If the title of this post were a Jeopardy! clue, the question would of course be “What is the blues?”, not only because Lurrie Bell is one of the best-known of those second-generation blues players about whom we frequently talk here, but because his new album is about as immersed in and true to the genre as any we’ve heard lately, as just one listen to Can’t Shake This Feeling (Delmark Records) reveals.
As the guitar-playing son of the late Chicago blues harmonica man Carey Bell, whose career included serving as a member of both Muddy Waters’ and Willie Dixon’s bands, blues is all (along with perhaps a little gospel) that Lurrie has ever known, and this new album nicely reflects his lifetime in the genre. From the staggering shuffle of the title track and the slow, deep grooves of T-Bone Walker’s “I Get So Weary” to the swaying, keys-soaked “Hold Me Tight” (Little Milton) and the jiving “Drifting” (Eddie Boyd), Bell delivers this baker’s dozen of tracks with style and authenticity, backed by a terrific band that includes fellow Chicago Blues: A Living History project collaborator Matthew Skoller on harmonica, as well as Roosevelt “Mad Hatter” Purifoy on piano and organ, Willie “The Touch” Hayes on drums, and Melvin Smith on bass, the same band that joined Bell on his 2013 Blues in My Soul.
Ever the complete musician, Bell also had a hand in writing five of the album’s songs, including the aforementioned title track; the shuffling “Blues is Trying to Keep Up With Me”, with its hopeful opening lyrics of “Well I hope somethin’ right will inspire my life today” balanced by such blue sentiments as “no matter where I go, this pain in my heart won’t leave me alone” and “these days I see are so blue, it troubles me all the time”; the creeping “This Worrisome Feeling in My Heart” featuring some superb trembling guitar; the slow, stripped-down solo blues of the closing “Faith and Music” co-written by producer and blues historian Dick Shurman; and an updated version of the Buster Benton classic “Born With the Blues”, a song on which the elder Bell at times accompanied Benton.
The set also includes one of Carey Bell’s own tunes, in the midtempo, grooving “Do You Hear”; the insightful Delta-style blues of Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis’ “One Eyed Woman”; a lively “Sit Down Baby” (Otis Rush/penned by Willie Dixon) on which Bell is clearly having fun; a quiet, crawling “Sinner’s Prayer” (Lowell Fulson), and one more Willie Dixon tune (this time from the Howling Wolf repertoire) in a gritty, slightly slowed “Hidden Charms”.
While Bell’s voice continues to grow more gravelly with the years, that only helps add to the authenticity of his sound, with his guitarwork also some of the best you’ll hear. Having had the good fortune of seeing him perform live on several occasions, we already recognize Bell as among the most knowledgable and talented artists in the blues, an opinion he and his fine band help further reinforce with this recording, one on which you can feel free to wager big!