Posts Tagged ‘Blues’

Sarah Borges & The Broken Singles: Love’s Middle Name

Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

Love’s highs, lows and vexing in betweens

Sarah Borges has never been one to be pigeonholed. As both a solo act, and leading the Broken Singles, she’s explored country, rock, rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, psych, pop and numerous points in between. Her third album fronting the Broken Singles – the first in nine years- continues to indulge a variety of musical muses, including hard-charging rockers and mid-tempo laments, as she explores separation, loneliness, desire and dysfunction. The album opens with “House on a Hill,” immersing herself in the dichotomy between lingering feelings and the growing apprehension of an unraveling marriage. Similar tensions animate the balance of need and want in “Lucky Rocks,” the sober retrospective of “Are You Still Takin’ Them Pills” and the introspective closer “I Can’t Change It.” The latter contemplates what’s changed, what remains, and in the chorus, the effort needed to distance the present from a troubled past. Borges’ protagonists aren’t shy about their questionable choices, including problematic hookups and a murder ballad, but with “Grow Wings” she suggests that it’s songwriting that allows her introverted soul to freely express its troubles. Borges’ music has been likened to Sheryl Crow meets Joan Jett, but her music might also be likened to the emotional rock of New England compatriot Robin Lane and her 1980s band the Chartbusters. A little bit country, folk and blues, and a whole lot rock ‘n’ roll. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Tony Joe White: Bad Mouthin’

Wednesday, October 10th, 2018

Low, slow blues from Louisiana legend

It’s been fifty years since Tony Joe White stepped into the spotlight with his Muscle Shoals-infused debut Black and White, and its iconic single “Polk Salad Annie.” He continued to thread his southern roots through five decades of touring and solo albums, even as he wrote for and produced other artists. His trademark swamp sounds bubbled up in recent releases for Yep Roc, including 2013’s Hoodoo and 2016’s Rain Crow, but this third album for the label takes him down and low into the blues. The track list includes six originals, and five covers highlighted by John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom,” Luther Dixon’s “Big Boss Man” and a take on “Heartbreak Hotel” that’s more a withered admission than a repeat of Elvis Presley’s plaintive cry.

The backings alternate between acoustic and electric, the former offering crisp counterpoint to the weariness of White’s vocals, and the latter leaning on low electric guitar and the spare snare and bass drum of Bryan Owings. One might be lulled into experiencing the album’s crawling tempos as an expression of exhaustion, but the power in White’s voice is akin to the weight of a fully-loaded freight slowly pushing its way down the track. Stripping down to solo and spare duos lets the emotion of his rumbling vocals set the tone for his rhythm guitar, harmonica and lyrics. At 75, White’s putting everything he’s learned and felt into his music, singing in half-whispered exhalations that draw you into an intimate album of blues confessions. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Dennis Coffey: One Night at Morey’s – 1968

Monday, July 2nd, 2018

Second set of hot Detroit soul instrumentals from Motown funk brother

Following closely on the heels of last year’s exquisite Hot Coffey in the Big D – Burnin’ at Morey Baker’s Showplace Lounge, Omnivore delivers a second set from Motown guitarist Dennis Coffey’s 1968 residence at Morey Baker’s Detroit club. As with the previous release, Coffey plays guitar in a trio led by organist Lyman Woodard, and backed by drummer Melvin Davis. And as with the previous collection, the trio cooks with three burners on full blast. The set list mixes up originals (“Mindbender,” “Big City Lights” and “Union Station”) with covers selected from the catalogs of Wilson Pickett, the Beatles, the Meters, the Young Rascals, the Soulful Strings, the Isley Brothers and Charlie Parker.

The inclusion of then-contemporary hit songs provides an entry point for the audience, but like a jazz outfit, the themes are mostly launching points for improvisation, including a fiery guitar-and-organ jam on “Eleanor Rigby” and extended riffing on the Meters’ “Cissy Strut.” Richard Evans’ “Burning Spear,” released by the Soulful Strings in 1967, is turned into a thirteen-minute inferno with a lengthy solo slot for Davis, and “It’s Your Thing” finds Coffey playing fuzz guitar, as he did two years later on “Ball of Confusion,” but with a harder fuzz tone in front of the combo. Coffey and Woodard are outstanding throughout, and Davis’ funky rolls, fills, backbeats and cymbals give the trio a deep rhythmic groove.

