Friday, February 13, 2009

More iTune Diddies

I downloaded these some time ago and been reaping what I sewed (or enjoying listening to them). I balked at posting them up, because of the aforementioned problem of having no liner notes to straighten me out on specifics. So, to be able to share what I know is limited unless I visit the artist's or record company websites and glean the information from there. The alternative is to buy the hard copy CD, but when I'm just cruising around the iTunes site looking for a little variety from a variety of artists, well, I just can't afford to do that. I can download a couple of tunes that really move me from 10 different blues albums for $20. The problem there is that sometimes I end up downloading half of an artist's CD anyway because I just can't drag myself away.

I knew absolutely nothing about Alex Rossi, other than that he was a harp player that I had not heard about before. The title cut from his Topcat Records' Let Me In convinced me that he was indeed a player. He comes out of the gate with the type of rip, snorting amplified harp tones that I love to hear. So he hooked me immediately. Nothing fancy, just in yo' face deep harp tone. Turns out that Rossi is from Brazil. It never ceases to amaze me just how studied foreigners are in the book of amplified Chicago blues type harp blowing and he has it down pat. Normally, what I find lacking with bluesmen from another country are the vocals. Sometimes they have just enough of their native tongue inflections to throw things off a bit. Rossi's singing is not bad at all, but when he turns the vocals over to someone else and just whomps on the blues harp the songs have just a bit more impact. Case in point is the female vocalist (I'll assume it's Kathy Prather from what I gleaned from the CD cover) on Good Lover and on which Rossi's extended intro gave me the impression that it would be a instrumental. She has a lot of Angela Strehli swagger in her delivery and whoever plays the guitars, lead and rhythm, lays out some mighty fine picking.

This was recorded while Rossi was hanging out in Dallas and Richard Chalk (Topcat's top cat) has lined up some of Dallas' finest to join him in the studio, including Chalk. So Hash Brown or Holland K. Smith are probably the guitar slingers, but then there is Phil Guy listed as being a party to the party also. I'll go out on a limb and say that it it probably Guy's vocals and guitar that infused the incredibly FUNKY Show Me Your Bombacha. Ever go and listen to Buddy Guy's schtick when he tells the band to "make it so funky that I can smell it"? Well, this fits that bill. It sounds amazingly close to what Willie King puts out when he's being a funkmonkey because it sounds a lot like him. Rossi gets down with the funk fun on it, too. I stayed around and sucked six songs from Alex. Tell Me How You Like It, Let Me In, The Sun Shining, Good Lover, I Just Want To Make Love To You and the title cut. I thought all of them stood out well. As for originals, Tell Me How You Like It had some nice (or nasty) stuff going for it, including some more outstanding guitar solo spots.

While I was cruising, I just had to stick some of Carey & Lurrie Bell's Gettin Up Live from Delmark Records. One of the first posts that I placed on the blog was about meeting Carey Bell at Bob Margolin's gig at Blind Willies in Atlanta and what a nice guy that I found him to be. He was obviously really proud when he told that he had just released a CD with his son on Alligator Records which was an acoustic affair recorded in Finland. This live Delmark record from Buddy Guy's Legends blues club in Chicago took place not very long after Carey had left the hospital after suffering a stroke and I think breaking his hip. This is one of those releases that I'll go back and order a hard copy of and the accompanying DVD--just haven't got around to it, so the next best thing was to do the iTunes thang. Carey leaves a sweet final chapter in his legacy before leaving us.

Both Carey and Lurrie are in fine form, which in Lurrie's case has been well documented to not always be the case--but he's conquered his demons and is on top of his game once again and proves that no one can back a harp player in the old school style like he can. He works around his dad's blowing much in the same way that Robert Jr. Lockwood and Luther Tucker and some of those guys used to do in the Chess studios. When it's time to break out, then he let's it out--but minus any histrionics that marr so many blues releases today. He does what Lurrie has been known to do when on top of his game and that's to play with taste, restraint and deep soul. Of course, Carey's always deep soul shines through as it does on most everything that he's waxed. No earth shattering new stuff happening. Just two legendary blues musicians doing their thing with a total lack of pretension. Carey proves that he can still carry an instrumental with Bell's Back on in which he sticks his trademark licks, that always distinguishes who he is from all the other Chi-town blues harp slinger. He walked the same bar floors as the other harp giants, but developed his own lick vocabulary that was recognizable as only Carey Bell's. Lurrie sticks his little contributions into the proceedings quite nicely, also. I took a couple from the Legends' gig and a couple from recordings of Carey and Lurrie at home (which is on the same release) with plans to buy the real meal deal at some point. If you know the Bell guys, then you know what to expect. If you don't you might sample some earlier Carey Bell from Delmark, such as Heartaches and Pain and has some of Lurrie's guitar on it too.

I grabbed a couple of tunes from Cedric Burnside and Lightin' Malcolm's 2 Man Wrecking Crew, on the Delta Groove label, because they were the two cuts on which Jason Ricci was lending his estimable harp skills. If you aren't familiar with Jason Ricci, then he's just about the hottest thing since sliced bread in the harmonica world. He can absolutely shred the harmonica or he can do as he does here, provide fabulous backing riffs for his bud, Cedric. Burnside, of course, is R.L. Burnside's grandson and he played drums with him from the early age of 13 and Steve 'Lighntnin' Malcolm hung around the North Mississippi hillsides long enough to learn the vibe of the land and they hooked up and do pretty much a type of tribute to granddad filtered through more modern lenses. Of course, R.L. got dragged through some strange twists of blues modernity before he passed and some folks liked it and some didn't. The couple of tunes that I took to the iPod were pretty much in that Burnside/Junior Kimbrough one chord style with great guitar from Malcolm and vocals from both, but it's Ricci's harp, especially on the Smokestack Lightning sounding groove of Mad Man Blues, that really adds to the show. He's fully amped up and no one can pull the same harp tones from the reeds that Ricci can, but he isn't trying to steal the show and he doesn't--it just sticks out in my ear more than it may in someone's who isn't as into harp as myself. He gets some really nice acoustic work in on She Don't Love Me No More. I listened to clips from the entire release and have to say that these guys are most successful when they stick to what they were raised around in North Mississippi. When they stray too far down the rock road, then I lose a interest.

