John’s Blues Picks
This duo’s first CD was the song cycle He Said, She Said and it was very well received. It chronicled the beginning of a relationship. This new one is about continuing it, whether or not they both want that, and dealing with various temptations. It’s also much more of a band album with the basic quartet augmented by horns and backup singers on occasion. Things start out optimistically enough, with “We’re Gonna Make It”, a tidy little rocker, but doubts are never far, as “Analyze’n Blues” has Foley wanting to be sure. “(Get) Beyond The Crossroads” looks to be Karp’s response, saying the relationship should continue no matter what. The full band is on hand here, perhaps for added emphasis – a highlight for sure. It isn’t the first single though, “More Than I Bargained For” is and there’s a video as well. You can see it at www.karpfoley.com. They might also think of “Fine Love” as a single, with it’s catchy tune and toe-tapping rhythm. Musically, the interplay of their various guitars is as wonderful as before and I found myself wishing that they could get away from the concept and just play, something more than the instrumental “Plank Skank”. The CD release tour doesn’t get here until June 10th at Hugh’s Room, until then we’ll have the CD to listen to.
With his seventh CD, JW-Jones starts a new chapter in his career with his own label and a decision to do without the guest stars that have previously shared the spotlight. As you can tell from the cover, the new direction also involves changes in fashion and graphic design. There’s no room for blues veterans in this youth-oriented approach. The (young) working band behind him has Jesse Whiteley on keyboards, Jeff Asselin on bass and Marc Decho on drums. To that end, “Ain’t Gonna Beg” leads off a program of rockers aimed at reaching that group. There are, however, three very well written blues in the set: “You Got Caught” (with a smoking guitar solo), “Do For You” & “I’m Trying”. It may be a new, youth-oriented, approach but his guitar work is solidly grounded in Johnny Guitar Watson & Magic Sam and that can only be good. As you read this, the band is touring France & Germany. They’ll be back to officially release this CD at Hugh’s Room on June 7th and they head off to Norway after that. Check out the site at www.jw-jones.com.
In the title, opening, song, Nanette Workman sings about a woman who’s done with raising a family and is ready to jump back into performing. While this is an excellent choice of song, she’s hardly taken any time off. Her already prolific career includes a stint singing with the Rolling Stones and she’s chosen their music as the jumping off point for a stunning blues-rock disc. There’s a Stones song: “Wild Horses”, a song famously covered by the Stones, Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now” and another highlight that borrows rather heavily from the Stones’ “Love Is Strong”, “Hurt My Heart”. There are other songs here that owe less to the Stones and are equally good: The bluesy “Tell Somebody” is a Sass Jordan song, and one of three featuring Guy Bélanger on harp. Jimmy James, Steve Hill, Steve Segal & Frank Marino are all featured prominently on guitar on various songs. Jesse Winchester’s “Isn’t That So” gets a new arrangement courtesy of Ms. Workman. “Wild Horses” has a guest vocal by Anik Jean and Sass Jordan helps out on “Memphis Jane”, a Buddy Miller tune. The program concludes with a lovely version of “Georgia On My Mind”. Stones fan or not, lovers of two guitar rocking blues will love this disc. Nanette Workman’s vocals are absolutely perfect for these songs, she arranged & co-produced, supplied four of its best songs and she’s just gettin’ started. Go to www.bros.com.
With two new books on his life and work, a new disc devoted to Broonzy’s music becomes timely indeed. It’s a project that has been a lifelong ambition for Billy Boy Arnold and it’s a pleasure to report that it’s also a disc very well done. With his direct line to his idol, John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, Arnold is a natural choice. Through Blind John Davis, Arnold met Big Bill several times while learning his trade and the connection shows. He’s also selected players who play this music well and can update it effortlessly in Chicago veterans Billy Flynn and Eric Noden. It took Roger House’s book, “Blue Smoke”, to show how important Big Bill’s songs are in reflecting the blues culture and Bob Riesman’s book provides fascinating new personal information, including Broonzy’s previously unknown real name, Lee Bradley. Riesman also supplies the informative liner notes for the CD. “Key To The Highway” is here but so are fourteen others from Broonzy’s best period, 1930-1950: “It Was Just A Dream”, “Cell No. 13 Blues” & “When I Get To Thinkin’” just to name three. “Dream” in particular, with Noden on acoustic guitar, Flynn on mandolin and a lovely harp solo from Billy Boy, is a standout performance, especially that verse about the White House. “Girl In The Valley” gets some additional lyrics from Billy Boy. If all the various re-issues of Big Bill’s one thousand songs are too overwhelming for you, let Billy Boy’s choice show you the way in. Plans are afoot to bring Billy Boy Arnold here to help celebrate Electro-Fi’s 15th Anniversary in the fall. Go to www.electrofi.com.
Enrico Crivellaro opens his liner notes with a paean to Duane & Gregg Allman and the ground-breaking soloing introduced to the blues world by the Allman Brothers Band. That sound made a deep impression on a young guitar player in Padova, Italy. Crivellaro’s notes go on to describe in some detail the starting point for each of these all-instrumental voyages, with the voyage dedicated to the Allmans being aptly titled “Forever Free”. The role of Gregg Allman in this analogy falls once again to Pietro Taucher, who continues to be the perfect foil on keyboards. Simone Serafini returns on bass and Silvio Berger alternates with Carmine Bloisi on drums. “Chulahoma” is a tip of the hat to Junior Kimbrough, “One For Lucy” to Albert King and “Universal Rock to Earl Hooker. A soul tune being recorded on the day he died became “Hymn To King Solomon (Burke)”. You can follow along with the notes as you listen to this generous 80-minute disc and wonder at the inventiveness of the playing and marvel at his ability to convey the essence of the chosen subject. Taucher originals like “Popcorn Jack” & “T-Soul” provide a different but equal source of inspiration. The CD release here will be part of a triple bill at Hugh’s Room on April 25th. Crivellaro will be there with Lee Oskar & David Rotundo.
Shakura S’Aida is now an Electro-Fi artist and her double CD Time will also be released on April 17th. I’m holding it for the May column, as her CD release parties are taking place towards the end of that month. Get it as soon as you can!
Growing up in a show business family has led Guy Davis to many talents. This column has focused on the bluesman as a recording artist. He’s also been acting in and writing plays based on blues throughout his career. This audio play has been worked on for quite a while and is now deemed ready for a permanent documentation. Over the two CDs, Davis tells the story of Fishy Waters, travelling throughout the South.
Davis is a master storyteller and this structure allows him plenty of space. It’s a one-man show, with only guitar & harmonica, but the recording uses outdoor sounds freely, as required. Over the next 90 minutes we get original songs, classics and these marvelous stories. You’ll love the one about the drunken silkworm, for instance. The story called “The Lynching” will serve notice that Davis wanted to give an accurate depiction of a blues life in the South. Disc two opens with the story of Uncle Juno, who manages to survive despite the hardships and keeps a sense of humour all of which he instills in young Fishy. These few excerpts will have to do to give you an idea of the audio play but three musical highlights have to be mentioned: just excellent versions of Robert Johnson’s “Walking Blues”, Big Bill Broonzy’s “Keep On Drinkin’” and his own “Watch Over Me”. Guy Davis writes at the end of the booklet: “The subjects are survivors, not victims. The culture is Black. The music is Blues. The message is human.”