Coffey’s originals are worthy complements to the better-known cover material, with the rocking “Mindbender” suggesting the guitarist kept his ears open while opening for the MC5 at the Grande Ballroom, and “Big City Lights” offering Memphis-tinged funk. It’s been fifty years since the trio laid down these jams for the audiences that flocked to Morey’s, but they remain as propulsive and innovative as they were in 1968. Taken together with last year’s Hot Coffee in the Big D, these tracks fill out a picture of the trio’s wide-ranging set list, and more importantly, the original music of a guitarist whose day job garnered commercial hits, but whose evenings let explored his musical soul. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Dennis Coffey’s Home Page
Dennis Coffey’s weekly gig at the Northern Lights Lounge

Barry Goldberg: In the Groove

Tuesday, June 26th, 2018

Deep in the soul pocket

Barry Goldberg has magic in his fingers. Early on, the Chicago-born keyboardist developed that magic in sessions with Muddy Waters, Otis Rush and Howlin’ Wolf; he backed Dylan in his first electric gig at Newport, played on the infamous Super Session with Mike Bloomfield, Al Kooper and Stephen Stills, and co-founded the Electric Flag. He carved out a career as a studio player, and recorded a solo catalog that began with 1966’s Blowing My Mind. He’s remained active as a producer and musician ever since, and now, nearly twenty years after his last solo release, he’s recorded a collection of blues, soul and rock that show off both his early musical influences, and the seemingly infinite reservoir of magic that still resides in his fingers.

Mixing five new compositions and seven covers, Goldberg pays deep tribute to the music that primed his musical dreams. His mastery of piano, Wurlitzer piano and Hammond B-3 is matched by a musical sensibility weaned on the African-American programming of legendary Chicago radio stations WGES in the 1950s, and the Chess-owned WVON in the 1960s. The album opens with its lone vocal track, a co-write with vocalist Les McCann, “Guess I Had Enough of You.” Don Heffington and Tony Marsico lay down a heavy bottom end here, as Rob Stone’s harmonica and Goldberg’s organ add flourishes to McCann’s vocal riffing. It’s a solid opener to an album that is all about the groove.

Goldberg’s originals include the hard-swinging Hammond workout, “The Mighty Mezz,” the low blues “Ghosts in My Basement,” the jazz jam “Westside Girl,” and the relaxed funk of the title track. The covers are just as varied, including Milt Buckner’s late-night “Mighty Low,” Joe Sublett’s growling sax on Doc Bagby’s “Dumplin’s,” Goldberg’s boogie piano on the Cyclones’ “Bullwhip Rock,” a tough stroll through Sil Austin’s “Slow Walk,” titles from Johnny and the Hurricanes and the original northwest Wailers, and a rolling piano solo of Lead Belly’s “Alberta.” Goldberg selected his musicians as thoughtfully as his songs, and their expert touch is captured by Carla Olsen’s production and Johnny Lee Schell’s engineering, as they all venture together deep into the groove. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Screamin’ Jay Hawkins: Are You One of Jay’s Kids? The Complete Bizarre Sessions 1990-1994

Monday, June 18th, 2018

Screaming hot in the 1990s

To many, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins career consists of his 1956 release “I Put a Spell on You,” and the coffin from which he arose to perform on stage. His theatrical, macabre image may have been novel, but his records were anything but novelties. Oddly, despite the single’s healthy sales and its iconic stature in the rock ‘n’ roll canon, it never made the charts, leaving Hawkins, technically, a no-hit wonder. But hitmaking wasn’t Hawkins’ musical metier, as he followed the beat of his very distinctive drummer with songs like “Constipation Blues” and “Feast of the Mau Mau.” And when he connected with Bizarre label owner (and subsequently manager and producer) Robert Duffey in 1990, the goal was to just let Jay “be Jay,” rather than overtly court commercial success.

Hawkins showed off his range of rock, blues and R&B on three albums for Bizarre, Black Music for White People (1991), Stone Crazy (1993) and Somethin’ Funny Goin’ On (1994). The material includes originals from both Hawkins and Duffey (including the latter’s memorable “I Am the Cool”), covers that mine Hawkins’ first-person knowledge of 1950s music, and Tom Waits’ “Heart Attack and Vine,” “Ice Cream Man” and “Whistlin’ Past the Graveyard.” Hawkins’ mojo was in full flight throughout his time with Bizarre as he hollers, growls and wrestles the songs into submission. The backing bands, assembled from talented local rock and blues players (including the Beat Farmers’ Buddy Blue) backed Hawkins’ howling vocals with hot rhythms, wild guitars, tight horns, and fat saxophones.

