Unlike his recent ’50s box Johnny B. Goode, Chuck Berry’s new four-CD You Never Can Tell: The Complete Chess Recordings 1960-1966 (Hip-O Select/Universal) has few charting singles besides “Nadine,” “No Particular Place To Go” and the title track. Instead, Berry skillfully digs into the easy-going Midwestern blues he grew up hearing. Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield and future Blues Brother Matt “Guitar” Murphy occasionally back him.
Among the 108 tracks of varying merit, 18 are previously unissued, including an entire 45-minute concert. The instrumentals include his twin-guitar collaborations with Bo Diddley.
Harpman John Németh keeps shifting his voice’s textures on Love Me Tonight (Blind Pig). Adept at both blues and white soul, he knows how to bend notes and employ vibrato without overkill. Elvin Bishop — a fellow transplant in northern California — provides guest guitar work on “Country Boy” and a Howlin’ Wolf-ish “Daughter Of The Devil.”
Elvin Bishop’s own jovial Juke Joint Jump/Struttin’ My Stuff (Raven) packages two disco-era 1976 Capricorn LPs onto a 77-minute CD. His sole brush with the pop-single charts, hook-happy “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” features future Starship member Mickey Thomas on lead vocal. “Calling All Cows” comically reflects Bishop’s agrarian leanings.
Texas bluesman Jim Suhler is best known as George Thorogood’s lead guitarist. Suhler and his trio Monkey Beat’s Tijuana Bible (Underworld) mainly offers hard-living originals, with Bishop dropping by to provide slide on a cover of his “Drunken Hearted Boy.” A Lightnin’ Hopkins elegy wisely makes no effort to imitate him. Respectable magazines such as Goldmine leave defining “Tijuana bible” to Wikipedia.
As you dig into Guy Davis’s acoustic music, it’s not surprising that he grew up in a family of performers. Actually, he’s the son of Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee. His ninth album, Sweetheart Like You (Red House), is his typical digging into classics of forebears like Son House and Big Joe Williams alongside his own retro, occasionally risqué compositions with Piedmont guitar accompaniment. Giving Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” a pre-bluegrass old-timey banjo treatment, he shows blues and country music’s kinship.
For people who prefer their Chicago blues without the bluster, Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell’s two-CD Chicago Blues: A Living History (Raisin’ Music) is a chronologically arranged 1940-91 salute to 21 songs from The South Side from the likes of Memphis Slim and Arnold’s long-ago harmonica mentor, Sonny Boy Williamson.
A limited-edition five-CD package with hardbound book and photo portfolio, Hommage Á Neshui (Atlantic/Rhino Handmade) elegantly elegizes Neshui Ertegun (1917-89), Atlantic’s first jazz producer. Blues being kin to jazz, the box’s disc Shades Of Blue includes Ray Charles, Mose Allison and Charles Mingus plus booming baritone LaVern Baker covering Bessie Smith’s “Empty Bed Blues.” The box’s CD Live allows Brother Ray to stretch out with his single hits. The package is an eloquent testimonial to Ertegun’s vision.
Accordion- and fiddle-grounded Cajun music from southwestern Louisiana’s French community has always been healthily eclectic, absorbing blues, hillbilly and pop at will. Longtime leader of the Cajun revival, Grammy-winning BeauSoleil Avec Michael Doucet returns with largely acoustic Alligator Purse (Yep Roc). Dance music is among the genre’s fortés. “Rouler Et Tourner” — a French-language take on Bob Dylan’s adaptation of Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’ ” — embodies the sextet’s breadth.
Meanwhile, Cajun’s younger-generation Pine Leaf Boys’ sprightly Homage Au Passé (Lionsgate) lives up to its name (homage to the past) as befits several members’ lineage within the major families of Cajun music. The quintet’s “J’Suis Gone Pour Me Saouler” typifies Cajun’s ties to the blues.
As for DVDs, Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm’s two-hour Live In Concert 2002 (MVD/Charly) is always competent, but it never turns exciting until singer Audrey Madison (his attempt to re-create Tina) takes the stage. “Five Long Years” presents his side (“I’ve been mistreated”) of the split with Tina. As a pianist, Turner often reverts to the boogie woogie of his youth.
Rock-solid performance footage and substantive interviews fill Eric Burdon’s hour-long The Animals And Beyond (Delilah/ABC/MVD). Elsewhere, Burdon turns white-trash bluesman singing “Tobacco Road” with The New Animals on a 15-minute 1967 Beat Beat Beat TV show (ABC/MVD) shared with flower-power Edition Six featuring pre-Deep Purple Ian Gillan and Roger Waters.