FolkWorld Issue 33 05/2007; Article by Ansgar Hillner

The Blues Always Stays Alive
Ansgar Hillner's Blues Reviews

Ansgar Hillner had been FolkWorld reviewer and blues expert for quite some time. Sadly, Ansgar passed away two months ago. A selection of his writing seems more appropriate than any obituary. We will miss you, Ansgar!

I'm gonna tell God how you treat me, one of these days, hallelujah
I'm gonna sit at the welcome table, one of these days, hallelujah

Barbara Blue

Barbara Blue

If you never heard of Barbara Blue I hope you soon get the chance to hear her, for the lady from Memphis is really a great singer. On her album "Memphis 3rd & Beale" she gets great accompaniment by Taj Mahal´s Phantom Blues Band and the Texicali Horns, so the playing is very tight and powerful. The musicians also helped in producing (drummer Tony Braunagel) and as engineer and mixer of the album (guitarist Johnny Lee Schell). Barbara Blue is the right singer for powerful Rhythm and Blues but is equally great as an interpreter of ballads as she proves in her version of Lucinda Williams´ Lake Charles which divides her from singers only suited for power. For my taste she could do even more of this kind of material. On Janis Joplin´s One Good Man (as on Don´t Put No Headstone On My Grave by Charlie Rich) she really manages to sound like Janis´ older sister. On 24-7-365, If I Had You and other pieces she shines like an uncrowned soul queen. And Barbara Blue is also a writer, getting writing and co-writing credits on four bluesy selections including the albums center piece The Road Comes To Me. As a singer both powerful and sensitive Barbara Blue really should get some attention. She is an independent artist and I think you won´t find her records in stores, so those interested should look for information on her website.

Barbara Blue "Memphis 3rd & Beale"; Big Blue BR 033; 2004

Marc Breitfelder

Marc Breitfelder is a German blues harp player of stunning virtuosity. He does not sing, and so on this two albums he joins forces with two musicians who sing and play guitar - Ryan Donohue, his companion on the newer album, prefers the dobro, a wood bodied resonator guitar.

Jack Cook is a blues singer and player from Seattle. After playing together on the street Marc Breitfelder had the idea to record an album and prepared the sessions very spontaneously. On „Feed My Body ...“ we hear duos, two solos by Cook and band sessions with drums, percussion and bass. The tracks come from different blues traditions: delta (Ishman Bracey´s „Saturday Blues“), ragtime (Speckled Red´s „Right String But The Wrong Yo Yo“), hokum (Papa Charlie Jackson´s „Shake that thing“), but even jazzier tunes by Louis Jordan, and Nat Adderly´s often played composition „Work Song“.
Marc Breitfelder
This tune is a brilliant reason for Breitfelder to show that he really is a master of the harp and is my favorite track on this album. Beautiful is Jack Cook's solo of Peg Leg Howell´s „Coal Man“ and Wild Child Butler´s „Put It All In There“; sounds great here as the protagonists play it in Bo Diddley style. Only „Goin´ to Brownsville“ by Sleepy John Estes is a little disappointing if you hope to get the magical chaotic drive of an old Estes-recording. Nevertheless this is a quite good release, rounded up by good sound quality, liner notes and innovative designed Digipack.

This is also true for „Take A Butchers Knife“, another collaboration. Breitfelders companion here is Ryan Donohue from New Jersey who lives in New Orleans since many years. Like Jack Cook he is a street musician, but with a much starker voice. The tracks here are even more old-timey than on the former album, adding fiddle and banjo tunes to the mix, like Charlie Poole´s „Milwaukee Blues“ and a number that is called „Muscrat Song“ and according to the liner notes hails from the early 1900´s. Even „Jack O´Diamonds“ (the first tune I ever heard played by my all-time favorite blues artist, Blind Lemon Jefferson) is played more in a style between rock and old time music. But there are also the old hokum tunes and risque songs („Tight Like That“, once a giant hit for Tampa Red and Georgia Tom, „Good Gravy“, which here is quoted as a John Lee - the first Sonny Boy - Williamson song but there is also a Tampa Red number dealing with that) and numbers by Mississippi John Hurt, Fred McDowell and others. Tom Wait's „Ice Cream Man“ sounds like a variation of „Sixteen Tons“, at least in the version included here. „I Can´t Get Away“ by Lee Dorsey (another artist from New Orleans) here sounds more like old time music than like pop music from the crescent city. There are more „white“ influences here than on the Breitfelder/Cook album and Donohue is clearly the dominating musician here, although there is more band playing than on „Feed my body ...“. On the one hand this album seems a bit stronger to me than the older one, but than again I would like to hear more of the great harp playing. They both are good and quite different contributions to a lively German blues scene.

