John’s Blues Picks
To celebrate his induction into the Canadian Music Industry Hall of Fame during Canadian Music Week and with his last album receiving a Blues Juno nomination, we get his first live album. Recorded over three nights at Vancouver’s Commodore Ballroom, the older songs were selected by fans and there are live versions of songs from FIFTEEN to round it out. With a band of another guitar, keyboards, bass, drums and two saxes, this is a stomping program, especially when the baritones saxes kick in. The audience certainly came prepared, each song instantly recognized and in some cases, they sing along with James – check out Morgan Davis’ “Why’d You Lie?” the B side of his first single and still a concert staple 25 years later. “Bad Habits” also gets a rousing workout. The slide driven “Stones In My Passway”/”Just Came Back” (a number one hit) rounds out the contributions from the more overtly blues side of his repertoire but the rocking side sure does rock – the audience loved it and so will you. The over 80 minute program is just the regular CD, two more songs from a sound check plus a video of the performance of Peter Green’s ‘Oh Well” from the show are also available. The Canadian Music Week press release points to James’ ‘injecting his zeal for blues into pop rock’ and the ‘commercial adoration that received’. He also ‘led a revival of swing with his Little Big Band’ with his ‘uncanny adeptness for jazz standards’ and he ‘continues to be active today.’ No mean achievement in this industry. This live disc is all the proof you need.
The Maple Blues Award for Best New Artist or Group is intended to be a springboard to greater things. It would seem that their 2011 Award certainly accomplished its goal. What started it all was their very successful first CD, Tales From Lenny’s Diner. One immediate result of that night was Sabrina’s invitation to join the Women’s Blues Revue last fall. The buzz also led to another accomplishment: the invitation that the much-anticipated new album would be streamed at CBC Music. Not bad for a three year old band from Kamloops. They haven’t rested on their laurels though, and this new disc will serve them well. Producer Jack Lavin’s big addition this time is a full horn section, giving the album a jump blues vibe. But an even bigger change, as you might have guessed from the cover art, is the emphasis on Sabrina. And she carries the load easily. She starts right off with “Got My Eye On You”, a grinder in which ‘no’ is not an acceptable answer. Most of the songs here were written by Sabrina with guitarist Mike Hilliard and an especially fine one is “This Lady Sings The Blues”, a bit of autobiography in a sultry, jazzy setting. Another vocal tour de force is “Swing Cat Bounce”, a delightful number nominally about two cats dancing. “Sunday” is this album’s “Wrath of Mom” her focus this time is how important it is for to have Sundays to herself – another highlight. The web site, wwwsabrinaweeks.com, says they’ll be touring the country with this album and I hope they get here. It’ll be good to see her with the band that’s generating such good reviews for their live show,
Those of you who remember Jake & the Blue Midnights will find a much heavier, rockier sound on Jake’s new disc. He has filled in the time since that disc with numerous guest appearances as a session guitarist and releasing a CD single in 2009, Love & War. His power trio sound now is not unlike that of a Jimmy Bowskill and it is a very crowded field. His songs and his guitar playing will make the difference and here he certainly holds his own. The songs are well written and imaginatively arranged, with the guitar serving the needs of the song rather than the other way around. His vocals are strong and assured with a touch of processing, which gives it a hard, edgy quality that turns out to be quite appealing. Chris Banks is on bass & Sly Juhas is on drums, giving Jake and his guitars all the support he needs. Highlights for me among this strong set are the slide-driven “Let’s Do It Again”, a little bit of soul called “Diamond in a Coalmine” and the ballad “When Love Goes Wrong”. There’s also a fine version of RJ’s “Stones In My Passway” but given the quality of his own songs, one wonders why it’s here. The CD release is Thursday, April 11 at the Dakota Tavern with a copy of the disc included in the price of admission.
