Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1083

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Blues and Soul - Jon Harrington’s blues column 4

Walter Trout is one of the big names of the modern blues scene and he has certainly paid his dues having been a sideman for Percy Mayfield and organist Deacon Jones and played in the bands of Joe Tex and John Lee Hooker before spells in Canned Heat then John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers where he played alongside fellow guitarist Coco Montoya. After leaving Mayall in 1989 to form his own band he has built up a reputation as a hard working blues rocker that tours relentlessly and specialises in frantic fretwork on a Fender Strat. Trout’s “We’re All In This Together” (Provogue) features 14 guests, one on each track and shows the respect he commands within the blues community. His old mentor British blues legend Mayall blows harp on the moving album highlight, “Blues For Jimmy T.” with Trout on an acoustic guitar, while US harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite wails on “The Other Side Of The Pillow” between Trout cutting loose searing electric guitar solos. The heavy blues title track is a statement of unity and intent and features Trout duelling with Joe Bonnamassa whereas on Elmore James’ classic “The Sky Is Crying” it is guitarist Warren Haynes, ex of The Allman Brothers Band and Gov’t Mule joining Trout to play the blues. Trout’s dextrous electric guitar style can be relentless and “Somebody Going Down” with Eric Gales is positively bludgeoning but if Trout’s playing feels lacking in subtlety at times, his enthusiasm and love of the music is obvious and it is easy to see why he inspires such devotion from his ever growing fan base. Other guests include Kenny Wayne Sheppard, Robben Ford, Edgar Winter and Randy Bachman.

Tommy Castro & The Painkillers combine soulful vocals and organ with soaring blues guitar and rocking R&B grooves on “Stompin’ Ground” (Alligator), an album that has a definite late 1960s / early 1970s feel. The riffing “Fear Is The Enemy”, blues boogie “Enough Is Enough” and funky “Love Is” protest against the intolerance of modern politics. On “My Old Neighbourhood” Tommy recalls his blue collar childhood, with horns giving the performance a southern soul feel and “Live Every Day” is a blues that contemplates getting older with a smile on its face and features the ever reliable Charlie Musselwhite guesting. A high energy cover of Peggy Scott and Jo Jo Benson’s “Soul Shake”, accessed via Delaney and Bonnie’s rendition, struts like Ike and Tina Turner in their prime, a version of Ray Charles’ “Sticks A Stones” would fill a dance floor at any house party and on Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” the band show a heavier side.

Eileen Jewell has previously been known for country and blues influenced folk music and her gospel group side project the Sacred Shakers but has always wanted to make an out and out blues album and she now has with “Downhearted Blues” (Signature Sounds) where she picks some of her favourite blues songs to cover. These range from the uptempo R&B of Charles Sheffield’s “It’s Your Voodoo Working”, Howlin’ Wolf’s “You’ll Be Mine” and Betty James “I’m A Little Mixed Up” to Jewell’s country blues rendition of the title track made famous by Bessie Smith. Guitarist Jerry Miller gets a chance to shine on Willie Dixon’s “You Know My Love”, popularised by Otis Rush and sung as a torch song with an eerie feel by Jewell. Recorded live in the studio in two days, the album sounds spontaneous and energised like the recordings Jewell draws inspiration from.

Steve Brookes was an original member of The Jam but left before Paul Weller’s punky mod combo found fame in 1977. Returning to performing, Brookes released his first solo album “Thankful” in 2008 followed by an album of acoustic blues, “Down The Line” in 2009, “Snakes and Ladders” in 2011 and “Vintage Troubadour” in 2014 and he guested on two of Weller’s solo albums. Recorded at Weller’s Black Barn Studios, for his latest album “Hoodoo Zoo” (SB) Brookes plays self written largely solo, contemplative, acoustic roots and blues though old friend Weller guests on guitar on the gentle “Amala” and blows blues harp to the Bo Diddley rhythm of “Looking At The Monkeys” and Weller band drummer and percussionist Ben Gordelier embellishes several tracks.

West Midlands soul collective Stone Foundation have a live album “Live Rituals” (100%) available as a CD and DVD package or double vinyl commemorating their sold out performance at Islington Assembly Hall in May 2017 that features a track listing drawing heavily from their top 25 album “Street Rituals”. The band are renowned for their incendiary live performances and the album captures the joyous atmosphere of those gigs with highlights including the funky “Simplify The Situation”, vocalist Neil Jones at his most soulful on “The Limit Of A Man”, Paul Weller guesting on the jazzy “Your Balloon Is Rising” and a rousing cover of Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On”. Stone Foundation play a special one off gig at the Concorde 2 in Brighton on 24th September, with a full tour in October commencing on the 12th at Manchester Academy 2 and taking in their biggest headline gig to date at the 02 Shepherd’s Bush Empire on the 27th.

