Spring is here, at least for the moment, so it’s time to take stock and go thru closets and sort things out that matter. So what I have done for these reviews is to take some artists who, for whatever reasons, are considered ‘old friends’. I may have been listening some to them for years, or known them for a good spell of time. With that in mind, I’m reviewing their new releases and enjoy the comfort they bring, but also the excitement that they provide in their new works. I hope you too, will pick up on some of this and maybe they will become ‘new friends’ to you.
Tracy Nelson: Victim Of The Blues (Delta Groove)
Possessing a signature voice that seems to shine with the ligfht of truth, regardless of genre or niche, Ms. Nelson is qualified as an old friend to me. From her early days in 1964 with the release of ‘Deep Are the Roots‘ and through to her forming of the band, Mother Earth, Ms. Nelson has set a standard for female vocalists that still holds sway today.
‘Victim of the Blues‘ opens with the Willie Dixon cut ‘You’ll Be Mine‘ a rolling piano provided by Jimmy Pugh, that is matched in it’s intensity by Mike Henderson on gutiar and we hear THAT VOICE – unmistakable, full of intent purpose as she dictates the line ‘you’ll be mine’ leaving no doubt about the outcome of this situation.
Ms. Nelson offers up interpretations of some songs fromn the ancestral tree of the Blues: Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, Lightin’ Hopkins and Ma Rainey. But one that caught my ear is the incredible song by Mr. Earl Thomas, ‘Lead A Horse To Water‘, In her liner notes she states her love for the song when she ffirst heard and acknowledges her surprise when she learned that it was from a contemporary artist and not written back in the day. This song is a favorite of mine by Mr. Thomas, and Ms. Nelson infects it with a touch of gospel and deep rooted soul as she calls and is answered by Mr. James ‘Nick’ Nixon. Add to that some swampy slide guitars out to a first rate version of a top notch song. Thank you for singing this !
The title cut is a Ma Rainey tune, and as with every release, Ms. Neslon includes a song by Ms. Rainey or Ms. Bessie Smith, two of her earliest influences. In 2010 Ms. Nelson lost practically everything in a fire at her 100+ year old farm house near Nashville, wherein the local Fire Department said they could save just one room, she choose the studio. This album somehow survived that fire and it is aptly titled – her rendition of the tune is more of a confession and release of all that has occurred up to this point.
Ms. Nelson has some outstanding guests contained within this release. Ms. Angela Strehli offering up advice in ‘Howlin’ For My Baby’, Ms. Marcia Ball combining vocals and her unmistakable piano style on ‘Shoot My Baby’. Not to mention Ms. Reba Russell on background vocals (how good is that )? The final cut which was made famous by Ms. Irma Thomas ‘Without Love’ is such a soul stirring and uplifting version as Mr. John Cowan adds his superb voice in a vocal duet that takes us out of the dark and shows us the true light that shines for and in us all.
Brad Vickers & His Vestapolitans: Traveling Fool (ManHatTone)
With his third release, Brad and his Vestapolitans take us back to the days when the road was king, music simpler and made for joy, and rock and roll was young and fresh. From the first notes of the title cut ‘Traveling Fool’, you are drawn in and made a comfortable partner, riding shotgun in this musical excursion. The Vestapolitans are named after the open Vestapol tuning, and they show that there are legions of super sounds available in open tunings that you just cannot achieve in regular tuning. Brad features a very special guest in the person of Bobby Radcliff a guitar player who is so tough that it has been said he should carry, and pass out meat tenderizer with him at gigs. Mr. Radcliff add some very tasty and tender licks in his appearances on this release. Another guest is Mr. V.D. King on guitar who adds an uncanny knack for capturing era-sensitive and kick ass licks to two songs here. Brad offers an up-tempo version of the Sonny Terry classic, ‘Diggin’ My Potatoes’, which is a rollicking jaunt through the back roads complete with feet swinging to the beat while trying to maintain vertical on the running boards.
What Mr. Vickers and his band offer us is fun. Yes, a good time mix of eleven originals and four interpretations that span blues, ragtime, rock & roll and American roots music, materfully produced b whiz-kid Dave Gross. Each cut is strong, and are different enough to show you the versatility of this fine band. ‘Uh-Oh’, an original by Mr. Vickers, had my darling bride doing the frug, swim and looking for her go-go boots. What might very well be my adopted song for South Carolina (where I split my time) is by Ms. Margey Peters called ‘Skeeter Song’. A fine blend of saxophone punctuations, and rolling piano is a segue to an killer acoustic solo by Mr. Radcliff, all building to a fun ending that makes it right for all (‘cept the skeeter).
Two fine interpretations are the J.B. Lenoir ‘Low Down Dirty Shame’, and the classic Leroy Carr ‘How Long Blues’ take us to the final cut “Rockabilly Rumble’ which harkens back to the days when the saxophone was yielding to the electric guitar as the king of instruments.
In his liner notes Brad thanks Rosco Gordon, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Rogers, and others who Mr. Vickers has played with over the years, and he has learned so well from them, in this release he expresses and demonstrates a deep understanding of music and styles and they would be damn proud of this release.
Tas Cru: Jus’ Desserts (Crustee Tees Records)
Dubbed the ‘master of the triple entendre’, Mr. Cru offers life lessons to us with a certain flair that resonates deep. His ‘triple threat’ skills at songwriting, guitar playing and soulfull singing make him one of upstate New York’s jewels.
With his latest release Tas serves up a piping hot, eleven course meal of original songs for those of us who enjoy our blues with a literate twist. Opening with a nice down homey groove ‘Just Let It Happen‘ which extolls the virtues of learning to ‘just lettin’ things be’. This is so true. To reinforce this thought he offers us some tasty acoustic slide guitar by Jeremy Walz, that will get the point to you if you haven’t gotten it already.
‘Glad To Be Alive‘, is a nice jazz-tinged shuffle in which extolls the virtues of his baby and how she makes him so glad to be alive. This is a nice cut as it is electric and I am more accustomed to Mr. Cru’s acoustic work. A nice helping of straight up blues work is mixed in the cut ‘Eau De ‘Nother Man‘ which is a story about fragrances or scents that we all carry with us, and tell-tale other scents that can give ones transgressions away. This is prime Tas Cru writing, slick, funny, but spot on. All the Tas tunes are tasty but I have special fondness for ‘My GPS Mama’, and title track ‘Jus’ Desserts’ where Tas demonstrates his under-rated skills at harp playing. Mr. Cru is more than a funny singer-songwriter, true he does use humor and wit in his songwriting, but the message and depth of his music is more than strong enough to stand up to close examination. Jus’ Desserts offers us a toe tapping, laid back, thoroughly enjoyable release that will keep you coming back for more. Do check him and his releases out.
We are coming up fast on the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, May 5th, so that will involve travel and a gathering of the tribes for the week. Looking forward to seeing everyone and spending some quality time hanging out, catching up and listening/seeing some of the very best Blues artists. To see more about the Blues Music Awards you can visit this link http://www.blues.org/#ref=bluesmusicawards_index and while you are there consider joining the Blues Foundation – read about all the good they do for the musician’s, the Blues in Schools, the H(andy) A(rtist) R(elief) F(und) and so much more. You can join for as little as $25 USD, and youths
(14-20) can join for free.
Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
photos: courtesy of Artists