Guy Davis plays it “like Sonny did” on new CD Kokomo Kidd

Guy_Davis_Kokomo_Kidd (2) (260x234)The closest you’ll find to a modern-day troubadour, acoustic bluesman Guy Davis is back with another terrific collection of tunes on his second release for M.C. Records, Kokomo Kidd. From the plucky, tuba-accented title track about a country bootlegger-turned-political fixer on which Davis raps about a life working for Washington insiders – what Davis describes as “sort of a demented celebration of corruption” – with such lyrics as “you’ve got to know the ropes and who to go to, who did you favors and who do you owe to/ now office to office, I can hack your email, find out if you like male or female” and “I got a meeting at 3, I gotta’ bring coke to the GOP”, to other uptempo, breezy songs such as “Like Sonny Did” (dedicated to the late harmonica player Sonny Terry, about whom Davis says “It took me 20 years to steal from him what I know so far”) and several old-time blues numbers, to soft, tender ballads like “Maybe I’ll Go”, “Taking Just a Little Bit of Time”, and the lovely, Pete Seeger-inspired “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long”, Kokomo Kidd has pretty much everything you can ask for, all accented by Davis’ sandpapery voice and an impressive range of sounds.

Carnegie Lecture Hall, Pittsburgh, 2014

Carnegie Lecture Hall, Pittsburgh, 2014

You’d have to be missing a pulse for your spirits not to be lifted by Davis, whether through the lively music he creates – on instruments that here include the acoustic six- and twelve-string guitar, banjo, harmonica, keyboards, and percussion – or the lyrics he delivers, ranging from the humorous (“yes, I tried to keep them separate, but that didn’t work at all/ one lives around the corner, the other one just across the hall” on “Have You Ever Loved Two Women (But Couldn’t Make Up Your Mind?)” and “you can besame mucho, when I’m standin’ at your window/ you can kiss me like a gaucho, when I’m layin’ on your coucho/ come on, honey, well, there’s all night long/ kiss me, mama, well, there’s all night long” on “Blackberry Kisses”) to the sensitive (“My mother died when I was on the road/ bell rang on the midnight train, carrying the hobos home… I got home too late to say goodbye” on “Wish I Hadn’t Stayed Away So Long” and “I like to go by the river, and sit on the banks all day/ with a pole & line and nothing on my mind, I can hear what the catfish say” on “Taking Just a Little Bit of Time”). A brilliant storyteller, Davis is full of surprises, including the addition of some, well, stinging guitar on the otherwise rather simple country blues of “Bumblebee Blues” (Bumble Bee Slim), a reggaeish twist on Donovan’s “Wear Your Love Like Heaven” that far surpasses the original, and a fine cover of Bob Dylan’s “Lay Lady Lay”, to mention just a few.

Harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite joins Davis for a creeping version of “Little Red Rooster”, which also features some terrific guitar and tinkling of the ivories, with the creeping continuing – this time accompanied by some delightful mandolin from Chris James – on “Cool Drink of Water” (Tommy Johnson), making for a nice contrast to songs like the light, airy “Blackberry Kisses”.

Truth be told, there just aren’t many who can deliver Americana in as interesting and entertaining a manner – or give acoustic traditional blues such a contemporary sound – as Davis, and it sure is a lot of fun hearing him explore the different sides of the genre here on Kokomo Kidd.

Related posts:
Corey Harris, Guy Davis, and Alvin Youngblood Hart bring True Blues to Pittsburgh

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Robert Cray Band celebrates 4 Nights of 40 Years Live on latest CD/DVD offering

Robert_Cray_4_Nights (260x234)Bluesman Robert Cray has been “groovin’ 4 decades” now, so this isn’t of course the first live recording we’ve heard from him, nor is it likely to be the last. But the double CD/DVD set 4 Nights of 40 Years Live (Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group) may be his most complete so far, featuring songs and performances that span the guitarist and singer’s entire 20-album career, including live versions of tracks off the five-time Grammy Award winner’s very first and latest albums as well as some early festival and TV appearances.

