Friday, February 1, 2013

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.6)

Once again, it's time to take a look back at some outstanding recordings that might have fallen under the radar the first time around, or never showed up at your friendly neighborhood record store, or came from a smaller record label that didn't have the budget to get wider distribution, or just suffered from a big case of bad luck.  Anyway, Friday Blues Fix likes to think we are performing an essential public service by spreading the word about these previously hidden gems, so sit back and let's look at five discs that deserve to be heard.

Big Lucky Carter - Lucky 13 (Blueside):  Levester "Big Lucky" Carter migrated to Memphis after World War II.  Having earned his "Big Lucky" moniker based on his gambling skills, Carter was even better known for his guitar skills, backing his cousin, Ed "Prince Gabe" Kirby, in the Memphis group, the Rhythmaires (later the Millionaires).  That group recorded singles for Sun, Savoy, and several other labels during the 50's.  Carter himself recorded six downhome singles for Hi Records in the late 60's, the song "Goofer Dust," standing out among them.

Though he remained active around Memphis, he virtually disappeared until 1998, when he resurfaced with this album for Blueside that showed the 78 year old still had plenty in the tank.  Lucky 13 featured plenty of Carter's guitar work, backed by an excellent set of Memphis-area musicians, including Carter's longtime friend and playing partner, Lindbergh Nelson, on piano.  Carter wrote all the songs, including a great remake of "Goofer Dust," plus tracks like "Miss Lula Mae's Mule," "Grazing In Your Pasture," and "Pleasure For Your Treasure."  He also touches on modern topics on tracks like "Papa Is A Junkie" and "AIDS is Killing Me."  One of my favorite tracks is one of the more urban blues tracks, "We Should Be More Cohesive," which features some great, greasy blues guitar.

Sadly, this was Carter's only full length release.....he passed away on Christmas Eve in 2002 at the age of 82.  Equally sad, this album was only available as an import, so  it was hard to find in American record stores at the time of it's release, but it won several awards in France and got some good publicity from publications like Living Blues.  If you like good old, unpretentious, downhome blues, this is one that you should track down.

Sonny Treadway - Jesus Will Fix It (Arhoolie):  By now, most blues fans are familiar with the brand of gospel music known as Sacred Steel.  Focusing on the amazingly versatile steel guitar, the Keith and Jewel Dominions of the Church of the Living God has been been producing highly original, energetic, and unique gospel music since the 1930's.  Many of the genre's current artists, such as Robert Randolph, the Campbell Brothers, Calvin Cooke, Aubrey Ghent, and others have become recognized outside the church for their incredible skill, which has also led to much controversy within the church.  FBF will do a future post on Sacred Steel....the focus today is on this particular release from another of the genre's real talents.

Sonny Treadway has been playing in church for a number of years (his wife is pastor of the church he attends).  His playing style is a bit different from the familiar sounds of Randolph, Campbell, and Ghent in that he has more of a traditional approach.  Treadway listens to blues, jazz, country, rock, and R&B and these styles feature prominently in his approach.  It's not as dynamic and in-your-face as Robert Randolph's guitar work, but it's actually more traditional blues-oriented.  I really like the bass effect he uses on several of these tracks, which are mostly traditional church tunes, plus a couple of his own compositions.  There are no vocals.....Treadway's guitar provides the call and response, and he's accompanied only by drums and rhythm guitar.  The amazing title track opens the disc and you will probably hear it in your head for days afterward, but in this case, that's not a bad thing.

From what I've read in the past, Treadway was reluctant to release a recording like this.  He and most of the other musicians in his dominion prefer to keep the music in the church and disregard the possibilities of commercial success, which to them would be bringing more glory to themselves than to God.  Upon the release of the disc, he reportedly regretted having done so and vowed not to ever do it again, choosing to focus exclusively on making music in the church.  This means that Jesus Will Fix It will probably be the only opportunity to hear this amazing guitarist unless you happen to attend one of his church services.

