John’s Blues Picks
Shakura S’Aida’s long-awaited third CD is actually two CDs: the first disc is entitled “Time To Rock My Soul” and the second, “Time For The Blues”, and they constitute a most ambitious effort that, to these ears, is a masterpiece. Both discs feature the band you’ve been seeing in her shows plus some very special guests. Production is by Howard Ayee and Shakura and the Blackburn clan is on hand throughout. Most of the songs are by the Shakura/Donna Grantis combo that worked so well on Brown Sugar. Lance Anderson kicks it in with an abbreviated piano intro to Shakura’s version of “Don’t Try To Lay No Boogie On The Queen Of Rock and Soul” that rather generously retains its writing credit although it seems there is little left of the original Baldry hit but the chorus. “(Give me) Time” is a S’Aida/Grantis rocker that is well worth the obvious time & effort that went into it. Power ballad “Bring Me Back” begins with acoustic guitars with Brooke Blackburn joining in and Conor Gains on slide, returning Shakura’s appearance on his recent CD. “Devil Only Knows My First Name” is a grinding, electric 12 bar blues. The first disc ends with another major magnum opus: Brooke Blackburn & Shakura wrote “Don’t Tell Mama Where Her Children Hide,” a powerful song about a daughter who doesn’t want her mother to know what she’s done. Anders Osborne’s “Ya Ya” jumpstarts disc 2. “Bad Girl”, written by Ann Rabson, late of Saffire and EG Kight, seems made to order for Shakura and adding the Women’s Blues Revue Horns was a stroke of genius. “That Ain’t Right” is a tough slow blues with the kind of spoken/sung lyrics that Shakura handles so well. An achingly lovely change of pace follows, with Billie Holiday’s “Tell Me More, More And The Some”, with only Brooke Blackburn on acoustic and Cory Blackburn on brushes. The retro-sounding “Blues Dancing” is a Shakura original featuring Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne on piano and the Blues Revue Horns. Disc 2 concludes with a glorious duet with Harrison Kennedy, who has played harp on a couple of earlier songs. Brooke is on acoustic guitar. “Halfway Blues” is five minutes of blues and repartee by two veterans and a delightful way to end a stunning two-CD set. I’ve only had space for a few of the sixteen songs here but there isn’t a weak one in the bunch. Putting out two discs gives us a great deal of excellent music and spares her making the painful decision. I haven’t yet mentioned Roger Williams on bass and Tony Rabalao on drums, a rhythm section par excellence. Shakura is in absolutely top form here, with her work on Brown Sugar over-rehearsed by comparison. With multiple awards, a hard touring schedule, an enthralling stage show and now a repertoire of strong new songs, watch her go. Time is in stores now but she’ll be devoting two nights for the official CD release: a full band – full sound show at Revival, 783 College St on May 17 and an acoustic living room vibe show at Hugh’s Room on May 18. Stay informed at www.shakurasaida.com.
“A soundtrack to a dream: Keith Richards and Robert Johnson shoot dice with Hank Williams and Bob Dylan; Bo Diddley, Leonard Cohen and Charley Patton are standing watch.” Paul’s description of his new album is both accurate and a pretty good display of his writing genius. With his background in the Sidemen blues band and his solo discs immersed in a world of pre-war music styles, this new one builds on those names, those early influences; although, as with all the earlier discs, you’d be hard-pressed to point to specifics. The press kit goes on to say that Reddick is Wishbone, in which case “The Ballad of Wishbone” should take on special significance. It seems to be about a restless character who meets strangers in strange places and then keeps moving. Reddick’s special skill is always his ability to draw you into his world and in this song and indeed throughout the album, he has constructed an endlessly fascinating world for us to enter. His songs are longer now, allowing you to explore and allowing you to add your own narrative. Whether it’s “Luna Moth and Butterfly” or his paean “Whiskey Is The Life Of A Man, or “Devil’s Load”, or “I Have Lived You Long”, you can enter anywhere and enjoy. His producer this time around is Colin Cripps, of Blue Rodeo & Jim Cuddy fame and they have put together a much harder rocking disc than SugarBird. Sidemen bandmate Kyle Ferguson is back for most of the ride and he has lost none of his guitar skills. One or two other guitarists join him along with bass & drums behind Paul. Reddick’s singing is spot on and his atmospheric harp playing a treat. I think this one will join that small group of CDs at JUNO nomination time. The attention-grabbing cover art, by Underline Studio, should also be submitted for a JUNO. The web site is www.paulreddick.ca. You should get your copy from him at the side of the stage, he’ll be touring with the Weber Brothers, live is always better – check the listings pages.
