Our CD reviews this week turned into a guitar fest. I didn’t even plan it that way. I grabbed bunch off the stack and boom! Glorious guitars showering us with notes covered in grease, grime, grits, and gall. The music featured this week is sometimes audacious, sometimes laid back, but just right for whatever ails you. Collect them all!
As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears.
John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers
Live In ‘67
Forty Below Records
Released on April 21, 2015
If Corey Harris really wants to know if white people can play Blues, all he needs to do is listen to Peter Green emote liquid hot pain and turmoil on the Bluesbreakers archival release called Live In ’67. The answer he will find may confound him, but it will be a resounding Yes. Much more than Eric Clapton’s replacement, Green transcends musical genres and unleashes the raw hellish nightmare of post WWII Great Britain in a tidal wave of musical expression that will have you listening for the air raid sirens over London. John Mayall is known as the Godfather of British Blues, and along with guys like Cyril Davies and Alexis Corner brought Blues to the attention of the devastated, disaffected youth of England who grew up in abject poverty, standing in line for rations, and stealing to get basics like food and shoes. The industrial cities of the Midlands had ghettos full of workers who would never escape their toils and lived in an unofficial state of indentured servitude. The emotional music of blacks who were exploited for their labor in the American South resounded in the children of the WWII survivors in Britain. They knew the despair and hopelessness first hand and dreamed of more. The Blues provided a way to channel the frustrations and find moments of pure joy amid their miserable existence. Live In ’67 captures some of those moments as delivered by John Mayall, Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood.
This band is where Fleetwood Mac was born. Yes, Fleetwood Mac was a blues band kids, before Green checked out and Jeremy Spencer went religious. The triumvirate of Green, McVie, and Fleetwood dominate these recordings which is a testament to Mayall as a band leader. Even in his early days he showcased his band and was willing to step out of the spotlight. Green leads the band through fiery renditions of Otis Rush classics “All Your Love” and “Double Trouble” but he brings down the house over the course of eight minutes of “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” As for Mayall, his tenor is in fine form and his organ playing anchors the songs that Green stretches six ways from Sunday. One of Green’s jams gets so intense you’ll forget it started out as “The Stumble.” When he kicks back into the song proper, it’s a jolt. There is nothing sleek, pretty, or cute on these recordings. The source material for Live In ’67 is one-channel reel to reel tapes sent to Mayall by a fan from Holland who covertly recorded the shows 50 years prior. Mayall cleaned up the tapes but be warned, this a bootleg recording, albeit a damned good one. This version of the Bluesbreakers only existed for about three months and thankfully the anonymous fan was there to capture one of the most intense Blues line-ups ever, be they white or black. Yes, Corey Harris, white people can play the blues, however very few can play like Peter Green. Represent!
Released on May 5, 2015
Tom Grey and Mark Johnson of Delta Moon met by chance many (delta) moons ago when Tom tried to sell a Dobro to Mark. Phone numbers were exchanged and soon the two were playing together all around Atlanta. The guitar interplay between Gray and Johnson is magical. After almost a dozen Delta Moon albums, the duo has cemented its place in guitar tandem history. It is rare for a band to have even one skilled slide guitarist but Delta Moon boasts two. Their styles seem to mesh effortlessly and the sum sounds larger than their individual parts. The music also benefits from Tom Gray’s voice which has a mellow whispery rasp which draws you in and makes you listen closely. He was the Roots Music Association’s 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year so you may want to listen closely anyway. He has a knack for creating insidious hooks that dig deep into your consciousness the more you listen to them. The duo is joined in the band by bassist Franher Joseph and drummer Marion Patton. These two musicians could have been great engineers because they build perfect foundations for every song on Low Down.
Low Down starts with the steady chug and side-winding slide of “Wrong Side Of Town.” “Spark In the Dark” is a fitting title to this energetic tune. It has a driving beat, terse chords, and greasy slide. These guys get incredibly warm tones from their instruments and amps, and the loping stand-up bass in songs like “Nothing You Can Tell A Fool” creates a stomping on the floor boards kind of low end you don’t hear much anymore. I must really hate Tom Waits’ voice because I can’t listen to him, but when I often love his songs when done by others. Delta Moon’s cover of “LowDown” is one of those great covers. The amusing wordplay in the song is perfect for this band and their style and feel makes it pure Delta Moon. If there is a complaint to be made about Low Down it’s this: it’s almost too mellow. It’s relaxing. This is Monday through Thursday Blues. When Friday and Saturday night come around you’ll probably want something more rambunctious and if all goes well, on Sunday you’ll have some explaining to do. At least you can feel sure when Monday night comes around again you can relax on the porch with a tall glass of lemonade or sweet tea and fall into the friendly Low Down groove of a Delta Moon.
Released on April 21, 2015
Love Spin is the latest from the tremendously talented Debbie Davies. The title is drawn from the grimy, slinky title track that brandishes a hopeful attitude about all the crap that comes your way. This seems like it might be her personal philosophy. Debbie tackles many personal issues and demons on Love Spin but presents them in a positive way. “A Darker Side Of Me” is the most pleasant song about self-destructive behavior I’ve ever heard. Other topics include getting traded in for “Two Twenty-Five-Year-Olds” and handling a deficiency in the romantic health of a relationship with “I’m Not Cheating Yet.” Yet, of course, is the operative word so get it together buddy.
