Friday, July 31, 2009

Fenton & The Hawk

Fenton Robinson- Somebody Loan Me A Dime

Album Review:
"One of the most subtly satisfying electric blues albums of the '70s. Fenton Robinson never did quite fit the "Genuine Houserocking Music" image of Alligator Records -- his deep, rich baritone sounds more like a magic carpet than a piece of barbed wire, and he speaks in jazz-inflected tongues, full of complex surprises. The title track hits with amazing power, as do the chugging "The Getaway," a hard-swinging "You Say You're Leaving," and the minor-key "You Don't Know What Love Is." In every case, Robinson had recorded them before, but thanks to Bruce Iglauer's superb production, a terrific band, and Robinson's musicianship, these versions reign supreme."

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Coleman Hawkins- At Ease With Coleman Hawkins

"Coleman Hawkins was the first important tenor saxophonist and he remains one of the greatest of all time. A consistently modern improviser whose knowledge of chords and harmonies was encyclopedic, Hawkins had a 40-year prime (1925-1965) during which he could hold his own with any competitor.

Coleman Hawkins started piano lessons when he was five, switched to cello at age seven, and two years later began on tenor. At a time when the saxophone was considered a novelty instrument, used in vaudeville and as a poor substitute for the trombone in marching bands, Hawkins sought to develop his own sound. A professional when he was 12, Hawkins was playing in a Kansas City theater pit band in 1921, when Mamie Smith hired him to play with her Jazz Hounds. Hawkins was with the blues singer until June 1923, making many records in a background role and he was occasionally heard on instrumentals. After leaving Smith, he freelanced around New York, played briefly with Wilbur Sweatman, and in August 1923 made his first recordings with Fletcher Henderson. When Henderson formed a permanent orchestra in January 1924, Hawkins was his star tenor.

Although (due largely to lack of competition) Coleman Hawkins was the top tenor in jazz in 1924, his staccato runs and use of slap-tonguing sound quite dated today. However, after Louis Armstrong joined Henderson later in the year, Hawkins learned from the cornetist's relaxed legato style and advanced quickly. By 1925, Hawkins was truly a major soloist, and the following year his solo on "Stampede" became influential. Hawk (who doubled in early years on clarinet and bass sax) would be with Fletcher Henderson's Orchestra up to 1934, and during this time he was the obvious pacesetter among tenors; Bud Freeman was about the only tenor who did not sound like a close relative of the hard-toned Hawkins. In addition to his solos with Henderson, Hawkins backed some blues singers, recorded with McKinney's Cotton Pickers, and, with Red McKenzie in 1929, he cut his first classic ballad statement on "One Hour."

By 1934, Coleman Hawkins had tired of the struggling Fletcher Henderson Orchestra and he moved to Europe, spending five years (1934-1939) overseas. He played at first with Jack Hylton's Orchestra in England, and then freelanced throughout the continent. His most famous recording from this period was a 1937 date with Benny Carter, Alix Combille, Andre Ekyan, Django Reinhardt, and Stephane Grappelli that resulted in classic renditions of "Crazy Rhythm" and "Honeysuckle Rose." With World War II coming close, Hawkins returned to the U.S. in 1939. Although Lester Young had emerged with a totally new style on tenor, Hawkins showed that he was still a dominant force by winning a few heated jam sessions. His recording of "Body and Soul" that year became his most famous record. In 1940, he led a big band that failed to catch on, so Hawkins broke it up and became a fixture on 52nd Street. Some of his finest recordings were cut during the first half of the 1940s, including a stunning quartet version of "The Man I Love." Although he was already a 20-year veteran, Hawkins encouraged the younger bop-oriented musicians and did not need to adjust his harmonically advanced style in order to play with them. He used Thelonious Monk in his 1944 quartet; led the first official bop record session (which included Dizzy Gillespie and Don Byas); had Oscar Pettiford, Miles Davis, and Max Roach as sidemen early in their careers; toured in California with a sextet featuring Howard McGhee; and in 1946, utilized J.J. Johnson and Fats Navarro on record dates. Hawkins toured with Jazz at the Philharmonic several times during 1946-1950, visited Europe on a few occasions, and in 1948 recorded the first unaccompanied saxophone solo, "Picasso."

