John’s Blues Picks
February 2011 – Vol. 27. No 2 (download issue)
Carlos del Junco Mongrel Mash Big Reed
A Man Called Wrycraft has extended his artwork concept for 2001’s Blues Mongrel for Mongrel Mash. The new image reflects that even more styles have joined the mash over the past ten years. 1998’s Big Boy launched a sophisticated, blues-based improvisational style that Carlos has explored ever since. The components this time out are Carlos del Junco’s diatonic harmonica, Kevin Breit’s guitars, Henry Heillig’s jazz bass, Jorn Andersen’s drumming and Denis Keldie’s organ. Carlos’ pioneering ‘over-blowing’ technique allows him to reach notes that would normally only be available on a chromatic harmonica, a territory held by such players as Larry Adler or The Harmonicats, neither known for their blues. Being able to stay on the diatonic kept that blues sound. Kevin Breit’s ‘always outside the box’ guitar playing has graced many CDs but in this context he is truly inspired. Heillig, Andersen & Keldie have proven over the years that they thrive in this setting. Breit contributed the stop-time filled opener, “The Crazy Bastard”, billed as a ‘rollicking swamp groove’ and it certainly is that. Carlos came up with “My Favourite Uncle”, which adds New Orleans, ska and Hawaiian to this mongrel mash. He credits colleague Roly Platt for the inspiration for a new version of “Mojo” but I don’t think Muddy envisioned it quite this way. The harp solo is a jaw dropper. “Heddon Tadpolly Spook”, from Big Boy, is one of three songs that have evolved so far in live performance that Carlos thought they should be re-recorded. That first appearance seems like a tentative beginning in comparison. “The Field” & “Mariachi” were originally on the latin-flavoured up & at ‘em from 2001, so that sound was already in the mix. Carlos seems to enjoy putting a ringer on every disc and here it’s a Herb Alpert tune. Suggested by Fraser Finlayson, it’s a further reminder that, stripped of its context, any song can surprise. Carlos bills “A Fool’s Alibi” as ‘T-Bone meets Monk’, adapted from the T-Bone song. The connection is most evident in Carlos’ vocal. The last song is a fun updating of the fast car song only this time it’s how fast my laptop is. The tune is based on “Rocket 88” and it’s a rocking good way to end the disc. As before, Carlos supplies the key and the harp position for each song. www.carlosdeljunco.com has lots more info and given that he’s away on tour for quite a while, it may be the surest way to get your copy. I hope he stays on this road for a long time.
Nicole Christian Run, Rabbit Run Self
‘Nicole Christian is a little roots, a little country and a whole lot bottle-neck blues.’ So she says in her press kit and so it is. Christian is a newcomer to town, moving here from Rochester to study and if you’ve heard of her it’s because one of her songs generated some press recently. She set to music, and completed, some lyrics that the horror novelist Stephen King wrote for a blues singer who appears in his book Bag O’ Bones. Christian is an avid King reader and when Mr. King approved of her setting, said that she should get the first credit and didn’t want any fee, Christian was ecstatic & “Barn Dance” was launched. It is by no means the only good song here. Right from “Weary Bones” to “Would It Be Enough”, her literate lyrics capture the listener. Some of the songs are on the long side but she knows how to tell a story and the lyrics are thoughtfully provided. Her Caravan is ten strong but never overwhelming, carefully arranged for maximum variety. The overall sound is acoustic and Christian & producer/engineer Mitch Girio deserve a lot of credit. Her use of various percussion instruments is especially noteworthy & Ed Bernard’s violin brightens every song in which it appears. Of all those members, only slide guitarist Alfie Smith has been mentioned in this column. I always enjoy adding new members to the community. Her web site is www.myspace.com/torontonicole and it shows a couple of gigs coming up and how you can acquire your copy of this delightful disc.
