Cover photo by Bob Kieser © 2011 Blues Blast Magazine
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In This Issue
Terry Mullins has our feature interview with Billy Branch this week.
We have six CD reviews for you this week! Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony reviews a new CD from Bill Edwards. Ian McKenzie reviews a new CD from Scott Ellison. John Mitchell reviews a new CD from Bad Influence. Steve Jones reviews a new CD from Sista Monica Parker. Mark Thompson reviews a new CD from Dream Boogie. Rainey Wetnight reviews a new CD from Sandy Atkinson. All this and MORE! SCROLL DOWN!!!
From The Editor's Desk
Hey Blues Fans,
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Have a VERY Blues Christmas!
P.S. We will be on vacation next week and will return with our final issue of 2011 on December 29th!
Featured Blues Interview - Billy Branch
The summer of 1969 was one that occupies its own special place in the pantheon of American History.
Awash in a menagerie of psychedelic colors, the summer of ’69 is largely remembered for the events that transpired in upstate New York on Aug. 15-18 at the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.
Those three days were an unforgettable moment in time, one that will never be duplicated.
But several hundred miles north that same summer, another life-changing moment was about to take place, just two short weeks after Woodstock.
Aug. 30, 1969.
That was the date of the “Bringing the Blues Back Home” festival at Chicago’s Grant Park Band Shell.
That was also the day that the power of the blues forever changed the life of young Billy Branch.
“That was the first time that I ever heard the blues. It was at a festival that Willie Dixon, along with Murphy Dunne, produced,” he said. “It was actually the very first Chicago Blues Festival. There wasn’t another one after that for 20-some years. And there hasn’t been a festival the magnitude of that first one before or since then … Muddy Waters, Big Mama Thornton … there was close to 50 notable artists there. Legends.”
Although he had been born in Illinois, Branch was raised in Los Angeles and had made his way back to his home state to attend the University of Illinois when he experienced the pull of the blues on his soul.
“It was the first time that I had ever heard live blues music. I just went on a whim,” he said. “You talk about a life-changing moment – that was one. It just blew me away. I said, ‘What the hell is this?’”
Little did he know at that particular instant, but a scant six years after being turned on to the blues that late summer day at Dixon’s inaugural festival, Branch would end up playing harp in the big man’s band. He probably also had no clue that some 40 years later, in 2011, he would headline the Saturday night at the event now officially known as the Chicago Blues Festival, a gig that also featured special guest Magic Slim.
But things have always moved at a brisk pace for Billy Branch.
As though his foot was pressed all the way down on the accelerator, his career immediately went from zero-to-60 after that fateful 1969 day, as Branch quickly carved out a name for himself as one of the hottest harp players in Chicago, or for that matter - anywhere.
“I never set out with that goal in mind. My friend Mark Hummel and I were (recently) listening to a compilation of my work that my number one fan in Japan created for me – one of my claims to fame is that I’ve played on over 150 recordings with various artists – and as we were listening to some of my early stuff, Mark said, ‘Man, you got really good, really fast,’” said Branch. “And I never really thought of it like that. But I imagine that I did. I mean, I spent so much time being around the blues in all the clubs with Junior Wells and Carey Bell and Big Walter Horton and Homesick James. I absorbed all of that and there weren’t a whole lot of active harp players my age in town at that time. And I was the guy that stuck it out. I was just determined to get as good as I could.”
Not only did Branch become a first-call session player when a dose of innovative, gritty blues harmonica was in order, but his group, the Sons of the Blues, rapidly became the talk of the town, playing anywhere and everywhere.
Alligator Records’ excellent harp summit in 1990, featuring Carey Bell, Junior Wells, James Cotton and Branch - fittingly titled Harp Attack! - served as a springboard to help launch the name and sound of Billy Branch to blues lovers worldwide.
That album was showered with praise and won a Handy Award for Best Contemporary Blues Album.
A lot of the same type of excitement is also associated with the latest projects that Branch has been involved with – Chicago Blues: A Living History (Raisin’ Music).
Nominated for a Grammy Award, Chicago Blues: A Living History was just what the title implies and in addition to Branch, featured Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer and Lurrie Bell.
