So, with the release of Buddy Guy's new CD titled "The Blues Is Alive And Well", I'm guessing that the rest of the genre's artists are pretty much thinking "Oh God, there go five or six categories in any upcoming blues awards programs right out the window". And from what I just heard, that should be a very legitimate concern. With all of the great music Buddy has put out over the last six or so decades, you might think it would be going out on a limb by saying that this could be some of his best work ever, but you can go ahead and put me on that limb.
On "The Blues Is Alive And Well", Buddy Guy - on guitar and vocals - is joined by: Tom Hambridge, the albums' producer, on drums, percussion and background vocals; Rob McNelley on rhythm and slide guitar; Kevin McKendree on keyboards; Willie Weeks and Tommy MacDonald on bass; Emil Justian on harmonica; The Muscle Shoals Horns which include: Charles Rose on trombone and horn arrangements, Steve Herrman on trumpet, Doug Moffet on tenor sax and Jim Hoke on baritone sax; and Regina McCrary, Ann McCrary and Rachel Hambridge on background vocals. Special guests on the album include a few names you may just be familiar with: Keith Richards and Jeff Beck on guitar; James Bay on guitar and vocals; and Mick Jagger on harmonica. With Buddy and Tom having penned and/or collaborated on them, fourteen of the disc's tracks are originals with the fifteenth being a Sonny Boy Williamson cover.
The disc opens with a slow, soulful ballad that could actually be considered a prayer. Unlike Robert Johnson, who made that infamous deal with the Devil, Buddy is trying to make his own deal with the Lord. Realizing he's in the twilight of his life, Buddy appears to be pleading with the Lord to just send him down "A Few Good Years" (Hambridge/Fleming). Good luck with that Buddy! With the emotional and sincere way in which you asked, I think the Lord may send them to ya.....especially if He's a fan of the blues.
Close your ears, Lord. Here we are on the very next song and as he refers to the devil being in him, Buddy's claiming to be "Guilty As Charged" (Hambridge/Fleming). Alrighty then! Musically and vocally, Buddy's on top of his game right here. With Tom, Rob and Kevin lighting up the rhythm behind him Buddy's just killing it on the guitar and vocals, especially with those patented, escalating, falsetto screeches of his..... "I'm GUILTY! I'm GUILTY as charged. This is classic Buddy Guy right here.
Those of you who subscribe to SiriusXM radio have already had a taste of - no pun intended - "Cognac" (Guy/Hambridge/Fleming). Since it features Keith Richards and Jeff Beck joining Buddy in on some back and forth monster guitar licks, this one will surely be on most of the other stations playlists as well.
On the title track, as Buddy hears the back door slam while coming in the front, he's quickly faced with the reality that "The Blues Is Alive And Well" (Hambridge/Nicholson). It's not as if anything Buddy does needs much help, but with that said, the masterful job of the Muscle Shoals horns, added to the always amazing keyboard work from Kevin, this one does rise to the next level. Whether he gets those extra few good years or not, once Buddy reaches heaven's gate the joy on his face will show that he's "Blue No More" (Hambridge/Johnson). This is a wonderfully soft and slow duet featuring Buddy and James Bay doing an absolutely beautiful job of sharing the very soulful and emotional vocals and the soothing blues guitar leads.
The first two minutes of "You Did The Crime" (Hambridge/Fleming) start off with a very slow and deep bass line by Willie, light and timely cymbal taps by Tom, and a trance inducing piano and harmonica performance by Kevin and Mick, that I'd have been fine with this being an instrumental. Then Buddy joins in and softly, yet strongly, starts belting out some slow blues and something good suddenly got better.
For those of you who like full throttle, smokin' blues rockers, this one will have you saying "Ooh Daddy" (Hambridge/Fleming). With Tom and Willie leading the frantic rhythm pace, Kevin wailing away on those keys and Buddy and Rob slugging it out on guitar, this one's three plus minutes of all hell breaking loose.
With all that's going on here; the fabulously soulful horns; the outstanding and profound rhythm; and some of Buddy's most scorching guitar work; the lyrics somehow dominate on "End Of The Line" (Hambridge/Fleming)
I'm the last one to turn out the light,
The last one to call it a night.
When the clock on the wall says late,
I still got one more to play.
But I feel sometime,
Like I'm the end of the line.
But the times been good to me,
I'm as young as an old man can be.
Well I'm way past seventy-one,
But I still can get this damn job done.
But I feel sometime,
Like I'm the end of the line.
The last man standing on an empty stage,
If life was a book, I'd be the last page.
Even though I've got one foot in the grave,
I won't be quiet and I won't behave.
So many of my friends have gone,
Maybe my time ain't long.
I promise till the day I die,
I'm gonna keep these blues alive.
But I feel sometime,
Like I'm the end of the line.
