John’s Blues Picks
Since Jeff’s passing in 2008, two band CDs and the long-rumoured solo CD have been released through his Estate. It has now sanctioned a generous package of live recordings from Germany that document live shows from 1989, 1995 and 2000. The audio-only version is a 3CD set and a deluxe version that includes the three shows on 2 DVDs is also available – the German practice of having live music on television should make us green with envy. I’m sure the strength of their music scene is the direct result of the wide exposure this gets. The 1989 tour was one of his first, riding the success of “Angel Eyes” and the Roadhouse movie appearance and those songs feature prominently. Songs from the new albums are featured of course, stretched out with Jeff’s mesmerizing solos. There is some overlap between the discs as some of the most popular songs stayed on the set list but playing a song exactly the same way twice was never an option for Jeff and besides, the ‘95 tour added Pat Rush on the second guitar and the ‘00 tour, Phillip Sayce, each of whom added mightily to the sound in their own way. There are simply too many musical highlights to list here but Christie Healey’s notes take you through the shows with generous help from almost all the players. The audio is well nigh perfect and the video production is simply superb. The eleven years covered here show Jeff’s development on one of his favourite places, on stage in front of an enthusiastic audience. You will enjoy whichever disc you play, this is a magnificent addition to his discography and to your library. Stay informed by visiting the estate web site, www.jeffhealey.com.
The long-awaited second disc by this popular Montreal duo is finally here and at first listen, it’s a rather folky affair. Three songs by Rob Lutes are here, along with songs by Bruce Cockburn and Jacques Brel among the new originals. And it’s the new originals that will change your opinion. “Good Man” is by Dawn, with Paul on electric and is a marvelous slow blues on how hard it is to find one. They plug in for “Tootsie” but then do a remarkable acoustic version of Hendrix’ “Crosstown Traffic”. If this were an LP, a blues fan could just play the second side. Subsequent hearings reveal more and more blues: “If You Only Knew”, by Ottawa’s Trevor Finlay, is an excellent opener, a blues duet with each of them finishing each other’s lines. Lutes’ “Take It Nice” has a lovely, lilting Piedmont feel to it, with Sam Harrison on brushes and a mouth trombone solo by Dawn – wonderful stuff. Lutes’ “Heaven” is a rather more somber song with a solid blues vocal from Dawn. “Tootsie” has a couple of electric guitars under Dawn’s lascivious vocal. Paul has about the same number of vocals but his tend more to the folky side this time. All in all there is a fine balance here and I think you’ll be going back to it several times as well. You may not get this in time but they are in Hamilton June 1 for the new Roots & Blues Festival. www.dawnandpaul.com was under construction as I write this but it should be ready soon.
The hard-touring Ross Neilson Band continues with ambitious recording plans as well. Redemption was a band album recorded at The Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch Studio in Mississippi, then a Neilsen solo acoustic disc at the Shack Up Inn in Clarksdale and now a new band album with hard-rocking Anders Osborne at Dockside Studios in Maurice, Louisiana. Osborne was a good choice as his studio wizardry plus the engineering prowess of Warren Riker are an important part of what Neilsen calls his ‘sonic assault’. This may be the most gorgeous-sounding guitar album yet, at least for this column. The full range of possibilities a modern studio provides is on display here and most importantly, it’s in the service of Neilsen’s excellent new songs. Osborne joins Neilsen on guitar for most of the disc and they make the most of the two-guitar attack. “When My Trouble’s Gone (I’ll Stop Drinking)” gets the appropriate accompaniment from those two guitars, along with the new rhythm section of Karl Gans on drums and Jim “The Temp” Guitar on bass. The breakup song “Year of Tears” sports the best melody of the new ones, with a soaring lead guitar line. “Daddy Taught Me” is one of two longer songs that really show off his songwriting chops. This heartfelt tribute to his late father is set to an attractive interplay between rhythm & lead guitars. “Heartbreak Apart” & “Devil’s Wife” are two more very good songs. “Lay Down No More” is a lovely solo acoustic ballad. The other longer effort, closing the CD as “Bold and Beaten” did on Redemption, is “Juanita” a story song that he says, brings Neil Young & Crazy Horse to mind. Very good songs, excellent guitar(s), vocals that aren’t buried in the mix, beautifully recorded, what are you waiting for, get this one now. www.rossneilsen.com shows a lengthy west coast tour but they’ll be here at Monarch’s Pub on August 22. Be there.
