Friday, June 24, 2016

Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, Something Blue #18

Once again, it's time for one of FBF's oldest and favorite topics, dating back to the pre-blog days when I used to email a few blues songs to my friends every Friday morning.  This week, we will look at four artists, one that hails back to days of yore (Something Old), a relative newcomer to the genre or a new release (Something New), a blues artist taking a song from another genre, or vice versa (Something Borrowed), and finally, an artist who, to me is the essence and epitome of the Blues (Something Blue).  Let's get started, shall we......

For Something Old, let's venture to Bentonia, MS, home of the Bentonia Blues Festival, which was held last week.  The entire week featured music in the area, culminating in the daylong festival held at Jimmy "Duck" Holmes' farm just north of town.  Your humble correspondent was planning to go this year, but didn't make it because the afternoon temps peaked at roughly 1000 degrees and it just wasn't in the cards.  Fortunately, our occasional FBF contributor Joe did attend with his sons and verified the high temperatures as well as a great day of music.  

In honor of the Bentonia Blues Festival, let's listen to two of Bentonia's finest musicians, guitarist Jack Owens, a contemporary of the legendary Skip James, and harmonica player Bud Spires, who passed away in early 2014.  Owens played in the same idiosyncratic style of other Bentonia guitarist, but also experimented with other styles.  His vocal style was different from James' ,too, a bit rougher around the edges, but just as effective.  Here's Owens and Spires with an interesting take on the Delta standard, "Catfish Blues."

For Something New, check out Bing Futch, who became the first mountain dulcimer player to advance to the semi-finals of the IBC, doing so in 2014.  He went one better this year, making it to the finals and winning the Best Guitarist award.  Futch has been playing professionally since the mid 80's, getting his start as co-founder of a Christian techno-punk trio before moving to composing and producing soundtracks for movies and theatre.  He also teaches music, along with conducting Delta blues workshops, and has written a book on playing the blues on dulcimer. 

Though he's recorded frequently, Futch's Unresolved Blues is his first all-blues album and he played all the instruments on it......mountain dulcimer, a resonator dulcimer, and software called "Band-in-a-Box  RealTracks."  The dulcimer proves to be a very versatile instrument in Futch's hands as he moves effortlessly from Piedmont-styled playing to Delta-esque slide guitar, and even some gritty blues-rock.  He has a smooth vocal style, too.

One of the tracks on Unresolved Blues is called "Harperville," and one of the verses mentions Harperville in Scott County on Highway 35, which is interesting because about twenty miles from where I live in Far East Mississippi is a county called Scott, with a small community called Harperville, which is located on.....wait for it......Highway 35!

I had to find out how this song came to be, so I messaged Futch on Facebook.  He replied and told me that his great-grandfather lived in Harperville many years ago and he drove there to find out more about him.  There's actually a Futch Road about a mile north of Harperville.  Anyway, I thought that was a cool local connection to the blues, so here's Bing Futch with "Harperville," off his recent release, Unresolved Blues.

The Allman Brothers Band (L to R):  Gregg Allman, Duane Allman, Jaimoe, Dickey Betts, Butch Trucks, Berry Oakley

For Something Borrowed, let's go back to the early 1970's......not as far back as we usually go, but bear with me for a few minutes.  Years ago, I picked up the Allman Brothers Band box set, Dreams, which traced the history of the band from their pre-ABB days to their solo days in the late 80's.  At the time, although I was familiar with the band itself, I wasn't that familiar with their music.  The year before, I had purchased Eric Clapton's box set, Crossroads, and had enjoyed it so much that I bought Dreams strictly on impulse.

The music I heard on those discs, especially the first two, just blew me away.  I was taken completely unawares by Duane Allman's amazing slide guitar virtuosity.  His playing sort of melded genres together......blues, rock, jazz, and soul all could be heard with his playing.  His fellow guitarist Dickey Betts was just as formidable and brought a bit of a country flair into the mix.  There was also Gregg Allman's vocals and work behind the keyboards.  Though he was a young man, he sang like a man who had lived the blues all his life.  The rock-solid rhythm section, bassist Berry Oakley and drummers Jaimoe and Butch Trucks, were phenomenal.  

One of the standout tracks on the box set was a never-before released (other than bootleg version) recording that the band made at A&R Studios in New York on August 26, 1971 for radio broadcast.  The band had just released their essential At Fillmore East album, and were playing songs from that album to a very receptive audience.  