Disc 1 of the set captures Cray and his band – longtime bassist and friend Richard Cousins, keyboardist Dover Weinberg, and drummer Les Falconer – deep in the groove during four recent shows (hence, the 4 nights in the set’s title) at different venues around Los Angeles, starting on the warm, diverse vocals of a horn-accented “I Shiver” before those horns really kick in for a jazzy, “lowdown and funky” version of “I’ll Always Remember You”.

Cray at Carnegie Library Music Hall, Pittsburgh, July 2014

Cray at Carnegie Library Music Hall, Pittsburgh, July 2014

Things only heat up more as the band rolls through such gems as the grooving “Won’t Be Coming Home”, a soulful “Your Good Thing is About to End”, and the swaying “Poor Johnny”, while guest appearances from harmonica player Lee Oskar and vocalist Kim Wilson help to further lift songs like the creeping “Sittin’ on Top of the World” and uptempo soul classic “Wrap It Up” (Sam & Dave, later covered by Wilson’s The Fabulous Thunderbirds), respectively. Perhaps the pinnacle of the first disc, however, is the greasy, deep-grooved “These Things”, a track off Cray’s 1990 Midnight Stroll, which also happens to feature one of this live album’s best guitar solos.

Cap that off with a few more of Cray’s strongest numbers in “Bad Influence”, the higher-pitched “Right Next Door (Because of Me)”, and the bluesy, keyboards- and horns-infused “The Forecast (Calls for Pain)”, among others, and what you have is a superb and entertaining collection that even the most casual of Cray fans will appreciate, thanks not only to Cray’s magnificent guitar work and vocals but also to the tight, talented band that backs him.

Truth be told, we only got to hear the first disc of this two-CD set, but that one alone is probably well worth the price of the collection. We’re guessing that the second CD is at least every bit as good, capturing Cray at a much different point in his career through performances from the 1982 edition of the now-defunct San Francisco Blues Festival and a 1987 Dutch TV show, including then-favorites such as “Smoking Gun” and “Too Many Cooks” (Willie Dixon) – the latter of which appeared on Cray’s 1980 debut Who’s Been Talkin’ – as well as “T-Bone Shuffle”, “I Guess I Showed Her”, and “Still Around”, while the accompanying DVD shows video from both those early performances as well as the four concerts at which the first CD was recorded, along with interviews with Cray and his band and commentary from the likes of Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Keith Richards, Bonnie Raitt, and Jimmie Vaughan.

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Latest releases from daughters of the blues Shemekia Copeland, Zakiya Hooker help keep blues, fathers’ legacies alive

Anyone with even the slightest knowledge of blues history will be familiar with the names – and probably at least a few of the songs – of blues masters John Lee Hooker and Johnny Clyde Copeland. But with both bluesmen gone for now more than a decade, it’s comforting to know that the legacies of these two artists will continue to be carried on not only through their own terrific recordings but also through the music of at least one member of their respective offspring, with daughters Zakiya Hooker and Shemekia Copeland both serving as excellent examples of the talented second-generation blues acts helping to keep the genre alive, along with a field of male counterparts that includes the likes of Lurrie Bell, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Mud and Big Bill Morganfield, Elmore James Jr., and Bernard Allison. Here’s a look at the recent albums from both these daughters of the blues, which would no doubt make their fathers very proud.

Shemekia Copeland, Outskirts of Love (Alligator Records)

Having inherited the title following the death of the great Koko Taylor, the reigning “Queen of the Blues” returns to the same label on which her first four albums were released with her latest CD Outskirts of Love, a gritty, frequently dark offering that ranks among the very best we’ve heard from her.

Outskirts Of Love by Shemekia CopelandProduced by Oliver Wood (The Wood Brothers), who also plays on guitar, Outskirts of Love is a heartfelt mix of rootsy, tailored originals such as the opening title track – a slightly rocking number with a country twang, not to mention a pretty killer guitar solo – and the clever, country blues commentary on homelessness in “Cardboard Box” (more on this one in a moment), and terrific covers of tunes from the elder Copeland (a greasy, horn-laced “Devil’s Hand”), ZZ Top (“Jesus Just Left Chicago,” featuring the band’s Billy Gibbons on guitar), Albert King (“Wrapped Up in Love Again”), Mighty Mo Rodgers (the powerful “The Battle is Over (But the War Goes On)”), Creedence Clearwater Revival (“Long as I Can See the Light”), and Jessie Mae (Hemphill) Brooks (the creeping gospel number “Lord, Help the Poor and Needy”, a song you could easily envision Copeland’s father having also done), among others.