Al Lerman’s solo career, when he’s not with Fathead, continues apace with his second release. There seems to be much more work for a solo performer outside of Toronto and indeed that’s where he lives now. The Acoustic Grill is in Picton, near Belleville, and is a fixture on the blues/roots circuit. They even have their own recording label, of which this one is album number 6 (Ross Neilsen has #4). Al plays acoustic throughout, with his harp on a rack and chose a program of new originals, a couple of Fathead songs he wrote and a brace of blues favourites. As he mentions in the notes, these songs take him back to the Riverboat in Yorkville, where as a teen the blues masters that came through greatly influenced him and so we get “Cocaine”, via Dave van Ronk and “I Love You Baby”, via Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee. He clearly remembers very well. Two more of these favourites open the show: Muddy’s “Close To You” and Elmore’s “It Hurts Me Too”, before we get “Charmalene”, originally on Where’s Your Head At?. “Move On Up” from the same disc follows “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl”. His new ones are very good too, especially “Slippery Slope” and “Take A Little Time For Yourself”. The show was beautifully recorded and makes for a fine partner to Crowe River Blues. He brings his show to the Dominion on Queen on Saturday, June 15th – you’ll be able to get them both there. Al’s site is www.allermanmusic.com and you should also visit www.theacousticgrill.com.
The Bentroots are a group of veterans who were the house band at the Chick ‘N Deli on Mt. Pleasant for many years. The guitarist and songwriter is Nick Balkou, who goes back to the Yorkville days and bands like the Ugly Ducklings. Mike Fonfara needs no introduction here and Ed Roth is also a veteran keyboard and accordion player, most recently with Son Roberts. Duncan McBain is on drums and a veteran of countless bands. Robert ‘Smiley’ Newman is not quite as veteran as the others but still goes back twenty years or so. They’ve enjoyed playing together so much that this is now their third CD. Patrons of the old Club Bluenote on Pears Avenue will recognize the format, with guest singers dropping in. Balkou’s songs are uniformly excellent, with the emphasis this time on some funky New Orleans R&B. The thirteen singers do a great job with them too, beginning with John Findlay’s take on “Pocket Full Of Blues”. Other highlights include Johnny Wright’s “Let’s Not Forget”, John Mays’ “Feels Like Christmas”, Betty Richardson’s “Things Won’t Ever Change” (a magnificent slow blues with a rap middle section by Titus), Johnny Max’s “Ou Dat” and John Dickie’s “Just Can’t Get Over Losing You”. These players are really enjoying themselves and their CD launch, with all the singers, at the Revival Club on May 7, received rave reviews. You can check them out every Monday at the Relish Tapas Bar & Grill at 2152 Danforth, at Woodbine. The web site is www.bentroots.ca.
The fourth in her mentor series, Ms. Block writes about John Hurt as well as she plays his songs. Her research and preparation has given her insights that led her to a new appreciation of his music and influence, one she’s more than happy to share with us. The disc opens with some of these thoughts set out in an original song, “Everybody Loves John”. She even includes a verse on her first hearing and meeting him as a teen. As with the earlier discs in the series, Ms. Block stays fairly close to the originals in her performances but embellishes each one with guitar and vocal overdubs that’ll bring a smile to your face. “Louis Collins” gets extra slide parts and harmony vocals, as does “Richland Woman Blues” and “Stagolee”. Multiple overdubs create a choir on some songs and it’s particularly effective on “Everybody Loves John”. Her vocals are exceptional, she’s not John Hurt and doesn’t pretend to be but you’ll find very little to fault in her interpretations. The basic track of each song is her gorgeously recorded and beautifully played fingerpicked guitar and each one could probably stand on its own, the end product however is more than worth the effort she put into it – a tribute that every John Hurt fan will want. By popular demand, Stony Plain has made audiophile quality downloads available at www.hdtracks.com, along with the new Duke Robillard & Ronnie Earl.