If, like me, you like a really raw, un-adorned electric guitar, this disc is just what the doctor ordered. John Pippus is a veteran rocker from Vancouver and with his son Jacob on drums, Tony Kerr on bass and recent addition Aynsley Leonard on harmony vocals & percussion, he’s served up a fine disc of original blues, rock, soul & roots music. He began playing in rock bands until he burned out and then retired to raise a family for twenty years, this is his fourth album since his return. “Howl At The Moon” is a new rock anthem and one that aging rockers everywhere can relate to: he urges us all to forget about aging and get on with life. “Bozos On The Bus” switches to acoustic for a caustic comment on contemporary culture. The one cover is a fine version of Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing”. Pippus’ vocal is spot-on. “Those Five Days” is the current single and he uses that raw guitar sound well on a swampy blues that harkens back to his punk days. “Mean Hearted Woman” is a slow blues on a much-used theme but I think you’ll be impressed at his ability to express it in new ways and his vocal delivery. His guitar solo is pretty good too. “Whole Lot Of Love” is a faster version of the same theme, this time laced with anger. He was here for Canadian Music Week and I hope his trip was successful, his music certainly deserves to widely heard. Www.johnpippus.com will keep you informed.
Perhaps as a way of explaining the album’s title, the press release stresses that Duke Robillard has done some new things to blues tunes. The disc opens though, with a solid Chicago-style blues, “I Wouldn’t-a Done That”. “Below Zero” is built on an electrified country blues lick before veering off into Rolling Stones territory. The song, written by Duke & Al Basile, is a very good one about being hopelessly in debt. There’s some fine singing by Duke and the two-guitar attack with Monster Mike Welch is a treat and indeed, a treat throughout the album. Welch adapted Jimmy Smith for “Stapled To The Chicken’s Back” and the two guitars just run with it. “Patrol Wagon Blues” is an old jazz tune recorded by Henry “Red” Allen and not the country blues version done by several others, trumpet and clarinet accompany some of Duke’s most mannered singing. “Moongate” is a tremolo-laden slow blues, a Duke original, contemplating his mortality as he sits in a Chinese garden – an ‘independent’ highlight. “I’m Still Laughing” is a Basile song that lists all the bad things that have happened. “Strollin’ With Lowell & BB” is exactly what it says and is as delightful as you’d want. “This Man, This Monster” is by Welch and is a lovely two-guitar instrumental. “If This Is Love” is one of Duke’s and closes the album as it began, with a solid, no-frills blues. And that’s just what this CD is, solid, no-frills blues, title notwithstanding. It’s among the best he’s done and you should go out and get it on April 9.
The normally reclusive Ronnie Earl convened the Broadcasters for a series of concerts, the highlights of which make up his latest Stony Plain disc and a generous one it is, stretching to over 80 minutes of prime blues. The band has not changed, Lorne Entress on drums, Dave Lumina on keys and Jim Mouradian on bass lock in with the kind of chemistry that only long-time familiarity can provide. Ronnie Earl fans know what to expect here and gorgeous recording ensures they get it. Earl’s soloing is as fluid and inventive as always, fully utilizing the dynamic possibilities of each song. “Blues For Hubert Sumlin” is an obvious choice, with his recent passing and it’s an impressive tribute to a major influence and mentor. This disc isn’t a live troll through the catalogue, the songs here are new, with “Vernice’s Boogie” by Lumina among the Earl originals. John Coltrane’s “Equinox”, a new version of “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” and Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” are delightful additions. The latter continues Earl’s practice of inviting younger musicians on stage with Diane Blue taking the CD’s only vocal. Nicholas Tabarias joins in on guitar on two others. The uptempo set opener, “Big Train”, is also available as a video at his web site. “Blues for Celie” is the kind of slow blues he excels at, his long, fluid lines having lots of time to develop – it runs over nine minutes. He knows about programming CDs, though, “Robert Nighthawk Stomp” and “Jukein’” are short, fast and exciting. The press release talks about his ‘spellbinding intensity’, his fans already know this and you’ll become one listening to this disc if you aren’t already. He’ll bring the Broadcasters to the Ottawa Blues Festival on Fri. July 5.