Blues CD Reviews Oct/Nov 2014

Dr. John
Ske-Dat-De-Dat...The Spirit Of Satch
Concord/Proper CD 3518702

What’s left to say about the freewheeling musical genius Mac “Dr. John The Night Tripper” Rebennack, who is not only a R&R Hall Of Fame member but a six-time Grammy-winner as well as New Orleans’ most noteworthy living musical icon? His latest, star-studded musical project hearkens back to the turn of the last century and the very origins of jazz as he pays a heartfelt, thirteen song tribute to fellow Crescent City legend Louie Armstrong—whose own myriad musical cutting-edge permutations formed much of the template for 20th century jazz. Rebennack daringly leads affairs off with killer arrangements of a couple of Armstrong classics—”What A Wonderful World” and “Mack The Knife”—with Nicholas Payton and the Blind Boys of Alabama helping out on the former and trumpeter Terence Blanchard hauntingly subbing for Louie on the latter. Other timeless-sounding covers include vivid recalls of a couple of traditional numbers (“Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child” features vocalist Anthony Hamilton with the good doctor on piano and RMI keyboard while “Nobody Knows The Trouble I’ve Seen” is lent a gospel framework by Ledisi and the McCray Sisters) along with an engaging take on the standard “I’ve Got The World On A String” (add Bonnie Raitt on vocals), an ultra-dynamic “When You’re Smiling The Whole World Smiles With You” (add New Orleans’ legendary Dirty Dozen Brass Band) and a playful recasting of “Sweet Hunk O’ Trash,” with Chicago’s Shemekia Copeland trading ultra-sly vocals with the still active Rebennack. Job well done—Doc Pomus is smiling somewhere!—Gary von Tersch

Linsey Alexander
Come Back Baby
Delmark CD 838

Chicago blues musician and North Side club regular since the 1990’s, Linsey “Hoochie Man” Alexander’s debut 2012 Delmark album, Been There Done That, served as a powerful calling card with the septuagenarian’s grainy vocal chops, emotionally arresting, rivetingly slashing guitar work and top-notch, craftily witty and wily songwriting skills (11 of the 13 titles on this sophomore project are his) to the fore. He recently toured throughout Europe and South America on its strength. As on Been There, Alexander and his brilliant working band were recorded live in the studio with harmonica whiz Billy Branch dropping by for three tracks (check out his high-flying solo on the harrowingly hammering “Can’t Drink, Can’t Sleep, Can’t Eat” for starters) with rhythm guitarist Breezy Rodio contributing the majority of the super-tight musical arrangements and Alexander’s regular three man horn section, fortified by legendary Windy City trombonist Billy McFarland, frequently jump-starting or alertly accenting affairs. Favorites by the Holly Springs, Mississippi born bluesman encompass the after-hours shuffle “Booze And Blues,” a sardonic “Call My Wife” (with Branch again shining), the salaciously descriptive “Booty Call,” a melancholy, reflective “Too Old To Be A New Fool” (with Branch again), the drive-all-night, exclamatory title song and the autobiographical-sounding romper “Snowing In Chicago.” High strutting urban blues of the highest order. And did I mention the great Pooky Styx on drums? More please!—Gary von Tersch

Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson
For Pops (A Tribute To Muddy Waters)
Severn CD 64

Mud’s legendary father, Muddy Waters, has been gone more than thirty years but his globally influential, tough, no-nonsense, amplified Chicago blues atmospherics lives on—and is channeled no finer than on this sophomore Mud Morganfield tribute project, once again for the enterprising Severn label, that also features the gregarious vocalist (he does sound, remarkably, like Muddy!) ably accompanied by a first-call crew of inspired Windy City stalwarts—highlighted by cover-boy Kim Wilson and his intrinsically organic harmonica playing, uncompromising guitarists Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn and the absolutely aptly-monikered Barrelhouse Chuck on the 88’s. The songs are a mix of old favorites like “I Live The Life I Live, I Live The Life I Love,” “Nineteen Years Old” and “I Just Want To Make Love To You” along with some relative obscurities on the order of “Gone To Main Street,” “Blow Wind Blow” and “My Dog Can’t Bark.” Other rave-abouts begin with a great cover of St. Louis Jimmy’s classic affirmation “She’s Got It,” the startlingly expressive “I Want To Be Loved” and the declamatory “Still A Fool.” An inspired followup to his debut Severn project from last year, Son Of The 7th Son. Pops is smiling somewhere.—Gary von Tersch

Andre Williams
Fortune Of Hits
Night Train CD 2011

The occasionally still active Detroit music legend Andre “Mr. Rhythm” Williams’ Fortune label material is ground zero for exploring the deep, sometimes risky rhythm and blues roots that engendered his legendary “bad boy” persona. This long awaited two-CD, 37 song  project is the first time the entire body of his nascent, 1950s sides have been available in one place and aurally delineates (in superb fidelity) the often rocky, yet insistently inviting, road he traveled from rhythm & blues to Black rock & roll. In some cities, with even crossover success. Containing the sizzling dance record that put put him on the map, a wild-ass classic aptly titled “Bacon Fat,” along with all of his other early, equally rowdily salacious singles (some of the best are “Going Down To Tijuana,” “Jail Bait,” “The Greasy Chicken” and “Hey Country Girl”) Williams and crew were pushing the envelope censor-wise from the beginning with their rough-edged, Coasters and Midnighters-inspired songs. Other finger-popping grin inducers (often with the likes of Joe Weaver, Gino Parks, The 5 Dollars and The Don Juans in tow) include the jailhouse-themed “Pulling Time” and “Jailhouse Blues,” numbers dedicated to the distaff likes of Mozelle, Georgia Mae, and both Bobby and Mean Jean, and sizzlers on the order of “Pass The Biscuits Please,” “It’s All Over” and the risque “Doctor Baby.” For real enthusiasts, a great 2007 documentary called Agile Mobile Hostile: A Year With Andre Williams covers his Fortune years, his brief span at Motown and songwriting success for Funkadelic as well as producing for Ike Turner. The 1960s saw a downward spiral with drugs and alcohol at the core that eventually left him homeless in Chicago but, surprisingly, he cleaned himself up and returned to the stage and performing in 1995. I believe he still steps up to the mic occasionally. Genius at work.—Gary von Tersch

Marcia Ball
“The Tattooed Lady and the Alligator Man”
Alligator Records   2014

Born in Texas, raised in Louisiana, long based in Austin, Texas, singer and pianist Marcia Ball for decades has carried the torch once ably represented by the Swamp Boogie Queen, Katie Webster.  (If you aren’t familiar with Webster’s work, check it out!)  Ball now returns with her first new album in three years.  On this endeavor she is supported by her band from that last outing, “Roadside Attractions”:
Michael Schermer on guitar, Damien Llanes on drums, long-time comrade Don Bennett on bass, and Thad Scott on tenor saxophone.  As usual on her albums, the core group is abetted by a slew of notable guest artists, including (to name a few) Delbert McClinton on harmonica, Mark “Kaz” Kazanoff on baritone sax, Terrance Simien on accordion, and Carolyn Wonderland on harmony vocals. 
With that kind of experience and expertise, it’s hard to go wrong, and not much does.  An even dozen songs are presented for our delectation, all but one penned by Ball.   The exception, a Hank Ballard tune, is “He’s the One,” with a fine guitar solo by Schermer — one of his many tasteful jazz-inflected fills — and some nice sax by…well, either Scott or Kazanoff, the liner notes don’t say.
As is typical of Ball’s albums, the tunes are brief, only two lasting more than four minutes.  Such concision befits the tenor of Ball’s approach, which features a mixture of good-time New Orleans-style boogies and slow ballads.  There is no preening egotism from this band, whose time together has produced a seamless synergy; the rhythm and horn sections are solid, and solos are pithy and unpretentious.  Ball’s piano playing is high class, befitting her many previous Blues Foundation nominations for Blues Music Award as piano player of the year. Her somewhat limited vocal range is more than compensated for by the emotion of her delivery.
Several numbers stand out.  “The Squeeze Is On” features Simien on accordion, and the title represents a double entendre: Simien’s squeeze box, and the economic pressures currently felt by many and delineated in the lyrics.  “Can’t Blame Nobody but Myself” is a driving straight blues with McClinton wailing on harp, and “Lazy Blues” is a slow tune with a 1920s aura and great solos by Ball and Schermer.  “Get You a Woman” is another infectious, jaunty boogie.  The closing song, “The Last to Know,” is an atmospheric piano bar ballad reminiscent of the blues classic, “Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out.” — Steve Daniels 