Catl is both Jamie Fleming and the band he leads. This third album, available as a LP/CD and as a digital download, is another big step forward: a bigger role for singer/keyboardist Sarah K. (Kilpatrick) allows catl to play more and improved sonics for better listenability. Johnny LaRue plays drums. We still get their high-energy, drone-based, alt-punk take on blues. The first single, “Gold Tooth Shine” (check it out as a free download) is a good example. Pete Ross adds harmonica to this one-chord rave up. Happily, there are acoustic songs on this one as well: “Talk Too Much Blues” is another original with only Sarah on the accompanying vocal. She takes the lead vocal on “Gotta Thing For You” with Danny Kroha guesting on harp. “Cinderblocks” is an extended, Hooker-style boogie with some nice original touches. “He’ll Make A Way” stands out immediately because it actually has a melody and a good one. It also shows that Sarah is a very good singer, something to which catl readily agrees. This time catl takes the co-vocal. It appears to be a gospel standard, credited here to one Robert Johnson, obviously not Poor Bob. Unfortunately, the song ends with some decidedly un-gospelish histrionics. Abner Jay’s “Cocaine” features Sarah once again, with catl on slide – a languid but very attractive arrangement. Electro-Fi recording artist Harmonica Shah guests on “Get Outta My Car”, a short, uptempo screamer by Hasil Adkins, which is probably not politically correct. The album opens and closes with snippets: Furry Lewis’ “Kassie Jones” and Lead Belly’s “Goodnight, Irene”, that serve, I think, to show their respect for tradition. Johnny LaRue has a day job as a teacher and he has now left the band. Andrew Moszynski has taken over on drums and this will allow catl to tour more widely. The LP/CD is available at some downtown stores or from catl.bandcamp.com. The digital download is available from Zunior.com.
Hamilton’s Steve Strongman probably earned his Maple Blues Award for Guitarist of the Year from blues fans for his electric playing but he wants you to be aware of his acoustic skills as well. On the strength of this disc, I think blues fans should also seriously consider him for Songwriter of the Year. With Strongman mostly playing slide on these new songs, this is as strong a blues disc as I’ve heard for some time. “Haven’t Seen It Yet” is solo outing but “The Mood” showcases the band, with long time bandmate Dave King on drums, Alec Fraser on bass and Jesse O’Brien on piano. They perform on four songs, one of them a duet that features Suzie Vinnick as the two sing about “Leaving”, each from their perspective – well written and well performed. The similarly themed “I Got Trouble” and “You Do It To Yourself” are also standouts as original blues. “Rockin’ Chair Blues” uses a more traditional theme & melody but Strongman’s new lyrics and convincing delivery show a master at work. Strongman also plays harmonica and its added to several songs here but the program closes with a solo harp piece, complete with foot stomps. “Just One Thing” is a plea for harmony and hard to resist. These songs are all about real life situations and only a few can write about them as accurately and sympathetically as this. His web site is www.stevestrongman.com where you’ll see that the Toronto CD release is at the Delta Chelsea’s Monarch Pub on Saturday, May 12 and it’s a 4pm start.
Globe trotting folk blues singer/songwriter/guitarist Eric Bibb is now a Stony Plain artist, at least for North America, and All Music Guide shows this to be his 24th album. You probably know that he is not solely a blues artist although there is something to recommend on most every album for blues fans. He’s chosen this time to visit rural Louisiana, with an all-star cast of locals to help out. It is not a survey of Cajun warhorses but a collection of new songs. Top of the musician list is Dirk Powell, of Balfa Toujours, which features the legendary Dewey Balfa’s daughters, Nelda & Christine (Christine is now Mrs. Powell). The sessions took place at his studio. Bibb also brought along harmonica virtuoso, Grant Dermody. The opening Bibb original, “Bayou Belle”, sounds like a Cajun standard and it may well become one. Harrison Kennedy’s “Could Be You, Could Be Me” gets a solid blues treatment here before we get to the title song: “Dig A Little Deeper In The Well” was learned from a Doc Watson and Merle Watson album and its sentiment and its rather lovely tune make it a highlight. “No Further” is a new blues by Mr. Bibb that might well have a longer life also, but all the songs here are well chosen and the Louisiana hospitality has brought out the best for everyone. With that one exception, these are not Cajun songs but the fiddles, accordion & triangle suit them just fine. If you’re in the mood for an audiophile quality acoustic CD, you’ll love this one. www.ericbibb.com is the official web site.