CD Reviews: A World of Blues (and one)

THE American form of music – the Blues – at times seems to be more popular or shall I say better appreciated almost anywhere but right here at home. Artists that travel the world tell of how the audiences differ, artists from other countries will tell us about how the lure of the call of the Blues has led them to personal freedoms and allowed them to open up their source font for musical originality.

The Blues truly is an international player and what I have compiled here are some examples of how that is true, maybe not in the traditional sense but in deep more back of the alley ways in some cases.

 

Sugar Blue: RAW Sugar  – 2 disc set
(Beeble Music)
http://www.sugar-blue.com/ 

Mr. Blue has traveled the world and has lives within the world he travels. From the the fields of Central Park in NYC, the mean streets of Chicago to Africa, Europe and back several times. What Mr. Blue does is take a piece of each place and incorporate it into his very own style and color inside his music.

Opening the live disc with ‘Red Hot Mama’ we kick it off in high style. Set to a fast and furious pace, this track let’s us know what he has in store for our night. ‘I want a red hot mama and an ice cold bottle of beer’ comes straight from the streets of NYC and when he starts trilling on that harp, and the band kicks in it’s a roller coaster ride of joy and absolute satisfaction to hear.

Whether or not it’s a cover or an original Sugar Blue can deliver these with equal aplomb and veracity. With a gentleman’s nod to his mentor, Willie Dixon, Mr. Blue treats us to his version of ‘Hootchie Cootchie Man’. On the first break he delivers sounds that I had yet to hear coming from a blues harp of any kind. Growling and dirty as ya wanna be, he then breaks it off into his calling card runs and scale treatments that has led many a harp player to just put it down and take up the guitar. At one point he is kissing and sucking on the harp and I know for a fact that those reeds are bending and about to break in a fit of ecstatic passion. His take the above song and the Junior Wells ‘Messin’ With The Kid’ offer us an opportunity to hear him pay homage to the Chicago Blues icons that played such an important part in his formative years. Hence his incorporation of the streets and clubs of Chicago. With his sincere homage giving in full swing Mr. Blue, offers for consideration ‘Cotton Tree’. A tribute to James Cotton in mellow jazzed up airy composition that floats longingly on the ears. One can hear the Jazz influences and sounds of Euro cafes resonate with each note.

With a directness that serves as notice ‘Bluesman’ states directly to anyone who will listen that this is what he is and was born to be. Stand back, give respect and space as he saunters in and out of our world. But Mr. Blue’s music really defies the cigar box classifications that people seem to want to put artists in. Rock and Roll, Jazz, Blues, Soul – we could go through the category box at the Library of Congress Music collection and still not be able to pin his music down. He achieves much of this success with the help of his most able band. Rico MacFarland on guitar, James Knowles on drums, co-writer and Mrs. Sugar Blue, Ilaria Lantieri handles the bass lines, and Damiano Della Torre on keyboards. These are the very same artists who have been with him since the ‘Code Blue’ and ‘Threshold’ releases.

This two disc release captures the energy and pure excitement of Mr. Blues’ live performances, which is very hard to do. Yes, I should mention that we are treated to an extended jam of ‘Miss You’ which was all over the air waves back in the early 80’s. Listening to Mr. Blue work his way around a very familiar song, and dissect it and then restructure it to his own funky way is exciting and quite satisfying.

Always an original, always striving to be more than a harp players player, Mr. Blue has given us a piece of his heart that all of us should hold close and dear.

Hans Theessink & Terry Evans: Delta Time (Blue Groove)
http://www.theessink.com/ 

Keeping on track with the international/travel theme here, let’s visit with Hans Theessink. On ‘Delta Time’ Mr. Theessink once again joins forces with Mr. Terry Evans to visit the land where the Blues began. Stripped down and intimate these cats have given us a taste of the sounds of rural Blues that echo the pain and feelings of the soul laid bare.

Opening with the title track “Delta Time’ we are off on a hustling shuffle headed out of the city and to the serenity of the delta rhythm and rhyme. Featuring Hans on mandolin and guitar with Terry accompanied by Arnold McCuller, & Willie Greene, Jr. on backing vocals they lay the foundation of what is to be a magnificent journey to a simpler way of living and a whole new take on traditional blues.