Another duo on the scene is Patrick Rynn and Chris James and they are sorta kinda doing a retro thang revolving around mostly originals on Earwig's Stop and Think About It--and that are also mostly derivative--but then a lot of stuff nowadays follows suit. Not being negative, because I love this stuff. If you've been listening to blues as long as I have then you'll be able tell exactly which Muddy Waters' tune sounds like Mr. Coffee or that Stop and Think About It slips from somewhere out of the Elmore James book of blues and so on. My attention was drawn to these guys from hearing Mr. Coffee and You're Gone being played on Sirius radio's blues rotation and, of course, it was that rock solid amplified blues harp that caught my ear. So, here I was thinking that another good harp player had slip beneath my radar, because I figured since the harp was such a significant piece of both these tunes that one of 'em blew (or mostly sucked) the thing. Naw, turned out it was just one of those threads that wind around and end up spooled around someone who keeps a finger in the puddin'. Took me an e-mail to Bob Corritore to confirm my suspicsions that it was his fine self blowing up a storm with Patrick and Chris. Now the thread that I speak of has a very, very young Chris James sitting in with and becoming a harp player and then a bass player with Tomcat Courtney (who's posted about earlier w/Bob on harp) out in California. Years later, after he met Patrick Rynn and formed the Blues Four band in Chicago, they ended up in Phoenix playing with Tomcat and becoming a part of the Rhythm Room (Bob's Club) house band. Anyway, that bio tidbit led me into believing that since there seemed to be a Bob thread going that he was mostly putting down the good stuff on this release.

Even though the cover depicts a duo, this is ensemble type Chicago blues. The original You're Gone is a prime example stop time Chi-town shuffling in that model that Muddy and the boys set up for us back in the day. Corritore's harp is absolutely front and center and he gets the spotlight solo rounds that Rynn and James unselfishly throw out to him. There is great driving guitar that has it moment, but the group groove is the focus. And, that's the way it goes with most of the CD. This tune and Mr. Coffee (I'm Good To The Last Drop) have found their ways on to Sirius radios blues rotation with a bit of frequency and they let Corritore's harp light shine on Mr. Coffee as well. I hope enough people buy the CD so they know enough to give Bob Corritore credit for the fine work here. They're not too many foolish folks like myself that'll research these iTunes to find out who's who. These guys really do get some old school guitar tonal distortion going on here. The Elmore James' cover of Got To Move has the nastiest distorted chords that I've heard since Pat Hare's and I loved his work and it is the only tune I downloaded without Bob's harp because I love that dirt. Same with the Elmore sounding title song (Stop and Think About It)on which they express that exasperation with the people who think they know it all. By the way, Bob has a great newsletter that is full of great blues news. Just yesterday, it had a link to some great pictures of Kim Wilson and Amanda's wedding while they were working a Blues Cruise gig.

Okay, this has taken me waayy longer that I wanted and I'm tire of writing and I'm sure that you're tired of reading. I'll just pop out some snippets of the rest that I've captured:
Mitch Kashmar--Live from LaBlatt I've have several of Mitch's studio albums and I think he is one of the best out there today and he tongue blocks every note (ask a harpman about that). I just picked up a few that I felt that he'd stretch out a bit on a live stage. I knew that the musicianship would be there and it was and he blew up a storm. I enjoyed his covers of You're The One and Sugar Sweet. He pulls out all the harp stops and tricks up his sleeve and lets 'em fly. Good stuff!

Carlos DelJunco--I pulled some tunes from Blues Mongrel and his latest, Steady Movin'. If you know and like Carlos, then you have both of these. This guy is virtuosic. He gets tones that I've never heard anyone else get--kinda like Jason Ricci and like Ricci, he'll stray from the blues and let his freak flag fly. When he plays the blues, though, he's on a different plane than the rest of us and he'll twist it to where he wants it. He takes Little Walter's classic Blues With A Feeling out for a spin that is only recognizable by the lyrics, because he sets it up on a totally different stage and when he puts the harp to mouth he gets otherworldly with it and it works. Oh, and the same can be said for Amazing Grace--you've never heard it played like DelJunco does it. He always provides his harp key choices for which songs, if you have the CD's liner notes. Sweet stuff!

Dave Herrero--Austin to Chicago I picked out the two tunes to which Mark 'Kaz' Kazanoff (everybody's go to horn chart man)lends his harp chops. Leave Me Be kicks off with some of Herrero's spot on Muddy style slide with Kaz emulating Little Walter perfectly and sets up the Chicago part of the album's title. Herrero gets a bit fancier with his guitar riffs that Muddy did, but it's solid Chicago and his vocals are darned good also. The Austin equation comes in with an old fashion Texas style shuffle on Problem on which Kazanoff supplies riffs that are more swamp Louisiana in nature, such as Slim Harpo or Lazy Lester would be getting down with. Seems like a good release for Herrero and it's one that I'll revisit when I'm looking around and not as harp focused. Anyway--that's all folks.

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