Saturday, December 26, 2009

Holiday Cheers To Ya

Just thought I'd share what Santa brought. Didn't really have a burning desire for much, but I put in my request for a few things that I figured that I'd put to good use. These have been stuffed under the tree for a few weeks. I always place my own orders with Santa online and then my wife wraps them up with ribbons and bows, and I wait until Christmas morning like a good little boy to open them.

1. Richard Sleigh's Turbocharge Your Harmonica, Volume 1: Straighten Up and Tune Right! Basic Tuning and Tweaking for the Intelligently Lazy Musician. The last part of that title enticed me into getting this instructional manual. I've worked on my harps a bit, but my lack of patience plays a big part in why I've got a few harps in various stages of being tweaked lying around the house. Sleigh is one of those master harp techs from the Joe Filisko guild of customizing harmonicas, so its nice to see him share some of his knowledge and philosophies. This is not a booklet to turn anyone into a master customizing, but simply a set of guidelines to tune and adjust your harmonica--faster. As he says, the book is for people who want to learn from his mistakes without making them, and he says up front that he intends to entice the reader into buying his tools to get the job done more efficiently. I knew this before buying the book, because I had read reports about his tool kit (especially his draw scraper). I've only browsed through the book and there is plenty that I already know, but from what I've gleaned already, he's laid things out very simply and straight forward and offers a ton of tips that he uses. There are no deep secrets here and he even points to other resources that offer harp tweak instruction. He goes into very little detail on gapping techniques and such--he just explains how to do it. I do think that it'll get me to digging back through my bone yard of harps for a little practice. I've some tools, but maybe I'll spend a little of my Christmas cash gifts on his.

2. David Barrett's Blues Harmonica Play-Along Trax. Since I tracked down Sleigh's book on Barrett's site, I decided to through in a set of jam tracks. I've gotten to where I mostly play along with blues CDs by various artists, I do have a few discs designed for harp players to jam along to, and I do that sometimes. I figured that I might as well add a fresh set of tunes. If you have Barrett's stuff, then you know what to expect--a variety of blues styles, played by his School of The Blues Band, with detailed explanations and examples of how to play the pieces. Jam on!

3. Hohner Marine Band Crossover in G. The Marine Band harmonica has always been my favorite axe and when they offered the Marine Band Deluxe, then I was in hog heaven. They were more money than I wanted to spend for a harmonica, but they were also such an improvement to the standard model. They did things that I had done with my harps before, such as sealing the comb and replacing the plate nails with screws and such--so basically I was paying them for doing it for me. What I have found is that they have outlasted my standard Marine Bands significantly enough to make purchasing them worthwhile. Then, enter the Crossover. The replaced the pearwood combs with bamboo and completely sealed them from moisture (the Deluxe were partially sealed) and tweaked them a bit more than before. The only keys that I could find available were in F or G. I don't play either of those keys a lot, but I've had my G around for a long time and it needed some of that tweaking that Sleigh describes in his book--may be my first candidate. The F needs work also, but the Crossovers costs a bit more than the Deluxe models, so I went with the G. Played it long enough to go--Wow! Tight, smooth, responsive, and loud! Great harp! I don't have the knack for doing the technical reviews that some folks have, I just know that it works for me.

4. Chicago Blues: A Living History. The post below gives description of this release. Do I have it? No. I was getting quite spoiled with the prompt delivery of the three items above (within a few days), that I through in this disc onto my Christmas list a bit later. Even though Amazon stated that it would be in by December 21st, it hasn't made it as I type this. I guess the great Blizzards of '09 slowed its path. Oh, well, I still have something coming for Christmas.
(Pardon the flash glare on the photo--battery ran down, and I got too lazy for a do over)

Ya'll have a great 2010.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chicago Blues: A Living History

My friend Joe, from Joe's Blues Blog, left me a comment in regards to me getting my hands on a "must have" blues release featuring some of the finest bluesmen that are still out there doing it and I told him that I planned on doing just that. Since then, August Forte of NoVo Arts, Inc sent me links to live performances from the tour touting the album and a press release that'll tell you more than I know about their grammy nod AND since some of you just might need a little mo' blues for Christmas or know someone who does, then this ought to convince you as to what to choose.




Chicago, IL – December 9, 2009. Raisin’ Music is proud to announce that Chicago Blues: A Living History has been nominated as “Best Traditional Blues Album (Vocal or Instrumental)” for eligible recordings released October 1, 2008 through August 31, 2009.

In an unprecedented collaboration, the legendary Billy Boy Arnold, John Primer, Billy Branch and Lurrie Bell--inheritors of the Chicago Blues tradition—joined forces early in the year to celebrate and pay tribute to the evolution of Chicago Blues. In April of 2009, this super-group released Chicago Blues: A Living History (on the indie label Raisin’ Music) to overwhelmingly positive reviews. During the following summer, the group toured Europe, playing to packed crowds at fifteen major music festivals in seven countries.

Produced by Raisin’ Music’s Larry Skoller, co-produced by Aulnay All Blues (Aulnay-sous-Bois, France) and recorded by Blaise Barton at Chicago’s JoyRide Studios, Chicago Blues: A Living History features Arnold, Primer, Branch and Bell leading a crack band on songs made famous by the forefathers of Chicago Blues, including Big Bill Broonzy, Elmore James, Willie Dixon and Buddy Guy.

The 2-disc, 21-track double CD pays tribute to the genre's creators, its rich history and current practitioners and is accompanied by a 36-page booklet with extensive liner notes, photos by Marc PoKempner and a handsome 8-panel Digipak designed by Larry Kazal.

