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Review

Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud: Tears Of The World (ACT Music & Vision)

Mighty Sam McClain & Knut Reiersrud CD cover pic

9

6.3

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UK release date 31.07.2015

US blues star Mighty Sam McClain and Norwegian guitarist, harmonica player, pianist, singer and producer Knut Reiersrud have teamed up on what was sadly to become Mighty Samâs final recording before he passed away after a battle with cancer, a few weeks before its release.

Sam passed away in June, and he had suffered a severe stroke back in April. He was 72. Born in Monroe, Louisiana, at five years old he sang in his mother's Gospel Church. He left home when he was thirteen and followed local R&B guitarist, Little Melvin Underwood through the Chitlin' circuit, first as his valet and then as lead vocalist himself at 15.

While singing at a club in Florida, he met record producer and DJ, Papa Don Schroeder and in 1966, McClain recorded a cover version of Patsy Cline's "Sweet Dreams" which hit the charts. Several recording sessions at Muscle Shoals produced further singles, "Fannie-May" and "In the Same Old Way".

For fifteen years, first in Nashville, then in New Orleans, McClain held down manual jobs. He toured and recorded in Japan in 1989; âLive in Japan,â featured Wayne Bennett.

By the early 1990s, McClain relocated to New England through his participation in the "Hubert Sumlin Blues Party" project. This led to Joe Harley and AudioQuest Music. The results were the successful releases, âGive It Up To Loveâ and âKeep On Movin'.â After his move to New Hampshire, he released âSledgehammer Soul,â and âDown Home Blues.â In 1998 McClain had two releases, âJourneyâ and âJoy & Pain,â on the CrossCut Records label. âSoul Survivor: The Best of Mighty Sam McClain,â was his farewell to AudioQuest in 1999. McClain signed on with Telarc Blues in 1999, taking his longtime producer Joe Harley with him, and recorded the Blues Music Award nominated âBlues for the Soul,â (2000) and âSweet Dreamsâ (2001).

In 1996, McClain formed McClain Productions after successfully co-producing his albums with Joe Harley. He also created his own record label, Mighty Music, which released âOne More Bridge To Cross,â in February 2003. âBetcha Didn't Know,â was issued in July 2009 on Mighty Music. It was nominated by the Blues Association as 'Soul/Blues Album 2010'.

In 2008, McClain joined the âGive US Your Poor,â project, benefiting the homeless. He worked with this project, performing at both the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City, and at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. and other venues. In early 2009, McClain recorded an album of duets with the Iranian folk singer, Mahsa Vahdat. The resulting album, âScent of Reunion: Love Duets Across Civilizations,â reached number six in the European World Music Chart. McClain and the producer/guitarist for this project, Knut Reiersrud, collaborated on the album, âOne Drop is Plenty,â recorded in Norway in January 2011.

McClain sang the theme song for the 2013 film, âTime and Charges.â McClain appeared in a cameo role in the film, singing the song. He recorded âToo Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey)â in 2012. The following year the title song, "Too Much Jesus (Not Enough Whiskey)," written by McClain and Pat Herlehy, was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the âBest Songâ category.

In 2014, McClain was featured on the compilation âSongs from a Stolen Spring,â that paired Western musicians with artists from the Arab Spring. On the album, McClain performed "If I Can Dream" - a Walter Earl Brown song made famous by Elvis Presley. The performance was meshed with "Bread, Freedom" by the Egyptian musician Ramy Essam, best known for his appearances in Tahrir Square in Cairo during the Egyptian Revolution of 2011.

Norwegian Knut and his superb band team up with Sam, for their second album together, the follow up to the acclaimed 2011 project, âOne Drop Is Plenty.â The four year wait was well worth it, for this is a mighty album to match Samâs nickname. Not just for Samâs sublime soulful blues vocals either. Knut is a formidable guitarist and a world class blues harp player.

The European band provides the perfect foundations for the pair to shine, too. Thereâs some spine tingling Hammond from David Wallumred. The material is a great fit for Samâs heartfelt, passionate, and quite wonderful vocals. The whole vibe has that âfeelâ and the production is subtle and allows freedom and space.

Mighty Sam McClain: Such a sad, sad loss to the music world that he is no longer with us. Hearing him on what is probably his career best, brought a few tears to my eyes, I do not mind admitting. Itâs blues, itâs R&B, itâs gospel, itâs most definitely oozing with sweet soul andâ¦â¦. itâs bloody brilliant. Bound to feature on many âBest Ofâ lists at the end of this year, for sure.

But this is an equal partnership in ability and class. Itâs not a Mighty Sam McClain album backed by some Norwegian cool cats. Knut and his band add as much value as Sam does to the project. In his youth, Knut jammed with the iconic likes of Buddy Guy and Otis Rush at Chess Studios in Chicago. Dr John and Doc Pomus wrote songs for him, and the Blind Boys of Alabama and several World Music stars were guests on his records. Heâs earned his stripes.

The dozen songs here were selected jointly by the pair, including classics from the repertoire of legendary R&B labels such as Willie Mitchellâs Hi Records, a country song from Carlene Carter, and the standard âQue Sera, Sera.â We also get four written by Knut and three from Sam.

Thereâs lush strings, blistering horns, fabulous gospel choir backing vocals, the rhythm section nails the groove from the off. Knut shares vocals on âQue Sera, Sera,â not a song youâd usually associate with the blues, but it works.

Thereâs a killer in the pocket cut in âThings Ainât What They Used To be,â where the band are bang at it, Knut is off the hook and channelling Albert King in his guitar licks, and Sam is so frigging soulful itâs almost illegal. A great piece of song-writing craftsmanship, penned by Sam and George Papageorge. Three minutes and forty six seconds of soul-blues-funk bliss. Grammy nominee Mighty Sam is as much about soul (labelled âThe Soul Of America,â in Europe) as he is blues. Heâs got the funk when he needs it, too.

Listening to his back catalogue of circa 18 albums, it is patently obvious that his music was a labour of love for Sam, but he was never the household name and mainstream success his talents truly deserved.

While the man may be gone, this album reminds us just how Mighty Sam McClain could be given the right tools; a microphone and a great band. Tears of the world is about rightâ¦..
Words SIMON REDLEY

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