John’s Blues Picks
Harry Manx and his album titles just get better & better (Isle of Manx, Bread And Buddha, In Good We Trust, West Eats Meet). Don’t be mislead by the ‘Om’ part as the songs here show a further development in incorporating Eastern elements into his own style. A prime example is the appearance of electric slide guitar (the ‘ohm’ part), but not as we’ve come to know it: he has taken what he’s learned from Indian music and come with a sound he calls ‘electric Bollywood’. The Mohan Veena shows up on only a couple of songs. There is also much collaboration, with the African inspired musician Yeshe, the composer/producer Hans Christian and the didgeridoo player Gangi Giri (much of the album was recorded in Australia). For all this mixing of cultures, “Further Along” is prime Manx, a toe tapper with African touches. “Way Out Back” sees Manx doubling on National Steel and acoustic slide as Gunjurra Waitairie talks and sings of the great Australian landscape – Clayton Doley’s organ is a treat, Gangi Giri plays the didje. A further surprise in the set list is John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”, or rather a part of it. The famous four-note theme is from a South Indian folk song. Manx’s version adds new vocals, especially for Emily Braden. It’s a sure measure of Manx’s art that a jazz landmark can adapted so successfully. “The Blues Dharma” uses strings for the first time, enhancing a lovely slide instrumental. “Saya” has that African groove again, with Yeshi on n’goni. “Carry My Tears” acts as a sort of ground zero here, the one song with no collaborators and without the outside influences the others in this collection have. It was written as a memorial for a friend who passed recently and got Manx nominated for Songwriter of the Year at the Western Canadian Music Awards. In his notes, Manx refers to the traditional “Reuben’s Train” as the best example of his electric slide work, and with his acoustic guitar, bass & drums as accompaniment, he’s worked up a beautiful version of this old banjo tune. Quite an eclectic group of songs then, and all recognizably part of the Harry Manx sound –an amazing accomplishment, there would appear to be no limit to what he could use next. Om Suite Ohm is set for release on Feb. 13 and he will be in Waterloo that day before heading to Peterborough and Hamilton. His Toronto appearances are part of the Folk Alliance Conference Feb. 20-24. In particular the TBS Blues Showcase on Wed. Feb. 20, with Suzie Vinnick, The Sojourners & The 24 St. Wailers. (www.folkalliance.com). Www.harrymanx.com is his cutting edge web site.
Since the 24th Street Wailers Talent Search victory in 2010, they have toured virtually non-stop, topped off with a semi-finalist showing at the IBCs last year. With their Unshakeable CD still fresh and garnering great radio play and chart success, they’re now releasing a live recording to capture the results of their hard work. Drummer/vocalist/songwriter Lindsay Beaver is from Halifax and choosing a hometown bar filled with loyal fans doubles the excitement. Their boundless, youthful energy comes through amazingly well in this recording of two shows from Bearly’s House of Blues & Ribs last November. They chose a blend of their blues favourites to go along with three originals, the favourites being chosen from the R&B canon just made for roaring sax solos, a tradition that Jonathan Wong fearlessly continues. “All Around The World” is a song you might know better as Little Milton’s “Grits Ain’t Groceries” but whatever one calls it, Lindsay Beaver’s vocals jump out of the speakers. Jon Wong shows why he won the MBA for Horn Player from the opening notes. On CD, though, we can’t see him soloing as he walks through the dancers. Emily Burgess doesn’t receive as much notice but she has no problem at all keeping up her end in the solo department. Beaver sings from behind the drums and with husband Michael Archer on bass supply a rock-solid foundation throughout. They don’t let up on a rocking version of “Jim, Jack, Johnny & Me” from Unshakeable, with plenty of room for solos. Marc Doucet from Shirley Jackson’s band, joins Emily on guitar for Billy Emerson’s “The Pleasure’s All Mine”, which is doubly welcome for being rarely covered. The R&B standard “Shake A Hand” gets a restrained workout until Wong’s solo, where he really gets to shine. Beaver shows her skill at audience involvement after that – her stage presence is a huge part of this chemistry. “Never-Ending Day” is a new one by Beaver and it’s a good one. “Mojo” is a song I didn’t need to hear again on CD, especially at over ten minutes, but Lindsay’s audience interaction shines through as she begins with just her drums accompanying. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Empty Arms” is a feature for Burgess and she smokes it. Doucet returns on 2nd guitar for Burgess’ own instrumental “Love Triangle”, again from Unshakeable. “Shake Your Moneymaker” is a fine choice as a disc closer, with Wong’s sax taking the intro instead of slide guitar. This is a band best seen live and you can see them do it all again at Hugh’s Room on Feb. 6, or failing that whenever you can – their gigs are listed at www.the24thstreetwailers.com. And don’t forget The TBS Blues Showcase at the Folk Alliance Conference on Feb. 20
