John’s Blues Picks
Montreal-born Ray Bonneville’s ability to create evocative images with very few words remains unmatched. Those images often seem to jump right out of southern novels, the press kit says his favourite authors are Cormae McCarthy & Flannery O’Connor.
Ray, however, doesn’t need a novel, these short stories take but 3 or 4 minutes. As always, his stories are accompanied by his toe-tapping grooves, uncannily created with just his guitar & foot, and with a rack-mounted harp for colour. Many of the images this time are dark, the opening, title song deals with a criminal who cannot stop. A well-chosen song was released earlier, is a stomping song about the recent floods, “Mississippi” it roars along like a Hill Country blues. “Sugar and Riley” is the story of two lovers fighting, overheard in the next room. This song gets a horn accompaniment to go along with his guitar. “River John” is Ray at his most southern, an obscure tale of someone he thought he saw. “Night Walker” describes someone who apparently can’t sleep, he wonders if he will see her tomorrow and if they share the same worries. A lonely saxophone (Dexter Payne) keeps them company. Elsewhere, Gurf Morlix supplies a second guitar.
Two songs here are from earlier albums, “Good Times” and “Blonde of Mine”, with its intertwining French & English lyrics, are re-done here. He says ‘some songs will not leave you after they’re recorded…they keep whispering to me’. I’m glad they did. With one JUNO on his mantle and a couple more nominations, I think he’ll be in the running this year as well. The web site is www.raybonneville.com.
It’s been awhile since this Mohawk singer/songwriter and keyboard man issued a solo CD. The composer of such satirical songs of the Aboriginal experience as “White Man’s Card” and “1492 Who Found Who” opens this wonderfully titled disc with “Rez Bluez”, a rocking litany of problems that shows there’s still plenty to sing the blues about and not all of it restricted to the reservation. There’s also a moving song about the Indian Residential & Boarding School Survivors called “”Is Sorry Enough?”, co-written with his partner Elaine Bomberry. “She Went Away” concerns the missing and murdered women of Canada. Along side these three, we discover a life of domestic bliss. Fortunately that hasn’t affected his songwriting skills. Domestic bliss of course, does not preclude a blues, as demonstrated by the aptly titled “Doghouse”, co-written with Josh Miller, a fellow member of the Pappy Johns Band, who were nominated for a JUNO in 2005. Murray & Elaine have lived in North Vancouver for a while now and the supporting band members are all from the area: Helene Duguay on bass & harmonies, Rick Boulter on guitar and Chris “The Wrist” Nordquist on drums. Christopher Allen & David Hoerl of The Twisters join in on harp. His visit here for the CD release will have happened by the time you read this but I hope he’ll be back again soon. His web site is www.myspace.com/murrayportermusic.
Jazz impresario Bill King has lately been reminiscing about his life on the road in the 60’s & 70’s in a variety of R&B and rock bands and he likes what he remembers. This latest album credits Oscar Peterson & Junior Mance for telling him about the blues and from those names, you might guess that it’s a more sophisticated type of blues than the downhome variety that is usually the focus of this column. Having said that, Bill has recorded twelve songs, eight originals, with piano (mostly) and B3 overdubbed and with Collin Barrett on bass & Mike Kelso on drums on all save one song. The songs from those road days are ones that every keyboard player had to learn. What Bill builds on those lessons from Oscar & Junior makes these performances very special: “I Can’t Turn You Loose”, “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” & “634-5789” have enough of the tune to trigger your memories and enough that is new to make you enjoy them again. His originals build on these memories too: “Stax ‘Em High” is an organ-led tribute to Booker T that will bring a smile to your face. The solo “King City Stomp” shows that Bill can boogie woogie with the best. “Come Walk With Me” is an original gospel-tinged ballad. The title song is a wonderful slow blues and the closing “Inception Blues” an even better one with just Bill at the piano. The CD release will be at The Orbit Room (where else!) on Oct. 5th.