The message Buddy's delivering came through these ears very loud and clear. He knows he's reaching the end of his line and he knows he's the end of the line of the legendary blues greats. Hang in there Buddy, the Lord's gonna answer that prayer and give you a few good years.
Other tracks on "The Blues Is Alive And Well" include: "Bad Day" (Hambridge/Davis), "Whiskey For Sale" (Hambridge), "Old Fashioned" (Guy/Hambridge), "When My Day Comes"(Hambridge/Sweeney), "Nine Below Zero" (Williamson), "Somebody Up There" (Hambridge/Fleming), and "Milky Mutha For Ya" (Guy/Nelson).
If you haven't yet received a copy of "The Blues Is Alive And Well" for airplay, please contact Betsie Brown at www.blindraccoon.com and to find out more about Buddy Guy, just go to www.buddyguy.net. Whomever you contact, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.
A few years ago I came up with the idea of having an annual "Memphis Reunion" sometime around August and September of each year. The idea grew from the fact that having gone to Memphis once or twice a year for the last eighteen years, I missed the great friends from all over the country that I only see while there for the International Blues Challenge in January and the Blues Music Awards in May. That said, from his declaration in the disc's liner notes, it's obvious that Tas Cru feels the same as I do. Here are his thoughts:
"There are very few places in America that mean more to blues lovers, past and present than Memphis. It's a blues Mecca - the birthplace of Sun and Stax and home to the International Blues Foundation and the Blues Hall Of Fame. There is Beale Street, with its legends memorialized with their names engraved on brass notes that dot its crowded sidewalks. There too is BB King Boulevard, that hallowed ground that honors the king of the blues. We are drawn there from near and far - a blues family who twice each year gathers for what seems to me like a big ol' blues family picnic (aka the Blues Music Awards and the International Blues Challenge). We eat and drink, listen and dance, play and sing. We celebrate together as we celebrate being together. We sing our Memphis song - all day and most of the night with voices that grow hoarse and rough from exhaustion. And then, long after our picnic is done and we have returned to our homes, we hear its call. 'Come home daddy/momma you been too long gone. Come on home and sing your Memphis song'".
Tas Cru's latest release is titled "Memphis Song" and it's a collection of twelve original songs. On the disc, Tas Cru - on vocals and guitars - is joined by: Bob Purdy on bass; Dick Earl Erickson on harmonica; Andy Rudy on piano and clavichord; Ron Keck on percussion and drums; Sonny Rock and Andy Hearn on drums; Guy Nirelli and Bill Barry on organ; Mary Ann Casale on lead and background vocals and acoustic guitar; and Donna Marie Floyd-Tritico and Patti Parks on backing vocals. Additionally, featured artists on the title track include Victor Wainright on piano and Pat Harrington on slide guitar. Now let me tell you a bit about some of my personal favorites.
Obviously, for the story it tells, the title track is surely one of the disc's best. As mentioned in the prelude, it's all about that magical and musical city of Memphis calling us back home to sing that "Memphis Song". Just as the city itself does, the song's opening immediately casts a spell upon you with the combination of Mary Ann's acoustic guitar notes and and Dick's harmonica chords. Then, shortly after Tas joins in with an emotional and soulful presentation of the song's message, you'll be wanting to immediately start your own Memphis reunion. Add to that: Tas and Pat Harrington killing it on lead and slide guitar throughout; BMA winner Victor Wainright deepening that spell your in with a monster piana (as he says it) lead midway through the song; and a very deep, intense rhythm being maintained by Bob Purdy and Andy Hearn on the bass and drums; Tas Cru and Mary Ann Casale may just have themselves a 2019 "Song Of the Year" nomination with this one. I'll be shocked if not.
People say he's crazy, 'cause he plays the blues. Yeah, they say he's crazy and call him a simple fool. Call him what you will, Tas Cru is here to testify that he is indeed a "Fool For the Blues". Aren't we all? From start to finish, this one is three-and-a-half minutes of all out heat. Guy Nirelli (organ), Sonny Rock (drums) and Bob Purdy (bass) have the rhythm in three alarm mode; and Tas, with some very powerful back up support from Donna and Patti, is belting the hell out of the vocals and scorching the hell out of those guitar leads. Killer track!
Assembling a percussionist, two organists and three different drummers to team up with bassist Bob Purdy on various tracks, leaves no doubt that Tas was looking for a rhythm rich sound for this project. "Daddy Didn't Give You Much" is just one of the many tracks on which you'll hear just how well that panned out. In fact, right here, Andy Hearn and Ron Keck - both at disc's best - are just killin' it on the kit and congas. Speaking of disc's bests, the boss is at it as well. Several of the dozen or so times I replayed this track were with the head phones on while mainly focusing on the vocals. Whoa! That Tas Cru can sing!
