Tag Archives: Blues

[148] R L Burnside – Wish I Was In Heaven Sitting Down

12 Feb

From the first, there is a tension between the ancient music and the modern recording techniques here – Burnside’s old-as-the-hills voice captured in stereo, high fidelity clarity.

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The sound is of the turn of the most recent millennium, far more than merely the one man with a guitar aesthetic of another hundred years past.  While the songwriting is simple – classic even – the instrumentation is full of synthesizers and drum loops mingled with the expected guitar wails and harmonica bleats.  And while this might alienate purists, it surely opened wide the door to the Blues for a generation and an audience which might otherwise have dismissed it.

Some of the scratching – for example in the upbeat “Miss Maybelle” – would not have sounded out of place on an 80s Hip Hop record, yet Burnside’s deep, measured voice anchors the feel of the whole in a less fleeting, more enduring and endearing place.

And I can see “Got Messed Up” – a sleazy, grooving jam with lilting guitars and moaning horns over a mechanical backbeat- finding its way onto any number of morning after playlists.

I can get excited by the muddy slide guitar, the underwater vocals and just when it starts to sound like any other talented Blues ensemble, a modern sound intrudes, capturing attention, integrated just enough so as not to distract from the whole.

And if you’re going to cover “Chain Of Fools”, you better have something up your sleeve to avoid less than flattering comparisons to the definitive Aretha Franklin version.  Burnside’s disaffected, almost industrial take is completely unlike any I have heard before, a valiant exploration of this beloved standard.

Once more, Tom Moon is highlighting a sound I have never heard before, but it is different this time.  I have heard all of the component parts before – enjoyed some, endured others – but in combining them together, Burnside has created a new sound, almost familiar, almost alienating, entirely fascinating.

Next Week: Kate Bush – The Kick Inside

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 148 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 148 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (123 of 148 = 83%)

[143] Buckwheat Zydeco – Buckwheat’s Zydeco Party

8 Jan

The instrumentation and flavor of the Cajun southwest paired with the structure and musicality of classic blues makes for a fun and fiery ride.

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It is impossible to hear these sounds and not sway and tap, bob and weave.  It’s damn near impossible not to sing along even on first hearing of a song (each with its own “first line of the blues is always sung a second time” adherence).

The second time through the album, and I’m stuck with earworms for weeks!

The crazy whirl of sounds may be the first thing that a listener notices, but it is the melodies – simple, memorable, magical – which star throughout.  They are so immediately familiar that it is utterly disconcerting when the band flies into a genuine cover – a drum driven, high octane rendition of Tutti Frutti.  It is a shock to realize that everything else has been a new discovery, not in fact a long forgotten favorite.

Both band and music are feisty and energetic, party fare for a decidedly offbeat party.  But I have long thrown parties which, thanks to “Weird” Al Yankovic, included people dancing hard to the accordion, so perhaps the leap was not so great for me as it might be for others.

It is a leap I heartily recommend!

Next Week:  Buffalo Springfield – Retrospective

Owned before blogging? No.  (12 of 143 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No.  (20 of 143 = 14%)
Recommend? Yes. (118 of 143 = 83%)

[130] Big Bill Broonzy – The Young Big Bill Broonzy, 1928-1935

2 Oct

Only able to find this one on cassette, there is a nostalgia even before I hear the first guitar stabs.

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From the very first it is the sweet and smooth vocals, masterful and assured interplaying with the guitar in complex and beautiful ways, which captures my attention.   It take a while to notice the busy-lazy technique on the strings, which is the truly inspiring takeaway.

Sometimes urgent and hectic, at other times longing and laid back, the guitar leads the way, setting the tempo as well as the mood.  The old-time vibe is heightened by the crackle and hiss of the transfer to tape, the effect being so much more than the collection of its simple parts.

You can hear the rhythm of the train running over the track, the chugging driving forward motion of every song.  Broonzy’s guitar is both rhythm and lead section at times, holding everything together while at the same time offering ragtime flourishes that are a delight to hear.

It never reaches the fire and passion of early Rock and Roll, but it is no stretch to imagine that Chuck Berry heard Broonzy play and borrowed a riff or two.

It is an interesting production decision to order the tracks not chronologically, but almost by recording quality.  Midway through Side B, on the earliest tracks from 1928, the transfer noise becomes far more noticable.  This could have prevented me from properly engaging if the album had been chronological, if this were the quality I had first heard.  That it occurs once I am fully committed and enjoying the ride means that I do not really notice it for the first few plays.

