Posts Tagged ‘Blues’

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

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]

Barry Goldberg’s Home Page

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]

NRBQ’s Home Page

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]

Janiva Magness’ Home Page