R. L. Burnside – MR. WIZARD – Fat Possum 80301

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On this release, R. L. bares all with his brazen, out-to-get-ya slide guitar and vocals. Compiled from various sessions from `94 to late `96, the intensity never stops pouring out of this man’s soul. Mr. Wizard indeed, Mr. Burnside is a powerful entertainer and a seriously talented one as well. He goes back and forth from solo to group efforts here and seems not to really care what anyone thinks about the fury he conjures up during this or any other performance. Listening to this disc, you might just wonder if your speakers will take it! Leave it in the player regardless, as you won’t be sorry. If you are the least bit squeamish about the Blues or if you think you should steer clear of any possible musical danger then buy some Lawrence Welk, if not then buy this CD! That’s just what R. L. would want you to do. He’s out to raise a ruckus and man, that’s just what he always does.
A trend-setter and a purist of sorts all at the same time, he is and has been ready to whip you into a frenzy with his own brand of Delta Blues so when the Wizard comes to town, you better go and let him cast his spell on you. R. L. likes to travel and his touring schedule is incredible so there is a good chance you can check him out for yourself and see that I’m not exaggerating!Kenny Brown is one of the main conspirators in this controlled mayhem and for that and his continual support of R. L., we salute him. He also plays a mean guitar. Cedric Jackson, R. L.’s grandson, is the drummer and a force all by himself while on some cuts Russell Simins does the honors quite well. Jon Spencer, of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is on guitar and theremin while Judah Bauer holds down the second guitar on two cuts. All of these musicians are powerful in their own right and likely candidates to accompany the likes of our Mr. Wizard.
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R. L. Burnside – TOO BAD JIM – Fat Possum / Capricorn 42082

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R. L. Burnside lays down some of the most funky, low down blues coming out of the Delta these days and Fat Possum is lucky to have grabbed him for their label. This disc is one of my favorites and contains such classics as “Shake ‘Em On Down”, “Old Black Mattie”, “Going Down South”, and some John Lee Hooker tunes like “When My First Wife Left Me” and Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Short Haired Woman” and “.44 Pistol”. All of these are good examples of R. L.’s excellent choice of songs to cover and they are great vehicles for his earthy vocals and gritty electric guitar as well.
With Calvin Jackson on drums, Kenny Brown on guitar and Dwayne Burnside on bass, we have a good mix of solo and band workouts. Producer Robert Palmer really did a great job presenting R. L. in his top form. This is one CD that bears listening to over and over and I found myself doing just that. This is pure Delta Blues with just enough twentieth century chaos thrown in to prove that this man is in his prime and ready for the future. This disc was recorded at Junior Kimbrough’s Juke Joint, Chulahoma & Fat Possum World Headquarters, Oxford, Mississippi. Now order this and all of R. L.’s CDs as the rest are excellent too.

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Peter Green – THE ROBERT JOHNSON SONGBOOK – Artisan Recordings 100022

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Quite content to live out the rest of his life as Peter Greenbaum, the man we have all come to know and love as Peter Green just got what it took to pick up his axe and pour out some heartfelt emotions. The instigator of this wonderful event is Nigel Watson. It all started in Nigel’s kitchen and took a few small twists of fate, but the results are awe inpsiring!
Man, if you thought you knew what Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall’s BluesBreakers fame was going to come up with, you would most certainly have been wrong! Just the title should give away Peter’s secret about how all these songs do personally relate to us all, and his interpretations of them demonstrate that deeply. Here is a quote of Peter’s taken from the liner notes of the CD:

“I first liked ‘Dead Shrimp Blues’ because it was played in B and then it went to the E and use of that key…it’s really old stuff…like he was the origin of electric music…Robert Johnson, I suppose. And he was the origin of jazz…the original, original jazz musician, where jazz meets blues. That’s what ‘Hot Tamales’ is.” – Peter Green 3/98

This disc is one of those tributes that gives tributes a good name for a change, not just an attempt to cash in or just to get yourself noticed. If you want to feel deep emotions and authentic instrumentalists, buy this now! “Walkin’ Blues”, “Love In Vain”, “Ramblin’ On My Mind”, “Me And The Devil Blues”, “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”, Sweet Home Chicago”. You will have to hear it to believe just how good this is.

