John’s Blues Picks
At www.fathead.biz, there’s an awards page that will give you an idea of how important this band is in our national music scene. With seven CDs, two of them JUNO winners, in their twenty-year history it’s a good time for a career retrospective. Twenty Years Deep takes well-chosen samples from each album and adds a couple of Little Mack Simmons tracks to remind you that they often acted as the house band at Electro-Fi Records. The songs are sequenced for listenability, not chronology, their songs being so well written & performed that you can enjoy an almost eighty-minute feast of Fathead music without realizing there’s 20 years of history here. “Somebody Else’s But Mine” is the opening song, “First Class Riff Raff” is here, “Building Full of Blues”, “Walk Backwards”, “Fire in the Hole”, Blues Weather” – nineteen songs worth of delights. You may quibble that your favourite isn’t here but you’ll have to agree that they’ve chosen well. Heartfelt thanks to the current members, John Mays, Al Lerman, Teddy Leonard, Omar Tunnoch & Bucky Berger and to the (relatively few) earlier ones for all the wonderful music so far. The CD Release Party is at Monarch’s Pub in the Delta Chelsea on October 6th. They have recorded two new songs for the upcoming Santa’s Got Mojo II and a CD of new songs should be out early next year.
Multiple JUNO & MBA winner Jim Byrnes has been mining his rich background to good effect. He grew up during a golden age of live music and radio in St. Louis in the fifties & sixties and he had open ears. He didn’t care about labels all he cared about was good songs and his wide-ranging taste has already been on display on earlier discs. So a selection of songs by Buck Owens, Ray Price, Hank Williams & Marty Robbins should not be too much of a surprise, nor should we be surprised at how well he performs them, it’s in his DNA. Steve Dawson is of course the producer and he brings along his usual array of stringed instruments. We do get some unusual choices given the context, however, in Gordon Lightfoot’s “Ribbon of Darkness”, Nick Lowe’s “Sentimental Man” and Tom Waits’ “House Where Nobody Lives”. Little Willie John’s “Big Blue Diamonds” was already a country song when he recorded it in 1962. No matter. Part of the reason these choices all work is the relative lack of a pedal steel guitar, which was a dominant instrument in many of the originals, although, perversely, Dawson plays it on “Ribbon of Darkness”. Mike Shanyshyn’s fiddle is a treat and Colleen Rennison’s duet vocal on “Wild Mountain Berries” another one. Old friends the Sojourners return as well, for the Stanley Brothers’ gospel song “Harbour of Love”. Byrnes says he could do a six CD box full of these tunes, this one will do nicely until he does that.
Piano man David Vest’s bio reads like the history of rock ‘n roll & blues: raised in Alabama and playing throughout the South since 1957, he’s among a select group that includes Matt Lucas, Ronnie Hawkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. He landed on the West Coast with the late harp man Paul DeLay before moving to Vancouver a couple of years back, his arrival announced by incendiary performances at the Edmonton & Calgary Blues Festivals. He does not have a large discography but a trip here has added to it dramatically. The ‘East’ is none other than Gary Kendall on bass, Mike Fitzpatrick on drums and Teddy Leonard on guitar. Add in Paul James as a special guest and you have the makings of a chemistry that is something to behold. His choice of songs takes us through a couple of his career highlights: working with Big Joe Turner and Jimmy “T99” Nelson. These R&B shouters obviously made a deep impression on Vest and “Low Down Dog” & “Piney Brown Blues” from the Turner songbook are excellent. From Nelson, he plays “Cry Hard Luck” and re-writes “Meet Me With Your Black Dress On”, the Nelson original from 1952. As he says, his “Black Dress” is a ‘different dress’. Vest says there is an unreleased album of him with Nelson. “Shake What You Got” chronicles some adventures in the clubs down south, with Teddy Leonard’s guitar a standout. The second half of the disc features the music of WC Handy, not often heard in this context. Vest thinks he played “The Whole St. Louis Blues” on his first gig in 1957. He then plays a solo 3-song medley he calls “Mighty Handy” before the band rejoins for “Memphis Blues”. “Come Clean With Me” is an original slow blues based on the “St. James Infirmary” melody. Fine stuff. “Boogie Woogie Baby” is a Paul James song and the Blues With A Feeling Award winner sits in to play the solo. They had met at a show in London a couple of days previously and hit it off. A beautiful version of “After Hours” concludes this most entertaining history lesson. In his press release, he can’t thank the band enough and I agree with him, bias notwithstanding. There is much more at www.davidvest.ca, including how to get his earlier discs and the fact that he’ll be here in October, at the Waterfront Bistro in Pickering on the 19th and at the Canal Bank Shuffle on the 20th. Make sure you check him out.