L.C. Cooke
The Complete SAR Recordings
ABKCO CD 50502

After far too long the world finally has a chance to hear an album that would have been acclaimed in its day were it not for an unfortuitous set of circumstances that resulted in its shelving—foremost among them the untimely death in December, 1964 of his older brother, the legendary soul stylist Sam Cooke and the subsequent dissolution of his groundbreaking SAR record label. What was intended to be L.C.’s debut album comprises the first ten tracks on this way-long overdue project that also includes some hilariously incisive studio chatter along with two tracks L.C. recorded for Checker Records in 1959 (“If I Could Only Hear” and the effusive “I’m Falling”) as well as a slew of brother Sam’s originals on the order of “Missy Sally,” “Gonna Have A Good Time,” “Put Me Down Easy” (released as a single) and a great unreleased version of “The Lover.” As Peter Guralnick’s astute liners put it at the close: “Listen to the diversity of this album’s moods and settings—and see what you think. One thing I know you’ll think for sure is that L.C. Cooke is an artist who should be far better known in his own right. And will be now, after the release of this fifty-years-in-the-making debut album.” I overwhelmingly concur.—Gary von Tersch

The Knickerbocker All-Stars
Open Mic at the Knickerbocker
JP Cadillac Records 2014

The smallest state in the union, Rhode Island, has produced some mighty big blues. Probably what comes to mind immediately to blues aficionados is the eminent and long-lived band Roomful of Blues, founded by guitarist Duke Robillard and still going strong after almost 50 years. This album is a tacit tribute to Roomful, and participants Al Copley on piano, Rich Lataille on saxophone, and Fran Christina on drums were all original members.
The Knickerbocker All-Stars is a top-notch group of musicians who dig into a baker’s dozen songs with aplomb, expertise, and verve. Man, this CD swings! The group decided to hitch their wagon to a set of blues classics, with a couple of little-known tunes thrown in, including “Love Disease,” composed by erstwhile Butterfield Blues Band horn player Gene Dinwiddie from back in the 1970s. However, you will quickly recognize most of the songs: “You Upset Me Baby,” “Reconsider Baby,” “Ain’t That Lovin’ You,” and even the chestnut “Five Long Years.” Don’t worry; they are all given a fresh and invigorating treatment.
Everything about this album is distinguished, but special kudos must be given to Ricky King Russell, who acquits himself terrifically on guitar; and the horn section comprised of Lataille, Doc Chanonhouse on trumpet, Bobby “Breeze” Holfelden on trombone, and Dennis Cook on sax. These guys can hold their own in comparison with the horn section gold standard represented by Roomful and by Big James and the Chicago Playboys.
For me, the real revelation is the rotating octet of male vocalists who carry this set on their shoulders (or vocal cords). Noted bluesmen Sugar Ray Norcia on his two cuts and Curtis Salgado on his single effort remind us that the prestige earned by their respective long stints as Roomful lead singers and their subsequent solo careers is fully warranted, but I had never heard of the other six singers. Let me assure you that each effort is excellent; each singer has the power and range to deliver the goods.
An album full of great songs, outstanding musicianship, soul and sauce, this is one of the best releases of the year.— Steve Daniels

Big Harp George
Blue Mountain CD 01

Bay Area-based chromatic harp marvel George “Big Harp” Bisharat is a bluesman like no other—he is also a Professor of Law at UC Hastings, has a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Berkeley, a masters in history from Georgetown University and graduated cum laude from Harvard Law School while earning a PhD from Harvard in Anthropology and Middle Eastern Studies. Needless to say, he’s also a heck of a Mississippi saxophone player who artfully broadens the prior innovations of West Coast harp greats George Smith and William Clarke and is backed on this debut project (recorded at San Jose’s iconic Greaseland Studios) by some of Northern California’s most talented musicians on the order of keyboardist (and producer) Chris Burns, bassist/guitarist Kid Anderson, drummer Raja Kawar (who first played with Bisharat 40 years ago in Beirut, Lebanon) and both George Baty and Rusty Zinn alternately on guitars with Kent Bryson sitting in on vibes on both the R&B oldie “Smack Dab In The Middle” and Bisharat’s own appropriately titled jazz-tinged instrumental “Cocktail Hour” (shades of Johnny Otis) and not-to-overlook saxophone explorer Michael Peloquin on both the thoroughly modernistic “Cellphone Hater” (another Bisharat number) and a jumping recall of the Eldridge/Krupa classic from the 1940’s “Drum Boogie.” Further nods to great covers of songs by the likes of Sonny Boy Williamson (his jumping “Crazy About You Baby”), pioneering electric guitarist T-Bone Walker (a nifty, little-known number “My Baby Is Now On My Mind”) as well as Bisharat’s tribute “Left So Soon”— his nod to fellow harpist Paul Delay who died far too young in 2007. 21st century West Coast blues at its finest.—Gary von Tersch