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Percy Mayfield – LIVE – Winner 445

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Having been the star of the amazing Handy award winning documentary video -“Percy Mayfield – Poet Laureate Of The Blues”, a “Blue Monday Party” television special, and several live radio concerts, Mark Naftalin produced this excellent document of beautiful, Percy Mayfield originals that will not leave your CD player for quite a while. This smooth, embracing blues with a definate jazz feel and atmosphere was captured from six different live radio broadcasts from San Francisco via Mark Naftalin’s weekly blues show: “Blue Monday Party” spanning from 7-1-81 to 8-8-83.

This disc is a memorial to Percy and “this is the man as he really was”, Tina (Mrs. Percy) Mayfield is quoted as saying. Percy’s philosophy of life was “live, love… and let love”, and that comes through on this release as it did in life. Hairy Larry gave me a CD of this and it is one of my favorite discs of all time by far. Highly recommended indeed!

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Nicholas Payton – FROM THIS MOMENT – Verve 527 073

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This record comes out swinging hard and shows the versatility of all the musicians immediately. Slowing down to a Samba on the second track Payton quickly gets you in the mood for what he has to offer on the rest of the disc. Although the mood shifts around a bit, it gives you time to get your breath. There is some state-of-the-art ensemble playing by this group. This well assembled group really shows their stuff.

Over half of the tunes are written by Payton and the rest are some well chosen standards by the likes of Cole Porter and Kenny Dorham, but each tune sounds as if it were written for this group. Payton’s smooth trumpet lines mix with the rhythm section like these guys have been together forever. The chemistry is there. These men are dynamic and engaging as they work their way through a wide variety of styles of jazz.

This doesn’t suprise me, knowing that Payton served as a trumpeter under Elvin Jones, George Wein, The Newport All-Stars, Clark Terry, and Doc Cheatham. He also has played in the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and Louisiana Repertory Jazz Orchestras.

As for myself, being a guitarist, it is good to get to hear the bebop lines and chordal voicings of my instrument of choice blend in with such a fine ensemble. That is only one of the things that make this solid set of jazz so pleasant to the ear.

The line-up is as follows: Nicholas Payton-trumpet, Mark Whitfield-guitar, Mulgrew Miller-piano, Reginald Veal-bass, Monte Croft-vibes and Lewis Nash-drums.

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Mulgrew Miller – HAND IN HAND – Novus 63153

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From the first few bars of this disc, it is evident that Mulgrew Miller has released a thing of beauty to be enjoyed by anyone who likes Jazz. With all of the tunes self-penned but one, we get a chance to hear some of the best musicians of the genre playing together to lift the listener to the heights that Miles Davis or Herbie Hancock reached at their peak.

Not content to put out just another record, Miller has assembled a work of art that takes me back to the jazz that hooked me in the first place. He has one ringer by the name of Joe Henderson, the Grammy award winning saxman who will leave you in awe every time he plays. He also couldn’t have picked a better trumpeter than Eddie Henderson, and it shows.

The instrumentation is varied throughout, going from quartet to sextet to septet, but with Mulgrew laying a solid foundation, harmonically, on his nine foot Steinway “D” Concert Grand Piano. He is very generous and leaves the bulk of the solo duties to the amazing crew he got to record this gem, but he plays with a feeling of exploration and history when he does solo.

Let’s just say that if you like Chick Corea, Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, or any of the masters that begat this style, you now have a new source for enjoyment. Not just a rehash of the same old standards.

Here is the line-up: Mulgrew Miller-piano, Eddie Henderson-trumpet and flugelhorn, Kenny Garrett-alto and soprano saxes, Joe Henderson-tenor sax, Steve Nelson-vibes, Christian McBride-bass and Lewis Nash-drums.

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Muddy Waters – LIVE AT MR. KELLY’S – MCA 23998

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This disc captures the classic line-up of Muddy Waters’ band as they play some of the most compelling Chicago blues ever to spin its’ way out of the vaults of Chess Records. Mr. Kelly’s was one of Chicago’s high-class jazz clubs in the `60’s, while Muddy Waters was making his name on the south- side in the juke-joints. But by 1971, his only real competition being B.B. King, Muddy Waters was primed and ready to wow the local patrons with some delta-born, Memphis-tested, Chicago-bred blues of the highest caliber.
About half of the disc is comprised of the usual classics you have come to expect, but Muddy also does a great version of John Lee Hooker’s “Boom, Boom, Boom”, and some others that might surprise you. With the people assembled here, how could this be anyhing but a winner? James Cotton blows some mean harp throughout the show, and tries to duel with Muddy Waters with some great results. Originally issued on Chess 50012 in 1971, this re-issue of a killer show from Muddy Waters’ hey-day is a welcomed addition to any collection.
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Michael “Hawkeye” Herman – BLUES ALIVE! – Topaz OWR – 0110

