Monday, July 28, 2008
Virgil Brawley is an integral piece of my blues education story that I haven't gotten around to posting up yet, but plan to do so soon. Long story short is that Virgil formed a band called the Juvenators, along with Craig "Bonehead" Watts, back in the early '90s in Brenham. They allowed me to sit-in with the band way before I was ready for prime time, but they kindly encouraged me and I was the recipient of valuable lessons regarding working with a band and stage dynamics. Virgil made a move back to his Mississippi roots in the late '90s and re-established the Juvenators on authentic blues turf. The new Juvenators got busy establishing themselves in Mississippi and marking their path along the Gulf Coast from Houston to New Orleans to Biloxi. They recorded a live CD at Houston's Mercury Room and the studio recording, Golden Heart on an independent label. Both showcased Brawley's writing and singing talent and the masterful slide guitar work of Bob "Byrd" Lovell. I reviewed both those CD on the Delta Snake website back in the day, which is long defunct, and when I locate the originals, I'll post them here. In the meantime, those and this release can be found at www.cdbaby.com. I found out last summer, through e-mail correspondence with Virgil, that the Juvenators had this new release. I grabbed it, listened to it and wrote a review, lost the review, found the review, tried to post it on CDBaby, lost it again, well...Now that I have this blog, I'll just do it again, because this is the best that these guys have done.
Last summer, after pulling up CDBaby audio clips of the Juvenators' Mojo Burning, what caught my ear first was sound of a very expertly played blues harp. I e-mailed Virgil and told him how good I thought his harp player was and he said, "Yeah, you should think that. It's Greg 'Fingers' Taylor." I wasn't surprised because I knew that he and Fingers went way back, but it added a little more incentive to get the CD in my hands.
The Juvenators' Mojo Burning, provides more evidence of just what a triple threat Virgil Brawley is in the writing, vocals and instrumental department. Of the ten cuts on this disc, Brawley writes or has a hand in writing seven of the tunes. The only covers are re-arranged versions of Bob Dylan's Gotta Serve Somebody and This Is A Man's World which was a major hit for James Brown. Brawley proves that he's got some original ideas that are as worthy as the blues classics that are run into the ground by a plethora of bands out there professing to be bluesmen.
A good place to start, then, would be the opening song where Brawley is professing just that on All I Can Do--"I'm a bluesman/just doing all I can do" and is the first example of just what Bob "Byrd" Lovell can get going when he slips a slide on his finger. Lovell can played the daylights out of the guitar, but that slide stuff is really his forte. Well, I'm assuming that he's doing the sliding here, because the liner notes lists co-producer Chris Hudson's slide guiter under "other musicians". Since there is not a who played what on which, I'll go with Lovell on this one. The blues harp makes its appearance on this first one also and I do know that it is Greg "Fingers" Taylor, he of Jimmy Buffett band fame. His harp is fairly understated here, but the licks are well chosen and well placed for effect. I'm guessing that a small vintage tube amp was used because he's ripping it with a nice, distorted, compressed sound that is only found on those.
Fingers really gets wound up on the well written Handcuffed To The Blues and cuts loose with some downright nasty-toned harp with some great note choices that shows that he knows his way around the diatonic. A really nice guitar break adds to what Taylor gets going and Brawley's vocals match the woeful message of his words.
Taylor comes up with some sweet, melodic fills on the Lovell penned blues ballad, Too Late To Cry. He adds just the right touches to the tune and Lovell puts his heart on the line with his words on this lost love lament and he sings darn good, also. Fingers get down to his most downhome nastiest,though with the CD's final cut, on Brawley's Smokehouse Blues where he throws in harp quotes from Big Walter for some good old fashioned Chicago style blues harp, by way of Mississippi. Brawley gets a rightgeous blues growl going on his tale of having his smokehouse raided of all his sweetest, juiciest meat--classic stuff here, I'm telling you. I really do believe that it is his stabbing,string bending guitar style that is on display on this 12 bar gem.
Brawley reaches into some deep, dark recesses of the genre with a few of his tunes, such as the title tune. Even though it has a lively beat, sort of similar to Willie and the Handjive because it jumps and jives, the message revolves around tragedy as he writes..."Had me a sanctuary/Used to go there everyday/Now it's all in ashes/Lord, I've got no place to play". Guy Wade's drumming and George Vance's bass keep the tune driving none-the-less. Both have been Brawley's partners for quite some time, so they know how to push the Big Juv. The slide's got a JJ Cale feel to it here and I'm pretty sure that it is Brawley's Resonator playing that is adding to the rhythmic drive. This ain't too far removed from the Doors' Mojo Rising.
He's at his darkest with what seems to be a post 911 Judgement Day warning..."Go tell your enemies/And all your friends/They've gone and woke/The sleeping giant up again". A little Armageddon message with a pervasive dirge and the whole band adds to the vibe, maybe even including the rhythm guitar of Virgil's son, Travis.
He keeps the dark tone going with Black Hanna, which has some kind of voodoo stuff permeating the mood. You'll be wondering, also, just what made Black Hanna sing on this tune steeped in Mississippi folk lore. Pretty heavy one here.
The band pretty much Juvenates the Bob Dylan tune to make it there own. Johnny Young's B-3 organ keeps it going on a driving, insistent rhythmic track with another excellent slide guitar break crying for mercy and they do just about the same to the James Brown number--a Juvenator staple since the early days and one on which Brawley nails the vocals.
What has always impressed me about the band is that they walk up to the heavier blues/rock puddle at times, but they never step off into it. Brawley and company just seem to know where that line exists and that's the way I like it. This is well written, well played and well sung by a band from Mississippi. They have a website at: www.thejuvenators.com and a www.myspace.com/thejuvenators and their music can be purchased at www.cdbaby.com. Anyway--