To add to the realism and depth of this recording we are treated through Hans inspiration of calling Mr. Ry Cooder to join them in the studio. Mr. Cooder adds his trademark guitar style on three tracks. ‘Blues Stay Away From Me’, an eerie landscape of plaintive guitar and vocals with Mr. Cooder’s slide work giving us the mournful sound of a soul lost in the wilderness of blues with no way out. Changing feel on ‘How Come People Act Like That’ we kick back to the foot stomping rhythm of this classic tale of humanity’s lack of just that – humanity! With Mr. Theessink & Mr. Evans trading lead vocals with Mr. Greene’s seemingly bottomless bass thumping away we are treated to a rollicking solo by Mr. Cooder that recalls his earlier work with David Lindley from the Eel River era. On ‘Shelter From The Storm’ we hear the call of love and pledge of comfort offered to ones partner put in such a simple way that it seems to float above us almost as the referenced shelter giving us protection and deep felt joy.

One absolutely glorious inclusion is ‘The Birds And The Bees’. Mr. Theessink states they included it because Mr. Evans originally sang on this recording some fifty years ago and actually earned his first ‘real money’ from this international hit – the band was called “The Turnarounds”. It is a sprightly and contagious version of what was basically a doo-wop hit that captures the innocence and simplicity that the song deserves.

I have often been rankled by the lack of originality of artists who do traditional blues, but on closer inspection it is that they do not put their personal stamp on such songs. That definitely is not the case here, Mr.’s Theessink and Evans provide with a traditional songbook as viewed through their eyes and ears. Classic yet contemporary, fresh as farm produce but with roots deep in the delta that makes this a timeless release and sure to garner some awards from the Blues community this year.

(Disclosure: Hans Theessink is a Tier1 Supporter –  not that it matters).

 

Mitch Woods: Blues Beyond Borders (Club88/Vizztone) CD/DVD package
http://www.mitchwoods.com

Now the Blues is truly an international art form. Coming over from Africa and growing strong here in America, it’s influences and joy are spread around the globe. What we have here is Mr. Mitch Woods as he embarked on his tour of Turkey with the Efes Blues Festival 26 shows in 20 cities over 5 weeks.

You need to go no further than the introduction to know that our music is embraced in any language as our festival announcer brings on Mitch and his Rocket 88’s and to hear the crowd react to Mitch’s exhorting question “Are ya ready to boogie?”

Stepping into the ‘Solid Gold Cadillac‘ we settle in for a grand drive of boogie woogie and blues,, that captures the roots of blues and displays the tightness of the 88’s who ride shotgun to Mr. Woods driving keyboard work. This tune that harkens back to the glory days of American car dominance, with fish tail fins and a bar in the back – ain’t no better way to travel the Blues highway.

Mitch excels at putting the boogie in the woogie that we roll right thru this release. The iconic ‘Down Boy Down’ telling the tale of the excesses and balls to the wall party life is joyously appreciated by the crowd, and then we roll down to Nawlins for some ‘Mojo Mambo’ in which Mitch recalls Professor Longhair with whistles and a second line strut track that resounds with the audience as if they were smack dab in the middle of Bourbon Street.

Not to ignore the incendiary side of Blues music Mr. Woods lets guitarist Adam Gabriel tears it up on Eddie Boyd’s famous ‘Third Degree’. Allowing Mr. Cornell Williams take the lead vocals on this track, his deep soulful voice speaks volumes of hurt as Mr. Woods intertwines some fine keyboard work. Amadee Castenell torches the stage with a sax solo that is as cool as liquid nitrogen and burns to the touch. A fine version of this oft’ covered tune that skillfully combines all aspects of the band and the crowd vociferously shouts their approval.

Not to overlook the rock and roll ties that the Blues has Mr. Woods and band treat the crowd to what has been called “the first rock & Roll Record” (whatever that means). ‘Rocket 88′, credited to Jackie Brenston, but reportedly an Ike Turner number, still has that hip swaying attitude that has survived through the years.

It is so great to hear these fans from the Republic of Turkey and it’s 99% Muslim population shouting approval of our music. As they say over there “Bastan basa Blues” – the Blues is everywhere.