AC Myles
“Reconsider Me”
DAF Records 2014

Another young blues rocker hits the scene! I mean, don’t we have enough of these? Isn’t there a new generic rocker just about weekly, purporting to be a bluesman (or woman) while shredding the strings of a Stratocaster? Well, AC Myles is a Californian with nimble fingers and a powerful, versatile voice who can shred impressively, but whose debut album provides a near-dozen quality tunes…some of them even straight blues.
The set begins well with a cover of Fenton Robinson’s mid-tempo “You Don’t Know What Love Is.” Myles establishes his credentials quickly with his accompanying rangy and raspy vocal, embellished by some classy guitar. Next up is a cover of “Do You Read Me,” by the late Irish blues rocker Rory Gallagher; here Myles employs his digits a la Hendrix. Having played with Elvin Bishop, Myles segues into the anthemic “Rock My Soul,” with fine backing vocal harmony by Lisa Andersen and some nice guitar interplay with producer, engineer, and rhythm guitarist Kid Andersen (a stellar instrumentalist in his own right). Myles inserts a bridge of six-string speed, and hits his vocal falsetto notes precisely. The falsetto carries over nicely into the title cut, a Johnny Adams composition done in a fusion style of 1950s pop and 1970s Boz Scaggs’ blue-eyed soul, and backed by Nate Ginsberg’s tasty keyboard contribution.
“Queen Bee” is a Roman Carter tune energized by Myles’s propulsive chording, and it leads comfortably into the self-penned “Livin’ a Lie,” a hard rock rave-up that evokes echoes of Cream and of Myles’ contemporary and up-and-coming young blues rocker Alastair Greene. The ambling “Death Bed Blues” more openly exposes Kid Andersen’s impeccable rhythm support, and Myles plays country drawler on “What Is Love.”
Want to rock? Myles hits his peak, in my opinion, with “Call ‘em All Baby,” which sports an irresistible groove that impels the listener to MOVE, and follows it with the penultimate “Three Ways to Fall,” a 12-bar compelling blues rocker. The CD ends with “Blue Monday,” a Fats Domino tune which could be confused with a Tab Benoit or Tommy Castro foray, and featuring Kid Andersen on wah-wah pedal. — Steve Daniels

John Mooney
“Son and Moon: A Tribute to Son House”
Fatback Records 2014

Indisputably one of the luminaries of seminal Mississippi Delta blues, Eddie “Son” House was a contemporary of fellow greats Charley Patton and Willie Brown; perhaps unfairly, none of them attained the renown of their slightly younger colleague Robert Johnson (“the king of Delta blues”). House had a distinctive, mesmerizing style of slide guitar playing and an immediately recognizable raspy voice, and was composer of many lasting blues classics. His influence on American blues is profound and enduring. His colorful life, from aspiring preacher to serious dipsomaniac to obscure hermetic artist to resurrected folk idol, is legendary.
Liner notes for John Mooney’s tribute album to House mention that the two met in 1971. Actually, their association comprised far more than a “meeting”: both were living in Rochester, N.Y.; Mooney learned to play from House and returned the favor by supporting the aging bluesman for much of that decade. After moving to New Orleans (still his home) in 1976, Mooney played House-style acoustic blues for years until morphing into an electric bluesman.
“Son and Moon” confirms that Mooney hasn’t lost his acoustic chops. Accompanied only by his own guitar, Mooney deploys his talents on seven House compositions, two of his own, the Sonny Boy Williamson classic “Good Morning Little Schoolgirl,” and three “traditional” tunes. (Rather than “traditional,” “You Gotta Move” is more commonly attributed to Mississippi Fred McDowell, possibly with the cooperation of Reverend Gary Davis.)
As with many tribute albums, one’s opinion depends on one’s expectations and biases. For most people, initial exposure to songs cements one’s preferences, and subsequent cover versions are often considered inferior or even exploitative, open to being criticized as either slavishly imitative or disrespectfully innovative. Let’s just say regarding this CD that Mooney doesn’t surpass House’s versions, but his renditions are respectful and of high quality. The classics “Death Letter [Blues],” “Pearline,” and “John the Revelator” are rendered beautifully, Mooney almost matching the anguish and ecstasy of which House was capable. Quality dips slightly only in his versions of the Williamson and McDowell songs, whose originators had styles quite different than House’s.
One last quibble: in a tribute album, it would have been nice to have more liner information about House and his songs. Nonetheless, this is a mighty fine CD. — Steve Daniels

