The pithy, upbeat “2000 Miles” kicks things off; it’s a brief rocker with Leophonte and Stivers meshing nicely. The ensuing rocker, “You’re Just About to Lose Your Clown,” benefits from Mark Wilson’s fluid sax and Bukka Allen’s swirling organ. Stivers’ original “Put It Down” with its rockabilly flavor maintains the brisk pace, and it’s followed by the funked-up title tune. The tempo then slows as Gimble tickles the ivories and harmonizes with Stivers on “Here We Go Again.”
“Nickel and a Nail,” a lament of impoverishment, is again buttressed by Allen on B3 as Brad launches into a soul vocal. The subsequent cover of “One Night of Sin” reminded me of a 1950s Elvis Presley song, as did its successor, the Stivers original “Can’t Wait.” The penultimate “Save Me” is a slow and somewhat ponderous plea redeemed by greasy guitar work, and a nifty drum riff introduces the final track, a funky instrumental.
This sophomore album from a maturing bluesman is worth a listen for its adept guitar playing, snazzy drumming, and Perkins’ bass.—Steve Daniels

The Bob Lanza Blues Band
Time to Let Go
Connor Ray Music 2016

Since its well-received 2015 release, “From Hero to Zero,” the New Jersey-based Bob Lanza Blues Band has introduced new drummer Vin Mott and bassist Sandy Joren, while retaining Randy Wall on keyboards. Previous harmonica player Steve Krase appears on two tunes, augmented by a further set of harmonicats, another keyboard adept, and an ensemble of horns and backing vocalists. The result is a high-energy set of eleven tracks.
No composition credits are given, so the presumption is that Lanza is the sole songwriter, as well as reigning guitarist and singer. As in most satisfying albums, there is a range of tempos, including at least three mid-tempo shuffles; the one that really grabbed me was “Follow Your Heart,” with sequential nice solos by mouth harp maestro Don Erdman, Wall on piano, and Lanza dishing it out on guitar. Wall also stands out on “You’re Not in Texas,” and Arne Wendt assumes the keyboard chair on “Love Me or Leave Me” as he and Lanza engage in some fine instrumental interplay.
You want to rock? The opening track, “Mind Your Own Business,” has already provided four solid minutes of danceable blues rock, and before we’re done we also have “Johnny Smith,” introduced by Lanza’s crunching chords then joined by Krase on harp and Mott on driving drums; it’s Chuck Berry by the Lanza Band, with echoes of the Rolling Stones.
Throughout, Lanza provides very good guitar leads, and his tenor vocals do the job even when not pitch-perfect. Joren’s bass is low in the mix but steady throughout, and Wall is excellent, particularly playing the B3 organ on the instrumental “Rush’n the Blues.” Other than one track, “When the Sun Comes Up,” in which both he and Lanza seem to have imbibed too much caffeine, Mott pounds the skins more than effectively.
In summation, a worthy effort from this East Coast group.—Steve Daniels

