John’s Blues Picks
September 2010 – Vol. 26. No 9 (download issue)
JW-Jones Band Midnight Memphis Sun NorthernBlues/Outside (In Canada, Ruf Records elsewhere)
JW-Jones continues to receive accolades from around the blues world and his touring schedule should be the envy of every blues act, covering 14 countries & 4 continents so far. He has a rare date in the area at the Burlington Rib Fest on September 4th before heading off on another lengthy European tour. This CD, his 6th, should be a hot item at the side of the stage and a worthy addition to your library as well. He has guests on every one of his CDs and Hubert Sumlin & Charlie Musselwhite are on this one but you quickly get the impression that while he may continue to feature guests, he no longer needs to – he exudes that much confidence & talent. There is a collage of live footage linked at www.jw-jones.com that is proof of that. Midnight Memphis Sun‘s twelve songs include eight originals the first of which, “Off The Market” is a striking analogy of a new relationship to the real estate market. The singer is perhaps too possessive for this relationship to last, especially in the eyes (& ears) of the reviewer for the Globe & Mail, but you can decide for yourself. “Kissin’ In Memphis” is another well-written new one, a mid tempo tale of his time in that history-laden town during the recording sessions at the legendary Sun Studio. Musselwhite adds some delicious harmonica & JW-Jones an inventive guitar solo. Among the non-originals, he does a fine job of Jimmy Reed, Lowell Fulson and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee but perhaps more interestingly, a bluesy take on Bryan Adams‘ “Cuts Like A Knife”, with fine organ work from Jesse Whiteley. “Born Operator” is a JW-Jones original, written in the style of Magic Sam and serves as the first of four appearances for Sumlin. The operator in question is Bernie Madoff, the perpetrator of that massive Ponzi scheme. Another feature, “Howlin’ With Hubert” gives both guitar players a solid traditional vehicle for soloing. These are just a few of the highlights. The guitar prowess praised by Guitar World magazine shines through on every song. The blues is in safe hands here.
Ken Whiteley Another Day’s Journey Borealis/Universal
The artwork with Ken Whiteley‘s new CD includes a convincing map that compresses the famous music centres in the USA along with some of the centres here that figure on the CD. It looks like you can travel it in a day but it’s also intended to reflect Ken’s life in music. He certainly draws on a lifetime’s worth of memories. “Another Day’s Journey” is also the opening song, learned from Bessie Jones & the Georgia Sea Island Singers who he saw at Mariposa over 40 years ago. The arrangement is one that evokes Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee at their most joyous, even to the whoops. Guy Davis guests on guitar & vocals. Almost every song here is a new composition, using a career memory as its starting point and a friend/guest performer to assist. The result is a set of songs that looks forward and backward in equal measure. “Language Of Love” builds on classic blues of the ‘20’s and Maria Muldaur is the perfect collaborator, as she is for “Mike And Mary”, a new song that draws on their early jug band days and The Original Sloth Band. Guy Davis’ suggestion to re-work “Motherless Children” is another highlight, using Blind Willie McTell‘s twelve string slide version as its foundation. “Too Much Trouble” is another new one that features a gorgeous melody for a third Davis joint effort. “I Want To Be Happy” is from the late Jackie Washington‘s huge repertoire and a delightful tribute. Special mention should be made for Chuck Campbell‘s contributions on his “Sacred Steel” lap guitar playing and to Chris Whiteley‘s harmonica work, especially on “Old Wind Blow”. Bucky Berger on drums and Ben Whiteley on bass provide sterling support throughout. With such a rich career to draw on this can serve as a template for innumerable albums. The CD launch is at Hugh’s Room on October 1st.
Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne/Julian Fauth/Bobby Dean Blackburn/Curley Bridges Blues Piano – Rama Electro-Fi/Outside
That Electro-Fi does things differently may not be news but to have so many piano players on the roster when most labels concentrate on guitar players is unique. Putting them in one room with the tapes rolling (figuratively speaking) was a masterstroke. The room was in the newly renovated Gladstone Hotel last October and Bobby Dean Blackburn just had to make a comment, having played there when it was far less attractive. It was obviously a warm & friendly room filled with an appreciative audience that witnessed a great show, one that engineer Tom Jardin and producers Andrew Galloway & Alec Fraser captured most beautifully. Blues piano almost automatically brings to mind boogie woogie and Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne does not disappoint, opening with his new “Boogie Woogie Showdown”. Blackburn seamlessly blends Jimmy Smith‘s “Back To The Chicken Shack” with Ruth Brown‘s “24 Hours A Day”. He’s then joined by Julian Fauth at the other piano for a seemingly improvised “All Night Long”. Fauth flies solo next and introduces some seriousness into the proceedings with his stunning new “Blues For Mel Brown”. In 6:44, he tells us of Mel’s history & accomplishments with telling sincerity. It’s a masterpiece and a fitting reminder that Mel Brown‘s last CD will be released very soon. Wayne debuts another fine new one, “I Took The Wrong Road” before relinquishing the piano chair(s) to Fauth & Curley Bridges, who begin with Fauth singing “The Blues Ain’t Nothing” before Bridges segues into “Hey Little Girl”. Bridges carries on alone with a fine version of “Rock Me Baby” before Fauth resumes with a very effective warning about wife abuse, “Sorry Don’t Cut No Ice”, its jaunty Bluebird beat in stark contrast to its subject matter. Bridges comes back (on the CD) with “You’re The One”. “Loved And Lost” is a new slow blues by Fauth, telling the story of a woman whose love is a chronic substance abuser. Wayne gets the closer to this generous concert with the rocking “Something’s Going On In My Room”. The rhythm section of Chris Whiteley on guitar, Victor Bateman on bass and Bucky Berger on drums take everything in stride. Whiteley also plays trumpet & harmonica when needed.