Elvin Bishop
“Can’t Even Do Wrong Right”
Alligator 2014

Born in Southern California, raised in Oklahoma, matured as a bluesman in Chicago, living for years now in Northern California, Elvin Bishop has produced quality music reflecting both his musical and geographic influences. Since his days as co-guitarist with Mike Bloomfield in the massively influential Paul Butterfield Blues Band in the 1960s, throughout his solo career of the last four decades, he has segued from straight Chicago blues to an amalgam of wry humor, south-midwestern drawled vocals, and guitar skill.
At age 71, Bishop is still churning out appealing albums, and here is another. He is backed by his long-time bandmates Bob Welsh on guitar and keyboards, Ed Earley on trombone, Steve Willis on piano and accordion, Ruth Davies on bass, and Bobby Cochran on drums. Like a well oiled machine, proficient but unpretentious, this group of virtuosos glides through Bishop originals and several covers, and welcomes the contributions of ex-Jefferson Starship vocalist Mickey Thomas and harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite on several numbers.
Bishop’s sense of humor is evident even in the song titles. For example, the album opens with “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right,” a shuffle chronicling the travails of a hapless miscreant whose attempts at crime fail repeatedly and embarrassingly. “Let Your Woman Have Her Way” is…well, you get the message. “Everybody’s in the Same Boat” shifts gears with its philosophical but still wry look at aging and death. Emphasizing the range of Bishop’s music, the CD closes with “Hey-Ba-Ba-Re-Bop,” a Lionel Hampton party tune with an irresistible call-and-response.
Other highlights: “Old School,” with Bishop’s low-pitched guitar chording and rough vocals meshing well with Musselwhite’s sparkling harmonica; “Let Your Woman…,” led by Thomas’ vocal and sounding pleasingly similar to Bishop’s big 1970s hit, “Fooled Around and Fell in Love”; and “No More Doggin’,” an instrumental cover featuring Bishop’s slide playing intertwined with Musselwhite’s harp. Most surprising is a version of the Little Walter Jacobs classic, “Blues with a Feeling.” As done by Little Walter, and subsequently by the Butterfield Band (with Bishop) way back when, the song had a slow, pensive rhythm and mood. Bishop and company juice and goose the tempo, add Mickeys Thomas’ back up singing, and create a new and funky version.— Steve Daniels

Branson Welsh
“It Is What It Is”

Branson Welsh is a hot young player among the southern guitar slingers on the Tampa scene. Learning his lessons in the clubs playing a well-worn Fender Strat and stepping to the mic with a full, confident voice. On his debut CD “It Is What It Is” he’s got some friends playing with him, most notably Lucky Peterson on Hammond B3, Branson sat in with Lucky’s dad, James Peterson and rounding out the band is his Florida rhythm section of Sam Farmer on drums and Matt Walker playing bass. All selections are covers but it’s his choices, energy and enthusiasm that makes this worthwhile. He plays the blues his way.
Starting with a slow southern take on the Isley Brothers’ “Deal With It” Branson’s guitar roars and soars before tracking into a Hendrix-like cover of Doyle Bramhall II’s “Green Light Girl.” As the sonic onslaught fades he switches to the Louisiana funk of the Neville Brothers’ “Voodoo” with jazzy riffs over the organ before coming back to Jacksonville Florida favorites J J Grey & Mofro’s “On Fire.” “Thunderbird” written by a Dallas Texas teen band The Nightcaps in 1960, best known by Stevie Ray Vaughan & ZZ Top is delivered with expected retro verve while Gary Clark Jr.’s “Bright Lights” (no Big City) is a more modern hard rock with the organ leading the way. Getting down deep into the blues with “As The Years Go Passing By” first done by Fenton Robinson and best known by Albert King, Welsh takes a delicate touch on the strings as Peterson shines on organ. Hendrix rarely played this live so it may be one of his lesser known songs but here “Manic Depression” is given a fresh breath by shifting to an Allman Brothers-like sound of surging keyboards and ringing guitar.
Branson Welsh may be young and not a songwriter yet, but his sound and confidence shows promise for both his future and for the future of blues. But then again, for a first time project, “It Is What It Is.” .—Roger & Margaret White