Also included is a DVD of the tour that includes professionally recorded video of the concert plus other fun and historical items. Personally I loved watching the crowd standing and cheering, dancing and in some cases, singing along. As Mr. Woods succinctly states that this tour “…made me realize that we are musical ambassadors-able to cross cultural, religious and national borders that most people cannot”. You made us proud Mitch, as Zac Harmon says ‘Music Is Medicine’ and this is evidenced by the sights and sounds of this fine CD/DVD set that you have given us.

So there we have a look at the state of the Blues through a set of international eye glasses. Whether it be the influences from traveling the globe as in Mr. Blues’ release, to the longing for a true American Blues experience in the heart of the Delta by Mr.’s Theessink & Evans, or the plain shout it out fun and freedom that the Blues gives all who listen to it as Mr. Wood’s showcased in his visit to Turkey. The Blues are alive and thriving and we need to keep it that way beyond our borders and beyond our generation.

Here is the and one part: 
Doc Greg has been listening and enjoying all sorts of music for many years, he has decided to offer his thoughts on the wide variety of blues releases with us and we appreciate his effort. Doc is not a blues insider and I find that good in a way. He is listening with the ears of a child, not tied to friends or familiar patterns. He does know the Blues to a certain extent, but I am quite interested in his takes on some of these releases. After all if all we want to hear is the same old same old, then why bother. He originally hails from the Wilds of Wisconsin and drives around with a Green Bay Packer baseball cap in his car, what more can we say!  Let’s give him an ear….

Well, RJ Mischo’s new release, his tenth, “Make It Good,” does just that. I took to “The Frozen Pickle” (whatever that is?) right from the start. It’s a bluesy instrumental featuring a nice sharing of harmonica, keyboard, and guitar solos. These solos are tastefully done and all three are musicians are more interested in making good music than showing off in a flashy technical way.

Another tune that works for me is, “Minnesota Women.” This tune features RJ and his voice is a perfect fit for this song about Minnesota women. A new twist to RJ’s harmonica playing is his “wah wah” effect that sounds like something a trombone could produce. RJ is talented and this shows in his ability to create blues that is not the same, song after song. Variety in style and skill makes for interesting music and I am impressed how different the 13 cuts on this CD are.

Speaking of variety, “Arumbula Part 1” is a short funky instrumental side trip just to show the listener that RJ will keep you on your blues’ toes . At any rate this tune could fit in nicely during Halloween time. Later, on last cut, there is “Arumbula Part 2.” A head bobbing organ and drum cut, with harmonica thrown in to keep it interesting. The organ playing drives the melody and keeps the rhythm at the same time.

“I Got You Covered,” is another perfect tune for RJ’s voice – he makes this one work, too. A great beat and this tune would definitely bring the crowd to the dance floor. Again the harmonica and guitar solos fit the chord progressions to a tee. The identical twin to this “dance” tune would be “The Biscuit Is Back.” Even if you’re just sitting around, your feet begin to move before you know it.

The instrumental cuts on this CD will also keep your attention, like “Elevator Juice.” The band keeps the music going without any vocals (not always easy to do) and I can only wish that elevators had this tune playing on a loop – although the elevator might get a bit crowded.

This blues CD stands on its own, but I can only imagine RJ Mischo live and in concert. If he comes to town, I will be there.

You can learn more about RJ at www.RJBLUES.com

‘Doc’ Greg

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Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2012
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: courtesy of artists

Shun Kikuta – Shogun of the Blues

Shun Kikuta, accomplished musical artist, classically trained but drawn to the Blues. His story is an interesting one, many roads but they all lead back to the Blues. He was kind enough to speak with me at length from Taiwan about his body of work, his trials and joys and how he came to work with Koko Taylor. Enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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B411: Shun how are you ? How is living, and most especially working in Asia going?

SK: I’m doing fine, real fine. Actually besides playing the Blues I am working in a lay ‘Anything Goes’ it’s a musical. It’s very different from what I am used to with charts covering each note, no improvising allowed it is very challenging for me even though I went to school for music theory and all. But I think I have forgotten more than I remember !

B411: Well how different is it to go from Berklee School of Music and all that it encompasses to the world of the Blues – which is more free form – is it harder ?