Attention men! Here is a public service announcement from Tas Cru. Simply put, "Don't Lie To That Woman". As many of us have already learned - and probably the hard way at that - this is some sound advice. This one's a slowed down, laid back, kind of swampy sounding blues tune. It features Tas doing some fine acoustic pickin' while playfully talk-singing and story-telling; lots of crisp, timely, finger snapping; melodic back up vocals; soft rhythm; and silky soft piano leads. Knowing that, like him, most of us "Can't Get Over Blues" could have been a great reason for Tas to close out the disc with it's longest and most bluesy track. For six-and-a-half minutes Tas, the ladies, the rhythm guys and the harmonica player all just wrap themselves around a very cool foot tappin' knee slappin, head bobbin' groove and before you know it, right around six minutes and twenty fives seconds in you'll be hitting the replay button for more.. Other excellent tracks on this very well written, very well performed and very well produced album include: "Heal My Soul," "Give A Little Up," "Have A Drink," "That Look," "One Eyed Jack," "Queen Of Hearts" and "Feel So Good".
Should you like to purchase a copy of "Memphis Song", or possibly need one for airplay, contact Tas at email@example.com, and to find out more about him - especially his involvement with children and his "Blues In The Schools" programs - just go to www.tascru.com. And as I know you will, please tell him his buddy the Blewzzman sent you.
Following up his last album, "Simmered And Stewed" - which was nominated for a Blues Music Award in the "Best Emerging Artist Album" category - with such another exceptional album, it's this listeners opinion that Tas Cru is no longer emerging - he has emerged! With still very close to a year until the next Blues Music Awards, put the Blewzzman down as expecting four nods for Tas Cru and "Memphis Song".
Now that you know some of what this project is about, let me tell you all about the rest of the credits and some of the music. Joining Rockin' Johnny Burgin - on lead and slide guitar and vocals - and Mike Mettalia - on harmonica and vocals - are: Mary Lane and Milwaukee Slim on vocals; Little Jerry Jones on vocals and lead and rhythm guitar; Illinois Slim on lead and rhythm guitar; Jeff LaBon and John Sefner on bass; and Steve Dougherty on drums. With very close to seventy minutes of good ol' straight up blues, the disc features fifteen tracks with two Mike Mettalia, two Mary Lane and one Jerry Jones originals.
The disc opens with a straight up Chicago blues shuffle titled "Hurt My Feelings" (Morris Pejoe) and after just one verse into Mary Lane's vocals I was both shaking and scratching my head. The shaking part was the result of sheer amazement over this woman's unique and wonderful voice and the scratching part was a result of the bewilderment I was experiencing from never having heard of her. Thanks to Johnny and Mike are surely in order. Musically, it's exactly what this traditionalist loves; the rhythm guys - Jeff and Steve - locked into a tight groove on the bass and drums; equally tight rhythm guitar by Illinois Slim; smoking hot blues guitar leads by way of Rockin' Johnny; and equally smoking hot harp leads courtesy of Mike Mettalia. Give me sixty-five more minutes of this (which they did) and I'm a happy listener.
So, with Johnny just killing it on what may very well be the disc's best guitar work and belting out what is also some of the disc's most soulful and emotional vocals, if you said right here that "Things Gonna Work Out Fine"(Sam Maghett), you'd be 100% correct. With a strong rhythm and a few harp leads helping out, this one's all about Rockin' Johnny Burgin, and things did indeed work out fine.
With the title of this one being "Midnight Call", ya think you might know who wrote and sings it? Good guess, it is indeed Mike Mettalia of the Midnight Shift Band. Similar to the above track, with the help of more great rhythm and a few killer lead guitar riffs by Illinois Slim, this one's all about Mike with his gravely vocals and fiery harp leads.
The opening, low down and gritty guitar licks on "Let's Make Love Tonight" had me saying "Oh Yeah!" Then I noticed the length of the song and I said "Hell Yeah!" The disc's slowest, grittiest and bluesiest track was also the disc's longest track, and I now knew that I had over seven more minutes of pure listening pleasure ahead of me.....and that's not counting the replays. Keeping with the pattern of passing the lead around, it's now Jerry's turn to shine. On a song which he wrote, Little Jerry Jones does just that with a knockout one-two punch on the vocals and guitar.
"Poppa Tree Top" (Little Miss Cornshucks) is another of Mary Lane's masterful performances. I'm in such awe over this women's voice that I'm making it a point to either find her, or some of her recordings, while I'm in Chicago for three days in September. Watch out Mary, there may not be any hell hounds on your trail but there is a Blewzzman for sure. Also highlighting this one are the crisp, precise and profound harmonica notes and chords being blown around by Mike Mettalia. They're that high end Jimmy Reed stuff that is by far my favorite style of harp playing. What another great track.
