Son House, or Edward James “Son” House Jr., was a unique figure in blues history. His highly emotional vocals and slide guitar playing combined to give him a powerful, sometimes almost otherworldly, sound.
After a stint as a preacher in his early 20s, House performed and recorded from the mid-1920s to the mid-’40s, when he gave up music and moved to Rochester, N.Y. He was rediscovered in 1964 and enjoyed a revival of his career during the ongoing folk-blues years until he retired agin in 1974 for health reasons.
After he was rediscovered in 1964, he recorded what would become his seminal album, “The Legendary Son House: Father of Folk Blues,” in 1965 on Columbia Records.
But, as it turns out, he was recorded earlier, at a November 1964, performance at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Ind., by Dick Waterman. who has had tapes of that show stashed away for the past 60 years. Waterman was one of three blues fans who tracked House to his Rochester home and then helped to revive his career.
Now, material from the Wabash concert will be released next March by Dan Auerbach’s Easy Eye Sound record label.
The recordings come from a Nov. 23, 1964 performance Son House gave at Wabash College in Crawfordsville, Indiana; five months later, the blues legend cut his seminal 1965 Columbia Records album, The Legendary Son House: Father of Folk Blues, which introduced him to a new, wider audience.
The album contains new versions of seven songs House later recorded for Columbia — including a new rendition of “Preachin’ Blues.” The title track, however had never been recorded, and was played at his live performances.
A few days ago I was browsing through some old blues photos I had taken over the years, and found one that was full of bittersweet memories.
In February of 2011, I was wintering in Pinellas Park, Florida, in the Tampa Bay area. Friends were visiting, and we were looking around for a Saturday night out that might satisfy all of our tastes. We found that at the Dunedin Brewery, in the nearby town of Dunedin, where they were holding a Stogies and Stout night, offering cigars, a variety of stout ales, and the blues of Eddie Kirkland. We couldn’t have done better.
I had heard some of his music, but never seen him perform. After all, the Jamaican-born bluesman had been around for decades, touring with John Lee Hooker from 1949 to 1962, and then enjoying a long and productive solo career.
So, between stogies and stout (quaffed outdoors, due to the stogies), I visited the main room, where Kirkland was holding forth, enjoyed his music, and took a few pictures, including the one above. He was lively and cooking, despite his 87 years, and obviously enjoying himself.
I think it was the following Monday that I ran across a news item that said Kirkland had been killed in a car accident Sunday morning, Feb. 27, 2011, while driving back to his home in Macon, Ga.
I realized that I had seen his last show, had taken a photo of him, and had the chance to wish him well and tell him how much I enjoyed his music.
Here’s a video of a Kirkland concert in Belgium in 2008, when he would have been 84.
Every once in a while, a new album (and an artist that I’m hearing for the first time) comes along and nourishes the hole in my soul that can only be filled with a tasty, satisfying musical meal.
This time it’s a sharply cut gem of an album from England’s three-time British Blues Award nominee Oliver “Mississippi” MacDonald, titled “Do Right, Say Right.” He does both, extremely well. (The “Mississippi” handle came from schoolmates, because he was the only kid they knew who had been to America. It stuck.)
It’s filled with gritty, soulful vocals backed with fiercely melodic guitar runs, juiced in just the right places with kick-ass horns. It’s also filled with eight finely tuned original songs that sound as if they’ve been dredged from a primeval soul swamp, plus one very classic cover.
MacDonald’s backers are a razor-sharp unit, with producer Phil Dearing on keyboards and guitar, Elliot Boughen on bass, Mark Johnson-Brown on drums, and Lucy Dearing adding backup vocals. They all come together to create a sound that’s faithful to its deep soul/blues roots, but also channeled through MacDonald’s musical sense of the life he wants his own music to live.
“It’s modern, it’s not musical archaeology,” MacDonald says. “It celebrates a fantastic tradition. It’s soul-blues, and you’ve got to put your best into it.” In order to touch that tradition, MacDonald has been to Al Green’s church and heard him preach. He’s been to Willie Mitchell’s Royal Studios in Memphis, where the great records on the Hi Label were recorded. He’s met B.B. King and Pinetop Perkins, Otis Clay, and Sam Moore. Big Joe Turner told him to listen to Albert King.
Out of all that, and much more, obviously, came MacDonald’s authentic feeling for the music that he delivers here with such skill, power and passion. There’s not a false note on this terrific, heart-felt effort; in fact, it’s just the opposite: every note rings true to the soulful spirit MacDonald is invoking.
