Kenny Parker • Yes Indeed!

Yes Indeed!

Kenny Parker

Yes Indeed!

Blue Angel Recordings, 2013

https://myspace.com/kennyparkerblues

Download Yes Indeed! at iTunes, CDBaby, and Amazon. To buy CDs, contact the artist via Facebook or email (kennykool25 AT hotmail.com), or go to one of his shows.

 

It is hard to believe that almost 20 years have gone by since the release of Raise The Dead. Kenny Parker’s first album featured performances by some of the finest musicians in Detroit and beyond–players like The Butler Twins, Bill Heid, and Darrell Nulisch­–unified by his fiery yet tasteful guitar work, and stands up today as an solid sampling of straight-ahead blues. While the contemporary scene in Detroit (and elsewhere) is vastly different, Parker continues to keep high standards and good company. His new project Yes Indeed!, which features the vocals and harp of Garfield Angove, with Chris Codish and Tim Brockett on keys, Renell Gonzalves on drums, and Bob Connor and Mike Marshall (a returning collaborator) on bass, delivers a range of exciting music.

Parker’s varied originals make up the bulk of the record. Wailing harmonica and a humorous, spoken narrative about a high maintenance woman, delivered through a harp mike by The Reverend Lowdown, are essential components of “Wig Hat,” a lowdown stomp akin to an early Howlin’ Wolf number, with a guitar break as spiky as barbed wire. “I’m Gonna Make You Mine,” a shuffle with 1950s Memphis written all over it, features vivid lyrics and a raw, enthusiastic performance. A Texas feeling, reminiscent of Frankie Lee Sims by way of Mike Morgan & The Crawl, informs a pair of shuffles in the middle of the set: The tough swagger of “Shake That Thing” would have suited Parker’s old employers The Butler Twins well, while on “Spellbound” (co-written with Woodstock Sally Scribner), Parker breaks out his slide. Most slide guitarists playing blues (not rock) draw heavily on Muddy Waters or Elmore James; Parker’s curling, languid lines are original, with a hint of Smokin’ Joe Kubek’s style.

“Look Before You Leap,” a Parker-Angove collaboration, has a melody akin to Kim Wilson’s “Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You.” The song bears the merest suggestion of a rocking J.B. Lenoir shuffle and jumps as hard as Little Walter, but rather than aping Lockwood/Tucker or Louis Myers, Parker’s slashing attack is all Guitar Slim. It’s an unexpected and effective juxtaposition. Gonzalves’s invention and swing behind “Leap” are likewise impressive. “Tight Black Sweater” is about as modern as this set gets. Its hard-hitting “Tramp” groove features a slick Leslie sound on the guitar, a fine organ solo, and a spoken vocal right out of the textbooks written by Lowell Fulson and Otis & Carla. Angove’s harp accents lend a down home, “Scratch My Back” edge.

The playlist includes four covers. On Greg Piccolo’s title track, which opens the disc, the band lays down a clipped, upbeat shuffle, warmed by a sunny vocal and the horn section of Larry Lamb (sax) and Andy Wickstrom (trumpet). Paced by Parker’s uncluttered, melodic solo, “Yes Indeed” swings like a Ronnie Earl-era Roomful Of Blues tune should. Angove provides impressive, swooping harp lines and big tone on a muted, somber reading of Little Walter’s “Can’t Hold Out.” Parker turns in a fierce and faithful version of Gatemouth Brown’s classic “Okie Dokie Stomp” and salutes Ike Turner with a cover of the exotic “Cuban Getaway” that is sweet and snarling; the piano break nods, appropriately, to Professor Longhair’s rolling, complex, Carribean-inflected style. A serene take on the familiar show tune “You’ll Never Walk Alone” closes the disc on a quiet note, with a piano picking out the chords note by note the only backing for Parker’s gently soaring slide guitar.

