Posts Tagged ‘Blues’

Various Artists: Cadillac Baby’s Bea & Baby Records – The Definitive Collection

Saturday, October 19th, 2019

Extraordinary catalog of a little-known late-50s Chicago label

In the Chicago blues scene of the 1950s, it must have been hard to make a dent. And if you were a local, nearly neighborhood-sized label swimming in the pond with Chess, Vee-Jay, Brunswick and Delmark, you were lucky not to get eaten. Chess did manage to take a few bites out of Narvel Eatmon and his short-lived Bea & Baby label, but Eatmon’s life-long fealty to the blues, and his hustle as an entrepreneur, created a small but important catalog of blues-centered singles. By the time of Eatmon’s passing in 1991, Bea & Baby and its subsidiaries had been dormant for many years, and fifteen years further on, Michael Frank, who’d befriended Eatmon and helped him develop licensing deals, bought the catalog from Eatmon’s widow. The “label” at that point consisted primarily of dead stock 45s, paperwork, and most critically, publishing rights, but not many master tapes. So a project was begun, and thirteen years later, delivers this extraordinary four-disc labor of love documenting Eatmon’s original labors of love.

Narvel Eatmon, better known in his adopted Chicago as Cadillac Baby, was a colorful man living in a colorful place at a colorful time. Eatmon developed his love of the blues as a child in his native Mississippi, but was drawn to Chicago in the mid-1940s by his musical passion. He quickly established himself as an impresario on the city’s South Side with Cadillac Baby’s Show Lounge, and his presentation of local and touring acts grew into the Bea & Baby record label. The label was most active in 1959 and 1960, recording both nationally known and local artists, and though several sides had the potential to break nationally, Eatmon’s lack of record industry background, and external pressures (which often seemed to include the machinations of Leonard Chess) undercut the label’s commercial success. Eatmon continued to issues a couple of sides a year into the mid-60s, and sporadically into the early ‘70s, but his dreams always seemed to remain bigger than his actual sales.

The label came to life in 1959 with Eddie Boyd’s “I’m Commin’ Home,” which together with its up-tempo flip “Thank You Baby,” garnered favorable, single sentence reviews in Cashbox. Both sides include the solid bottom end of Rob Carter’s bass and strong solos by saxophonist Ronald Wilson, the B-side also includes a piano playout from Boyd. Many of Bea & Baby’s singles featured the sort of eight-bar blues you’d expect of a Chicago record label, but early on Eatmon also produced jump blues, teen doo-wop and Latin-tinged numbers, and in later years he took to releasing gospel on his Miss subsidiary. The catalog also features several interesting oddities, including Clyde Lasley’s provocative “Santa Came Home Drunk.” the Daylighters’ vocal-overdubbed re-release of Eddie Boyd’s “Come Home,” and T. Valentine’s sui generis “Little Lu-Lu-Frog,” a single whose style seems to foreshadow the free-form freak outs of Red Krayola.

The label’s biggest hit, Bobby Saxton’s “Trying’ to Make a Livin’,” was licensed to Chess for reissue on their Checker subsidiary, but even with national distribution, it couldn’t lift the fortunes of Saxton or Bea & Baby. Cut while Saxton was fronting Earl Hooker’s band, the single features Hooker’s inimitable guitar, while the instrumental B-side includes fine playing from pianist Tall Paul Hankins, and sax players Ernest Cotton and Oett Mallard. Eatmon would tangle with Leonard Chess again when Tony Gideon’s “Wa Too Si” was reportedly spied in Chess’ pressing plant, scooped by the Vibrations’ “Watusi,” and bullied into being released on the Chess label as “Watcha Gonna Do.”

