John’s Blues Picks

August 2011 – Vol. 27, No. 8

Susan Wylde - In The Light (Sun, Moon & Stars)

Susan Wylde - In The Light (Sun, Moon & Stars)

Torontonian Susan Wylde aims to explode blues myths and by starting with conservatory training she explodes one immediately. If that led to her choosing Jack de Keyzer as her co-producer and lead guitarist plus the A-List of the community in the other positions, then she’s off to a very good start. Her attractive alto voice would normally be where the conservatory training would be noticeable but on the opening “One Real Man”, she acquits herself very well. Pete Schmidt is on the other guitar, Alec Fraser on bass & Rick Donaldson on drums. Wylde plays piano but Dave McMorrow, Denis Keldie & Martin Aucoin are also on board. Colleen Allen adds tenor sax where needed. “Love Me All Night Long” continues the theme, with some fine piano from McMorrow and a display of vocalizing from Wylde. A harmony vocal by Jasmine Bailey is a nice touch. “Lovely Push-Up Bra” is dedicated to Jeff Healey, but seemingly for its prewar jazz style rather than for its subject matter. She has fun with the vocal, something she could do more often, and Dave Dunlop has the cornet solo. Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson’s “Three Hours Past Midnight” is a treat. It opens with slashing guitar from Jack and Wylde offers her most involved vocal. Bessie Smith’s “Nobody Knows When You’re Down And Out” returns to the prewar sound but with some fine harmonica from Paul Reddick. Wylde’s rollicking piano is mixed forward and her vocal shows she’s lived with this song for some time. When you’re “In The Light”, you’re in a place of contentment & joy, so says the press kit and the song expresses that feeling very well. The minor key song features a delightful sax solo from Colleen Allen. Back to the blues with “That’s What You Do To Me’, a song she got from Colin James, driven by Dave McMorrow on organ. “Turn Me On” is a John D. Loudermilk song done as a very nice slow blues with Pete Schmidt on lead guitar for this one. These originals and well-chosen covers are succeeded by some songs that didn’t really need re-doing. “Georgia On My Mind”, “The Thrill Is Gone” & “At Last” get performances that unfortunately don’t add much to the recorded history. Those earlier songs, though, show much promise and with Buddy Guy’s management team behind her, we’ll be hearing a lot more from Susan Wylde. Stay informed at www.susanwylde.com.

 A permanent record of his long running gig at The Reservoir Lounge on Wellington Street, this collection of ten covers showcases a working band at its best. Professor Longhair begins the program and “Mardi Gras In New Orleans” gets a rousing, sure-fingered treatment. All these songs share a somewhat unusual pattern in starting out as a faithful rendition and gradually bringing in the full band with a well-thought out and exciting new arrangement. The best example is perhaps “Dearest Darling”, with its signature Bo Diddley beat carried on piano & baritone sax with Mark Mariash working hard on those tom toms and, over top, Yarema’s impassioned vocal. Louis Jordan’s hit, “Knock Me A Kiss” features some particularly fine horn work. Jimmy Reed’s “Baby What You Want Me To Do” includes a fine solo from guitarist Jesse Barksdale, who otherwise sticks to rhythm playing.  Nat King Cole’s hit version seems to have provided the template for this relaxed performance of “Gee, Baby, Ain’t I Good To You”. Willie Dixon’s “Violent Love” isn’t, in my opinion, one of his best songs and the version by Otis Rush couldn’t save it. Yarema goes back to The Big Three Trio version and brings back a lost era. Ray Charles rounds out the program proper as Yarema pounds out “Mess Around”. The CD actually concludes with Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues”, only this solo performance is made to sound like a 78rpm recording. I’m not sure why. If I wished to hear it that way, I could play the original. He does a good job, both on the vocal and especially on the piano, with its shades of Longhair, too bad about the fidelity. Ask him to do it live at The Reservoir next time you’re there. The web site is www.tyleryarema.com.

Tyler Yarema and His Rhythm - The Canterbury Sessions (Self)

Tyler Yarema and His Rhythm - The Canterbury Sessions (Self)

 

Superpickers! - Blues On The Ceiling (Rowdy Blues)

Superpickers! - Blues On The Ceiling (Rowdy Blues)