Copeland at 2015 Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival

Copeland at 2015 Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival

With its tales of runaway brides, murder, the dangers of the music industry, sin and temptation, and dealing with the devil, there’s of course lots to like on Outskirts of Love. But our favorite songs of the bunch have to be the husky, soulful “I Feel a Sin Coming On” (Solomon Burke), again accented by horns, and aforementioned “Cardboard Box”, a duet with singer and guitarist Alvin Youngblood Hart co-penned by UK bluesman Ian Siegal and that offers such terrific lyrics as “don’t need a door, I don’t need locks, livin’ my life in a cardboard box” and “Now it don’t matter what you own, a little shack or a mansion of stone/ life is rough, it only gets worse/ we all end up in a box, I just got mine first”. Having been just one step from a life in the streets for much of our youth, we’ve often joked about having lived in a cardboard box, so this is one to which we can really relate!

Robert Randolph adds steel guitar on the haunting “Crossbone Beach”, while Pete Finney brings the pedal steel for the uptempo, country-flavored “Drivin’ Out of Nashville”, on which Copeland concludes that “country music ain’t nothin’ but the blues with a twang”.

In addition to Copeland’s usual strong vocals, the album offers some intriguing instrumentation from Wood, the other band members (Jano Rix on drums, percussion and keyboards and Lex Price on bass), and their guests, who also include Nashville guitarist Will Kimbrough on more than a handful of songs.

If the world wasn’t already calling her the “Queen of the Blues”, it sure would be after hearing this album.

Zakiya Hooker, In the Mood (Boogie With The Hook Records)

With brother John Lee Hooker, Jr., having elected to pursue a higher calling and now devoting his time and talents fully to the gospel – what he calls a move “from the blues to the pews” – Zakiya Hooker may be the last of John Lee Hooker’s children still singing the blues. But we think it’s safe to say that Zakiya is up to the challenge, judging by her latest release In the Mood, with songs like the smoky, creeping opener “Receipt to Sing the Blues” and harmonica-laced, Chicago-style shuffler “Hang on for Awhile” serving as pretty much the only proof of purchase you’ll need to be convinced of Hooker’s legitimacy to the blues throne.

Zakiya_Hooker_In_the_Mood (229x240)That said, Hooker gives us a whole lot more, from the swinging “Another Kind of Blues” – one of several tracks to feature horns – and tender, jazzy numbers such as “Drowning in Your Love” and “Protect Me from the Blues”, to the breezy “Look Me Up”, and the saucy, slow blues grooves of “Let’s Do Something” and the title track, a tune obviously inspired by her father’s hit “I’m in the Mood”, but from Zakiya’s own perspective, with lyrics that talk of putting on her dress and stiletto heels and meeting up with her man to hear some downhome blues: “some John Lee Hooker and B.B. King, maybe even a little Buddy Guy will do.”

That’s all rounded out by the measured, funky rap “Art of Divorce”; the slow, simmering blues of “One Step Two”; and the soft closing lullaby “Sweet Baby J” – Zakiya’s tribute to a son she lost nearly two and a half decades ago – making this latest release from Hooker one of the most vibrant and diverse blues offerings – and most pleasant surprises – of the year. If it’s good blues you’re seeking, this one will definitely put you In the Mood!

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Born & Raised in Chicago, Omar Coleman delivers modern West Side soul on Delmark debut

Omar_Coleman_Born_&_Raised (260x260)As best we can remember, our first exposure to Chicago singer and harmonica player Omar Coleman came just a few years back when we saw him play along with International Blues Challenge winner Sean Carney at West Virginia’s Heritage Music BluesFest. While that performance and a subsequent guest spot on fellow Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon‘s John the Conquer Root CD were enough to form a pretty good first impression, those sideman gigs were, it seems, but mere glimpses of Coleman’s tremendous talents judging by his own latest release Born & Raised, which is actually his third full album (including one with Carney) but marks his debut on the Delmark Records label and may just be the breakout release folks have been waiting for from this soul bluesman.