Ervin Charles - Greyhound Blues (Dialtone):  If you happened to pick up the 1999 Lonnie Brooks/Long John Hunter/Phillip Walker collaboration, Lone Star Shootout, you heard a guitarist named Ervin Charles on a couple of tracks.  Charles was a big influence on Brooks and Hunter during their formative years on guitar and the pair showed their appreciation by sharing the spotlight with him on their joint release.  Sadly, it didn't lead to bigger and better things for Charles because he passed away from cancer in 2000, but Dialtone Records was able to record him before he became too ill and the result was Greyhound Blues.

Charles provides some succinct, stinging guitar work on these tracks and even sings on several tracks, though his friend (and former band mate in Charles' 70's band, the Soul Lovers), Richard Earl, takes the mic for several songs himself.  One of my favorite cuts on the disc is Charles' smoldering version of the old Memphis Slim warhorse, "Every Day I Have The Blues."  There's no telling how many versions of this song I've heard, but Charles' anguished version is one of my favorites.  Unfortunately, that's all we ever got to hear on disc of Ervin Charles, but between this disc and his tracks on Lone Star Shootout, we have a small, but pretty impressive, body of work.

Ellis Hooks - Godson of Soul (Evidence Records):  Alabama native Hooks left home at 15 to pursue a singing career, a long, winding path that took him across the U.S. and eventually to Europe.  When he returned to America after five years, he met producer Jon Tiven, who offered him a second chance to record (Hooks blew off a recording date set by fan Diana Ross several years earlier, claiming he wasn't ready).  He was ready the second time around and has since released six discs.  2005's Godson of Soul was his fifth effort.

Vocally, Hooks combines the best elements of old school Southern Soul with the feral growl of the blues.  It actually makes for some exciting listening.  Few were attempting to play and sing the blues in this manner at the time.  Hooks sounds fabulous on vocals, and he had a hand in writing most of the tunes.  Producer Tiven (guitars, sax, keys, and harmonica) and his bass-playing wife, Sally, also played on the disc, along with guest appearances from Marty Brown, Bobby Womack, Mason Casey, and Steve Cropper.  Godson of Soul shows that Ellis Hooks is as much at home singing old school soul as he is singing the blues.

Isaac Freeman and the Bluebloods - Beautiful Stars (Lost Highway Records):  About ten years ago, a good friend introduced me to the Fairfield Four, a gospel group that, I later found out, appeared on the movie, O, Brother Where Art Thou (as the gravediggers near the end of the movie).  While I loved the Fairfield Four's irresistible harmonies and their creative interpretations of old classic gospel tunes, what captivated me the most was their bass singer, Isaac Freeman.  Deep down inside, I always wanted to be a bass singer, but unfortunately I sound like Gomer Pyle on helium most of the time.  Now there are bass singers, and then there is Brother Isaac Freeman, who gets down lower than just about anybody I've ever heard.

When I found out, strictly by accident, that Freeman had released a solo album, I had to track it down.  I was intrigued as to whether a bass singer could actually carry an entire recording by himself.  Needless to say, I seriously underestimated Brother Freeman's ample talent.  Backed by the Nashville-based blues band Mike Henderson & the Bluebloods, who give this set of gospel classic songs (plus one written especially for Freeman by Garrison Keillor) a bluesy feel, Freeman's thundering bass threatens to rattle the rafters of your house and the dishes in your china cabinet.  My favorite song on the disc is one that Freeman says was taught to him by his mother, the wistful title track.  It never fails to raise goosebumps and even puts a little tear in my eye picturing a young Freeman and his mother singing this song together.  While I know gospel music may not be everybody's cup of tea, it's difficult for even the hardest of hearts to listen to Beautiful Stars and not be moved by the Spirit just a little bit.  Sadly, Freeman passed away last fall, but he remains one of the most influential voices of 20th Century music.

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