Rockit 88 Band Sweet Sugar Cane 7 Arts
Bill King is justly known for his work in jazz, R&B & blues but he grew up listening to all kinds of music. That history is reflected this time out. The songs cover the whole range of what should simply be described as music of the American South. The Band covered a lot of this territory and that reference should give you some idea of what to expect. Guitarist Neil Chapman‘s own work isn’t especially bluesy but in this context, his four vocals fit right in, especially his “I Never Knew The Blues (Till I Lost You)”. That being said, not only is this a highly listenable CD, there’s a lot here for blues fans to savour. We have to begin with the title song. “Sweet Sugar Cane” by itself would be worth the price of the disc. A soft piano introduction, with some slide guitar and Bill setting a scene that could be from a classic Southern novel. Some cymbal work & Shakura S’Aida becomes the woman on the bed. Words here, though, just aren’t enough, you’ll have to listen for yourself. “Brother, Sister” is a gorgeous new civil rights anthem and much of its gospel fervour carries over into “I Feel Helpless”, a song about a dying relationship that has Shakura S’Aida on board again with a co-lead vocal. “I Can’t Live Without You” and “Independence Day” are highly personal songs delivered with great intensity. A straight-ahead blast of blues closes out the CD with “Mississippi Grind”. Jim Casson and Lionel Williams round out this superlative basic quartet, on drums & bass respectively. The web site is www.reverbnation.com/rockit88band and you can get the mail order information there. Better yet, go to the CD release party at Hugh’s Room on September 21st and get your copy there.
Duke Robillard Passport To The Blues Stony Plain/Warner
The follow-up to Duke Robillard‘s Grammy-nominated Stomp! The Blues Tonight is a much tougher sounding, small group disc. Guitar/keyboards/bass & drums with a honking tenor sax is what we get here and it sure sounds like the band loved doing it. From the opening “Working Hard For My Uncle (Sam)” to the Howlin’ Wolf tribute “Rhode Island Red Rooster” to “Make It Rain”, a song he picked up from the 2006 Tom Waits tour (maybe you didn’t know he squeezed that in!), to “Text Me”, set to to a rocking ‘50’s beat, to the smokey, late night talking “Duke’s Evening Blues”, to the soulful “High Cost of Lovin'”, a song he wrote with the late Doc Pomus in the ‘80’s, to another fine slow “Grey Sky Blues”, a tip of the hat to Buddy Guy, it’s a must have. As if that wasn’t enough, there’s a bonus studio jam, “Bradford Boogie”.
Charlie Musselwhite The Well Alligator/Fontana North/Universal
Now back on Alligator in his forty plus year career, Charlie Musselwhite has turned in one of his most personal albums. It’s sometimes hard to keep in mind when you see one of the most relaxed performers in blues that he has long been fighting alcoholism. He hasn’t had a drink in 22 years but several songs here deal with it for the first time on record. “The Well” concerns a news story of a young girl who fell into a well, breaking her arm. She sang nursery rhymes to herself until she was rescued three days later. Charlie determined that if she could do that, he could stop drinking and he did. The memories continue: his 93-year-old mother was murdered during a break-in in Memphis in 2005 and the powerful “Sad And Beautiful World” here, a duet with Mavis Staples shows the healing power of the blues. Among the tales of a bluesman traveling through the south is a song about a short time spent in “Cook County Jail”. There is a tribute to Sonny Payne, the DJ at KFFA in Helena Arkansas, who has been with King Biscuit Time since Sonny Boy Williamson began broadcasting in 1941. “Hoodoo Queen” deals with the legend of Marie Laveau. There aren’t many things about the blues and the South that he doesn’t know. This CD, with his excellent trio behind him, will give you a 48-minute introduction.
– John Valenteyn