John’s Blues Picks
A quadruple fracture in the shoulder is major trouble for a piano player but Julian Fauth did not let that stop him from progressing musically. This disc is a major leap from Ramblin’ Son, his JUNO-winning second album. The biggest difference is that this is much more a collaborative effort. He started as primarily a solo artist, occasionally with accompanists but he’s now playing with ‘many great musicians’. Collaborative music is often called jazz and the band tracks feature some wonderful solos, especially from Jay Danley on guitar & Drew Jurecka on his violin. There are horns and backup singers to augment the basic band. His new songs keep it all together, and here there is more continuity with his song subjects as eclectic as before. The straight blues is always present, as is his signature descending piano lick. He picks up his guitar to open, though, with “Window Pane Blues” being an excellent original. The new sound is introduced next with the title song, a gospel classic recorded by Blind Willie Johnson and others getting a cooking new arrangement. “Eyesight To The Blind”, “Mean Old Train” and “Roll And Tumble” also get new life with this smoking band. There are plenty of new originals on this generous, 17-song gem, with “So Friggin’ Happy” being a delightful neo-Bluebird piano boogie and “Little Soldier” becoming rather more than a song initially meant to make his girlfriend feel better. She should also feel pretty good about “Dimple Nose”. Political songs are here too, with “Decisions” tying some very astute but cynical lyrics to a toe-tapping groove. ”Angelique” is an ambitious effort about a slave in Montreal who was hung for starting a fire that almost destroyed the city in 1834. I don’t have room to write about all the songs here, although they deserve it. Julian Fauth’s songwriting, vocals, choice of musicians all prove he’s rapidly becoming one of our major artists, get this disc and I think you’ll agree. With his always wonderful sense of humour, he says you should tell him you like the songs even if you don’t. Don’t worry, you will.
Last year’s Bluesland was the band album, this is the solo one by the veteran Edmonton roots performer who was just here at Hugh’s Room with his former Tri-Continental bandmate, Madagascar Slim and Michelle Josef. Always the consummate roots guitarist, his intricate finger picking gets centre stage on songs that take a few listens before you realize how much blues is in them. “Dixie Waltz”, “Hand On The Plow” and “Clap For The Healer” are three examples. “We Animal” maintains that for all our denials, we are not that different from animals and underlines that theme with a defiantly dirty electric slide guitar. If these songs are bluesy, then “Queen of Hearts” is the real thing, a doomy slide-heavy masterpiece. Bourne’s music has moved well beyond eclectic to a place where labels are meaningless. His ‘Official Virtuality’ is www.billbourne.com and all of his recordings are available there. Let’s hope he’s back this way soon.
Hamilton’s best-kept secret is making a move. The Smoke Wagon Blues Band has been a mainstay there for well over a decade, releasing independent CDs and graduating from the Hess Street Village scene to larger venues & festivals. The lineup has been unusually steady over that time, with Corey Lueck on vocals & harp and Mike Stubbs on guitar. They do almost all of the songwriting. Steve Pritchard on keyboards, Gord Aeichele on bass & sax and Gavin Robertson on drums are also long time members. Lueck gets top billing for his fine, whisky-stained vocals and his remarkable way with a blues ballad of which, happily, there are several. We can put this down to the Rod Stewart effect. It’s but a part of what they call a mix of ‘classic R&B, lowdown righteous blues, hypnotizing boogies & barn burners’. Whisky does indeed play a prominent part in their songs and the opener, “Devil Got My Woman” has her serving him bourbon for breakfast and he’s not complaining. “Hold On To You” is one of those ballads, with Pritchard on a string synthesizer. “Josephine” is an excellent grinder and the lead single. Guest Jesse O’Brien adds his inimitable piano/organ. They can do acoustic too, with “Hen House Hopping” serving as a perfect vehicle for Lueck’s double entendre lyrics. “Down Hearted Blues” is not quite what you’re expecting but an original long, slow blues featuring the horns of the Kingston St. Quartet and a good solo from Stubbs. “It Ain’t Easy (to lose the one you love)” is the best of those ballads, with Lueck at his finest and more help from the horns. “That Voodoo” is a duet, Lueck with Robin Banks, over a swampy rhythm cushion. Banks sounds great on these film noir lyrics and Lueck solos powerfully on amplified harp. Add “Damaged Time” to that ballad list. Ms. Banks gets a solo vocal on “Where Did I Go Wrong” as Lueck sits one out in a most generous gesture and she does not disappoint. “Drink By The Sink” is the closer, with Lueck singing through his harp mike over Stubbs’ dobro – a gorgeous and all too short slab of country blues. The web site is www.smokewagonbluesband.com and it shows no Toronto dates, maybe we’ll just have to go to Hamilton!