Disc two opens with Hound Dog Taylor’s first recording, “My Baby’s Coming Home,” waxed at the age of 43, a full decade before the Alligator label was launched to release his debut album. Taylor’s twangy slide is featured on both sides of the single, with the minimal lyrics of the uptempo flip leaving extra room for soloing. Eatmon continued to explore the boundaries of the blues with Little Mac’s doo-wop (with a harmonica solo!) B-side “Broken Heart,” Phil Sampson’s late-night croon “It’s So Hard,” Sampson’s eponymous jump tune with Singing Sam, Andre Williams’ New Orleans-influenced “I Still Love You,” Kirk Taylor’s string-lined “This World,” Tall Paul Hankins & The Hudson Brothers’ remarkable organ, guitar, bass and drum grooves on  “Joe’s House Rent Party,” and “Red Lips,” and the late-60s soul stylings of The Chances.

Had Eatmon been making a bigger commercial push for his label, one might think he was just throwing singles at the market to see what would stick, but the range and quality of the material suggests he was indulging his musical taste, rather than trying to triangulate hits. The results may not have been good for the label’s bottom line, but the records, A’s and B’s alike, harbor a sense of purpose that resounds with artistry and adventurousness over calculation. Eatmon describes his 1961 gospel releases as having been a market consideration, but the fervor of these sides indicates that whether or not they were going to be the ticket to commercial salvation, they were going to be infused with the artists’ faith.

The set’s 128-page hardcover book opens with an interview that Living Blues co-founder Jim O’Neal conducted with Eatmon in 1971. “Interview” might be a misleading description, since O’Neal seems to have asked “tell me how you got into the music business,” and Eatmon proceeds to tell his colorful life story with little more prompting or interruption. Eatmon also tells stories in audio tracks that are sprinkled throughout the set. O’Neal’s liners and Michael Frank’s producer’s notes are detailed and heartfelt, telling Eatmon’s colorful story as they also tell the stories of their relationships with Eatmon. Bill Dahl’s artist profiles and Robert M. Marovich’s gospel notes fill out a comprehensive view of the riches contained in these four discs. This revival of the Bea & Baby catalog was clearly a passion project for all concerned, and it’s sure to stir the passions of blues collectors everywhere. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Earwig Music’s Home Page

Bobby Rush: Sitting on Top of the Blues

Saturday, August 17th, 2019

A tasty bowl of Bobby Rush blues soup

Like his fellow octogenarian, Leo “Bud” Welch, Bobby Rush’s last breath is likely to be a blue one. Unlike Welch, whose music career didn’t start in earnest until the age of 82, Rush has had a varied, lifelong run as a blues singer, guitarist and harmonica player. His career has spanned 1940s delta blues, 1950s electric Chicago blues and 1970s funk and soul, resulting in a mix of influences he calls the “Bobby Rush blues soup.” This follow-up to 2016’s Grammy-winning Porcupine Meat is a fine example of his unique style, starting with a base of funk, blues and soul, flavored with guitar and harmonica, and topped with vocals that remain surprisingly vital in his 80s. Rush gives his harp a workout leading the instrumental “Bobby Rush Shuffle,” reaches back to the 1970s with the wah-wah guitar of “Slow Motion,” and settles into the acoustic “Recipe for Love.” Rush absorbs styles in the same way that a slow-cooked soup absorbs the flavors of its ingredients, and his musical soup has been simmering over a blue flame for seventy years. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Bobby Rush’s Home Page

Johnny Shines: The Blues Came Falling Down – Live 1973

Saturday, May 11th, 2019

A bluesman who’d retained the vitality of his youth

The music industry’s history is littered with talent that never managed to intersect popular acclaim, and such might have been the story of bluesman Johnny Shines, if not for a sideline as a photographer and a chance encounter with Howlin’ Wolf. Shines started gigging in the early ‘30s, and toured with Robert Johnson for several years, but recordings made for Columbia and Chess were consigned to the vault, and the few sides released on J.O.B. didn’t make a dent in the market. By the mid-50s Shines had withdrawn from performing and turned to the construction industry, but a sideline photographing Chicago club patrons put him in touch with Howlin’ Wolf, and in turn secured him a half-dozen tracks on Vanguard’s influential 1966 anthology, Chicago/The Blues/Today, Vol. 3.

