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In This Issue
We welcome a new writer and photographer, Chris Armold. Chris has our feature interview with Kenny Wayne Shepherd this week.
We have six CD reviews for you this week! Jim Kanavy reviews a new CD from Mark T. Small. Gary Weeks reviews a new CD from Mary Flower. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Josh Smith and also one from Mighty Sam McClain and Knut Reiersrud. Eric Steiner reviews a new compilation CD from Oregon's Cascade Blues Association. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from Alberta Hunter. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
Featured Blues Interview - Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Blues Blast: Welcome to Cincinnati Kenny, it must be fun playing here since your singer Noah Hunt is a native and has a large cadre of friends and fans in and around the city.
KWS: Yeah absolutely, it's like when I got back to my home town. He's like an adopted member of my family down in Louisiana, so coming to Cincinnati is like coming home for me too.
Blues Blast: Well you're into tonight headlining with Joe Walsh on the bill. How did this pairing happen?
KWS: Well Joe and I have been friends since I've was17. My first album came out and I was doing the “Hell Freezes Over” tour with the Eagles in Europe plus a few shows in the states. We became friends on the tour and have stayed in touch. We've jammed a few times in Los Angeles with other musicians. Since we've both got new albums out we thought it would be a good chance to go on the road together especially since we get along.
Blues Blast: Okay, you've jammed with Joe Walsh, who would you like to perform with that you haven't yet?
KWS: Hmmm, I don't know, I've played with just about everyone but Clapton and I would really like the opportunity to do that. Unfortunately every time they have done the Crossroads thing we've had prior commitments.
Blues Blast: The Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band has a new album called “How I Go” so the logical question is how's it going for that disc?
KWS: It's going well and a lot of people believe its our best album to date and I'm really happy. I think it's certainly one of our best records. I'm very proud of the album, everyones performance shows a lot of growth and maturity and that comes from having done this for 20 years.
Blues Blast: I understand that your approach to this record was to really focus on crafting the song rather than try to put on a blues guitar shredding clinic.
KWS: I've just learned over the years after listening to my guitar heroes, Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins and even Stevie Ray, that a lot of the times it's the guys with the “less is more” approach that really resonated with me. I felt their music so much. I would hear a lick that I would like and I would want to learn it. It wasn't normally a flurry of notes, it was usually just a collection of powerful notes combined into a lick. I just didn't want to overdo it on this record I wanted to make sure that what I played for the songs was appropriate. I want the music to penetrate people in their soul with those notes.
Blues Blast: Do you think it takes a level of experience and maturity as a guitarist to get to be able to capitalize musically on that “less is more” approach?
KWS: I think everyone who is young when they pick up a guitar wants to be fast. A lot of that is youth and a lot of what I am doing does come with maturity but there are a lot of guys out there who play fast like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani or even Joe Bonnamassa.
Those guys aren't kids and they still play fast a lot of the time and they are really good at it, really technically talented. For me, it's like Albert King. Nothing that guy does is fast. He never plays anything fast, it's all just straight from the gut feeling. You know Hendrix is about as fast as a player, or Stevie Ray in his later days when his speed was picking up, that's about as fast as it gets for me. It's cool and it's fun to play fast but I feel like when I play with B.B. King he can play just one note and it says everything for him. That's more inspirational to me than seeing how many notes you can cram into a phrase.
Blues Blast: You built your chops on the blues and in that genre you're well respected. Do you think you'll continue to explore more rock or alternative styles or stick primarily with the blues?
KWS: Well blues will be in everything I do and no matter how many times I branch out in different directions, I'll always return to the blues It's the foundation of what I do. In my heart, I love the blues and I could just play blues guitar all day long and be happy.
As a musician, songwriter, composer and producer, taking the blues in different directions keeps things interesting to me. To throw a progression in that isn't typical of the blues to see what direction it takes the music and to see what ideas it generates, I find that interesting. Now, I could sit around and play a slow blues or a 1-4-5 blues shuffle all day long and it would be a lot of fun but as a writer I like to try different things. I also like to incorporate my rock influences because you know blues and rock were cut from the same mold.
