Time is kinda restrained right now, so I thought I'd throw out a few, very short thoughts on the latest music releases that I feel are worthy additions to my music library. As of last summer, I entered the ipod generation and have downloaded a bit from itunes, but to me there is nothing quite like holding the efforts of the artists in my hand, reading liner notes, and checking out who is playing which instrument on what tunes. Of course, I miss the old LP records where cover art was, well, art. Anyway--check these out if you haven't.
Dennis Gruenling--I Just Keep Loving Him (A Tribute to Little Walter), BackBender Records: Gruenling is one of the best of the young guns on the harp scene today. He's been around long enough, though, to gain the respect of the harp community for his talents, especially other professionals in the business. Here, he has assembled some of the best in that business who have the same reverence for Little Walter that he has. Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, and Steve Guyger bust out the chops on some of the more obscure tunes associated with LW as leader and as sideman to Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, and even the vocal group, The Coronets. This makes for a surprisingly varied set of rhythmic moods with Gruenling conducting the swing in timbre by leading the charge of a few of the tunes, playing esquisite backing grooves on others, and still on others adding a solo to what the other masters are laying down and still keeping everything flowing seemlessly. West Coast guitar ace, Rusty Zinn, is on hand for quite a few of the cuts and no one channels the music that swirled around Walter better than he. Gotta move on, but this is pretty much an essential purchase for the blues harpsters.
Darrell Nulisch--Goin' Back To Dallas, Severn Records: Well, alright! It's about time that the man finally came full circle and recorded a straight "down the river" blues album. I've been a big fan of Nulisch's since his days with Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets, pre-Sam Myers, and his own band, Texas Heat (by the way, I hear that he is touring a bit with Anson now that Sam has passed). He stood out primarily to me because he had vocal chops to go along with his substantial mastery of the harmonica. THEN, he went off and began to concentrate on music that he felt highlighted his voice best by putting out recordings of more Soul/R&B tunes than blues and fewer songs featuring his harp. Although most of those albums were critically aclaimed, I just don't care as much about that genre as I do the blues. I'll listen to it, enjoy it, but not spend much of my money on it. This is hoping that Darrell continues to cover the giants of the blues like Freddie King, the Sonny Boys, and Jimmy Reed with such emotion as is on display here and that he continues to write such well crafted blues originals as the four included on this release. The title cut, Goin' Back to Dallas, is as fine a representation of the music as any of the classics that remind me of why I listen to the blues in the first place. On board for the festivities is Johnny Moeller, one of the finest blues guitarists to ever come out of Texas and who is now plying his trade with the Fabulous Thunderbirds. Just get it!
Steve Guyger--Radio Blues, Severn Records: Guyger is one of those guys who has been at it hard and heavy since back in the day, having been Jimmy Rogers harp player of choice for a number of years. Most of us know him from his undeservedly small discography, because he very rarely ventures far from his homebase in Pennsylvania. This release and the aforementioned Gruenling effort has him touring a little further from home, so maybe more of us will be able to witness just what a formidable harp player up, singer, and song writer he is up close and live. Both Guyger and Nulisch employ the rhythm section of Steve Gomes (bass) and Rob Stupka (drums), so these must be the go to guys at Severn Records, that has released some fantastic blues over the past several years. Guyger just flat has that fat back tone that harp players would sell their souls in order to come close to it and he's works the dirtiest bends of anyone that I've heard. He's got vocal chops that seem customed ordered for the blues, but he has the ability to change the tonal qualities of his voice to add something slightly difference to several of the tunes to keep each one fresh. Most of the time he sounds like a cross between Charlie Musselwhite and Elvis. He proves that he is much more than just a shuffle monkey with the variety of tunes that he has chosen to cover and that he has written himself. Good Stuff, Sho' Nuff!
Bill Lupkin--Hard Pill To Swallow, Blue Bella Records: Lupkin is cut pretty close to the Guyger mold and has close to the same story. He also spent a portion of his professional career, way back in the day, playing with Jimmy Rogers and is highlighted on Roger's Gold Tailed Bird. After that, the only evidence of his talent was documented one night Live At The Hot Spot and has always been my favorite example of solid traditional Chicago bluesharp. He pretty much shelved his music for family obligations until a few years ago when the bug hit once more and he began stepping back up to the plate. Guitarist Nick Moss utilized his skills on a couple of releases and when Moss began his own Blue Bella record label, Lupkin was given the opportunity to get something going in the studio and released the well received Where I Come From, that explained that he was just picking up where he left off. On this second release, he continues to ply his skill at turning a blues phrase with an all original cast of tunes. A few are a little derivitive, but that's just the nature of the music and he comes up with enough literate ideas that keeps it new. He keeps his harp playing fresh and inventive, which also is hard to do in this business and still call it blues. His playing is pretty much straight ahead Chicago style and he has such a deep toned sound going on, although some of the amp choices on the recording distract from that a time or two. He's got the veteran chops of a harp player who honed his skills night after night in the bars of the nation's blues capitol--even after an extended layoff. His singing lacks a whole lot of range, but that fits the style well, although some may find it getting monotonous by cut fourteen.
Okay--that's it. Given time, I certainly could have provided a deeper analysis and actually included a few more releases that I have purchased over the past several months and maybe I'll get around to those, but I've been listening to these listed here quite a bit lately and just wanted to forward them on to anyone reading, that you can't go wrong with these if you choose the blues. The Blue Beat website linked in the sidebar is my favorite online store. Charlie Lange is knowledgeable about the music and can normally track down the most obscure stuff out there. I have plans to track down RJ Mischo's new one and I see that Charlie Musselwhite has a live release listed on his website. Anyway--