“It was pretty much the brainchild of Larry Skoller,” Branch said. “He wanted to get some of Chicago’s active musicians that had been around for awhile and were some of the better players and have them give tribute to the old, classic Chicago blues style – the old masters.”
Volume two – Chicago Blues: A Living History – The (R)Evolution Continues came out late this summer and is another attention-grabbing listen, with special guests like Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Magic Slim – definitely a trio of masters – along for the ride.
While the style of the music contained within the Chicago Blues: A Living History discs is indeed “old” and “classic,” it is by no means stale or predictable.
“We’re trying to preserve that style (Chicago blues), but we’re also adding our own personal edge to it, as well. More of a contemporary edge,” said Branch.
And the results definitely speak for themselves.
“Well, everyone that hears them says that’s the best stuff, CD-wise, that’s been produced in a long time. It’s got a very tight rhythm section - Kenny Smith, Billy Flynn, Felton Crews, Johnny Iguana – they form a really nice ensemble. And it turned out really well. When we heard it, the first one especially, we were amazed at how good it sounded.”
Excellent primers of what the true spirit of Windy City blues is all about, the Chicago Blues: A Living History series cuts through all the flash-and-dash, along with the guitar pyrotechnics, normally associated with today’s blues-rock and serves as a striking reminder of the foundation that the genre was originally built on.
“Part of the reason that those of us that were chosen to do it was because we represented the contingency that came up along the ranks. Every single one of us had done significant tenures with the legends,” said Branch. “We’ve all spent a lot of time in the trenches and I think this was demonstrating that we took our lessons of those times seriously and absorbed what we were taught.”
And for the gospel of the blues to continue to perpetuate and grow, the younger generation of players (“When I set out, they used to call us the new generation of Chicago blues, but those days have come and gone,” laughed Branch.), while no doubt needing to be up to speed on the history of the music, also need free reign to create their own personal expression.
“You see this all around now and you can’t exactly argue with it. But just to play the same songs by Muddy and Wolf and Sonny Boy and Little Walter the same way … it can get kind of tired after awhile,” Branch said. “So the younger players are coming from a younger perspective and are adding their own things to it. But all around now, there’s more of a melding of the genres in the blues. You see that a lot now.”
Branch knows more than just a passing thing about the young up-and-comers on the blues scene.
Since 1978, he has been a central figure in the Blues in the Schools program, and while he did not found this important educational series, he was in on the ground floor of it.
“I wasn’t the very first one to do it, but I was probably the second and have done it the longest. I’ve been involved in the Blues in the Schools program almost as long as I’ve been playing professionally. It started out with a grant from the Illinois Arts Council,” he said. “I had a program that I constructed that would have the history of the blues incorporated with a performance. And Lurrie Bell and myself would go around to local schools and do a lot of interactive stuff. And over the years, it’s developed enough to where I can do a residence with my whole band. They’ll fly us to a locale for four or five weeks. And in a case like that, some of the kids will learn harp, some bass, some guitar and drums, and then they’re quizzed orally on a daily basis on the history of the blues. Then they learn standard songs, write originals and they ultimately perform.”
Just like the music itself, the Blues in the Schools educational program has broken free of its origins here in the United States and spread like wildfire all across the globe.
“A couple of years I did a program in Heroica Veracruz, Mexico for a couple of weeks, where I actually taught my classes in Spanish,” Branch said. “And I’ve done a two-week program in Antwerp, Belgium and wherever we’ve been, there’s been many instances where children’s lives were turned around for the better because of these programs. We’ve had kids that were suicidal that have emerged with a whole new sense of self esteem. We’ve had homeless kids and at-risk kids that because of that program have became able to fit in better with the rest of their student body. If I had $5 for every time someone would come up to me in a club and say, ‘I was in second grade or elementary school and you turned me on to the blues and I still love them today,’ I’d be a wealthy man right now.”
With as many young students as he’s tutored, it’s a wonder Billy Branch is not referred to as Professor Branch.