Kat Danser Passin’-A-Time KD/Outside
Kat Danser is a veteran performer & ethnomusicologist from Edmonton whose first performance in Toronto was at the Blues Summit. Her last CD, Something Familiar, I thought was primarily a folk disc. This one is primarily a blues one. She credits several trips to the Mississippi Delta for that and we should be thankful she has aimed her considerable talents this way. She stayed with friends in rural Mississippi and played with many of the musicians there. The songs she took home with her combine those experiences and her Prairie roots for an important CD. She performed these songs at the Summit solo but for the CD made a wise choice by assembling a band. Perhaps in response to Little Miss Higgins’ “Tractor Song”, she opens with her own, “Little Allis”. It’s a rocker with some searing slide guitar. “Glory Glory Hallelujah” is only slightly less rocking – it’s a biting commentary on inequality that need not only be about the South. In “Mista Preacherman” the narrator is the victim of sexual abuse. “No One Can Stop The Clock From Tickin’” is about approaching death and the last verse deals with a mighty wind. The band does an absolutely stunning job as the wind. In the long, slow blues “Passin’-A-Time”, a child is given a bit of money & told to stay near the car while Dad goes into the tavern. The child has plenty of time for dreaming, and for learning about the blues. “Bird ‘n Bees Me” is a straight forward rocking closer, a ‘looking for love’ song that utilizes the full band. It’s a little lighter in subject matter on what is otherwise pretty heavy duty listening and an excellent way to end the disc. Her web site is www.KatDanser.com and I hope she can bring this band with her next times she comes.
The 24th Street Wailers Dirty Little Young ‘uns Self
The winners of last summer’s Talent Search were very much in evidence at the Blues Summit and not just at their own showcase. Their youthful enthusiasm carried them, and us, through the weekend. The band name is their home street in Etobicoke and they are: Mike Archer, bass; Lindsay Beaver, drums & lead vocals, Emily Burgess, electric guitar & Jon Wong, saxophone, all recent graduates of the Humber College music program. They weren’t just showcasing for the assembled delegates either, they were releasing a new CD with all new original material; the EP from last spring is not included. Their special guest on piano & organ was Lance Anderson. Lindsay Beaver is an excellent drummer, as those of you at the Women’s Blues Revue will attest. Emily Burgess just plays everything that’s needed, a quality not shared by all guitarists. Mike Archer is solid on bass and keeps the energy level high, with help from Jon Wong whose sax excursions into the audience remind one of Clarence Clemons. Beaver’s vocals need more attention, though. I generally enjoy live off the floor sessions but in this case perhaps the vocals could have been added later. There is a chemistry at work here that should be encouraged. The songs cover a variety of styles, from the raunchy shuffle of the opening title song to the acoustic closer. The goodtime feel of much of the CD is tempered by the two songs dedicated to Archer’s brother, who passed away last year. One might have hoped that such subject matter might have waited for a few years. The official launch is Feb 3 at the Gladstone Hotel. Their web site is www.the24thstreetwailers.com
Brian Blain New Folk Blues Self
First off, Brian Blain is my Editor here, so I’d better be nice. Fortunately that’s very easy to do. Brian is also capitalizing his computer literacy. This production will also be available with the long introductions to each of the songs as part of the online version. He plans on adding overdubs later as well. His son Joel is a professional DJ and so one of the songs will appear as a ‘mash up’, complete with beats & loops. Many of the songs are also on YouTube. Brian calls it a ‘living CD’. The basic material is, however, a traditional, acoustic nine-song live performance with Brian accompanying himself on guitar and bass legend George Koller helping out. This part was done at Reba’s Café and Gallery in Toronto in October. Brian tends to stay away from the normal fare of blues songwriting, being a natural storyteller. He opens with a story about his former record company: “The Day Coke Saved The Blues” tells how placing a song in a Coke commercial kept the company afloat. He refrains from mentioning that it didn’t save his own contract. ”The Old Whaler’s Confession” starts with some wonderfully evocative whale sounds from Koller’s bowed bass, an extended version of which is also promised. The song takes us to New England and the days before its whaling industry decimated the whale population. His visits to New England also include visiting Alice, of “Alice’s Restaurant” fame which in turn led to “Another Song About Alice”. His early days growing up in the Eastern Townships of Quebec are lovingly recalled in the setting of a poem by Daniel Racine, “Ramene Moi Demain”. “Don’t Blame The Bass Player” was improvised at the recording, a sample of the way he runs his monthly “Campfires”, now held at The Gladstone Hotel. He also had the opportunity to jam with Lenny Breau, chronicled in “The Last Time I Saw Lenny”. If you’ve been to his Campfires, you know how accessible & interactive Brian makes them. Now you can do that virtually. Go to www.brianblain.ca and join in.
– John Valenteyn