John’s Blues Picks
A recent pilgrimage to the birthplace of the blues was the spark behind guitar virtuoso & multiple MBA winner David Gogo’s thirteenth album. The song ideas he picked up along the Blues Trail are delivered in true Gogo style – his unique blend of Rolling Stones, early Fleetwood Mac & Ray Charles. “Come On Down” suggests he wasn’t entirely happy with what he saw, with its lines about empty shacks and closed stores. He sings ‘we need to remove these rose coloured glasses and come on down from the hilltop’. We need to acknowledge the past but realize that this is the past and move on. A couple of songs later, in “Natchez Dog”, the closest he comes to a traditional blues, he sings about empty churches and schools over some lovely acoustic slide and excellent harp as he laments his departing love. If these songs are his way of moving forward, he’s done fine job. The rest of the disc stays closer to Gogo’s blues-rock style, with the opener, “Bad ‘n’ Ruin”, serving that purpose in fine fashion (the chorus goes: ‘Mother you won’t recognize me now’). “Worth It” is an anthemic soul work out and ‘worth it’ for the whole album, it is such a good performance. The Stones-ish rocker “Kings” turns out not to be about those blues greats but being wanting to be treated like one, even if only for one night. A couple of songs by the later version of Fleetwood Mac are here too. The best news is that he’s going to be bringing these new songs here this month. Starting at the Henry of Pelham Winery on the 14th and Hugh’s Room on the 15th before heading to Peterborough and Stevensville. www.davidgogo.com has all this info but you can also download his very own app and have it all at your fingertips on your phone.
This Mississauga-born but longtime Nashville-based guitarist has been spending more time here recently and this is a good thing, especially when he puts out albums like this. An acoustic collection, he wanted to show that there is more his music than power trios, his usual performing style. He also wanted to ‘go back to where the music came from’. One of his new songs is “Blues In Technicolor”, in which he states clearly that he does not see the need to restrict himself to blues. To that end: “…Before The Beginning” is a brief gospel call & response intro with a trio of female singers who play a prominent role throughout, indeed they give the whole affair a gospel flavour. “Blues is Good” uses that trio to good effect for an anthem that is closely based on Little Milton’s “The Blues Is Alright”, which I think we’ve all heard often enough.
“Lady Soul” is his tribute to Aretha and has a rather nice tune and a prominent piano part. “Sinner’s Song” is an excellent soul blues. “Rescue Me” is perhaps the highlight of the disc for me, another well-written soul blues. His vision includes pop tunes and even dance hall tunes. “Golden Wheel” is the only overtly gospel tune and it’s a good one, reminding me of Danny Brooks. A country song like “Old Ten Wheeler” even turns into a gospel rave up. Gomes does not have to sing over the loud guitars here and does it very well, no matter the song style.
His acoustic guitar playing is excellent and beautifully recorded. This is an ambitious album and I hope he does well with it. It’ll be interesting to see how he fits these songs into his show. He stops in Kincardine for their Lighthouse Festival on July 12 before heading to the Festival International du Blues de Mont Tremblant the next day.
One of our elite harmonica players and singers, an educator, and a longtime member of our Board of Directors, Bird Stafford (a childhood nickname) has given us a master class in Chicago blues. He was involved in the previous Little Walter tributes and has a couple of CDs to his name and now he has chosen perhaps the highest hurdle of all: a program of songs from that golden age. He may not quite make us forget the originals but he has given us a performance that will impress you time and time again. In particular, his singing is simply superb. The playing is completely idiomatic as well, with Bird stellar on harp, Aaron Griggs and Fabio Parovel showing us how to play guitar in this music and Dennis Pinhorn & Tyler Burgess showing us how on bass & drums. There are some lesser-known songs here from Sonny Boy Wlliamson (II): “Blind Love”, “I Found Joy” & “I Don’t Know”, there’s a lovely set of variations on Little Walter’s “Juke” along with the more familiar “Sloppy Drunk”, “Mellow Down Easy” or “It’s Too Late Brother”. You’ll know instantly that Bird and the band have lived with these songs for their entire lives. They’ll do it all again at the Delta on July 18.