It just makes me wish I could have heard Big Bill live . . .

Next Week:  Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers – Any Other Way To Go?

Owned before blogging? No. (11 of 130 = 8%)
Heard before blogging? No. (19 of 130 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (106 of 130 = 82%)

[116] James Booker – New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live

26 Jun

It seems that James Booker never played just one note on his piano when there were keys to either side there for the taking.

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But to reduce New Orleans Jazz Wizard Live down to merely its technical merits does it a huge disservice.  Much as I discovered with Martha Argerich way back in the as it is quickly apparent that there is feel and nuance here to spare, elevated rather than shouldered aside by the incredible skill in execution.

Take even the very first track, “On The Sunny Side Of The Street”.

For two and a half minutes the piano jumps all around the familiar and pleasing melody, exploring and trilling, a sublime mixture of Jazz and Blues that I would be happy to listen to forever more.

Then, completely unlooked-for, Booker’s rich and textured vocals kick in, and the song and the album soar.

The pattern continues, with a vocal track followed by an instrumental, and throughout I have to keep reminding myself that there is only one instrument being played, not the whole damn orchestra which Booker somehow manages to suggest.

By my rough count and erratic memory, this is the fifth of 116 recordings to include one of my favorite songs, “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.  (4% for those tracking stats at home.)  It seems it may be a  favorite of Tom Moon’s, too.  This begs the chicken-and-egg question of whether such a great song makes an album it is on, or whether a great album frames the song and raises it to greater heights.

This version is respectful and contemplative, the vocals dripping with loss and longings past, the piano far more restrained than previous.  It moves me in that way that the best performances of the best songs do.

That the record moves directly from the polite applause of an audience unsure how to respond to this quiet highlight to the breakneck pace of an instrumental “Something Stupid” is the juxtaposition of a supremely confident showman.  The raucous response that the end of the latter song coaxes from the crowd is well-earned.

I love everything about all 37 minutes of this 9 track masterpiece.  Even the moments between songs.

Next Week:  Lo Borges – Lo Borges

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 116 = 9%)
Heard before blogging? No. (17 of 116 = 15%)
Recommend? Yes. (95 of 116 = 82%)

[105] Bobby “Blue” Bland – Two Steps From The Blues

10 Apr

This album is, for me, all about what it is not.

Two Steps From The Blues

Two Steps From The Blues

It is not recognizable as the old-time classic blues such as that so recently explored in recordings by Blind Blake.

It is not comprised of catchy, memorable story songs such as those written by Doc Pomus and performed by Johnny Adams.

It is not a remarkable vocal showcase such as the one encountered when listening to Arthur Alexander.

In short, it is just not as good as anything else comparable to date in the first two years of this endeavor.

Nothing here ever inspires me to engage – there is no moment of lyrical mastery, no expression of vocal passion, no evocation of shared pain.  Bobby Bland’s surname is unfortunately apt.  Moon describes his sound as “Soul Blues”, yet I fear that he is a damn sight more than two steps from either genre.

It may be that in attemping to cover so much musical ground, the result is stretched too thin.  There is at times a big band feel, at odds with the usually intimate vocals, the too infrequent guitar fills.   And when Bland starts to wail he disappears back into the sound mix, almost jarringly after his up front delivery for most of each song.

In fact, the orchestration and mixing actually reminds me of the earliest Rock and Roll recordings, only without the energy and enthusiasm of that revolutionary moment.

In the end, Two Steps From The Blues is not an album I can recommend, nor one I expect ever to revist.

Next Week:  Paul Bley – Fragments

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 105 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 105 = 15%)
Recommend? No. (86 of 105 = 82%)

[103] Blind Blake – Ragtime Guitar’s Foremost Fingerpicker

27 Mar

The hiss and pop heard in the transfer of these recordings from wax give the music a fragile air, a feeling which is intensified by the clean single guitar notes, yet utterly at odds with the solid, seemingly indestuctible structure which these individual notes construct.

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This juxtaposition can be seen again and again throughout the 60-plus minutes  of . . . Fingerpicker.

There is a joy mingled with hopelessness and resignation.  There is the feeling of a great host of players, even when it is just Blake’s guitar and voice.  And when piano or the occasional horn join it, the results sounds like a carnival, but the focus is always on Blake, his unassuming vocals and his inexplicable fingers.

Blake’s voice is evocative without melodrama, sketching the melodies that anchor each piece as his fingers fly over the guitar doing all of the rest of the work.

