Blues with humor is a potent combo - Goldmine Magazine

Blues with humor is a potent combo

Giles Robson sings up a storm, blows a mighty blues harp and co-produces 12 of his originals on the powerful Don’t Give Up On The Blues (American Showplace Music). Dude’s a Brit but don’t hold that against him. As last month’s “Bluesology” proved, the blues knows no geographical boundaries. Consider him the heir apparent to the first generation of U.K. blues artists like John Mayall, Brian Jones, Peter Green, Eric Burdon and Alexis Korner. With his tight band of drums/bass/guitar/keybs, there isn’t a weak link in this chain of jump-down boogie and tantalizing 12-bar soulfulness.

It was a proud day for Canadian bluesman Big Dave Mclean when he was inducted into the Order Of Canada (along with The Band’s Garth Hudson) last year for contributions to culture. Here, the Winnipeg singer/songwriter/guitarist/blues harpist has got a Pocket Full of Nothin’ (Black Hen Music). On nine originals and three covers (the Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider,” JB Lenoir’s “Voodoo Music” and Muddy Waters’ “Just To Be With You”), his big booming voice now has a smokin’ horn section for the first time. Producer Steve Dawson mixes up drums, extra percussion, bass, keys and his own guitars/voice to maximize the throb of these blues. Big Dave, though, is stretching out on this, his seventh album, to incorporate North Americana, rock’n’roll and funk’n’soul. It’s a heady brew.

Consider Al Basile a Renaissance Man. He’s a poet. He was a high school teacher for 25 years of English, Music and Physics. He plays the cornet like Louis Armstrong, sings the blues, and writes humorous songs like “Looking For A Cookie” and “What Dogs Wanna Do” (both on his 16th album B’s Hot House on his own Sweetspot Records). He’s also the partner-in-musical-crime of Rhode Island’s legendary Duke Robillard, with whom he toiled in Roomful Of Blues and on most of Duke’s solo records since the 1980s. The 14 originals of B’s Hot House all tell stories and give him ample room to blow his horn, sing his ass off and lead a smokin’ septet with producer/lead guitarist Duke. Tough to pick a highlight but the topical “I Ain’t Changing” is an anthem for our troubled times.


Reigning Blues Music Award “Band Of The Year,” Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, on Contemporary (Alligator Records), blow the roof off the joint like they do every night when they tour.  This is, indeed, one wild’n’wooly larger-than-life quartet. “I feel sorry for anyone who has to follow us,” says front-man Estrin who also blows a mean harmonica.
With guitarist/producer/bassist/composer/percussionist/synth-whiz/vocalist/sound effects guru Kid Andersen at the helm, keyboardist Lorenzo Farrell and drummer D’Mar Martin, Estrin writes the kind of songs wherein you won’t know whether to laugh or dance. “I really expect this record to blow some minds,” Estrin says.  He’s funny, witty, colorful, topical and downright brazen in his lyrics. His comedic blues includes highlights “Resentment File,” “She Nuts Up,” “Cupcakin’,” “Bo Dee’s Bounce” and a tribute to the soul-blues legend Junior Parker [1932-1971] called “New Shape.”

The various artists on Southern Bred:  Mississippi R&B Rockers, Koko Mojo’s latest disc of pre-1963 blues, R’n’B and rock’n’roll, pack a ton of star power. Usually, the highlights of the label’s great compilations are the one-hit wonders and the total unknowns, those lost to the dustbin of time. This time, though, it’s lesser known material by the likes of BB King (whose rock’n’rolling “Bim Bam” has to be heard to be believed), Little Junior Parker & His Blue Flames, Bo Diddley (who rocks SO hard on a song called “Rock’n’Roll” that my speakers quivered), Rufus Thomas, Otis Spann, Elmore James, Willie Dixon & Memphis Slim, John Lee Hooker and His Guitar, Big Bill Broonzy & Washboard Sam, Otis Rush, Muddy Waters, Sam Cooke, Jerry Butler and The Impressions and more, 28 tracks in all. Usually, with a compilation this long (73:22), there’s bound to be a certain amount of clinkers. Not here. Every single track sounds so cool and bright, with both bass and treble intact. Even if you have extensive collections on these titans of blues history, I bet you don’t own these particular songs. If you only get one comp all year…

Brad Vickers and his Vestapolitans are Twice As Nice on their sixth CD (Man Hat Tone Records). Native New Yorker Vickers has augmented his usual bad-ass bass/drums/sax lineup for the first time with fiddle, harmonica, keyboards and banjolele (half ukulele/half banjo). Vickers sings with lusty soul and plays a riveting guitar, including bottleneck, switching to bass when composer/bassist Margey Peters steps out front on her closing—and poignant—“Brooklyn Evenings.” With 11 slices of jump-blues, shuffles, updated folk and roots-rock that include band originals and covers of Gus Cannon’s 1921 “Stealin’,” Big Maceo’s 1941 “Worried Life Blues,” Tampa Red’s 1952 “Looka There Looka There” and Jimmy Reed’s 1961 “Close Together,” a portrait emerges of a band in perfect sync. Humor is part of their presentation too, like in Brad’s “Mississippi Swamp,” about the time he encountered a talking bullfrog.

As good as the Ghost Town Blues Band’s self-released Shine is, this hot seven-piece Memphis posse is primarily a live phenomenon as last year’s Backstage Pass album attests. It’s been over decade now that the extremely likeable Matt Isbell put together this funky assemblage. Isbell has that bluesy-gruff voice, plays cigar box and silverware chest guitars, blows some nifty harmonica and has a barrel-full of original songs, production tricks up his sleeve and surefire arrangements. His band is like his second skin, what with a second guitarist, sax, trombone, bass, drums and keyboards. They rock. They roll with a blues feel. They’re a good-timing son-of-a-gun pistol shot and deserve—no, demand—to be heard. Do yourself a favor.

Bluesman Chris “Bad News” Barnes is a funny guy. He came out of Chicago after performing over 2,000 shows with The Second City, the improvisational comedy troupe that gave John Belushi his start. Like Belushi, he loved to sing the blues. Booking a gig on “The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise #32” fronting a hot band with horns, he belted out such fare as Tampa Red’s “It’s Tight Like That” (1928) and “It Hurts Me Too” (1940), Willie Dixon’s 1954 “Hoochie Coochie Man,” Bo Diddley’s 1962 “You Can’t Judge A Book By Its Cover,”  Gregg Allman’s 1969 “Whipping Post,” George Thorogood’s 1985 “I Drink Alone” and some hokum like “Hungry and Horny.” Two members of Taj Mahal’s band heard the set and recorded it for posterity, thus we have Live (VizzTone Label Group). Hokum, for the uninitiated, is a sub-genre of ‘30s blues wherein double-entendres are used as metaphors for sexual connotations. (For a full album of his hokum, see his hilarious Hokum Blues album.)

About Mike Greenblatt

A longtime music journalist, Mike Greenblatt is a contributing editor with Goldmine magazine.

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