By the early '50s, the Lester Young-influenced Four Brothers sound had become a much greater influence on young tenors than Hawkins' style, and he was considered by some to be out of fashion. However, Hawkins kept on working and occasionally recording, and by the mid-'50s was experiencing a renaissance. The up-and-coming Sonny Rollins considered Hawkins his main influence, Hawk started teaming up regularly with Roy Eldridge in an exciting quintet (their appearance at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival was notable), and he proved to still be in his prime. Coleman Hawkins appeared in a wide variety of settings, from Red Allen's heated Dixieland band at the Metropole and leading a bop date featuring Idrees Sulieman and J.J. Johnson, to guest appearances on records that included Thelonious Monk, John Coltrane, and (in the early '60s) Max Roach and Eric Dolphy. During the first half of the 1960s, Coleman Hawkins had an opportunity to record with Duke Ellington, collaborated on one somewhat eccentric session with Sonny Rollins, and even did a bossa nova album. By 1965, Hawkins was even showing the influence of John Coltrane in his explorative flights and seemed ageless.

Unfortunately, 1965 was Coleman Hawkins' last good year. Whether it was senility or frustration, Hawkins began to lose interest in life. He practically quit eating, increased his drinking, and quickly wasted away. Other than a surprisingly effective appearance with Jazz at the Philharmonic in early 1969, very little of Hawkins' work during his final three and a half years (a period during which he largely stopped recording) is up to the level one would expect from the great master. However, there are dozens of superb Coleman Hawkins recordings currently available and, as Eddie Jefferson said in his vocalese version of "Body and Soul," "he was the king of the saxophone.""

Album Review:
"Recorded originally for the Prestige subsidiary Moodsville, Coleman Hawkins (along with the Tommy Flanagan Trio) sticks exclusively to ballads and slower pieces, all played at a low flame. Although it is nice to hear the veteran tenor interpreting "Poor Butterfly" and "I'll Get By," this CD is more successful as pleasant background music than as creative jazz."

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Another "Blues Man"!

Eddie Kirkland- It's The Blues Man

Album Review:
"Wildman guitarist/harpist Eddie Kirkland brought his notoriously rough-hewn attack to this vicious 1962 album for Tru-Sound, joined by a very accomplished combo led by saxman extraordinaire King Curtis and including guitarist Bill Doggett. As the crew honed in on common stylistic ground, the energy levels soared sky-high, Kirkland roaring through "Man of Stone," "Train Done Gone," and "I Tried" with ferocious fervor."

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Jack Kelly's Memphis Blues

Jack Kelly & His South Memphis Jug Band- Complete Recorded Works (1933-1939)

"Singer/guitarist Jack Kelly was the frontman of the South Memphis Jug Band, a popular string band whose music owed a heavy debt to the blues as well as minstrel songs, vaudeville numbers, reels and rags. Little is known of the hoarse-voiced Kelly's origins; he led the group in tandem with fiddler Will Batts, and they made their first recordings in 1933, followed in 1939 by a second and final session. Although the South Memphis Jug Band's lineup changed frequently, Kelly remained a constant, leading the group in various incarnations until as late as the mid-'50s; he died in Memphis in 1960."

Album Review:
"Document's Complete Recorded Works (1933-1939) is an exhaustive overview of Jack Kelly's career. However, for all but completists and academics, the disc is a mixed blessing due to its exacting chronological sequencing, poor fidelity (all cuts are transferred from original acetates and 78s), and sheer number of performances. Casual fans are better off with a less comprehensive package."