The guitar in Blake’s hand has a kind of relentlessness, almost like a force of nature. The impression given is that, once started, nothing can stop the music that is captured here.

On the up-tempos the notes fly by like a stampede, brushing everything in their path aside.  In the slower numbers it feels like molten lava oozing out of a volcano, inevitable, unstoppable.

Despite the decades, the sound of the Blues here is instantly recognizable – “One Time Blues” feels like the embryo of “Sweet Home Chicago” – and Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s line (from Starlight Express) applies as often as not:

The first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
I said the first line of the blues
Is always sung a second time
So by the time you get to the third line
You’ve had time to think of a rhyme.

But what elevates Blind Blake into the rare air of the 1,000 is his virtuoso guitar work.  He manages the impressive feat flawlessly of making the highly complex look effortless.

Such talent is timeless, therefore always worth celebrating and exploring.

Next Week:  Art Blakely and the Jazz Messengers

Owned before blogging? No. (10 of 103 = 10%)
Heard before blogging? No. (16 of 103 = 16%)
Recommend? Yes. (85 of 103 = 83%)

[8] Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus – The Real Me

31 May

I initially wrote a draft of this blog focusing on the difficulty of classifying music into genres – I was distracted by the wide range of influences heard on this recording, missing the point entirely.

The point being that this recording has set the bar pretty high for the next 992.

How do you put music into this genre or that genre?  What makes one band Rock, another Metal?  Who is to say that this musician a Jazz singer, that artist a Bluesman?  Why are we so preprogrammed to cram everything into its own box?

Which brings us to Johnny Adams Sings Doc Pomus – The Real Me.

The Real Me

The Real Me

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I first hit play, I should have been listening to the deep rich vocals, the professional and comforting arrangements of the band supporting that voice, the masterful piano solos, the human and engaging lyrics.

Instead, my conscious mind kept coming back to the same refrain – “Wait.  This is Blues?”

Tom Moon classes the album as Blues, so that is how I’ll tag this blog post.  There *are* moments of straight ahead 12 bar blues, almost a honytonk sound, if much more cleanly produced.  But many more moments have the energy of old time rock n roll, the virtuosity of jazz, the big band vocal swing of Sinatra or, more recently, Harry Connick Junior.

And the vocals are so undeniably the highlight here that it seems the genre Vocal (which Moon uses elsewhere in the 1000) was coined for Johnny Adams on this recording of Doc Pomus originals.

I hop over to Wikipedia, and for a change it doesn’t help very much.  The crowdsourced wisdom describes Adams as a ” blues, jazz and gospel singer” . . .

Things are made clear, or at least clearer, when peeking at Doc Pomus’ entry.  Pomus, who wrote all of the beautifully crafted songs on this album, is unequivicably listed as a “blues singer songwriter”.

Although to confuse things further, many of his best known songs are classic Rock ‘n’ Roll hits.

For our purposes, this is the Blues because the songwriter wrote them as such.  The fact that they are reimagined here by a wonderfully talented band – led by a singer whose voice welcomes you into his world, feeling the lyrics, sharing of himself – means we are treated to a set of songs that defy classification.

At the end of the day though, whatever you call it, I could listen to this voice, these songs all day long.  In fact, I have done exactly that a few times in the week alloted to Johnny singing Doc.

Glancing through Doc’s catalog, I note that Bruce Willis must have been a fan – he covered a couple of Pomus originals (“Save The Last Dance For Me” and “Young Blood” – copenned with Leiber and Stoller) on his two sometimes cheesy but always fun (and surprisingly accomplished) albums.

The cuts on The Real Me are not ones that I’ve heard before, written as they were for Adams, but are all well crafted gems – you can feel the mind that came up with songs like “Teenager In Love” and “Sweets For My Sweet” – while Adams brings a depth, a grounding that is missing from those classic, if lightweight, recordings.

Johnny Adams is the first artist, early on in this undertaking, that I will be seeking out the additional “Catalog Choice” suggested by Moon – A Room with a View of the Blues – to hear more of his cultured and nuanced voice.  I don’t expect that Room . . . will be the last Adams album I pick up.

I might even check out some more Doc Pomus while I’m at it.

Owned before blogging?  No.  (1 of 8.  13%)
Heard before blogging?   No.  (2 of 8.  25%)
Recommend?                     Yes. (5 of 8.  63%)

Next Week: Ryan Adams – Heartbreaker

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