Bobby Murray • I’m Sticking With You

Murray

Bobby Murray

I’m Sticking With You

http://www.reverbnation.com/bobbymurray

 

Consider his association with such legends as Johnnie Taylor, Johnny “Guitar” Watson, Otis Rush, Lowell Fulson, John Lee Hooker, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy McCracklin, and Albert King; the three Grammy Awards on his shelf; and his lengthy solo career: Bobby Murray rates among the most accomplished sidemen and bandleaders in the blues. Although he is often thought of as a West Coast musician, having come up in a band alongside Robert Cray, and having enjoyed 22 years working for Etta James, after 18 years Bobby Murray is surely a Detroiter. He holds the Detroit Blues Society’s Lifetime Achievement Award (2011), and his fourth album as a leader features some of the Motor City’s top talent on a world-class contemporary soul blues recording.

The guitarist’s core band on the recently released I’m Sticking With You included Dave Uricek (bass), Mark Thibodeau (organ), and Renell Gonsalves (drums), with occasional guitar from recording and mixing engineer/co-producer Brian “Roscoe” White. The set list, made up entirely of Murray’s original compositions and co-writes, encompasses slinky minor key grooves in the Robert Cray mold, gospel-drenched ballads, fresh-sounding shuffles, slow blues, and inventive soul blues and funk. Murray’s unique guitar work, which blends a lowdown approach with fluid, modern lines, is at the forefront, along with the contributions of several exceptional singers who assist Thibodeau, Uricek, and Murray with vocals.

Sticking opens with “Finders Keepers,” a chugging soul-blues number from Murray’s days with Frankie Lee. Here its drive is so relentless the take could easily slide into one of Otis Clay’s live albums. Organ and guitar solos are pithy and memorable; “Red” Redding gives a smoky, restrained, yet charged vocal performance. Singer Paul Randolph is superb on the title track, a staccato dance groove with funky accents and lovely backing vocals. Murray plays jagged, tangled solos in a modern, distorted tone. On “Ooowee,” strictly a down home, Jimmy Reed-inflected shuffle, his lead work alternates lazy “traditional” blues lines and chording with burbling, rapid-fire picking, always wedded firmly to the beat.

On “Comin’ Atcha,” White and Murray spar with solos reminiscent of Robben Ford’s style, but exciting. Laying down the minor key groove on this song only is a rhythm section of Ron Pangborn (drums) and Nolan Mendenhall (bass). Thibodeau’s piano opens “Rock My Soul” with a Ray Charles quotation, leading into a deeply soulful, gospel number with a testifying vocal by Barbara Payton, a memorable, two-chord figure, chiming rhythm guitars, and crisp lead guitar with Murray sounding much like Cray. (I’m sure he tires of reading that, but on this cut it is true.) Tom Hogarth sings “Shake It Baby, Shake It,” a light, upbeat, funky tune remotely like “Groove Me,” with soul-stew double-stops and hard-driving interludes.

Redding is back at the microphone on “Baby Needs Some Lovin’ Too,” which could almost be a forgotten classic from the heyday of Chicago soul save for a middle section that bedims the song’s sunny mood (wonderful writing here), and on the slow blues “Bad Case Of The Blues,” a showcase for Murray’s tough, tasteful guitar. “Baby, What Took Your Love Away” is another crisp, mid-tempo, minor key song with dramatic movement. Murray slathers “Movin’ On Down The Line,” a swaggering blues-with-a-touch-of soul, with greasy guitar. The program comes to a close with the churning, dark funk “Building Of Love.” Take a killer bass line, add wah and/or Leslie effects on the guitar, a few catchy and complex changes, and you have a solid slab of classic Detroit soul, updated for our times.

“A modern take on classic styles” aptly describes I’m Sticking With You. Bobby Murray and company have delivered a disc that sounds fresh yet has the ring of familiarity. Its 11 tracks are well-written, expertly sung and played blues, soul, and funk, every one a winner.

TOM HYSLOP

I received this CD courtesy of the Detroit Blues Society (detroitbluessociety.org/), in whose Blues Notes newsletter of August 2014 this review originally appeared.

 

Advertisements

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.