Duane Allman with King Curtis

The whole set was really inspired and sounded great......then Duane Allman took it all to another level.  About two weeks earlier, sax man King Curtis had been brutally murdered during an argument with drug dealers outside his Manhattan apartment.  After the band finished a sterling version of "Stormy Monday," Duane Allman took a minute to pay tribute to King Curtis and....well, you can hear it all right here.  The end result is possibly one of Allman's finest performances as he pays tribute to Curtis, one virtuoso to another.  Check it out below.  This is actually two tracks borrowed.....first is Willie Cobbs' "You Don't Love Me," which then segues into King Curtis' masterpiece, "Soul Serenade."

This track was one of the highlights of Dreams.  A few years later, a friend gave me a bootleg cassette of the whole performance at A&R, and the Allman Brothers eventually released the entire set on CD.  If you're a fan, I recommend you pick this one up.  If you're not, listen to the video above and you probably will become one.  It's a wonderful performance and it's hard to believe that Duane Allman would be dead in just over two months after this performance.

For Something Blue, you can't get much bluer than the North Mississippi Hill Country Picnic, which takes place this weekend, from noon on Friday (June 23rd) to midnight on Saturday (June 24th).  This festival honors Mississippi Hill Country artists like R..L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough, and Otha Turner, showcasing many of the local bands with ties to these legendary figures.  Among the artists featured at this year's event.......Kenny Brown, the North Mississippi Allstars, Alvin Youngblood Hart's Muscle Theory, Duwayne Burnside, Gary Burnside and their respective bands, David Kimbrough and band, Robert Kimbrough, Jimbo Mathus, the Rising Star Drum and Fife Band, Bill Able, R.L. Boyce, and FBF friend Bill Steber and Libby Rae Walton.  

For more details to the weekend's events, you can visit the website.   In the meantime, enjoy the late, great Otha Turner tackling the Little Walter standard, "My Babe," with guitar accompaniment from Luther Dickinson of the NMAS, who also boasts Turner's granddaughter, Sharde Thomas, as a member.  This is the blues, my its purest and simplest form.

Friday, June 17, 2016

New Blues For You - Early Summer, 2016 Edition (Part 1)

I know, I's still a few days before the official beginning of summer, but here in Far East Mississippi, we're already looking at temps in the mid 90's with 60 - 70% humidity and air so thick that you have to pull it apart to walk through it.  Usually, all that doesn't start until July, but we're already into it.  In the meantime, Friday Blues Fix offers all of our dear readers the opportunity to beat the heat with a few mini-reviews of some cool new releases. As always, expanded reviews of these new discs can been found in current and/or upcoming issues of Blues Bytes, THE online monthly source for your new Blues CD reviews.

Mike Wheeler Band - Turn Up!! (Delmark Records):  Wheeler is regarded as one of the mainstays of the current Chicago blues scene, having been on the scene for over thirty years working in the bands of Big James Montgomery, Jimmy Johnson, and Nellie "Tiger" Travis.  He started his own band in the early 2000's, and recently released his third album, second for Delmark.

Wheeler grew up listening to a lot of different music styles in addition to blues......rock, soul, R&B, funk, even disco, and he manages to incorporate all of these genres into his brand of blues.  He's a powerful guitarist and singer, but is also a fine composer in a variety of styles.  He's comfortable tearing through a blues-rock tune as he is a soulful ballad.  His band is augmented by the mighty Chicago Horns on several tracks.  The state of Chicago blues is mighty fine, based on this excellent release.

The Mike Eldred Trio - Baptist Town (Great Western Recording Company):  For their latest release, Eldred and company offer up another superlative mix of blues, roots, and rock.  The album title is taken from the name of the small community where Robert Johnson was murdered in 1938, and the album itself is part of a bigger project that will culminate in a full-length documentary about the history and current issues in the South, in hopes of making Baptist Town a National Historic Landmark.

The trio really shines on the roots rockers, but also delve into the blues with assistance from a few guest stars.....Robert Cray adds guitar to the title track, John Mayer appears on one track, and Los Lobos' David Hidalgo plays accordion on one track.  There's even a stirring gospel closer with backing from the Emmanuel Church Inspirational Choir and lead vocals from Jarvis Jernigan.  To FBF's ears, Baptist Town stands as the best Mike Eldred Trio release to date.