Rory Block
Keepin’ Outta Trouble
Stony Plain 2016

As with the best tribute albums, this sixth of Rory Block’s Mentor series will induce you to go back and seek out the oeuvre of legendary country bluesman Bukka White…while fully enjoying Block’s own effort of appreciation.
Less renowned both during his life and posthumously than Son House and Mississippi John Hurt, B.B. King’s cousin Booker T. Washington (Bukka) White weathered the vicissitudes of fortune to produce lasting music. Schooled in fiddle by his father and guitar by Charley Patton, among others, he was a guitar-playing itinerant performer by his mid-teens. The ensuing years featured stints as a boxer and professional baseball player, some recording in the early 1930s, and a three-year stint in infamous Parchman Farm prison for a shooting, where he was recorded by musicologists John and Alan Lomax. After two subsequent decades of obscurity as a Memphis factory worker, he was rediscovered in the early 1960s and had a successful late career until his death in 1977.
Rory Block was fortunate to meet White in New York City when she was only fifteen, and she soaked up his ferocious acoustic blues and compelling personality. This is the sixth album of her Mentor series, which comprises tributes to country bluesmen she knew and revered; it follows odes to House, Hurt, Fred McDowell, Rev. Gary Davis, and Skip James.
Deservedly one of our most honored contemporary country blues artists for the last four decades, Block really hits her stride on this release. I have long treasured her masterful guitar playing and her sultry and evocative vocals, but wondered if she had lost some depth and emotion in her recent singing forays. No worry: it’s here again. Her voice conveys a heady combination of lust and lyricism. Whether she is delivering a talking blues, ranging into falsetto, overdubbing her own vocals…her singing is mesmerizing. As for her fingerpicking and slide guitar stylings…fuggedaboudit! They’re superb.
Of the ten songs on the set, Block penned six, fashioning a folklore of White’s life. (She cautions that she used his biography as a starting point, not literally.) The opening title tune and its successor, “Bukka’s Day,” are especially tasty. The remaining covers include White’s two probably most famous numbers, “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues” and “Fixin’ to Die Blues.” Not to be missed also is her version of “Panama Limited,” previously covered beautifully by Tom Rush and Doug MacLeod. Block switches the protagonist’s gender from male to female and puts her own indelible stamp on the rendition.
If Rory Block has any more tributes to country blues performers in her plans, all I can say is, Bring it on!—Steve Daniels

Mr. Sipp
Knock a Hole in It
Malaco 2017

Several contemporary blues performers have their own unique catchphrase. For Charlie Musselwhite, it’s “I ain’t lyin’.” For Super Chikan, it’s “Shake that thang!”
Now add “Knock a hole in it,” the title tune, album title, and frequently evoked phrase of Castro Coleman’s new release.
Coleman, who performs as Mr. Sipp, morphed into a bluesman several years ago after decades in the gospel genre. He has been warmly received, and deservedly so, being a talented singer, guitarist, songwriter, and producer. On this record he is a virtual one-man band, handling guitar and its overdubs, bass, and percussion, and arranging a punchy horn section. The result is a baker’s dozen of high energy tracks.
The set commences with the title song, telegraphing what’s to come. Even if this CD is played at low volume -not recommended - its aura is loud and insistent. Gospel rhythm and groove are omnipresent, emphasized by the ubiquitous swirling organ furnished by Carroll McLaughlin. Stanley Dixon and Murph Caicedo deliver relentless percussion, and especially deserving plaudits are the bass contributions of Jeffrey Flanagan (who also provides backing vocals) and Mr. Sipp himself. (The liner notes do not reveal which musicians play on individual tracks.)
Understandably the focus is Coleman, whose debt to famed guitarist predecessors Buddy Guy and Jimi Hendrix is evident in his propensity for long solos, wah wah pedal augmentation, and strings of single notes in the high register. However, where Guy and Hendrix often soared into the stratosphere with solos that could be both brilliant and self-indulgent, Sipp generally exhibits more restraint but no less gusto.
The tracks are generally mid-tempo, including a couple featuring the Jackson Horns in Memphis soul mode, unsurprising on the Malaco label. Coleman’s flexible vocals vary from rap talking to soulful crooning to forceful rasping; especially notable is his impassioned crooning on “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore,” one of the few slower numbers. A similar downshift in tempo on “Sea of Love” allows McLaughlin to switch from organ to piano with fine effect.
Credits indicate that all the tunes were penned by Mr. Sipp, but the closing number, Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” the only instrumental, was covered years ago by Eric Clapton with Derek and the Dominos, and Stevie Ray Vaughan among others. We’ll forgive the oversight, since Mr. Sipp and cohorts do it well.—Steve Daniels