SK: When I went to Berklee it is a great school for music, but to me, there are limits to analyzing music – scales, notes, chords but music is so much more than that stuff or theory. When I first heard BB King it was like ‘man that’s what I’m saying’, it’s something that you can’t analyze but you feel good hearing it. It was his ‘Live at the Regal’ record and I was maybe nineteen or twenty I realized that this was it. I was happy, sad, all of the emotional things involved with the music. It moved me the way he sang his ass off and played great guitar – it was the whole package to me.

Before that I was playing heavy rock music, so I had some chops, heavy rock always uses Blues licks and the like. It was easy for me to get deeper into the Blues because I had some chops but just didn’t know they were the blues. Then I started listening to guys like Otis Rush, Albert King, Buddy Guy Stevie Ray Vaughn all those good Blues players.
In Boston I saw Johnny Winter and John Lee Hooker, and also saw Ronnie Earl, Duke Robilliard and that big band sound from Roomful of Blues all local Boston area bands. The more I heard of the Blues the more I liked it and wanted to play it.
I started to go to jam sessions at the clubs in Boston, and started writing song sand learning how to play. I was still at the Berklee and playing Jazz but wanted to move in a new direction.

B411: It’s amazing how many artists cite B.B.’s ‘Live at the Regal’ as the pivotal recording that turned them on to the Blues.

SK: Yeah man, those cats were amazing and it really made me want to learn more. So within a week of graduating Berklee I moved to Chicago. I packed all my little bags into a mini-van and drove to Chicago. I found me a job at a Japanese restaurant washing dishes, but I got laid off because they were not doing well, so I was the first to go.

So I went to City Hall and got a Performer’s License for like $25 and started playing on the street. Set up in subway stations and stuff like that, it was around Christmas time and I was making like $70 in three hours and I was so excited about that – it was good money ! That was cool, playing on the streets and making good money but then after New Year’s the money dried up. I made like $1.25 in three hours so that wasn’t going to cut it.

At the same time, at night I would carry my guitar with me and go to the clubs where they had jams, places like Rosa’s Lounge, Buddy Guy’s Legends and Wise Fools Pub and do jam sessions and started meeting people and would pass around my cards. But after awhile I stopped that because not everyone was a professional at these jams and it was sometimes hard to really play out. I then started going to the clubs where bands were playing and then during the break I would introduce myself and tell them I am from Japan and play the Blues and could I sit in with them. So many times they would say yeah, and I would wait till they called me up, usually the last song late at night, and we’d play together. So I got to know so many people. It’s an amazing thing about Chicago they are so open about letting you play with them – they all give you a chance. That’s how I met Otis Rush. It was like a month after I got to Chicago he had a gig at the Wise Fools Pub, on a Tuesday and I was sitting right in front with my guitar. So at break he walked by me and asked if I play guitar, I said yes and he asked if I would want to sit in with him ! Imagine that, Otis Rush asked me to jam with him. Chicago is like that very open for musicians it’s a part of the great tradition to keep the Blues alive, and help others learn these great songs and how to play the real Blues.
A few months after that I got my first gig at Rosa’s with Louis Meyers. Tony, the owner of Rosa’s took a liking to me and kept me in the loop and helped me network with these great artists. That was the first gig that I got that was paying me money!

B411: So chronologically what year is this going on. I am trying to see how you went from the subways to playing with Koko Taylor.

SK: That was in 1990, I started playing with Koko in 2000. I didn’t know about Chicago Blues all that well back then. The sound was different then from what it was in the sixties, when I get there they were funkier and more hard-edged overdrive guitar sound. James Brown, Tyrone Davis, Funk, R&B, Al Green even Prince influences so I had to learn to adjust my style. It took me a little while but I can play a lot of different styles of music from classical, to Jazz and Rock that it helped me to adjust and learn from my past experiences. I observed the style and learned it well and I think that helped me get jobs.

A lot of cats came to Chicago expecting to play old style music like Muddy Waters, Little Walter and that but it wasn’t being played at that time unfortunately.
So around 1995 I was hired by Junior Wells for the US and Canadian tour which lasted about six months. That was my very first experience to travel outside the Chicago area to other parts of the country and the world while playing the Blues for people. We were played clubs like House of Blues and all the big festivals and by doing so I met Dan Aykroyd, Lee Oskar and guys like that through touring with Junior.