Blues Blast: You often are compared to Stevie Ray Vaughan but from a guitar playing and song writing perspective, what sets you apart from SRV?
KWS: If I had to place myself on a chart, I'd say I'm musically somewhere between Stevie Ray and Jimi Hendrix. I think my music has more of an edge to it that Stevie Ray Vaughan's music but it isn't quite as out there or not as psychedelic as Hendrix. But there are plenty of songs I've performed and recorded over the years that I don't think Steve Ray Vaughan would have recorded. “Blue on Black” is a perfect example, I can't say that I could see Stevie Ray doing that song, that's not to say he wouldn't like it but I don't know, as an artist I just don't think that is a song he would have done. My fourth album, “The Place You're In”, the album I sung on, is a straight ahead rock record and I don't think it's a record that Stevie Ray would have done. So, you know, I feel like I'm in the middle ground between those two guys. I have a pretty significant rock background growing up listening to ZZ Top, Jimi Hendrix, Lynyrd Skynyrd ,Almond Brothers, lots of southern rock bands and all of that stuff finds its way into your music, intentional or not simply because you absorb it.
Blues Blast: Do you think people who describe you as an “SRV clone” have actually listened to your musical catalog?
KWS: You know man, it seems like everyone tries to fit you in to a box. Look at Stevie Ray, when he was around people were calling him a Hendrix clone. Listen to B.B. King's early stuff, it's all T. Bone Walker stuff because T. Bone was B.B.'s hero at the time. Everyone has their heroes and influences and that's not something I'm going to disregard. If it wasn't for Stevie Ray Vaughan I would probably not be doing what I'm doing. Kenny Wayne Shepherd might not even exist as a guitar player that's how significant he was to me on a personal level and on a musical level. So I have no problem, he's one of the greatest guitar players to pick up the instrument, so if people want to compare me to him or throw me in that category that's okay. There's a lot of people who would love to be mentioned in the same breath with him.
Blues Blast: Today the tables are somewhat turned and now you're influencing a host of younger guitarist. Guys like up and coming blues/rock guitarist Scotty Bratcher. He's 23, plays a KWS signature Strat and lists you as one of his influences. How's that feel?
KWS: I think its great. It's hard for me to look at myself like that, I still revert back to that little kid with the guitar looking up at my heroes and just being a music and guitar enthusiast. It's hard for me to see myself on a pedestal but it's very complimentary and it has a big impact on me when people tell me my music influences them. You have a big responsibility when you are successful (in music). Music is a powerful thing and I try to take that responsibility and turn it into a positive thing.
Blues Blast: Let me ask you about your rig, I understand you're using some gear from Pennsylvania based effects maker Pigntroix. How did you get hooked up with them and what's your impression of their gear?
KWS: Yes, I'm using one of their effects pedals in the studio, one of the guys at Pigtronix sent me one of their EP2 Envelope Phasers, it's a big unit and it gets these really crazy sounds. You can go like way far out there and get really trippy with it or you can get some very subtle effects. I used it on a song called “Anywhere The Wind Blows” with a couple chorus pedals and was able to get this great big monstrous sound. It's a really cool sounding pedal, it's the only pedal I have from Pigtronix but I am very impressed with it, impressed enough to use it on an album!
Blues Blast: You've got a nice arsenal of gigging guitars. Are there any routine modifications you make to your guitars to make them your own?
KWS: Look, that's why my Kenny Wayne Shepherd Fender Strat signature model guitar is so ideal because the guitars are built the way I want. Now, if I bought a new guitar off the shelf I would to do it what have been done to the signature model. I would immediately put 6100 jumbo frets on it. I would put Graph Tech guitar labs saddles on it, I would probably put my signature series pickups in it because we worked a year and a half on them to get the right sound and I think they sound really good! Feeling and sound is most important in a guitar, if the frets aren't big enough you can always re-fret it and the graphite saddles are so important to reduce string breakage. Since I've been using those saddles if a string has broken it's because of a flaw in the string, they make a big difference.
Blues Blast: Well hey Kenny, thank you very much for your time this evening, have a great show and enjoy Cincinnati. Any final thoughts for our readers?