For those not yet familiar with Coleman, it doesn’t take long to get to know him, between Born & Raised‘s funky, autobiographical title track that talks about his growing up on Chicago’s West Side and another baker’s dozen of original tracks, all but two of which were either written or co-written by Coleman. Part-James Brown, part-Little Milton in his delivery – with shades of Syl Johnson, The Black Crowes, Lonnie Brooks, and Blood, Sweat & Tears thrown in – Coleman delivers crisp, versatile vocals along with some brilliant harmonica, backed by an impressive band that includes Pete Galanis on guitar, Neal O’Hara on piano and organ, Ari Seder on bass, and Marty Binder (Albert Collins, Coco Montoya, Dave Specter) on drums and percussion. The album also includes three different guest guitarists, with Toronzo Cannon, Mike Wheeler, and David Herrero each sitting in for two songs apiece.

Every track here is a good one, with the best of the bunch including the swinging Chicago soul/blues grooves of the opening “Tryin’ to Do Right”; a funky, shuffling “Man Like Me” with its “Crossroads”-styled bassline and some stinging guitar from Cannon, who returns again a bit later for an uptempo “You Got a Hold on Me” that has the pair sounding like a modern-day equivalent of Junior Wells and Buddy Guy; the grooving, “Hard to Handle”-like “Wishing Well” featuring Wheeler and deeply soulful, Blood, Sweat & Tears-ish “Tell Me What You Want” featuring Herrero; and a slow shuffling, Albert King-sounding “I Know You Been Cheating”.

Coleman at Heritage Music BluesFest 2012

Coleman at Heritage Music BluesFest 2012

Those who prefer their soul a bit softer and slower will want to check out the smooth R&B of the Wheeler-accompanied “I Was a Fool” and tender “One Request” – really the only way one can safely go with an opening line like “Hey girl, I’ve got somethin’ to say to you/ I want you to have my child” – while songs like “Sit Down Baby” and “Lucky Man” add a dose of funk to the mix, and “Slow Down Baby” (not to be confused with the aforementioned, similarly titled “Sit Down Baby”) pushes the tempo even faster with a rocking, Chuck Berry-like number, with Herrero again on guitar.

Just in his early 40s, Coleman positions himself among the brightest of the rising stars in the blues universe right now with Born & Raised.

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Opening a world of Hurt: a first listen to the new EP from The Hurt Project

Last winter, we featured a song from NY-based blues band The Hurt Project on our BluesPowR Radio Hour, a smoky, “At Last”-sounding gem of a number entitled, appropriately enough, “Up in Smoke”. Today, we’re pleased to bring you another track from this five-piece outfit (which takes its name from guitarist Marlon Hurt): a gritty creeper from the band’s latest EP After the Storms, released this week.

the_hurt_project_EP (240x240)In addition to the soulful, sultry vocals of Jasmin Lloyd, this one also includes some terrific harmonica from Michael “The Bull” LoBue. If you like what you hear, be sure to check out the band’s full EP, which also includes the groovy, more uptempo “Where the Honey Goes”, a soft, jazzy R&B ballad “Adrift” that finds Hurt delivering some passionate licks, and the superb, Ronnie Earl-ish instrumental “Morning Meditation”, which we think it’s pretty safe to say you can expect to hear on the next edition of our radio hour…

Here’s hoping your weekend is a safe and bluesy one.

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Still teaming: Harp ace Bob Corritore, pianist Henry Gray chronicle two decades of collaborating with Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest

We’ve heard him on joint projects with the likes of John Primer and Tail Dragger, and also as a guest on recordings from Diunna Greenleaf, Mud Morganfield, Louisiana Red, The Mannish Boys, and Dave Specter, to name just a few, not to mention his role in Project Blues’ superb Muddy Waters Tribute that took place in Ohio a year ago this month or his own pretty terrific instrumental blues album Taboo. Now harmonica ace Bob Corritore is back with another spectacular collaboration with one of blues music’s greats – longtime Howlin’ Wolf keyboardist Henry Gray – in The Henry Gray/Bob Corritore Sessions, Vol. 1: Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest (Delta Groove Music).