If I were pressed to recommend a single track, it would be “Valentine’s Day,” a spare, funereally paced minor blues that shows how powerful restraint can be in the right hands. Parker’s playing is quiet and purposeful, and absolutely without the ulterior motive of turning it up to 10 and stepping on the gas halfway through the song. His outstanding performance is built on clean lines, rolling trills, ‘60s-era Buddy Guy double-stops, Otis Rush-leaning bends, and, above all, dynamics. Bravo! The devastating lyrics match the tone of the music, Angove’s subdued vocal delivery packs a heavy wallop, and for a sublime 5:49, everything hangs on beautiful and ominous piano accompaniment worthy of Otis Spann. Such combinations make Yes Indeed! a classy and memorable collection of pure blues.

 

TOM HYSLOP

 

The artist kindly provided the CD for this review.

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Remembering Little Walter

Remembering LIttle Walter

Billy Boy Arnold, Charlie Musselwhite, Mark Hummel, Sugar Ray Norcia, James Harman

Remembering Little Walter

Blind Pig Records, 2013

http://www.blindpigrecords.com/

Latter-day harp men talk about Big Walter’s tone, emulate the conversational styles of both Sonny Boys, admire the power and playfulness of Cotton, and dig Junior Wells’s attitude. Some may work on Jimmy Reed’s high-end approach, or give lip service to Snooky Pryor or Louis Myers. But Marion Walter Jacobs was The Man, the player whose stylistic innovations revolutionized the way the instrument was played, and whose technique, taste, and tones continue to baffle and inspire musicians more than 60 years after his debut, and nearly 45 after his untimely death. Little Walter’s influence is so pervasive, therefore, that a certain amount of sarcasm seems almost a requirement when confronting a blues harp CD named Remembering Little Walter. What are the odds? At some level, after all, nearly every record prominently featuring harmonica blues could bear that title.

Built entirely from Walter’s catalog, many of the songs on this album have been recorded countless times already (and chances are that, if you are like I am, you do not care if you never again hear “My Babe,” though you undoubtedly still thrill to “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer”). What, then, distinguishes this release? Enough that it is nominated for two Blues Music Awards, in the Album and Traditional Blues Album categories. After years of organizing his Blues Harmonica Blowout tours, producer Mark Hummel has some practice at assembling successful packages, practice that carried over to this show, recorded at Anthology in San Diego. Start with the band. The superb rhythm section is made up of June Core (drums) and RW Grigsby (bass). The guitarists are well experienced at working with harmonica players: Nathan James (with James Harman and Ben Hernandez) and the legendary Little Charlie Baty (with Rick Estrin, in the Nightcats). The unit interprets the sounds originally laid down on Checker by the Aces and Robert Lockwood & Luther Tucker with swing, subtlety, and deep understanding.

The singers/harmonica players under whose names Remembering Little Walter was issued are an enviable all-star assemblage: Hummel, Harman, Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Boy Arnold, and Sugar Ray Norcia. Together they represent something like 50% of any reasonable person’s list of pre-eminent living harmonica instrumentalists, and the environment, as one might expect, makes for committed and spirited performances. Sugar Ray’s intense “Mean Old World” is dynamite, as is Musselwhite’s take on the uptempo “One Of These Mornings,” a relative rarity, which also features a daredevil guitar break. Tone and dynamics are at an impossibly high level throughout–Hummel and the band dial in a perfect late-night mood on “Blue Light,” and the way Harman drives “Crazy Mixed Up World” hard before breaking it down to a whisper at the end is masterly. Billy Boy’s “Can’t Hold Out Much Longer” is splendid on every level.

Although that recap covers only about half of the program, be assured that the rest of the songs (each performer sings two) are excellent as well. The closing number, “My Babe,” features all five marquee players (not to mention Baty, who started on harmonica before becoming universally recognized as a genius guitarist) blowing inspired solos on their horns. Chances are that you have already made the decision to buy Remembering Little Walter. You will not regret it.

TOM HYSLOP

I received the review copy of this CD from the label.

