John’s Blues Picks
It’s been a while since we’ve heard the name of this Hamilton native. He released a CD here and played with King Biscuit Boy but decided to pursue his career in the USA. After stints in Chicago & Boston, he now resides in Clarksdale MS. Mike McMillan has made some very useful contacts in that time. One of them was Michael Frank of Earwig Music, who’s now signed his second Canadian bluesman (BC’s Les Copeland is the other). Over the last couple of years, he’s been recording this new album in Clarksdale and calling on some other new friends: Bob Margolin & harp ace Billy Gibson as well as fellow Hamiltonian Donna Panchezak. His time here showed a heavily electric Guitar Mikey, but this disc of originals is a well-conceived blend of acoustic and electric. The opener, “Back To You”, is an excellent example, with mandolin, banjo and acoustic slide and even some crickets. The full band with the Hammerhead Horns takes it to the climax. Mikey has, for all his travelling, kept in touch with his Hamilton band members: Peter Nunn is on keys here along with long time member keyboard player Mark Yacovone. “That’s No Way” is probably closer to what we’ll see live next month with powerful electric guitar and prominent organ. “Blues Attack” features Memphis harp man Billy Gibson to good effect along with a duet vocal from old friend from Chicago, Nellie “Tiger” Travis. Mikey’s bio talks about many occasions on stage with Travis at the Kingston Mines and she helps out on several other songs here. Mikey’s slide solo is a treat. A recently divorced man has even more woman trouble, a keeper for sure. “It’s Goin’ Down” re-purposes Robert Johnson for acoustic change of pace, with Mikey on exquisite slide. “The Bigger Fool” takes us to Chicago & Muddy Waters. Bob Margolin is on slide, David Maxwell on piano and Gibson on harp. Mikey’s lyrics are a treat. “When Leo Starts To Growlin’” is a lengthy big band funk workout on the theme of don’t make me lose my temper – another highlight in an album full of them. The closer provides the title as well being the most ambitious composition here. For a blues album, a French chanson theme, complete with accordion, a string section as well as the horns really does take it out of the box. I suspect its live electric band version may sound a little different. The homecoming CD release is at Hamilton Place on April 7 and TBS members get a discount, just call the office.
With his Five Aces band CD riding high on the roots music charts, Bill King releases this new solo piano disc. His family traces its roots to the Depression era and the tobacco country around Hazel, Kentucky. Childhood trips throughout the Appalachians to visit family exposed the youngster to every kind of music we associate with the American South. Gloryland is a sequence of twelve tone poems forming a ‘sensory recollection’ of those times. A sampling of the song titles should give you the gist of it: “Harlem County Shakedown”, “The Gambler & The Riverboat Queen”, “One Blue Sheet Hanging in the Wind”, “Swamp Gator Crawl”, “The Talking Tree”. There is also a solo piano version of the marvelous “Sweet Sugar Cane” from the Rocket 88 CD of that name. The wide variety of musical styles under the umbrella of ‘The South’ is incorporated in these tone poems, compositions of considerable imagination and execution. King is making this album available first as a download and you can do that and perhaps choose some of his others discs at www.7artsmusic.com.
This young guitar slinger from Cambridge has been impressing lots of people across Southern Ontario and Montreal and represented the Grand River Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis last month. He’s just eighteen and on the strength of this disc has a very promising future indeed. He rather reminds me of Garrett Mason in his approach but is a very different songwriter. He fronts a power trio, with Vic Freitas on bass & Jeremy Patey on drums, but for this recording adds rhythm guitar and adds some guests: Matt Weidinger plays keyboards and Nilton Santos adds tenor sax on one song. I don’t often mention the producers, but Howard Ayee and Cory Blackburn have done a superb job. Many of Gains’ songs, like the opener, “Lazy Boy”, don’t stray too far from the blues tradition, both in terms of structure and subject matter, but the lyrics are always interesting. A couple of his songs stand out even more: “Let The Woman”, about a relationship in a small town, features unison vocals, with Blackburn & Shakura S’Aida backing Gains. In place of the expected guitar solo, we get a captivating, wordless one from Shakura, a nice touch, that. “Sauble Blues” is a lovely acoustic ballad that’s far too short. “Give Me The Upper Hand” is a solid slow blues featuring Weidinger’s organ. Shakura returns for a duet vocal on “Changing My World”, a tune about an independent woman. “Breathe” has a very good melody and a nice, loping beat, my choice for a single. We do get a full-length acoustic ballad in the closer “When The Day Is Through”. Get on board early for this young man. The Conor Gains Band is officially launching The Junction Sessions here at the Monarchs Pub in the Delta Chelsea Hotel on March 8th. You can get your copy there. You can keep track of his appearances at www.conorgains.com.
