Diunna Greenleaf holds on to the blues with a little help from her friends

A frequent blues music award nominee and the 2005 winner of the International Blues Challenge with her band Blue Mercy, Diunna Greenleaf is a name we've seen plenty of times over the years, but heard only the occasional song from. We never had enough of a chance to really listen to her music until we received a copy of her new CD, Trying to Hold On, from our friends at VizzTone Records.

For anyone not familiar with the Texas native, the first thing you need to know is that her vocals are among the most versatile and crisp we've heard, with an R&B sound that works just as well on quiet gospel tunes like "Beautiful Hat" and "He is Everything to Me" as on the jazzy title track and such rocking numbers as "I Can't Wait" and "I'm a Little Mixed Up."

She also has made quite a few friends in the blues during her career, many of whom appear on this latest CD, including Bob Margolin, Billy Branch, Anson Funderburgh, Bob Corritore, Chris James, Patrick Rynn, and Smokin' Joe Kubek, among others. Combine all this with some meaningful lyrics of both the spiritual and personal variety, life as a blues musician, and the like, and you have a pretty darn fine album from a name we're bound to be hearing a lot more from in the months and years to come.

After beginning on an upbeat "Be For Me" that features Bob Margolin on guitar, Margolin's pal Chuck Cotton on drums, Mookie Brill on upright bass, and an especially nice interplay between Greenleaf's voice and Bob Corritore's harmonica, the talented singer takes a slightly gruffer approach for the solid, swinging "Sunny Day Friends," inspired by some wisdom from the great Sam Myers and one of two songs to include longtime Myers collaborator Anson Funderburgh on guitar, in addition to some fine sax and B-3 work.

That's followed by a few Mavis Staples-like tunes in the slow and quiet "Growing Up and Growing Old" and the spiritual "Beautiful Hat," to which Rich DelGrosso's mandolin adds a sweet country sound.

From there, Greenleaf again steps it up with the boogeying "I Can't Wait," featuring the same line-up as the album's opener, lyrics any blues fan will love, and Greenleaf's laughing response "I like it rough" when one of the guys comments on the ending being kind of rough. A slow and smoking "Taking Chances" welcomes Smokin' Joe Kubek on guitar, accented by some nice sax from Ron Jones, while the jazzy title track is a fine example of all that Greenleaf has to offer, from its all-too-true lyrics about life as a blues performer ("it don't even matter, that they're in a financial hole/ they got to play the blues - they're poor in money but rich in their souls") to the steamy vocals into which Greenleaf digs, joined by Chris James and Patrick Rynn on guitar and bass, respectively, as well as Margolin and Cotton.

"You Don't Feel That Way About Me" is a catchy blues/soul number featuring only Josh Preslar on guitar and bass and Vernon Daniels on drums, before the gang of Margolin, Corritore, James, Rynn, and Cotton tears into a Chicago blues tribute to Koko Taylor in the form of "I'm a Little Mixed Up."

The slow blues of Jimmy McCracklin's "Double Dealing" starts off  with some Albert King-like riffs from John Del Toro Richardson, then has Greenleaf sounding a lot like Koko Taylor herself as she belts out some of her most powerful vocals.

"He is Everything to Me" is a stirring spiritual performed without accompaniment, first by Diunna's 102 year-old grandmother as recorded three years before her death, then by Diunna herself. Funderburgh returns for the rocking "I Got a Notion to Leave," another great example of Greenleaf's song-writing abilities ("I got a notion to leave, 'cause honey, you won't go/ if things stay this way, somebody's gonna' end up on the killin' floor"), before the album closes on the soft but effective "'Cause I'm a Soldier" that combines a military-style drum cadence and harmonica from Billy Branch with some touching lyrics written by Greenleaf at her brother's funeral.

If you've been waiting for a good time or reason to check out Greenleaf, Trying to Hold On is it.

PowR cuts: "Sunny Day Friends," "I Can't Wait," "I'm a Little Mixed Up," "Double Dealing," "I Got a Notion to Leave"

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