Friday, November 8, 2013

Five Albums You Might Have Missed (V.8 - Evidence Records Edition)

A few months ago, we took a brief look at Evidence Records and a few of the highlights of their reissue catalog.  That post led me to dig a little bit deeper into my collection of Evidence recordings.  When I travel in my truck, I usually have a box that holds about a dozen or so CDs that I rotate out every couple of months or so.  Usually, I will have a theme of some kind when I load it up, like "Magic Slim CDs," "Various Artists Anthology CDs," "Swamp Blues CDs," etc.....(yes, I'm a're not surprising me by thinking so).  The past couple of weeks, I've had an "Evidence Records Reissue CDs" collection going on, which has allowed me to revisit some classics that I'd forgotten about.  Today, FBF will look at five albums that would be a perfect fit in any blues fans collection.

Luther Allison - Love Me Papa:  This 1977 recording marked a turning point in Allison's career and life.  He recorded this disc in Paris for Black and Blue Records and while he was there, he fell in love with the city, the people, and the culture.  He was received like a rock star in Europe, quite a change from the lack of recognition he and most other blues artists got in his home country.  Allison eventually settled in Paris in the late 70's and enjoyed a successful career in Europe and Japan throughout the 80's before hitting it big back in the U.S. in 1994 with Soul Fixin' Man.

Love Me Papa finds Allison in peak form.  This nine song set is heavy on covers...three excellent tracks associated with Little Walter ("Blues With A Feeling," "Last Night," and "Key To The Highway"), Junior Parker's "Feelin' So Good" (taken here in fellow West Sider Magic Sam mode), Elmore James' "Standing At The Crossroads," and the Freddie King classic, "Goin' Down."  Allison was underrated to me as a slide player and he really tears it up on several tracks here, even playing harmonica on "Blues With A Feeling."  His originals, including the title track, an answer to one of his previous album's title cuts, "Love Me Mama," are among his best.  Allison has a lot of great recordings out there, several released since his death in 1997, but this one is probably one of his best and most inventive.  Some of his later recordings sometimes blew you away with the rock-heavy production values, but this one is pretty stripped down and basic and has a real West Side feel to it.

Sonny Rhodes - Just Blues:  This 1985 recording was done in San Francisco on a $5,000 budget.  File this one under "Shrewd Investments," because, like most Sonny Rhodes recordings, this one is a barrel of fun.  Ordinarily, Rhodes, a talented songwriter, provides most of his own songs, but on this album, six of the nine tracks are covers, though he pretty much transforms them into Sonny Rhodes songs with his performances.  He is one of the few blues artists who plays lap steel guitar and there is plenty of his handiwork with that instrument on here as well.

He covers Guitar Slim ("The Things I Used To Do"), B.B. King ("Please Love Me"), Jimmy McCracklin ("Think"), Elmore James ("It Hurts Me Too"), and one of his idols, Percy Mayfield ("Strange Things Happening").  The three original tracks are memorable, too.  "Cigarette Blues" is one of Rhodes' most recognized tunes and "House Without Love" is another keeper.  The third original is an instrumental ("East Oakland Stomp").  FBF will do a profile of Sonny Rhodes in the near future.  He's definitely an artist who is deserving of wider recognition.

James "Son" Thomas - Beefsteak Blues:  If you're riding down a Mississippi Delta highway early in the morning, this would be a pretty good soundtrack.  Thomas was many things during his life, musician, sharecropper, gravedigger, sculptor....he was also one of the last of the old-school traditional delta blues men and was featured on several documentaries in the 70's.  I got to see him at the Delta Blues Festival in Greenville, MS back in 1990.  He played solo, though accompanied on a couple of tracks by Walter Liniger, and the normally raucous crowd sat silent and hung on his every word and note.

Beefsteak Blues was recorded in the early 80's for L+R Records, mostly in Germany, but there are a couple of tracks that Thomas recorded in Leland, MS.  He plays electric and acoustic guitar and sings in that wonderfully distinctive voice, covering songs by Arthur Crudup ("Rock Me Mama"), John Lee (Sonny Boy I) Williamson ("Good Morning Little Schoolgirl"), T-Bone Walker ("Stormy Monday Blues," accompanied by Chicago blues men J.W. Williams and Mose Rutues), and Elmore James ("Standing At The Crossroads").  My favorite tracks, though, are his own songs...."Highway 61 Blues," "Catfish Blues" (offered here in the nice, polite version and also in the "unexpurgated" version he used to play for his friends), and the haunting title track, the first lines of which are written on his tombstone.

Larry Davis/Byther Smith - Blues Knights:  On the surface, this seems like an odd pairing with Davis' silky smooth urban blues and Smith's gritty, hard-edged Chicago sound.  First of all, these two don't perform together on any of the tracks, although these two separate sessions was done for Black and Blue on the same day using the same backing band (Maurice John Vaughn - guitar, A.C. Reed - sax, Douglas Watson - bass, Julian Vaughn - drums).  Second of all, despite their differences in styles and delivery, this features some excellent work from both men.

Davis' career suffered through many stops and starts.  His song, "Texas Flood" is one of the classic blues tracks, but he recorded sporadically throughout the 60's and 70's, notably several tracks for B.B. King's Virgo label in the late 60's and a pair of wonderful albums in the 80's.  Smith's music is mostly self-composed, with sometimes tough, sometimes menacing, always intense songwriting that doesn't always rhyme, which can be disconcerting to some listeners.

Blues Knights offers four tracks from Davis, and they are all good.  He proves on these tracks, three self-penned, that he was truly one of the finest blues singers ever.  He gets plenty of room to testify as well, both vocally and on guitar, with a pair of these tracks clocking in at over seven minutes long (the eight-minute version of Jimmy Rogers' "That's All Right" is a standout).  Smith's six tracks are indicative of his rough and ready style.  He picks things up a notch from Davis' more relaxed session and the band responds well.  While this isn't the first set I would grab from either artist, it's worth having because both give great performances.

Fenton Robinson - Special Road:  Dubbed "The Mellow Blues Genius" by his Japanese fans, Fenton Robinson's music owed as much to jazz as the blues.  Sadly, though he was a great songwriter, standout guitarist, and masterful singer, he didn't receive his just due during his life...probably because his music was not exactly built for the hustle and bustle of a local blues club.  His recording career, like Larry Davis', started at Duke Records (where he played guitar on Davis' "Texas Flood"), where he recorded "As The Years Go Passing By."  Later, his song, "Somebody Loan Me A Dime," appeared on Boz Scaggs' debut recording in 1969, with Scaggs initially claiming credit for writing it (later settled after much time in court).  Robinson is probably best known for his three recordings that appeared on Alligator Records, beginning in the mid-70's.

Special Road was recorded in the last 80's in Holland for Black Magic Records, while Robinson and his band were on  European tour.  The set mixes several solid Robinson originals ("7-11 Blues," "Special Road," and "Nothing But A Fool") with some intriguing covers (T-Bone Walker's "Love Is Just A Gamble," Lowell Fulson's "Too Many Drivers," Roy Milton's "R.M. Blues," and "Blue Monday," an update of one of Robinson's Duke recordings).  This disc is fantastic late night listening and is a great introduction to another under-appreciated talent.

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