Manifesto’s 2-CD set gathers together all three of Hawkins’ albums for Bizarre, adds five previously unreleased tracks, and a sixteen-page booklet with full-panel album cover reproductions and liner notes by Chris Morris. Highlights include the piece-of-mind “Ignant and Shit,” the tribal Bo Diddley beat of “Swamp Gas,” a schizophrenic take on “Ol’ Man River,” a fevered cover of Ray Charles’ “I Believe,” an energetic run at “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” (retitled “Call the Plumber” here), Duffey’s purpose-written “Rock the House,” homages to Sherilyn Fenn and the Long Island Lolita, Amy Fisher, and spoken word passages that echo Hawkins’ on-stage monologues. Of the three albums, the grittier production of the third has aged the least, but all are worth hearing! [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Late Blossom Blues – The Journey of Leo “Bud” Welch

Saturday, May 5th, 2018

The incredible story of an 81-year-old blues rookie

When Leo “Bud” Welch burst onto the blues scene with his debut album Sabougla Voices, he was both an 81-year-old rookie and an elder statesman. The story of how he flew under the radar for sixty years, was discovered by a fan (who was subsequently thrust into the role of manager), recorded for a label that had all but given up believing there were any more blues unicorns in the wilds of Mississippi, and was feted in the last few years of his life, is as authentic and unexpected as is his music. The film weaves together interviews with Welch, his family and his manager, Vencie Varnado, along with performance and studio footage. The film looks at Welch’s background as a lumberjack, his church life, the separation he kept between the devil’s music and the lord’s, and the incursions of age into Welch’s daily life.

This is less a linear biography than a look at the whirlwind of worldwide activity that followed his discovery. Viktor Schaider’s cinematography is noteworthy as he captures formal and informal interview setups, indoor and outdoor performances, cinema verite action, and establishing shots that capture the feel of Welch’s native Mississippi. This is a fitting accompaniment to Welch’s two albums, helping to dispel the mystery that accompanied his arrival on the scene, and adding dimension to the bluesman heard on record. Make sure to check the extras for bonus interviews, live and archival footage, and watch all the way through the end credits for a riveting 1985 performance of “Praise His Name.” [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Late Blossom Blues Home Page

NRBQ: NRBQ

Monday, April 23rd, 2018

The 1969 debut of a polyglot music legend

Originally released in 1969, this debut outlined the wide musical grasp and irreverent sensibility that would grow the band’s legend over the next 49 years. 49 years in which this initial explosion of creativity sat in the vault unreissued. 49 years in which either the group’s continuing activity diverted their attention from a reissue, or in which lawyers intermittently haggled over muddy contractual rights. Either way, Omnivore has finally liberated the album from its resting place and reissued the fourteen songs in a tri-fold slipcase with original front and back cover art, Donn Adams period liner notes, and contemporary notes by Jay Berman. Berman characterizes the band’s repertoire, even at this early point in their career, as including “nearly anything,” and the eclectic mix of covers and originals bears that out.

This first studio lineup included long-time members Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato (the latter then credited as Jody St. Nicholas), along with vocalist Frank Gadler, guitarist Steve Ferguson and drummer Tom Staley. The group stakes out the audacious corners of their musical omniverance with covers of Eddie Cochran’s rockabilly “C’mon Everybody,” Sun Ra’s avant garde jazz “Rocket Number 9,” Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s folk blues “C’mon If You’re Comin’” (which the group revisited on 1972’s Workshop), and a country soul arrangement of Bruce Channel’s 1962 chart topper, “Hey! Baby.” Few bands at the time would have even known this range of material, let alone find a way to make it fit together on an album.

The original material from Adams, Spaminato and Ferguson is equally ambitious. Adams mashes up trad jazz and rock ‘n’ roll for “Kentucky Slop,” boogies hard on “Mama Get Down Those Rock And Roll Shoes,” captures the melancholy of Carla Bley’s 1964 jazz instrumental “Ida Lupino” with original lyrics, and closes the album with the piano-led “Stay With Me.” Ferguson’s trio of originals include the pop and soul influences of “I Didn’t Know Myself,” the gospel rocker “Stomp” and the country, folk and gospel flavored “Fergie’s Prayer.” Spampinato offers the album’s most ebullient moment with “You Can’t Hide,” a title the band would revisit ten years later on Tiddlywinks.