I learned a lot from Junior Wells, before I played with him I didn’t sing at all I only played guitar. So one day he comes to me while we are in the dressing room, and says to me “you don’t sing, you have to sing to be a Bluesman” – I was shocked and I said that I am a young Japanese guitar player and I don’t even speak English, never-the-less sing the Blues. He shakes his head and smiles and says I don’t speak English well either so you have no excuse. So he’s singing ‘Little By Little’ and tells me to follow him and sing along. So after that I started singing more and I appreciate what he did for me. I still work on my singing, and do more and more.

B411: Great story, especially singing Little By Little, he was right of course on all accounts. I saw a video of you on YouTube singing Little By Little in a club in Asia, very cool.

SK: Yeh, yeh I love it, I sing so much more now. So I first met Koko Taylor in 1996 when I cut my second album ‘Chicago Midnight’ for King Records in Japan. I had been working with them since 1994 so I have had Chicago artists play on my records. So they asked me who I wanted to be a guest on this record (big named people), so I said I’d like to have Koko. Koko was with Alligator and they had a relationship with King Records, so Bruce Iglauer introduced me to Koko and she said OK. We did two songs together in the studio for the release tracks 5 and 6 actually.

I didn’t see her again till 1999, I was playing together with JW Williams at the Kingston Mines every Friday and Saturday. JW and I have been together for a long time, until last year we were together sixteen years. JW is another great musician and guy. One night Koko came into Kingston Mines and she was just hanging out – she’s sitting right in the front row watching us play. So after the set I just went to say hello to her but she didn’t remember me from the recording sessions, so she said she was pleased to meet me etc., and I give her my card and say that I don’t have a day job this is what I do and I can go on the road if she ever needs me to. I never expected her to call me…..

So she calls me a few months later and says ‘do you remember me, it’s Koko Taylor’ ! Well she asked me for two shows and she really liked my playing and said she would call me again. After a few months she called me again and asked me join the ‘Blues Machine’.

B411: See if you don’t ask how will you ever know.

SK: Exactly, very true, you never know I’m glad I asked. So that was in October 2000 and had been with her up until she passed.

B411: So you are currently living in Asia, how are the Blues doing there?

SK: Yeh, I have been in Taiwan since February 2011. I tour frequently in Japan, but mainly stay in Taipei, Taiwan. The Blues is getting very hot in Asia right now. There is a big festival there that I am supposed to play in called the INA Blues along with John Mayall – we also have a Japan Blues Festival as does Beijing and India – Asia is starting to grow up more here. For me, being an Asian I feel it is important for me to be here to play the Blues that I learned in Chicago. I can also work on bringing more artists here to open the doors so everybody does well.

Indonesia is very hot now and I am looking forward to playing there at INA Blues. This is like their fifth or sixth festival, they have a lot of money to put into it. Last year they had Ana Popovic and they seem to have a large enough budget to bring big acts over here to play.
Chicago is still my home and I miss it, but being here right now is very important and I can do so much good for the Blues. Yet I think I am ready for the change, it is challenging and I am ready for it. Taiwan is not a big city like Chicago where there is a gig almost every night, but that’s OK. It is a very centrally located city it is near many cities and countries so it is a good place to be.

B411: Any plans on new recordings?

SK: I have about ten songs right now that are roughed out, not finished. Since I am in Taiwan I am talking to management company and seeing what interest there is and as soon as we get that done we will get it out there. I hope to get stuff out in 2012 in one form or another. I can even do it myself but it is always good to have someone backing you up and promoting you.

B411: Shun thank you sir, for your time today and your music.
2/23/12 PS: Shun just got married today also, how great is that  – let’s all give joyous wishes to him and his bride !

For more info on Shun visit his web site: http://www.shunkikuta.com/english/index.php

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
chefjimi
©Blues411.com 2012
photos: Blues411

Parts of this interview were originally published in Blues Blast Magazine, we thank them for allowing our shared format with them. You can visit them at http://www.thebluesblast.com/bbnow.htm