Upon its release, the Vanguard album sparked the renown that circumstance had denied Shines for two decades. He recorded albums for several independent labels and toured the international blues circuit to wide acclaim before a stroke in 1980 sidelined him for several years. This 1973 performance, professionally recorded in the acoustically friendly Graham Chapel at Washington University in St. Louis, finds Shines in peak form. His guitar playing is crisp, nimble and deeply informed by decades steeped in the blues. At 58, his voice was still strong and supple, showing no signs of age, and his touring experience shows in a powerful command of the stage.

The set combines original material with a few songs by Robert Johnson, with the latter’s “Sweet Home Chicago” igniting the audience’s hand clapping. Shines largely performs solo, though he’s joined by Leroy Jodie Pierson on second guitar for three selections. He casually tunes and strums while providing song introductions and philosophical thoughts, often easing himself seamlessly into a song. His guitar playing offers a master class in the blues, but his singing is equally impressive in its nuance and emotion. The torchy “You’re the One I Love” and troubled “Tell Me Mama” are particularly mesmerizing, with the latter highlighted by Shines’ slide playing. This is a vital performance by a performer thoroughly enjoying the recognition of his history and rediscovery. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mitch Woods: A Tip of the Hat to Fats

Wednesday, May 8th, 2019

Paying tribute to Fats Domino at the Jazz & Heritage Festival

It’s hard to imagine a more fitting stage for pianist Mitch Woods and his hand-picked New Orleans Rocket 88’s band than the Jazz & Heritage Festival’s blues tent. Though he was born in Brooklyn, and came of musical age on the West Coast, his New Orleans influences flow through him as he consecrates the stage with jump blues, boogie-woogie and swing. Woods and his musical colleagues are deep in their element, and their element is deep in them, swinging tightly through both original material and covers of Wynonie Harris, Clarence Garlow, Hank Williams, Jackie Brenston & Ike Turner, and as the album’s title signifies, Fats Domino.

Woods opens the set with his own “Solid Gold Cadillac,” with drummer Terence Higgins quickly setting everyone’s toes tapping and the three-piece horn section flexing its muscle. Woods exhorts the audience to acknowledge the band as he rolls out the boogie-woogie piano and sings with infectious joy. The saxes offer both punctuation and hot solos, including a stellar outing by the legendary Roger Lewis on a rousing cover of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya.” Guitarist John Fohl adds sizzling licks and the rhythm section alternately lays back in second-line grooves and spurs the band forward.

Woods is both studied and artful as he pays tribute to Professor Longhair with the original “Mojo Mambo,” and tips his hat to Fats Domino with the Imperial classics, “Blue Monday” and “Walking to New Orleans.” The audience responds with enthusiastic appreciation throughout the set, and Woods’ song intros add context to the deep dish helping of entertainment. There’s clearly nowhere else that Woods, his band and the audience would rather be than sharing this music with each other; and after listening, you may find yourself booking a ticket to the next gig. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Mitch Woods’ Home Page

Leo Bud Welch: The Angels in Heaven Done Signed My Name

Saturday, April 20th, 2019

Posthumous album from an 80-something blues unicorn

Born in 1932, the Mississippi native Welch turned seventy-two years of music making into three years of worldwide fame. Welch was essentially both an elder statesman and an 81-year-old rookie when he released 2014’s Sabougla Voices. He soon found himself feted on festival stages around the world, released a second album in 2015, I Don’t Prefer No Blues, and was the subject of the 2018 documentary, Late Blossom Blues. Welch’s fame may have come late, but the authenticity of his gospel and blues was deeply appreciated by all those who heard him play and sing. Welch passed away in 2017, but not before recording more than two dozen songs with Dan Auerbach in his Nashville studio.

