John’s Blues Picks
An earlier disc paired Layla Zoe with only an acoustic guitarist. This time out, Henrik Freischlader accompanies her on guitar, bass & drums and it is determinedly electric. And yes, it was recorded in Germany and Cable Car is his record company. At one point in “Hippie Chick”, she sings ‘That big voice, her claim to fame’ and that’s what she delivers here. Her ability to improvise lyrics is also well known and for the most part that’s also what we get here, they are often self-referential, the life of a musician constantly on the road, determined to make it, with all the costs that that entails. The opening “I’ve Been Down” has that big voice squeezing every last bit of emotion as she repeats the words, and there are few other words. The result seems almost primal scream therapy. “Give It To Me” cooks along on a nice Albert King-styled groove, with Layla being quite specific about what she wants. She does “Singing My Blues” over a rhumba rhythm, with lots of whammy bar action from Freischlader. “Black Oil” changes the focus to world affairs. The lyrics are somewhat obscure but she’s obviously not optimistic, singing that the world is coming to an end. “Hope She Loves You Like I Do” is a nice change of pace, a soul ballad with a bit more empathy to go along with the determination. “Sleep Little Girl” is a complete change, an acoustic ballad, seemingly self-directed, a lullaby that soothingly convinces that everything is all right – a nice way to end an otherwise rocking CD. Freischlader’s accompaniments are always well matched. Find out more at www.layla.ca.
A roots music road warrior now residing in Guelph, Sam Turton has a strong sense of local living and community-shared music. To that end, he set up his entire home as a recording studio and invited some friends to join in for a ‘real music’ session. In the notes he emphasizes the importance of being at home and among friends there and to his great credit, he has pulled it off. Recording studios have control rooms where you have, well, control. At home, you don’t have that. Turton has included snippets of dialogue & music between the songs proper and the overall effect is exactly what he was after. We can all give thanks to Nik Tjelios, an expert at location recordings. Turton describes his music as a ‘roots-blues-gospel gumbo packed with slide guitar and soul-fired harmonies’ and that’s what’s here. All of this effort would not have mattered much if the songs didn’t stand up as well as they do. “Next Time” is billed as a slide blues/gospel barnburner about life in a troubled family – as advertised, a keeper. “Ain’t Gonna” is even bluesier, a call to stand up & speak out. “Oh Susanna” gets a very different arrangement and Turton comes across a little like Lyle Lovett, and that’s a compliment. “I’m On My Way” is a fine performance of a traditional call-and-response gospel tune, a performance very much like one Ken Whiteley would have given. The vocal responses here and elsewhere are by his partner Jane Lewis, Tannis Slimmon & Katherine Wheatley and they are indeed soul-fired. Larry Kurtz adds harmonica and the core band consists of Jesse Turton on bass and Adam Bowman on drums. He’s leaving his home quite a bit these days to showcase the album and you can check out a concert near you at www.samturton.com. You may not be at his home but you will get a good show with some excellent songs.
Some of us blues media were invited to a special performance last August to preview this CD. Producer Garrett Mason joined Keith Hallett and his rhythm section for a short set that made for an ear-catching introduction. It was then somewhat of a surprise when the disc arrived to find that Mason only plays on one song, although they have subsequently toured the country together, the closest to here being at the Canal Bank Shuffle. Confining himself to the producer’s chair in a live off the floor project has its benefits however, for this is one fine blues CD. The opening, title, song introduces a gloriously dirty guitar sound and the song provides for a generous display of his slide skills. Chuck Bucket on drums and Ray J Jr. on bass do their parts very well in this down & dirty set, my only complaint involving Hallett’s vocals being a little too low in the mix, his lyrics are sometimes inaudible. The “Mojo Boogie” that follows is slowed down quite a bit from the J.B. Lenoir original and features yet more slide. “Last Night” is a country blues in the style of Robert Johnson, whose music has been very important to Mr. Hallett. This time “They’re Red Hot” is the template but Hallett takes it to another place. “Drivin’ Me To Drink” tackles a timeless subject with new & old riffs and shifting meters – a highlight for sure. “Hallettosis” is a cleverly named, & played, instrumental. A second instrumental is “Cooking Dinner on the Dash”. It has Mason on baritone guitar, alternating shorter & shorter solos with Hallett. The disc concludes with a solid rendition of Skip James’ “Hard Time Killing Floor, making for a strong program. The match here between artist and producer is absolutely perfect, maybe Mr. Mason has a new career.
