John’s Blues Picks

November 2011 – Vol. 27, No. 11

Treasa Levasseur - Broad (Slim Chicken/Outside)

Treasa Levasseur - Broad (Slim Chicken/Outside)

 

 

The Women’s Blues Revue will soon be upon us and Treasa Levasseur is well prepared with some excellent new songs for her three. The press kit says ‘4 bands, 3 studios, 2 towns, 1 surprising album’ but it should not be seen as a surprise, Treasa’s songwriting & singing are so strong plus her success as executive producer, that these distinctions merely add variety. Many of her songs, but certainly not all, deal with Treasa’s take on interpersonal relations, an area in which she’s shown she has strong views combined with a gift for insightful and often sassy lyrics. “Much Too Much”, backed by MonkeyJunk, leads off, it deals with an unresponsive beau but she wants him anyway. She adds outrage & anger to her list with “A Little Pride”, backed by Raoul & The Big Time. In this song the object of her attention gets it full blast, beginning with the chosen clothing. Rather unusually she has chosen some cover songs this time, with Randy Newman’s “God’s Song” up first. Again supported by MonkeyJunk, she delivers a performance that proves this one was selected very carefully. She’s not just a singer of clever songs. “Still Got Love” features The Daily Special, with Paul Reddick on harp and David Gavan Baxter on guitar. “No Holds Barred” features the Wroxton Allstars led by Ken Whiteley. It’s a joyous song about a new relationship that seems to be working out just fine. “Let Me Sleep On It” is a highlight of a closer: she’s chosen a life in music, her Father said no, her Mother said no but her brother said do it. We should all be glad she listened to her brother. If you get this in time, the CD release is on November 3rd at The Lula Lounge, with Raoul & The Big Time. Otherwise, look forward to the WBR and finding out which of these songs she’s chosen.

 

Michael Jerome Browne - The Road Is Dark (Borealis/Universal)

Michael Jerome Browne - The Road Is Dark (Borealis/Universal)

 

 

Michael Jerome Browne will debut this wonderful disc at the Gladstone on Thursday November 3rd at the regular TBS/Gladstone show. It will be a must see event. Browne has consistently explored the song styles of the American South and his original songs have built on that knowledge. Here, he’s firmly placed himself in the pantheon of pre-war bluesmen, with an array of mostly original songs that convince you that that era never really left. His previous albums have usually featured several accompanists or full bands but this time it’s just him and his various guitars, all carefully listed in the notes. The opening song is from a Flatt & Scruggs 78, proving as the notes say that a key ingredient in bluegrass is the blues. “Doin’ My Time’ is a slide guitar showcase and were it not for his note, you would hard pressed to detect its origin, a comment that applies to most every song here. Texas’ Frankie Lee Sims’ “Married Woman Blues” is up next and Browne may well have got this one from Morgan Davis, who is the only modern performer of this one I know of – a fine, Mississippi, version. Then come some superb new ones, as usual penned with his partner B.A. Markus. Together they’ve written some of the finest contemporary songs in any genre and the title song here ranks with their best. Dramatically illustrated by A Man Called Wrycraft’s stunning artwork, “The Road Is Dark” most effectively conveys a deep foreboding about what the future holds – a masterpiece.  He then picks up his gourd banjo for “Graveyard Blues”, which continues the theme but to the end that must come – he does not wish to die in a hospital bed and realizes he would not have lived his life any differently if given the chance. “At It Again” is an addict’s lament: he cannot stop and explains why over a Deep Delta accompaniment. “A Sinner’s Plea” finds a man at his mother’s deathbed, pleading with her not to die. A little more uptempo is the “G20 Rag” dedicated to the protestors incarcerated for defending our rights. He was one of those protestors. J.B. Lenoir’s “The Whale Has Swallowed Me” and Rev. Gary Davis’ “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” both continue on the theme of civil rights. The one song with accompanying musicians is jaunty original with the ubiquitous Steve Marriner on harmonica, along with double bass & second guitar & Browne on mandolin conjuring up that Memphis String Band sound. “If Memphis Don’t Kill me (then New Orleans will)” is not much happier than the others here but it does make you want to get up and dance. An important modern blues album for sure and if the album isn’t enough, there’s a note on how to get bonus tracks.

