Tuesday, August 11, 2009

More Cowbell Please!

Alabama Mike
Day to Day
Jukehouse Records

Ever heard of Mike Benjamin? No? How about Alabama Mike? Me neither, until I kept seeing advertising for his debut CD Day to Day. I mentioned him back in June in the post entitled, Ramble On. I also stated that since it looked like that guitarist Steve Freund and harpguy R.J. Mischo were on board that it just might be a worthy release. As it turns out, it is--but don't go out and get it based on my reasoning. Those two exhibit their talents on only two cuts each. Just get this to hear a new guy on the block sing the holy heck out of some traditional blues styles.

He may be called Alabama, but Mike woos them on the West Coast and is surrounded in the studio with plenty of those cats from out yonder. Seems like the days of making a go of it as just a blues shouter passed several decades ago--with the likes of Big Joe Turner, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy T-99 Nelson, and Jimmy Rushing. For a long time now, the blues has revolved around laying it down with guitar, piano, sax, and harmonica and if you could belt out lyrics along the way, well, so much the better. So many of the aforementioned singers fronted bands that swung more than just blues--lots of R&B and big band jazzy stuff. NOT Alabama Mike. This cat is a BLUES singer.

Day to Day is just chocked full of what the blues is all about. Most of it is of the gritty, down-in-the-alley, gutbucket type, which is illustrated quite well by the slam bang sliding whines of Jon Lawton's guitar. I'm not a guitar guy, but it sure sounds like he's got a Resonator cranked up on the title track, along with Mike's intense vocals. Did I say intense? Wait until you hear him channel the ghost of Son House on Death Letter Blues where he gets absolutely ferocious. Oh, and I just thought Lawton's slide was nasty on the opener, as he proves he knows his Book of House also and really bangs the box.

Charle Wheal (of Mark Hummel's Blues Survivors) slaps on the straps to get a bit more B.B. Kingish on Religion, which showcases what the Alabama guy can do with penning blues lyrics. I mean, really, how can someone talk to you about religion when they give you so much hell--that's what he's talkin' 'bout. Seven of the ten cuts are his originals and they are solidly written blues stories. The weakest may just be the one chord boogie, Lay My Money Down. That type of groove doesn't call for a lot of lyrical invention--just boogie on. The aforementioned Son House tune, Willie Dixon's Too Many Cooks, and two Elmore James' tunes (Strange Angels and Knocking At Your Door) are nicely sung covers, or should I say nastily sung covers. He has quite a bit of Buddy Guy melded with B.B. in his delivery.

With all the slide playing going down on this disc, neither of the two Elmore James'cuts have a whiff of the bottleneck. Charles Wheal breaks down the former and Freund stabs nice single picked licks on the latter--he even throws a bit of broomdusting on it. Speaking of Dust My Broom, that exactly the vibe that Lawton brings out on Sara Brown when he breaks that nasty ol' slide back out. It kind of bounces into Freddy King's Tore Down territory also and that's kind of how this CD goes. Most of the songs remind me of some other blues song from back in the day, but that's alright mama, mama that's alright. By the way, R.J. does blow the reeds away on Sara Brown.

I've never heard of Scot Brenton before, but his blues harp tones are pretty tasty on a couple of the cuts. I have to keep tabs on this guy, because he also plays rhythm guitar and waves the wah on Naggin'--which brings me to the point of the post title. Sorry it took so long to explain why I stole Christopher Walken's legendary line from my son's favorite Will Farrell Saturday Night Live skit. I'm just not used to seeing cowbell listed in the credits of any song; and there it is, Myles Silveira: Cowbell. So, there you have it. I don't know, but he must be related to the drummer, Scott Silveira, who ramrodded this project and brought a wonderful vocalist out of the shadows for us all to hear. Oh, yeah, John Nemeth sits in on harp on I've Been Rocked and is excellent per usual--BUT don't buy this for the harp playing, because with only five out of eleven cuts having harp it may disappoint you. Buy it and discover a new real blues singer. Anyway--'nuff for now.


Joe's Blues Blog said...

It's a great CD. It showcases quite a bit talent in the SF Bay Area.

Joe's Blues Blog said...

I also neglected to mention that Mike is a fantastic singer and this is a dynamite CD.

Ricky Bush said...

I figured that you knew this guy, Joe. Yeah, he's one of the best blues singers that I've heard in quite some time. Anyway-