Marc Breitfelder & Jack Cook "Feed My Body To The Fishes But My Soul To The Lord Above"; Rudolphon RDP 106; 2000
Marc Breitfelder & Ryan Donohue "Take A Butcher´s Knife"; JukeJoint Records JJR005; 2003

Terry Evans

Terry Evans

To fans of blues music Terry Evans is a familiar trademark. Like so many great colored singers he was born in the Mississippi Delta. From early on he wanted to be a soul singer. What made his greatness is his very personal style. Often he uses the great possibilities of his voice in a gentle and elegant way. Many listeners will know his duo work with Bobby King or his collaborations with Ry Cooder or one of his already six solo albums. On his first Crosscut release Evans presents himself as a mature singer and songwriter. Although many musicians are involved in different combinations the sound is always intimate. This helps to shape the whole package as a very personal statement. There are many highlights here, for example the beautiful ballad “I´ll be your shelter”, “Let´s get gone” which proves that it is possible to rock in a way that is gentle and kind of understated, “Uphill climb”, a clever composed song that has some harmonies which are interesting and uncommon in a soul/blues context, and the topical “My baby joined the army”, composed by Ry Cooder and given exclusively to Terry. Here Evans on vocals and David Lindley on guitar seem to sing a duet and it sounds almost heavenly despite the fact that the song deals with an actual war scenario. The album closes majestetical with “Walkin´ Chains”. Terry Evans shows one more time that he is one of the greatest artists in modern blues and in contemporary music in general.

Terry Evans "Fire in the feeling"; Crosscut ccd 11086; 2005

Pete Gavin

Pete Gavin

There were some tribute samplers released in the last years, sometimes by labels with an audiophile direction. Here comes a charming little album by only one artist, the British Guitarist Pete Gavin who is living in Germany. It is dedicated to the work of Tampa Red (Hudson Whittaker or Woodbridge) who as commonly accepted was born on the 8th January 1904. The only accompaniment comes from the bass guitar of „Pick Stevens aus Shanghai“. In the old times there would often be a line-up like this, the bass often being a single-stringed one. There are no thrills here. On tracks like New Stranger Blues and No Matter How She Done It, the two sing harmony like it was often on hokum recordings which gave Red his greatest successes. But Pete Gavin is mainly interested in Tampa Red as the wizard on the slide guitar and so we have the opportunity to enjoy an album full of the sound of his 1933 National Duolian (Tampa Red used a Tricone which was not made as a left hand model so the left handed British bluesman decided for the next best thing).

Of course we hear classic tracks like The Sky Is Crying, Don´t You lie to me, Love Her With a Feeling, the groovy Anna Lou and the guitar solos Denver Blues and You´ve Got To Reap What You Sow. My Favorite here are New Stranger Blues complete with conversation with Pick - it sounds very authentic and lively -, the dramatic Stormy Sea Blues and the unusual instrumental Tampa Tingles. This album is a lovely little tribute album for fans of traditional blues. Another great tribute would be a career spanning selection of Tampa Red´s best recordings in one anthology.

Pete Gavin "100 Years Tampa Red - a Tribute"; Redox Rdx 1055-04; 2004

Janiva Magness

Janiva Magness

Janiva Magness belongs to the best interpretative singers in the field of roots and blues music, this getting her first nomination for WC Handy Award in the category „Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist“. This new album is produced by guitar ace Colin Linden and features a small band consisting of himself, Richard Bell (once Janis Joplin´s keyboarder), Stephen Hodges on drums and longtime Magness collaborator Jeff Turmes, mostly on bass. The material ranges from blues standards (Robert Wilkins´ That´s No Way To Get Along) to versions of R & B material like Lost And Looking (once sang by Sam Cooke on his Night Beat album) to new compositions mostly by Turmes. There is solid ensemble playing. Some of best cuts are the ones dominated by acoustic guitar like the Linden co-penned Wasn´t That Enough and Eat the Lunch You Brought. A Woman Knows with Turmes on baritone sax is also great. These two and the title cut are written by Turmes, who seems to know best what material suits to Magness´ powerful voice, which makes her sound like a modern honky-tonk lady. Surprisingly good sounds One More Heartache (Smokey Robinson among the writers) which is treated as a number from the deep South instead of the Motor City. In some moments Janiva Magness manages to sound like Bonnie Raitt like on Less And Less Of You (again penned by Turmes) and the above mentioned Wasn´t that Enough. Fans of powerful roots singing should check this one out.