The tough-enough opening track, “I Was Wrong,” is one of my favorites, with horns adding the proper soulful subtext to this lover’s lament. As with all of his original tracks here, MacDonald avoids lyrical and musical cliches; he sings and plays with a fierce authenticity.
Some of the other songs that stood out for me include “I Heard It Twice,” “It Can’t Hurt Me,” “Drinker’s Blues,” the low-down, piano-first blues “If You Want A Good Cup Of Coffee,” and the album’s only cover, “Your Wife Is Cheating On Us,” a torchy reading of the Little Milton version of the slyly salacious Denise LaSalle chestnut, “Your Husband Is Cheating On Us.” The rest are all equal evidence of this fine talent.
But my absolute favorite track, driven by its lyrical intensity and soaring guitar, is “Let Me Explore Your Mind,” a masterful six-and-a-half minutes of soulful pleading for meaningful human connection. It’s a beautiful, powerfully crafted piece of music-making.
What more can I say? This is an excellent album. Enjoy it soon and often.
Here’s the very, very fine first track on the album, “I Was Wrong.”
Tracklist: 1 – I Was Wrong 2 – I Heard It Twice 3 – It Can’t Hurt Me 4 – Drinker’s Blues 5 – Let Me Explore Your Mind 6 – That’s It I Quit 7 – If You Want a Good Cup of Coffee 8 – Keep Your Hand out of My Pocket 9 – Your Wife Is Cheating on Us
From the opening bars of the title song — a soaring instrumental that burns with pain and pleasure in one passionate extended Pinky guitar solo — Canadian-born but Texas-marinated Sue Foley offers up a new album filled with the tough and tender sides of Texas blues.
Pinky, of course, is Foley’s pink paisley Telecaster sidekick, and it leads the way through a dozen tough guitar-driven blues, some excellent and unique covers; some terrific originals. And they all pay a fine tribute to the Texas blues that Foley has adopted as her own.
Following that tough opener is a cover of Texan Angela Strehli‘s tribute-laden“ Two Bit Texas Town.” That’s followed later by another excellent Strehli cover, the torchy “Say It’s Not So.”
And that’s just one of two excellent soulful covers, with the other one being “Think It Over,” credited to Lillie Mae Donley, but most likely by her husband, Jimmy Donley, the legendary swamp-pop singer-songwriter. It’s a great choice of a fine song with hints of an R&B and doo-wop heritage. And it’s a slow-dancing gem.
There’s a tough original Foley blues, “Hurricane Girl” (she’s “a force of nature”), adding Jimmy Vaughan on rhythm guitar. That’s followed by another inspired cover — “Stop These Teardrops” by Lavelle White.
The scorching “Pinky’s Blues” isn’t the only instrumental. A flashy version of Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp” shows off Foley’s flying fingers.
But don’t get the idea that this is just another album of blues covers. The choices are excellent. The arrangements are a credit to Foley and her bandmates, bassist Jon Penner, and drummer Chris “Whipper” Layton, with producer Mike Flanigin adding organ on two tracks. They take these songs and make them their own, with Foley’s unique guitar and vocals turning them into new and personal versions.
Foley says the inspiration for this recorded “live” effort was an earlier, and similarly spontaneous session she did with Flanigan and his B3 on the thoroughly enjoyable album “West Texas Blues,” which I wrote about here.
Here’s how Foley describes the process: “I recorded the entire album in three days. What you’re hearing is live, off the floor, in the moment the music was played totally spontaneously and, mainly, improvised. And, we wanted to make something representative of the Texas blues that we had been schooled on in Austin. So, we picked great songs and I wrote a few of my own to round things out. Everything on it is a labor of love.”
What you’re also hearing is the consummate work of an artist who has been growing in stature for years, and broke big with her 2018 album “Ice Queen,” which reached No. 4 on the Billboard Current Blues chart, and No. 1 on Roots Music Report’s Top 50 Canada album chart. She won ”Best Traditional Female (Koko Taylor Award)” at the 2020 Blues Music Awards in Memphis, was nominated for a Juno Award (Canadian Grammy), and won ”Best Guitar Player” at the Toronto Maple Blues Awards.
And I can almost say I knew her when, since I saw her at the Pittsburgh Blues Festival in 2010, touring with Peter Karp on their unique “He Said, She Said” album, with songs based on their correspondence while touring separately.
But no matter how you describe, or how it came to be, “Pinky’s Blues” is a sparkling album in the timeless Texas blues tradition, and you deserve to make it a part of your music library.
This post has been inspired primarily by the music of Sue Foley, with creative assistance from Russell’s Reserve 10-Year Old Bourbon.
The official music video of “Dallas Man,” from “Pinky’s Blues”:
1 Pinky’s Blues 2 Two Bit Texas Town 3 Dallas Man 4 Southern Men 5 Say It’s Not So 6 Hurricane Girl 7 Stop These Teardrops 8 Boogie Real Low 9 Think It Over 10 Okie Dokie Stomp 11 Someday 12 When The Cat’s Gone the Mice Play
First, an apology to Richard Lubovitch, DogTown bandleader, guitarist, and producer of this fine album (and everyone else involved). He sent me this release at the end of August, but I kept delaying this review because — well, I don’t really have an excuse. So here it is.
“Search No More” is the Los Angeles band’s third album, all blues-based, but with a few of their own inventive musical twists and turns thrown in.
They’ve taken some blues chestnuts and roasted them over a somewhat more mellow West Coast fire, and added one Lubovitch original. The result is an interesting and enjoyable blend of blues, jazz, classic R&B with the smoke of a little rock ‘n’ roll.
The band is an equally enjoyable blend of seasoned veterans from diverse backgrounds: There’s Lubovitch on guitar (himself a 30-year vet of the Chicago blues scene), Kaspar Abbo on vocals, Bill Barrett on chromatic harmonica and vocals, Wayne Peet on organ, piano and keyboards, Trevor Ware on upright bass, and Lance Lee on drums. Special guest Marcus Watkins contributes guitar on tracks 5,6 and 10.
The album kicks off nicely with a swinging version of Percy Mayfield’s “Cooking in Style,” with Barrett on harp and vocals. “River’s Invitation,” another lyrical Mayfield effort, gets a smooth vocal turn from Abbo. Both lead the way into into the rest of the songs, a fusion of talent and styles that make for a tasty, well-balanced musical meal.
Vocalist Kaspar Abbo tackles six of the nine vocals on this session, with smooth interpretations of the title track, Jimmie Dotson’s classic “Search No More,” Wille Dixon’s tough “ You Shook Me,” ” River’s Invitation ” the historic rocker “Miss Ann” by Enotris Johnson/Richard Penniman (that’s Little Richard, of course, and Johnson was the husband of the Miss Ann who took him in as a youngster.), Tom Johnston’s (The Doobie Brothers) “Long Train Coming,” and Billy Hill’s classic R&B turn, “Glory of Love.” “All Night” is a chunky, funky Lubovitch instrumental original. Abbo lends vocal sophistication and smoothness to the group, even with a rocker like “Miss Ann.”
I have to digress a minute here to give special attention to DogTown’s outstanding cover of one of my all-time favorite songs by one of my all-time favorite groups. “Glory of Love” was written by Billy Hill in 1936, with a hit version that same year by the Benny Goodman Orchestra with Helen Ward on vocal. Since then it has been covered by pretty much everybody but me. But my favorite is the 1951 super-slow-dancing R&B/doo-wop version by the sensuous pipes of the Five Keys (formerly the Sentimental Four). It got to me a few years later when my hormone-fueled teen genes were turning very blue. There’s also a fine 1957 cover by the Velvetones, and a very bluesy acoustic rendition in ’57 by Big Bill Broonzy. You can skip the 1965 cover by Jimmy Durante, and go right to a very soulful version, with horns, by Otis Redding in 1968. (You can find most of these versions on YouTube.)
This DogTown version of “Glory of Love” finds Abbo’s vocals in fine form, with meticulous piano by Wayne Peet.
DogTown’s motto is: “We like to put a little jazz in our blues, and a little blues in our jazz.” They do all that and more on this excellent album. Try it late at night with a snifter of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. You’ll never slow dance the same way again.