Henry_Gray_Bob_Corritore_Vol1 (260x235)Featuring 14 songs from a dozen sessions over a nearly 20-year period, Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest is a splendid look at the shared work of these two icons through the past two decades, often joined by such special guests as Robert Lockwood Jr., Bob Margolin, Kid Ramos, Nappy Brown, Tail Dragger, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Bob Stroger, Kirk Fletcher, Dave Riley, and others. We had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand the magic of Corritore and Gray playing together (along with Tail Dragger) during a show at Corritore’s Phoenix blues club The Rhythm Room a few years back, but for those looking either to get their own first taste or re-live the specialness of a similar live collaboration between the two, Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest is a great place to turn.

The album opens on a frisky, boogie woogie-styled “Let’s Get High” that features Chicago blues veterans Bob Stroger and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on bass and drums, respectively, with both also helping on background vocals. That’s followed by the deep, slow blues of the title track, one of several tunes to include longtime Muddy Waters band guitarist Bob Margolin, whose unmistakable, stinging guitar tones can also be heard on the similar “Trouble Blues” (Lowell Fulson) as well as the creeping closer, B.B. King’s “She Don’t Move Me No More”.


Henry Gray, The Rhythm Room 2012

But don’t be fooled into thinking that soft and smooth is the extent of what Gray (now 90 years young) can deliver; there’s a terrific diversity of tracks here, as much because of Gray’s own vocals on nine of the songs – often just as gritty as they can be tender, as demonstrated on such tracks as the breezy, swinging “I’m In Love Again” with its lyrics of “I need your lovin’, I need it bad/ just like a dog when he’s goin’ mad/ ooh wee baby, ooh ooh wee/ baby, don’t you let your dog bite me” and Doug James accompanying on saxophone, and the shuffling, hoarse-vocaled “They Raided the Joint” with Kid Ramos on guitar – as for the impressive rotation of guest vocalists that includes the late, great Robert Lockwood Jr. on both guitar and vocals for Robert Johnson’s “Ramblin’ on My Mind”, Nappy Brown on the classic “Worried Life Blues” (Maceo Merriweather) with Ramos again on guitar, Dave Riley on guitar and vocals for the uptempo “Ride With Your Daddy Tonight”, John Brim on guitar and vocals for “That Ain’t Right”, and Tail Dragger on the blast that is “Boogie Woogie Ball”, where they’re joined by Kirk Fletcher on guitar.

That’s all rounded out by a steady-rolling “I’m Gonna Miss You”, the lively “Can’t Afford to Do It”, and a grooving take on Jimmy Reed ‘s “Honey Don’t Let Me Go”.

Bob Corritore, The Rhythm Room 2012

Bob Corritore, The Rhythm Room 2012

Both Gray and Corritore are masters of their instruments, and together, they share a cohesiveness that many even full-time duos would be hard-pressed to match. Add to this the fact that all but four of the songs here were previously unreleased, and you start to get a sense for just how much of a treasure Blues Won’t Let Me Take My Rest is.

The Vol. 1 in the title suggests there may be a good deal more to be heard from Gray and Corritore’s two decades of collaboration, but for now, we’re pretty content simply to enjoy all there is to appreciate about this one, easily among the year’s finest.

Related links:
Harping on the Taboo: Bob Corritore offers up album of blues harmonica instrumentals
Guitarist John Primer, harmonica ace Bob Corritore team for Knockin’ Around These Blues
Longtime friends in the blues reunite for Tail Dragger, Bob Corritore CD release party

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Once Lost in a Crowd, Fantastic Negrito now well on his way to being found

Here’s a tune we thought might help get your weekend off to the right kind of start, from a contemporary West Coast blues artist who goes by the name of Fantastic Negrito. Fans of NPR’s All Songs Considered might recognize Negrito as the winner of the program’s inaugural Tiny Desk Concert Contest earlier this year, where he and his band beat out nearly 7,000 other entrants with this song, one of seven tracks you can hear on Negrito’s latest EP.

