Friday, February 24, 2017

Signing Off.......For Now

Though it pains me to do so, dear readers, your humble correspondent is going to have to shut things down at Friday Blues Fix for the near future.  Due to a lot going on at work and at home, plus a huge backlog of CDs that I really need to review for Blues Bytes, something has to give, and unfortunately, the blog is what will have to give....hopefully, just for a while.

We just celebrated our seventh year of blogging...having started in February of 2010.  It's been a lot of fun to share some of my favorite blues with you over that time.  It's been great to hear from people who read the blog on a regular basis.  I hope I was able to open your eyes and ears to some brand new blues or even some that you might have missed previously.....or introduced you to some old or new blues artists who are worth hearing.

I hope that one day in the near future, I will get caught up with the things that I have to do and I can rejoin the blogging world.  In the meantime, I invite you to check out some of our previous posts (over 350) and see what you might have missed the first time around.

It's been fun, fellow blues lovers.  Hopefully, we can do it again soon.  Thank you for all of your support and encouragement over the past seven years.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Mardi Gras Mambo - Looking at a Few Prime Mardi Gras Music Collections

This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 28th, which is still a week and a half away.  However, your friends at Friday Blues Fix want to keep our faithful readers ahead of the game, so we are taking this week's edition to recommend several great sets of Fat Tuesday-related tunes to help put a hop in your step over the remaining few days.  Just scroll down and check out these four fantastic collections of tunes.  You can thank us later.

Probably the most popular collection of Mardi Gras tunes is the Mardi Gras in New Orleans album that was released on Mardi Gras Records (what else?) about 40 years ago.  This set collects a dozen of the most popular Mardi Gras singles at the time.  The owner of the label, Warren Hildebrand, had been around New Orleans music his whole life.  His father owned All South, the city's largest wholesale record distributorship, supplying the New Orleans market with R&B 45's.  All South distributed ALL of the local singles, so Hildebrand had the brilliant idea to compile some of the best Mardi Gras singles onto this album.

For a long time, Mardi Gras in New Orleans was the ONLY collection of Carnival music available.  It's still one of the best with songs from many artists that will be familiar with New Orleans music fans......Professor Longhair's standard tunes, "Go To The Mardi Gras" and parts 1 and 2 of "Big Chief" are here, Earl King's funky "Street Parade" is, too, as are several of the funky R&B workouts from the Wild Magnolias, a Mardi Gras Indian group fronted by Bo Dollis, one of the most underrated R&B singers in the city.  There's also the classic "Carnival Time," by Al Johnson, the Hawketts' "Mardi Gras Mambo," and a two-part version of Stop, Inc's "Second Line."

For years, the album sold pretty well during Mardi Gras season, mainly  because it was only distributed locally for the most part.  In the early 80's, however, as more distributors came on board, it began to sell nationally much better.  I'm actually on my second first one was on cassette......and I can tell you that I pull it out every year about this time and play it several times.  It's that good and that much fun to listen to.

In 1991, Mardi Gras Records released the inevitable sequel to their fan favorite, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Volume II.  This set included eleven tracks, including several from the Meters ("Hey Pocky Away," "Mardi Gras Mambo," and "They All Asked For You").  Meters keyboardist Art Neville was one of the high school students who made up the Hawketts, so he was revisiting "Mardi Gras Mambo."  There were also classic tunes from the Dixie Cups ("Iko Iko") and Sugarboy Crawford ("Jockomo"), a trio of songs from the Olympia Brass Band, and several modern Mardi Gras songs ("If I Ever Cease To Love," by A.J. Loria, and "Dat's Mardi Gras," from Jake the Snake, and "Mardi Gras Medley," from the Mardi Gras Big Shots.

While it is a nice change from Volume I, with the addition of the brass band numbers and the Meters sides, and it is a good, enjoyable album of Carnival songs, it's not as strong a set as the first volume.  There's not a thing wrong with it, but you definitely need Volume I before you get Volume II.  Mardi Gras Records ended up becoming a pretty good label of local talent, with albums from Professor Longhair, Milton Batiste, the Olympia Brass Band, Walter "Wolfman" Washington, Johnny Adams, and later ventured into the soul-blues market with albums from Peggy Scott Adams and Sir Charles Jones.  The label now has over 3,000 recordings of all kinds of Louisiana music.  Check out their site here for more information.

In the late 80's/early 90's, Rhino Records began releasing hit collections from many New Orleans groups.  Their wonderful 2-disc Neville Brothers history, Treacherous (later expanded to a third volume), remained the definitive Neville collection for a couple of decades, and they also released an awesome three-volume set of R&B favorites that spanned the 50's and 60's (now, sadly, out of print).