Lil’ Shaky and the Tremors
Independent release

Lil’ Shakey and the Tremors is a quartet from the East Coast that specializes in soulful and sometimes swinging blues. Not surprising, as it is a project of Roomful of Blues’ guitar slinger, Chris Vachon. Vocalist and bassist Ed Wright, keyboardist/percussionist Jeff Ceasrine, and drummer Larr Anderson are all seasoned players who bring a wheelbarrow full of chops to this impressive 10-song program.
O.V. Wrights’ I’d Rather Be Blind, Crippled and Crazy (“than to let you break my heart all over again”) leads the program off in rousing fashion. Backed by a crisp and slick horn section dubbed the Naked Horns – Jaime Rodrigues (baritone), Robert DeCurtis (tenor), Mark Legault (alto), Steve DeCurtis (trumpet) and Josh Kane (trombone), it also benefits from the backing vocals of DD Bastos and Brenda Bennett. You’re The Kind of Trouble has a Delany and Bonnie feel, full and fat. Wright and Bennett have that kind of chemistry. They sing of his passing through and of his straight laced life. “Don’t drink much/never smoked/Ain’t too many rules I broke/Keep to myself/Have a real quiet life/don’t even stay out late at night/They say I ain’t a wild boy/If they only knew…”
Bobby Charles’ classic Why Are People Like That is given a straight ahead reading with Mike Rand’s harp and Vachon’s guitar standing out. Vachon’s guitar is gorgeous on Bill Withers’ Grandma’s Hands. The backing vocals of the Gospel Love Tones, Walter and Steven Cooper and Kenny Haywood enhance the medium tempo piece. This is followed by the band’s rollicking take on Willie Dixon’s I Love the Life I Live. Their take has a dangerous vibe, enhanced by the guitar and harp. Volume does the tune well. Slipped Tripped and Fell In Love showcases Wright’s powerful and soulful vocals. Bastos and Bennett add just the right amount of oohs and ahs and na-na-nas. The groove is very 70s soul and infectious.
I Wouldn’t Treat a Dog (The Way You Treated Me) has a Southern sound, reminiscent of the Malaco stable of singers. You’re Welcome, Stop On By, with a somewhat disjointed tenor saxophone courtesy of Mike Antunes, starts with a spoken intro and breaks into perhaps the best vocals on the set. Wright seems to get better as the song develops.
Bobby Womack’s It’s All Over Now is given one of the best readings I’ve heard, thanks in large part to the presence of Gospel Love Tones, but fleshed out nicely by the band members. Bearing little resemblance to the Rolling Stones version that most folks recognize, this is more compact, minus any twang. If the Holmes Brothers had sung it, it would sound something like this.
It’s good to see Vachon step outside of his role as leader of Roomful of Blues. This side project is a solid winner.—Mark E. Gallo

Mississippi John Hurt
Live At Oberlin College 4-15-65
RockBeat CD 3387

“Mississippi” John Hurt was born in the early 1890’s in tiny Teoc, Mississippi, raised in nearby Avalon and playing guitar for a living by the time he was a teenager. Working during the week as a sharecropper, on the weekend he quickly became a “first call” for local barn dances and parties, singing with a richly gentle yet raw voice alongside some remarkably flowing, brilliantly slide-work embellished guitar lines. By 1928, Okeh Records was in town recording him and on the heels of his decades later “rediscovery” in the early sixties, he was one of the hits at the illustrious 1963 Newport Folk Festival—leading the way for other “discoveries” such as Son House (with whom Hurt shared the bill on this Oberlin date), Skip James, Bukka White, Robert Pete Williams and more. Among the hymns and traditional songs here are “The Angels Laid Him Away,” “Here I Am , Oh Lord, Sing Me,” “Casey Jones,” “Candy Man,” and “Make Me A Pallet On The Floor.” Complementing these are a slew of folk/blues staples such as “Salty Dog Blues,” “Shake That Thing,” “Frankie And Albert” and “Hard Times In The Old Town Tonight.” Great sound and Hurt at his best.—Gary von Tersch

Sharon Lewis And Texas Fire
Grown Ass Woman
Delmark Records 4121 North Rockwell, Chicago IL 60618

