John’s Blues Picks
I was too ill to attend but you heard Ms. Forrest introduce three songs from the new disc at the Womens’ Blues Revue last month. You’ll be able to hear them again with her own fine band at the end of the month when Mother Tongue Blues becomes available. As you discovered, she writes from an intensely personal perspective: in the opener, for instance, she addresses her audience and hopes they like the show, a little clip from a field holler trumpeting her desire to sing her blues. She also wants to sing them in her mother tongue, which I suspect with her upbringing in the Eastern Townships, is English. The arrangements for these songs are a delight, with the blend of acoustic and electric guitars providing an ever changing and always appropriate backdrop to her vocals. The violin and cello added to “Blue Firegirl” are especially effective. “Holy Man”, about her man, is also a highlight, with its wonderful spare, stop time arrangement. Acoustic slide & harp introduce “WTF”, a warning to apparently someone close that his lifestyle is self-destructive. The other songs all have strong features, from the a capella opening to the slide-driven grinder “Roll On Down” to the rocking “Livin’ It Up” to the lovely acoustic guitars of the closing ballad, “Someone”. Denis Coulombe on bass, Dimitri Lebel Alexandre on guitars, Sly Coulombe on drums and Bernard Quessy on keyboards form the basic band with Paul Deslauriers helping out on acoustic guitar and Steve Marriner on harp. Thanks to them, the focus stays on Angel and her excellent set of new songs. Her web site is www.angelforrest.ca.
The Amoeba Collective blends blues, rock, world beat hip hop, electro-acoustic and a dash of country. Bill Bourne you know and Tippy Agogo (Demian Mark) is a young man who specializes in found music and in mouth music, playing whatever is at hand and whatever can be generated with only the mouth and throat. A child of ethnomusicology professors, he has travelled and absorbed, establishing a unique, worldwide reputation for imaginative contributions. And it is a collective, with Madagascar Slim and Michelle Josef on guitar & drums, Donato Scipione on bass and Tom Mennier on keys. The disc is as eclectic as that genre list describes and while much of it is improvised, it is not chaotic – there is too much talent here for that. The basic tracks have been processed at some length and if that isn’t something you like then perhaps you should avoid this one. You will like “Mud Bear Park”, though, a tough, rocking blues, like something you might find on a Captain Beefheart album. “Black Banks” is also blues-based, with Josef’s prominent drums accompanying acoustic guitars and a great deal more in what seems to be a tale of industrial pollution although the subsequent processing obscures much of the lyrics. The gateway web site is http://www.bustedflatrecords.com/all-artists/tippy-agogo-and-bill-bourne.
Ben Racine is a young singer/guitarist from the Outaouais region of Quebec and he has developed a very unusual affinity for 50’s R&B. His original tunes sit very well beside the versions of “Early Times”, an Ike Turner production or “Shake A Hand”, in version reminiscent of Little Richard. Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog” moves us up to the ‘60’s but songs like “Modus Operandi”, “One of a Kind” and “Mighty Good Time” show how well he’s learned his lessons. Racine is an excellent vocalist and his compositions are about the relationship wars. In his songs he prefers to take an assertive, sometimes humourous, role, which suits his vocal style very well indeed. “Too Busy Being Pretty” and “Bad Lil’ Lady” are particularly good examples. The slow blues “Snap Jab” is a highlight, a song about a fight he feels he shouldn’t have started, with a woman who was more than his match. “Hot Grease” & “Marauder” end the disc in rocking style. In “Hot Grease”, our narrator is once again involved with the wrong woman in “Grease” and in “Marauder” he is both the guy unwilling to accept that his girl loves another and the car he’s driving, a stomping closer. The Ben Racine Band is also the Iguane Records House Band, with label pres Nicky Estor on drums, former Talent Search winner Kevin Mark on bass and the horn section of Little Frankie Thiffault on tenor sax and Mat “Moose” Mousseau on baritone. The Paris-based wizard of the keyboards is Vinz Pollet-Villard, who has learned his lessons very well too. Racine won the New Artist of the Year Award at Quebec’s Lys Awards this past summer and is nominated in that category in the MBAs, maybe on January 21st he’ll get that one-two punch.