John Campbelljohn Celtic Blues Nood/Koch
The Cape Breton-based slidemeister has a hugely successful career in Europe, one reason we don’t see much of him in central Canada, despite a string of successful albums and he is on tour there as I write. He performs most often in a power trio setting but this disc captures a recent solo show in Hamburg, Germany. His set list includes songs from throughout his career with a few classics thrown in that show how good his own songs are. The songs lose nothing in the translation to an acoustic setting either. “No Philosopher”, “Excuse My Behaviour” and more are slide marvels with powerful vocals. “Going To My Hometown” features John’s mandolin on a Rory Gallagher song about homesickness. It gets the gruff, impassioned vocal of a road warrior. The mandolin stays out for a rather different version of Robert Johnson’s “Steady Rollin’ Man”. The two-part instrumental “Celtic Blues”, two words not normally used together, combines some delightful finger picking and slide – a treat. The program closes with his acknowledgement of his European fans, “Autobahn John”. They already know what only a few of us here know. With some of his best songs in one place, this CD should change that. His web site is www.campbelljohn.ca.
Chris Murphy is the baritone sax player in the Maple Blues Band, a credit I’m rather attached to but he does a great deal more than that. From his London base he tours Ontario and far beyond as a band member, session musician, arranger, booking agent and label owner. And occasionally he puts out a CD under his own name. Backing him this time is a who’s who of the blues community and the strength of this disc comes from all the years and miles these players have gone through. Murphy is also a treasure trove about things saxophone, a student of its entire history and of the various playing styles. His songs bring all this to the forefront: shuffles, straight ahead rocking blues, low down dirty grinds and urban funk await you as you slip this into your player and the highlights are many: “Something Else (is going on)” starts the program, a Darrell Nulisch grinder that sets the tone perfectly. Murphy is not nearly as good a singer as he is a sax player but he knows that and chooses songs accordingly. Former employer Jack de Keyzer contributes a fine solo. “Hotwired” is exactly the instrumental you’d be expecting and he does not disappoint, with a roaring solo, a topflight horn arrangement and solos for Teddy Leonard on guitar and producer Lance Anderson on organ. Garth Vogan is on bass & Tim Tyler on drums to round out the basic band. Howard Moore on trumpet joins Murphy for the horn parts. Amoy and Ceceal Levy handle the background vocals. “Burnin’ Rubber” is a fifties-styled rocker that finds Murphy blowing like hell, with Lance on piano right there with him. A final highlight is the closing instrumental, a Murphy original, “Tain’t No Church Song” with a gorgeous melody. Murphy is up first, then Lance and Teddy before Murphy takes it out – marvelous stuff. The Web site is www.chrismurphysax.ca.
Maria Muldaur’s albums for Stony Plain have focused on her passion for pre-war blues and the women who performed them and her last one was a jug band disc that re-created many depression-era songs. She’s always had a separate, contemporary sequence of albums, though, and this one belongs in that sequence. Steady Love’s most obvious antecedent is Yes We Can, her album of modern ‘protest’ songs.
For this new one, Muldaur went to New Orleans to record with some of the city’s finest players and some patented swamp funk. She does not write songs and this time has chosen a superb collection, both recent and classic, a route that more artists could and should take if the original material at hand isn’t that strong. Elvin Bishop’s recent “I’ll Be Glad” is much more focused. A strong version of Bobby Charles’ “Why Are People Like That?” also carries forward the Yes We Can theme. “Soulful Dress” was on an early Marcia Ball album, an excellent choice then and now. Greg Brown’s “Blues Go Walking” is a highlight in a CD of them, a useful reminder of how bluesy this folky can be.
The title song is also one of his. “Rain Down Tears” was originally on a 1960 Hank Ballard album and the list goes on. The band smokes and Ms. Muldaur’s vocals are absolutely on the money. This is a must-have addition to an illustrious discography.
It’s billed as a ‘rousing and rocking return to his grittier blues roots and early influences’ and it most certainly is that. Duke and his band sound possessed as they tear through songs by Guitar Slim, Eddie Taylor, Sugar Boy Crawford, Peewee Crayton, Tampa Red and more. Not one of the songs here could be called a warhorse but in the hands of these players, you’ll wonder how that could be. On Taylor’s “Trainfare Home”, for example, Sax Gordon pays homage to the great Chicago blues saxman J.T. Brown and then proceeds to play a solo that takes the roof off. He does it again on Elmore James’ “Tool Bag Boogie”.
That’s the template for the whole disc: take a not-so-well-known classic Chicago blues and show everyone how good this band is. The only slight drawback is Duke’s vocals, which on some songs sounds mannered. This has happened on earlier discs and seems to be getting worse. It won’t affect your enjoyment of this disc however because there isn’t a weak link here.
The true test is always in the slow blues and “The 12 Year Old Boy”, again from the Elmore James songbook, shows how it’s done.