Janiva Magness "Bury Him At The Crossroads"; Northern Blues NBM0022; 2004

Mississippi Heat

Mississippi Heat
Mississipi Heat are a band from Chicago founded in 1991 and led by Pierre Lacocque, a real giant of the blues harmonica. To fulfil his vision he was competent enough to look for a singer with the right voice and found her in Inetta Visor, a great afro-american singer from the bands hometown. With them are Steve Doyle and Chris Winters on guitar, Chris Cameron on keyboards, Spurling Banks on bass and Kenneth Smith (whose father ones played for Muddy Waters) on drums. Carl Weathersby [see below] guests on some tracks. While many contemporary artists tend to mix the blues with soul, gospel, rock or what else exists in the world of music, Mississippi Heat stay closer to the blues tradition, modernising it very sensitive. Lacocque plays bright and melodic and with a big tone, the three guitar players bring in their different styles, Visors singing is powerful and expressive and I really like the sound of the B-3 organ Cameron often prefers to the piano. Mississippi Heat recorded a very cohesive album that´s a joy to listen to. Highlights are “Dirty Deal” with great instrumental parts (a call and response solo by Doyle and Weathersby and big unisono lines by harp, organ and guitar), “Heartless fool”, a perfect vehicle for Visor´s Voice, “She ain´t your toy”, the slightly caribean “Jamaican night”, the slow blues “Love will play tricks”, another showcase for Inetta Visor – all these tunes are by Pierre Lacocque himself – and two songs that were written by Denise LaSalle, “Give me yo´most strongest whiskey” and “Real sad Story”.

Mississippi Heat "Glad you´re mine"; Crosscut ccd 11085; 2005

James Talley

James Talley
While James Talley is not an unsung hero - he is praised by Peter Guralnick, Nat Henthoff, Greil Marcus, Robert Christgau and more writers who are deep into American music - he is still waiting for the success he deserves. In the seventies he seemed to be on the road to fame, had four albums out on Capitol which became lost classics of the decade. On many pages of the booklet of this album Talley tells the tale of his „career“ which gave us some excellent recordings but went nearly nowhere commercially. Now he has new albums out on his own label, Cimarron Records; and has gained control of his masters for to make his music available again. Describing what happened to him in the past he cites Peter Guralnick: „I had been exhibited as a price fish, and then tossed back into the ocean.“

Greil Marcus uses the terms country, western-swing, and folk to describe Talley´s music. On this album also the blues is very present, but in a folky, countrified way as on the title track, 'Down on the corner' or 'Streamline flyer.' There are also beautiful ballads ('So I´m not the only one,' 'When I need some love,' 'Baby needs some good time,' 'I´ve seen the bear'). The writing (all songs of course by James Talley) is kind of personal, but most songs nevertheless have a traditional feel to them, the smell of real life is everywhere. And for his singing: it sounds like some neighbour or relative of the legendary Doc Watson (for whom he opened one time in 1983, but that´s part of another story he tells in the booklet) raises his voice. The playing of the band, including acoustic instruments like dobro and mandolin, fits perfectly to the songs. Great music for grown-ups who look for a singer-songwriter more down to earth than James Taylor.

James Talley "Nashville City Blues"; Cimarron CIM 1010; 2000

Dave Van Ronk

Dave Van Ronk
Dave van Ronk on Wikipedia
This is a special recording, for it includes the very last concert of an artist who was an important figure of the American folk revival and with the exceptional booklet including song annotations by Elijah Wald, a lenghty and very personal essay by his friend Tom Paxton, notes about the concert by David Eisner and introducing words by Van Ronk´s partner Andrea Vuocolo. For my opinion it serves as a great obituary. It would be also a great introduction, but the recording seems too special for this, for of course you can hear signs of age in Dave´s voice and in his picking. On the other hand there is the kind of wisdom and humor here - especially when he is talking - that only grows when experience and age are combined.

On the set list on this evening was the mix of blues and old time pop tunes and songs by folk drenched singer-songwriters that was typical for him. He is best on his classics like 'Green, Green Rocky Road' and 'St. James Infirmary' and the performance of Joni Mitchell´s 'Urge for Going,' which concludes not only this performance but his career at all is very touching. Some of the bluesy numbers, for example the opening 'Down South Blues' are not performed too powerful, but what counts is the intensity of this performance as a whole. It was recorded more or less accidently and only the artist knew about the diagnosis he had gotten some days before.

While this recording is perhaps not the place for starters it is of high interest for all friends of American folk music and a must for fans of Dave Van Ronk.

