John’s Blues Picks
A more meteoric rise for a new band would be hard to imagine. The buzz had already been building but after their third place finish at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2009, things got much hotter. Winning five Maple Blues Awards in 2010, fueled by their first CD and enthusiastic fan support, took everyone by surprise. Their shows at festivals across Canada & Europe proved to many more that this trio had the chemistry & the talent and they took home three more MBAs in January. What to do for the follow up album? Well, Steve Marriner, Tony D & Matt Sobb headed for a quiet, rural studio outside home base Ottawa with some new songs and some 60 years of combined experience. They open flat out, with a scorching lament for the dead in natural and man-made disasters, “…from New Orleans to Iraq”. It’s called “Mother’s Crying” and a more effective lament would be hard to imagine. It starts out acoustically but these three players soon show how much sound they can put out. Most of the disc is contemporary electric blues but they do show their love of more traditional sounds with a stunning acoustic version of Hank Williams’ “You’re Gonna Change (Or I’m Gonna Leave)”. The heavy rocker “Right Now” brings the electricity back up before some soul blues takes over. “Let Her Down” is a B3-based slow blues on a not-unusual topic but as in other songs here, imaginative & honest lyrics make all the difference. Most of the songs here are credited to all three but “With These Hands” is credited to Marriner alone and it’s a straight soul effort, complete with chorus. “You Don’t Know” rocks out with a vengeance, a diatribe directed at an unnamed person, with some fine harp & guitar. “While You Are Mine” seems to be a fine ballad but the song is actually an ultimatum: don’t even try to change me – the third of three on this theme. Fine song, though. “Running In The Rain” is a fifties-style rocker with some very good, un-credited piano. “All About You” is a Tony D song and another lovely ballad on a disc full of good songs. “The Marrinator” is a harp instrumental that ends the program in fine fashion and I especially like the title – puns that work on several levels are hard to come by. Marriner takes all the lead vocals and he has never sounded better. That’s not to take away from the contributions of the other two, however, it’s mighty clear here that the chemistry is still working its magic. The official launch was at Barrymore’s in Ottawa on June 22nd, they’re playing the Ottawa Blues Festival, the Montreal Jazz Festival & Mont Tremblant – look for a show near you soon.
Already in stores is album number twelve for Nanaimo’s favourite son. Soul-Bender has some new originals and some surprising covers that show an artist continuing to find new side roads on his journey with the blues. A visit with Johnny Winter led him to record an actual slide guitar song, Elmore James’ “Please Find My Baby” and it makes for a roaring disc opener. The ubiquitous Steve Marriner adds harp & piano. “Slow It Down” goes back to the early days of power trios like Cream & Jimi Hendrix, a Gogo guitar showcase. “Was It Love” is by Wickham Porteous and puts some Little Walter & Slim Harpo licks into a Southern Gospel blender. A lovely minor key blues follows that reflects on his getting older and it’s not the only time here. “Time Is Killing Me” has a most effective guitar solo over Fender Rhodes and real strings. He writes that he most often plays Lonnie Mack’s version of “I Found A Love” but decided here to go back to the Wilson Pickett original & its wonderful Robert Ward tremolo guitar part. The song gets every bit of the impassioned vocal it calls for. “The Changeling” is a Doors song, from L.A. Woman, reminding everyone how much of their sound was based in blues. “Gettin’ Old” is an original that takes on that subject with bit of humour and a rocking good tune. Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” gets a blues treatment – if Mel Brown can do “Billie Jean”, why not? “Do You Know How It Feels?” brings back that slide in a rocking story song about meeting a girl at a gig. A tour with Robin Trower provided the inspiration for the concluding Procol Harum song “Whiskey Train”, a tour de force of Gogo soloing some of which uses his Soul-Bender FX pedal. The fact that he decided to use that as the album’s title gives you an indication of how dominant his guitar playing is these days. As you can gather from these songs, his reach is far more broad than most but the blues thread is the glue that makes it work. Look for him on tour with Johnny Winter in August.