Auerbach produced and played guitar, bass and even drums on the opening track, alongside a revolving cast of additional musicians. The songs are drawn from the traditional gospel catalog, though unless you’re deeply steeped in the genre, most of these titles will be new to you. The raw vitality of Welch’s guitar and voice remained unaffected by his fame or age, and were deeply ingrained by the six decades of music making that preceded his public acclaim. The band is flexible, as electric guitar, bass, drums, organ and backing vocals support and frame Welch in arrangements that aren’t always as juke joint raw as his previous albums. This is a terrific last testament from a one-of-a-kind gospel blues talent. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

Uncle Walt’s Band: Uncle Walt’s Band

Saturday, April 13th, 2019

Legendary acoustic harmony band’s 1974 debut, with 11 bonus tracks

The fusion of country, jazz, folk, blues, bluegrass and swing this trio developed in the late ‘70s isn’t without near-term antecedents (e.g., Dan Licks and His Hot Licks) or parallels (e.g., David Grisman), but the joy with which these three talented musicians – Walter Hyatt, Champ Hood and David Ball – meshed their influences and voices is in many ways without equal. Although there was fine solo work to follow – and commercial success for Ball in Nashville – there was something greater than the parts in their collaboration. With three star-quality singers blending their voices in harmony, their talents as instrumentalists might have receded into the background, had their gifts not been so substantial. Their acoustic playing is gentle, but substantial, and provides perfect backing and decoration to their singing.

Omnivore began the digital restoration of the group’s catalog with the 2018 anthology Those Boys From Carolina, They Sure Enough Could Sing, and now digs deeper with this reissue of the group’s debut. Recorded in North Carolina (in a single day, in mono, and with no overdubs!) and originally released in 1974 as Blame it on the Bossa Nova, the album was reordered and reissued eponymously in 1978, as the group was settling into Austin. Their run would last five more years and turn out another studio album (An American in Texas), a live set (Recorded Live) and a cassette collection of studio material (6-26-79). Reissues have come and gone, including the numerous versions of this debut that are documented in the liner notes, but the band’s impression on its fans has never faded.

The trio’s harmonies take in the sounds of country music’s early family acts, close harmony pop of the ‘40s, and the jazz vocal groups of the ‘50s and ‘60s. Their repertoire includes superb original material that mingles easily with lovingly arranged covers of the Delta Rhythm Boys’ jivey “Give Me Some Skin,” Robert Johnson’s “From Four Until Late,” Professor Longhair’s “In the Night,” the late ‘30s blues “Undecided,” the folk staple “Little Sadie,” and a wonderfully crooned take on the film theme “Ruby.” The trio’s harmonizing on “High Hill” is unbelievably lush, Ball’s falsetto is striking throughout the album (as are Hood’s acoustic guitar leads), and Hyatt’s “Aloha,” which opened the original LP, now closes out the album’s eleven track lineup.

Omnivore’s reissue doubles the track count with eleven previously unreleased bonuses that mix period demos and live recordings, including covers of Turner Layton’s early twentieth century “After You’ve Gone,” an a cappella version of “Rock Island Line,” and a wealth of original material. The group’s vocal arrangements and instrumental prowess shine brightly on the demos, a few of which were covered by others, including Lyle Lovett’s 1998 rendering of “Lonely in Love.” The live recordings show that the fraternity the trio achieved in the studio was just as potent on stage, and that their lighthearted stage banter and effortless musicality instantly drew the audience into their groove. The twenty-page booklet includes photos, remembrances by the band’s musical associates and famous fans, and new liner notes by Mark Michael and Heidi Wyatt. This is an all-time classic, reissued in great style. [©2019 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ: All Hopped Up

Monday, December 10th, 2018

1977 debut of the classic NRBQ lineup, with bonus tracks

Originally released in 1977, NRBQ’s fifth album marked the first appearance of drummer Tom Ardolino, and the debut of the band’s Red Rooster label. Having spent time on Columbia and Kama Sutra, the responsibility of producing and recording for their own imprint seems to have brought both freedom and focus to their music. To be sure, all the NRBQ trademarks are here, including oddball originals like Terry Adams “Call Him Off, Rogers,” lovingly selected covers of “Cecillia,” “I Got a Rocket in My Pocket” and “Honey Hush,” a ragged, minor key send-up of the theme to Bonanza, and generous helpings of the Whole Wheat Horns.