 

Harrison Kennedy - Shame The Devil (Electro-Fi/Outside)

Harrison Kennedy - Shame The Devil (Electro-Fi/Outside)

 

 

Numerous awards & accolades came to Harrison Kennedy after the release of One Dog Barkin’, with 1st Runner Up at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis as the culmination. The founding member of the soul super group, Chairmen of the Board, Hamilton-born Kennedy has taken a little time to re-make himself as a blues singer/songwriter. Over the course of some six albums, he has perfected an instantly recognizable style, one that communicates directly to his listener, making an immediate connection that few have mastered. He makes the topics of his everyday concerns seem like yours. A song like “That’s Just Stupid” tells of his activities before he met his partner and how everything has changed now. He uses language that we would like to have used ourselves. He has also perfected a recorded group sound. He usually performs solo in concert but his CDs have become very interesting indeed. He plays various guitars and harmonica, Keith Lindsay adds keyboards and accordion, Alec Fraser plays acoustic bass and Matt King adds electric guitar fills on occasion. They all add percussion. The result is an aural canvas that compliments the songs perfectly. It complements his voice as well: “How Long” has Harrison singing in falsetto, with the carefully plucked guitar sounding more like a harp (the stringed variety) along with an electric piano giving the performance a most effective ethereal feel. Two songs about the devil tell us that Harrison is now happy on the straight & narrow. As a working man, he’s happy – even the jackhammers he heard in Memphis are turned into song: “Music To My Ears” is another song generated by that trip to the IBCs and it’s a very good one. For fans of hard blues, he delivers: “Trouble”, “Hard Times Blues” & “Snakes Lie” are as good as they get. “Hound and Rabbit” has a Sonny Terry “Fox Chase’ feel to it and it’s just as fast. Want some more? “Fo’ Day Train” & “Shake Em Free” are there for you on a disc that has plenty to offer plus Eric Thom’s liner notes are a treat.


Fraser Finlayson – Mr. Hot Pants (Self)

Fraser Finlayson had just completed this vinyl single before his sudden passing and it will be available at the celebration of his life at Hugh’s Room on November 15. For a man whose love of blues & R&B records was so intense, he has very few under his own name. There was an early 45 as The Knights of the Mystic Sea, with Morgan Davis and a four song EP on his own, Hand To Mouth. His most famous band, Cueball, did not officially record, although there were live shows on both radio & TV. I guess the EP and this single could count as Cueball recordings simply because Fraser was in charge and many of the players are here and will also be at the celebration. Cueball was always one tight band and they’ve lost nothing over the years. The James Brown song gets an unbelievably funky workout, with spoken interjections and a brilliant harp solo from Fraser. Rocky Verweel, Simon Wallis, & John ‘JJ’ Johnson are the horn section, Steve Chadwick is on bass, Chris Brown is on the B3 & clavinet, Mark Kelso on drums and David Gray is on guitar. The ‘B’ Side is a remix by Hajah Bug called “Across The Tracks” and features the usual studio effects. The groove, though, is more than maintained. We’ve made our reservation for that night you should do that right now.

 

Sharrie Williams - Out Of The Dark (Electro-Fi/Outside)

Sharrie Williams - Out Of The Dark (Electro-Fi/Outside)

Her acclaimed first album on Electro-Fi, I’m Here To Stay, was out a while ago now but as she says in the CD notes, she’s been having serious health problems. However she’s back now and with an outstanding new album. This Saginaw, MI native has always been much better known in Europe and this CD was recorded both in the US & Germany. Wherever it was done, it’s the music that counts and this soul blues extravaganza is a keeper. There’s a large band, with horns & backup singers and excellent songs. Lars Kutschke is a very good guitarist and he also co-produced, with Sharrie, and did some of the horn arrangements. She has used the time off to write or co-write most of these songs. The opener, “Can’t Nobody (love me like you do)”, uses the full ensemble to great effect. “City Limit Musicians” is the first song I can think of to address a problem that must plague musicians everywhere: band members who don’t want to travel.  “Prodigal Son” is addressed to her own son, who’s made some poor choices, it seems, she wants him to come on home – a rocking highlight for sure. I hope he listens. ”Gatekeepers” is a rocking rant by Sharrie against people in her way, mostly politicians. I’m sure this is an audience favourite. Saving the best for last, she sends us off with a stone solid slow blues. “R.I.P.” salutes those masters who’ve passed, beginning with Muddy. Kutschke solos and does not miss his chance. Whatever health problems she endured, her voice is in top form, her songs are excellent, the arrangements always exciting, the playing superb, what are you waiting for? Go get it – www.electrofi.com.

 

-John Valenteyn

jvalenteyn8724@rogers.com