In 1992, Rhino released New Orleans Party Classics, a great 18-song set that includes a few tunes originally on Mardi Gras in New Orleans, plus songs from Dr. John, the Neville Brothers (in their own unit and with Mardi Gras Indian tribe, The Wild Tchoupitoulas), Huey "Piano" Smith, Allen Toussaint (the torrid instrumental "Whirlaway"), Frankie Ford, Fats Domino, and the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands.  This is a fine set to have as well, because it more or less builds on the concepts that the two Mardi Gras Records collections started.  It's really good to have the Neville Brothers play such a prominent role on this one, along with the two brass bands.  This one is fun to listen to all year long.  This one, too, inspired a sequel, which was released in 1999.

Around the same time as Rhino, Rounder Records began issuing new albums from New Orleans singers and bands.  They covered a lot of ground, embracing not only New Orleans R&B (Johnny Adams, Irma Thomas, Chuck Carbo, James Booker), but also blues (Marcia Ball, Walter "Wolfman" Washington), jazz (Alvin "Red" Tyler, Willie Tee, Tuts Washington), brass (Dirty Dozen and Rebirth Brass Bands), Mardi Gras Indians (Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles, Bo Dollis and the Wild Magnolias), and Cajun/Zydeco (Beausoleil, Zachary Richard, Nathan & the Zydeco Cha Chas, Buckwheat Zydeco), along with reissues of many classics from the 60's and 70's.

In 1992, the label compiled 18 songs into a collection called Mardi Gras Party.  This set has a little something for every music fan.....R&B, blues, Cajun/Zydeco, and jazz.  This was a really great listen for me because Rounder Records actually was the launching pad for my love of all Louisiana music.  I picked up several of these collections by Rounder in the early 90's and they led me to more music from many of these artists, who I heard for the first time on these collections.

These are only four collections of great music to celebrate the Mardi Gras season......there are many more to choose from.....maybe we'll track a few of those down during a future Mardi Gras celebration.  If I were getting started as a listener, I would pick up Mardi Gras in New Orleans first and work my way down the list, but you really can't go wrong with any of these albums.  Check them out and "Laissez Les Bon Temps Rouler!!!!! "

Friday, February 10, 2017

New Blues For You - Literary Edition

This week, your humble correspondent has been away on business, working on professional development for his real job.  Therefore, discussion and thoughts about the blues have been few and far between for a few days.

During the summer, I picked up a few books to read during my idle time, then I realized that I didn't have any idle time.....well, not much anyway.  I managed to finish a couple of interesting blues-related books that would be well worth any other blues fan's idle time.  I picked up about five or six books this summer, thanks to a couple of Amazon birthday gift cards, and picked up another one to review for Blues Bytes in an upcoming issue.  We discussed Sliding Delta a few months back and talked with its author, William Baldwin, but these next couple of books are what I read after I finished that great book.......

A few months ago, FBF contributor Joe suggested that I read Dispatches From Pluto:  Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta, by journalist Richard Grant.  Having lived in a cave for the past few years, I was unfamiliar with this book, but I found it in a book store during my birthday shopping this summer and picked it up.

A few years ago, Grant visited some friends from Oxford, MS and went with one of them to visit her family farm in Pluto, MS.  He fell in love with his friend's father's old home, a plantation home in a very isolated setting, and ended up buying the house and property, actually doing so before his girlfriend had ever even seen it.

Grant and his girlfriend make the move from NYC to MS, to the consternation of many of their city friend.  Pluto is in Holmes County, which is one of the poorest counties in Mississippi.  Grant takes a look at many aspects of life in Mississippi, particularly the Mississippi Delta.  He looks at poverty, crime, society, weather, hunting, race relations, and, of course, music in Mississippi, particularly the blues (note Po' Monkeys as the cover subject).

Though there is some focus on the blues in various chapters......Grant has a house party and invites a particular blues man to entertain and there is also a bit on a couple of other aging musicians.  The real focus is on Grant and his girlfriend's adjustment to living in Mississippi.  Grant is a great writer and that shows pretty regularly because he's able to tell the story so clearly and descriptively.  The characters at times seem to have sprung fully developed from a Faulkner novel, but I know people just like them and have all my life.  Their hospitality and generosity and remarkable to Grant and his girlfriend, who are used a city environment.

As a lifelong Mississippian, I found myself nodding and laughing at some of his discoveries and realizations, but some others really made me stop and think.....particularly in race relations.  I live about 25 miles or so from where the Civil Rights workers were slain in Philadelphia and I know that things have changed as far as race relations go......a lot, but I also know that, like everything, there's always room for improvement.  It's interesting to see this from the perspective of someone who is not a native.  The good thing is that he is very fair and clear in his assessment of relations.  It serves as a good read for Mississippians and for non-residents because it, hopefully, eliminates some of the stereotypes that have plagued the state for many years.  It's a very interesting book and there's is a focus on the blues and the environment from which it emerged.

I had been looking for a copy of Bobby Womack's autobiography for a couple of years and finally found one this summer.  My Story is exactly that, as written by Womack with Robert Ashton.  Womack tells his story from his early days as a kid in Ohio, one of five sons of a deeply religious mother and father, who steered them into gospel, where the were billed as the Womack Brothers.  The group, accompanied by their mother and father, who played organ and guitar, respectively, soon attracted the attention of Sam Cooke, who signed them to his SAR Records label, where they eventually evolved into the Valentinos and enjoyed some success on the pop and R&B charts, all of which came to a halt after Cooke's untimely death.  Womack recounts his early family life, his close relationship with Cooke (and nearly career-ending marriage to Cooke's widow, scant months after the singer's death).

Womack is fairly forthcoming about his life, his decisions (good and bad and really bad), but not particularly introspective about a lot of it.  There's not much soul-searching behind least not as much as you usually see in these type of books.  There's a lot of discussion about his relationships and family, plus some fascinating tales about his time performing and traveling with Cooke, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett, Ike Turner, and Sly Stone.  There's also stories about Womack's days working with and hanging out with the Rolling Stones, the Faces, and a surprising story about Womack's encounter with Janis Joplin (on the last day of her life).  Music fans may find the lack of detail a bit frustrating.....he skims over quite a bit of it, but the stories throughout are fascinating.....sometimes funny, sometimes heartbreaking.  It seems a bit rushed and thrown together at times, and would have benefited from a little more detail and editing, but as a Womack fan (though he is a member of the Rock n' Roll Hall of Fame, I still think he's criminally underrated as a musician, composer, and singer), I enjoyed reading it.  It's probably as close as we'll ever get to knowing him.

I just started reading this several days ago, so this is more of a preview than a review, but trust me, FBF will be revisiting this book in the near future.  Marie Trout is the wife and manager of blues guitarist Walter Trout, and while she doesn't sing or play the blues, she probably understands the blues as well as anyone.  From what I've read so far, The Blues - Why It Still Hurts So Good is a study that seeks to explain what makes a person love the blues.  From what I've read so far, which isn't very far into it, there are different things that draw different fans to the blues.  So far, it has been pretty entertaining.  I understand that this was part of Dr. Trout's fulfillment of requirements to get her PhD, but it doesn't read like a dry research paper or study.  I'm really excited about getting deeper into it, and I plan to discuss it here at a later date.

Friday, February 3, 2017

New Blues For You - Winter, 2017 Edition (Part 2)

This week, we'll look at a few more new blues releases that are sure to please our faithful readers who are hankering for new listening.  Most of these albums came out in the latter part of the year and we didn't get around to reviewing them, but if the new blues albums of 2017 are half as entertaining as 2016's, this should be an interesting year.  As always, expanded reviews of these releases can be found in current and upcoming issues of Blues BytesTHE monthly online magazine of blues CD reviews.

Lady A - Loved, Blessed, & Blues (self-released):  A 20-year vet of the Pacific Northwest blues scene, Lady A has toured with and opened for a pretty impressive list of blues stars.  Two of her previous albums have garnered BMA nominations and this one should do the same.  Though she's based on the opposite side of the country, Lady A is all about southern much so that she traveled to Jackson, MS to record this first-rate set, enlisting Dexter Allen and producer (and guitarist).

Lady A has a smoky, sultry vocal style and it's perfectly suited for this material.  She wrote four of the ten tracks, with Allen adding a pair of his own, and her longtime collaborator John Oliver III penning three.  Lady A focuses mostly on soul-blues, but she also mixes blues and gospel effectively on several tracks.  This disc would be a nice fit in Malaco Records' catalog with its sharp production, songwriting, musicianship, and of course, Lady A's powerhouse vocals.  Soul-blues fans will want to give it a spin for sure.

The Jimmys - Live From Transylvania (Brown Cow Productions):  The city of Sighisoara in the historic Transylvania region of Romania has hosted their own blues festival since 2005.  2015's edition included performances from the Bruce Katz Band, Joe Louis Walker, Candye Kane, and this excellent Wisconsin-based blues band, who captured their set for posterity on this fine release.  The band was inspired by the late Ms. Kane who turned in a powerful performance ahead of their set, despite being in a serious struggle battling the cancer that took her life the next much so that they dedicated this album to her.

The band was recognized as a Top Ten Festival Act in 2015, and that becomes obvious from the energy and enthusiasm on display for each song on this set, which includes several songs from their most recent studio albums, along with covers of songs associated with Albert King, Freddie King, and The Band.  The seven-piece band has a full, rich sound with three horns allowing them to move easily from swing to R&B to blues to rock.  This is a versatile and entertaining set and a good place to start checking out the Jimmys for newcomers.

