Roadhouse Album Review: Diunna Greenleaf’s powerful vocals highlight “I Ain’t Playin’ “

Diunna Greenleaf — “I Ain’t Playin’ ” — Little Village

You can tell as soon as you see the album cover photo and read the title, that Diunna Greenleaf means what she says. She ain’t playin’.

But when you actually hear her powerful voice and feel her commanding presence as the first song, “Never Trust a Man,” opens with: “Mama told me, girl don’t ever trust no man….,” you know that you’re listening to the real deal. And she ain’t playin’. (Just a sidelight, that song was a fine Koko Taylor staple.)

This is another in a series of fine recordings produced at Christoffer “Kid” Andersen’s Greaseland studio, where he seems to bring out the artist’s best.

Of this session, and Greenleaf, Andersen says: “Her voice tells you she is free to be herself,” Andersen says. “You just don’t find many voices like that. I think that’s something people will discover just listening to her album for the first time.”

Greenleaf’s voice is indeed the star here. This only the fifth album for the veteran Houston blues singer. But it’s been 11 years since her last, and this session will make you wonder why she waited so long. Her seemingly effortless vocals are deep and rich with the emotional content of the songs, all smartly chosen covers or originals.

There’s the rhythmic original “Running With the Red Cross;” there’s a full-throated, soaring take on The Staples Singers gospel classic, “I Know I’ve Been Changed;” a passionate working of Nina Simone’s version of “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free;” there’s even a plaintive version of Vince Gill’s “When I Call Your Name,” a rousing duet with Alabama Mike; there’s Greenleaf’s own snappy “Back Door Man;” a scorching take on Johnny Clyde Copeland’s “Let Me Cry,” and it’s all wrapped up with the prescient “My Turn, My Time.” And much, much more.

But that final cut sums up this sparkling renewal of Greenleaf’s recording career — it’s her turn, her time again, and she’s making the most of it with this excellent album.

A word about Little Village, from the Little Village people:

Since 2015, the non-profit Little Village record label has been ferreting out the sounds
of American roots music from communities throughout the nation. It produces albums in a
wide swath of styles, believing that the music can speak to other cultures far from the small
communities where it resides. It has produced four-dozen collections of gospel, blues,
mariachi, cowboy, spoken-word, Mississippi Hill Country, steel-guitar workouts and soul music
to introduce to new audiences.

And not incidentally, Jim Pugh, the main man at Little Village, contributes great keyboard throughout.

Recording “Never Trust A Man” in the Greaseland studios. That’s Greaseland’s Kid Andersen on guitar:

Here’s the tracklist from the album cover:

Here’s the full cast, from the album cover:

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