Good Grief Charles Brown, what have you been doing all these days? Well, with Thanksgiving here and gone, brings the travellin’ road show to these parts. We left for Pennsylvania to visit the Joseph clan, with a Patricola thrown in for balance (now that’s scary), and then headed way down yonder to the land of Indigo, shrimp ‘n grits, and gorgeous weather – South Carolina.
Now good people it wasn’t like I was sloughing off here, nah nah, it ain’t like that. I was hard at work listening to some of the loads of CD’s that the fine artists and their crew send me. Whether it be from labels, publicity groups or individuals they line themselves up at the door to my CD player and playfully shove and nudge for a better spot in line while awaiting my listening. A small fight broke out at one point between two CD’s – I promised not to name them, but it was settled thru diplomatic discussions and all is well between them and everyone else in the que.
So with the roughly seventeen hour drive between gray Rochester, NY and sunny Bluffton, SC, here are my thoughts on these newer releases from some well-known, some lesser known artists who took the time to send me releases so that I can offer my insights to you, the fans and supporters of the Blues in all its forms and glory….thanks and enjoy.
Biscuit Miller: “Blues With A Smile’ – BlueBass Entertainment
Yeh this baby is titled correctly, ‘Blues With A Smile‘. If any of you have seen Biscuit perform you know thats what it is all about. I had some doubts whether or not that ‘energy’ or ‘smile factor’ would translate to a cold oil based product like a CD, that’s difficult to do and often dooms many an otherwise decent release. Well, have no fear this baby had us dancing in the car (oh yeh we made it thru the check points OK). Come on now, with songs such as ‘Belly Up Some Blues’, ‘Sleeping in the Dog House‘, and, personal favorite, ‘Butter My Biscuits‘ this release brings Biscuit right into your home and gets the party started.
Assembled for this project is a fine cast of players helping out. I was thrilled to hear Shawn Kellerman, an absolutely fantastic guitar player on several tracks, if you do not know Shawn and his music I highly recommend that you do some research, you won’t be disappointed. One of Shawn’s’ partners also appearing is monster Bassist, Joseph Veloz who nicely balances the funky R&B style of the music with his purely evil work on the bass. To enhance the theory of great players on this release, we get to hear Billy Branch stepping out from his Chi-Town confines and treating us to his purely awesome harp playing on ‘Belly Up Some Blues’.
All songs were written by Mr. Miller, and if I might take a moment to comment on one particular song – ‘Willie D’, his tribute to Willie Dixon, father of the modern Blues bass players, and overlooked songwriter for so many stars of the day. Thanks Biscuit – this song really did bring a smile to my blues, and good folks go out and grab this one.
See what’s cooking with Biscuit http://www.biscuitmiller.com/Take_Me_Home.html
Jim Byrnes: ‘Everywhere West’ – Black Hen Music
Every so often I think that I have had enough of artists covering songs from ‘those who came before’ there have been countless ‘Issues’ and many of them are mediocre to say the least. Sorry, you ain’t never picked cotton, most likely never ate okra, or collards for that matter, so leave it be unless you can REALLY add something to the song, something of yourself that makes me realize that you get it.
With that diatribe outta the way, let me say Mr. Jim Byrnes GETS IT. Stepping up to the stage and giving us his take on so many well-know chestnuts that they seemed new and alive in their own right.
You need to listen to his banjo driven version of Bobby “Blue’ Bland’s ‘Yield Not To Temptation’. This version has breathed new life into this classic and at the end when the soul chorus comes in we know the path of righteousness is there on this disc. With the current revival of Mississippi Sheiks music and jug band music overall, it is a foot stomping version of ‘Bootlegger’s Blues’ here that Mr. Byrnes chooses to cover, just the right amount of country harmonies and plain old nasty banjo and fiddle had our noggins bopping like bobble head dolls in the back of a Chevy Pickup while driving down a country road with corn likker in the trunk.
Anyone who can do justice to a Louis Jordan song earns big points with me. ‘You Can’t Get That Stuff No More’ features some tasty work on a national tricone by Steve Dawson, and Daniel Lapp on trumpet and tenor banjo, and consistently good vocals by Byrnes just adds icing to the cake.
Who is Jim Byrnes ? Raised in St. Louis, and over the years has become the quintessential Canadian musician. A multiple Juno award winner, this is his fourth collabroration with producer/musician Steve Dawson. What they prove on this release is that though these songs indeed come from those before they are not to be treated as museum pieces, but as ever evolving and current reflections on the blue side of life.