KWS: It was good meeting you and yes, I hope they will pick up a copy of my new record “How I Go” I think they'll like it.
Kenny Wayne Shepherd is currently on tour with Joe Walsh. For more information on Kenny Wayne Shepherd, visit his official website at http://www.kennywayneshepherd.net/
Interviewer Chris Armold is a writer and photographer in Ohio. Much about him and his work is at:
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Mark T. Small - Blacks, Whites & The Blues
Lead Foot Music
14 Tracks, 44:30
Solo acoustic blues is making a comeback recently. It's never really gone away and probably never will as long as hard times and guitars cross paths. Maybe this intimate style of blues is surging in popularity now due to over-blown excesses of pop music, pop culture, government, and banking institutions. History is repeating itself as the United States and other countries feel the oppression of economic distress just as it did in the depression when musicians carried guitars on their backs from town to town, entertaining people, empathizing through their lyrics, and generating smiles with good time boogies and occasionally bawdy lyrics. There is no shortage of artists keeping this tradition alive and Mark T. Small has thrown his hat into the ring.
Armed with a 1947 Martin, a 1958 Martin D-18, a trusty Fender Telecaster and a handful of other rustic guitars, Small takes a look back at the by-gone era of roaming musicians, dusty roads, sharecropping, and soul-crushing debt to the company store. Small's vocals aren't exactly steeped in cigarettes and whiskey, but his voice is filled with character. He inhabits the world of each song, singing it like he's lived it and though many of the songs are half a century old or more, he has probably seen similar situations in his years on the road. His guitar playing is impeccable and like musical alchemists of blues' early days, me mixes melodies and lyrics from various sources, creating something fresh and yet familiar. Small does this to great effect on the album opener, mixing the signature lick from "Smokestack Lightning" into Muddy Waters' "Trouble No More." If only Muddy and the Wolf had done this together, who knows what music may have followed.
Some of the song choices on Blacks, Whites & The Blues look like re-treads at first glance, but Small makes even the most over-done songs, like “Sweet Home Chicago” and “Catfish Blues,” sound relevant and neoteric. Small masterfully re-imagines "The Thrill Is Gone," making it sound like it's always been played by folkies and acoustic blues troubadours. Gone are the horns and overblown production and in place are minor chords and lonesome guitar lines guaranteed to move paupers and kings alike. Mark T. Small closes the album with a delicate, finger picked rendition of Scott Joplin’s “Solace.” As on many songs here, his guitar playing is precise and nuanced as he weaves a tapestry of notes around the melody, cradling the song with care and respect. He reveres the music but not to a point of simply duplicating it. He makes it his own in subtle ways that will keep listeners entertained over and over again; that is the point isn’t it?
Like the traveling bluesmen of yesteryear who, long before cassettes, CDs, iPods or streaming music, brought popular songs, regional hits, show tunes, and the latest Tin Pan Alley creations to the rural masses, Mark T. Small blends the best elements to create enjoyable music for not only blues fans but music fans in general.
Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Mary Flower – Misery Loves Company
12 tracks: Time: 47:08
Fans of acoustic blues players John Hammond, Rory Block and Fiona Boyes will probably get the same sort of satisfaction when they listen to Misery Loves Company by Mary Flower.
Bouncing back and forth between covers and originals, Flower shines as an example of being a torchbearer of bringing traditional music into the public light. Residing in Portland, Oregon doesn’t seem to deter her from presenting songs enriched in the cultures of the Deep South.
This journalist remembers catching her set at the Blind Willie McTell Blues Festival a couple of years ago. It was the kind of stuff that went down well with some audience members, particularly those who closely aligned with a purist background.
As she has done with other releases, Flower continues to explore the finger-picking style of folk, Piedmont, ragtime and Delta blues. While no new ground may be broken here, it is a welcome sojourn into a rural America that we forgot existed.
While the greatest strengths are wrapping her guitar and lap slide guitar lines around this material, the collaborations with various guests gives the tracks an extra boost.
Harmonica player Curtis Salgado drops in to add his buttery harmonica lines to Muddy Waters’ “Hard Day Blues.” Guest singer LaRhonda Steele applies a sweet background vocal to the Gary Davis gospel churched “Goin to Sit Down On The Banks Of The River.” Her rendition of Son House’ “Death Letter Blues” personifies more of a Piedmont air then Delta menace.