The record is full of Davies road tested guitar playing. You can tell she’s played with and learned the greats because she is right there with them. Davies is a tasteful, intelligent player with wide ranging tones, imaginative licks, and fully developed solos. Every note means business. Davies’ work is succinct, tasteful, and accessible. She resists the urge to overplay and knows she made the right decision. Guitar players don’t agree on much but I’m sure most of us would agree that on Love Spin and all her records, she plays exactly what the songs need. On “Two Twenty-Five-Year-Olds” Debbie channels her old boss Albert Collins with some icy, sharp picking. She must be playing daggers for the idiot who wants to trade her in. “A Darker Side Of Me” has delicately strummed chords and gentle fills, and “Life Of The Party” opens with a blast of joyously spiky single note jabs. On the album closer, Debbie plays some mean and gritty slide guitar. I don’t know which guitar and amp combo she used but I want it and I want it today!
Overall, Love Spin lives up to its name as Debbie Davies plays and sings for us a set of happy sounding, reassuring songs. Debbie is in strong voice, singing and playing with verve and style. This is another solid effort from the sassy, guitar slinging road warrior. Give it a (Love) spin.
James Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox
Released on May 5, 2015
Guitar Heroes is pure, unadulterated joy. Albert Lee, James Burton, Amos Garrett, and David Wilcox spend an hour four twisting and turning your mind through 60 years of Rock, Roll, and Hillbilly Rhythm & Blues guitar licks, tricks, and trapeze flips. Gathering these Masters of the Telecaster was the brainchild of Doug Cox, artistic director of the Vancouver Island MusicFest. In the liner notes Cox says “As Artistic Director of the Vancouver Island MusicFest, I get to dream up collaborations like these for what will hopefully become once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences. This one worked. It’s truly rock and roll heaven, right here on Earth where there is indeed, a hell of a band!”
Beyond the pickers, that band consisted of the members of Albert Lee’s touring band including keyboardist Jon Greathouse, bassist Will MacGregor and drummer Jason Harrison Smith. The 11 tracks were recorded live on stage at the Vancouver Island MusicFest and are presented as-is. There are no edits, overdubs, or studio touch up. This is the real thing and the interplay suggests a band that plays together seven nights a week, not four guys who just met and decided to jam. It is a testament to their abilities and attitudes. There is room for everyone and even though everyone seems to be playing their best stuff, it never sounds like a competition. The playing remains tasteful and the boys never get in the way of the others. Often they play amazingly complimentary bits that give the familiar material unexpected freshness. All the signature tunes are here from rollicking opener “That’s All Right Mama” to “Susie Q” and an all-out jam on set closer “Country Boy.” Stony Plain had the good sense to provide track by track performance credits and a quicksilver set like this needs one so we can keep up. And while the solos are dazzling some of the most interesting work is done to the rhythm guitar parts as these guys deconstruct the songs on the spot and build them back up again while we listen.
Albert Lee has over 20 solo albums, played with Heads, Hands and Feet, the Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton and more. James Burton is responsible for the classic “Susie Q” lick. He was a longtime member of Ricky Nelson’s band and then joined Elvis Presley’s band and stayed until the King died in 1977. He also worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, John Denver, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison and countless others. Amos Garrett was in Paul Butterfield’s Better Days and has played with Maria Muldaur, Doug Sahm, Gene Taylor Band, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Garcia and a host of others. David Wilcox is a veteran of Nashville North and The Ian Tyson TV show. he also played with Maria Muldaur, has had many Canadian hits and gold and platinum albums. David is regarded as one of Canada’s most influential roots musicians. The four men got to town one day early to rehearse. One day. One. Day. The result is an incredible set that defies description and must be heard to be fully appreciated. This isn’t just for blues fans. This is for anyone who can appreciate the artistry of master musicians capable of delivering the highest caliber performances just for fun.
J.B. Hutto With Sunnyland Slim
Released on March 17, 2015
Delmark has been putting out some great reissues recently and Hawk Squat does not disappoint. Hawk Squat was originally issued in 1968 on Delmark and now contains the re-mastered original album and six additional previously unreleased tracks. Hutto is regarded by those in the know as a standout of the second generation of Chicago Blues greats but his output was sporadic and his catalog is filled with recordings of questionable origin and quality. Luckily he occasionally recorded for reputable labels like Delmark. Recorded at sessions separated by roughly three months, from May to August 1968 plus one track recorded in December 1966, Delmark managed to capture lightning in a bottle. J.B. Hutto’s energy is tangible and his mastery of the Elmore James style of slide is more joyful celebration than emulation. His voice is plaintive and full of anguish on slower numbers like “If You Change Your Mind” and confidently strong on “The Same Mistake Twice” and “Speak My Mind” which appears three times in total. The final version closes the disc and is a full minute longer than the previous two. It is slowed down slightly and is played without the strutting shuffle but is no less intense. These variants offer a wonderful glimpse into the creative process and in this case make the bonus tracks enjoyable additions instead of filler.
Sunnyland Slim is present for the sessions and plays a lot of organ. His piano takes center stage on “Too Much Pride.” This song is also represented by an alternate take which isn’t significantly different but Sunny’s piano seems to sound brighter on the bonus version and his intro sounds higher in pitch. “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” is the only bonus track without a counterpart on the original album. Sunnyland Slim plays some swirling organ under Hutto’s biting guitar licks as J.B. sings about drowning his sorrow and telling his hear he’ll cry tomorrow.
As for the original album, it is fiery, feisty, and fickle. Sunnyland Slim’s organ playing is effervescent, and J.B. Hutto is a whirlwind slurry of Blues Power, sly wit, and toastmaster general. The sessions included Lee Jackson on guitar, Junior Pettis and Dave Myers on bass, frank Kirkland on drums and Maurice McIntyre on tenor sax. Herman Hassell plays bass on “Hip Shakin’” the sole track from 1966. Together these musicians created a Blues classic that still sounds fresh and relevant today. If you are not familiar with J.B. Hutto, do yourself a favor and start right here with Hawk Squat!