This veteran Quebec performer has only occasionally gone by his own name, having performed for years as leader of the Boppin’ Blues Band, whose music was firmly in the Downchild mold. That’s a bit of an oversimplification and I use it only because with this album he has gone for something more basic and has come up with a gem. In a quartet setting and mostly live off the floor, he wanted to create a bar band album and he came up with the songs to carry it off. The title song is an infectious, open invitation to go out to a blues club tonight and it is irresistible. Other highlights include: “Mind Your Own Business” which proves conclusively that Magic Slim penetrated the Eastern Townships. Well done! There’s also a very fine slow blues in French, “J’essaierai De Tenir Debout”, or “I’ll Try To Stand Up Straight”. A couple of his songs deal with the perils of overdoing it: “Blame It On Addiction” and “Should Quit Your Drinking” but they don’t detract too much from the party mood. He was here a couple of years ago at the Ex with his organ trio, it’s time he returned.
A Ph.D. in Psychology keeps him busy in Edmonton when not performing, and hence the album’s title. This is the fourth CD for this acoustic guitarist and it is also a step upward for a solo act, with supporting musicians including the Holmes Brothers on one song. The unobtrusive band consists of David “Hurricane” Hoerl on harp, Russell Jackson on upright bass, David Aide on occasional B3 and Dwayne Hrinkiw on drums. Barry Allen adds background vocals. Lawrence has come up with eleven originals and adds two covers to round out the program. Prairie life supplies the subject material for most of these, “Another Saturday Night” being a pretty accurate depiction of a night on the town there. “Ballad of Molly Brown” sports a lively tune for his tale of love. “Factory Closing Blues” has lyrics that a lot of us can relate to but even the Homes Brothers can’t do much to rescue the drone vocal line. “Mean Momma Blues” has some fine harp from Hoerl on this hoedown. Lawrence is an excellent blues guitarist, coming up with very imaginative arrangements that have been well recognized in the community. My only reservation concerns his singing, which has not improved much over the course of his discography. But if you go to his web site, www.marshalllawrence.com, you’ll see that my reservation hasn’t kept him from getting quite a lot of work.
When Watermelon Slim was first signed to Ottawa-based NorthernBlues, he was a regular visitor around these parts, playing numerous shows and participating in TBS workshops to enthusiastic reviews. His dramatic arrival on the North American scene generated multiple awards and nominations. He hasn’t been back as frequently recently and has had a rather low profile of late. It turns out he’s been living quietly in Clarksdale, MS and his last album was a duet with Super Chikan, the Clarksdale veteran. Before that he had talked about retiring after doing a couple of well-received country albums. The Workers were laid off. Maybe now he felt that his retirement had lasted long enough, but in any event, the Workers are back and this disc shows that the lay off hasn’t hurt his music one bit. A signature Watermelon Slim version of Junior Wells’ “Tomorrow Night” sets the stage and it doesn’t let up after that. His slide opens “Bull Goose Rooster”, a signifying song if there ever was one. He tries his hand at jazz crooning next, an original ballad done as a duet with Diane Schnebelen, of the young Kansas City band Trampled Under Foot backed only with piano. It’s not a bad performance but I must say I was relieved when his electric slide guitar played the roaring intro to Woody Guthrie’s “Vigilante Man.” It leads very nicely into one of his own political songs, “Wrench In The Machine”, a stomping call for action. This theme continues after one (of two) Slim Harpo songs with “Prison Walls” and a little later “The Foreign Policy Blues”. Two trucking songs, which may have been left off the earlier country albums are here too but in the hands of the Workers, they fit right in. Another, not as unusual, departure from the norm, is a masterful a capella version of “Take My Mother Home’. He then adds another: Stan Rogers’ “Northwest Passage” – a breath-taking performance. There’s also a heavily amplified harp instrumental, “The Wobble” and a delightful original folk song, “Words Are Coming To An End” just accompanying himself on acoustic guitar. With a little time on his hands, there seems to be no limit to what Watermelon Slim can do. Welcome back, Slim.