While tackling the other acoustic treasures of players, Flower displays strong prowess in her own material. If you want a shot of ragtime, there’s the duet with Brian Oberlin in “Recession Rag” which can’t get any more authentic. And delving deep into the Piedmont rudiments of guitar seems to suit Mary best when she neatly picks her way through the instrumental “Jitters.”
Handling the production chores herself can be considered a great move. There is no over-production and the songs seem to be done in one or two takes.
Perhaps the best union is with Colin Linden who adds his haunting electric Dobro to Flower original “Way Down In The Bottom.” It’s as dark and depressing as the title implies and perhaps the most melancholic number on the CD.
But depression isn’t something Flower chooses to wallow in. It’s back to the Piedmont business as usual with snaky lap slide playing in Tampa Red’s “Boogie Woogie Dance” that ends too quickly before you begin to appreciate the tune in full. The weirdly titled “I’m Dreaming Of Your Demise” shows a humorous side of Flowers and Dave Frishberg’s piano is a nice added touch.
What you’re looking at is an easy and relaxed cd to listen too. James Mason’s violin lazily plays along to Mary’s gentle finger-picking in the slow lull of “Miss Delta.”
Listeners of acoustic-based blues will want to seek this record out. If you want a traditionalist take on things that doesn’t scream of electricity, then Mary Flower can be one of the best sources to turn too. If you check out her website, not only is she playing the normal club circuit in the Portland area, but she serves as an instructor for various music camps such as Jorma Kaukonen’s Fur Peach Ranch. It doesn’t come as a surprise as she is one of the best choices to look to when wanting to pursue a career in music that reeks of Americana and not coming out formulated in an attempt to being accepted by the mainstream. Thankfully Flower recognizes true traditions can save the day.
Reviewer Gary Weeks is a contributing writer. He resides in Marietta, GA.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Josh Smith – I’m Gonna Be Ready
12 tracks; 58.54 minutes + Bonus CD 4 tracks; 17.02
Josh Smith was born in Connecticut, started playing guitar when a teenager growing up in Florida and later moved to LA where he is an in-demand session player. In recent years he has held down the guitar slot in Taylor Hicks’ and Raphael Saadiq’s bands and toured extensively with both singers. He has released albums before, but the most recent was in 1999 (with Jim Gaines producing), so he clearly feels that the time is now right to get back to a solo career.
The CD covers a lot of ground and at times I can hear references to an array of great guitarists – BB King, T-Bone Walker, Robben Ford, Albert Collins - but Josh always remains his own man. All the material on the album is original and Josh has been able to call on a lot of LA-based players, including Kirk Fletcher, rhythm guitar on two tracks, Lynwood Slim, harp on one track and Fred Kaplan, piano on three tracks. James Gadson and Mike Clarke share the drum stool, Mike Mennell on bass and Jeff Young on keys are constants throughout; horns appear on three tracks courtesy of Lee Thornburg on trumpet and Lon Price on sax. Josh also produced the CD which was recorded in California.
A four track bonus CD of instrumentals is being given away with the first 3000 copies, so I’ll start with that. With titles “Penance”, “Fulfillment”, “Propulsion” and “Inception” you might imagine some sort of concept album, but that is not the case. In fact the four cuts are clearly designed to show Josh’s ability to work in widely different styles. “Penance” is a slow burning, atmospheric piece, the guitar reminiscent of Jeff Beck’s playing, well supported by the organ. “Fulfillment” is a jaunty piece with a touch of jazz rock; Josh gets some great tone on his guitar here and made me think of Robben Ford in the fluency of the playing. I loved the horns in their support role here, their only appearance on the EP. “Propulsion” takes us into bluegrass/country territory, the drums really setting a frenetic pace on the shortest of these instrumentals. “Inception” is more of a straightforward rock tune with a catchy refrain, the organ again playing a vital support role to allow Josh to weave his magic on the guitar. Overall a good introduction to Josh’s abilities.
