Well with 2 hours of delay added my flight from Rochester to Chicago, and headed to San Francisco, I had ample time to listen to a few newer releases from some artists that I had not been familiar with. This was pretty cool, it offered me a chance to hear (and re-affirm) just how many great musicians there are in the Blues family. Oh yeh, managed to get to the connecting flight by running to the gate and huffing and puffing my way onto the flight. And as you can tell by pictures, had a great time in San Francisco.
Billy Thompson: A Better Man: (Papa Lee Records)
Okeh kiddoes, the line up here is butt-kicking. Produced by Tony Braunagel, who also plays the drums. Featuring Mike Finnigan, Johnny Lee Schell, The Texicali Horns (Joe Sublett/Darrell Leonard) and Kenny Gradney & Hutch Hutchinson this is kinda like the Phantom-Bonnie Raitt-Little Feat- Blues Band or what Blind Faith only hoped to be, a super group, even if they are just on this release.
I’d like to talk about the title track ‘A Better Man’, first of all. Since Mr. Thompson titled the release after this song I felt there was a connection that I needed to explore. Good thought, to quote Fred Sanford ‘you big dummy’….
In it Billy sings of the hope and belief that after all the crap, disappointment, failures, missed opportunities that occur to us that we will come out of it and become ‘better men’. As he sings regarding the “grief and glory’ that we go thru one cannot help but feel the truth ring out in his words. It truly is our quest to live thru these hard times and to come away being ‘a better man today’. The feeling of redemption is helped along by some seriuosly righteous work by Mike Finnigan.
Billy provides us with an intersting take on the oft’ used term, ‘Born Again’. In this song he tells us how his lonely prayers were answered by the love of his woman and, and in doing so it provided the saving he needed and thus made him feel as if he was born again. With this usage it somehow seems more real than the hackneyed politico/religious phrase that we have become used to.
Billy possesses a fine, gruff-tinged voice the he uses well to convey the often intricate points he makes with his music. His guitar work is spot-on, never overplaying and always being in the right place at the right time and in the right form needed. His songwriting is intelligent and thought provoking with such lines as ‘what was up down under you’ from ‘Who Knew’ and his work on ‘the aforementioned ‘Better Man’, but does not stop there. His songs that seem to come from ‘everyman’ and he has graciously put pen to paper and share with us. There is an ever-present upside to Billy’s music which I believe comes from a man who has lived life on all sides of life and survived. His tales remind us al that life in not written in stone and there is always redemption and we can all move on and become ‘a better man’.
This is a fine album and the production by Mr. Braunagel only adds to the deep soulfull feel of this release.
Nerak Roth Patterson: Brown Angel Self produced
Out of Yellow Springs, Ohio a hotbed of the blues, Mr. Patterson is an up and coming singer, songwriter, and guitar playing Blues man, who has logged serious time with Guy Davis, and many others. Mr. Patterson’s latest release showcases his multiple talents in a wide variety of music for our enjoyment.
He offers 2 versions of title track ‘Brown Angel’ and the instrumental ‘Brown Angel Blues’. They differ in approach, which allows ‘Roth’ to showcase his singing and shuffle based guitar licks in the first version, and the ‘Blues’ version provides us with a driving guitar based sampling of his fine fretwork. Reminding one of SRV but with a keen ear for bends and understanding the value of the space between notes. Personally I would like to hear more instrumental tracks – let the instrument(s) take center stage and play on brothers and sisters. But that’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
Showcasing a nice mix of style and substance Mr. Patterson spends time getting funky in ‘Everybody Counts’, banging the Reggae beat with ‘Lovin’ Each Other’ add to those a taste of New Orleans, a-la The Neville Brothers, in Raisin’ Hell. I like the thoughts expressed in ‘Raisin’ Hell’ as Nerak, the protagonist, raises to much hell down below that the Devils has taken to drinking beer and sent Nerak back up to Earth cos he can’t deal with him down below. Just a funny, nice twist showing some real originality in his song writer song writing skills that venture out of the ordinary.
Earlier I mentioned SRV style guitar playing, Mr. Patterson is not a one style player. His roots and influences vary and are backed by a solid skill set in each ‘style/form’ of the Blues he plays. There are hints of Otis Rush, B.B. King, and T-Bone Walker, but with him doing that he makes them part of his own sound. It is quite apparent on the cut ‘It Ain’t Over’ where there is a semi-trippy feel to the song and his guitar has a very cool sound here.
The final cut is ‘Truckin’ Man Blues’ which features Ian Anderson and Doane Perry from Jethro Tull (yeh them). This song provides us a great ride on 61 Highway, with Mr. Patterson, Mr. Anderson and Mr. Perry providing the bumps, twists and sharp turns before delivering us, unharmed, at the very crossroads we have often heard about in the Blues. I must share a quote that Ian Anderson said about Mr. Patterson…
“Roth is a rare find and an increasingly soul-less and machine driven musical world.” Now ain’t that the truth.
As mentioned earlier this is a self-produced release, I must say that I would like to hear what Mr. Patterson could turn out if he was availed of a full blown studio, and all the accoutrements that come with it. Is anybody out there ?
John-Alex Mason: Jook Joint Thunderclap (Naked Jaybird)
First off, anyone who shares my birth date (not year, goodness NO) is OK with me, got that straight. Cool.
Now, there will always be that historical rift that runs between the sacred and the profane that has tormented Blues singers such as Son House, Skip James and Dion Dimucci. In Mr. Mason’s latest effort he confronts the problems that these others have done in the past, and in doing so comes to a stand-off, which is probably as good as one can ask for.
Featuring guest appearances by such luminaries as Gerry Hundt (harmonica, 9-string banjo), Cedric Burnside (Drums) and Cody Burnside (vocals) and Steve ‘Lightin’ ‘ Malcolm (guitar, bass), 2011 IBC winner Lionel Young (fiddle, bass), and percussionist Fara Tolno & Alya Sylla. This collection of ten songs shakes all the walls of artificial genre classifications. Equally at home in Roots, Delta, Spiritual, Jam and Modern.
Outstanding amonsgt these songs are “Gone So Long’ we see Mr. Mason tapping into the spirit of that postwar Memphis sound, his guitar snarling and licking at it’s own flames as he sets the stage for Mr. Cody Burnside to lay down a dynamic staccato rap (thank you gentlemen for doing this) that will have you re-thinking the idea of rap and it’s place in the Blues world (thanks again LOL).
Let’s take that thought and move to another cut featuring Mr. C. Burnside and world percussionists, Yolno & Sylla. ‘Riding On’ is a maelstrom of poly-rhythmic impressions that somehow fuse together what I believe will be a much sought after sound-marriage in the future.
Just to differ somewhat “Diamond Rain’ offers us a tear down of the illusionary borders between Blues and Country. Re-establishing the formers rightful place in the Blues house. A toe-tapping jaunt, with Mr. Mason laying the groundwork for Mr. Young to clean up with his fiddle playing bringing both grace and fire to it.
I do believe this release has successfully bridged the gap between Church music and the Devils music, but also between the generations of Blues artists and fans. Hopefully this release will reach across the borders and create a massive upheavel of what is thought of as these different styles of music and bring some light in the form of truth to us all.
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
photos courtesy of Artists, chefjimi.