The album’s collection of first takes (including the previously unreleased first take of “Stomp” substituting for the re-recorded version that appeared on the original vinyl) provides a snapshot of the band as they played live. The set list reflects the confluence of musical interests, knowledge and talent the band members brought to the group, and the performances have an all-in quality that made second takes superfluous. Whether or not the renditions were note-perfect (and they pretty much are), they were perfect expressions of the musical ethos that sustains the band to this day. It’s a shame that the originally released second take of “Stomp” wasn’t included as part of this reissue, but that’s a nit, given the historical and artistic riches that have been sprung from the vault. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Janiva Magness: Love Is an Army

Friday, March 16th, 2018

Award-winning blues soul singer explores wider roots

Janiva Magness had an artistic coming out with her self-penned 2014 album, Original. Though she’d dabbled in songwriting before, the album marked a turn from interpreter of other people’s stories to essayist of her firsthand emotions. She continues that direction with her latest, co-writing four of the album’s twelve tracks, and selecting material from collaborator and producer Dave Darling, as well as Paul Thorn and others. She also welcomes several guests to the album, including vocalist Delbert McClinton on “What I Could Do,” harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite on “Hammer,” and most surprisingly, Poco pedal steel player Rusty Young on the shuffle “On and On.” The latter, taken with Doug Livingston’s dobro on the Western-tinged “Down Below,” shows off the range of roots Magness has been exploring.

The album opens on an emotionally low note of romantic dissolution, but Magness doesn’t stay down for long. She admits her faults, pines, lauds the resolve needed to power through heartbreak, and continues to leap forward with a spirit whose optimism isn’t grounded by past falls. When knocked to the canvas, she picks herself up before the bell, and when serving as the cornerman, she provides unwavering support to those she loves. The 60s-styled soul of “What’s That Say About You” offers a moving message of community, but elsewhere she excoriates the divisions sewn by America’s leaders. The album closes with the gospel faith of “Some Kind of Love,” complementing the threads of Memphis soul and Nashville country that have inspired a winning display of songwriting and vocal versatility. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

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Various Artist: The Ru-Jac Records Story, Volumes 1 & 2

Friday, January 19th, 2018

The history of a 1960s should’ve-been soul powerhouse

The Baltimore-based Ru-Jac label, a long-time favorite of in-the-know collectors, is finally getting its historical due. Omnivore began digging the Ru-Jac vault with 2016 titles on Winfield Parker and Gene & Eddie, and now traces the length of the label’s entire story with four expertly curated, smartly illustrated and knowledgeably notated volumes [1 2 3 4]. Ru-Jac was born from the unlikely confluence of a numbers-running real estate investor and a dry cleaner with a sideline as a promoter. The latter, Rufus Mitchell, gained a spot managing the operations of the summer resort Carr’s Beach, and developed a nexus of musical acts, managers and disc jockeys that provided a foundation for a booking agency, a song publishing concern, and finally, the Ru-Jac record label.

Mitchell drew his acts primarily from Baltimore and D.C., releasing a string of excellent singles that began with Jesse Crawford’s dramatic plea “Please Don’t Go” and it’s sorrowful B-side “I Love You So.” A distribution deal with a larger label wasn’t enough to garner any commercial action, but Mitchell was undeterred, and doubled-down with a second pair of soul laments by Sonny Daye. The A-side, “A Woman Just Like You,” is a deeply wounded mid-tempo number with a fetching sax hook and a Latin undercurrent; the flipside pairs a raw blues guitar with a soul croon. As with the initial release, the single’s lack of commercial success barely slowed Mitchell down, as he continued to capture magic on tape, whether or not the stars aligned to lift his singles onto the charts.

The first two years of Ru-Jac were filled with terrific records, and even more impressively, a few A-side-worthy tracks that never made it out of the vault. The set opens with the wicked soul jam “Fatback,” a tune that should be the fondly remembered closing theme of an early-60s Baltimore TV dance show; something John Waters could have reintroduced to the world in Hairspray. In that same fictional history, the slower “Cross Track” would have replaced “Fatback” mid-way through the second season (after a single episode in which “Trash Can” was used) when the show’s producer and the record label had a falling out, and fans would argue to this day which was the better show closer. Those same kids likely would have spent their summer time at Carr’s Beach, making the resignation and renewal of Brenda Jones’ “Let’s Go Back to School” someone’s very fond memory.