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

The Unearthly Bill Williams

Bill Williams- Low And Lonesome

Liner Notes:
"A 73-year old guitarist can be forgiven for losing the sureness of touch and loose co-ordination demanded in the lost art of blues-playing, particularly if he offers original or authentic material to an audience which has been largely denied the chance to hear yesterday's greats in person. If he is 73 and yet betrays no hint of his age in his approach to the most complicated and diverse guitar styles, one can only marvel in disbelief.
Disbelief is the inevitable reaction to incredible Bill Williams, a former partner of Blind Blake who is without doubt the most technically accomplished living country blues guitarist. Nothing about his effortless playing suggests the now familiar relic of the remote past who must be patronized to demonstrate that country blues are alive and well (they aren't). His present day skills not only put most other oldsters to shame, but are sufficient to have made him a stand- out in any era.
Yet at this writing Williams is practically unknown beyond the confines of Greenup, Kentucky, a small town near the Ohio border whose locale figures as background in the writings of novelist Jesse Stuart. In his very obscurity, Williams is a cherished but little-encountered blues archetype - the unsung great who outplays most of his more prestigious contemporaries.
In every other respect, however, Williams is a refreshing departure from blues tradition. While the most familiar species of bluesman shamelessly exaggerates his musical feats before anyone gullible enough to listen, the unassuming Bill Williams is horrified by even favorable notoriety. He derives greater satisfaction from the placid virtues of solid citizenship (he is a Kentucky Colonel and an election supervisor) and rugged self-sufficiency (he built his own home and raises much of his own food) than his unsolicited position as the blues' most exciting "find" in a long time. Perhaps because he is by now taken for granted in a community where, as one performer puts it, "You're practically a foreigner if you don't play some kind of instrument", he can't quite believe the furor he has begun to generate among blues enthusiasts. "If someone as dumb as me can play," he insists, "anybody can."
His career is no less exceptional than his selfdeprecating attitudes. He came by all of his dazzling technique without any instruction while living sixty miles in the country beyond his native Richmond, Virginia, where he was born in 1897. His brother James. a ragtime guitarist, took pains to safeguard his instrument from Bill's curious hands by tuning his strings so slack that they were unplayable before leaving for work each morning. One day Bill seized the guitar and managed to figure out the chords for Yankee Doodle Dandy, a song he knew from school and still delights in performing, with ragtime embellishments.
Bill subsequently met few guitarists in the Richmond area, but his style nevertheless developed the ragtime emphasis and smooth picking patterns one associates with the East Coast musician. He was first exposed to blues through an old recording of St. Louis Blues a 1914 hit which received wide contemporary pop treatment and would, for the general white audience, practically define the entire blues form. Another early acquisition was the Lucky Blues, which Bill adapted from the work of a local guitarist. He also played pieces like John Henry with a bottleneck in open E tuning (a method he has since discarded). Its strongest inclinations, however, were towards the key of C, the one he considered best suited for his voice. This preference was to favor his development as a ragtime virtuoso, for C is the usual key of guitar rags.
Although Bill must have displayed phenomenal ability in his youth (when, he says, he was at his true peak), he never played music professionally, and never earned money for entertaining at parties and dances. Unlike most contemporary blues singers, he actually preferred manual labor to the idea of playing for a living, even though his jobs were often so fatiguing as to preclude off-hours practice. At the age of fourteen he became a waterboy on a railroad in Wilmington, Delaware. Then he was packed off to relatives in the small town of Lester, Colorado, in his family's old-fashioned belief that labor in the mines would steady his delicate "nerves". But mine conditions proved so unnerving that he virtually fled to Pensacola, Florida, where he became a timber-cutter.
