John’s Blues Picks
Album number fifteen by this multiple MBA winner features contributions from a couple of fellow songwriter/performers: Gordie “Big Sugar” Johnson, Tom “Junkhouse” Wilson & Ron Sexsmith along with some unusual choices of covers. Johnson’s two co-writes get pride of place here with “I Need You Bad” being a fine blues rocker featuring his guitar as well as background vocals. His guitar is the louder one. The opening “Sweets Gone Sour” is not far behind, the two coming up with a love song with a sub plot about bees. I’ll let Colin James’ liner notes tell the rest. The Tom Wilson songwriting session was particularly productive, with five songs here, led by “I’m Diggin’” and “No Time To Get There (and a long way to go)” leading the way – fine rockers both. “Stone Faith” isn’t bad either. Alan Toussaint’s “Sneakin’ Sally Through The Alley” gets the Robert Palmer treatment and we also get a lovely rendering of John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy”. Peter Green’s famous “Oh Well” came about through a chance meeting on stage with Mick Fleetwood. The band is his regular one, although horns are added on one song. It’s not quite as blues heavy as his last one, Rooftops & Satellites, but the songs are strong and sequenced nicely – Colin James fans will be very happy indeed.
Me ‘n’ Mabel garnered huge praise and airplay, especially south of the border and not least through Bill Wax’s show on Sirius/XM satellite radio. She was invited to perform on the show during her American tour last November and the pleasing result is presented here. This time it really is ‘me ‘n’ Mabel’, no guests, and all but one are new here as well. If anything, her vocal on Willie Dixon’s “You’ll Be Mine” is even more spirited. “Looking For A Kiss” was my favourite from her Happy Here disc, with its gorgeous melody, and sung even better. Another new one is by alt country songwriter Kevin Welch. His plea for equal treatment, “Everybody’s Gotta Walk”, gets a bluesy arrangement that works very well. Her eclectic tastes lead her to Stevie Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home”, from the Blind Faith album, an excellent choice. The CD she shared with Rick Fines, Nothing Halfway provides “Calling Out Your Name”, a band track there and a lovely solo performance here. The same disc provides “How’d You Know I Missed You”. I didn’t miss the clarinet from that version. Two gospel songs conclude the set: Buddy & Julie Miller’s “Shelter Me” and a new arrangement by Ms. Vinnick of “All Night, All Day”. Judging by the response to Me ‘n’ Mabel, deciding to release a sequel is a masterstroke. It’s available in stores now and the official CD release is at Hugh’s Room on July 12.
This duo’s celebration of traditional folk & blues styles continues with a second disc, this time of all original tunes. The title song describes a large family cookout in loving detail, complete with old time music and the smell of home fries & bacon, but judging from the family on the CD cover you may not wish to be a member of this particular family. This duality allows them to delve into some of the darker aspects of family history: “The Killer Inside” is the story of the religious son of a murdered police constable who has to do some killing himself when he joins the army; or “Blind River”, the story of a murder in a small town. And then there’s “The Hellhole I Call Home” which still looks pretty good after some time in the big city. “Carrying On” (written with Ken Whiteley) and “Oh Alberta” represent the happier side of family life and songs like “Sadie II” & “(It’s All) Medicinal Marijuana” add some comedy to the mix, “Marijuana” being a little skit with input from Bob Segarini. “Mr. Blues” deserves special mention, an excellent new one written & sung by Alec Fraser. Mike Daley handles most of the songwriting and vocals and plays various guitars and fiddle. Fraser adds the bass and his patented drum attachment. It’s all live off the floor and fun throughout (mostly). Catch them live wherever you can but try to get to The Inter Steer at 357 Roncesvalles on July 25th for the official CD Release. Ten of these songs are on YouTube. The web site is www.fraserdaley.com.