Hamilton’s André Bisson & the J-Tones seem intent on making Steel Town into Soul Town. What they call an R&B Experience is a full-featured horn band. A relatively young Bisson sings, plays guitar & piano and writes the band’s material, but the horns do the heavy lifting. This is their fourth album and they’re quite close enough to the real thing. Loretta Hale plays trumpet, with Francis Hale on saxes. Veteran Darcy Hepner guests on tenor sax as well, taking many of the solos. Jesse O’Brien sits in on keyboards with the rhythm section consisting of Brad Cheeseman on bass and Matt Burns on drums. “Two Way Street” stands out as a highlight, with its toe-tapping groove and fiery guitar solo. It’s followed by the tuneful “Ode To Mr. Jangles”. “Real Bad Feelin’” is a fine, straight ahead blues, with O’Brien taking the solo on his B3. Bisson gets to shows his guitar chops on the instrumental “Melting Pot”, which owes a little to Freddie King. A blues version of Bon Jovi’s “You Give Love A Bad Name” closes the program and it fits in nicely. Maybe he’ll come down the QEW and play here someday. His web site is www.andrebisson.ca.
Harp master Pierre Lacocque is the founder and leader of Mississippi Heat. Born in Israel of Christian Belgian parents, he went to high school and to McGill in Montreal and his manager/brother still lives there. He has lived in Chicago since then and has led the Heat for 20 years, an anniversary celebrated with this release. He has been the one constant member in an ever-changing lineup and many alumnae gathered here to help celebrate. He writes almost all their material and has had the good fortune to keep Inetta Visor as his lead vocalist, a role she’s filled for eleven years now. Kenny Smith has been on drums for almost as long and Johnny Iguana is now on piano & organ. Visor’s predecessor, Dietra Farr, guests on three songs, Carl Weathersby on guitar on two and Billy Flynn on guitar on four. The Heat’s style has been described as ‘traditional blues with a unique sound’ and that’s what you continue to get, no easy task at the best of times and especially with a constantly changing lineup. You’ll like “Look-A-Here, Baby”, with Farr on vocals. A non-alumnus but an excellent idea was to bring in Chubby Carrier on accordion for “New Orleans Man” giving that dimension to the traditional program. “My Mother’s Plea” features Visor on a slow blues with a fine solo from Flynn. Another Lacocque composition is “What’s Happening To Me?” which nails the bluebird tradition and gets another fine vocal from Deitra Farr and a fine piano solo from Iguana. Throughout, Lacocque’s harp is front & centre and he keeps everything in that 50’s Chicago groove, I hope he keeps it up for a good while longer. The web site is www.mississippiheat.net.
As good as his recent studio albums have been, his live shows sell out continuously, so why not a live album and why not at his famous club in Chicago? We go back to January 29 & 30, 2010 during a residency there. He’s since moved the club to a new location, making this a rather nice souvenir as well. And it is Buddy Guy show for sure, complete with sudden changes of dynamics and of direction, audience participation, spoken asides and plenty of his wild guitar playing. His road band are well aware of all this and are right on the money throughout. The one song that he does straight is “Skin Deep” from the then current CD, and he gives us an impassioned performance of this indictment of racism. A long-running highlight of his live set is a ride through various blues men’s styles. We pick it up here with John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom”, which morphs into Cream’s “Strange Brew”. Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” eventually becomes Cream’s “Sunshine of Your Love”. The irony here of course is that Guy was playing this kind of blues live long before but Leonard Chess refused to record him, an error he admitted to only much later. But back to the disc at hand: Buddy is at the top of his game here, engaging, funny, profane and with the audience completely in his hands.
Perhaps 40 minutes was thought to be enough for an audio-only recording so we are treated to three songs left off last year’s Living Proof. Obviously that album was the product of a very fruitful session, because there is no noticeable reason for these not to have been included, they are that good: “Polka Dot Love” is a solid blues, “Coming For You” a tough slab of funk with the Memphis Horns doing what they so well. Muddy’s “Country Boy” is a glorious closer, just the band & Buddy playing the kind of blues that earned him the Kennedy Center Honors last month.