A visit to this veteran musician’s web site shows an impressive list of albums recorded over a fruitful career. But one of them has not been available since the onset of CDs. Whose Muddy Shoes was a straight ahead blues LP recorded in Dunnville, Ontario in 1986 and released on the Italian Appaloosa label. It was not widely available here. Requests for it had been piling up and Essig decided to re-record it rather than simply making it available once again. A visit to BC by Chris Whiteley was the immediate trigger, Chris bringing his harmonica and guitars for the session. Essig’s regular rhythm section of Tobin Frank on acoustic bass and Alan Cameron on drums round out the personnel. They begin with “Waitin’ On You”, a traditional a capella gospel song and proceed to a roaring version of Robert Johnson’s “If I Had Possession”, with Essig on electric slide and Chris on harmonica. The solos take it to double the originals length and then it’s faded. I wonder how long it actually ran. “Candyman” is a solo performance from Essig, while Skip James’ “Cypress Grove” gets an electric arrangement Chris on lap steel. “Casey Jones” has always been a favourite and this excellent version, with multiple acoustic slide parts is a delight. RJ’s “When You Got A Good Friend” gets the band on again and it’s followed by an enthusiastic “Give Me Back My Wig”, the Hound Dog Taylor hit with just slide guitars. Elmore James’ “Whose Muddy Shoes” gets the band treatment, with Chris’ amplified harp accompanying Essig’s slashing slide. The Stanley Brothers’ “Poison Lies” gets a lovely acoustic arrangement and is not at all out of place in this program. RJ’s “Come On In My Kitchen” brings the band back. “Jackie’s Blues” is the only original here, a lovely solo piece for piano & guitar. Fred McDowell’s “Keep Your Lamp Trimmed & Burnin’” features Chris on lap steel. A hidden slide piece concludes the disc. I’ve ascribed the name of the most prominent performer to these songs but this is a bit of a disservice to David Essig as he has come up with his own arrangements. His vocals suit these arrangements perfectly making for an eminently listenable blues disc. Incidentally, Rolling Fork is Muddy’s birthplace and Gallows Point the view from his window on Protection Island. Information on obtaining this disc is at www.davidessig.com.
With blues so popular around the world, it has often puzzled me why musicians from non-American backgrounds force themselves to sing as though they were Americans and often like African-Americans, ignoring their own culture completely. English-Canadians admittedly don’t have far to go but this phenomenon has largely been true of French-Canadians as well. Mike DeWay didn’t see the point of doing that either: Turbulence is all in French, a few instrumentals aside, but a solid blues album nonetheless. He and his band know how to play: the opening “C’est où qu’t’es t’alleé” has a lovely groove, the two saxes, keyboards, guitar, bass & drums lineup meshing nicely. “Otis Blues”, one of the instrumentals, finds DeWay channeling Otis Rush, his playing showing a top-rank guitarist. I found myself wondering how many other treasures the Quebec scene is hiding. It’s an enjoyable disc throughout and probably even better if your French is good. His web site is www.mikedeway.com.
The French label Raisin’ Music has put out two double CDs celebrating the history of Chicago Blues. This third one showcases a new band with some new ideas about presenting country blues & gospel for the 21st century and for that all involved are to be commended. Bluesman/actor Bill Sims (Lackawanna Blues, Cadillac Records) is not as well known as he should be but he’s the veteran here. His daughter Chaney is also on vocals and Junior Mack is the main guitarist & is also on vocals. Seemingly not a member of the front line, tenor sax man Bruno Wilhelm is a key element of this disc and his horn arrangements will make you sit up and take notice. Kenny “Beady Eyes” Smith on drums and French harmonica ace Vincent Bucher are members of the orchestra as well. As with the previous releases, Larry Skoller is the producer. Son House’s “Clarksdale Moan” opens the CD and provides the template. Sims opens on his National Steel, but Kenny’s prominent drums kick in right afterwards with Bucher’s harp & Mack’s guitar, so far, so normal. In the second verse, though, the horns slide in – Wilhelm’s background is in avant garde jazz and the lineup of tenor sax, two trumpets and trombone in this arrangement takes the song to another place entirely while the front line keeps chugging along. I think it works wonderfully but many traditionalists may not agree. “C-Line Woman” opens with tuba over tom-toms, Chaney sings a capella with Sims & Mack sing the chorus in what sounds like a pre-blues African chant that Chaney has arranged. The horns sit out here but return with a vengeance on a big band version of “Catfish Blues” “Go Down Hannah’ starts as a field holler but as the horns enter the fields get left behind. “Get Right Church” is as close to traditional as they get, perhaps to give us a respite. The disc closes with their most ambitious piece, a three movement “Hard Times” beginning with Chaney leading a call and response verse followed by the horns quoting Miles Davis’ “In A Silent Way” before switching into a funk jam. If you’ve been wondering how blues might continue to be relevant, you should try this disc. I think you’ll agree that blues belongs in this heady mix of styles. Their web site is www.heritagebluesorchestra.com.