With its driving, trancelike rhythms and haunting moans, “Lost in a Crowd” is something of a modern-day equivalent of a work song, with Negrito’s initially hard, coarse vocals giving way to a much smoother, soulful voice and falsetto chorus by song’s end.

Want to hear more? Check out Negrito’s Tiny Desk Concert performance with NPR, which also provides some nice background on the musician, including his real name, a bit about his previous recording contract with Interscope Records, and the impact a near-fatal car crash had on Negrito’s life and career. And then be sure to listen to the rest of Negrito’s deluxe edition EP, where you’ll also hear a dark but equally powerful “An Honest Man”, the hypnotic “Night Has Turned to Day”, the soft, soulful ballad “The Time Has Come”, and the infectious, hitting-the-road grooves of “A New Beginning” among the additional tracks.

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Baby You Got It: new single from funky ol’ soulman Ironing Board Sam

Last fall, we told you about a 20th anniversary multimedia collection from the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a North Carolina-based non-profit record label focused on supporting struggling traditional southern musicians by providing everything from instruments to performing and recording opportunities to day-to-day essentials like medications and heating oil. Among the many artists Music Maker has assisted over the years is a colorful character from the Carolinas by the name of Ironing Board Sam, who earned his nickname in the early 1960s by strapping his keyboard to an ironing board so he could carry it around the stage.

Ironing_Board_Sam (2) (260x163)

Courtesy Music Maker Relief Foundation

Born Sammie Moore, the 75-year-old musician/inventor became famous for his stunts throughout New Orleans, which included performing underwater in a giant homemade aquarium or accompanied by a toy monkey playing a drum machine, as well as floating over the city in a hot air balloon, operating a party boat, and riding around in a Cadillac fitted with crystal chandeliers. Recently, Sam signed with Big Legal Mess records, where he’s slated to release his debut album Super Spirit in early October, co-produced by Bruce Watson and Jimbo Mathus.

Here’s the album’s energetic lead track – “Baby You Got It” – to help get your weekend off to a grooving, soulful start, with horns and background vocals adding an old-time sound to Sam’s frenetic keyboard melodies. As Sam himself advises in the song: “don’t keep it to yourself”!

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You’ll swear Buddy Guy has blues running through his veins on Born to Play Guitar

We didn’t get the chance to see Buddy Guy when he was in town recently for the latest offering of the Pittsburgh Blues Festival, but we did read about the controversy that ensued, with the festival organizer ending up offering a public apology for Guy’s foul language – which, in turn, prompted Buddy’s team to apologize on the six-time Grammy Award winner’s Facebook page just yesterday. There are of course many sides to this debate, with some arguing that the festival is a family event, while others tend to agree with Guy that most kids have probably already heard it all before. We’re not sure how anyone can book Buddy Guy nowadays without being aware of his penchant for dropping f-bombs, or maybe it’s just that we’ve seen him more times than most in recent years to realize that the question seems to be not so much if, but rather how much, Guy might cuss during any given performance. But the good news for parents and others concerned about the dirty four-letter words is that Guy’s new album Born to Play Guitar (Silvertone/RCA Records) provides no real worries in that regard (save for a “damn” here or there), although we should perhaps warn you that it does contain a $#!%load of our favorite five-letter word: blues.

Buddy_Guy_Born_to_Play_GuitarKicking off on the slow smoking blues of the title track, an instant classic in the vein of “Hoochie Coochie Man” that features some nice tinkling of the ivories from Kevin McKendree in addition to Guy’s passionate guitar and lyrics such as “I got a repa-tation, and everybody knows my name/ I was born to play the guitar/ people, I got blues runnin’ through my veins” and “I got six strings loaded on my bad machine/ show me the money, and I’ll make this damn thing scream/ I’m gonna’ keep on playin’/ and on my dyin’ day, a polka dot guitar will be restin’ on my grave”, the album consists of one veritable hit after another, moving, for example, to the gritty, quick-shuffling “Wear You Out” featuring ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons on both vocals and guitar, and then slowing back down with the cool, calculating “Back Up Mama”.