“Last year in Denver, Colorado, in five days in 18 schools, I taught 4,000 kids to play harp,” he said. “And they’re been maybe one or two kids over the years that have went on to become professional musicians. But children from my first residency back in 1978 still reach out to me and make statements like - ‘That was one of the most life-changing moments I’ve had.’ So there are a lot of positive benefits to the program, other than trying to have a career as a working musician. They get self confidence, they’re engaged in situations where cooperation and communication skills are a must and ultimately, it helps them understand and appreciate this form of music.”
When he’s not turning in mind-blowing harp performances on Grammy-nominated albums, or playing the blues on the high seas with the Blues Cruise, or helping to shape young lives in the Blues in the Schools forum, Branch can usually be found at a place he’s called his second home for the past 27 years or so – Artis’ Lounge on 87th Street in Chicago.
“It’s a neighborhood club on the South Side that’s not really a blues club, per say,” he said. “But they do have live music on Sundays and Mondays and sometimes one other day during the week. Nobody can remember exactly how long I’ve been playing there, but it’s been at least 27 years. Every Monday. In fact, I’ve been playing there longer than that, because I played at the same place for a previous owner for a few years, back when it was called the Now or Later.”
Maybe it doesn’t have the name recognition that old spots like Theresa’s or The Checkerboard Lounge had, but Artis’ Lounge is still viewed as one hot spot to chow down on authentic Chicago blues.
“It’s developed into an internationally known spot – it’s not officially a jam session, but in recent years that’s what it’s turned into,” said Branch. “Usually my band plays the first set and then we open it up to as many players as we can get. Everyone who comes there feels very welcome. It’s kind of become a pilgrimage of sorts.”
You never know who might hang out at Artis’ Lounge, as some of the city’s best players, like Ronnie Baker Brooks, have been known to slide onto stage next to Branch.
They also come from outside the city limits to jam, as evidenced by Malian guitarist/singer Vieux Farka Toure’s and Mexican rockers El Tri’s stops by Artis’ Lounge.
Mavis Staples even made an appearance there to sing “I’ll Take You There” on Branch’s 60th birthday.
And it was also at Branch’s 60th birthday shindig that the very basics of physics were tested, when a huge, overflowing crowd tried to jam itself into a spot that can comfortably seat 70-80 patrons on a regular basis.
“It was a real test of how many that place could hold. It was ridiculous,” he said. “Nobody had seen a crowd like that in that place before. There were so many people, it was scary.”
It probably would be fair to say that had Branch not decided to attend the “Bringing the Blues Back Home” festival on that hot Aug. 30, 1969 day, there would not have been an overflow crowd wanting to help celebrate his 60th birthday with him.
But thankfully for those that enjoy the real-deal Chicago blues, along with the countless graduates of Blues in the Schools, Billy Branch did get turned on to the blues at precisely the right moment in time.
And as far as the legacy that he hopes to leave on those blues?
“I’d like to be remembered as somebody who discovered the beauty and the value of the blues and was a person that tried to share that rich treasure with as many people as I possibly could,” he said.
Interviewer Terry Mullins is a journalist and former record store owner whose personal taste in music is the sonic equivalent of Attention Deficit Disorder. Works by the Bee Gees, Captain Beefheart, Black Sabbath, Earth, Wind & Fire and Willie Nelson share equal space with Muddy Waters, The Staples Singers and R.L. Burnside in his compact disc collection. He's also been known to spend time hanging out on the street corners of Clarksdale, Miss., eating copious amounts of barbecued delicacies while listening to the wonderful sounds of the blues.
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Featured Blues Review 1 of 6
Bill Edwards - That’s What I’m Talkin’ About
Horn-driven R&B, soul and blues are on the menu for Bill Edwards’ first release. His strong and warm blue-eyed soul pipes and songwriting skills are at the forefront on this collection of band originals along with two cover tunes. His take on soul music is of the summer drive variety, smooth and pleasing to digest. He learned his skills as the lead singer of the New York based band Mrs. English, as well as various studio work. The production team of Bill Edwards and Donald Benjamin construct a sturdy and clean sound.
“Twelve Step Program” is about being hooked on a bad love as the narrator declares that-“I need to start my group called you anonymous”. The use of horns and girl backing vocals takes you back to the old days in a good way. Down-home acoustic guitar starts off “Your Presence Is Requested” then quickly morphs into an electric blues groove including a hot guitar solo courtesy of Joe Mennonna. The confirmed bachelor of the song relates his story of becoming hooked by a woman.