While living in Bristol, Tennessee in the early 1920's Bill met the peerless Blind Blake who was then living with an elderly woman (perhaps a relative) in a desolate nearby country area. For four months Bill worked as Blake's regular second guitarist, always picking his accompaniments instead of strumming in the usual fashion of the back-up musician. Blake was particularly taken with Low and Lonesome, but never borrowed Bill's blues motifs, although his own repertoire was then limited to a few basic pieces. When they parted company Bill worked out arrangements of Blake's trademark songs (including My Girlfriend Left Me and Too Tight) in a nostalgic recollection of his friend, for whom he had both personal and professional regard. Today he ventures only the just criticism that "my man Blake", as he calls him, tended to repeat himself too often in the key of C.
In 1922 Bill left Bristol with no special destination and jumped off a freight train in Greenup. He accepted a job with the C&O Railroad in nearby Russell, Kentucky, and has lived in the area ever since. His railroad routes - to Covington, Ky. and Columbus, Ohio - have largely circumscribed his subsequent career. As the population of this region is almost exclusively white, Bill hasn't played for any Negro dances since coming to Greenup. Not surprisingly, his material betrays this immersion into the white musical community. However, by applying the inventive and vigorous picking techniques of the true blues or rag guitarist to whatever songs he chooses to adapt, he is able to enhance even the most commonplace pieces.
To assuage his audience on those occasions when his usual accompanists failed to keep playing dates, Williams transposed a number of traditional fiddle tunes to guitar: Mockingbird, Long Way To Tipperary (a pop song of World War I vintage) Turkey In The Straw, and Old Joe Clark. These guitar interpretations are unique. Other songs were taken from the popular recordings of Charlie Poole and Riley Puckett, a skilled hillbilly guitarist who once expressed personal admiration for Bill's playing. There is also some Merle Travis influence on Bill's techniques, but this influence may be mutual, since he recalls meeting the younger Travis after his own style matured.
Some of Bill's most arresting pieces are too exotic to fit into any known category, and ultimately make the labels "ragtime" or "blues" guitarist inadequate to describe him. He learned one of his real showpieces, the minor-keyed Pocahontas, from an Italian railroader he met in the 1920's and in turn tutored in blues-playing. (Although the man spoke no English, his version had English lyrics.) Bill's exquisite arrangement of Lazy River far removes it from its usual bland pop moorings and his own picking style, and would have done credit to ultrasophisticated bluesmen like Lonnie Johnson. Even the "hard" blues, I'll Follow You, represents a total departure from all known East Coast blues-playing; but is surprisingly reminiscent of the mainstream Texas sounds of Willie Reed and Will Day. Besides these unconventional works, Bill offers finger-picked renditions of Christmas carols and the Star-Spangled Banner, demonstrating his professed ability to master any tune his listener can hum.
Perhaps as uncanny as Bill's versatility is his very preservation of the gifts that most country bluesmen have long since lost with time or disinterest. Within the last twenty years, or long after the commercial demise of country blues, Bill was figuring out classics like I'll Follow You and Chicken, a minstrel song probably dating to the turn of the century. Before his retirement from the railroad in 1958 his continued practicing was partly attributable to a Sunday morning shift as camp cook that often left him with free time on his hands and no company besides his guitar. Eight years ago a doctor told him that the exercise afforded by guitar-playing was perfect therapy for his arthritic wrist. This advice, coupled with constant local demands for his appearances at social gatherings, has probably kept Bill's music from declining. Today he shows no signs of slowing down, although he insists that the performing grind is undermining his health, and periodically announces his "retirement".
If Bill is increasingly reluctant to perform publically he is even more so to record. Despite a rare command of material that enables him to produce many perfect first takes in a recording studio, he would much prefer less formal performances for friends. But for the unselfish zeal of Charlie Parsons, a local guitar teacher and coauthor of a book on guitar technique, Bill would have remained forever in contented oblivion. A demonstration tape Parsons practically tricked him into recording proved so convincing that Blue Goose immediately scheduled a session - over Bill's protests that he would need three years to get in shape for recording. Once company officials arrived in Greenup, Bill asked: "What you fellows doin' here recording me?" His album should provide the best answer."