Sharon Lewis may be the new face of real Chicago blues. She first hit the stage at Buddy Guy’s Legends May of 1993 and has been honing her sound ever since. Sharon Lewis is a vocalist with rough power like a young Koko Taylor and her band, Texas Fire, features Stephen Bramer on guitar, Roosevelt Purifoy - keyboards, Andre Howard - bass, Tony Dale on drums and the horns of Kenny Anderson - trumpet, Hank Ford - tenor sax and Jerry DiMuzio on baritone sax. Filling out the sound on a few cuts is the harp of Sugar Blue and Chicago guitar slinger Joanna Connor. With a dozen original songs split evenly between Miss Lewis and guitarist Stephen Bramer it seems almost an afterthought to add two covers at the end.
Sugar Blue’s harp leads into Miss Lewis’ rousing theme “Can’t Do It Like We Do” for this modern testimonial to Chicago blues and to double down adds some horns to proclaim “Hell Yeah” she’s got the party started. The blazing guitar of Joanna Connor burns throughout “Chicago Woman” as these ladies lay out what they’re all about. Chilling to a country piano, Sharon’s voice sweetens to a lovelorn lament on “They’re Lying” as the horns punctuate her lines. As the drummer steps up the beat Steve Bell plays some furious harp and Sharon forcefully states that she’d rather be an “Old Man’s Baby” than a young man’s fool, if you want to live a wonderful life. “Grown Ass Woman” is Lewis’ ultimate declaration that she’s the real deal and has everything she needs, on stage or off. The second half of this CD’s songs are written by Stephen Bramer but Sharon is still in charge as the guitar follows her lines on “Don’t Try To Judge Me.” The easy stroll of “Walk With Me” has the baritone purring as the guitar and piano brighten to near smooth jazz but Sharon’s strong, assured vocals keep it centered. “Call Home” has the light breezy touch of a top 40 R&B from the ‘60’s, the airy horns and guitar counterpoint Sharon’s vocals. Bramer’s guitar is showcased on the classic-sounding “Home Free Blues” and Joanna Connor’s guitar rings the siren calls to “Freedom” because you’re not free till we’re all free. Sugar Blue closes the originals as Sharon says she’s a full-grown woman and won’t stand for no “High Road” excuses. Finishing with two covers, “Why I Sing The Blues” really showcases how good Lewis and her band are by pitting them against B. B. King and Warren Haynes’ “Soul Shine,” bringing forth another side of Sharon to shine.
With this new CD “Grown Ass Woman” Sharon Lewis proves she ain’t no blues diva but a real down home blues chanteuse.—Roger & Margaret White

The Art Of The Blues
By Bill Dahl
University of Chicago Press

An absorbing, coffee-table sized visual assessment of black music’s golden age relayed through music journalist Bill Dahl’s informative commentary alongside a graphically marvelous array of posters, album covers and assorted media advertisements that have artfully shaped the idiom’s identity over the course of the past century. Beginning with colorful sheet music folio covers from the early twenties, Dahl and alert “art consultant” Chris James move on through always-vivid “race” record media advertisements to eye-catching 78 rpm label designs for concerns both big (Columbia, Victor, Vocalion, Bluebird, Okeh) and small (King, Dootoo, Fire, Sears Roebuck’s Conqueror, Variety, Rhumboogie, Modern) and a host of others. In addition, special attention is justifiably accorded to William Alexander’s humorous label cartoons on many of Roy Milton’s postwar Miltone offerings as well as to the arresting series of portrait covers that the mysterious Fazzio created for the Crown budget LP label and to celebrated Playboy magazine photographer Don Bronstein’s work for Chess Records, where he “raised the bar” for blues LP jackets with his penetrating head-shot cover of Little Walter for his debut album, Sonny Boy Williamson’s skid-row Down and Out photo shot and Howlin’ Wolf’s descriptive Moanin’ At Midnight cover, among many others. Onto a large collection of concert and movie posters—this is my favorite section with the likes of Bessie Smith, Johnny Otis, Count Basie, Lena Horne, Otis Rush and on an on—all lavishly reproduced. More than 350 color images in all. Well worth the tab.—Gary von Tersch