Things get even better on the main CD however as Josh shows us that not only is he a good guitarist but also sings convincingly, again covering a number of styles within the blues idiom. First up “Fine Young Thing” is a shuffle with the added gloss of Lynwood Slim’s harp and Fred Kaplan’s piano. Josh is clearly enamored of his love – “You’re a fine young thing, and I can’t help but get along with you. When my eyes met you, knew that those other girls were through” and delivers an outstanding solo to support his lyrical statement. “Only You” brings the horns into play on a soulful piece that could be a missing Van Morrison piece from the 70s while Josh channels BB King in “Goin’ Out Tonight”. “The Way You Do” is a slow blues with more fine piano from Fred Kaplan and organ from Jeff Young.
“You And Me (Don’t Belong Together)” starts with an insistent drum beat that made me think initially of “Keep On Running”, but once the horns arrive to add their weight to the tune we get a lot more soulful and end up with a tune that sounds a lot like Southside Johnny And The Asbury Jukes – not blues, but absolutely up my street as The Jukes are one of my favorite bands, so this one hit the spot for me, with its rousing chorus and great horn arrangement. “I’m Gonna Be Ready” is the longest track on the CD, a mid-paced boogie with some tough guitar. The lyrics sound like a very personal statement from Josh: “People talk about me, they don’t know what I’ve got inside. I don’t even hear them, never going to turn to run and hide. But I’m going to stand my ground, stick with what I believe. People don’t know about all the tricks I’ve got up my sleeve. My time’s coming. I’m gonna hold on still; I’m gonna be ready.”
“Newtie” is an instrumental, not dissimilar from the tracks on the bonus CD. “Sober Up Baby” returns to a slower blues. Lyrically we are in the area of failing relationships due to the evils of drink, this time it’s the girl who has the ‘problem’ and Josh is the victim. I particularly enjoyed Josh’s extended solo here. “Where’s My Baby” is more of a shuffle, the organ again giving excellent support to the solid guitar playing. “Ain’t Enough” is another slowish boogie but “Already Found” is a departure, a light piece with a hint of gospel in the playing, particularly the organ. This is a clear statement of love: “From the moment I saw you I knew you were the one. Already found everything I was looking for, everything I was looking for I found it in you”. Josh’s solo skips along over the beat and the song is quite a nice contrast to the previous boogie piece. The final track is “Dead Wrong”, a mid-paced piece of blues rock with ringing guitar and a fine solo to close the CD on a high note.
It is always good to discover a new talent and that is what Josh Smith is to me. A name for us to watch out for if he continues to follow his blues muse. Meanwhile this CD comes with a ‘recommended’ tag.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Tuesday November 29th, Kilborn Alley Blues Band, Release Party for their fourth CD with Blue Bella Records, Four, at 8 pm at the Iron Post, Urbana; Friday December 2nd, Matt Hill, winner of the 2011 Blues Music Award for Best New Artist Debut from the Blues Foundation, 10pm, Memphis on Main, Champaign. $5 non-members, $3 members. For more info: prairiecrossroadsblues.org.