The 52nd Annual Grammy Awards, produced by John Cossette Productions and AEG Ehrlich Ventures, LLC, will air on CBS at 8 p.m. ET/PT. For more information on Chicago Blues: A Living History, please check out the following links:

"...21 tracks of gorgeous blues; will undoubtedly challenge for blues recording honors this year. [Chicago Blues: A Living History] is a tremendous project that ought to be a finalist in a few awards categories. [It] is just a joy to listen to (and to look at), and it is without a doubt a recording that you will return to -- even if you have all the originals... Sonically superb and carefully conceived". -Living Blues Magazine

I can't see any blues lover not jumping on this one--these guys are just way TOO GOOD to ignore.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

From The Book of Juv

Virgil Brawley
Bottle Tree
Circle J Records

Put on your rubber boots because Virgil Brawley's gonna drag us deep into the Mississippi Delta mud with his first solo release, Bottle Tree, and prepare for a soulful and spiritual trip with each step. Most of Brawley's musical output has been with his band, The Juvenators, and those who have followed the ol' blog here know of my history with them and just might have read my review of Mojo Burning. This release is for the most part an acoustic outing featuring the fine blues writing, singing, and guitar playing of Brawley, with additional instrumentation sprinkled among the eleven songs here (eight originals).

As he has on his three Juvenator discs, Brawley writes lyrics which have deep roots in personal experience and observation, and they always have a solid story line. Mojo Burning recounted a fire that took out all of his musical equipment and prized possessions and the Juvenators served it up on a blues dirged platter. On Bottle Tree, Brawley's reflections on life include painting his white house blue, searching for solid ground, looking for Little Susie, and thanking his cat for allowing him to share her home with him.

Along the way, he gets real spiritual a time or two, such as with his take on the biblical story of St. Peter in Fish Tales, that includes some nice acoustic finger picking from Steve Chester in support (he chimes in on couple of other tunes as well). Brawley's vocals have always had a world weary quality that fits the blues so well, and when that ol' spirit is moving him, then the mud gets deep. Walking Through Eden and Lightnin' Hopkins' Needed Time keeps that old time religion rolling with the former employing some sweet slide from Chis Gill's National Triolian Resophonic guitar and some slick sliding way deep in the well from Brawley's Dobro on the latter. The first is a ghostly, dreamy search for redemption and the second a shout out to Jesus to let him know that his time is needed--now.

Brawley proves that he can slip and slide on the strings pretty darn good on quite a few cuts on Bottle Tree, including on the title cut which is about spirits of a couple of different types. Seems that a bottle tree's creative purpose is to ward off evil spirits, so he adds a few of his own bottles after draining off the spirits and hopes that those dead soldiers don't become the death of him. Tyler Bridge and Ted Gainey's bass and drums add to the atmosphere here and on other tunes as well. Brawley's slide keeps Tampa Red's (who was no slouch on slide) traditional Delta Woman Blues, well, traditional and puts a light pin on Sweet Josephine, which never explicitly states that it's about a cat, but it sure sounds like a few that I have known. Hell, Virgil might have a monkey for all I know. Regardless, though, it is a tale well told.

He keeps that light touch sliding on his lament of lost tradition on Eudora's Jitney. The tune has a country flavor to it, and Brawley channels John Prine's vocal timbre on this metaphor about growing a bit long in the tooth and watching the world change for the worse. The song is about the Jitney-Jungle grocery store chain that had its birth in Jackson, Mississippi and spread out across the South, until Winn-Dixie bought out most of them. Eudora Welty made frequent trips to Jitney #14 on Fortification street in the Belhaven distict of Jackson, and her writings made it as famous as she. It's a McDade's Market now, and as Brawley writes, it may still have #14 above the entrance, but it just.."ain't Eudora's Jitney anymore".

There is a touch of Brawley's electric guitar on White House Blue, about making his disatifaction obvious, to everyone who drives past, by getting out the ol' paint brush. Jimmy Jarrat shines when given the greenlight to throw down some nice piano licks, and he does the same on the only other electric blues affair, Solid Ground on which Brawley wonders if he'll ever find again. His minor key single string work is understated, but effective--the way it's supposed to be.

Bottle Tree has captured the essence of the Delta in the writing, singing, and picking of Virgil Brawley, so get those rubber boots out--or maybe some hip waders, because he's gonna take you deep out in it before its over. Look for his stuff here:
cdbaby and at The Juvenators cdbaby site.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Better Late Than....

Well, well, well. Little Walter has been nominated for a Grammy. Ain't that something? The Complete Chess Masters (1950-1967) got the nod for Best Historical Album. This is not stuck away in the blues category, but competing across the entire music spectrum. Now if he can beat out Woodstock--40 Years On: Back To Yasgur's Farm, then the greatest blues harmonica player EVER will gain a bit more well deserve mainstream acceptance. Woody Guthrie or Sophie Tucker could slip up on him, but to me NOTHING beats the importance of the Little Walter stuff that I blogged about when it was released.

I've never been a big Grammy fan, but it sure is nice to see the members making some sense in their selections over the last couple of years. Great to see that the Cadillac Records soundtrack with Kim Wilson, Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn, and Eddie Taylor Jr. received a nomination also, and since one of Beyonce's 10 nominations is on that soundtrack (she played Etta James and torches At Last), then maybe it has a chance to be heard by the multitude's and it's not in the blues category either. Whatever happens, it is nice to see blues music getting a little more recognition. For a complete list just go here.