Montreal’s Rob Lutes will debut his new CD solo at the Gladstone on Feb. 7 in the TBS/Gladstone concert Series. You’ll find that his sixth disc full of excellent new songs. His last, live, album featured a couple of Chris Smither songs and that seems like a good way of letting you know what to expect: the intersection of blues, folk, Americana and singer/songwriter. What will strike you immediately is his skill at writing literate lyrics wedded to attractive melodies, memorably delivered by his distinctive voice. He often plays solo but the CD benefits enormously from the subtle contributions of a number of players. His regular lead guitarist, Rob MacDonald is among them but fiddle, drums & percussion, bass and piano are there as well – all beautifully arranged. The songs themselves defy easy description and Lutes himself only writes about where he wrote them in his liner notes. He has made the lyrics available at his web site (www.roblutes.com) so you can peruse them at your leisure. I think you’ll enjoy “The Ship That Sails Today”, “Things We Didn’t Choose” or “Look Out Boy”. Loudon Wainwright’s “Natural Disaster” is the one not written or co-written for the album and it curiously doesn’t have the sly humour that Wainwright’s comparison of a relationship to every natural disaster he could think of might have – a small quibble. This is an acoustic album you’ll keep coming back to.
Veteran Regina guitarist Jack Semple is not well known, no doubt because he doesn’t travel much. He augments his blues income with TV & movie soundtrack work and commercial jingles, and is rather successful at it, it seems from his web site. Already an accomplished player, he did come to Toronto in the 80’s, where he fell in with The Lincolns. After a couple of years with them, he returned to be with his family and has now released his ninth CD. He took his love of R&B back with him and that remains his bedrock style. He works with an augmented trio here, Steve Hoy on drums and Dave Chobot on bass, keyboards and bg vocals but what sets this album apart is Semple’s songwriting, very good tunes delivered in a high, plaintive voice, and that combination has propelled him up the charts in the short time since its release. “Howlin’” is a very attractive opener, a funky bit of autobiography that may be one of the finest ‘why I sing the blues’ songs extant – how he came to be ‘in the blue light’. Here, and through the whole disc, his guitar work is spectacular, how he has avoided being recognized by an MBA nomination is beyond me. Another highlight is “Lord Have Mercy”, a tender love song with a gorgeous melody and a nicely varied arrangement. “Nothin’ To Lose” is a fine blues that unfortunately has a few too many cliché phrases. “Brand New Low” is a one-chord diatribe on politicians and the media that will have lots of listeners nodding in agreement. This one is augmented with beautifully arranged horns. A perceptive slow blues, “Shut Up”, tells people to stop complaining so much, to recognize how well off they really are. The group’s virtuosity is spotlighted with a couple of knockout instrumentals: “Spankin’” & “Little Joe”. At www.jacksemple.com, he calls his rhythm section “the best groove machine north of Memphis” – you’ll have to get this one to listen for yourself but having good tunes to play surely helps!
Sunday Wilde’s forthright, quavering voice takes some getting used to but once you do that, this Atikokan-based barrelhouse pianist will show you why she’s getting so much chart action. Beautifully recorded at a lodge deep in the woods, with David West on guitar and Rory Slater on upright bass, she takes us through a program of ten originals and two covers, one by Bessie Smith, which as with her last album seems placed to identify herself with the tradition of blues queens. Her songs have that pre-war feel but there’s also a rockabilly strand here that is very appealing. The unusual choice of a slow blues to open is “Down The Road Alone”. With West on slide, she says it ‘captures the remote sadness of living in the north’. “Shaken Down” has West on dobro picks up the tempo on dealing with the hard living part of the blues mama tradition. Some of the songs are more roots-oriented than blues and feature occasional violin, accordion and mailbox percussion. Percussion accompanies the a capella version of “Blue Spirit Blues,” lending graphic meaning to the dream sequence of the song. The combination of barrelhouse blues and roots music here is attracting much attention outside blues circles and I wish her the best. She was here performing at the Cameron House recently, at a time when it might have been just as cold as in Atikokan. She also filmed a video at the Now Magazine studio. Find out more at www.sundaywilde.com.