Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Blues Have You Been Listening To?

Lately I have been listening to a LOT of good blues. I heard Albert Cumming's cd "Working Man" (2006, Blind Pig) and Jeremy Spencer's cd "Precious Little" (2006, Blind Pig) and The Mannish Boys' cd "Big Plans" (2007, Delta Groove). All of these are good cds, with good music. But then yesterday I heard Muddy Waters' cd "Live at Newport 1960" (2001, MCA) and man, oh man it was sweet. Whenever I spend a few weeks or a month listening to blues by other artists I am amazed again when I put on some Muddy Waters. What a great voice! What a great band! Guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn and Luther Johnson, harmonica players Little Walter, Junior Wells and James Cotton, pianists Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins surround Muddy's magnificent voice and slide guitar to make great music. From 1948 to 1979 nobody made as much great music as Muddy Waters and his band.

There is a new rule in my blues listening--now at least one day each week I listen to the GIANTS of the blues--Muddy, John Lee, the Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Walter. It helps me remember how incredible this music can be.

Keep on keepin' the blues alive.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Check out your Public Library

I remember back in the first Blues Brothers movie Dan Aykroyd said something like "In the future you will only be able to hear blues music by checking out records at your local public library." He was right--the public library is a good place to look for blues music. I finally went to my public library the other day, filled out the forms, and got my library card. Remember when you were a kid and that getting your first library card was a big thrill? I immediately wandered over to the cd racks and started browsing...... In about 5 minutes I was able to check out "New Orleans Piano" by Professor Longhair, (1972, Atlantic) a really good cd made up of sessions in 1949 and 1953; and Hubert Sumlin's cd "About Them Shoes" (2004, Tone Cool Records) an all-star set featuring Levon Helm on drums, Mudcat Ward on bass, James Cotton and Paul Oscher on harp and Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Bob Margolin on guitar. l felt like I was stealing when I checked out those cds and walked to my car!

Two common sense reminders: First, you should always treat the cds you check out with proper care--the next person who wants to check out that cd is depending on it. Second, take only what you need and keep it only as long as you need. At my local public library you can check out 5 cds for 3 weeks, but my personal rule is to only take two at a time and take them back in just a few days.

I'd say that your local public library in one of the three foundations to your blues collection, along with the your local independent record shop (you do have one of these, right?) and borrowing music from your blues loving friends.

Keep the blues alive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review: Robert Lighthouse - Deep Down in the Mud

Robert Lighthouse is originally from Sweden, and has been playing blues for nearly 20 years in and around Washington DC/Baltimore. He presents a loving history lesson of the blues in his second cd "Deep Down in the Mud" (2007, Right On Rhythm). The first half of the cd is acoustic guitar, harmonica and high hat--a one man band. He starts things off with two Robert Johnson covers and the delta-influenced original "Stuck in the Mud." The title track is about Hurricane Katrina, a Bob Dylan-esque folk blues. Unlike some other songs on this subject, it remains musical. The second half of the cd is electric, with a three piece band, recorded live at the Club Oxford in Washington DC. Lighthouse offers covers both well known and obscure--Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer," Willie Dixon's "Meet Me in the Bottom," and two songs called "Red Hot Mama"--one by Elmore James done quite traditionally, and one by George Clinton done up in the funky Parliament style. The history lesson concludes with a 7 minute cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Spanish Castle Magic" which shows Lighthouse's impressive ability to play electric guitar--though it may be more rock than blues to some ears. But taken all together, this is a really good cd. He ranges widely through the blues and presents an authentic delta blues for this day and age. If you like this cd also check out Lighthouse's debut cd "Drive-Thru Love (1997, Right On Rhythm).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Review: Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings-- "Blues Evolution"

I recently received in the mail the latest cd by Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings--"Blues Evolution." (2007, Tai Jeria Record Co) When I put the cd in the stereo and hit PLAY I was instantly swept away by the sound--this is a blues band with a big sound! "Big Daddy" and this band have been playing the Baltimore/Washington DC circuit for a while now, and they know how to bring the blues to an audience. "Big Daddy" plays guitar and sings. The keyboards are by Bill Pratt, aided on a few cuts by Glenn Workman on piano. Excellent harmonica work by Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks. Gail Parrish plays bass and Ron Jenkins is on drums. The horn section is Joe "E Flat" Thomas on trumpet and Kelvin O'Neal on sax, and these guys are a highlight of the disc--they really sizzle and swing. This disc seems made for a hot Friday night party. I really like the vocals--"Big Daddy" has an impressive delivery, sort of how I imagine Jimmy Reed would sound with a modern band backing him. That said, the lyrics are sometimes weak. But the energy this band brings covers that nicely.

"Big Daddy" represented the Baltimore Blues Society at the IBC in Memphis in 2006, and they will represent the DC Blues Society at IBC this year for "Best Self Produced CD."

All in all, a very fine effort.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review: Harmonica Red and the New Heard "I Was Born in Louisiana"

I recently received this cd in the mail for preview--and it has not left my cd player since then! Everybody who listens to this cd should dig it! This is a very fine cd of harmonica-driven blues music, quite suitable for driving across town in traffic. Harmonica Red, aka George R. Heard, is clearly a harmonica player to watch. And he can sing, too--he has an everyman's voice that pushes the songs right along. The band is really good--these guys know how to play the blues right, and they play like they love to play it. Donnie Pick is on guitar, Jeff Mills is on drums, and Steve Rayburn is on bass. The music is sometimes Louisiana zydeco-inflected, and sometimes straight blues classic, and sometimes a touch of rockabilly--it's not sloppy but it's loose. Bonus points to the band for a great cover of one of my all time favorite tunes--"Mercy Mercy Mercy."

With the recent passing of Gary Primich and Carey Bell, both harp aces extra-ordinaire, the world of blues needs the next generation of harp players to rise up to the opportunity. I think Harmonica Red & the New Heard are ready to move up to the major leagues.

Next time, I'll review another cd that I received recently in the mail.

Happy New Year, and

Keep the blues alive!