Dave Van Ronk "... and the tin pan bended and the story ended"; Smithsonian Folkways STW CD 40156; 2005

Live at Lucerne

Lucerne celebrates the blues with the Lucerne Blues Festival and the concerts there are celebrated by a lovely series of live recordings, each one beginning with an introduction by Fritz Jacobner. „The Blues is in the house“, is his message to the crowd in the hall, and indeed, the blues is in the house.
Carl Weathersby
Carl Weathersby, born in 1953 in Jackson/Mississippi, represents the blues of Chicago in it´s Albert King influenced version and there is more than only a shade of soul music in his style. He opens with 'Leap of faith,' a gospel-tinged number, then stretches out with a medley including Marvin Gaye´s What´s going on, featuring his crying guitar, before returning to the more traditional blues with two originals. The next tune, 'Hobo Blues,' is my favorite. It features the harp of Billy Branch and the singing of Otis Clay. Despite the title it is a very soul drenched piece. After that Carl Weathersby walks in the footprints of Albert King (with whom he played in the eighties) for a twenty minute tour the force including two compositions by the master himself. Often his playing feels like hard rock here, especially on 'Night Stomp,' while on 'Can´t you see what you´re doing to me' the great band is deep in the groove. The show closes with 'Looking out my window,' a slow blues by Carl himself containing angry comments on the world and wild playing in the style of Jimi Hendrix. A great live album, presenting a great artist and contemporary blues in many facets.

The Down Home Super Trio is a different affair. There are drums (Richard Innes), guitar (Frank Goldwasser), and blues harp (R. J. Mischo) and there is a rustic and stripped down sound, direct and powerful.The absence of bass and piano even adds to the strenght of their no thrills-no nonsense concept. They open with a stomper by Goldwasser called 'If you dig me let me know,' receive lots of applause, but after that it gets even better. If Goldwassers singing is a little too much forced in the beginning on his second vocal outing 'Candle is burning low' he has found his voice. But his main contribution is his solid, earthy fretwork, while most vocals are done by Mischo. On 'Just can´t stay' you could believe that Robert Petway is singing but it´s R. J. 'Keep on running,' a composition by the singer, is an electrifying performance - just Mischo on voice, harp and bass drum. Two very different instrumentals and a little jam with Frank Schulz on guitar add to the diversity of the performance.
Otis Clay
At the end Goldwasser is in the spotlight again and takes his chance with a great performance on 'Homesick Blues.' They close with a quartet number, getting Billy Flynn on guitar on stage doing a number in the vein of 'Dust my broom.' Rock-solid and masterful throughout the album is the drumming of Richard Innes. A very energetic and entertaining live album by white boys who know to play the blues.

This one again is a winner. Otis Clay is called a living legend but how lively he lives! Since the sixties he is associated with the term Chicago-soul but like many of the Windy City's great bluesmen he came from the deep south and this seems to be present in his music until today. Playing with him are Hollywood Scott (g), Benny Brown (key), David Thompson (tr), Fred Johnson (trb), Jowaun Scott (b), Edmund Farr (dr), and with him are also Theresa Davis and Dianne Madison on backing vocals. The playing is great, I especially like to listen to the two horns playing together, for in most cases you find the combination of trumpet and sax. The selection starts powerful with “You´re the one” which has slight echoes of Africa in the brass section and it remains powerful on tracks like “Nickel and a nail” and ballads like “I can take you to heaven tonight” and even on introspective songs like “For the good times”, which was written by Kris Kristofferson. While interpreting country songs in a soul style Clay is in a great tradition we identify mostly with the great Ray Charles. Another good tradition is that at Lucerne Blues Festival other artists enter the stage for a short time to join in. Here it is Ms. Sharrie Williams who guests for a gospel performance. The spirit of gospel music is ever present in what Otis Clay does and it is no surprise to hear that at home in Chicago he sings a solo in the Liberty Baptist Church every Sunday! When he closes with the Staple Singers´ “Respect yourself” your heart and soul get just a little higher. This again is a great album in a great series. Last but not least: the live sound is very good!

Carl Weathersby "In The House - Live at Lucerne, Vol. 5"; Crosscut ccd 11078; 2004
Down Home Super Trio "In The House - Live at Lucerne, Vol. 6"; Crosscut ccd 11081; 2004
Otis Clay "In the House – Live at Lucerne Vol. 7"; Crosscut ccd 11084; 2005

Blues and trouble seem to be my best friend
When my blues leaves me then my trouble begin

Photo Credits: (1) Barbara Blue (website); (2) Marc Breitfelder (website); (3) Terry Evans (website); (4) Pete Gavin (website); (5) Janiva Magness (website); (6) Mississippi Heat (website); (7) James Talley (website); (8) Dave van Ronk (unknown); (9) Carl Weathersby (website); (10) Otis Clay (unknown).

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