The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson guests on harmonica for two numbers: a swinging cover of Little Walter’s “Too Late” that you can really dance to (including the rather ironic line “Tired of all your fussin’ and I can’t stand your cussin’, I’m gone”) as well as the clever “Kiss Me Quick” on which Guy demonstrates the high range of his vocals each chorus. The album also features duets with sensuous soul singer Joss Stone on the strings-laced, uptempo jazz of “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” and Van Morrison on a soft, reflective “Flesh & Bone” dedicated to the late B.B. King that features Reese Wynans (Double Trouble) on B3 and grand piano and the McCrary Sisters on background vocals.

Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival, May 2015

Chesapeake Bay Blues Festival, May 2015

Fellow guitarist Doyle Bramhall II adds another layer of nice licks to songs like the greasy, libation-soaked “Whiskey, Beer & Wine”, a closing remembrance of Muddy Waters in “Come Back Muddy” (on which Bramhall plays 12-string acoustic guitar), and the creeping “Crying Out of One Eye”, perhaps the bluest of the songs here, combining lyrics like “When you tried to cry, to make me feel better/ I wish your little hanky could have been a little wetter/ You were staring at your shoes, you were looking awful sad / but I could see right through you, you wasn’t takin’ it that bad/ cuz’ when you said goodbye, you were only crying outta’ one eye” with horns from the Muscle Shoals Horns and Wurlitzer and B3 organ from Wynans, who also appears on the two other songs featuring Bramhall as well as the aforementioned “(Baby) You Got What It Takes” and a slow, insightful “Crazy World”.

In addition, you can hear Wynans on Wurlitzer, as well as Jimi Hendrix sideman Billy Cox on bass, on “Turn Me Wild”, with Guy delivering both some stinging guitar and terrific lyrics about how “the blues done turn me wild, it got deep inside my soul”, including such gems as “my mama had a broomstick beside the bed, let me tell ya’ it wasn’t for sweeping” and “you can’t pick how they remember you, you just hope someday they do/ but I still got more to say, people I ain’t, I ain’t, never through”. Songs like this one, the driving “Smarter Than I Was” with its distorted vocals, and a biting “Thick Like Mississippi Mud” that again features the Muscle Shoals Horns all serve as great reminders of how the now 79-year-old Rock & Roll Hall of Famer can still ignite the same kind of fire as bluesmen several decades his junior like Tommy Castro and Tab Benoit. In fact, while there may be many guys and gals who can be said to have been born to play guitar, there’s still no one who can put on a performance quite like this Guy.

Like Buddy’s other recent albums, Born to Play Guitar is again produced by Tom Hambridge – who also played drums throughout the project and wrote or co-wrote most of the songs – and may very well be the best we’ve heard from Guy in at least a decade, making this one that blues fans will, well, swear by.

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Former Muddy Waters guitarists John Primer, Bob Margolin lead all-star centennial birthday tribute to the master on Muddy Waters 100

A 100th birthday tribute album to Muddy Waters that features former Waters band members and collaborators John Primer, Bob Margolin, James Cotton, and Johnny Winter as well as such other guests as Shemekia Copeland, Billy Branch, Keb’ Mo’, Gary Clark Jr., and Derek Trucks sounds like a perfect idea. And, for the most part, it is, on Raisin’ Music’s Muddy Waters 100, with Primer taking the lead on vocals and guitar for an array of songs spanning Waters’ career, from his early 1940s Library of Congress field recordings by Alan Lomax to the title track off Muddy’s 1978 Grammy Award-winning I’m Ready.

