Welcome back folks. The Friday Fast Five is back after a week off. I hope you found the Two For Tuesday CD reviews we put up on Tuesday. This week we have a wide variety of styles from excellent musicians out there keeping the blues vibrant, potent, and relevant.
Jay Willie Blues Band
Rumblin’ And Slidin’
Released August 12, 2014
If I see a Firebird and a slide on an album cover, I’m in, and thus Jay Willie Blues Band had me interested before I ever heard a note of the new Rumblin’ And Slidin’ CD. I was not disappointed. This is fresh sounding music, even when it’s old. Jay Willie’s vocals have a bemused innocence that obfuscates the seasoned professional within. Rumblin’ And Slidin’ starts with a spacey version of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” Harpmeister Jason Ricci completely disguises his harmonica with effects until it sounds like Funkadelic playing the blues. “Key To The Highway” is a stomping dirge with more howling harp from Ricci. The relentless pounding beat takes this tune in a new direction and makes it a standout track on the album and among the myriad versions of this all-time classic.
“Fly Away” is a spirit-lifting take on the Edgar Winter tune. Guest Suzanne Vick sings it convincingly; urging us all to believe anything is possible. Jason Ricci blows his harp for all he’s worth in “It Hurts Me Too” which is given a stripped down arrangement. It sounds like it was recorded live in crystal cavern 60 feet underground. The resonant slide riffs entwine with the harmonica to create a demonic howl born in the depths of Hell. The covers are interesting but the originals are damned good too. On “Dirty 2:30” Willie’s slithery slide lubricates the proceedings and bassist Steve Clarke takes a funky solo as the tune closes. “Bad News” is rambunctious fun and “Rotten Person” is the best Johnny Winter song I’ve heard in a while. That’s a compliment. The Firebird and slide, Bobby Torello’s raspy vocal delivery, and the amusing subject wrap it all up in classic blues rock style. I love it.
The album closes with four bonus live tracks that make me long for more. The Jay Willie Blues band absolutely cooks on these tracks. “Hold Me Tight Talk Dirty” and “Tore Down” are raucous and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is turned into a funky hard rock jam. These four tunes make a great case for catching the band live wherever they’re Rumblin’ And Slidin’. Until then, this disc will more than tide you over.
Davina & The Vagabonds
Released July 15, 2014
The blues genre is like a forest. There are many types of trees, all part of the larger landscape twisted together at root level and bound by the earth that surrounds them. Blues and jazz roots mingle below the soil and new hybrids occasionally emerge. Springing from this fertile ground comes Davina And The Vagabonds. Somehow they avoid convention while embracing tradition. There are no guitars; no harmonicas. No sax man. Instead they use trombones, trumpets, and tubas. Davina’s piano is, of course, prominent. The tone is earthy, dreamy and nostalgic. The musicians have changed a bit since their last disc, but the new disc Sunshine is brighter than a gleaming sousaphone.
The title track opens the disc with what sounds like Davina singing through an old wind-up Victrola and morphs into an upbeat anthem for rejuvenation. “Flow” is a bouncy track built on Davina’s piano figure, and chiming horns. It is New Orleans Jazz stripped to its core. “Fizzle Out” sounds impossibly contemporary, “Red Shoes” it a delightful romp that makes you want to stay home with Davina every night, and “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” is a defiantly strutting cover of the Eddie Miller track.
The music on Sunshine has camp, sass and coy sexuality. It could be played at 2 a.m. in a smoky jazz club or when throwing open the curtains at dawn. It will make you dance, writhe, and relax. The instrumentation is deceptively primitive, and the band conjures creative arrangements which prevent your ears from recognizing the con. The piano deftly connects the odd instrumentation and captures your attention in a web of delightful music you’d never expect to enjoy this much. It also helps that Davina writes clever songs and delivers them with panache. Davina And The Vagabonds are a throwback to the days before blues, when minstrels roamed the country side bringing entertainment and music to masses. Their ability to capture this spirit on tape is an accomplishment in itself. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it.
Rip Lee Pryor
Nobody But Me
Released April 15, 2014
Rip Lee Pryor is the son of Blues legend Snooky Pryor. His new disc is his second foray into the music business. His first time around was spent touring and playing guitar with his dad. He put out an independent CD in 1999 and promptly left the music scene in 2000 to focus on carpentry. All the while, Rip wanted to play again. Some personal issues including a bout with cancer stopped him from returning. Today, Rip Lee’s cancer has been in remission since 2011 and he’s not wasting any more time. He’s been touring the world, taking his blues to South America, Europe, and across the USA. In 2013 he spent two days recording his re-entry disc, Nobody But Me. It mixes a handful of originals with tunes by his dad, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Elmore James. The result is an intimate, foot-tapping record that brings Rip Lee Pryor right into your living room.
Nobody But Me starts off rocking with “Shake Your Boogie.” She’s out there shaking her boogie, if you know what I mean. The title track is a one of three Rip Lee Pryor originals. It’s pure Rip Lee, just the man and his guitar, harp and voice doing what he does best. His rudimentary guitar strumming is propulsive as his thumb keeps the beat on the bottom strings and he puffs away on the harmonica into a handmade mic. His voice has a personal quality that draws you in even when the words are sparse as they are on “Nobody But Me.” “You Got To Move” is gentle and earthy yet emphatic. He’s not happy about it but still you got to go. Sorry. Here’s your hat. “Stuck On Stupid” is another of his originals and displays a keen wit. Rip Lee’s originals fit perfectly with the covers and it’s a shame he didn’t write more for the record.