The tongue-in-cheek soul-blues shuffle “Love Ought To Come With Instructions” displays the care given to the lyric writing on the age-old predicament of relationships. The bluesiest song here “Oh No No” is a foot-stomper were harmonica player extraordinaire Corrin Huddleston pushes the groove along with the percussion. Liquid courage used to get up the nerve to approach a woman, as provided by tequila, is the subject of “Powered By Patron”, that includes a biting Nicky Moroch guitar solo turn.
The best example of the production skills is the seamless soul-stroll of “Loving You”, were every piece fits just right. “Careful What You Wish For” comes in as a close second in the smooth-soul song sweepstakes here. The two cover songs- Denise Lasalle’s “Steppin’ Out” and Jackie Brenston’s “Rocket ‘88” are given pretty straight readings.
The best qualities of the hey-day of sweet soul music, with only a touch of blues, are given a fresh treatment here. Bill Edwards and associates have learned their lessons well. These techniques have been applied to the songwriting process to create something wholly new and rewarding.
Reviewer Greg “Bluesdog” Szalony hails from the New Jersey Delta.
Featured Blues Review 2 of 6
Scott Ellison - Walkin’ Through The Fire
15 Tracks. 58: 58
Born in 1954 and raised in Tulsa, OK, Scott was inspired by Memphis and Motown music and became a good enough guitarist to be invited to join Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. in 1981. By the mid- 1980s, Ellison had moved to Los Angeles keeping his music career going by playing with the Box Tops, the Shirelles, the Coasters, and Peaches & Herb. By the '90s he had formed his own blues band and opened for the likes of Joe Cocker, the Fabulous T-Birds, and Buddy Guy. Unusuall for a blues tinged musician, he wrote the soundtrack to the Ben Affleck motion picture Reindeer Games.
This CD is 15 original songs all penned by Scott with either Charles Turberville or Walt Richmond and range from the lively “You Talk Too Much” through to funky soul like “Don’t Wanna Need You” and Scott is admirably supported by Turberville (bass, guitar and backing vocals), Spenser Sutton (piano, B3) and Jalon Brown (drums and percussion). The album was produced by Walt Richmond. Walt joined Eric's touring band on keys for all 2010 dates, including EC's third Crossroads Guitar Festival and has a background with country rock band The Tractors (including writing their hit “My Baby Loves to Rock It”).
But here comes my problem. The music is fine – much of it outstanding – the arrangements are terrific (including The Hot Tamale Horns in various places), Scott is a fine gravelly singer and an excellent guitarist but, and it’s a big but, in my humble opinion in far too many tracks, Scott’s voice is so far back in the mix, it almost sounds like he is in another room…well, some may like that but not me. It’s a production not a performance problem.
All in all although this is apparently supposed to be Scott’s ‘breakout’ album, I fear it will be nothing of the kind…I hope I am wrong!
Reviewer Ian McKenzie lives in England. He is the editor of Blues In The South (www.bluesinthesouth.com) a monthly flier providing news, reviews, a gig guide and all kinds of other good stuff, for people living and going to gigs along the south coast of England. Ian is also a blues performer (see www.myspace.com/ianmckenzieuk) and has two web-cast regular blues radio shows. One on www.phonic.FM in Exeter (Wednesdays: 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central), the second on KCOR – Kansas City Online Radio (on Fridays at 1pm Eastern/ 12 noon Central) www.kconlineradio.com.
Featured Blues Review 3 of 6
Bad Influence Band – Under The Influence
13 tracks; 50.48 minutes
The Bad Influence Band comes from the East Coast and this is their fourth CD together. The CD was self produced and recorded in Maryland; the band wrote seven of the tracks themselves, harpist Roger Edsall contributing to six of those, with covers from a variety of sources, classic and contemporary. The band consists of Roger Edsall on harp and rhythm guitar, Michael Tash on guitar, Bob Mallardi on bass and David Thaler on drums. All four sing, with bassist Mallardi taking most of the lead vocals. Saxophones are added on one track by Tom Ruggieri, piano by Mark Stevens on two and there are two additional guitarists, John Ware and Jay Monterose on one track.