Big Jon Atkinson & Bob Corritore - House Party at Big Jon's (Delta Groove Music):  San Diego resident Atkinson, who's not even 30 years old yet, may be one of the best traditional blues artists currently practicing.  On this fantastic new release, he teams up with one of the best harmonica players on the planet, Bob Corritore for a solid hour of blues just like they used to do 'em for Chess and Sun Records back in the day.

Atkinson and Corritore recorded this great set of vintage blues at Big Tone Studios in San Diego and it really has the feel of a house party.  There are a whopping 16 tracks, split between old-school covers and vintage-sounding tunes from the duo, plus a few from some of their guests (it can't be a house party if you don't have a few guests).  They include Dave Riley, Tomcat Courtney, Willie Buck, and Alabama Mike, all of whom take a few turns behind the mic.  It's a rowdy, rollicking good time that 's guaranteed to please anybody who digs traditional blues.

Harper - Show Your Love (Blu Harp Records):  Australian Peter Harper calls his music "World Blues," and that describes his latest release (with Detroit band Midwest Kind) to a tee.  A master harmonica player, Harper incorporates unusual instruments into his music, the didgeridoo and the djembe in particular, and blends R&B and funk with the blues on these eleven tracks.

The lyrical focus on most of the tunes is on love and unity, but Harper also covers greed, anger, frustration, and hatred, items that figure prominently in today's world view for many.  Harper maintains that the only way to prevail, however, is to focus on the positive and show love and compassion toward your fellow man......good advice that, hopefully one day, everyone will take and apply.

So, this is not your conventional blues album, but Harper's sturdy vocals and amazing harmonica blowing, plus the use of the Australian instruments on the songs, really make this one worth hearing.  Last year, we posted several times about the burgeoning Australian blues scene.  Harper is one of those artists who is making a lot of noise these days, and there are plenty more out there.

Alexis P. Suter Band - All For Loving You (American Showplace Music):  Alexis Suter is described as a "true vocal phenomenon," which is a bit like saying Moby Dick was a big fish.  I'm pretty sure that most listeners have never heard a vocalist like her.  Raised up singing gospel as a child, she gravitated toward the blues, which is the genre that her voice was built for.  She sings with so much passion and fire and SOUL.

With her powerhouse vocals and equally powerhouse band (plus guest keyboardist John Ginty), Suter knocks this one out of the proverbial park, easily moving between tough blues rocker, sweaty R&B and blues ballads, Latin, and funk.  She even ventures toward gospel with an interesting cover of the Beatles' "Let It Be," that will raise goose bumps on your goose bumps.  This is a stunning release that should win Suter and her band a lot of new followers.

Blind Lemon Pledge - Pledge Drive (Ofeh Records):  In 2014, FBF friend and New York Blues Hall of Famer Michael Packer turned me on to the music of Blind Lemon Pledge (a.k.a. James Byfield), who has to have the greatest stage name ever.  Pledge plays the blues, but he also explores other musical styles, such as jazz, folk, old timey pop, and country.  His last release (Evangeline) was a completely solo effort.....he played all the instruments but used aliases in the liner notes.....but on this new release, he does use other musicians on a few tracks.

Pledge Drive has a dozen songs that explore the vast American musical palette, just like his previous release, but the songs have more of a blues rock edge this time around.  He's a talented songwriter who writes some pretty entertaining songs about modern life, including romances good and bad, office rage, gun control, and even a few historical events such as Katrina and the Civil Rights Movement.  He's an excellent guitarist, especially on slide, and singer.  Pledge Drive is a very entertaining and diverse look at blues and roots music from an artist who deserves to be heard.

Hopefully, you can stay cool with these great new releases for a few weeks.  Friday Blues Fix will be back with more New Blues For You in a couple of weeks.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Instrumentally Speaking (Part 2)

It's time once again, dear readers for an all-instrumental day at FBF?  I've been listening to music for a long time now, and dating back to the mid to late 80's, one of my favorite things to do was make a mix tape of my favorite instrumentals collected off of my album collection.  I would throw in rock, R&B, jazz, and blues instrumentals and plug them into my Walkman (Holy Cow, am I old or what?!!), so this is always kind of fun to do.  Here are four more instrumental tracks that are guaranteed to make you move or put a smile on your face.  Hope you enjoy listening.

