John’s Blues Picks September 2015 – Sugar Brown “Poor Lazarus”
Sugar Brown “Poor Lazarus” (Self)
Sugar Brown is also known as Dr. Ken Kawashima, Ph.D. While his doctorate is in East Asian history, he applies the same high level of expertise to classic blues. The lengths to which this man of Japanese heritage, raised in Ohio and a long time Toronto resident has gone to do this will be apparent from the moment you hit play. The sound is totally authentic: he has tried very hard to re-create the studio sound of those old recordings and the recording methods as well. As with his last album, this is live off the floor, full-track mono to tube amps and tape.
His vocals, always the hardest part, are truly remarkable: there is enthusiasm and genuine talent at work here. His originals are in the time-tested tradition: you’ll recognize riffs and lines here and there but they’re always fresh sounding. He does a number of covers but they are distinctive in their arrangements & performance and he moves seamlessly from the classic to more modern.
He plays guitar very well indeed and drummer extraordinaire Art Makris is right there with him. Jug band star Julia Everson joins them on sax for a raucous take on Frankie Lee Sims’ “Walking With Frankie”. Tom Waits’ “Get Behind The Mule” fits in so well it takes a moment to realize it’s not an old blues. The version of R. L. Burnside’s “Goin’ Down South” is a major highlight – a spot on take. “Poor Lazarus” is a song that Sugar Brown found on a Lomax compilation and he decided that, with some updating, it fit perfectly as a vehicle for his commentary on the events in Ferguson, Missouri and elsewhere. Bharath Rajakumar, his frequent collaborator and someone equally devoted to classic blues, plays a magnificent harp accompaniment to a standout song. He guests on several others in this generous program. Sugar Brown can stretch the boundaries too as with “The Mad Gardener’s Song”, based on words by Lewis Carroll, which comes close to the sound that catl is known for.
Make sure you get to the Jazz Bistro on Hump Wednesday, September 30th for the CD Release Party.