Dr. John “The Atco Albums Collection” (Atco / Rhino) is a box set collecting former New Orleans session musician Malcolm John Rebennack”s first seven albums using his Dr. John persona. His classic debut, “Gris Gris” (1968) introduced the Night Tripper’s unique mix of Crescent City R&B and psychedelic blues rock with influences from voodoo and the Mardi Gras and contains the original “I Walk On Guilded Splinters” covered by Humble Pie, Marsha Hunt and Paul Weller. “Babylon” (1969) and “Remedies” (1970) follow in a similar vein but are bleaker, “The Sun, The Moon & Herbs” (1971) was mainly recorded in London and features luminaries such as Eric Clapton on slide guitar and Mick Jagger and P.P. Arnold on backing vocals and is the most impressive since his debut. After these four albums Rebennack changed tact and “Gumbo” (1972) contained only one original composition, instead paying tribute to the New Orleans R&B of his youth with his interpretations of the songs of artists such as Professor Longhair and Huey “Piano” Smith. The funky R&B of “Right Place, Wrong Time” (1973) recorded with producer Allen Toussaint and featuring The Meters backing Rebennack finally brought him significant chart success in the US where the title track reached number 9 in the Billboard hot 100. “Desitively Bonnaroo” retained Toussaint, The Meters and the funk but strangely failed to repeat its predecessor’s success. Over all these albums represent Rebennack’s most creative period and the albums are nicely presented in replicas of their original album sleeves but an accompanying book would be welcome.

Various Artists “Bluesin’ By The Bayou: Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry” (Ace) is the fourth blues collection in Ace Records’ excellent “By The Bayou” series of compilations of which there are 18 over all. The blues releases are particularly fine featuring many rare swamp blues gems from producer J.D. Miller’s Crowley, Louisiana studio among other treasures. The 28 tracks included on this occasion are typically raw, down ’n’ dirty blues from the Deep South, eight being previously unheard. Highlights include an unreleased alternate take of Lightnin' Slim’s “Hoo Doo Blues”, a song covered by the Rolling Stones on their recent 2 million selling “Blue and Lonesome” album and an alternate take of Lazy Lester’s “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter”, covered by The Kinks on their debut album. Elsewhere the legendary singer and guitarist Barbara Lynn performs an uncharacteristically down home blues version of Lester’s “Sugar Coated Love”, the little known Polka Dot Slim contributes the wild rocking blues “Ain’t Broke, Ain’t Hungry”, Mercy Baby shines on the rollicking “Pleadin’” and Slim Harpo employs his familiar Jimmy Reed influenced style while moaning about people bumming his “Cigarettes”. Two zydeco cuts from vocalist and accordion player Boozoo Chavis provide variety while Big Walter’s slow blues “If The Blues Was Money” sounds like a classic despite astonishingly being issued for the first time here.

Various Artists “Down Home Blues - Detroit” (Wienerworld) is a superb 3 CD set collecting 82 tracks of post war urban blues from Detroit, Michigan, a North American city that like Chicago received an influx of blues musicians from the rural South. The set comes with a 48 page book with informative notes and a sessionography by blues expert Mike Rowe and is illustrated with evocative period photos.
By far the most commercially successful bluesman from the Motor City scene was John Lee Hooker so it unsurprising to find seven of his early recordings here, including 4 excellent solo rarities from 1949 that were issued under the pseudonym John Lee Booker on Chicago label Chance two years later. One man band Doctor Ross contributes four songs recorded for Detroit independent Fortune Records, the stand out being the raucous “Cat Squirrel”, later covered by Cream.
Though most of the artists featured are far from household names, future Motown star Marvin Gaye plays drums on singer guitarist Eddie Burns’ essential 1961 slow blues 45 “Orange Driver” and it’s swinging flip “Hard Hearted Woman”, alongside Funk Brothers Eddie Willis and Robert Chance on guitars. As well as the 10 tracks under his own name Burns is also featured on 7 by vocalist and harmonica player Aaron “Little Sonny” Willis, though clearly influenced by Chess luminaries Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson at this stage, Sonny would later develop a modernised blues style on his 3 albums for Stax, and his “Love You Pretty Baby” here really jumps.
Detroit’s blues sound was tough, made by bluesmen who with the exception of Hooker never really found fame or fortune but managed to record a few rough and ready recordings for small independent labels between the 1940s and 60s and played the local bars. You probably haven’t heard of Baby Boy Warren, Bobo Jenkins, Detroit Slim, Calvin Frazier, Eddie Kirkland or L C Green, all represented here, but if you love the better known Chicago post war electric blues issued by Chicago labels like Chess and Vee-Jay then you should investigate this set celebrating the gritty Detroit blues scene of the same era.

Various Artists “Down Home Blues - Chicago” (Wienerworld) is a companion volume to the Detroit set, this time comprising 5 CDs and an 88 page book with notes again by Rowe. Unsurprisingly there are far more big names on the Chicago collection with Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James, Albert King, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters, Billy Boy Arnold, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers and Otis Spann all represented, but the choices aren’t obvious ones with early tracks that are often alternate takes or originally not issued being used. These stars of the Windy City blues scene rub shoulders with obscure names such as Gray Haired Bill (represented by his only two recordings), Lazy Bill, “Blues Boy” Bill, Willie “Long Time” Smith, Dusty Brown, Blue Smitty and Birmingham Junior and His Lover Boys. The sound quality is sometimes far from audiophile with for example James McCain’s “I Got To Check Up On My Baby” sounding like it was copied from a worn 78 but this is a fascinating collection showing the early development of the electric blues sound and the roots of both Chicago blues and ultimately the rock music that developed from it. Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ Stone”, presented here in an alternate take, gave a name to Mick Jagger and Keith Richard’s R&B group and uptempo shakers such as Snooky Prior’s “Fine Boogie” and blues harmonica pioneer Little Walter’s R&B chart topper “Juke”, again in an alternate version, shows the music’s ability to rock the city’s juke joints.
Words (((((B&S)))))

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