John’s Blues Picks
Multiple Maple Blues Award winning vocalist Suzie Vinnick’s latest project is a (mostly) solo acoustic blues album. Mabel is her Larrivée acoustic guitar and those of you who still think of Suzie as primarily a singer will be pleasantly surprised at her facility with Mabel. This is her fourth solo disc, with a rather larger group of collaborative efforts rounding out her discography. She is also an A-list recording session vocalist. Some of her collaborators help out here as well. The generous program consists of songs she & Mabel love to play. These include some favourites by others plus a selection of her own compositions from those preceding discs. Hearing her in such an unadorned setting is the perfect way to appreciate that award-winning voice. It also allows us to focus on her songs. “Sometimes I Think I Can Fly”, for instance, is from The Marigolds Juno-nominated That’s The State I’m In. The solo acoustic version gives it another perspective. The delightful “The Honey I Want” was a joint contribution to a Betty & The Bobs disc in 2005. That version is also on the TBS 20th Anniversary set. Here she’s joined by Roly Platt on harmonica – an excellent way of being reminded about a very good tune. “Get Some” is a solid blues co-written with Rita Chiarelli. “Oreo Cookie Blues” is a Lonnie Mack song she’s been performing since her first CD, Angel In The Sidelines from 1994 where it was done with a full band. This solo acoustic version benefits enormously from that performing history and she nails the guitar solo. Bo Diddley’s “I Can Tell” gets guitar support from Tony D. Roy Forbes’ “Crazy ‘Bout Lovin’ Me” features Rick Fines. Slim Harpo’s “Queen Bee”, Bob Dylan’s “Quit Your Lowdown Ways” and Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine”, written for Howlin’ Wolf are also highlights on this stunning disc. Performing live, she adds song histories and stories that add immeasurably to the show and you can hear them and the songs at Hugh’s Room on April 23.
Sunday Wilde, aka Ange Sponchia, hails from Atikokan and is a mean barrelhouse piano player. She also writes good songs and sings them in a brash, confident style. Several of the songs here revel in the theme of the title, with the opener, “That Man Drives Me Mad”, “Show Me A Man”, “Manning Street Sweet Talker” & “I Can’t Shake That Guy” being fine new examples of a theme with a long history. It’s not all she does though, with “Sunday’s Midnight Blues” being a slow, jazzy & quite original composition on that subject. “My Baby’s Dead” is perhaps the most unusual song, done in a gypsy style and at a nightmare clip. Bessie Smith’s “Sorrowful Blues” is the only cover, and she adapts that to her style very nicely. Ronnie Hayward provides imaginative support on acoustic bass and David West contributes assertively on various guitars. The result transcends mere accompaniment, making for a very lively disc indeed. Her web site has audio samples and much more: www.myspace.com/renojacksundaywilde.
Fred McDowell was perhaps the greatest bluesman discovered in the post war period. Many of the greats were re-discovered then and some even came close to achieving the level of their early years. But Lomax’s 1959 field recordings revealed a master. For Rory Block’s fourth edition in her Mentor Series she acknowledges a bluesman who made a great impression on her when, as a fifteen year old guitar student, she met him in California. As she says in her informative liner notes, she began the project with learning to play each song exactly as he did and that as she did so, various new directions unfolded. She ended up adding chords to his songs and writing four new songs based on elements of his music, songs that are about McDowell instead of versions of his songs. It may be heresy to say so but McDowell did not have a lot of variety in his music. This did not matter to the dancers in Como, MS but yet another CD of his songs would not have satisfied many of those of us more used to recorded entertainment, a different setting entirely. Block’s creativity not only surmounted that problem, it aided immeasurably in paying tribute to the man. She also decided to stick to acoustic slide guitars and uses guitar overdubs freely. The CD opens with her most adventurous creation: “Steady Freddie” uses his own words, in the first person. “Mississippi Man” is a bit of a reversal, with Block singing about that meeting with McDowell. This song is a free download at www.stonyplainrecords.com. “Kokomo Blues” is the first song then that is a McDowell song and her version is most definitely not a literal one – as she mentions, that one is in our heads anyway. “Good Morning Little School Girl” is gender switched and her explanation for doing the song is on the mark. “Shake ‘Em On Down” is perhaps McDowell’s most famous song & Block does not disappoint. Her version is closer to McDowell’s except for the use of a choir, a technique she used on earlier albums in the series. Her use of overdubbed guitar parts is often mesmerizing. McDowell’s was more direct, often doubling the vocal line. “Ancestral Home” is another original, this time McDowell’s music brought forth memories of listening to an African song as a child, the partially remembered words defied research, so she just incorporated them. “The Breadline” uses McDowell’s music to bring us right into the present with strong lyrics about the current Great Recession. She has also written an eBook, an autobiography called ‘When A Woman Gets The Blues’ which is only available at her web site. There’s a chapter for each of the bluesmen in her Mentor Series, twelve in total, that she hopes to make available as a CD box set. This chapter is a remarkably ambitious and successful disc, the project should be quite an achievement when it’s complete. Her web site is www.roryblock.com.