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Richard "Hacksaw" Harney- Sweet Man

"Richard 'Hacksaw' Harney was born in Money, MS, on July 16, 1902. He passed away on Christmas morning in 1973 of stomach cancer.
Hacksaw was regarded by many musicians as the best guitarist in the Delta.
--Robert Palmer, Deep Blues

I really think that Hacksaw was a big influence with Robert [Johnson]. He was the only somebody who could compete with him... He played the guitar very, very well. --Robert Lockwood, Jr., Living Blues

His talent, virtuosity and flair rank him with the likes of Robert Johnson, Blind Blake, Reverrend Gary Davis and Blind Willie Johnson. And yet, if it were not for these Adelphi/Blues Vault tapes, he would be a blues equivalent of Buddy Bolden, the unrecorded giant whose mysterious legend enlivens early jazz lore. --Larry Hoffman.

Adelphi Records is pleased to present this ten song collection demonstrating the guitar wizardry of Richard Hacksaw Harney, the musician's musician from the motherland of American Music. Hacksaw was sought out by blues researchers in the 1960's because of the high esteem with which his contemporaries regarded him, many of whom were still awed by recollections of his occasional, impromptu appearances in Delta jukes or on the legendary King Biscuit Time radio show in Helena, Arkansas. In 1969, Adelphi's traveling studio followed the Harney reputation from Chicago to Jackson and back to Memphis, where Hacksaw was finally located, with the assistance of a posse of aging but enthusiastic blues musicians. Their persistence was amply rewarded by his sparkling and complex finger-picking playing.

Errata: In the liner notes, we mistakenly attribute the nickname 'Hacksaw' as originating during the artist's brief career in boxing. Pinetop Perkins set the record straight by reminding us that this outstanding musician (equally stunning as a piano player) supported himself by tuning and repairing pianos. "He always carried a little hacksaw with him, and he could grab a piece of anything and make a new key with that hacksaw. He taught me how to repair a piano."
-Adelphi Records

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Tuesday, July 28, 2009

George Mitchell's "Discovery"

Teddy Williams- The George Mitchell Collection

"Teddy Williams and William “Do Boy” Diamond were both recorded in Canton, Mississippi in 1967 on subsequent days. Diamond was a basic guitar player but possessed a great, relaxed voice. “Hard Time Blues” is a magnificent number, sharing the same haunting quality of some of Skip James’ numbers. More of his sides can be found on George Mitchell Collection Vol. 5. It’s suggested the older Williams may have taught Diamond, and he too is a powerful singer in a similar style."

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Erwin's Blues & Jazz

Erwin Helfer- I'm Not Hungry But I Like To Eat- Blues

"Erwin Helfer was introduced to piano blues as a young teenager growing up in Chicago in the early '50s, the heyday of the city's blues clubs and the fortunes of labels such as Chess Records. A native of Chicago's south side, he haunted the clubs as a boy, but he also took the time to attend school and completed college with a degree in music, which he followed by spending three years in New Orleans in the late '50s, where he played jazz. Among the musicians who influenced him most were Jimmy Yancey, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, and Speckled Red, and Helfer counted himself a good friend of guitarist Big Joe Williams. Helfer became a performer and teacher, touring Europe as a blues pianist and also training college students in Chicago throughout the 1970s. His style is equally adaptable to blues and jazz."

Album Review:
"There is a special jazz piano style, uniquely Chicago's, which has been around for a long time and continues to flourish with the likes of Barrelhouse Chuck Goering, Pinetop Perkins, and the practitioner on this CD, Erwin Helfer. In the tradition of Albert Ammons, Meade "Lux" Lewis, Pete Johnson, and others who were born in Chicago and/or did most of their work in the Windy City with its own distinct flavor and cadence, Erwin captures it in its undiluted form on this release by the Sirens, label which seems to have cornered the market for Chicago piano blues. Helfer puts all of the workings of this jazz style out on the line for everyone to hear and enjoy. There's a slow, somewhat sorrowful "Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out," with John Brumbach adding his bluesy tenor, in contrast to the fast-paced, honky tonk boogie-woogie of Pete Johnson's favorite, "Swanee River Boogie" and Erwin's own boogie, "Pooch Piddle." On one of the all-time blues favorites, Ma Rainey's "See See Rider," Erwin moves back and forth between bass and boogie basslines with ease, making this cut one of the highlights of the album as he embodies the uncommon ability these piano blues performers had to make the music come across with a one-of-a-kind vibrancy and brilliance. Erwin puts icing on the cake as he adds a gospel flavor to one of the biggest R&B hits, "Please Send Me Someone to Love." Other notable tracks include "Dirty Dozens," "The Sheik of Araby," and "After Hours." This CD makes a major contribution to keeping this exciting setting of jazz music in the public eye. Recommended."