On April 22nd, Quebec’s Lys Blues Awards (their MBAs) presented its award for Best Blues Album & Associated Styles to this band. Carolyn-Fe Trinidad was also nominated as Best Female Artist. She’s a show business veteran in Montreal with a background in dance and acting along with a successful side career as a business consultant. This part of her artistic life began a couple of years ago with Rami Cassab, guitar; Tim Alleyne, keyboards; Oisin Little, bass & Dan Legault, drums, veterans all. As the award category suggests, they draw on many styles – most often blues-rock. She wrote all of the songs here, in collaboration with some or all of the band members. The opening, title, song lands us in the Garden of Eden, complete with crickets, and a glance at the cover art should tell you where this one is headed. “Devil’s Fool” builds on the “Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean” theme, complete with a quote from Revelations, an ambitious effort. Not all the songs have biblical references: “You And Me And The Blues” is a well-written slow blues and “Let’s Soar” is another highlight, with its catchy chorus. They’ll be here to take part in the Talent Search at Nathan Phillips Square on August 16th at 12pm. Their web site is www.carolyn-fe.com.
Richard Carr Tell Everybody Iguane / Rick L. Blues Good Luck On My Side Iguane
This relatively new Quebec label & studio has released several CDs of note recently. Begun by drummer Nicky Estor, who plays on both of these, it is clearly headed in the right direction. Richard Carr is based in Quebec City where he hosts a blues radio show while maintaining his 20 plus-year career as a blues musician. His bio says he prefers old-school styles but as Tell Everybody proves, that certainly hasn’t kept him from writing some excellent original material, recognized with the Songwriting Lys Award this year. “The Blues Came Calling” relates his discovery of the blues as a child and his determination to succeed as a bluesman. It features Paris-based harp man Nico Wayne Toussaint. “Hard Times To Play The Blues” is even slower with Carr channeling Otis Rush in lyrics with which most every blues singer will nod in agreement. “Milkman Blues” has the band sit out for a solid solo acoustic tale of marital bliss. “Blues For Ronnie” is presumably for Ronnie Earl and gives Carr a chance to solo at length, something normally he keeps in check and in the service of his songs. “Tell Everybody” & “Toughen Up” are more up tempo and equally well-written.
Good Luck On My Side is harp man Rick L. Blues’ sixth CD. He’s a rather different songwriter and performer, singing in a more relaxed, humourous vein and playing this time in the Jump Blues style. He has five Lys Awards on his mantle. The house band is on hand here as well and it consists of Estor & Kevin Mark as the rhythm section, Frankie Thiffault on sax and Vinz Pollet Villard on keyboards with Florian Royo added on guitar. They certainly play well in this style and Rick has some excellent original tunes: “Well Dressed Man” is a fine opener and is only the first of a remarkable sequence of jump blues. “Good Luck On My Side” sees Rick as so optimistic you begin to suspect the worst. There’s also a jazzy Christmas tune, “Santa Will Never Die” and a very good slow blues, “Budos Blues”. “Belle Roots 5” has lots of changes, beginning in Professor Longhair mode along with alternating French and English phrases. He gives the players lots of solo space and the piano man gets an entire song, “Lucky Boogie”, made to sound like a 45rpm single, complete with needle drop. The best song on the disc may be “4U” a grinding slow blues built on Royo’s heavily distorted guitar and Rick’s amplified harp. He ends with a solo harp piece, “Paris 21H”. Go to www.iguanerecords.com for links to all their artists.
The Crossroads Stage at the Chicago Blues Festival is on E. Jackson Boulevard, where it meets Lake Shore Drive. In the hot late afternoon sun, Lil’ Ed & The Blues Imperials had the street in front of them packed with fans, old and new, to celebrate the new Jump Start. It’s album #8 for this well-travelled band as they approach their twenty-fifth year. The rapport they’ve developed over that time led them to record the new songs pretty much live off the floor in just three days. The freshness and energy is obvious and was apparent from the stage. The songs, mostly written by Lil’ Ed and his wife Pam, don’t stray from the basic sound but I don’t think anyone wants them to do that. Certainly not Alligator Records – after all, this is the kind of music that the company was founded to release. There are new additions to the trademark shuffles & boogies: the opening “If You Were Mine”, for instance, has a more sophisticated groove. The slow blues don’t change much – they just get better and deeper: “Life Is A Journey”, “You Burnt Me” and “My Chains Are Gone” show that the serious side of life is getting just as much attention. “Moratorium On Hate” is further evidence that Lil’ Ed knows very well that life is not just a party. Uncle J.B. Hutto, in whose footsteps Lil’ Ed walks, is recognized here as he is on every album and his “If You Change Your Mind” gets a roaring, slide-filled treatment. A very nervous Lil’ Ed appeared at the very first Chicago Blues Festival, a lot has happened since then.