Magic Sam • Live at the Avant Garde 1968

Magic Sam

MAGIC SAM

Live at the Avant Garde

Delmark Records, 2013

The new Magic Sam album is outrageously great. I would say the same about virtually any other Sam Maghett recording–he never made a bad one, and that includes not only his studio work but the four live albums already available (five if one counts the solo house party set Give Me Time), which seem to have been taped almost by chance. Live at the Avant Garde is different in that it was recorded, at a Milwaukee appearance in 1968, to the highest standard of an amateur engineer. Though I had heard at least one of the earlier live shows in private circulation before it received its official (or semi-official) release, the existence of the Avant Garde tape came as a total surprise. Mindful of the adage about gift horses, I don’t question why it has become available after remaining a secret for so long. I am merely grateful, and deeply.

Unlike the other known live recordings of Sam, Avant Garde’s sound is clear and present, and the mix is fine (the set’s engineer and producer Jim Charne details the recording’s technical aspects in his liner notes). Sam’s voice and guitar are out front and crystal-clear, and Bob Richey’s drums are crisp as one could wish. Another reviewer has stated that Mojo Elem’s electric bass is inaudible. Not so. On my copy, it’s plenty loud enough for any blues band, provided that your taste has not been formed by rock soundmen, club DJs, or certain latter-day “blues” CD mixes. I’d also observe that Elem’s no-frills approach makes a better foundation for Sam than Bruce Barlow’s busy playing on Live 1969 • Raw Blues and the Ann Arbor sides.

Sam himself is in top form. His was one of the most intense and identifiable voices in the blues, with a resonant, declamatory style marked by an unusual reliance on tremolo (volume variation) rather than vibrato (pitch variation). In this show he sounds totally at ease, but with no diminution of his power. He is masterful. His guitar work? Hold on, baby! A red Epiphone Riviera into a Fender Twin Reverb (as shown in the cover photo, taken at the gig) yields beautiful tone, and the singular drive and depth that mark every note Sam ever committed to tape are all vividly present. A couple of hesitations and a slip of the fingers here and there are, I think, the only (barely noticeable) imperfections in an otherwise confident, peak form demonstration of Sam’s patented rhythm-to-lead playing. His creativity and energy are boundless; even the songs that appear in multiple versions across the live albums are packed with excitement and fresh ideas.

The playlist, pretty typical of Sam’s live recordings, contains a variety of material intended to entertain. Sam’s ‘50s classics, those sinuous, minor-flavored, tremolo-laden sides that defined the West Side style for all time, are represented by “Bad Luck Blues” (originally “Out Of Bad Luck”), with Lowell Fulson’s “It’s All Your Fault Baby” and Jimmy McCracklin’s “Every Night, Every Day” performed in the same framework as a bonus. The innovative output of his two albums for Delmark is present in “That’s All I Need,” which retains its lilting, Sam Cooke flavor even at an accelerated tempo, and by the driving boogaloo “You Belong To Me.” Over the remainder of the 16 tracks, Sam interprets the work of heroes Bobby Bland (a live-wire “Don’t Want No Woman”), Muddy Waters (“Still A Fool”–harrowing–and “Hoochie Coochie Man”), Jimmy Rogers (“That’s All Right”), and B.B. King (a brilliant “Hully Gully Twist” and a loose “I Need You So Bad”), and contemporaries Freddy King (“San-Ho-Zay”), Junior Wells (a liquid “Come On In This House”), and Otis Rush, whose “All Your Love (I Miss Loving)” is a rare and special treat. Junior Parker’s Memphis stomp “Feelin’ Good” is here, as is the instrumental it inspired, Sam’s incredible, show-stopping boogie “Lookin’ Good.”

Although Sam offers some good-natured patter and gives shout-outs to the taper and the club owners, the well-lubricated camaraderie, self-promotion, and enthusiastic banter heard in the home turf Alex Club shows are subdued by comparison in the coffee house environment. But the musical aspects of the performance are unaffected. I have eagerly, and repeatedly, listened to everything that has come out on Magic Sam, regardless of its audio fidelity, and Sam has never let me down: He always brought it. Sam died too young and not often enough recorded. Improbably, given its late release, Live at the Avant Garde is all cream; nothing about it asks the listener to settle for anything less than the best. And Magic Sam was the best. His unsurpassed charisma and talent continue to thrill, 45 years later. Live at the Avant Garde is a dream come true for fans of electric blues in general and Magic Sam in particular.

TOM HYSLOP

I bought this album from bluebeatmusic.com and received this review copy from the label.