My personal tastes lean more toward his songs with drums and bass, but I found myself draw into the solo performances in a way that doesn’t usually happen. Rip Lee Pryor may be the son of a famous blues man but, Rip Lee is his own man and it comes through in his music. Nobody But Me is appropriately titled. As you listen you get a clear portrait of the man and his music. With his quiet rasp, sparse guitar, and lonesome harmonica, Rip Lee Pryor strips away any pretense, shine, or clutter and gets to the heart of each song he performs.
Don’t Call No Ambulance
Released June 10, 2014
In 2013, Selwyn Birchwood won the International Blues Challenge and the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award which caught the eyes and ears of Alligator Records’ president Bruce Iglauer. The Florida native has been touring steadily since winning the IBC, building a fan base the old fashioned way. The Alligator debut Don’t Call No Ambulance should have no problem adding to that fan base especially in light of its presence near the top of the blues charts for weeks and weeks.
Selwyn’s appearance and youth belies his deep voice and mature musical sound. He’s been touring since the age of nineteen when he was a member of Sonny Rhodes’ band. He displays a command of several blues styles and delivers a diverse album. “Addicted” is the opener and pumps hard in the fashion of many tunes in the Alligator catalog. It is especially reminiscent of Albert Collins’ work. Selwyn rips it up over a funky bass line that recalls Johnny B. Gayden. This tune mixes Collins with Freddie King and pulls together two and a half minutes of effervescence that perfectly opens this tour de force album. From there, the band lances into the Hill Country stomp of the title track. This one rocks and rolls at a frenetic pace that feels like it very well may require an ambulance.
Drummer Curtis Nutall spent five years in Joe Louis Walker’s band and his former boss turns up to play slide on the scorching “The River Turned Red.” “Love Me Again” is a gentle plea for forgiveness; “Brown Paper Bag” is a nine minute showcase explaining why he won the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award. “Queen Of Hearts” has a funky groove and shows off the talent of band saxophonist Regi Oliver. The bass is positively pulsating while Oliver plays a fat solo, then Selwyn jumps in with a solo on the edge of restraint. He has the opportunity to overplay but never does. “Overworked And Underpaid” is a quiet lonesome lament with guest RJ Harman on harmonica. Birchwood plays the blues lowdown and gritty on lap steel, glistening like the sweat on his brow. The disc closes back-porch boogie style with “Hoodoo Stew.” It’s a jumping slide guitar jam that will make your crawfish boil without ever lighting a fire. It closes the album on a high note for sure, and leaves you wanting more. Selwyn Birchwood is the total package. He has an identifiable, satisfying voice, finely honed songwriting skills, and outstanding guitar chops. He should be leading the vanguard of young blues players for years to come.
Wrapped Up And Ready
Delta Groove Records
Released June 17, 2014
The Mannish Boys are a loose collective of west coast blues all-stars spearheaded by Randy Chortkoff. Though the lineup may change, the quality of the music remains high and the dynamic membership keeps the it fresh. This time around, for Wrapped Up And Ready, coordinator-in-chief Randy Chortkoff is joined by Sugar Ray Rayford on vocals and harmonica, Kirk Fletcher and Frank Goldwasser on guitars, Willie J. Campbell on bass, and Jimi Bott on drums. Rotating in and out of the lineup on this disc are special guests including Candye Kane, Bob Corritore, Laura Chavez, Kim Wilson, Kid Ramos, Steve Freund, Monster Mike Welch, and Fred Kaplan among others.
“I Ain’t Sayin’” is a strutting opener with Monster Mike Welch sitting in on lead guitar. Mike plays on eight tracks and may as well join the band; he fits in seamlessly with the ensemble. Speaking of the ensemble, you need a score card to keep up with the personnel on this disc but the amazing feat is the cohesive sound and tone of the album. Everyone contributes their talents to the greater good, which turned out great. For instance, Steve Freund sits in as lead guitarist on “It Was Fun” and plays tasty licks that elevate the song and keep it interesting. Fred Kaplan plays piano on eleven tunes and his accents and fills add significant textures all over the album. His fills in the Candye Kane sung “I Idolize You” sparkle like Candye’s delivery. With Wrapped Up And Ready Chortkoff has created a blueprint for making a perfect blues album. You might expect such a contrivance to seem forced and lack personality, but therein lays his genius. While Chortkoff plays and sings occasionally, his real talent seems to lie in matching musicians to material for the best possible result.
Sugar Ray Rayford puts a lot of personality into his delivery and his harp playing is top notch throughout Wrapped Up And Ready. “You Better Watch Yourself” gives Rayford and guitarist Kirk Fletcher plenty of sparring room. Steve Freund returns to blaze a path through a tune he wrote and sang called “The Blues Has Made Me Whole.” While highlights abound on Wrapped Up And Ready, Kirk Fletcher’s closer “Blues For Michael Bloomfield” is a scorcher. Monster Mike Welch joins Fletcher and takes the second solo but truly the whole song is full of guitar soloing so listen close for the guitar tones to change. Clocking in over eight minutes, it serves up a stunning testament to Fletcher and Welch. They channel Bloomfield, filter it through their own styles and deliver an incredibly moving and scalding finale. This is a breathtaking way to end a superb record. I highly recommend picking this one up and I dare you to find all the personnel changes without looking!