With this being the second song he's sung on, Milwaukee Slim kicks things off by leaning into the mic and saying "Alright, I'm ready again y'all" followed by a chuckle which caused me to chuckle as well. It's Mike Mettalia's other original track and it's called "Unemployment Risin'". After singing the hell out of the song, Slim once again ad-libs....."Was that alright? Ya know with the time I had to prep on it I think I did pretty good." C'mon Slim - ya nailed it. The track also features the usually strong rhythm and a heck of a slide guitar performance by Rockin' Johnny.
Other tracks on "Chicago/The Blues Legends/Today", which I've already suggested could be next year's Traditional Blues Album of the Year, include: "Sloppy Drunk" (James A. Lane), "Don't Want My Lovin' No More" (Mary Lane), "Hotcha" (Junior Walker), "Smokestack Lightnin'" (Chester Burnett), "I'm Leaving You" (Chester Burnett), "I Always Want You Near" (Mary Lane), "Next Time You See Me" (Forest Harvery), "Goin' Down Slowly" (Jimmy Oden), and "Dust My Broom" (Elmore James).
I'd like to strongly suggest getting your hands on a copy of "Chicago/The Blues Legends/Today", and to do so, just click the following link - https://store.cdbaby.com/cd/rockinjohnnyburginwithmikemett.
Additionally, you can find more on Mike Mettalia at www.mnightshift.com;
Rockin' Johnny Burgin at www.rockinjohnnyburgin.com; and all ya gotta do is search FB and you'll find both Mary Lane and Milwaukee Slim. Once you do all that, please tell everyone the Blewzzman sent you.
I've known of Blind Lemon Pledge for just about a decade now, and during that period I've heard every one of his previous releases. With that said, it's this listener's opinion that "Evangeline" - his sixth and latest release - is by far his best and most serious.
Blind Lemon Pledge is actually James Byfield, and right out of the gate that stage name should give you some insight to his creativity. As I was preparing for this review, my biggest challenge was reducing the hundred or so descriptive words I wanted to use in my introduction of him down to a non-redundant handful. Since he writes all his own music and plays all the instruments on all the tracks, I guess calling him extremely talented are a few good ones to start with. Then as I think about the lyrics of the songs I just heard, combined with all of his other works I've listened to over the years, words like intelligent; truthful; playful; clever; bizarre; creative; poetic; humorous; zany; and so many more come to mind.
"Evangeline" opens with a melancholic, chain gang style chant that's more commonly known as a field holler - the kind that originated by the call and response of plantation slave workers. Some consider it one of the earliest forms of African American music and the predecessor of the blues. With his emotional and heartfelt vocal presentation, the timely and realistic feel of his hand claps and his skillful use of a three-string cigar box guitar, one might get the impression that Blind Lemon Pledge actually worked down on "Buley's Farm".
This next song is a bittersweet ballad about the negative side of a positive situation. Having realized his goal of leaving that farm for an opportunity to fulfill his dreams, the reality of having to leave his "Jennie Bell" is a tough cross for him to bear. The sincerity in his vocals, once again leads the listener to believe this was another real-life experience for Blind Lemon Pledge. The track also features an absolutely beautifully done soft and melodic acoustic guitar performance.
With those farm days now behind him, Blind Lemon Pledge has now settled in N'awlins where he meets someone similar to that character from the crossroads lore. Like that devil, "Brimstone Joe" is no one to be making deals with. With a catchy chorus line, an uptempo rhythm and a great French Quarter piano groove, this one becomes a great foot tappin' sing-a-long.
Put your dancin' shoes on, get out your castanets and shakers and get ready to cha cha cha. If the profoundly progressive percussion on "The Language Of Love" doesn't get you shaking all your shakeables you could very well be dead.
One of the most recognizable phrases of affection was from that scene in Jerry McGuire when Jerry goes into a long-winded speech to Renee Zellweger and her reply was "You had me at hello". On the other hand, even that coin has another side. As Blind Lemon Pledges says to the woman who is throwing him out as a result of all the times he made her cry; the many lonely nights she was alone; and all those times he'd lie......."You Had Me At Goodbye". With its outstanding guitar work and its folksy/country feel, this is the kind of song a Blake Shelton would have a number one hit with.
Until now, I've pretty much been hitting mostly on Blind Lemon's vocal intensity and his outstanding songwriting. On the closing and title track, "Evangeline," both of those are still evident but what impressed me most on this particular track was his masterful acoustic slide guitar performance.
Other tracks on this most interesting release include: "Midnight Assignation," "Go Jump The Willie," "Ham And Eggs" and "How Can I Still Love You?"
If you haven't yet received a copy of "Evangeline" for airplay, please contact Betsie Brown at www.blindraccoon.com, and to find out more about Blind Lemon Pledge, just go to www.blindlemon-pledge.com. Whomever you contact, please tell them their friend the Blewzzman sent you.