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - Kilborn Alley Blues Band - Wednesday November 30th, Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots - Saturday December 17th, Jan 11th at 7PM • Brandon Santini. Location Goodfellas 1414 S. 8th St, Pekin, Illinois 7:00 pm - 10:00 pm $5.00 non-members $3.00 members. For more info visit: www.rivercityblues.com
Illinois Central Blues Club - Springfield, IL
The Illinois Central Blues Club presents "Blue Monday" every Monday night for the last 25 years - BLUE MONDAY SHOWS - Held at the Alamo 115 N 5th St, Springfield, IL (217) 523-1455 every Monday 8:30pm $3 cover. 11/21 Big Jeff Chapman, 11/28 Deak Harp Blues Band, 12/5 Kilborn Alley Blues Band, 12/12 Nick Moss and the Flip Tops, 12/19 Jason Elmore Blues Band, 12/26 Brooke Thomas and the Blue Suns. icbluesclub.org
The Friends Of The Blues - Watseka, IL
2011 Friends of the Blues shows - December 1, Dave Herrero, 7 pm, Kankakee Valley Boat Club. For more info see: http://www.wazfest.com/JW.html
Featured Blues Review 4 of 6
Various Artists - Puddletown Blues, Vol. 1
Portland, Oregon's Cascade Blues Association has released a compilation of a dozen songs by the some of the Rose City’s most notable bluesmen and blueswomen. Smoldering slow blues from Kevin Selfe and the Tornadoes open the CD with “Moving Day Blues” and Lisa Mann and Her Really Good Band follow with a jaunty (horns and all!) send-up of “Stack-O-Lee.” I enjoyed the CD’s balance of up-tempo and softer blues, and Hawkeye Herman’s “Give Me A Grandma Every Time,” Terry Robb’s mournful “Idle Moments,” and Fiona Boyes’ “Love Changing Blues” are three of the many bright spots on this first volume of Puddletown Blues. The frantic pace of “Got It Made” from Boogie Bone is sure to fill any dance floor, while Robbie Laws’ “Texas Crude” reminds me why he’s won Muddy Awards from the Cascade Blues Association and “BB Awards” from the Washington Blues Society. Billy D and the Hoodoos explore a lover’s intuition in “Somethin’s Wrong,” and The Strangetones lament that they were “Overdrawn,” from an independent film of the same name. While the production is generally crisp and even throughout the CD, I wish Ty Curtis’ vocals were turned up just a little bit more on “Do I Love You Too Much.” Woodbrain (formerly the Joe McMurrian quartet) offer up a banjo-infused slow blues on “Scrap Iron Pete,” and the set’s closer recalls Paul delay and Duffy Bishop at the 2004 Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival with “I’ve Got You.” Puddletown Blues, Volume One, is an outstanding document of Oregon’s blues talent captured at clubs, festivals and in the studio. I am especially awed by Blues Foundation affiliates that release compilations like this one, because I know that it’s hard work to produce a CD of this caliber. Some of the songs are new, and some have been on the shelf for some time. While I appreciated the Billy D and the Hoodoos’ performance captured live at the UnTapped Blues and Brews Festival in Washington state this year, I was equally impressed with the older cuts from Hawkeye Herman (2003) and Fiona Boyes (2004). A portion of the proceeds of this CD will go to the Cascade Blues Association’s Musicians’ Relief Fund, and I encourage readers to pick up this CD to learn more about Oregon's vibrant and diverse blues community.
Reviewer Eric Steiner is President of the Washington Blues Society in Seattle, Washington. The Society was the recipient of the 2009 Keeping the Blues Alive Award in the blues organization category. Please visit www.wablues.org for more information on the Washington Blues Society
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Mighty Sam McClain/Knut Reiersrud – One Drop Is Plenty
Valley Entertainment 2011
11 tracks; 54.04 minutes
Mighty Sam McClain has been recording for many years and has an impressive back catalogue across a number of labels. In 2010 he recorded with Iranian singer Mahsa Vahdat and that is where he met Norwegian guitarist Knut Reiersrud. Knut has recorded in a very wide variety of contexts, including the blues and the two obviously hit it off, deciding to record an old-style soul album together. The recording was made in Oslo with an all Norwegian cast of musicians. The CD contains a mix of covers and original material written by Sam, Knut and his regular lyricist Jeffrey Wasserman.
The recording is of high quality, the sound of the instruments and Sam’s voice being crystal clear. The material is definitely soul/gospel rather than blues, with several songs about religious rather than secular love; title track “One Drop Is Plenty” is probably the best example, a stately hymn expressing Sam’s faith. On the secular side of the divide “Can You Stand The Test Of Love” is a smooth soul ballad with some classy guitar playing.
Most of the songs are gentle ballads and I’m afraid that I did not find the material sufficiently memorable to sustain my interest and full attention. For example Jerry Ragavoy’s “You Don’t Know Nothing About Love” has some strong, pleading vocals from Sam but plods along for almost 6 minutes. “Learn How To Love You Again” has a touch of country ballad about it and some resemblance in the chorus to Kenny Rogers’ “Lucille” – personally I would have preferred BB King’s Lucille. The Reverend James Cleveland’s “I Don’t Feel Noways Tired” also has a country feel, even down to the spoken intro, though once the song proper starts it is clearly a gospel piece, emphasized by the churchy organ which also is a feature of the closing track “Open Up Heaven’s Door”. The most upbeat track here is “Love One Another” which has a far more active drum beat behind it but a dull and repetitive lyric.