Muddy 100 lo-res jpegAs a featured vocalist and guitarist with Waters’ band for the last three years of the blues legend’s life, there are few living blues performers today more qualified to lead this project than Primer, save perhaps for one of Muddy’s own flesh and blood in Larry “Mud” Morganfield or Big Bill Morganfield, neither of whom are included here in any way, somewhat surprisingly – especially considering the uncanny resemblance of Mud’s vocals to his father’s. That said, Primer himself sounds pretty darn close to Muddy on a few songs, such as, for example, a “Forty Days and Forty Nights” that features hot-shot guitarist Gary Clark Jr. as well as Vincent Bucher on both harmonica and guitar, and a patient, scaled-back “She Moves Me” that includes Matthew Skoller on harmonica, Billy Flynn on guitar, and Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (son of Waters band drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith) on drums – the latter two of whom make up half of the session’s backing band (The Living History Band), along with Johnny Iguana on keyboards and Felton Crews on bass – in addition to Primer’s superb vocals and guitar.

Fellow Waters band alumni Bob Margolin (who played guitar with Muddy for seven years prior to Primer) and harmonica ace James Cotton add further authenticity to the project, with Margolin featured on a dozen of the 15 newly recorded tracks and Cotton on a pair: “Good News” and “I Feel So Good”, both songs on which Cotton played on the original Waters versions. Though never part of Muddy’s band, the late guitarist Johnny Winter was a frequent collaborator, having produced and played on four albums (including three Grammy Award winners) for Waters during the late-1970s and into the early 1980s. One of those was of course the Grammy Award-winning I’m Ready, the title track of which Winter helped re-create for this project just weeks before his death last summer, offering one of the very last glimpses of Winter’s masterful work on slide guitar.

Many of the songs here are presented in close to their traditional forms, though often incorporating subtle modern effects such as electronic drums and drum loop programming. On a couple of tracks, these additions tend to be a good deal more prominent, and may strike some as a bit over-the-top, including, for example, with the drum looping that helps to drive both a funky, rapping “Mannish Boy” that’s further accented by handclapping and Skoller’s harmonica and the dance electronica of “Trouble No More”, one of several tracks featuring Chicago harmonica player Billy Branch, with Tim Gant (clavichord) and Blaise Barton (synth bass, Farfisa, tambourine) providing additional textures. While these updated takes on Muddy’s classics may not appeal to everyone, they do help to demonstrate two-time Grammy-nominated producer Larry Skoller‘s (Heritage Blues Orchestra, Chicago Blues: A Living History) belief that “in one way or another, these sounds all lead back to Muddy Waters”.

Bob Margolin & John Primer, Project Blues 2014

Bob Margolin & John Primer, Project Blues 2014

What likely will appeal to everyone, though, is just about every other song on here, from the powerful opening “Got My Mojo Working” featuring Shemekia Copeland on vocals with Primer, to the fiddle- and mandolin-laced “Rosalie” with Margolin on acoustic guitar (originally recorded by Alan Lomax and John Work III on the Stovall plantation 73 years to the day of this album’s July 24 release, where Muddy joined Son Sims on fiddle, Louis Ford on mandolin, and Percy Thomas on guitar to make up the Son Sims Four), to the creeping, closing “Feel Like Going Home” made up of just Primer on vocals and guitar, Crews on bass, and Smith on bass drum. Primer is joined by a rotating cadre of talented guests on slide guitar throughout the album, including Derek Trucks on “Still a Fool” and Keb’ Mo’ on “Last Time I Fool Around with You” – which also includes some terrific tickling of the ivories from Iguana and interesting percussion from Barton – in addition to Winter on “I’m Ready” and Margolin on “I Be’s Troubled”, while Leanne Faine adds some Mavis Staples-like vocals on “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You”.

The officially authorized album is packaged as part of a 48-page, CD-sized hardcover book that also includes an original essay by Waters biographer Robert Gordon and a nice collection of photos of Waters both on his own and with friends and family including James Cotton, Eric Clapton, John Primer, Johnny Winter, Son Sims, the Rolling Stones, Louisiana Red, and Waters’ wife Geneva, among others. In addition to having helped Primer fulfill his dream of one day recording a tribute to Muddy Waters, there’s a good chance Skoller – who also produced the Chicago Blues: A Living History project of which Primer, Branch, and the backing band here were all also a part – may have helped the blues guitarist to earn his next Grammy Award nomination as well.

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