Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Spoon's Sound

Jimmy Witherspoon- Blues Around The Clock

Album Review:
"Veteran singer Jimmy Witherspoon (who bridges the gap between jazz and blues) mostly sticks to the latter on this spirited set. His backup group (organist Paul Griffin, guitarist Lord Westbrook, bassist Leonard Gaskin and drummer Herbie Lovelle) is fine in support, but the spotlight is almost entirely on Witherspoon throughout these ten concise performances, only one of which exceeds four minutes. Highlights include "No Rollin' Blues," "S.K. Blues" and "Around the Clock." Witherspoon is in fine voice and, even if nothing all that memorable occurs, the music is enjoyable."

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Sunday, September 11, 2011

Play That Old Violin!

Clifford Hayes & The Dixieland Jug Blowers- Clifford Hayes & The Dixieland Jug Blowers

"A shadowy figure in jazz and blues history, Clifford Hayes was a violinist, but was more significant as a leader of recording sessions. He recorded with Sara Martin (1924), and often teamed up with banjoist Cal Smith in early jug bands including the Old Southern Jug Band, Clifford's Louisville Jug Band, the well-known Dixieland Jug Blowers (1926-1927), and Hayes' Louisville Stompers (1927-1929). One of the Dixieland Jug Blowers' sessions featured the great clarinetist Johnny Dodds, while pianist Earl Hines was a surprise star with the otherwise primitive Louisville Stompers (a jug-less group with a front line of Hayes' violin and Hense Grundy's trombone). Clifford Hayes' last recordings were in 1931, and all of his sessions (plus those of some other jug bands) are available on four RST CDs."

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Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Mellow Mr. Robinson

Fenton Robinson- Monday Morning Boogie & Blues

"His Japanese fans reverently dubbed Fenton Robinson "the mellow blues genius" because of his ultra-smooth vocals and jazz-inflected guitar work. But beneath the obvious subtlety resides a spark of constant regeneration -- Robinson tirelessly strives to invent something fresh and vital whenever he's near a bandstand. The soft-spoken Mississippi native got his career going in Memphis, where he'd moved at age 16. First, Rosco Gordon used him on a 1956 session for Duke that produced "Keep on Doggin'." The next year, Fenton made his own debut as a leader for the Bihari Brothers' Meteor label with his first reading of "Tennessee Woman." His band, the Dukes, included mentor Charles McGowan on guitar. T-Bone Walker and B.B. King were Robinson's idols.

1957 also saw Fenton team up with bassist Larry Davis at the Flamingo Club in Little Rock. Bobby Bland caught the pair there and recommended them to his boss, Duke Records prexy Don Robey. Both men made waxings for Duke in 1958, Robinson playing on Davis' classic "Texas Flood" and making his own statement with "Mississippi Steamboat." Robinson cut the original version of the often-covered Peppermint Harris-penned slow blues "As the Years Go Passing By" for Duke in 1959 with New Orleans prodigy James Booker on piano. The same date also produced a terrific "Tennessee Woman" and a marvelous blues ballad, "You've Got to Pass This Way Again." Fenton moved to Chicago in 1962, playing Southside clubs with Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Otis Rush and laying down the swinging "Say You're Leavin'" for USA in 1966. But it was his stunning slow blues "Somebody (Loan Me a Dime)" cut in 1967 for Palos, that insured his blues immortality. Boz Scaggs liked it so much that he covered it for his 1969 debut LP. Unfortunately, he initially also claimed he wrote the tune; much litigation followed.

John Richbourg's Sound Stage 7/Seventy 7 labels, it's safe to say, didn't really have a clue as to what Fenton Robinson's music was all about. The guitarist's 1970 Nashville waxings for the firm were mostly horrific: he wasn't even invited to play his own guitar on the majority of the horribly unsubtle rock-slanted sides. His musical mindset was growing steadily jazzier by then, not rockier.

Robinson fared a great deal better at his next substantial stop: Chicago's Alligator Records. His 1974 album Somebody Loan Me a Dime remains the absolute benchmark of his career, spotlighting his rich, satisfying vocals and free-spirited, understated guitar work in front of a rock-solid horn-driven band. By comparison, 1977's I Hear Some Blues Downstairs was a trifle disappointing despite its playful title track and a driving T-Bone tribute, "Tell Me What's the Reason." Alligator issued Nightflight, another challenging set, in 1984, then backed off the guitarist. His 1989 disc Special Road, first came out on the Dutch Black Magic logo and was reissued by Evidence Music. Robinson passed away on November 25, 1997 at the age of 62 due to complications from brain cancer."

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Monday, September 5, 2011

Wounded Lion On The Prowl

Johnny Shines- With Big Walter Horton

"There are plenty of masters of this particular form, and the success of several different record companies recording the genre over the years has assured no shortage of material. Something just comes together splendidly on these sessions that elevates this album well above the level of even some of the great Chicago sides of artists such as Muddy Waters. It might not exude the timeless gold dust of such records, but at the same time has a raw energy and breathless courage that goes well beyond anything the Chess label got on tape in its studios. The sound is also richly thick and loaded with midrange overtones. This benefits not only bass sounds but the presence of the drummers as well. Outrageous drum breaks are one byproduct, and the listener might even sense the ensemble somehow about to topple before everything comes together at the slightest chicken scratch of Johnny Shines' electric guitar. Bringing that subject up: in the late '60s, this artist had yet to start developing his acoustic country blues phase and was playing the electric as if a concrete pick had been welded to his hand. One can only imagine an uptight recording engineer fussing with this sound, trying get something slicker and more professional. Thankfully, the recording teams in charge of this blues masterpiece don't indulge in the quiver, shiver, and shake mentality and just let the sounds go down, including this Shines guitar sound, which is almost more like a living creature scratching at the insides of the speaker box like a misdirected rodent. We are approaching guitar heaven, but it vaults over the gates with the appearance of Luther Allison, whose meaty, juicy tone is the perfect contrast for Shines. This album collects tracks from two different recording sessions a few years apart. Allison is present for only one of the sessions, but the harmonica genius Big Walter Horton is on both dates, flooding the bandstand with chordal cascades and even bringing a frightening edge to some cuts with distorted vocalese. This is not only a great blues record, it is a great party blues record."

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