Friday, July 12, 2013

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.7)

This week, Friday Blues Fix will look back at five releases from the past few years that should be part of every blues fans' library, but might have just slipped through the cracks for one reason or another.  All of these releases are available in one format or another today and all are definitely worth a listen, so track them down.  You can thank me later.

Roy Gaines - I Got The T-Bone Walker Blues (Groove Note):  I first heard Roy Gaines on his brother's outstanding release on Black Top Records (Full Gain) in the late 80's and really liked his guitar work and his growling vocals.  Upon further investigation, I found out that Gaines was a protege of the great T-Bone Walker and was later called T-Bone Jr. when he was starting out on guitar.  He played clubs in Houston during his early years, even playing guitar on a few of Bobby "Blue" Bland's early sides for Duke, before moving to California and later playing with Roy Milton, Chuck Willis, and Walker himself during the legend's later years.  

Though he often appeared as a sideman on numerous releases, Gaines has recorded a few of his own albums over the years, all of which are worth having.  My favorite, however, is the recording he did in tribute to Walker in 1999.  The eleven tracks, ten originally made famous by Walker, show just how big an influence T-Bone Walker was on Gaines, but there's also a couple of unique tracks in here that make the disc stand out above the standard "tribute album."  There's an acoustic version of "Stormy Monday" that is pretty cool, but even cooler is Gaines' cover of Hank Williams' "Honky Tonk Blues."  On that track, Gaines teams up with pedal steel guitarist Al Velasco for four and a half minutes of sheer guitar heaven.  As I said, everything Gaines has recorded is worth having, but this one stands just a little above the pack for me.

Davis Coen - Magnolia Land (Soundview):  This release from 2009 finds Coen mining the Mississippi Hill Country blues sound for inspiration, while also blending a little bit of the Delta with Memphis soul and Chicago blues for good measure.  He's a very versatile guitarist, moving from blues to rock to rockabilly pretty easily.

This disc was produced by Jimbo Mathus, and features Mathus backing Coen on bass and guitar, with Afrissippi bassist Justin Showah and Kinney Kimbrough on drums.  Half originals and half covers from the likes of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, Magnolia Land is a great example of Coen's versatility as a guitarist and songwriter.  Though he shifts musically from disc to disc, from country to soul to blues, hopefully he will return to this same format for his next release.

Mel Brown - Neck Bones & Caviar (Electro-Fi):  Mel Brown played guitar with just about everybody who was anybody during his long career, including stints with Bobby "Blue" Bland and B. B. King, as well as Etta James, Johnny Otis, Nancy Wilson, Lou Rawls, Albert Collins, and even The Outlaws.  His 60's albums, including Chicken Fat, are universally acclaimed by guitar fans in the know.

When he recorded Neck Bones & Caviar in 1999, he had been away from the studio for over a decade.  However, he had not stopped playing as he continued to blow audiences away in Canada, where he had relocated, with his band the Homewreckers, and that shows with this recording, which allows Brown to really stretch out on guitar.  The production is pretty spare and really lets his fretwork stand out.  He also proves to be a pretty good vocalist on songs by Muddy Waters ("Woman Wanted"), Joe Liggins ("I Ain't Drunk"), Ray Charles ("I Believe To My Soul"), and John Lee Hooker ("I'm In The Mood").

Brown continued to record for Electro-Fi for several years, including a great set with harmonica legend Snooky Pryor, but passed away in 2009.  Though you may not be familiar with him, if you're a blues fan, you've probably heard his guitar on one or more recordings, and this disc gives you a great opportunity to hear what all the fuss was about.

Toni Price - Talk Memphis (Antone's):  You may not be too familiar with Ms. Price, since the Austin-based singer rarely ventures far from the Gulf Coast area, but she's an excellent vocalist, focusing on the blues, soul, R&B, and occasionally country.  As the title would indicate, this 2007 release features tracks that have a Bluff City bent, with lots of greasy soul, blues, and funk involved.

The title track is a Jesse Winchester tune that Price makes her own, and the funky "Am I Groovin' U" should have been a hit single if there were any justice in the world.  She also does songs from Ashford & Simpson ("Runnin' Out"), Isaac Hayes ("Leftover Love"), Booker T. Jones ("Sorry About That"), and Don Bryant ("99 Pounds").  There are also several country-flavored blues tunes that show her vocal versatility.  Price is a great singer who should be better known.  This is a great place to get started.

Walter "Wolfman" Washington - Blue Moon Risin' (Go Jazz Records):  I discovered Walter "Wolfman" Washington during one of my Jazz Fest trips in the late 80's and went back and bought everything he ever recorded, plus a lot of the recordings he did backing Johnny Adams.  Over the years, his repertoire moved from soul/R&B to more of a blues/funk/jazz direction, which is where he basically is now.

In 1994, he recorded this album overseas while he was between record labels.  It finds the Wolfman in more of a blues direction than previously and still remains his most blues-oriented work to date.  As always, he's backed by his crack band, the Roadmaster, plus a horn section that includes Maceo Parker and Pee Wee Ellis.  There are several great tracks here, but my favorites are his masterful cover of Ray Charles' "Drown In My Own Tears" (re-titled "Drown" here), and the outstanding title of his best.

Amazingly, this disc wasn't even released until 1999, and then by a German label, but is more readily available now.  Hopefully, in the near future, FBF will devote an entire post to the wonderful Wolfman.

No comments: