John Bigham (aka Soul of John Black) has always been on the cutting edge of music whether with Fishbone back in the day, or as a solo artist with SOJB. Steadfastly refusing to be classified or fenced in by genres, critics or even fans in some cases - he has always provided an interesting mix of soul, blues, rock and more to the music he puts out there for us. ‘Good Thang’ opens so many doors for the blues scene that I do believe that they will soon need a velvet rope to keep people back from clamoring to cross-over the lines that he has erased.
Starting off with some attention getting bass lines ‘Digital Blues’ is a funky reminder of the isolation of the digital world we are living in. The trappings of easy and instant satisfaction/gratification and it’s dehumanizing effect is laid out with some of the funkiest rhythms to be burned of late. ‘Robot Sadie is all I want” goes the slightly phased chant halfway thru the cut, and it repeats and serves as a warning to us all, beware brothers beware – as Louis Jordan would say.
The title track ‘Good Thang’ SOJB throws down a sweet grove homage to his good thang. Stating that stark fact (quite in contrast to Digital Blues) that all the money in your pocket couldn’t buy this thang.
Just to go three deep ‘How Can I’ is a throw back, old school soul ballad that recalls the Stylistics and other great soul r&b bands from the seventies, but updated just a touch with synthesizers and a smoother bass line that makes it all the more contemporary.
With this release SOJB covers so much ground (as he always has) that it amazes me at the competence that he displays in any of his chosen soundscapes. Now for the ‘blues-purists’ out there they can sink their teeth into ‘My Brother’. Starting off as a voice and guitar front porch setting, it nicely progresses into a crescendo of a thousand layers featuring some of the funkiest clavichord sounding keys by Adam MacDougall that has me shaking my Afro to the combination of Stevie Wonder meets Billy Preston that is hard enough to get through to you but soft enough not to overpower.
Closing out the ten track release is ‘Turn Off The Phone’ where we revisit the digital twenty-four hour world where we are always on the hurry up and go life. Turn off the phone, take off your clothes, let down your hair and stay awhile are part of the enticing lyrics laid over a real dreamlike sound – if we all could only make this oft’ used plea sound this good we wouldn’t be competing with the hectic pace of the other reality.
I feel that this release is one that everyone should spend time with. It will challenge you on so many levels and make you take a hard look at your concept of what the blues are and what a glorious future they have in the creative hands of artists like John.
For musical icon Maria Muldaur this is the 30th solo release of her career, and 12th in the last 11 years. That’s longevity and high quality work folks, pick up anyone of them and you will hear a master song interpreter weave vocal paintings that any museum would proudly display on their walls if they could.
Each of her releases has been dedicated to a special sound or style – Steady Love is rooted in what Maria calls Bluesiana – soul, gospel grits and style over easy combined into a tasty gumbo of fine music.
First off let me state that there aren’t too many folks who can cover the Elvin Bishop/Bobby Cochrane ditty “I’ll Be Glad’ and nail it so damn well. Maria does just that with her sultry, spicy voice she turns this song into a gospel evocation that certainly raises the rafters and sets the stage for nothing but good times ahead.
Maria works her way through her chosen songbook that features such talented writers as Bobby Charles, Eric Bibb, two from the Greg Brown collection, old friend Rick Vito and also pays sterling tribute to Percy Mayfield in ‘Please Send Me Someone To Love’.
A wonderful sashaying shuffle treatment of ‘Blues Goes Walking” features some swampy lead guitar work by Clanston Clements which combined with Maria’s vocal treatment makes this a fine updated version of this classic song. On this this release Maria works with a superb cast of musicians each of them adding what is needed from background vocals to horn arrangements to the pocket and harmonies.
One simply magnificent appearance is by her daughter Jenni Muldaur sharing vocal harmonies on ‘Rain Down Tears’. Written by Henry Glover & Rudy Toombs this is a head bopping version that pays tribute to Hank Ballard’s 1959 release. But what is the topper is the sweet music that Maria and Jenni create as they skillfully blend their two unique voices together for a seamless almost inseparable voice that takes us to the depth of despair and makes the dire prognostication that they will need shelter from the raining down of tears. I know how proud Maria is of Jenni as she has become a ‘Ronnette’ and is currently working with the great Ronnie Specter.
Maria has always seemed to balance the sensual with the spiritual. She reminds us that we cannot live a full life as intended without paying tribute to each side of this eternal struggle. She portrays it quite well with this release wherein one breath she teases us with her rollicking girl on the town ‘Soulful Dress’ or the Arthur Adams song ‘Get You Next To Me’ and then turns the other cheek and proclaims ‘I’ve Done Made It Up My Mind’…to serve God till she dies – but know in your soul and heart that there really isn’t a contradiction here, it’s the way it is – ya need to have both to live a full life.
A very positive release both musically and spiritually. Contained here are reminders to believe in our heart of hearts, to follow our true paths to where we wish to be – and upon arrival remember how we got there and not to lose our souls upon arrival. As always, Maria has treated us to an outstanding collection of fabulous music made only more better by her interpretations of them. I am already looking forward to her next release which is said to be a tribute to Memphis Minnie featuring some great surprise guests.
Candye Kane featuring Laura Chavez: Sister Vagabond
(Delta Groove Music)
Right from the start Ms. Kane and her trusty partner set the stage for a rollicking, roller coaster ride thru various side roads where the Blues truly reside. Johnny Guitar Watson’s “I Love To Love You’ kicks off the disc with a guitar riff from Laura that harkens back to the giants of blues guitar and adds a sultry vocal statement by Candye that changes to swing to shuffle and back again – not to stop there LC cuts through it all with a scorching solo that expresses so much in a limited format. Ms. Chavez understands that the space between the notes are as valuable as the notes themselves and again and again demonstrates this fact for all to hear.
‘Love Insurance’ is an up-beat song telling the tale of our heroine pleading for the one insurance policy that the powers that be haven’t yet been able to milk us on. ‘Sweet Nothin’s’ is a down right greasy adaptation of the Brenda Lee pop song. Swampy and sensual yet somewhat innocent in the songs truer meaning, Ms. Kane easily works the vocals into a tight prayer of thankfulness while Ms. Chavez adds an almost Creedence Clearwater touch of guitar to it. Fun times with this one.
What might be the best track is a Kane/Chavez original (one of 9) ‘Walkin’ Talkin’ Haunted House’. A wonderfully composed lyrical poem wherein Ms. Kane sets herself as a ‘walkin’, talkin’ haunted house’ that is occupied with the ghosts of her past lovers. A fascinating thought, and delivered spot on by both Candye and Laura. No other cut to date has captured the bond between these two ladies as this one does. There are some added effects by Stephen Hodges such as chains and various forms of percussion that adds to the otherworldly feel of this track – bravo !
On almost every of Ms. Kane’s previous releases she has included a song from Jack Tempchin (of Eagles fame) and this albums track is ‘Everybody’s Gonna Love Somebody Tonight’. Written with the assist of Glenn Frey, the bad boy of the Eagles, this songs rocks out with that familiar ‘Heartache Tonight’ feel and one can imagine this with a large crowd of dancers and fans on the Whiskey A Go-Go stage. Some fine, fine harmonica work by an underrated harpist James Harmon gives it just the right twist to make it qualify as a true blues tune.
I honestly can’t say that there is a weak cut on this release, this release seems to be what they have been searching for and now that it has been found we can sit back and look forward to more of the same explosive, creative and varied takes on the big tent of blues music that I feel is the future of the genre.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: Courtesy of artists.