The CD opens in fine style with a slide driven Elmore James style riff, an original entitled “Man Child”. I particularly liked the opening verse and its clever lyric “She was thunder and lightning, raining on my night and day. I set out my front door, watched my baby storm away”. The band sounds totally together on this catchy starter, a fine harp solo catching our attention on top of the slide. Next up is an amusingly titled tune “Dressing Like You Don’t Dress For Me”, the theme of which is the guy’s jealousy that his girl is off out dressed up in fine style, but not to go out with him! “Hey Red” is bassist Mallardi’s song, a contrast in styles, this one being more of a swing number with excellent guitar and exciting tom-toms, evoking forties artists like Louis Jordan.
The first cover brings in a touch of Texas rocking blues with “Do As I Say”, penned by Kim Wilson and Charles Harmon Jones. Fittingly the harp leads on this really catchy tune, providing a backing which sounds at times like a Tex-Mex accordion. Definitely a stand-out cut. “Sugar Daddy Baby” is another swinger. The vocal here is particularly effective and it’s another clever lyric; “I want a sugar daddy baby, I can be a sugar daddy too”. Nice clean guitar is well supported by the horns.
Perhaps the strangest choice of cover is CCR’s “Run Through The Jungle”, not a typical blues band selection. The song is played fairly straight, the rhythm guitar providing that fat reverb sound that John Fogerty had on the original. There is some nice lead guitar picking as well on one of the longer tracks on the CD. Following that track is a contrast in every way with “Cat Fight II: PTP” (no, I don’t know what it means either). It is a short instrumental on which the two additional guitarists appear although the tune is lead off by the harp, quoting “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” before Jay Monterose’s solo. “Looking Right At Me” is lyrically related to the earlier track about dressing for effect, this time the scene is the night club where “there ain’t no doubt, when the cougars come out, the bar is full of prey”. Another catchy riff propels the song along.
There is no place to hide when you choose to cover a real blues classic like Deadric Malone’s “As The Years Go Passing By”, as we all have favorite versions of the song. However, Bad Influence do a good job on the song, the vocals effective and Michael Tash offering an excellent extended guitar feature. The final original tune is “Room 111” a shuffle lead by the harp and piano.
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 4 of 6
Sista Monica Parker - Living in the Danger Zone
Mo Muscle Records
Sista Monica Parker is a big woman with an even bigger voice. Hailing from San Francisco, she can give any of the Chicago area women blues singers a run for their money. She is a blues shouter in the finest tradition and her songs inspire the listener to get on their feet and dance. Ms. Parker had at least a part in penning a dozen of these songs; the other two are a traditional and a Robert Cray cover. She gives herself a good vehicle for her ample talents with her songs.
The opening track “Hug Me Like You Love Me” was inspired by BB King. Earlier in 2011 when Monica asked him for a picture together after they did a show together in Santa Cruz, he told her, “Sure, come in close and hug me like you love me.” She says will never forget that moment and immortalized it with a song. It is a upbeat and hot number that gets the heart pumping for the rest of the album.
She follows that up with the title track, a slower tempo cut where she both belts and growls out some mean vocals. Let me also say right here that her regular band is up to the task of matching up with her immense voice. Mike Schermer on guitar offers up some great licks, and perhaps even more impressive is Daniel Beconini on piano and Hammond B3 organ. His keyboard work fills in the spaces where needed and the solos here and elsewhere are really excellent. He also serves as co-writer and arranger for Monica and does a stellar job.
Slow blues like “Tears,” “Let Me Moan”, “Unstoppable”, “You Can’t Go Back” and “Once Loved, Twice Bitten” offer up the version of Monica showing restraint. The power of her vocals even when she holds back is intense. Cray’s “The Forecast Calls for Pain” is the other down tempo song offered on this CD and she does another great job with it. She can be sultry and gritty, but one knows there s a tiger being held by the tail waiting to escape. The down tempo stuff is cool, but she really excels when she can let it all hang out.
