Jimmy Adler’s new album “Sweet Memories” is indeed sweet and memorable

In my first couple of posts in this new blog, I hope you’ve noticed, I’ve been writing about enjoying great old blues in the Time of Covid.

This doesn’t mean that there’s no new music floating around. Indeed, new albums seem even more welcome now — a breath of fresh blues when they’re needed the most.

All of which is just a long-winded way of telling you that I’m ready to write about a new album. I don’t really consider myself a music critic, but I have been writing about music, mostly blues and blues-related music for many years, even decades, maybe.

It’s probably more accurate to say that I review music — at clubs, concerts, festivals and on albums. By review, I mean that I like to tell you about it, give you some of my thoughts, and hope that you’ll listen and make your own judgements. And by albums, I mean just about any collection of music, from vinyl to eight-tracks to cassettes to CDs or DVDs and back to vinyl. And of course, streaming.

If you’ve read the headline, you already know this is a review of “Sweet Memories” (Sprucewood Records), the new album from Pittsburgh’s fine blues guitarist, Jimmy Adler. His dues were long ago paid in full, with a swinging guitar style and fierce chops. His last album, the 2015 “Grease Alley,” was great example of both.

This time, he’s taken a whole new approach, shifting into a subtle, laid-back musical groove, beautifully coupled with reflective and evocative songwriting.

The rough draft of the album was created in his kitchen, with an acoustic guitar and lots of songwriting — all the songs are originals, with a nod to places and events that had to come out of his own sweet memories.

The opening cut, a richly layered “Voodoo Doll,” sets the tone, as the album’s musical styles roam from the down-home blues of “She Got What It Takes,” through a rustic, personal vibe in “This Old House” all the way to the sensual slide work of “North Carolina,” his open-road ode to the Outer Banks.

Adler manages to work in all kinds of memories, from back porch dancing toWolfman Jack on “On the Back Porch” to a bunch of guitars, cars and movie stars on the track of the same name, “Guitars, Cars and Movie Stars.” (He’s even got a ‘56 Chevy in there, one of my personal favorites.)

If the creative songwriting wasn’t enough, Adler’s guitar work, from acoustic to slide, is a pleasure all by itself. It’s languid and sensual throughout, wrapping the lyrics snugly inside.

And it’s not always blues. Adler easily reaches into other idioms — “This Old House” has an easy folk vibe. “Don’t Give Up on Me” is laconic country-flavored effort.

All in all, this is another fine album from Adler, as he broadens his range and shows off an excellent pairing of songwriting and musical arrangements.

Here’s a video of “This Old House”:

The album is available from Adler’s web site, and through streaming services:
https://jimmyadler.hearnow.com/

I wasn’t writing back when Adler released “Grease Alley,” but I can tell you that I enjoy the hell out of listening to it. I was writing earlier, when he recorded “Midnight Rooster” (love that title!), and here’s a link to what I said then.

“Sweet Memories” tracklist

01. Voodoo Doll
02. On the Back Porch
03. How Long
04. Guitars, Cars, And Movie Stars
05. This Old House
06. Let’s Have a Party
07. Don’t Give up on Me
08. The Masked Marvel
09. North Carolina
10. Stuck in Cincinnati
11. She Got What It Takes 

Blues shouters – Big Joe Turner is here

I’m a big fan of the blues shouters. They’re among the oldest of the old school, and, like most of the blues greats, have pretty much left the scene.

Some of the greats, and some of my favorites, include Big Joe Turner, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing and Jimmy Witherspoon. They worked with big bands, including the great Count Basie, and in smaller combos. Sometimes they leaned over into jazz, but you could always hear how deeply their souls had been blessed by the blues.

The shouters were big-voiced, full-throated singers who just stood in front of the microphone and sang. They didn’t dance, or play guitar behind their back. They didn’t need to. The power and passion of their vocals said all they had to say. Their voices were their instruments, and they were masters of those instruments.

Turner is one of my favorites. He was born in Kansas City in 1911, the city where he later became a singing bartender, later a big band singer, and even later put his pipes to work and helped create rock ‘n’ roll.

“Rock and roll would have never happened without him,” songwriter Doc Pomus said in Rolling Stone, after Turner’s death in 1985. (Doc Pomus is another great story, but I’ll leave that for another day.)

There are many fine Turner albums, but my favorites tend to be a handful from his later years, recorded on the Pablo label, run by Norman Granz, a huge figure in the jazz world who produced shows and records by the best in jazz.