First up is the elusive Odell Harris, who passed away in 2014.  In 2006, after much searching, scheduling and hand-wringing, Harris was recorded by Jeff Konkel for Broke & Hungry Records.  Konkel recalled the whole process in one of our initial Friday Blues Fix Ten Questions With.....posts.  When all seemed lost and the session seemed to be headed to crash-and-burn mode, Harris reached deep down and produced one of the best and rawest sets of Mississippi blues you'll likely hear.  The whole disc (Searching for Odell Harris) is one that blues fans really need to have in their collection, but for now check out this funky, loose-limbed instrumental between Harris, guitarist Bill Abel and Lightnin' Malcolm on drums, "Daylight Romp," which just materializes out of nowhere and fades away in almost the same manner.  Hang on!!

Next up is Jimmie Vaughan, one of my longtime favorite guitarists.  He was one of the first blues guitarists I got to see in person, when he was with the Fabulous Thunderbirds.  He came on stage dressed to the nines with that cool stratocaster slung across his shoulder and I couldn't take my eyes off him as he played one incredible solo after another.  On the T-Bird albums, his solos were always crisp and concise and just didn't seem long enough.  When he appeared on stage, he was able to really dig into his solos and pull every tasty drop out of them.  I really feel that he is extremely underrated as a guitarist and is actually one of the best blues guitarists currently practicing.  After he left the T-Birds in the late 80's and recorded Family Style with his brother, Vaughan launched a solo career, which has consisted of five albums over a 22 year period.  If you're not familiar with his work......I don't know how that could can get caught up with The Essential Jimmie Vaughan collection on Sony/Legacy, which collects some excellent music from his solo recordings and a couple from his T-Bird years.  After that, you'll want to backtrack and pick up the rest of his catalog.  Trust me on this......some of the finest guitar you'll hear.  In the meantime, please check out "Dirty Girl," one of my favorites, from his 2001 album, Do You Get The Blues?  Let me tell you.......Jimmie Vaughan GETS the blues like very few do these days.

Here's the late Chicago harp master, Carey Bell, who was recognized as one of the last of the great Chicago harmonica players.  Bell, who passed away in 2007, was born in Macon, Mississippi, but was influnced by some of Chicago's finest.....the two Sonny Boy Williamsons, Little and Big Walter, and the great DeFord Bailey.  At 19, he moved to Chicago with his uncle, piano man Lovie Lee, and he continued to learn at the feet of the harmonica masters of the city.  Despite his talent, he hit Chicago at a bad time for harp blowers and ended up playing bass guitar to make ends meet.  He didn't record until the late 60's and really didn't hit his stride as a recording artist until the 90's, when he recorded several albums for Alligator and Blind Pig Records.  One of the best albums was Good Luck Man, released in 1997 on Alligator, and one of that album's best tracks was the storming instrumental, "Bell Hop,"  Bell's son, Lurrie Bell, continues the Bell family's blues traditions these days.

Finally, speaking of "Hops" the early 2000's, I happened upon a really cool CD from a group who called themselves The Delta Jukes.  Carr Hop - The Delta Jukes.  They were an offshoot of sorts to the fabled Jelly Roll Kings - guitarist Big Jack Johnson, harmonica/keyboard player Frank Frost, and drummer Sam Carr.  The common factor between both groups was Carr, who maintained his steadying influence and rhythms behind the drum kit.  Guitarist Fred James also worked in both groups, as the unofficial fourth member of each group.  The two newcomers were John Weston, who contributed his rugged harmonica, smooth vocals, and highly personal songwriting, and singer/guitarist Dave Riley, whose feral growl was a perfect complement to Weston's more relaxed vocals.  The group only released one album together, Working For The Blues, on Black Magic Records in 2002, and there was an instrumental, "Carr Hop," that was one of the highlights.

That's all for now.  More blues to come next week.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Happy Birthday Blues

Well, there's a lot going on at the Friday Blues Fix Compound these days.  The family is in the middle of a major construction project, which could possibly take a few more weeks to complete.  There's a lot of work going on at work, so it looks like a busy summer there.  There's also the usual summer things with family that always take place this time of year.  Most importantly of all, today is an extra special BIRTHDAY!

Since there's been a lot going on this week, and possibly next week, today's Friday Blues Fix will be an abbreviated edition, as we celebrate the big day today and maybe this weekend.  Fear now, faithful, FBFers......we will return next week, hopefully, with to our regular's been a really hectic couple of weeks and looks to be pretty busy next week, too, but we will be back with more blues for you to enjoy.

In the meantime, please enjoy these "Happy Birthday"-related blues tunes.  Yes, you can write a blues song about just about anything.....even a Happy Birthday!!