“Glory Hallelujah” is done as a duet with Kelly Hunt (who also does the piano on that cut) and it is a powerful experience. They take the listener to church and make them sit down and listen. “Fierce Force of Nature” is Monica at her boldest. The horn section lets loose, here, too.
Whether it’s slow, funky like “Just Keep Living”, or bold like “Worn Out Your Welcome”, Parker is up to the task and gives her all. The rest of her band are equally solid, with a mix of her touring band and long list studio musicians supporting her. If you want to hear old-school female blues, R&B and gospel vocals with a big, fresh and clean sound then look no further; Monica’s got a great new CD for you to buy and listen to!
Reviewer Steve Jones is a Board Member of the Crossroads Blues Society and is a long standing blues lover. He is a retired Navy commander who served his entire career in nuclear submarines. In addition to working in his civilian career, he writes for and publishes the bi-monthly newsletter for Crossroads, chairs their music festival and works with their Blues In The Schools program.
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Prairie Crossroads Blues Society – Champaign-Urbana, IL
Prairie Crossroads Blues Society shows: Friday January 6nd, 1st Friday Blues, Hurricane Ruth, winner of the Prairie Crossroads Blues Society IBC Challenge, 8pm studio visit to WEFT 90.1FM during the Blues Live show, 10pm, performance at Memphis on Main, Champaign. $5 non-members, $3 members. Friday April 6, 1st Friday Blues, Johnny Rawls. For more info: prairiecrossroadsblues.org.
The Arkansas River Blues Society - Alexander, AR
The Arkansas River Blues Society will celebrate their annual Christmas Open Blues Jam December 16th at Cornerstone Pub & Grill which is located at 314 Main Street in North Little Rock, AR. This event will start at 8 pm and there is a $5 cover. Unseen Eye will be the house band with Gil Franklin and Lucious Spiller as a special guest. http://www.freewebs.com/arriverblues/
River City Blues Society - Pekin, IL
River City Blues Society presents: Bringing The Blues To You with the following shows - Victor Wainwright & The Wildroots - Saturday December 17th, Jan 11th at 7PM • Brandon Santini. Location Goodfellas 1414 N. 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. 12/19 Jason Elmore Blues Band, 12/26 Brooke Thomas and the Blue Suns. icbluesclub.org
Featured Blues Review 5 of 6
Dream Boogie - I'm Ready
Black Market Music
Over the last few years, we have experienced an explosion in the number of recordings released and a corresponding drop in the overall quality of songwriting. While many musicians write exciting music, they often settle for lyrics that simply fall flat, failing to tell even the simplest story that might engage the listeners. Try to think of a new song that you have heard recently that hit you so strongly that you know people will still be singing it fifty or a hundred years from now.
The opposite problem occurs when a band decides to cover well-known songs that have stood the test of time and been awarded “classic” status. There are, at minimum, several performances of tunes like “Spoonful” or “I'm Ready” that are considered the definitive versions and serve as the reference points for assessing other interpretations. The issue to be dealt with is how to bring a fresh approach to classic songs without sacrificing their power to grab hold of our souls.
Dream Boogie takes on this challenge by including the above tunes and six other blues standards on this release. The group came together last year in Melbourne, Australia. Rebecca Davey handles the lead vocals. Maurico Ochoa, an honors graduate of the Berklee College of Music, plays all of the guitar parts. Connor O'Neil on bass and Robert B. Dillon on drums form the solid rhythm section.
Opening with “Spoonful”, Davey immediately gives listeners a taste of her commanding presence, her muscular voice generating plenty of heat over Ochoa's fluid guitar work. Their rendition of “Goin' Down” builds to the point where Davey unleashes a full-throated roar only to have the track quickly fade out to a premature ending. Buddy Guy's “A Girl of Many Words” gets a brief, funky treatment. The tune was originally done from a man's perspective but Ana Popovic changed things around on her Hush album. Davey is in a sassy mode on “I'm Ready”, delivering one of her strongest vocals
On the rest of the material, Dream Boogie attempts to put their unique stamp on the songs by the use of spoken word passages . Davey describes her attempt to handle the aftermath of a failed relationship at the start of the medley of ”My Baby Caught the Train/Who's Been Talkin'”. Later, she describes how the plan backfires in telling detail. There is an echo effect on her voice during the song that seems out of place, a point confirmed on the last verse when the echo disappears and the full weight of her voice drives the song home. Most of the seven minutes of “Crossroads” finds Davey relating the Robert Johnson story and later explaining its moral relevance to life. The intro to “Someone Else is Steppin' In” relates the tale of another cheating man - complete with tears, chocolate slices and Sex in the City reruns. Davy rebounds from the heartbreak and finds a new lover, singing the song to her old-time used-to-be with plenty of conviction. Her demure vocal and Ochoa's string-bending on “Little by Little” are interrupted by several spoken sections that dissipate the built-up energy.