Roy Book Binder
“The Good Book”
Peg Leg Records

Roy Book Binder has been described as a guitar pickin’ hillbilly bluesman but he’s so much more than that. He picked up a guitar while in the military, was chauffeur for Rev. Gary Davis, whom he took extensive lessons from. He was recording by the mid-’60s and played with Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup and Homesick James. Now living in Florida, Book has got himself a disc of all originals and he’s brought in a few friends to offer occasional help: TBone Hamilton plucking bass, Glenn Evans tapping percussion, young guitar wiz Damon Fowler on lap steel, Frank Bowman, clarinet and Erik “Spanky” Bergene blowing harp. With his charming storytelling skills, warm vocals and straightforward finger pickin’ and slide work, “The Good Book” is chock full of old time shucks and awes.
Opening with a narrative on moral integrity, “The Good Book” has a light airy sound as Binder tells us “the straight and narrow path you’re on will lead you to the prize” over finger pickin’ guitar and lap steel. A bouncy ditty extolls the sunny side of a breakup with Hawaiian slide and Frank Bowman tooting in on clarinet ’cause you know “It Coulda Been Worse.” Book’s medicine show rap “Step Right Up” draws you in with a menagerie of attractions to tickle your fancy using clarinet and percussion. The ringing of the bottleneck guitar strings tugs at your heart as Book sings of the cycle of life in “Full Go Around.” Roy deals up a full house of licks on the ragtime shuffle “Poker Playin’ Papa.” A thumping bass and harp lead as Binder extols the virtues of love, good and bad, on “Crazy About You” and if it’s real bad “What You Gonna Do.” With some of his finest finger pickin’ and bottle necking “They Called Him Junior” recounts the history of Robert Lockwood from humble beginning in Turkey Scratch, Arkansas to “making music was his business, pickin’ guitar that was his game.” Binder updates these old-timey blues with a jingle about the attributes of “Electric Cigarette Blues” which ain’t no drag. As a finale Roy’s guitar shines as it skips and cuts over a light rhythm section on the only instrumental “Hacksaw.”
This tale of tunes lets the title sum it up, “The Good Book” is just plain good Book Binder.—Roger & Margaret White

Matt Andersen
True North Records 2014

By my count, this is Matt Andersen’s eighth album. A prodigious and still young talent from northeastern Canada, Andersen dazzled the International Blues Challenge several years ago, has toured widely since, and his been a lauded presence on several Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruises. On the latter, he has performed solo, displaying his virtuosity as an acoustic guitarist and song composer; as a singer, well, he is a force of nature.
On his albums, in contrast, Andersen invariably appears with a group, as he does with this first release in three years. Unfortunately, his gifts as a guitarist are submerged in the mix. In addition, here he has branched more into his folk and singer-songwriter guises, with more than a touch of rock, leaving his bluesman persona in the background.
The good news is that his songs are top-notch. His lyrics are succinct and poetic; take this verse from the opening tune, “I Lost My Way”:
A book with no pages,
A sky with no stars
A show with no stages,
A cell with no bars
A guitar in my hand,
With nothing to play
I lost my way, I lost my way.
Every one of the dozen cuts on this CD is equally pithy, suffused with both poignancy and humor. His accompanists, including a horn section, are tight, and back-up vocalists add punch and some sugar. But the inarguable spotlight and highlight of the album is Andersen’s singing. This man can belt it out as well as sing delicately when required. In fact, he is capable of impressive melisma (multiple notes on the same syllable) and also the ability to sustain a single pitch-perfect note. Check out “My Last Day,” a song that features both of those skills.
(Actually, the song is reminiscent of a Bob Seger tune; I mean that as a compliment.)
This may not be a blues album, but it continues Matt Andersen’s run of excellent CDs.— Steve Daniels

