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
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)
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
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
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: courtesy of artists