Veteran Vancouver guitar ace & bandleader Steve Kozak backed LA harpmeister James Harman at the Labatt International Blues Festival in Edmonton a couple of years ago, as he’s done on several other occasions; they hit it off so well that Harman guests on and co-produces Kozak’s new disc. Together they’ve come up with a delightful CD of West Coast swing. The title song is an upbeat little tune about how lucky he is to be playing blues with his friends. It has a lovely, jazzy feel about it, with Chris Nordquist on brushes. While keeping the mood, Harman turns the direction away from Kozak originals to songs by his favourite harp players: Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Your Funeral And My Trial”’ his own “Is It You?”, Little Walter’s “Little Girl”, Big Walter’s “Need My Baby”, William Clarke’s “I Know You’re Fine”, his own “Read My Mind” and Lazy Lester’s “I Hear You Knockin’”. With this group playing them, these versions just swing. More excellent Kozak originals are interspersed and his vocals & guitar work spot on. “Lay Low And Go Slow” and “Down At The Barroom” are highlights indeed. You’ll be feeling lucky to have this disc, find out more at www.stevekozakmusic.com.
Maria Muldaur’s recent discs for Stony Plain have featured the female blues pioneers in authentic, acoustic settings that have garnered, and deserved, multiple Grammy and Blues Foundation nominations. One cannot, of course, do that without the songs of Memphis Minnie and Producer Muldaur has drawn from those discs and added new performances from Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster and Rory Block. She also brought in recordings from Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor to make for an excellent survey of Memphis Minnie songs. “Me And My Chauffeur”, from Richland Woman Blues, was perhaps Minnie’s biggest hit and Muldaur performs it effortlessly with Roy Rogers on guitar. Bonnie Raitt’s recording career has precluded her doing material such as this so an opportunity to hear her do “Ain’t Nothin’ In Ramblin’” is not to be missed. Steve Freund joins her on guitar. Rory Block tackles “When You Love Me”, accompanying herself on several guitars, a song which may be on loan from a future album in her own blues masters series. The Phoebe Snow contribution is from her 1976 album, It Looks Like Snow – a mesmerizing performance of “In My Girlish Days”. “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed” is a rather useful piece of advice captivatingly passed along this time by Ruthie Foster, recorded, as were many of the others in Muldaur’s ‘Come On In My Kitchen’ studio. Choosing a Memphis Minnie song by Memphis-born Koko Taylor was a nice touch and “Black Rat Swing” closes out the program most dramatically and not just because of Bob Margolin’s electric slide. It’s taken from her 2007 CD on Alligator, Old School. The songs from Muldaur’s albums include the duets with Alvin Youngblood Hart as Little Son Joe on “She Put Me Outdoors” & “I’m Goin’ Back Home” and three songs featuring the fabulous duo of Steve James & Del Rey. Maria Muldaur is always delightful in this material and this disc proves once again that she belongs in the company of her perhaps more famous guests. She provides a brief biography of her idol in the liner notes and more complete info on all the players. This CD will be in stores on October 9th and according to www.mariamuldaur.com, she’ll be at the Sportsmen Tavern in Buffalo on the 15th, the closest she’ll get to us so far.
Last fall’s “The Dreamer” was a magnificent swansong to an illustrious career for Etta James. Ace Records in England had already begun a massive re-issue program of her earlier work and now her estate sanctions this generous live package. Etta had appeared at Montreux several times and while this release concentrates on her 1993 show, the excerpts from the other five are quite as good. The CD maxes out at 80 minutes but the DVD/BRD is double that, a feast by any standard and it sells at a very nice price. After a couple of band songs, Etta takes over with ”I Just Wanna Make Love To You”, (the CD starts here). And take over she does. She dominates the stage and the cameras capture her every move and every bead of sweat – Etta always gave everything she had. “I’d Rather Go Blind’, “How Strong Is A Woman”, “A Love Is Forever”, “Beware”, “Hard To Handle”, Just One More Day”, “Come To Mama” & “Why I Sing The Blues” show a stunning set list of the new and familiar. The remaining show excerpts, from ’75, ’77, ’78, ‘89 & ’90, lend new meaning to the word ‘extras’ and despite variations in the quality of the images, provide a fascinating glimpse of Etta at different stages in her career (and of changing fashions). She apparently hated being filmed which might explain why there is only one other DVD available. We owe a very large vote of thanks to Claude Nobs of the Montreux Festival for his persistence and to Eagle for providing us with this extravaganza.