Baltimore native (and former carnival pitchman) Winfield Parker first appeared on Ru-Jac with the moody, Stax-influenced 1964 ballad “When I’m Alone,” backed with the mid-tempo “One of These Mornings.” The latter is presented here in a previously unissued horn-lined alternate that some will find bests the master found on Omvnivore’s Mr. Clean: Winfield Parker At Ru-Jac. Winfield would turn out to be one of the label’s most prolific artists, and perhaps even more importantly, the caretaker of the label’s legacy. With Mitchell’s passing in 2003, the label’s riches – which included tapes, promotional material and business records – passed to Parker, who has now passed that archive on to Omnivore, while serving as the executive producer for these releases.

Volume one is filled out with numerous little-known, or in the case of the ten previously unreleased tracks, unknown gems. Jeanne Dee roars through a vault recording of the blues standard “Every Day I Have the Blues,” Tiny Tim’s “Saving All My Love” suggests Clyde McPhatter, and Celestine’s B-side “You Won” borrows its hook and New Orleans roll from Barbara Lewis’ “I Know (You Don’t Love Me No More).” Mitchell tried out gospel with the Fruitland Harmonizers, torch-singing with Marcie Allen’s “All Over Again,” soul-jazz with its flip “Crying Won’t Help You,” fast-talking jive with Rockin’ Robin’s “Don’t Bit Mo,” and numerous deep-groove instrumentals, including the Jolly Sax’s “The Monkey Cha-Cha.”

Volume Two picks up the story in 1964 with Brenda Jones’ second Ru-Jac release “It Must Be Love,” its flipside, and the previously unreleased 50s-styled ballad “So Alone.” The year finished out with singles by D.C. native Shirley Grant and Harrisburg organist Butch Cornell. The latter pair of sides are particularly fine, as Cornell offers up Hammond B-3 licks in a trio setting with a jazz-chording rhythm guitarist and a hard-swinging drummer. A previously unreleased alternate take of Cornell’s “Goose Pimples” gives the song an entirely different feel from the single, with a full horn section and dance-friendly go-go beat. 1965 brought the legendary Arthur Conley to Ru-Jac as the songwriter and vocalist on Harold Holt’s “Where You Lead Me” and its flipside “I’m a Stranger.” Conley’s songs graced other Ru-Jac artists records, and Conley self-recorded several piano-and-voice demos, two of which are included here.

1965 also brought a sharper focus on DC acts, including The Neltones and Bobby Sax, and in 1966, The Mask Man & The Cap-Tans with The Paul Earle Orchestra. Like many of Mitchell’s signings, all three were one-off Ru-Jac artists, and though there was some regional action, like the rest of the Ru-Jac roster, there was no national breakthrough. The durable Winfield Parker is represented here by two previously unreleased recordings of “I Love You Just the Same,” one a demo with Parker singing slightly off mic, the other a finished studio alternate of the original single. Two garage rock bands borrowed talent agent Lillian Claiborne, The Reekers and The Henchmen, are omitted here, leaving the door open for Bear Family to render the Complete Ru-Jac box set.

Track after track it’s hard to imagine how this music failed to break; but the business of hit singles has never been strictly meritorious, and Mitchell’s Baltimore-based connections apparently didn’t have the juice to gain the national attention his productions deserved. Other labels, such as Lieber & Stoller’s Daisy/Tiger imprints, suffered the same fate, but it still remains stupefying in retrospect. Each of the four volumes in this series is illustrated with vintage photos and ephemera, and the history of the label and its artists is given detail by Kevin Coombe’s studious liner notes. Volumes 3 & 4 are due in March, and a set of Arthur Conley’s demos in May, but these first two collections are ready to take you to Charm City. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Banditos: Visionland

Wednesday, December 27th, 2017

Southern rockers with twists of garage, psych and more

The second album from these Birmingham-to-Nashville transplants opens with a garage-rock sound that wasn’t as evident on their self-titled 2015 debut. Mary Beth Richardson’s bluesy vocals are given the context of San Francisco-sound powerhouses like the Jefferson Airplane, and though a banjo peeks through the haze, the ‘60s rock vibe is strong. The title track suggests a psych-rock Richard and Mimi Farina, the ballad “Healin’ Slow” has a ‘50s vibe, “Lonely Boy” might have been a country song written in the Brill Building, and the whispery “When It Rains” could be a fondly remembered ‘70s radio hit. The band seems to be democratic in exploring their influences, cross-pollinating without overwhelming the base flavor of each song. They’ve added new spices to the boogie, blues and soul of their debut and shown themselves to have both musical vision and reach. [©2017 Hyperbolium]

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