The band has several strengths. Davey is a dynamic performer and Ochoa proves to be a tasteful guitarist. But they created a serious challenge for themselves by playing well-known tunes. To the band's credit, they do offer distinctive presentations. Your enjoyment of this disc will revolve around your tolerance level for the spoken passages.
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.
Featured Blues Review 6 of 6
Sandy Atkinson - Collection
Gator Blues Publishing
21 songs; 78 minutes
Styles: Electric and Acoustic Blues; Blues Rock; Jazzy Blues; Ballads
In the world of collectors, each aficionado has a specific name. For example, philatelists treasure stamps, and numismatists gather coins. What, then, is the proper term for a Tampa FL songstress such as Sandy Atkinson, presenting her latest “Collection” via Gator Blues Publishing? This reviewer has invented a title for her: an “azulist,” from the Spanish word meaning “blue.” Atkinson collects blues songs in all of their artistic varieties: electric, acoustic, blues rock, jazz-influenced blues, and ballads. Her vocals, breathy, raspy and low, are more reminiscent of Macy Gray than Ma Rainey. Fans of that particular singing style will be impressed. Throughout twenty-one original tracks, Sandy reminds us that what makes any collection precious is the uniqueness of each item within it. Just as no two coins or stamps are exactly the same, no two songs are identical on this album. Even though they have been featured on her previous five CDs, devotees will find them worth another listen.
What inspired this new “Collection?” Atkinson candidly explains, “Music is fun and it is my refuge. It will always be my first true love, no matter what happens.”
Songs of note:
Track 4: “Wild Thing”--Subtitled “Mary's Blues.” This is a heartfelt acoustic tribute to a “real blues mama.” Containing slight echoes of Stevie Ray Vaughan's “Life by the Drop,” its rollicking tempo and wicked acoustic guitar (Tomcat Blake) and Dobro (Richard Price) are this song's greatest draws. Forget the Kingsmen classic of the same title; this “Wild Thing” is a totally different animal!
Track 13: “She's Just a Floozy”-- For a sample of the most traditional acoustic-led blues, heed Atkinson's warning. Its track number, 13, is bad luck and perilous, as is its female subject! Sandy minces no words, and spares no sneering in her vocals here: “She's got a reputation for flirting with the men, of going out and staying out, not telling where she's been. I know what I'm talking about....” Blues fans will, too, once they know of this “floozy!”
Track 21: “Blues Christmas Dream.” Just in time for the holiday season comes this whispered twist on a classic Christmas poem: “He tossed and he turned, and he hummed a blues tune. Then he curled up his lips as his fingers started to move. And all of a sudden, with no warning at all, he jumped straight up in the air and just didn't fall! But he reached down the line and he picked up his harp. He started to play like some W.C. Handy star! He played Lightning, Sonny Boy, Howlin' Wolf, too!” Is this track surreal? Yes. Is it intriguing? Also yes! Perhaps, deep down in their hearts, every genuine blues fan wants to have this dream.
If one wishes to see Sandy Atkinson live, one might find her at such Florida venues as Skipper's Smokehouse, Ale and the Witch, and most notably, the Palladium Theater. Before heading down to the Sunshine State, however, one should take a look and listen at her 2011 “Collection!”
Reviewer Rainey Wetnight is a 32 year old female Blues fan. She brings the perspective of a younger blues fan to reviews. A child of 1980s music, she was strongly influenced by her father’s blues music collection.
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