Overall I was disappointed in this CD, as I am a big fan of what is usually dubbed “soul blues”. Mighty Sam McClain has a strong, soulful voice and Knut Reiersrud is a decent guitar player, but, for me, the material here is simply not strong enough. I would class this CD as gospel/soul, with very little blues content.
Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Alberta Hunter - Downhearted Blues – Live at the Cookery
Originally released ten years ago, this title features the seemingly ageless Alberta Hunter at the start of her career resurrection. A famed singer who recorded for a variety of labels in the 1920's, including Paramount Records, Hunter had an impressive voice that earned her the backing of legendary musicians like Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson, Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet. She later moved to Europe, where she starred in musicals and was the darling of the cabaret set. By the 50's, she was no longer in demand and so she retired from music, starting a twenty year stint as a licensed nurse at a hospital in New York City. When the hospital finally forced her to retire, Hunter begin to sing again to relieve the boredom of retirement.
The owner of the Cookery, Barney Josephson, hired Hunter in 1977 for a six week run at his Greenwich Village cabaret, which sparked Hunter's remarkable comeback that included a series of albums for Columbia. Backed by Gerald Cook on piano and Jimmy Lewis on bass, the singer enthusiastically digs into one of her old hits, “My Castle's Rockin'”, proving that she can still swing at the age of eighty-two. Hunter easily navigates the furious tempo on “I Got Rhythm”, then does an inspired version of a tune she wrote, “Downhearted Blues”, that was a huge hit for Bessie Smith. Cook's forceful piano work keeps pushing Hunter throughout the track. At times his playing is a bit too busy, drawing attention away from Hunter's singing. But his barrelhouse playing on “Two Fisted Double-Jointed Rough & Ready Man” is the perfect compliment to Hunter's saucy vocal.
Some of the songs hark back to Hunter's theatrical career. She delivers all of these Tin Pan Alley tunes with gusto and the skill developed over six decades. While her voice may not be as limber as it once was, Hunter injects plenty of emotion into a poignant rendition of “Time Waits For No One”. She gets the audience involved on “I'm Havin' a Good Time”, a swinging statement about her view on life. Her voice wavers a bit on the opening to “Georgia on My Mind” but she recovers with some unique phrasing that follows Lewis's plunging bass lines.
Hunter is really in her element on the bluesier material, turning “I've Got a Mind to Ramble” from a ballad into a bawdy romp that has the audience roaring in delight. Her ode to a good loving “Handy Man” is another highlight with a salacious performance that might cause some listeners to blush. Finishing with “You're Welcome to Come Back Home”, Hunter exhorts the audience to write their parents and ease their misery.
One of America's musical treasures, Alberta Hunter was fortunate to get a second chance late in life to do what she loved. Once you hear this recording, it will be readily apparent that Hunter embraced the opportunity, her efforts making it clear that she relished being able to once again sing in front of an audience. This entertaining summary of her lengthy career is certainly worth a listen.
Reviewer Mark Thompson is president of the Crossroads Blues Society in Rockford. IL. He has been listening to music of all kinds for fifty years. The first concert he attended was in Chicago with The Mothers of Invention and Cream. Life has never been the same.
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Blues fans WANT to know about your Blues event of product. Call Bob at (309) 267-4425 or send an email to for a confidential quote today!
Blues Blast Magazine covers Blues all over!
We also offer effective advertising for Festivals and Club Owners, Recording Companies and Performers. Put your Blues advertisement on our homepage at: http://www.TheBluesBlast.com either as a sponsored event or as a featured event, product, recording or merchandise. We get 33,000 visitors and 2,000,000 hits A MONTH on our website!
More than 21,000 Blues Fans, Musicians, Recording Companies, Club Owners, Blues Societies and Festival Promoters in all 50 states and in more than 80 countries read the Blues Blast magazine each week. You can feature your event or product in the largest FREE internet Blues magazine delivered right to your inbox each week.
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