Well we visited the ladies at about the onset of the official holiday season, so now that we are in full grip of the season I thought it might be nice to meet at a bar after work with some of the guys who can make the Blues sound like no others. So tell the bartender what yer having, pull up a stool and let’s chill with the boys.
Tip Of The Top: From Memphis to Greaseland (Delta King Records)
Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area these guys were the 2011 Golden Gate Blues Society IBC competitors and did well – bowing out as semi-finalists. Featuring a solid cast of veteran blues-men Jon Lawton (guitar/vocals), Frank DeRose (bass), Aki Kumar (harp/vocals) and Carlos Velasco (drums). Together they have put together 13 high energy tracks with 7 of them originals – which is always good in my book.
Tip of the Top is not just a cover band that you see at the bar every weekend going through the motions and calling it the Blues. These cats got the feel and groove that sets them apart from the aforementioned posers to the throne.
‘I Ain’t Worried’ is a call and response good time shuffle that starts off the disc and sets us up for what becomes a party on a disc. Written by Mr. Lawson this track has the feel of a Rod Piazza west coast swing number and excellent harp work by Aki lets us know they are here to play.
Nice harp work is an essential element here with Mr. Kumar displaying a proven ability to play in various styles and tones. Not just a draw & blower he especially does justice to the Little Walter cover ‘Rocker’. Definately one to get the feet moving. He provides added depth fronting the vocals chops on Sonny Boy Williamson’s ‘Fattening Frogs for Snakes’. Tasty guitar work by Mr. Lawton adds to the classic feel of this cut. Other covers include a surf/rumba version of “One Way Out’ that while paying tribute to the previous versions comes up original and tasty as pie. The disc ends with a slowed down version of the Brownie McGhee classic ‘The Sportin’ Life’. Mr. Lawton provides well paced vocals and guitar work over the stage setting bass of Mr. DeRose.
This release was recorded at Chris ‘Kid’ Andersen’s Greaseland Studios in California and Mr. Kid adds some of his well-appointed brand of guitar work on ‘She’s Fine’ as an added tip on the tip of the top.
Dave Keller: ‘Where I’m Coming From’ (self release)
I first met Dave at the 2011 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, a gentle spoken unassuming young man who is one hell of an R&B Blues-man. To quote Mr. Mose Allison ‘white boy sings the blues’ – it isn’t just that – it’s way better than that. So here’s this guy who is up in Montpelier, VT., yeh the Blues Capital of…
As the first strains of ‘More Than I Can Stand’ hits our unexpected ears, we are thrust into a swirling world of horns, lap steel & percussion that makes one want to jump up and dance. It’s like a Stax/Volt party for a new generation. We get a little feel of Jackson Five on ‘If I Ever Get You Back’ with ringing guitar and a percussion of horns that creates a wall of funk about 6 inches deep.
Mr. Keller is backed by The Revelations, an R&B band that usually backs up soul singer Tre’ Williams. It is Mr. Williams who shares vocals on ‘The Things We Have To Do’ a soulful countdown of these things we have to do in life. Both reaffirming and inspirational this cut reminds me of some of the old school duets from the late seventies that featured black and white soul singers working together.
Mr. Keller’s voice has a depth and soul to it that has to make him one of the most talented unsigned artists around. His guitar playing has the edge and grit to it that fits right in with the sound and landscape. His version of ‘Pouring Water On A Drowning Man’ recalls an early Van Morrison meets Otis Redding. Throughout this release The Revelations along with a cast of horn players provide ample room for Mr. Keller to work his blue-eyed soul and address his funkiness at all the right levels, good job !
With ‘Where I’m Coming From’ we are treated to the sound of Motown/Memphis soul stew and so tasty folks. If you cut your R&B teeth with these sounds you will slip this release on like a comfy pair of Cons, and sit back in your Member’s Only jacket, and open up that 40 oz bottle of Olde English 8oo and get the party started.
Now wait, if you didn’t grow up with that sound, don’t be dismayed or turned off here. These are not re-treads like K-Tel, but an artist with a deep love of and respect of this music taking it to the the next level, contemporizing it, yet paying serious homage to the roots and those who came before. This is a communal form of music, danceable, movin’ to the groove and shake your hips and roll your ackie-dackie.