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Coming from Davenport, Iowa, “Hawkeye” is quite at home in the Delta or in Chicago and so is his music. On this release, the man proves he is at once a great blues singer, songwriter, guitarist, storyteller and entertainer so I choose to call him a great blues musician, not “just” a bluesman! The lucky crowd at this 1995 performance in Colorado certainly seem to be enjoying themselves and “Hawkeye” thrives on it and you will share in the pleasure too upon hearing the show.
In 1998, “Hawkeye” was honored with The Blues Foundation’s “Keeping the Blues Alive” Award in Memphis, TN, which is a part of the Handy Awards ceremonies weekend. Quite a well deserved accomplishment. Having been a professional blues musician for over thirty years, his CD, “Blues Alive!”, was considered by many to be one of the best blues CDs of 1997 and I agree.

After nearly two decades of making people aware of the Blues through his “Blues in the Schools” program and starting up those programs for Blues societies as well as his educational workshops at blues and folk festivals, Michael “Hawkeye” Herman has proven to be one of the leading exponents of the Blues. And you would have to look far and wide to find a nicer guy to do the job too. Do yourself a favor and get this CD right now and soak up all of the wisdom he shares and laugh along at his jokes too because “Hawkeye” will surely keep you entertained for quite a while.

A contributor to Delta Boogie, “Hawkeye” does the Tale Feathers column and you definately need to check it out. He is guaranteed to enlighten you with his wit and wisdom. This guy is Great!

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Melvin Taylor & The Slack Band – DIRTY POOL – Evidence 26088

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With Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II, ruling Chicago’s south side and Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Buddy Guy and Luther Allison ruling the west side, if you wanted to hear the blues all you had to do was listen. Melvin must have gone to the west side as he and band play some serious blues on this CD.

Melvin Taylor was born in Mississippi in 1959 and raised in Chicago. Dirty Pool, his second American album pays a huge tribute to his Chicago roots and even more to his huge influence, Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Along with the title track, this disc includes two other tunes done by Stevie Ray and co-written by S.R.V. and Doyle Bramhall: “Too Sorry” and “Telephone Song”. In Dirty Pool, Taylor’s first lead reminds me of Vaughan, while his second one sounds more like one of his most important inspirations, Jimi Hendrix. Melvin’s got more than most Stevie immitators. He really cooks in his own style and makes you forget about all those other guys.
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Mark Sallings and The Famous Unknowns – TALKIN’ TO MYSELF Vent 30011

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From the first time I heard The Famous Unknowns around 1991 in Memphis, as the house band at B.B. King’s Club on Beale St., I could tell that Mark Sallings was a musician of the highest caliber. He can also get the best guys around to help him accomplish, what to most people is impossible, that is an album of mostly original material that makes smoke come out of your CD player! A strong singer, a natural born harp and sax player, Mark provides us with yet another gassed-up, full-throttle, pedal-to-the-metal blues we have come to expect from him. The two instrumentals, “The Crawl”, and “Critter”, are the icing on the cake with standout performances by both Mark and Tony Spinner that will curl your toes!
On this, their second Vent release, Sallings wrote nine of the twelve songs straight from his heart, covered some Little Walter and Muddy Waters, and is supported by John Jackson on bass, Ray Reach on Hammond B-3, Chuck Tilley on drums, and the amazing talents of guitarist, Tony Spinner, (check out Tony’s three CDs on his delta musicians web site and the audio/ video clip of Tony singing WALKIN’ THE DOG, with Mark on sax, on the Mark Sallings web site we provide!). Recorded at Vent Records Studio in Birmingham, AL by Ross Roberts and John Kliner and mixed at Crosstown Studio in Memphis, TN by Rusty McFarland, this disc captures the band in excellent form.

Be sure not to miss any chance to catch The Famous Unknowns live, as they have been entertaining blues fans at festivals, casinos, etc., all over the place. Mark is in Australia touring right now and I think this may just be the CD to bring Mark Sallings and The Famous Unknowns to the level of international exposure they so deeply deserve.

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