Yellowknife is home to this hard-working Aboriginal trio and they clearly are not interested in making a disc just to sell from the stage. The production values on this, their third, CD show a band with the desire to go places and their songwriting, their unison vocals and level of musicianship all bode well for success. Norm Glowach, Greg Nasogaluak and Blair Brezinski have enlisted the help of veteran producer Terry Manning, a horn section made up of Roomful of Blues alumnae and some veterans on keyboards & harp to augment their usual guitar/bass/drums lineup. “Leave ‘em Outside The Door” is a rocking invitation to party that opens the CD – it’s your blues you’re to leave outside. The B3 was a most helpful addition. The epic “More Wine” received a great deal of attention. In seven minutes it tells the tale of an evening with way too much wine over multiple overdubs & FX – fascinating stuff and a concept well worth pursuing in the future. “She Can’t Stop” is a slow grinder praising a certain lady. There are some well-written lyrics here on a well-worn subject and the horns are a treat: Rich Lataille rips a fine tenor solo. For me, the best song here is “Ape Boy & The Velcro Girl”, a couple no doubt observed from the bandstand, maybe more than once. It’s set over a Peter Gunn riff, with some more excellent horn work. “(Don’t Put the) Brakes On” is a rocker about a high-speed relationship that, along with the earlier “Highway Heaven” is the kind of song that would go over very well in the clubs. “Leave ‘em Outside The Door” is also the closer and a bit of a surprise, being an acoustic version of the opening song. It is a good song, though and from an excellent album. It was obviously a lot of hard work and I hope it pays off. The web site is www.priscillasrevenge.com.
A veteran Winnipeg-based tunesmith, this is his 5th album but his first blues one. His earlier forays included folk & bluegrass (a song covered by The Duhks) and an NFB animation feature, totaling some 1200 songs. He didn’t want to do a blues album until he was ready and now it seems, the time was right. He has dispensed with the trappings of the music business: agents, managers & such and just travels in his Toyota Corolla, connecting directly with his audience wherever he goes. Perhaps not surprisingly, this attitude is reflected in his songs. “Internet County Jail”, for example, laments that people spend so much time at their computers they’ve forgotten what it’s like to be outdoors – a conclusion he arrived at after 8 years at the keyboard. He has assembled a stellar band for some of the songs on this disc, however, with fellow Winnipeger Scott Nolan producing (and playing bass, drums & harp). “They Call Me Crazy” is a smart little rocker about an outsider defending himself. It’s a grand way to open, with Jeremy Rusu contributing some rollicking piano. “(Give me a) Break From The Blues” slows things down a little, with Frechette on slide. He picks up his National Steel for “City Blues” a re-worked “Walking Blues” about how bad life is in the city, fortunately saved by some evocative images. “Hell In A Handbasket Blues” is a rather better song about the state of the world today than Layla Zoe’s “Black Oil”. He borrows the tune from Bob Dylan’s anti-war song, “John Brown”, which gives him a solid structure for his succinct, end-of-the-world verses. This one bears repeated listening. Another highlight is his “Nothing To Lose But The Blues”, he says ‘keep the hard times coming.’ Almost as good is the penultimate “Hard Times You Must Have Had”. After two minutes, there’s a hidden “Paternity Blues”. It’s a straight twelve bar, with Frechette on twelve string guitar, harmonica and bile over a recently departed girl friend – a very good song but it might be a little too real for radio. I hope he doesn’t wait five albums to do another one of these. His web site is www.ramblingdan.com.