Turner sang with many of those jazz greats on these albums, with a more relaxed vibe than some of his more frantic but highly enjoyable earlier R&B and rock recordings. Big Joe was a natural for the extended play capacity of the LP — he could improvise blues verses all night long (probably a tribute to he singing bartender days in Kansas City), while the musicians had room to swing and stretch out behind him. Great stuff.

One of my favorites from that group is “The Bosses,” with Turner and Count Basie. It’s as smooth and easy as good whiskey, without losing the essential intensity of the music. Try it late at night with the lights down low.

Or just try any Big Joe, if you haven’t listened for a while, and remind yourself just how good he was. And if you never have, I think you’ll enjoy. Try him out with the video above.

And yes, I know I’ve left out huge chunks of his life and career. That’s your homework assignment…. but there will be no quiz.

How to shake those COVID-19 blues

If you’re anything like me, the virus lockdowns have severely limited your exposure to live blues music. Or any live music. (On the other hand, if you’re anything like me, you have my deepest sympathies.).

Clubs and show venues are closed. Festivals have been cancelled. And worst of all, my favorite venue of recent years — the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise — will not be sailing until at least October of 2021.

Ain’t that just like the blues to leave us all blue and lonely?

So I’ve started to revisit my own blues collection — listening to artists and albums I haven’t played in months or even years. And since I’m kind of an old-school blues guy, I like to track down older performers and performances on YouTube — it’s a great resource, and it’s possible to find all kinds of musical gems.

And one of my favorites from recent months is truly a gem — a 1971 concert featuring Muddy Waters and his band, Big Mama Thornton, Big Joe Turner and George “Harmonica” Smith, at a concert in Eugene, Oregon.

The show was filmed by blues fan Link Wyler, and a few other crew members from the Gunsmoke TV show (hence the Gunsmoke Blues title), who had traveled from Hollywood to capture the show.

I know. That was roughly a half-century ago. That was a time when there were (gasp) no cell phones, no computers, no smart TVs. In fact, at that time, the TV remote was a work in progress, and most of us had to slog back and forth across the living room to change the channel, turn up the volume, or even adjust the color. Tell that to the grandkids the next time you really want to frighten them.

It’s a fine concert, and the film includes footage of an interview in a vehicle carrying Waters, Thornton and Turner. Their interactions, and the passing around of a bottle, are worth the price of admission.

Tech tip: Watch this on your big-screen TV. And route the audio through something better than the TV speakers, if you’re not already doing that.

Libation tip: The concert feel is greatly enhanced with the appropriate beverage, and maybe a good cigar. My latest viewing was accompanied by a generous pour of Knob Creek bourbon, and an excellent cigar – a Gloria Cubana Serie R, No. 7 maduro.

Publishing error: And just in case you think this post disappeared, and then reappeared later, possibly written differently, you are correct. I have taken the appropriate action against the responsible party. His libations while blogging are being restricted.

What is the Blues Roadhouse, and who is Jim White?

Please allow me to introduce myself.

I’m a blues music fan. I’ve been hooked on the music since it played its way into my teenage DNA many (many) years ago, sometimes disguised as doo-wop, or jump blues, or rhythm and blues, or just plain old down-home blues.

I wasn’t quite ready for the rawness and roughness of the blues. I was still trying to figure out why the doggie was in the window and the pawnshop was on the corner. (C’mon, I know some of you will remembers those.) But the blues seemed ready for me. It fit right into the hip pocket of my teen blue genes. I traded The Singing Rage Miss Patti Page for Big Mama Thornton and never thought twice.

I first started writing about this, and other music, for the Worcester, Mass., Telegram & Gazette newspaper in the 1960s.

Confused by my very real youth and my ersatz hipness, unsuspecting editors let me cover the music of such diverse artists as the Jefferson Airplane, Ray Charles, Josh White Jr., and Carolyn Hester, and also sent me to write about several Newport Folk Festivals in the late 1960s.

Since then, I wrote about the music for the Pittsburgh Press and then the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers.

But my best blues gig began about 2007, when still more unsuspecting editors let me start a blues blog on the Post-Gazette web site, where I worked as a content editor in my day job. Some of you might even remember — it was called BlueNotes, and can still be found there, even though a series of software changes make it look a little different and have removed much of its audio and video content.

I’ve since moved on again, and the Blues Roadhouse is my latest project, another blog where I can scratch the itch I have to talk about the blues, and lots of music that’s related to it.

In the Roadhouse, I’ll be talking about new blues, old blues, maybe some blues news, music that’s not quite blues but closely related, and just generally rambling along the long and winding blues highway.

I hope you’ll stop by once in a while, leave a comment if you feel like it, and share with your friends. That’s the key to this blues highway.