Starlite Campbell Band - Blueberry Pie (Supertone Records):  It might be hard for listeners to believe, but this is a debut release for this fine British band.  Bassist/vocalist Suzy Starlite and guitarist/vocalist Simon Campbell both have extensive backgrounds in the British blues and folk scenes and decided to put their talents into a collaborative effort.  The duo combines these two genres with bits from other genres......jazz, soul, rock, and R&B.

All eleven tunes were written by the pair and they will bring to mind the blues sounds of those numerous British blues rockers who dominated the music scene in the late 60's/early 70's and who mixed influences in a like manner.  Campbell takes most of the vocals, but Starlite acquits herself pretty well when given the chance.  The stellar rhythm section (Starlite is a monster bassist) certainly do their part as well, and Campbell is a standout guitarist as well.  This is as solid and confident a debut release as I've heard in quite awhile, and I think many listeners will agree.

Jeff Chaz - This Silence Is Killing Me (JCP Records):  This is the second album released by The Bourbon Street Bluesman in 2016, and to these ears, it's the better of the two, though by a thin margin.  Both this release and Sounds Like The Blues To Me are packed wall to wall with Chaz's top notch songwriting, which features clever and unique takes on traditional blues topics, his strong and soulful vocals, and, of course, his outstanding guitar work......this one features some of the best and most inventive that I've heard from him.

A lot of Chaz's songs hit home so hard that they have to be based on personal experience.  Most people deal with the same issues on a regular basis, losing love, looking for love, finding love where you least expect it, etc......We all are obsessed with different things, whether it's a certain girl or guy, or a hobby, or a career.  Chaz touches on all of these topics in ways that will either make you smile or nod your head in agreement......or possibly both.  Combine that with his guitar work.......he's one of the best currently practicing, and you've got a winner.  Heck, I encourage you to check out BOTH of his new releases.  You can thank me later.

Raphael Wressnig & Igor Prado - The Soul Connection (ZYX Music):  For his follow-up to 2014's magnificent Soul Gumbo, on which he collaborated with some of New Orleans' finest musicians, Austrian keyboard wizard Wressnig journeyed to Brazil to work with the fine Brazilian guitarist Prado, his band, who certainly how to give us the funk, a terrific horn section led by Sax Beadle, and three legendary soul vocalist who work through a set of familiar soul and blues classics.

Wee Willie Walker handles most of the vocals, which include several tunes associated with Little Willie John, but singers David Hudson and Leon Beal also get a chance behind the mic as well.  These performances are good, but the real treat is the instrumental prowess and interplay of Wressnig and Prado.  It's almost like they've played together for years........they complement each other so well, and the backing band is superlative.  I could listen to this disc all day, and have already done so a couple of times.

Mike Zito - Make Blues Not War (Ruf Records):  For Zito's latest release, the focus is not so much on the singer/songwriter aspect of Zito's resume' (though it's still firmly in place), but more so on his stellar guitar playing.  This is a blues-rock album of the highest order and Zito hands most of the controls over to a producer who certainly knows his way around a blues-rock album, Grammy winner Tom Hambridge, who also plays drums and co-wrote most of the tunes with Zito and/or his longtime collaborator Richard Fleming.  Guitarist Walter Trout and harmonica ace Jason Ricci also stop by to lend a hand.

As might be expected, there's plenty of ferocious rocking blues on the album and Zito sounds fantastic, both on guitar and vocals.  He also mixes in some delta-styled electric blues, a couple of Texas shuffles, and plenty of tasty slide guitar, along with a couple of cover tunes from Luther Allison and Clarence Garlow.  Best of all is a track which teams Zito with his son, who more than holds his own playing guitar with his dad.  Mike Zito is one of the most compelling performers in the blues world these days, based on his tenure with Royal Southern Brotherhood and his own remarkable solo career.  You will feel the joy and exuberance that went into making this disc when you plug it in.

Sharon Lewis and Texas Fire - Grown Ass Woman (Delmark):  Five years after her well-received debut release (The Real Deal), Texas-born/Chicago-based singer Lewis returns with a set that's so good, we're willing to forgive the long span between releases.  The fiery vocalist is joined by her longtime musical partner, guitarist/songwriter Steve Bramer, a rock-solid backing band, and guests Joanna Connor, Sugar Blue, and Steve Bell.

Lewis is a fine songwriter, as is Bramer, and the focus seems to be on strong, independent women.  Lewis delivers these songs with plenty of swagger and confidence.  There's also a pair of covers from B.B. King and the Allman Brothers, that Lewis shines on, particularly the Allmans cover.  We really enjoyed Lewis' debut recording, but this one is even better and hopefully, it will get her more attention and appreciation as one of the best singers in the Windy City.