Peter Narvaez has been teaching ethnomusicology at Memorial University and performing regularly in and around St. John’s for some time now. The Superpickers banner covers two others: Sandy Morris and Glen Collins, who also play various guitars. Narvaez handles the vocals and adds some very fine harp. A number of guests appear throughout who add variety & colour, including two more pickers, Brad Power and John Clarke. Narvaez also supplies some original songs and song notes for a generous, 16-song, hour of excellent roots & blues. Memphis Minnie’s “Jump Little Rabbit” leads the way, with a three-key arrangement by Narvaez that’ll grab your attention immediately. Guest vocalist Holly Everett double-tracks on a delightful version of the western swing classic, “Miss Molly”, with Collins and trumpeter Patrick Boyle. Narvaez’ country blues take on “Folsom Prison Blues” is a little startling but it works just fine. The three pickers really enjoy themselves on Sonny Terry’s “Diggin’ My Potatoes”, a feast! Narvaez’ unusual, original “Jump ‘n’ Play Blues” takes a child’s perspective, watching a fight between his parents. Not a lot of words but the child would certainly have the blues and that is very effectively conveyed here. The title song might seem familiar and it is indeed the Fred Neil classic with Collins picking & Morris on slide and a marvelous vocal from Narvaez. He has recently beaten back cancer and the diagnosis & treatment are described in his “The Radiation Blues and the Chemo Drag”.  I think he succeeds in conveying what he must have gone through, it’s certainly not an easy listening experience. Much easier is the following tune called “Boat’s Up The Tickle”, about being marooned for the winter. Clarke, on the Resonator, joins Morris here to set off Narvaez’ vocal. An Amos Milburn song without piano is something a little different by itself but “Romance Without Finance” with acoustic guitar & gorgeous harp makes for a superb slow blues. The traditional “Grasshoppers on My Pillow” gets some new words from Narvaez and he concludes the program with “The Great Train Robbery”, a showcase for his own guitar picking. He robs Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train” on the way. A very enjoyable acoustic blues CD indeed and you can find out more at www.rowdyblues.com and you can get one at Fred’s Records in St. John’s at www.freds.nf.ca.

Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald - Live (Self)

Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald - Live (Self)

Veteran Montreal guitarists in an intimate, acoustic setting, before an appreciative audience and with the recording team on hand – a recipe for an enjoyable disc. The club is Le Red Room in Glen Sutton, in the Quebec countryside and the program a selection from Rob Lutes’ previous discs plus four favourites. This is one of the best live recordings I’ve heard, capturing the show so well you might think you didn’t have to be there. The 15 years or so of Lutes & McDonald playing together are very much in evidence here as the interplay of the guitars, so beautifully recorded, adds immeasurably to the enjoyment. Lutes’ warm & raspy baritone voice mesmerizes and careful listening reveals a thoughtful & eloquent songwriter. The first song, “Uptight”, was a winner at the Kerrville Festival a few years back. “I Know A Girl” was inspired by a line from Robert Johnson’s “They’re Red Hot”. “Drop Down Baby” is tour de force of blues guitar as the duo really let fly on a new arrangement of the Sleepy John Estes classic. “I Will Stand By You”, from his Ride The Shadows CD, has also been recorded by Dawn Tyler Watson and shows he belongs in that group of singer/songwriters with the likes of Chris Whitley and Chris Smither. Whitley’s bluesy original, “Phone Call From Leavenworth” is a keeper as is Lutes’ tribute to Smither, “If The Blues Don’t Shake You”. Fretboard fireworks again highlight the traditional “Ain’t Nobody’s Business”. More of his own blues, “Keep A Man Down”, with McDonald on slide and a song for his father, “Drive My Blues Away” show why his songs are in demand from other performers. Excellent performances of excellent songs: get your copy at www.roblutes.com.

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator (Sony Masterworks)

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Revelator (Sony Masterworks)

This band had performed only one gig together, at the Harvest Blues & Jazz Festival in Fredericton, and still won a Maple Blues Award for B.B. King International Artist of the Year – such was the level of anticipation at the news that this couple would finally be working together. The veteran performers had been appearing on each other’s CDs for some time and Ms. Tedeschi had also performed with the Allman Brothers, Mr. Trucks’ other band. This disc proves that it was worth the wait. They’ve spent the last year and more writing songs and carefully assembling a band. The eleven-strong all-star ensemble supports their every move. The new songs carry the weight magnificently, with Tedeschi’s soaring, gospel-trained voice & Trucks’ storytelling slide guitar on the money for each one of them. No jam band lengthy workouts here, just tightly focused gems. “Bluesy roots rock” is one description I’ve read but these songs merely use earlier styles as building blocks. “Come See About Me” is a fine opener, a song about waiting for a lover to arrive home. It features Memphis horns. “Don’t Let Me Slide” is a masterful plea with some excellent blues playing from all. “These Walls” tells the story of a woman left on her own in poverty after her lover left. Scenes are created, often with very few words but beautifully conveyed by expert players. Derek Trucks’ Already Free & Susan Tedeschi’s Back To The River were both nominated for the contemporary blues Grammy last year, Already Free won. I’m certain Revelator will be on the list next year.

-John Valenteyn

jvalenteyn8724@rogers.com