As usual, the band mashed up a wide array of pop, rock, soul, blues and jazz influences, but the original material from Adams, Al Anderson and Joey Spampinato includes some especially fine pop songs. Anderson’s nostalgic lead-off, “Ridin’ in My Car” has a double-tracked vocal and sunshine backing harmonies, and Terry Adams’ “It Feels Good” mixes ‘50s romanticism with, in true NRBQ fashion, a Japanese koto solo. Adams also offers an echo of Pet Sounds-era Beach Boys with “Things to You,” and Joey Spampinato’s “Still in School” and “That’s Alright” have harmonies that sound like Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe channeling the Everlys.

This reissue adds four bonus tracks recorded during the album’s two years worth of sessions. A cover of Bill Justis’ “Chicken Hearted” offers a heavier dose of chicken-pickin’ than Roy Orbison’s original, while the originals include the jazz-country hybrid “She’s Got to Know,” rockabilly “Start It Over,” and low-key New Orleans funk “Do the Bump.” The latter was originally issued as a B-side, while the other three were woven into Rounder’s Ridin’ in My Car sort-of reissue of All Hopped Up. Omnivore’s tri-fold slipcase augments one of NRBQ’s best albums with new liners by John DeAngelis and vintage photos. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

NRBQ’s Home Page

Peter Holsapple: Game Day

Thursday, October 25th, 2018

Vicennial solo album finds Peter Holsapple reflecting on middle age

It’s been just about twenty years since Peter Holsapple stepped up front to lead a solo effort. After achieving reknowned with the dB’s, he served as a sideman for R.E.M., joined the Continental Drifters, reunited with Chris Stamey for the albums Mavericks and Here and Now, and with the dB’s for Falling Off the Sky. In 1997 he released the solo album Out of My Way, but it would be two more decades until he was once again ready to put his name above the title without any company. He dipped his solo toes in the water with the 2017 single “Don’t Mention the War”, which is included here with its flip (“Cinderella Style”), a cover of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” and thirteen new solo tracks. Really, really solo, as Holsapple writes, sings and performs nearly everything on the album.

Now in his early ‘60s, Holsapple’s lyrical view has grown into middle age, but his voice remains instantly recognizable. He opens the album in the present with the title song’s pragmatic view of aging, but transitions into nostalgia with the thirty-years-late thank you of “Commonplace.” He remembers his time with and laments the end of the Continental Drifters in an eponymous song, and wanders through memories as he deconstructs the intimate details of his parents’ home in “Inventory.” Mortality provides a prism for looking backward in “Don’t Ever Leave,” contemplating the musical friends no longer extant, and illuminating the motivation he discussed in a recent interview: “I think about friends who’ve passed away whom I would love to hear records by today, and I won’t be able to do that, so I feel a little bit of compunction simply by being on this side of the sod.”

Though rock guitars dominate many of the productions, Holsapple digs into electric blues, psych, country-rock, and mournful organ and electric piano. His cover of “Them Changes” combines a heavy central riff, funky keyboard sounds, a few production tweaks and a punchy, heavily processed guitar solo. The set closes with Holsapple’s 2017 single, “Don’t Mention the War,” essaying a nephew’s disheartened view of his favorite uncle’s PTSD-fueled demons, and his memories of the man that once was. The flip side, “Cinderella Style,” is an imaginative peek into the creative process of a seamstress, as Holsapple spies the fairy tale fabric compositions of a sewing room. The latter provides a gentle exit from the turmoil of the A-side, and a lovely close to this welcome return. [©2018 Hyperbolium]

Peter Holsapple’s Blog

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]

Sarah Borges’ Home Page

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]

Tony Joe White’s Home Page