Since their Talent Search victory in 2008 and the MBA New Artist nomination in 2010, they’ve played selected festivals, released an introductory CD and an EP, all the while honing their sound and writing new songs for this disc. As many of you will know, this is a horn band with a lineup that has changed over this time but whose love of lush, exotic chords and intricate arrangements has not. You get one of those trademark chords right off the start for “Deploy The Bird (Bona Fide Theme)”, an ear opener for sure. “Gotta Be Something” introduces Scott McCord, front man extraordinaire, in a field desperately short of them. He’s an excellent singer, bandleader, audience engager and songwriter. He also plays acoustic guitar & harmonica. The other members for this disc are: Simon Craig, electric guitar; Charlie James, bass; Bryan Humphreys, drums; Todd Porter, baritone & tenor saxophones; Steve Dyte, trumpet; Christian Overton, trombone & David Atkinson, keyboards. With the guidance of producer/arranger Maury Lafoy, the sound they produce is a lot closer to Blood, Sweat & Tears than to, say, Roomful of Blues but BS&T could play blues and you’ll like “This Heart Is On Fire” & “Turn Around” with their bluesy charts. “Bad For You” has a new, improved arrangement from the EP version. The concluding “Ocean” seems to have received rather more attention, with studio FX contributing to an even more complex arrangement. Go to www.scottmccordmusic.com for more info on their shows and acquiring the CD.
Fredericton’s Ross Neilsen went to Mississippi with the Sufferin’ Bastards to record Redemption, a very worthwhile trip – he went back in February to record a solo disc because he found The Shack, The Robert Clay Shack at the Shack Up Inn just outside Clarksdale, MS. He wanted to capture a moment in time and thought he had the place to do it. He was right. He also found in Kevin Houston a recording engineer who came up with a perfect balance of sound between voice, guitar & room. Neilsen’s program includes ‘some favourite blues tunes, some new songs and a couple of solo versions of band tunes’ and makes for a solid forty minutes of country blues. His own tunes don’t use standard blues structures and more melodic, adding both to the variety and to the contemporary concerns of 2012. His contributions to the blues standards he’s chosen have to be acknowledged as well, especially to “Preaching Blues” which show he’s lived with these songs for a long time. The solo version of Redemption’s “Human Mud” is a treat and well worth having. Neilsen’s guitar playing is eye-opening – country blues guitar players will love this one. The web site is www.rossneilsen.com – use it to keep up with this hard-touring bluesman.
Just this past May, we lost Michael Burks, he was returning from a European tour and suffered a heart attack at the Atlanta airport. He had completed the recording for this album, leaving only some re-mixing and sequencing for label pres & co-producer Bruce Iglauer. Alligator does not compare Burks to Son Seals but there are parallels: both grew up playing in juke joints run by their father, both owed a great debt to Albert King and both took that tradition of intense, uncompromising electric blues to new heights. Burks took time out from music to raise a family and did not start playing in earnest until his forties but he returned with a vengeance. Show of Strength is his fourth for Alligator and would no doubt have made his name much better known. The opening “Count On You (to let me down)” is a tough blues that leaves the strength of this CD in no doubt. Burks supplies a couple of his own tremendous slow blues: next, with “Take A Chance On Me, Baby” and later on with “Since I Been Loving You”. “Little Juke Joint” is another Burks original, celebrating his father’s juke, The Bradley Ferry Country Club. Author Scott Dirks supplies some appropriate harp on a more appropriately traditional song. I also especially like Burks’ version of “24 Hour Blues” taken from Bobby Bland’s Dreamer, a vastly under rated album. Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer especially likes the performance of Charlie Rich’s “Feel Like Going Home”, a song about the end of life, which all too obviously now had to conclude the CD.