Boogie Stomp
Bang Bang Video

Blues has all kinds of Boogie, but when you’re talking ‘bout Boogie Woogie you know it’s all about that fleet fingered piano man with a heavy left hand knocking out the rhythm. Occasionally you’ll find a band with a piano player that can play a song or two but the days of boogie woogie masters filling a room with sound from a battered upright box all night long and never playing the same song twice may be coming to a close if not gone already. The DVD “Boogie Stomp” is a last chance to capture that spark of primal improvisation while it’s still here. The genesis behind this project was Bob Baldori, a musician who started his career in the ‘60s playing in a rock n roll band, having hits on the charts and becoming Chuck Berry’s band of choice for his mid west tours, discovering Bob Seeley in his own home town. Baldori had become an accomplished Boogie Woogie player but upon hearing Seeley he knew he’d found a master. Bob Seeley had made a comfortable, unassuming life for himself working thirty-three years playing nightly to small but appreciative crowds in a piano bar inside an upscale seafood restaurant, Charley’s Crab. But Seeley is literally the last living link to Boogie Woogie originators like Mead Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, who he saw play, learned from and called friends in the ‘30’s and ‘40’s. With Seeley at 88 years like the 88 keys he’s mastered, he likes to call himself the last man standing in Boogie Woogie.
Bob Baldori wrote, directed and presented the historical narrative, interviewing musical historians on the origins of jazz and its evolution of this barrel house sound, photos of the originators of the music and footage of jitterbug dancers give weight to this documentary but it’s the interactions between these two lifelong musicians as they perform their dueling piano stomp that’s the core of this disc. Together they traveled with a film crew in tow holding concerts in Toronto, New York and then on to Russia, performing to appreciative audiences in an attempt to revive interest in this exciting art form. Disbursed among the great piano performances they run into many obstacles along the way with behind the scene pressures and frustrations between the dueling goals over success and fame and the wall of frustration they encountered trying to convince agents and promoters that age shouldn’t matter.—Roger & Margaret White

I Am the Blues

In 1979, when this film’s maker, Daniel Cross, came to meet a whole host of blues characters touring in a Winnebago in his native Canada – it had helped instill a love and respect for the art form and the artists. Jump ahead 40-some odd years later and Mr. Cross, with The Ponderosa Stomp’s Dr. Ike helping facilitate the proceedings as he did with that earlier Canadian road trip, spends portions of three years being a fly on the wall at various juke joints, clubs and halls to capture a small slice of blues life in southern small towns when some of the Delta’s better known native-born sons and daughters get together to play and reminisce.
For those who know some or all of these living (and now some sadly departed) legends, this film will take you right to the environment that helped shape their lives – the Louisiana and Mississippi towns that gave birth to the blues as we know it and where you can still find authentic practitioners of this, as the movie sadly points out, dying art form. To the citified outsider, the gathering places chosen might not seem the most appealing of locales to spend more than a day as a curiosity or as part of a blues pilgrimage – yet it may also offer a glimpse into how these environs may well have inspired a musician with career aspirations to seek out greener pastures in Chicago, New Orleans – somewhere other than ‘here.’ So for some this is a homecoming – while for others, it’s opening their door for returning friends.
Watching the interaction between artists, both musical and conversational, makes for a relaxing 1:46 – and if the film causes the uninitiated to seek out the specific artists or the blues in general – or if it lights a fire in the rest of us to head back down to where it all began – then this fine little documentary will have done the world a service.
The film was released internationally in 2015 but is currently in its American theatrical release – I caught its NYC premier at the Quad Cinema where it will have a limited run, with other screenings set to take place across the country - so please check out for details on how you too can enjoy this little Delta delight.– Guy Powell


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