John’s Blues Picks
October 2010 – Vol. 26. No 10 (download issue)
Mel Brown Love, Lost And Found Electro-Fi/Outside
His emphysema was making the recording of a full new CD impossible, so Mel Brown & Electro-Fi planned to include a retrospective overview. Assistance came from an unexpected quarter: Mel had recorded five LPs for Impulse Records in the late ’60’s and they have been major collector’s items ever since. What was not commonly known was that he had begun recording a sixth, in 1972. Producer Ed Michel recently discovered the tapes and kindly sent them along. These four songs bring what would have been a late career overview full circle. There is no need to expound on his career since moving here, his own CDs and his work backing such blues stars as Snooky Pryor, Finis Tasby & Sam Myers are among the centrepieces of any blues collection. That there are songs of this quality not used on those discs is surely an indication of how creative these sessions were. These three sources then provide the material for this beautifully sequenced & fitting last chapter. That eye-catching title is also the title of the opening song, the kind of unassumingly virtuosic guitar instrumental that Mel excelled at. This one is a new recording. “My Baby Wants To Boogie” rocks things up with Snooky in fine form on vocals & harmonica. “You Were Wrong, Pretty Woman” is the first of two featuring Mel singing from the piano. He is in fine voice indeed. “Red Wine and Moonshine” is from the Finis Tasby sessions, a most enjoyable two-guitar workout with Enrico Crivellaro. “Little Girl From Maine” is a Robert Lockwood tune from the Sam Myers sessions, another opportunity to share those deep Delta roots. “Pattern B” is the first of the Impulse recordings. Mel decided these needed more work and he added some guitar and, indeed, a vocal from Miss Angel, whose “Blues In The Alley” is a delight. Snooky’s back on harmonica & vocals next for “Feel Like Jumping”. “Come Back Baby” is the other Mel Brown at the piano song, at a slower tempo than the other one and equally effective. These were studio warm up recordings and many thanks go to Alec Fraser for having the presence of mind to hit the record button! Two more Impulse instrumentals from The Great Lost Mel Brown Album are up next, “Slow Moan” & “Under The Counter Blues”. The album closer is a slow grinding take on “Hoochie Coochie Man”. Check out the full story on this CD at www.electrofi.com and then put in your order.
Kellylee Evans Nina Plus Loin Music/Harmonia Mundi/SRI
By her own admission, she came to Nina Simone‘s music late. That was her parents’ music. Perhaps this element of distance made it easier to put her own stamp on the songs. The French record label Plus Loin Music heard her sing on her MySpace site and were so impressed they wanted her to do an album of standards for them. The Ottawa native had already recorded Fight Or Flight, a successful blend of jazz & soul, including an excellent original blues, “I Don’t Think I Want To Know”. The next CD, The Good Girl, was for me a less successful attempt at contemporary R&B. She was rewarded with a JUNO nomination. Evans agreed and decided on this tribute disc. While Simone’s CDs are always filed in jazz, her repertoire has been impossible to pigeonhole and Evans’ decision seems perfectly natural. She chose a mix of songs, including the biggest pop hit, “I Loves You Porgy” from Gershwin‘s opera Porgy & Bess, “Ain’t Got No/I Got Life” from the musical Hair, and “Ne Me Quitte Pas” by Jacques Brel but my favourites are “Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood”, which just might make you forget the Animals‘ version, and “Sinnerman” which gets a riveting electric treatment. As the trailblazer for Evans’ eclectic career path, Simone’s influence would always be there. This CD allows her to show what her talent, creativity and that distinctive voice could do. It’ll be interesting to see which songs she performs at The Women’s Blues revue on November 27th. Her backing musicians deserve to be credited for their stellar work. Marvin Sewell is perhaps the bluesiest of the new jazz guitarists, as you can hear on discs by Cassandra Wilson, Jason Moran and on Fight Or Flight. Francois Moutin & Andre Ceccarelli, on bass & drums respectively are veteran French players.
Johnny Max Band It’s A Long Road Pour Soul
The progression of the Johnny Max Band‘s albums has been quite remarkable. The lineup behind him changes while the trajectory continues upward. The band here gets full co-credits on production and songwriting, so, behind the bandleader are: Vince Maccarone on drums, Wayne Deadder on bass, John Findlay on guitar and Jesse O’Brien on keyboards. There’s a fine horn section, background singers and a percussionist to round out this ambitious effort. This ensemble has taken Johnny Max’s trademark rocking soul blues to another level altogether. The opening “Daddy’s Little Girl” has my vote for the A side of the first single. It’s a powerful rocker with a New Orleans flavour about the high cost of love. Johnny’s vocal is spot on, with sterling piano, slide guitar and wonderful horns. Johnny’s comments during the trumpet & trombone solos are a treat. He could do more of that, unleashing his wicked sense of humour. Many other songs here are almost as good: “One Day”, especially. “She Don’t Love Me Anymore” adds a bluesy change of pace as does the faster “Too Many Fish”. A couple of them have a little more to say, with “Song Of New York”, credited to Wayne Deadder alone, being a biting commentary about a visit to that city. “It’s A Long Road” may not fill the dance floor either but it is a highly listenable piece of advice. The concluding, somewhat longer “You Tell Me” continues in the same vein of social commentary, providing the band members with ample opportunity for imaginative contributions. These aren’t the kind of songs that one associates with Johnny and he handles the new vocal demands very well indeed. Full marks throughout to the arrangements, and to tenorman Johnny Johnson for the horn charts. This CD should have been available already but manufacturing delays have held things up. Go to www.johnnymaxband.com to find out the latest news and to get your copy if you can’t get to the live shows.
