Welcome to Mike Greenblatt’s new column 'Bluesology,' bringing you the best in contemporary Blues, influenced by the masters.
Scouring 1,500+ reels of tape from the Bay Area of California over the course of many months has resulted in Music City Blues & Rhythm (Ace Records), an archeological find not that much less revelatory than when King Tut’s sarcophagus was uncovered in 1924. For it is here at a little home-made, hand-crafted semi-pro studio run by one Ray Dobard on his own Music City record label where the blues was stretched out, gussied up, and made palatable for the modern ears of the 1950s. Some of these tracks were found in boxes that didn’t even list the artist. Track #18, for instance, a terrific toe-tapper called “Doctor’s Blues” is by “Unknown Male Vocalist” (22 of 28 are reaching ears for the very first time.) Highlights include Alvin Smith’s opening “Music City Jump,” Jimmy “Mr. T-99” Nelson’s “She Moves Me,” “You’re The One” by Gene Lee & The Blues Rockers and “Your Money Ain’t Long Enough” by Dell Graham (the mother of future Sly & The Family Stone bassist Larry Graham). The sound is superb. This thing rolls with authority.
The joy of hearing Willie King’s “Peg Leg Woman” or Little Luther’s “Eenie Meenie Minie Moe” or “Don’t Mess Around” by Little Lawrence & The Suspenders is akin to when you were a kid and discovered new rock bands you called your own. Work With It: Fine Frantic Fretwork(Koko Mojo Records) has 28 personal discoveries of your very own by the likes of the aforementioned plus such rare ‘50s rockers and staunch blues testifiers as Cal Green, Eddie Riff, The Sly Fox, Big Bill & His Guitar, Chuck Mann, Tender Slim, Juke Boy Bonner, Homesick James, Freddie King, Mojo Watson and more. Little Victor, also known as The Mojo Man, in his bebop-styled liner-note lingo, says that these are “cool ax grinders hip to the tip that will make you laugh and cry, so, Jack, get hip to this jive. Be ready for Freddy. Fall in line and get on time. The cats here are solid as a rock. If there’s no rootin’ and a-tootin’, won’t be no cuttin’ and shootin’.” Highly Recommended.
As if the death at 75 of Swamp Rock King Tony Joe White in October wasn’t sad enough, it came on the heels of his haunting—now more so—Bad Mouthin’ (Yep Rock Records), an album so close to the bone, it hurts. His 17th album is a primal classic blues masterpiece, akin to John Lee Hooker after a few pills. His ravaged voice and primitive guitar are a primer in Louisiana righteousness. It’s ominous, almost spooky, and when he really gets into it by covering Charlie Patton’s 1929 “Down The Dirt Road Blues,” Jimmy Reed’s 1960 “Big Boss Man” and Lightnin Hopkins’ 1962 “Awful Dreams,” he strips each to its bare essentials. In so doing, they come out almost folk-gospel. Plus, you haven’t heard “Heartbreak Hotel” (1956 Elvis) or “Baby Please Don’t Go” (1935 Joe Williams) until you’ve heard Tony Joe White deconstruct both of ‘em in his cemetery style. This is so intense.
On her self-released third album Honey Up, Vanessa Collier blows alto/tenor/soprano saxophones, honking out the blues like nobody’s business, singing, snapping her fingers, producing, composing nine of 10 and playing guitar. The inherent funk, soul and rock in her blues is palpable. She earned her stripes touring for two solid years as part of Joe Louis Walker’s blues band. (She also runs a “Blues In The Schools” clinic.) Vocally influenced by Bonnie Raitt, might she reap the rewards and become an overnight sensation after 20 years in the trenches like Raitt?
Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Dave Keller posits the theory that Every Soul’s A Staron his Catfood Records debut. As produced by Grammy winner Jim Gaines (Santana/Stevie Ray Vaughan), the sound is BIG, sprinkled with just enough horns, keyboards, background vocals and percussion to make Keller’s soulful vocals and stinging guitar stand out. He wrote 10, the only cover being a rock’n’roll version of Aretha’s 1967 “Baby I Love You.” Coming out of Vermont to record in West Texas, he wasn’t used to the Tarantula Hawks right outside the studio (a Texas-sized wasp). But nestled inside with house band The Rays, he blossomed into adding a funky sheen to his righteous soul-blues. Highly Recommended.
Canadian blues mama Angel Forrest’s Electric Love packs a wallop. After 10 albums in 30 years, this ambitious double-live document from Quebec has her fronting her hard rock band on three songs associated with Janis Joplin (“Piece Of My Heart,” “Turtle Blues” and “Me And Bobby McGee”) as well as the traditional New Orleans folk song “House Of The Rising Sun,” Son House’s 1930 “Walkin’ Blues” and Led Zeppelin’s 1969 “Whole Lotta Love.”
If ZZ Top’s Billy F. Gibbons says that longtime Houston denizen Hadden Sayers “is pretty much my hero,” that’s good enough for me. Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist Sayers has a rock album out called Dopamine Machine but it’s his self-released Acoustic Dopamine that “Bluesology” readers would be drawn to, for it is here where he strips down his 11 compositions to their bare essence. Backed only by the hand claps, foot stomps and random percussion objects of Jim Ed Cobbs and the vocals of red hot mama Ruthie Foster on their “Waiting Wanting” duet, Sayers sings his ass off while punctuating the proceedings with his trusty 1954 Gibson.
She’s called “The Blues Queen of Western Canada.” Singer-songwriterDeb Rhymer has extra salt in her stew, especially on her kiss-off song “There’s The Door.” Independent and sassy, her “Don’t Wait Up” is a warning that she’s not to be trifled with but it’s her covers that boil over with libidinous intensity. The gal’s even got the balls to cover James Brown’s 1965 “I Got You (I Feel Good)” and make it work. On the 1957 Elmore James classic “Cry For Me Baby,” she struts her considerable stuff while harmonicat Gary Preston blows his brain out. She digs down deeeeeep for the 1960 Aretha Franklin torcher “It Won’t Be Long.” Her top-notch guitar/bass/drums band has been augmented for the occasion with keyboards, sax and trombone so get ready for this all-out blitz.