After three recent albums for Electro-Fi, all three making the final 5 for the Blues JUNO and Let It Loose a winner, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne heads for Stony Plain and a match up with a backing band that is a ‘no-brainer’. Duke Robillard plays in a wide variety of styles but his heart has always been in the R&B of the late ‘40’s & early ‘50’s. Wayne’s roots are simply of a narrower focus: the music of Amos Milburn, a slightly lesser known star of that era. Milburn was a rollicking boogie piano player who scored hits with songs that extolled the pleasures of drinking. He played other kinds of songs as well but those were the hits. And Kenny plays those too or rather, variations on those. The songs here are all original but songs like “Wild Turkey 101 Proof” and “Rocking Boogie Party” have obvious antecedents. Wayne does other styles as well, the title song for instance is a much more contemporary one about aging and a statement of purpose: that he isn’t about to stop performing. Another highlight is “Heaven, Send Me An Angel”, in it he asks for a special woman who will help end his troubles, and his drinking – an excellent composition. Most of the time, though, we associate Kenny with rocking, good time piano and this we get lots of here. Wayne has been nominated for the prestigious Living Blues magazine’s Most Outstanding Musician (Keyboard) Award and it’s obvious in listening here why. With Duke & his band on board, you’re not going to hear piano blues played any better. You can check that out for yourself at Monarch’s Pub in the Delta Chelsea Hotel on August 6th at 7pm. You won’t get Duke Robillard but you will get Pete Schmidt on guitar and the Downchild rhythm section of Gary Kendall on bass & Mike Fitzpatrick on drums – you won’t notice any difference. The web site is www.kennybluesboss.com.
Bill Bourne is a veteran Edmonton roots musician & a founding member of the supergroup Tri-Continental, along with Madagascar Slim & Lester Quitzau. Bourne’s Bluesland is a big tent, with room for lots of styles. The Free Radio Band includes son Pat on lead guitar and daughter Emily who painted the original artwork; Pa Jo, from African Guitar Summit is on guitar, Moses Gregg, from The Swiftys on bass and Miguel Ferrer, from Santiago, Chile, on drums. You can tell from that line up that this might not be your average blues album. Bourne kicks in most of the songs on his acoustic guitar and the full electric band soon joins in. It has that first take, ‘live off the floor’ feel. “Daily Bread” heads the list of highlights, a one-chord plea for justice and freedom, a request to be allowed to simply provide for his family. The opening “Deep Dark Woods” and “Forever Truly Bound” bring to mind the music of Bob Dylan and, indeed, the CD concludes with a country blues of “Maggie’s Farm”. “Forever Truly Bound” especially blends old time country & electric blues in a way that segues beautifully with Jimmy Davis’ “Columbus Stockade Blues”. Since his recording debut in 1982, Bourne has assimilated folk music from around the world. That experience shines through in these eight songs. Mr. Bourne has assembled an excellent band and I think you’ll enjoy his journey through Bluesland. He was just here as a solo performer but looks to be back with the Free Radio Band in the fall. Until then, this disc will do just fine. Check out the web site, www.billbourne.com.
These double disc sets are the handiwork of helmsman Larry Skoller, whose brother, harpman Matthew you may know better and who also plays in the band. Volume One was nominated for a Grammy Award and two Blues Music Awards – not a normal occurrence for a European production. It became a natural choice for last year’s Chicago Blues Festival and the evening’s show began with a reception hosted by the town of Aulnay-sous-Bois in France whose Festival was the site of its first performances and where the record company makes its home. The recording sessions for Volume Two began the next week. Added to the stellar line up of that first set were Buddy Guy, Zora Young, James Cotton & Magic Slim. As before, the purpose was to provide an overview of ‘40’s, ‘50’s & ‘60’s blues in Chicago by re-creating those styles with active players who learned from the masters and who had no interest in simply copying them. Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch & Lurrie Bell continue in their roles as curators of the blues legends in this living museum and two of the guests get to re-create their own songs: Buddy Guy recorded “First Time I Met The Blues” for Chess in 1960. He has not forgotten it, but it is a lot longer, a patented dynamic solo is faded at six minutes. James Cotton was there for that seminal recording of “Rocket 88” in 1951 and he & Branch share harmonica solos with Branch taking the Jackie Brenston vocal – a rousing performance. Sunnyland Slim did not make the list last time but his student, Zora Young, re-visits “Be Careful How You Vote” in fine fashion. Johnny Iguana is back and does Sunnyland proud on the 88s. Magic Slim is re-united with John Primer for Chuck Willis’ “Keep A Drivin’” – vintage Slim. Ronnie Baker Brooks pays tribute to his father with a new version of “Don’t Take Advantage Of Me”. If you love Chicago blues, you will love this set. If you don’t already have the first one, get that too. The web site is www.chicagobluesalivinghistory.com.