John’s Blues Picks
Danny Marks’ announcement last year that he was going to record a tribute to Lonnie Johnson was greeted with much anticipation. He performed the song at the Maple Blues Awards and again at the launch of Mark Miller’s book about Lonnie in Toronto, ‘Way Down That Lonesome Road’. The final recorded version of “Blues For Lonnie Johnson” is here now for all of us to enjoy. And it’s only a part of the longtime Bluz FM’s host and Blues With A Feeling Award winner’s blues-filled A Friend In The Blues. His career in our musical community goes back to those Yorkville days where he met Lonnie as he informs us in the first line of the song. Musically, Danny gives us a seamless blend of trademark Lonnie riffs as only he can while he reminisces and fills us in on Lonnie’s place in the blues pantheon. Opening the disc is another highlight, “Caretaker”, a masterwork slow blues about a man whose livelihood is about to disappear as the building he works in faces demolition. “Uncle John” continues the tribute theme, reminiscing about John Hurt, perhaps from his appearances at the Gate of Cleve in those golden Yorkville days – again, with flawless guitar picking, on acoustic this time of course. “Back To The Blues” and the title song deal with the fact that blues is not the only music Danny plays, as any visit to his live shows will prove. Some of the songs here introduce an old-time music, even rockabilly influence that keeps the disc truer to his performing style. The blues sentiment is there but the changes are different. “Mixed Up Girl”, with its driving slide guitar part could be on a Fraser/Daley disc, aided no doubt by the presence of bassist & co-producer Alec Fraser. Check out Bluz FM on Saturday nights and go to www.dannym.com.
On Complicated Woman, Erin McCallum’s husky vocals are more relaxed and with that producer Jack de Keyzer has moved the markers. She has never sounded better and “Complicated Woman (with a Confiscated Life)” is a very good song – with a melody that could be from the Percy Sledge songbook, McCallum’s cry for independence rings true. She continues to write songs for and about working people, with “Roll With The Punches”, “Overtime” and “10 Cent Raise” all guaranteed to resonate with audiences everywhere. “Lost in Memphis, TN” can be added to the list of songs written during trips to the IBCs and with the added Stax-like horns, it’s a worthy addition. “Hero” concludes the disc and deserves special mention as well: with a stripped down backing she sings a moving tribute to the average person. De Keyzer lends his instantly recognizable guitar to a several of the songs and David McMorrow adds keys. John Dougall is on guitars now, joining Ronald Lombard on bass and Joe Pace on drums. The web site is www.erinmccallum.com.
I rather liked Devil Take Me Down, the first disc by Vancouver singer/songwriter, Jimmy Zee primarily because it introduced us to a natural entertainer and there aren’t a lot of those around. He also writes good songs, a skill that hasn’t left him here. Warner Music obviously noticed as well, making this one available across the country. Ride is more stylistically unified, often reminding me of the Omar & The Howlers brand of roadhouse blues. The title track opens the CD and it’s a good one: a grinding road song with atmospheric harp and guitars. “Devil Woman” is the obvious link to the previous album and it’s built on a killer groove. There are more ear-catching songs: “Feels Alright To Me” is a great slab of funk, “Working Man” is the song by Rush and it feels like Zee wrote it. “Get More” has a catchy hook played on acoustic slide. The highlights keep coming, with “Friend Of Mine”, “I Want To Live” & “Shot Of Whiskey” maintaining that all-important momentum. Guitars, keyboards, bass & drums provide the sterling accompaniment, with Harp Dog Brown and a horn section helping out on occasion. Www.myspace.com/jimmyzeeband shows a date this month in Newmarket at Casey’s Bar & Grill on the 14th on his way to Montreal. Check the listings for more dates.
Desperate Times is Australian B3 wiz Clayton Doley’s new, locally recorded CD – his last one was done down under before his move here. The sometime Harry Manx accompanist has Davide Di Renzo on drums and “Champagne” James Robertson on guitar this time out and they’ve served up several excellent originals and couple of curious covers. “Dealing With The Devil” is a list of the things we as a society are doing wrong and the consequences and “Seventh Son” takes its cue from the Mose Allison hit, but “Desperate Times” is an uptempo highlight: beginning with a Ray Charles lick, Doley sings of a sequence of bad breaks that require a desperate solution. “Friday the 13th” is a slower song on much the same theme, with a soaring solo from Robertson. Troubles like these shouldn’t happen to anyone. “Crooked Crawl” & “Chester Drawers” are instrumentals that should provide all the evidence you need that this organ trio knows what it’s doing – fine playing all around. “Chicken Shack/How Blue Can You Get” is the other odd choice, I’m not sure we needed another version of either, fine playing notwithstanding. The disc closes with another Doley original, “Permanent Holiday”, which is a pop tune, but a memorable one. I gather he’s about to go on a long tour with Mr. Manx, so I don’t know when you’ll get to see him play next but you can find out at www.claytondoley.com.
The Harpoonist & The Axe Murderer Checkered Past HAM
Shawn “The Harpoonist” Hall and Matthew “The Axe Murderer” Rogers are both veteran studio engineers and producers in Vancouver who have chosen to play some lowdown blues on ‘a sack full of harmonicas, a mess of foot percussion, and a very greasy Telecaster’. That they do this rather well has led to Checkered Past being nominated for a West Coast Music Award. What they describe as ‘foot percussion’ often resembles a full drum kit and is prominently recorded, giving them a sound more like the Black Keys than Sonny & Brownie. The songs also have rather a lot of extras: keyboards, multi-tracking and all the FX a modern studio can provide. They end up making quite a racket for just two guys. “Get Out” is a highlight, with a rather traditional take on a failed relationship lyrically but with staccato bursts of electric guitar and Sonny Terry harp over some slide. It reminds me a bit of the Montreal DJ Champion’s song “No Heaven” and perhaps there are some (uncredited) laptops at work here too. “Be My Woman” features unison vocals over a National Steel and harp and although rather short shows what they can do without the studio trickery. They do some covers their own way too: “Mellow Down Easy” & “Chevrolet” get a stripped down treatment, with lots of echo and relatively few other FX. All the busyness in the sound takes some getting used to but it is worth it – if you’re at all interested in what the blues would sound like in this setting you should check this one out. The web site is www.harpoonistaxemurderer.com. By the way, the other nominees in this category for the WCMAs are: Brandon Isaak Bluesman’s Plea, David Gogo Soul Bender, Kenny “Blues Boss” Wayne An Old Rock On A Roll & Murray Porter Songs Lived & Life Played. The winners will be announced on September 30th in Regina.
Chris Kirby is a hard working, keyboard playing, singer/songwriter from St. Johns who knows how to spread the word beyond the Rock. Wonderizer is a delightful slice of R&B divided into two halves: Greasy & Honey. Not surprisingly, I rather like the bluesy, greasy side more and Mr. Kirby has supplied a couple of highlights among his uniformly well-written new songs. “Greasy Individual” is a funky number about someone to go to when you’re looking for trouble. “Leave You In The Morning” is an excellent blues on what will happen if you don’t get home tonight. And “All You Got” features a very nice slide guitar accompanying a direct request for just such company. ‘Side B’ has songs dealing with the straight & narrow and he’s no less adept at writing those, including a charming toe-tapper “I’m Your Man” which features some attractive sax work from Chris Harnett. “Wonderizer” should be a radio hit, all the parts fit so well. The Marquee back him very tastefully, with some very good horn charts where needed as well as backup vocals. All these forces are artfully arranged to showcase his high tenor voice. Www.chriskirbyOnline.com shows he’s in the Maritimes for a while but if he comes your way you should definitely make a point of seeing him.