Friday, October 10, 2008
Happy Birthday....To Me
I'm going to keep this short because I'm pretending that today is my birthday. Yesterday was actually my birthday, but it turned out to be less than enjoyable. I had to go under the knife for what has become a frequent routine for me in recent years--the removal of a basal cell carcinoma. My skin doesn't like the sun, but I spent a good deal of my time as a teenager on the beach and a great deal of my time as an adult working summers on a workover oil rig--so, my skin is in full retaliation and this one was on the left side of my nose, which will match the scar on the right side of my nose from the same procedure. Not gonna go into a lot of detail, but yesterday was not fun and was a great deal more painful than my past trips to the derm doc. So, forget yesterday. My mom did bring out a great chocolate cake and gave me money and my wife did hold my hand for the bad trip and feel sorry for me and gave me an Adirondack chair for the front porch (which I'm enjoying today).
Anyway, I didn't go through my usual routine of ordering some kind of blues so that it would arrive by the 9th. The pending operation just sidetracked me a bit, so yesterday I decided to download a bit from iTunes--since posting about such kinda got me looking around again and since it would appear on my harddrive in an instant, then it made it sorta birthdayish.
I'd had my eye on the Texas Northside Kings for some time now, mainly because Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller were both a piece of the fabric for another Dialtone Records revue that follows their Texas Southside Kings and Texas Eastside Kings. Where the latter two showcased unsung veterans of the music, this one here focuses on some of the young bucks (and buckette) of the genre. Joining Moeller and Keller are Nick Curran, Seth Walker, Shawn Pittman and Eve Monsees with Houston keyboard veteran Earl Gilliam thrown into the mix (Dialtone dialed up a winner with a Gilliam CD a couple of years ago). All those present have been adding there touches with their own releases and on a multitude of other artist's recordings. Moeller and Keller stepped in to the role of Fabulous T-Bird guitarists when Curran stepped out. Walker and Pittman both have garnered the respect of most everyone around the Lone Star state with both their guitar and vocal skills. Monsees has gained a reputation around Austin with her band the Exiles (formed with ex-T-Bird drummer Mike Buck) and as being quite a butt rockin' guitarist and a heck of a singer.
So, there's a bunch of guitaring going on here, but it is not at the expense of the songs that they cover. This is OLD SCHOOL stuff. They show their reverence for the R&B, Blues and Rock 'n' Roll from four and five decades ago as they offer up covers from Lazy Lester, Elmore James, Howlin' Wolf, Little Richard, etc...and it sounds oh, so authentic and sweet. Keller gets the Red Hot Mama going with a wicked slide tone, Curran gets down, way down and dirty with the Wolf's I'll Be Around with some wicked distortion and gruffed up vocals, Monsees belts out some Magic Sam, Seth Walker nails down sweet ballad vocals on Since I Fell For You, Gilliam and Moeller (he sings one too) bounce off each other on the Junior Walker sounding Radio Groove with a exquisite sax from the mighty Spot Barnett. Oh, did I say there were some guitarist on this release? Yep, and they do be slinging it in a tasty sort of way. If you like it done the way it was once done, then get this.
I didn't know much about San Pedro Slim when I downloaded his release, Barhoppin', but I had read favorable reviews and I knew he was a harmonica man and that Rick Holmstrom was on board as guitarist and producer, so I clicked on it and sucked it into my machine. This is pretty much traditional West Coast/Chicago style blues and is a fairly enjoyable ride. Anyone who is a fan of Holmstrom's blusiest guitar work (such as from his Johnny Dyer and Rod Piazza days) will certainly enjoy what he gets going here. He is quite intent on keeping the tonal variety quotient up by summoning some of the heaviest reverb ladened plucking on one tune and then the deepest distortion possible on another and then swinging to and fro the rest of the way. If you know Rick, then you know the trick. I think he keeps the purist in us and him in mind and doesn't flip out into left field, as he's wont to do on some of his solo stuff.
Well, what about Slim? He has a lot in common with James Harman, both vocally, harmonically and lyrically. Maybe a little too much in common. He sounds like he is trying to sound like Harman. It's tough to do that without coming off sounding like a second rate version. He writes with the same hell bent for humor lyrics and comes up with some really nice ideas. Even his amplified harp tone has a Harman quality on a couple of the cuts, but Slim's chops are not quite equal. If I wasn't such a Harman fan and didn't know his music well, then I'd really enjoy Slim's singing and writing a lot more and it may grow on me, heck, I've only listened to the songs once. Back in the day a bit, before I realized what separated the men from the boys on blues harp, I would really enjoy his playing also. It's not a bad release of trad blues music, but I would get it for Holmstrom's playing. I may be over-analyzing and he may not be influenced by Harman in the least, but I think that San Pedro Slim will progress once he develops more of a style of his own.
Since I had new birthday money, I did order up a couple of CDs the traditional way through Bluebeat Music. They had a copy of Johnny Young's Complete Blue Horizon recordings. Young is one of those few blues artist that could be considered an original, since he took the mandolin and applied it to the format. Of course, he wasn't the first and not the only one to do so, but in the context of a Chicago blues band it was indeed unique. I'm not a huge fan of Englishman Mike Vernon's Blue Horizon label, but a number of his releases are valuable snippets of blues history as it was being made--this being a prime example and I also wanted to hear what harpman Paul Oscher was putting down with Johnny Young's band. I also ran across a band called The Special 20s and since that is also the name of a Hohner harmonica, I figured that the band is led by a harp player and it is. I ordered a copy of their second album called Morry Sochat and The Special 20s just to hear what some new bloods are doing with Chicago blues. Anyway--'Nuff for Now.