Brian Cober Real Far Gone Self
Double slide meister Brian Cober has been absent from the recording scene since Double Slide, The Nationals‘ 1998 release. The reason for this was the illness and passing of Paul McNamara, the founding bassist of the trio. When not touring, Cober hasn’t strayed far from his beloved Kensington Market, however, and he still hosts the Sunday Night Jam at the venerable Grossman’s Tavern. It’s one of the longest running gigs around town. For the first album under his own name he went to producer Alec Fraser and it features a singularly good set of original songs. He still keeps the trio format, with Bill Hedefine continuing on drums and Justin Snikkar the new bassist. Lance Anderson guests on keys. Like all good songwriters, he knows how to capture a moment. He has played, and busked, in New Orleans, “Goin’ To New Orleans” urges you to go & have fun. “Sweet As Honey” is a tender love song with Anderson on organ and Laura Hubert & Sheryl Lindsay on background vocals. “Don’t Tell Me About The Blues” reflects with some bitterness on a hard life of playing the blues in Toronto. It features his double slide playing and is apparently a hit on You Tube. “No Pain No Limit” is a delight, a cleverly written call to get up & do something, anything. “I-52” is a slide-driven road song, with a somewhat unusual melody. “Believin’ in the Power of the Lord” quite stands out here as it is a full bore gospel song. He calls it Sister Rosetta Tharpe meets Elmore James. “Don’t Wake” is for Paul McNamara and the album is dedicated to him. Find out more at www.briancober.com.
Chris Antonik Chris Antonik Self
Chris Antonik is a young man in a hurry – no multi-year stints as a sideman working in the trenches wanted. He has worked with Mark “Bird” Stafford and here he is with an excellent & attractive self-titled, self-produced first CD. He’s a fine guitarist whose major influences are Freddie King & Eric Clapton but he’s not happy with his vocals yet, so Stafford and Josh Williams of the Fat Cats handle those, although he does make his vocal debut here. He’s written most of the songs here and shows he has a knack for contemporary blues styles. “Roll With It” features Antonik on dobro and is a welcome indication that not everything has to be turned up to 11. “The King Of Infidelity” is a major effort, a song that Mr. Clapton would welcome on one his albums. Suzie Vinnick is featured on background vocals. A more traditional blues form is used for “If We Start from Here”. Mark Stafford does a fine job on vocals & harp. Producer Antonik does his own fine job on the horn arrangement. His nod to Freddy King is his version of “She’s A Burglar”, a Jerry Ragovoy tune featured on one of King’s last albums. And an excellent version it is, with Williams on vocals and the horns in full flight. Antonik’s vocal debut comes on Otis Rush‘s “Double Trouble” and he was probably right to delegate the other vocals. There is promise there, though, and I would not be surprised if he did much more of the singing on the next album. All in all a most welcome debut CD. You can find out more at his MySpace page – www.myspace.com/chrisantonik.
Terry Gillespie Big Money TEKA
Ottawa’s Terry Gillespie has been called ‘Canada’s King of Roots Music” and a Canadian blues legend. He has led a fairly low-key life in the nation’s capitol but is credited with launching Sue Foley‘s career and many others during his forty years as the linchpin of Ottawa’s music scene. “Big Money” is his eighth album in that time and it’s based heavily on grooves. Gillespie plays the guitars with Terry Owens on saxes along with, mostly, Vitas Paukstaitis on bass & Wayne Stoute on drums. Live, this incredibly tight band does quite a lot of reggae and it shows all the way through.
The grooves are very infectious and sound like they could go on for much longer than their three minutes allowed on the disc. The opener, “Soul On Fire”, is an original that concerns a returning soldier. “Big Money” is ‘a light hearted spoof at the music industry’. Peter Measroch, his fellow member of the Granary Blues Band, joins in on keyboards on “Legendary Life”. The groove for “Jones” is a John Lee Hooker-derived one and the vocal comes back to the returned soldier theme, only this time it’s under a flag. Gillespie was a major helping hand during the preparation of the He Said She Said project by Peter Karp & Sue Foley and they returned the favour by helping out on singing on “Scared”, one of their songs.
The disc concludes with a bonus track, a live version of Willie Cobb‘s “You Don’t Love Me”. It features Ottawa guitarist Vince Halfhide on the other guitar. The very informative web site is www.terrygillespie.ca.
– John Valenteyn