John’s Blues Picks
November 2010 – Vol. 26. No 11 (download issue)
Bob Walsh Inside I Am All Blue Bros/Select
This veteran Montreal blues singer has recorded with string quartets and symphony orchestras but with his tight little band and a mix of original songs, songs by other working bluesmen and the occasional standard, he’s found paydirt. His ninth CD opens with a cooking version of “Never Make Your Move Too Soon”, a song the Crusaders wrote for B.B. King. Eric Bibb’s “World War Blues” is the kind of song Walsh seems to delight in finding, a gem unknown to those who haven’t heard Bibb’s Home To Me CD. Beatrice Markus is normally Michael Jerome Browne’s songwriting partner but she helped Walsh write a masterpiece of a title song. It should be required listening for anyone who hasn’t picked cotton in the Mississippi Delta. Blues Delight is a Montreal blues band that Walsh has recorded with. They supplied a couple of excellent songs in “Slightly Hung Over (You)” and “Nothing Special But The Blues”. Markus & Browne’s “Just Look Up” is one of their best and a tuneful one as well. Less inspirational, perhaps, is their “Cancer Ward Blues” but one of their finest blues. Dale Boyle has won several songwriting awards in Quebec and “Crack In The Pavement” is one reason why. It’s a rocking blues that would make an excellent single. I’m more familiar with Paul Butterfield’s version of Alan Toussaint’s “Get Out Of My Life (Woman)” but this one just might take its place. The one miss-step for me is “Sixteen Tons” which is certainly far more bluesy here than Tennessee Ernie Ford’s original but still sounds out of place in this company. On a CD of highlights, Walsh has, I think, saved his best vocal for Jimi Hendrix‘s “Angel”, a tour de force that’ll have you hitting the repeat button. Jack Lavin wrote a hit for Powder Blues with “What Have I Been Drinking” and it gets done up just fine here. After a marvelous program of rocking blues, we go out with a jazzy Brubeck original, “Travelin’ Blues” which Walsh handles with aplomb. The song arrangements are by keyboards master Jean Fernand Girard, Guy Bélanger is on harp in this superb band, with Christian Martin on guitars, Jean Cyr on bass and Bernard Deslauriers on drums. I, for one, hope that Mr. Walsh continues with this choice of material and I’m sure the songwriters enjoy hearing their work handled by such a world class singer.
Guy Bélanger Crossroads Bros/Select
Mr. Walsh could not possibly want much more from Mr. Bélanger as an ensemble player and that may be because he has an outlet for his own ideas. This is his second solo CD and they both take the harmonica to some unexpected places. A ‘Crossroads’ is a meeting place of various paths but here it’s also the name of the album’s centerpiece song. This is not the Robert Johnson composition but another one that was a hit in Europe for a transplanted Texas country singer named Calvin Russell. Bélanger’s arrangement is so bluesy & personalized, you might not ever guess its origins. Guitarist Gilles Sioui also handles the vocals, as he does for most of the CD. The CD opens with a tribute to the late Norton Buffalo and pays tribute to Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee as well (“Catch That Train” & “Sportin’ Life”). Kim Richardson handles the vocal on another highlight, Keb’ Mo’’s “Don’t Try To Explain”, a wonderful soul blues. A couple of columns ago, I reviewed a CD of Quebec pop stars singing blues and I wondered if Eric Lapointe’s version of the Tom Waits tune “Blue Valentine” would have a life in another context. Well here he is with Lucinda Williams’ song “Blue” and another fine performance, with Bélanger & the band. Bélanger does do one vocal and it’s an Anders Osborne song “Pleasin’ You”. He does a fine job, with Kim Richardson on hand as a whole chorus (a specialty of hers). There are several harmonica instrumentals among the 15-song program including “Jack Of Hearts” which provides a most welcome change of pace after the eight-minute “Crossroads” and “Kamikaze” which features Bélanger on several harmonicas. This is one crossroads you may want to visit. I think you’ll be returning often.
