Friday, April 22, 2011

Brand New Blues and Stuff

This week, let's look at a few noteworthy new releases, plus a few other noteworthy items.

Movie goers may remember Dana Fuchs from the 2007 movie, Across the Universe, and her memorable interpretations of several Beatles tunes.  She's also appeared as Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical, Love, Janis.  However, the sultry singer has also released several albums of powerful rock and blues over the past few years.  Her latest, Love To Beg, is her first for Ruf Records.  While Fuchs certainly owes a debt to Joplin with her vocal stylings, Joplin is merely a piece to the puzzle.  She takes in equal parts blues, rock, soul, and gospel in her approach and she seems to have barely scratched the surface so far. 

The title track is a rocker that benefits from a supple vocal from Fuchs and some sizzling slide guitar and harmonica from producer/collaborator Jon Diamond.  There are plenty of other highlights, too, mostly focusing on the rock side of the blues, such as "Keepsake," "Set It On Fire," "Pretty Girl," and "Faster Than We Can."  "Keep On Rollin'" slows things down a bit, and "Summersong" is a nice change of pace, landing more on the pop and soul side of the fence......a really fun track that brings to mind the Memphis soul sound of Stax and Hi Records in the 60's and 70's.  Fuchs mines from that vein on the album's' lone cover, a fine version of Otis Redding's "I've Been Loving You Too Long." 

Overall, this is a very strong effort by Dana Fuchs that will definitely please her fans and should open a few eyes, and ears.  It will be interesting to hear where she goes from here.  Check out this cut, from the new release, called "Golden Eyes."

Portland bluesman Lloyd Jones has built a large fan base in the Northwest and has released several well-received albums over the past few decades.  He's as comfortable playing R&B, funk, rock, or soul music as he is playing straight blues.  Highway Bound is Jones' first "unplugged" disc and it features sixteen stellar traditional blues tunes. 

Jones is a first-rate guitarist, showing some particularly outstanding fingerpicking on his version of Elizabeth Cotton's "When I'm Gone" and Blind Willie McTell's "Broke Down Engine."  He also tackles tunes by John Brim ("Ice Cream Man," with Charlie Musselwhite guesting on harmonica), Robert Johnson (a plugged-in rendition of "Last Fair Deal Gone Down"), and Leadbelly ("Good Night Irene").  Jones also does a pair of tunes from Big Bill Broonzy ("Southbound Train" and "Key To The Highway") and W.C. Handy ("Careless Love" and "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor") and even covers Hoagy Carmichael on the closer ("Lazybones," with Curtis Salgado on harmonica). 

Jones also wrote three songs on Highway Bound, all three of which blend seamlessly with the included blues classics.  I can't recommend this one highly enough.  Check out Jones' torrid version of W.C. Handy's "Careless Love."

For the past decade, Mack Orr has been pounding out some of the greasiest, funkiest Memphis blues heard in years.  A late bloomer (picking up the guitar in his forties), Orr has been fronting the Daddy Mack Blues Band for the past couple of decades and has released three fantastic albums that should be in every discerning blues fan's collection.  His latest release, Bluesfinger, should join the other three as essential listening. 

The title track is a bluesy version of the Bar-Kays' classic soul instrumental, "Soul Finger," and it's so funky you can feel the grease dripping off of it.  That vibe carries over to tracks like "Great Recession Blues," 'You Got My Money," the salacious "Soda Pop," and "Long Hard Road."  "Can't Make It Without Your Love" leans more toward the soul side of Memphis with an impressive vocal turn from Orr, plus horns, churchy B3, and chick singers.  Their gritty version of "Honky Tonk" will remind some longtime fans of Orr's album of rock covers from a few years ago, Slow Ride.  Lending the band a hand is Memphis harmonica ace, Billy Gibson

There's nothing new or even revelatory here, just the basic gutbucket blues played about as well as they can be played.  As I stated a few weeks ago, the Daddy Mack Blues Band is one of my favorite bands currently playing.  Pick up Bluesfinger and you will see what I'm talking about and you might even thank me later.  For now, just take in Daddy Mack's timely "Great Recession Blues."

The Terry Quiett Band won the 2010 Ozark Blues Challenge and before that, they won the 2008 Wichita Blues Society Blues Challenge.  The trio's versatility encompasses blues, rock, and jazz, with guitarist Quiett being particularly masterful in all three genres.  He's also a powerful and emotive singer and wrote all thirteen songs on their latest release, Just My Luck.  The disc holds up well to repeated listening because you find something else each time that you missed the time before, especially with Quiett's guitar work. 

Most of Quiett's songs deal with familiar blues themes (love, women, regrets), but his approach is anything but familiar.  Standout tracks include the jazzy late-night feel of "Work For It," the southern rocker, "Big Man Boogie," and "Getting Through To Me," which features some particular nasty guitar.  A couple of tracks, like "Pound of Flesh" and "Fool's Gold," have an autobiographical hint to them.  Quiett also goes acoustic on "Judgement Day," and dabbles in reggae on the politically-charged "Some People."

Blues/rock fans will love this release.  It's a well-rounded, well-played set and Quiett has the makings of a future star with his formidable writing, playing, and singing skills.  Check out the opening track of Just My Luck, the groove-packed "Karma."

Last week, the blues world lost Lacey Gibson, a highly underrated artist, whose flashy, jazz-influenced guitar graced numerous albums by Son Seals, Otis Rush, Jimmy Reed, Buddy Guy, Sun Ra, and Billy Boy Arnold over the years.  A talented soulful singer, he played guitar with and opened for Seals for a number of years, and appeared on three of Seals' 70's era recordings for Alligator, including the seminal Live and Burning.  His work with Seals led Alligator head man Bruce Iglauer to recruit Gibson for four tracks on his excellent Living Chicago Blues series.  In the 80's, he recorded several albums of his own, the best being Switchy Titchy for Black Magic in the early 80's and continued performing, as his health allowed, into the 21st Century.  I always enjoyed Gibson's guitar work backing Seals and count a few of his solo recordings as some of my favorites, including his classic, crowd-pleasing version of "Drown In My Own Tears," from the Living Chicago Blues series, and "Easy Woman" from Switchy Titchy.  However, my favorite Lacey Gibson track is one he recorded during a Buddy Guy session in 1963 that was mistakingly credited by Chess Records to Buddy Guy (who wrote the track) called "My Love Is Real."  This is great stuff from an artist who deserved to be better known.

Malaco V.P. Wolf Stephenson stands in the middle of what was once Malaco Records' studio, destroyed by a tornado last Friday afternoon.
Last weekend, a series of tornadoes (over 250 total by some accounts) ripped through the southeastern part of the U.S., from Arkansas, through Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, and North Carolina.  Some of the worst came through east central Mississippi and one of them destroyed two of the three buildings that housed Malaco Records in Jackson.  Fortunately, no one was hurt and the masters and other items were stored in another building, which was relatively unharmed.  Malaco, one of the labels who played a major role in keeping the blues alive in the 70's and 80's with tunes like "Misty Blue," "Mr. Big Stuff," "Members Only," "The Blues Is Alright," and "Down Home Blues," has relocated to temporary quarters in Jackson, but plan to rebuild at their Northside Drive location in the near future, promising to be bigger and better than before.

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