Learn more about Jim http://www.jimbyrnes.org/
Claude Hay: ‘Deep Fried Satisfied’ – Ingot Rock
Where is the Blues headed? Is is destined to remain in the I-IV-V world of never straying chord structure? Has it become guitar driven, pedal board mashing pyrotechnics, that leaves no room for a keyboardist? Or maybe, just maybe it is returning to it’s roots, the stripped down country version where artist and audience share a common thought or experience? I don’t know the answer, if I did I would tell ya, really I would. But here is a very interesting take on the Blues by Australian blues/Roots guitarist Claude Hay.
The genesis for this release came from Claude’s guilt-ridden love affair with the American fried food while he was touring here in 2008. As a native New York City boy I was particularly drawn to his opening song ‘Get Me Some’, wherein he sings of his fondness for NYC style pizza. Offering up such tasty lines as “there’s only one flavor for me, nice base tomato paste, cheese, pepperoni’ I am so down with that people that just the thought of real NYC pizza has me Jonesin’ for a ‘slice’.
OK, so this release is not just about funnin’ and grubbin’, it hits on some serious issues with the path our collective cultures are headed. Case in point ‘How Can You Live With Yourself’ is a stinging commentary about hi-tech dysfunction and the throw-away mentality that is so pervasive in today’s world. Oh yeh, it is set to a killer ‘muddy-style’ riff that makes the head bob (oh yeh that again) and has you recalling Mike Myers and Dana Carvey in Wayne’s World head banging to Queen. Speaking of the former super group, Mr. Hay takes on their classic “We Will Rock You’ and proceeds to impart his own, unique style to it.
If I may let me give y’all some background on Mr. Hay, from the Australian Blue Mountains he is a prime example of the DIY brand of musician. He built his twin-neck guitar, “Betty” and proceeded to customize his van with a kitchen for touring and included a recording studio inside it also. When at home he took the time to build his own house, just because he could. This Do It Yourself approach is apparent in his music also. He is literally a one-man band fusing his vocal with slide guitar, sitar, bass and electronic percussion that invokes the best of foot stomping blues and classic P-Funk styled choruses and breakdowns. This is a serious release, one that needs to be listened to with an ear for what the artist is doing and saying. Is this the Blues, is this a viable direction for it to take, where are we going and who wrote all these questions…
To find out more about this intriguing artist visit his web site http://www.wix.com/claudehay/home
The Burnsville Band: ‘Give Me A Job’ – Double Barrel Records
This is the first release from the San Diego based Bluesville Band and it hits the spot on many levels. Featuring Steve Burns on guitars, dobro and slide, plus vocals and a solid band of brothers in arms including Joe Bernal guitar and vocals; Michael McGinty on keyboards: Dave Seely on bass and great cover photo; and Joseph Hager on drums. These boys seem equally at ease giving us some stripped down country blues sounds as well as hard edged slow blues. What impresses me is the overall theme of the release. Give Me A Job is a look into what the corporate greed and lack of oversight has brought to the nation (if not the world).
The aforementioned cover photo (and CD cover) of a musician with the bands equipment stashed in a grocery cart being wheeled down the street so poignantly captures the essence of life as we know it currently. Playing to this theme we hear Joe offering a scathing whack job on ‘Ristocrat Blues’, written by Steve Burns and Richard Rachel, all over the sweet sounding B-3 keyboard work of McGinty. The final cut on this release “Road Warrior Blues’ depicts the life of the working class/salesperson/executive/musician – every person, who has lost their luggage and is therefore at the mercy of airlines and policies who nevertheless, must venture forth with their required agenda of meetings etc. Could very well be the next anthem if the TSA has their way with us. Two covers here of note are an excellent version of the James Cotton ‘Cut You Loose’, and the Roosevelt Sykes ‘‘Drivin’ Wheel’ done long and slow like a good garbage fire, keeping us toasty on a cold night of living in the streets.
Stop by their web site and support these blues ‘Road Warriors’ and let them know that they are not, as WAR said, ‘Slippin’ Into Darkness’. http://www.burnsvilleband.com/fr_home.cfm
So that covers about two-thirds of the drive down, lots of interesting music going on out there, look forward to bringing ya more cos’ after all I gotta drive back.
Until Next Time
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos courtesy: artists