Various Artists The Mississippi Sheiks Tribute Concert Black Hen/Universal DVD
This DVD is intended as a companion to the Tribute CD, Things About Comin’ My Way, from last October. Producer/bandleader Steve Dawson assembled many of the same performers for a live concert in Vancouver this past March, who perform a completely different set of songs than is on the CD. After an introduction consisting of interviews establishing the background and history, the concert DVD begins with Jim Byrnes reading a text written by original Sheik Sam Chatmon while the band quietly plays “Sitting On Top Of The World”. The veteran actor & bluesman knows just what to do here and it is the first of many highlights. Oh Susannah sings “Things About Comin’ My Way” and quite differently than Ndidi Onukwulu’s on the CD. Colin James wasn’t on board for the CD but he is sure on board here with a solid acoustic blues “Keep On Tryin’” with John Hammond guesting on harp. Bob Brozman follows with another, “Church Bell Blues”. Veteran arranger/performer Van Dyke Parks, a Mississippi native he tells us, contributes a rather unusual (for the Sheiks, not for him) “It’s Backfirin’ Now”. This song was also on the CD but by the North Mississippi Allstars, so you get some indication of the musical variety at work here. Daniel Lapp, the Victoria-based virtuoso on fiddle & trumpet is a very important part of this variety. Jim Byrnes’ concert performance here is good time performance of “Tell Me What The Cats Are Fighting About”. Lapp switches to mandolin for Alvin Youngblood Hart’s performance, with Hart on lap steel. “Livin’ In A Strain” is another fine blues. John Hammond’s own chosen song was “Kind Treatment”. There’s probably more blues on this DVD than the Sheiks ever did live. After an old time country “Who’s Been Here” from Dave Alvin & Christy McWilson, the whole cast returns for “Sitting On Top Of The World”. Jeff Bonner’s cameras did a good job of capturing what was clearly a labour of love for everyone. If you have the CD, you need this DVD, if you haven’t – get ’em both! What we need and soon is the eighty some odd Mississippi Sheiks 78s in one box.
Jim Byrnes Everywhere West Black Hen/Universal
This is a blues album with a decidedly modern, Mississippi Sheiks flavour. Jim Byrnes was involved with the Tribute CD, the DVD and the tour and he has kept many of the principal players for this CD. So we have Daniel Lapp on fiddle & trumpet but we also have Steve Dawson on slide guitar to bring it back to the blues that Byrnes grew up with and to the players who mentored him, like Henry Townsend & Furry Lewis. He has included some new tunes along with some newly arranged classics making the result a major blues album. The stripped down, banjo-driven “Yield Not To Temptation” may not remind you immediately of Bobby Bland’s hit but it works. And it leads directly into the Sheiks’ “Bootlegger Blues”. A more straightforward version of Lowell Fulson’s hit “Black Nights” features a massive horn sound. Dawson’s “Walk On” sounds rather like Sonny & Brownie’s but is no less effective for that. Memphis Slim’s “No Mail Blues” is certainly not over done but this acoustic romp is a delight. “Storm Warning” is a very good new Byrnes composition about a couple who foresee trouble in their relationship. The old time jazz version of “From Four Until Late” will really make you sit up. In the liner notes Byrnes reminisces about seeing Jimmy Reed in St. Louis in 1964. He must have arranged for time travel, so realistic is this performance. “Me And Piney Brown” has Byrnes in further reminiscing mode, dreaming of seeing Joe Turner perform this one in Kansas City in 1938. You’ll be reaching for your Joe Turner to play it right afterwards. You are not likely to find a more varied and enthusiastically performed modern blues album any time soon
Buddy Guy Living Proof Silvertone/Jive/Sony
The title works on a number of levels not just on the liquor bottle label artwork. The CD opens with a new song, “74 Years Young”, that focuses our attention on how vital this bluesman still is. Over an acoustic guitar background he boasts of his many accomplishments before unleashing a trademark solo of epic proportions, leaving no doubt that he’s not ready to retire just yet. About half the album reflects this kind of life & career assessment. He’s also considering his mortality, with a couple of gospel songs, something entirely new to his recordings. One of them, “Stay Around A Little Longer” has Guy & B.B. King (85 years young) trading lines, also a first. It’s such an enthusiastic performance they obviously both plan to do just that. The all-new songs are the result of producer/drummer Tom Hambridge interviewing Buddy about various subjects and then transforming the answer into a song. The result is the most autobiographical album in Guy’s career. “Thank Me Someday” has Buddy singing about his homemade two string guitar in rural Louisiana where even his mother was telling him to play more quietly. He refused, saying ‘You’ll thank me someday’. The title song may indeed be the CD’s best song, a testimonial that you can overcome any kind of obstacle, as long as the Lord wishes it. “Where The Blues Begins” is almost as good, with an opening verse that eloquently describes a deteriorating relationship. The guest here is Carlos Santana, whose work is rarely noteworthy for me, but he turns in a most appropriate solo. “Everybody’s Got To Go” is the other gospel effort, with a gorgeous melody and verse about his late brother Phil. The rest of the songs deal with the more usual subject matter of the blues and do so in keeping with the quality of the other songs. “Key Don’t Fit”, “Let The Door Knob Hit Ya”, “Too Soon” & “Guess What” concern relationships that have already deteriorated beyond repair. There is also “On The Road”, which is one of the best ‘road songs’ I’ve heard in a long time. The basic band of rhythm guitar, organ, bass & drums is superlative, with horns & backup singers added when necessary and the recording quality is superb. He may be 74 years young but this is the best Buddy Guy CD yet.
– John Valenteyn