Snap! Your Fingers

Finis Tasby - Kid Andersen

Finis Tasby & Kid Andersen

Snap! Your Fingers

Bluebeat Music, 2013

http://www.bluebeatmusic.com/product_info.php?products_id=20625

http://www.themannishboys.com/members/finistasby.html

http://deltagrooveproductions.com/music/artists/finis_tasby/main.html

Finis Tasby is a bluesman of unimpeachable qualifications. He got his start in Dallas in the ’50s, where he backed blues legends such as Lowell Fulson and Freddie King and soul stars like Clarence Carter and Z.Z. Hill, and continued in Los Angeles in the 1970s, where he worked with Big Mama Thornton and Percy Mayfield and began making records under his own name. His career stretches into the current decade; as a pivotal figure in The Mannish Boys supergroup, Tasby has recorded and performed with an ever-changing cast of all-stars.

This new release finds the great soul blues singer in the company of an entirely different set of top-flight musicians, a Bay Area contingent that includes Kedar Roy (bass) and June Core (drums); Lorenzo Farrell, Bob Welsh, and Sid Morris (keys); and Ed Early, Jack Sanford, and Terry Hanck (horns) making up the core band. Sharing space on the marquee with Tasby is Kid Andersen. Andersen is an acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, nominated in the Guitar category in the 2013 Blues Music Awards, and known for his work as resident mad scientist/genius guitar player with Rick Estrin & The Nightcats, as well as for his solo career and many side projects. He is also a respected producer with an ever-growing list of credits, and owner of Greaseland Studios, where Snap! Your Fingers was cut in 2011.

The program offers sublime soul interpretations that show originality while maintaining an authentic sound. The title track gives Joe Henderson’s original a funkier, more explicit country soul edge, replete with twangy baritone guitar, crisp fills and a snappy, chicken-picked guitar solo, strong organ, and a fine horn chart. Tasby is as wonderfully mellow and smooth as Brook Benton (no mean feat!) on a lushly arranged “Rainy Night In Georgia.” Don Covay’s hard R&B burner “People Sure Act Funny” is recast as a Ray Charles-style call-and-response number, featuring Lisa Leu Andersen as Raelette-in-chief on a duet with Tasby. Kid’s skittering guitar solo and clavinet playing are essential elements in the sound. The bouncy “Up And Down World” here, quite close to the original, is a perfect vehicle for Tasby, whose singing is often much in the style of Bobby “Blue” Bland.

Other songs are grounded in straightforward blues. Another Bland classic, “Rockin’ In The Same Old Boat,” hews close to the ominous, one-chord original, but something in the guitar parts (a wah-tinged rhythm part, a fuzz-toned lead) gives the track a fly, even pimpadelic, sheen. “Ghetto Woman,” a B.B. King title in a minor key along the lines of “Thrill Is Gone,” flows with cool elegance. In Z.Z. Hill’s “Don’t Make Me Pay,” Roy’s solid bass line and Core’s brilliant drumming produce a tough bottom end, accented by Morris’s Wurlitzer electric piano, Farrell’s organ, and Andersen’s trebly, stinging guitar. An incredibly loose “Blue Shadows” (the horns sound like they’re just blowing) is held together by Bob Welch’s piano, Farrell’s organ, and a solid rhythm. Tasby’s vocal here is even more than usually charismatic (and reminiscent of Lowell Fulson’s), and guest guitarist Elvin Bishop turns in a beautiful, very conversationally phrased solo. A quiet, nuanced “Worried Life Blues,” marked by Andersen’s tightrope-walking guitar break, leads into the hard-swinging closer, “Thank You Baby,” another great number in which horns, guitar, and keys take turns at center stage.

The song selection is excellent, the ensemble playing outstanding, and Tasby–masterful, gritty, and expressive–is singing at the height of his powers. Snap! Your Fingers qualifies as essential listening for blues and soul fans. Beyond hearing and enjoying the music, buying this CD is important for another reason. Half of the proceeds (yes, an incredible 50%) from the sale of this album go directly to Finis Tasby, who is recovering from a recent stroke.

TOM HYSLOP

I purchased this CD from Bluebeat Music, where it is exclusively available. Thanks and respect to Charlie Lange for proving yet again that he is as great a friend to musicians as he is to discerning listeners.