John Primer & the Teardrops Live
“You Can Make It If You Try”
Wolf Records 2014

John Primer has paid his dues, and now he is collecting.  Currently he is recognized as one of the top bluesmen around, and certainly one of the pre-eminent purveyors of the urban Chicago blues style.  (In my opinion, his only serious rival is Lil’ Ed [Williams]).  Those new to blues may not know that Primer was guitarist in the last band of the great Muddy Waters, and then went on to play for over a decade with Magic Slim and his band, The Teardrops.  Whether Primer played lead or second guitar in those famed bands is debatable; what is not debatable is that he was much more than just an accessory rhythm guitarist.
This CD is a selection of live recordings from various 1990s appearances of Primer in Europe with the core of The Teardrops, Earl Howell on drums and Nick Holt (brother of Morris Holt, AKA Magic Slim) on bass.  The beat and sound are instantly recognizable: this can be no other band than the Teardrops, whose galvanizing and insistent rhythmic attack is simply irresistible.  There are no fast tunes here, but the mid-tempo and even slow ones are still so infectious that the fingers want to snap and feet want to move involuntarily.  The quality of the live recordings is very good, although the overall sound is less full than heard on the many recordings of Magic Slim and the Teardrops; Magic Slim was no slouch on guitar, either, his interplay with Primer was mesmerizing, and the quartet simply made more noise than this trio.
Nonetheless, this trio pays respectful and expert homage to over an hour of cover tunes, making several of them their own.  “Love in Vain,” for example, receives a different treatment than accorded it by originator Robert Johnson or The Rolling Stones.  The title cut, an Otis Rush composition more familiarly know as “Double Trouble,” is an extended vamp, as is the Muddy Waters classic, “Long Distance Call.”
Primer’s singing may lack the grit and insinuating innuendo of Waters, but it works fine.  His guitar playing reflects influences of Muddy, Otis Rush, and Magic Sam, among others, but his style is unique and, like the great Rush, always surprising but appropriate.
The liner notes are informative but could have used editing, including spell-checking…and “Corinna” is a very old song not composed by Albert King.  Other than those quibbles, a very good live compilation. — Steve Daniels

Sorrow Come Pass Me Around
A Survey Of Rural Black Religious Music
Dust-To-Digital CD 31

Originally recorded by esteemed folklorist David Evans, with assistance at times from the likes of John Fahey and Alan Wilson (on a couple of vibrato-laden 1966 recordings by onetime 1920’s blues singer Rev. Rubin Lacey) among others, this sixteen track project features a variety of black religious music in a rural setting. The titles include plenty of solo and group singing, a generous collection of guitar-accompanied vocals (notably by both street singer Babe Stovall and Blind Pete Burrell, a friend of bluesman Roosevelt Holts) and accompaniments on primitive and homemade instruments—dig “Glory, Glory Hallelujah” with Compton Jones on vocal and lard bucket, Glen Faulkner on diddley bow and James Davis on pot and Clorox bottle as well as a heartfelt 1969 version of the gospel blues song “Motherless Children” by Como, Mississippi’s own Napoleon Strickland on vocal and five-hole fife. Memphis legend Furry Lewis also puts in an appearance on bottleneck guitar. An enclosed 30 page booklet with an essay by Evans and his detailed notes on each selection puts it all in historical context. Recommended.—Gary von Tersch

Dozzler & Van Merwyk
Darkest Night
Groove Stew Records 2014

Blues is revered by many in Europe, as attested by myriad successful tours there by U.S. blues artists, and extended sojourns there by some. (Think Luther Allison, Memphis Slim, Nat Dove….) The acoustic sub-genre has its adherents and disciples, typified by such contemporary performers as guitarist/singer Hans Theessink, and recent International Blues Challenge winners Georg Schroeter and Marc Breitfelder. In fact, worthy European challengers are an annual fixture now at the IBCs.
Michael Van Merwyk, former second prize winner of the IBC in the solo/duo category, has now teamed up with noted pianist Christian Dozzler. Their first album has a lot to recommend it. Weighing it with close to an hour of blues from the jaunty to the desultory, its thirteen songs include covers of tunes by Hound Dog Taylor, Percy Mayfield, and Bumble Bee Slim, as well as seven originals. The men share the vocal duties, and Dozzler displays some impressive harmonica prowess in addition to his stylish keyboard renderings. Van Merwyk plays adept guitar without any egotistical flash that would detract from the inherent subtlety of a duo presentation,

CD Reviews Aug/Sept 2014

CD Reviews June/July 2014

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