Here’s “Search No More,” by the DogTown Blues Band
Track list and credits:
“COOKING IN STYLE”: Percy Mayfield: Featuring Bill Barret on Vocals and Chromatic Harmonica
“RIVER’S INVITATION”: Percy Mayfield: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals
“YOU BETTER BELIEVE IT”: Paul Gayten: Featuring Bill Barrett on Vocals & Chromatic Harmonica
“YOU SHOOK ME”: Willie Dixon: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Richard Lubovitch on Guitars
“ALL NIGHT”: Richard Lubovitch: Featuring Richard Lubovitch on Guitar
“SEARCH NO MORE”: Jimmy Dotson: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Marcus Watkins on Lead Guitar
“MISS ANN”: Enotris Johnson/Richard Penniman: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals
“GLORY OF LOVE”: Billy Hill: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals & Wayne Peet on Piano
“I WONDER”: Cecil Gant; Featuring Bill Barrett on Vocals & Chromatic Harmonica
‘LONG TRAIN COMING”: Tom Johnston: Featuring Kaspar Abbo on Vocals, Bill Barrett on Chromatic Harmonica, Richard Lubovitch & Marcus Watson on many guitars.
Carolyn Wonderland is a little hard to define. She plays a mean, nasty guitar. She rocks. She rolls. She sings blues. She sings country. Basically, she sings and plays any damn way she pleases.
And all of that is what makes her music so good. And so thoroughly enjoyable.
I saw her once, years ago, at the Thunderbird Cafe in Pittsburgh, and I can testify she was indeed all of the above.
“Tempting Fate,” her first album for the respected blues label Alligator Records, is full of all her best qualities — inspired songwriting, interpretive covers, and razor-sharp musical chops. It’s also the occasion of the first female lead guitarist recorded in Alligator’s 50-year history. And this follows her 2018 it’s also the occasion … ecent three-year stint as the first female lead guitarist in John Mayall’s Blues Breakers.
Wonderland (born Carolyn Bradford, which makes “Wonderland” an intriguing upgrade), has soaring guitar skills that match her vocals. She can turn a whisper into a shout without losing sight of the lyrical content, and build a slow, steamy opener to a torrid close. She does bawdy roadhouse and vocal sensitivity with equal skill. This excellent album shows off all of Wonderland’s skills in one stirring set:
“Fragile Peace and Certain War” opens with her stinging slide and a personal message aptly suggested by its title to match, the first of several songs with a social conscience. She follows up with a whimsical “Texas Girl And Her Boots,” an ode to her favorite footwear. They are followed by three more originals, “Broken Hearted Blues” (co-written with Greg Rzab (Bass player with Buddy Guy and the John Mayall), a fiercely torchy blues, “Fortunate Few” starts out with a loosely swinging style in front of a touch of honky-tonk piano that soars in intensity, “Crack In The Wall” is an almost languid ballad that tackles the distinctly unlanguid topic of immigration.
She has chosen her covers, and preproduced them, with great care. “The Laws Must Change” is a John Mayall tune and “Honey Bee,” a rousing Tex-Mex effort, is from Billy Joe Shaver.
I kind of favor the two closers: Bob Dylan’s “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry,” a slick duet with Jimmie Dale Gilmore and liquid lap steel by Cindy Cashdollar (herself a very unique talent). Then the seven-minute “Loser,” by Jerry Garcia, where Carolyn starts quietly and builds toward a guitar-vocal whirlwind of a climax.
The album is produced by Dave Alvin (singer, songwriter, producer, to understate his achievements), with a guest list that includes himself on guitar on three songs, Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Cindy Cashdollar on lap steel, Marcia Ball on piano, Shelly King on background vocals, Ian Fleming on accordion, and Red Young on organ and piano. Wonderland’s core road band of Bobby Perkins, bass, and Kevin Lance, drums, help push things along.
This is a excellent album, filled with a variety of complementary musical styles, great vocals from the veteran Wonderland, artful backing musicians and a production that weaves everything into place.
I couldn’t find a video from “Tempting Fate,” but here’s a live video of Carolyn performing “Open Eyes” with John Mayall:
1. Fragile Peace And Certain War (3:59) By Carolyn Wonderland 2. Texas Girl And Her Boots (4:20) By Carolyn Wonderland 3. Broken Hearted Blues (4:52) By Carolyn Wonderland, Greg Rzab 4. Fortunate Few (3:25) By Carolyn Wonderland 5. Crack In The Wall (3:09) By Carolyn Wonderland 6. The Laws Must Change (5:01) By John Mayall 7. Honey Bee (4:26) By Billy Joe Shaver 8. On My Feet Again (2:59) By Carolyn Wonderland 9. It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry (3:47) By Bob Dylan 10. Loser (7:17) By Jerry Garcia