Blues In My Soul

Blues In My Soul

LURRIE BELL

Blues In My Soul

Delmark, 2013

http://lurrie.com/

http://www.delmark.com/

Lurrie Bell is the blues. Blues by birth, as son of Carey Bell and part of the Harrington family that includes Eddy Clearwater and Atomic-H label owner Houston Harrington; blues by circumstance, through his extensively chronicled personal struggles and tragedies; and blues by avocation, as perhaps the greatest bluesman in the generation after artists like Clearwater, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Eddie C. Campbell, and Byther Smith (and possibly even the last true bluesman, defined, strictly and correctly, as a cultural identifier, rather than used, loosely and incorrectly, to label any musician who plays blues-based music). After a pair of independently released albums, Bell returns to the Delmark Records fold for Blues In My Soul. The first-rate band includes Melvin Smith (Koko Taylor, Magic Slim) on bass; the excellent, widely recorded Roosevelt Purifoy (keyboards); the great Willie “The Touch” Hayes (drums); and Matthew Skoller (harmonica). Producer Dick Shurman has fulfilled his role adroitly, drawing inspired performances from all, and guiding Bell to a set list that suits the artist to a T.

Many of the songs are naturally enough drawn from the Chicago repertoire. Blues In My Soul offers indisputable testimony to the variety inherent in that tradition. There’s a terrific selection of uptempo numbers. Purifoy, Skoller, and Bell solo over the driving boogie of “I Just Keep Loving Her,” an early Little Walter side, and one not often covered. The J.L. Smith rarity “If It’s Too Late” is an even better find. The band maintains the essential, locomotive feel behind Jimmy Rogers’s “Going Away Baby,” and Big Bill’s “I Feel So Good” receives a sprightly workout with key contributions from Skoller and Hayes.

Easing up a bit on the accelerator, Bell digs deep into a “She’s A Good ’Un” that is every bit as powerful, and more deliberate, than the familiar version by Otis Rush, and gives up a mid-tempo shuffle in honor of Magic Slim, who died the day the band laid down “24 Hour Blues.” Careful listening to the guitar break reveals the jaw-dropping mastery of Bell’s playing–an excellence even more incredible for its subtlety, for there are no flashy, rock star moves here, only perfection in rhythm, touch, note choice, phrasing, and feel.

As always, Lurrie excels on the slow side of the blues, where few living players are as pensive or able to dig as deep beneath the skin of a song, and where his singing nearly always comes from a higher plane of inspiration. Bell turns his attention with laser focus to a gritty reading of Junior Wells’s “’Bout The Break Of Day,” a.k.a. “Early In The Morning”; “My Little Machine,” taken slower than the Jimmy Rogers original; and Otis Spann’s “Blues Never Die.” His most expressive performances come in Eddie Boyd’s “Just The Blues,” taken at a dirge-like pace, which features a lovely piano solo and a time-stopping guitar break; and the title track, a Bell original, with a chilling sound from the band, an intense vocal, and powerful dynamics. With these two numbers, Bell could single-handedly keep alive the endangered sub-genre of minor key slow blues.

The program contains a few outliers. Bell steps out on his “South Side To Riverside,” a chunky funk instrumental with a stuttering rhythm à la “Killing Floor,” a tough organ solo, and JB-esque horn stabs by Chris Neal and Mark Hiebert (saxophones) and Marques Carroll (trumpet, arranger), who also perform on the swinging opener “Hey, Hey Baby,” one of two T-Bone Walker numbers (the blasting “T-Bone Blues Special” is the other) that, Chicago-ized, prove to be right in Bell’s wheelhouse.

Although Bell grew up in the presence of some of the greatest musicians in Chicago, surprisingly little of their influence can be heard in his playing, with the exception of his most important mentor, the iconic Eddie Taylor. Lurrie’s lead guitar style, like that of so many players, is most deeply indebted to two other sources: B.B. and Albert King. Anyone who believes that to be a handicap probably has not listened closely enough to the music of those titans, and certainly has not paid enough attention to the unmatched intensity, imagination, and creativity of his playing. The most serious blues guitarist of our time, Bell is indeed the blues. Blues In My Soul is highly recommended.

TOM HYSLOP

CD for review was provided by Delmark Records.