This Detroit bluesman had just released his last Electro-Fi CD, If All You Have Is A Hammer, and was touring to support it, with his band on the disc, Jack de Keyzer, Alec Fraser & Al Cross. Mr. Shah is a bluesman who creates on the spot, no song is ever repeated, no rehearsal is necessary or even possible – a perfect candidate for a live recording. James Doran’s Blues Series at The Cove in Smith Falls has been a blues hot spot for years, his venue and his audience making it a perfect setting. The band certainly knew what to expect by now and the result is a very superior live album. Needless to say, no songs from that last CD are here, but you do get an hour’s worth of exceptional new blues. The opener, “Who’s The Fool”, finds him in Snooky Pryor mode. “Mrs. Obama’s Boogie” is a John Lee Hooker boogie, it’s a fantastic groove by the band and I guess he wanted to leave it as that, as his words don’t rise above the obvious, the title notwithstanding. “Woman, I Want You To Love Me” is pure Muddy Waters, with Jack switching to slide and seeming to lead Shah in his improvisations – it’s no accident his name is featured on the cover. “Poor Boy” is his set of variations on that traditional song, with another stunning solo from Jack. After that solo, it becomes “Good Morning Little School Girl”, with more new words. “Blues From A Lonesome Dirty Mountain” has him pining for his home in the Lowlands. “Working Life Blues” lists his jobs over a chugging groove, with the telling line that throughout, the Blues has been his only friend. The press release says ‘Grab hold and hang on tight’ and you can do that right away, the CD should be available now at www.electrofi.com and in stores soon.
He was based in Los Angeles and the downhome blues scene there was overshadowed by some of the more musically sophisticated varieties but for a number of young harp players his house was the place to be. You know their names much better: Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza & William Clarke, to name a few. They all hung out with the former Muddy Waters harp man and learned all they could. In terms of recording, he put out some now-rare LPs but more interestingly, a steady stream of 45s, most of which are available on CD, but of course not in one place. Thanks to Electro-Fi recording artist & harpmeister Mark Hummel, Doug McLeod, Buddy Reed & Mrs. Smith, we now have this previously unreleased concert recording adding mightily to the slim discography. The backing band is Buddy Reed & the Rocket 88s, who are otherwise unknown to me save that Reed was a member of Bacon Fat, a band that featured a young Rod Piazza and backed Smith on a couple of those LPs. Reed is an excellent guitar player and obviously has lots of experience backing Smith. The rhythm section, Jerry Smith on bass & Roger Rotote on drums, is most sympathetic. The recording is not audiophile quality but is more than acceptable for a club recording, done at Chuy’s in Tempe AZ in 1983, only a few months before Smith passed. The title song is from one of those 45s, with Smith on chromatic harp, on which he had few peers. This masterpiece of a slow blues also shows what a marvelous blues singer he was. His rapport with the audience is immediate. “Love That Woman” introduces Bullet Bill Tarsha on second, diatonic harp on another excellent slow blues. Smith takes his time too on a stunning “Key To The Highway”. His time with Muddy is represented with “I’m A Man” (“Mannish Boy”). Little Walter’s “Crazy ‘Bout You Baby”, Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” & “Juke” bring up the tempos nicely. “Big Boss Man” in particular features gorgeous harp solos from Tarsha & Smith. In contrast to the opening songs, St. Louis Jimmy’s “Goin’ Down Slow” is taken at a positively jaunty clip – no sign of poor health here. It features (short) bass & drum solos as well. “Woke Up This Mornin’” does slow things down though. Tarsha & Smith both solo here and they go out together also with “Harp Stomp”, a rocking closer if there ever was one. Lovers of blues harp will treasure this one.