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Sunday, July 26, 2009

Still Not Ready For Eddie

Eddie Taylor- "Still Not Ready For Eddie"

"When you're talking about the patented Jimmy Reed laconic shuffle sound, you're talking about Eddie Taylor just as much as Reed himself. Taylor was the glue that kept Reed's lowdown grooves from falling into serious disrepair. His rock-steady rhythm guitar powered the great majority of Reed's Vee-Jay sides during the 1950s and early '60s, and he even found time to wax a few classic sides of his own for Vee-Jay during the mid-'50s.

Eddie Taylor was as versatile a blues guitarist as anyone could ever hope to encounter. His style was deeply rooted in Delta tradition, but he could snap off a modern funk-tinged groove just as convincingly as a straight shuffle. Taylor viewed Delta immortals Robert Johnson and Charley Patton as a lad, taking up the guitar himself in 1936 and teaching the basics of the instrument to his childhood pal Reed. After a stop in Memphis, he hit Chicago in 1949, falling in with harpist Snooky Pryor, guitarist Floyd Jones, and -- you guessed it -- his old homey Reed.

From Jimmy Reed's second Vee-Jay date in 1953 on, Eddie Taylor was right there to help Reed through the rough spots. Taylor's own Vee-Jay debut came in 1955 with the immortal "Bad Boy" (Reed returning the favor on harp). Taylor's second Vee-Jay single coupled two more classics, "Ride 'Em on Down" and "Big Town Playboy," and his last two platters for the firm, "You'll Always Have a Home" and "I'm Gonna Love You," were similarly inspired. But Taylor's records didn't sell in the quantities that Reed's did, so he was largely relegated to the role of sideman (he recorded behind John Lee Hooker, John Brim, Elmore James, Snooky Pryor, and many more during the '50s) until his 1972 set for Advent, I Feel So Bad, made it abundantly clear that this quiet, unassuming guitarist didn't have to play second fiddle to anyone. When he died in 1985, he left a void on the Chicago circuit that remains apparent even now. They just don't make 'em like Eddie Taylor anymore."

Album Review:
"Shows signs of the brilliance that we've long come to expect from the uncommonly versatile Taylor, but clearly not the equal of some of the other Taylor sets on the market."

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Friday, July 24, 2009

Lyrical Master

J.T. "Funny Papa" Smith- Complete Recorded Works (1930-1931)

"J.T. "Funny Paper" Smith was a pioneering force behind the development of the Texas blues guitar style of the pre-war era; in addition to honing a signature sound distinguished by intricate melody lines and simple, repetitive bass riffs, he was also a gifted composer, authoring songs of surprising narrative complexity. A contemporary of such legends as Blind Lemon Jefferson and Dennis "Little Hat" Jones, next to nothing concrete is known of John T. Smith's life; assumed to have been born in East Texas during the latter half of the 1880s, he was a minstrel who wandered about the panhandle region, performing at fairs, fish fries, dances and other community events (often in the company of figures including Tom Shaw, Texas Alexander and Bernice Edwards). Smith settled down long enough to record some 22 songs between 1930 and 1931, among them his trademark number "Howling Wolf Blues, Parts One and Two"; indeed, he claimed the alternate nickname "Howling Wolf" some two decades before it was appropriated by his more famous successor, Chester Burnett. (The true story behind Smith's more common nickname remains a matter of some debate -- some blues archivists claim he was instead dubbed "Funny Papa," with the "Funny Paper" alias resulting only from record company error.) His career came to an abrupt end during the mid-'30s, when he was arrested for murdering a man over a gambling dispute; Smith was found guilty and imprisoned, and is believed to have died in his cell circa 1940."

Album Review:
"Document's Complete Recorded Works (1930-1931) offers an exhaustive overview of Funny Paper Smith's entire career, featuring all 22 sides he produced during the early '30s. Highlights are all over this disc, including the original "Howling Wolf Blues," "Tell It to the Judge," and the two-part "Seven Sisters Blues." However, there are also quite a few alternate takes, which will make it more of a chore to get through for casual listeners. The features that make it appealing to academics -- long running time, exacting chronological sequencing, poor fidelity (all cuts are transferred from original acetates and 78s), and an exhaustive number of performances -- will likely impair its overall listenability for most."

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