Toronzo Cannon: Leaving Mood (Delmark Records)http://web.me.com/toronzocannon/Toronzo_s_Website/Home.html
Mr. Cannon grew up on the South Side of Chicago not far from Theresa’s Lounge. From an early age the blues held an attraction. Yet it had laid dormant for many years till he started jamming around town where he rediscovered the music of his youth and family and hasn’t dated another muse since.
I first saw Toronzo at the 2010 Chicago Blues Festival, an unknown playing on a big stage while we waited for Carl Weathersby and Larry McCray for the heavy weight throw-down. Well I was hoo-dooed, this cat blew me away. Passion, joy, showmanship and talent all there for anyone to see, all they had to do was look. I have been a fan ever since.
This, is his first release for Delmark Records, he pays tribute in his own way at those who have inspired him and makes a strong statement in doing so. He gives us ‘Chico’s Song’ which is an ode to the late Chico Banks. He opens the disc with ‘She Loved Me’ which deals (as many of these songs) with a gritty reality built around a driving rhythm and visceral lyrics – these are the blues of today. How things can get away from you and turn upside down in a moments notice, how one sacrifices their life for another and the ramifications of actions. The barrel of reality is not only pointed at the area of personal relationships but also at the system that exists. In ‘Open Letter(To Whom It May Concern)’ Mr. Cannon aims his flying V and poignant lyrics at certain people in the current blues scene and the environment that is more than dog-eat-dog. The vocal treatment is akin to a corner preacher on his soapbox pitching fire and brimstone and telling us of the evils around us.
But dour and dark is not the only places he visits. He offers a sexy, steamy low down version of Nina Simone’s ‘Do I Move You’ with a back beat that puts it right on the G-spot and there’s no answer required. When Mr. Cannon serves up the funk he is quite adept at getting the honey to drip and the feet to move. A prime example is ‘Ernestine’ featuring Mr. Carl Weathersby on searing solos, Mr. Weathersby also treats us to his fine guitar work on ‘Hard Luck’. A modern tale of trying to get by that we all can relate to.
This is a fine release that showcases Mr. Cannon’s ability to play the blues in many forms, he is not a one-dimensional artist, not the standard shuffle king - he is an urban blues master who brings a lot of soul and feeling to the scene – jump on the bus now while you can get a seat.
Keith Patterson: Stone Cold & Blue (self released)
Out of South Carolina, Mr. Keith Patterson provides us with guitar driven, hard-edged blues music that fills venues and has people dancing like no one is watching. With the opening riffs (which have a feel of ‘School’s Out For Summer’) he sets the stage for a rollicking eleven cut release that has enough style and energy to please just about everyone.
‘Take Me Down To Charleston’ is a fast paced shuffle that hails the virtues of that town in South Carolina that is becoming the home for some seriously good blues bands and venues to hear them in. Some fine slide work provided by Todd Roth, serves us up a bit of grease otherwise provided by some pork BBQ and roasted oysters on the track.
A particularly fine track is ‘Keep The Blues Alive’ where he wears the title like a badge of honor and vows to do whatever it takes to do just that. Nasty guitar work that leads us to poignant lyrics and a visit over the edge of a failing relationship is served up in ‘Shades of Gray’.
Mr. Patterson’s song writing is emotional and heart felt, there is a passion to it that is amplified by the instrumentation and provides us with a solid sound scape. Though not all hard driving and fierce, the majority of cuts are. He does show us the ability to change gears and gives us a slower paced vocals and songs. From declarations of what is inevitable in ‘Time For A Change’ to ‘Fascination’ which is a more electric slow burner where he implores his lady to close their eyes and let the other become their fascination. This cut has a slight feel of some of the earlier rock-blues hybrids that came about in the late nineties early aught’s, but with a true blues spirit to it.
A solid release that gives us a glimpse at what Mr. Patterson can do and where his influences lie. Pat Travers, Joe Bonamassa, early Led Zep, as well as the likes of B.B. King, Jeff Healy and Eric Clapton and just enough funk to keep it dirty and original. With this solid first release I am looking forward to his next release, and if I he is playing anywhere near me in South Carolina I will most certainly go see him perform.
So while these artists might be new to some, or even all, of us they certainly are worth listening to. They are all adept at their brand of blues and their spirit level is on the rise. Would be a nice gift to turn someone on to some new blues folks this holiday season.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos: Courtesy of artists