It’s always a pleasure to find new talent to write about and recommend for your listening pleasure.
The trouble with describing 21-year-old Yates McKendree as new talent, however, is that he has more than 10 years of professional experience under his belt (or wherever one keeps such experience).
While still in high school, Yates worked as both a player and engineer on projects that included Delbert McClinton and John Hiatt. In January 2020, Yates earned a Grammy for his role as an engineer and a musician on McClinton’s “Tall Dark & Handsome” album.
And before that, he was something of a child prodigy, picking out melodies on piano and organ at home with his father, the very notable, award-winning producer, engineer, and piano man, Kevin McKendree. Eventually, he grew into the piano, organ, drums, guitar and bass. Not to mention singing and songwriting.
We didn’t get to hear most of those musical growth spurts when they happened, but with this fine debut album, we get to discover the range of his talents in one sparkling session.
The session kicks off with the lighthearted, jazzy “Out Crowd,” a Kevin and Yates original instrumental keyboard duet tribute to the Ramsey Lewis hit, “The In Crowd.”
That’s followed by a quickstep toward the blues, with Yates on a sprightly cover of an old B.B. King cut, the Latinesque “Ruby Lee,” with Yates’ stinging guitar. Next, a pair of originals written with Nashville Songwriters Hall of Famer Gary Nicholson: “Wise” and “No Justice,” a pair of slow and torchy blues that explore various sides of lost love, especially when it involves fiery guitar solos.
The next batch of songs are classy covers of some classic blues and R&B material: “Brand New Neighborhood” (Fletcher Smith), “Always a First Time” (Earl King), “Papa Ain’t Salty” (T-Bone Walker), “No Reason” (Carmen Davis), “Qualified” (Dr. John), “It Hurts to Love Someone,” with more feisty guitar (Guitar Slim), then back with some elegant keyboard for “Wine, Wine, Wine” (Jimmy Binkley), and “Please Mr. Doctor” (Tampa Red). A swinging original instrumental, the B3-haunted “Voodoo,” tormented by an evil guitar, is the closer.
The excellent musical cast assembled here allows the entire project to float along effortlessly behind Yates’s accomplished vocals, swinging or stinging as needed. That includes Steve Mackey, upright bass; Big Joe Maher, drums; Jim Hoke, sax; Andrew Carney, trumpet; Roland Barber, trombone. Those horns, by the way, add just the right punch, and the appropriate B3 summons up deep, rolling emotions. The McCrary Sisters provide background vocals. Kevin McKendree doubles as engineer and keyboard maestro.
The album title, Buchanan Lane, is the street on which the McKendrees live and learn their art.
Buchanan Lane is also a first-rate first album, filled with the fresh music of an outstanding new talent (if you don’t count his last 15 years or so).
Here’s “No Justice’:
1. Out Crowd (2:45) 2. Ruby Lee (3:45) 3. Wise (3:29) 4. No Justice (4:27) 5. Brand New Neighborhood (2:28) 6. Always A First Time (3:58) 7. Papa Ain’t Salty (2:52) 8. No Reason (2:46) 9. Qualified (4:46) 10. It Hurts To Love Someone Else (3:18) 11. Wine, Wine, Wine (2:49) 12. Please Mr. Doctor (3:56) 13. Voodoo (3:11)
It only took Angela Strehli about 17 years to follow up her last album (“Blue Highway” from 2005), but thankfully she decided that at 76, she was too young to retire from the world of music.
The result is this fine, bluesy album of songs by artists who inspired her long and impressive musical career.
Why now? Here’s how Strehli explained it in an interview with the “Texas Standard”:
My dear husband, Bob Brown, looked at me and said, shortly after my last birthday, “Look, don’t you think it is time for you to make a record? I think your fans would like to hear from you after 16 years,” or whatever it was at the time. So I didn’t have a comeback for that. And I started thinking, and I said, “Well, I don’t have any original material.” But that’s when Bob came up with the concept of tipping my hat to the people who had inspired me by doing one of their songs that was not well-known by people so that they would be hearing something fresh.”
And it’s exactly that. Fresh. Sparkling. All thoroughly enjoyable. Strehli’s vocals still work magic with the lyrics, backed by musicians who know just how to highlight those vocals.
The songs may not all be exactly well known, but they are mother’s milk to blues fans. And an excellent remembrance of the Lubbock, Texas, native’s ability to turn any song into her own.
The session opens with the fine Bobby “Blue” Bland song, “Two Steps from the Blues,” a wistful ballad, beautifully rendered. That’s followed by a swinging reading of the old R&B-type number, “Person to Person,” recorded by many, but first, I believe, by Mildred Anderson.
“Ace of Spades” follows, a crackling classic by O.V. Wright tune, with some verses added to provide a little personal history of how Strehli came to be known as “Ace” in her years at Austin’s Antone’s, the blues club that she co-founded. And whose record label has been revived for this album, and one hopes, similarly fine future efforts.
“I Love The Life I Live” is tough little philosophic blues by the great and prolific Willie Dixon, as slyly recorded by Mose Allison. “You Never Can Tell” is the festive rocker with joyous piano by Chuck Berry about a teen-age wedding (featuring one of my all-time favorite lyrics, “…the coolerator was crammed with TV dinners and Ginger Ale…”).
“Gambler’s Blues” is a stinging guitar-first take on B.B. King’s version, with a fine guitar lead-in and solo midway. Another great blues is Strehli’s version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “Howlin’ For My Darling.” Then there’s her soulful take on Otis Clay’s “Trying To Live My Life Without You,” followed by a deep-throated version of Jimmy Reed’s “Take Out Some Insurance.” The final covers are Little Milton’s punchy “More and More,” and the rousing gospel of Dorothy Love Coates’ “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying.”
The set concludes with Strehli’s original “SRV,” a tearful tribute to the great Stevie Ray Vaughan, whose friend she became in her Austin years.
The entire album is also a fitting tribute to Angela Strehli’s contributions to and influence on the Texas blues scene during her years reigning as the queen of the scene at Antone’s. But it’s more than just memories. It’s damn good music. Like fine wine or good whiskey, it just gets better (I prefer the whiskey, neat please!).
Here’s “I Wouldn’t Mind Dying”:
Just for fun, here’s a look at Angela in her early years, with Stevie Ray and Jimmie Vaughan:
“Ace of Blues” Track list:
Two Steps From The Blues Person To Person Ace Of Spades I Love The Life I Live You Never Can Tell Gambler’s Blues Howlin’ For My Darling Trying To Live My Life Without You Take Out Some Insurance More And More I Wouldn’t Mind Dying SRV
I’ve always been a fool for fine piano music — blues, boogie and otherwise.
Which why this tasty new album by veteran keyboard whiz Dave Keyes hits all the right notes. (And yes, Keyes is his name as well as his game.)
His bio will give you a few facts:
New York City native keyboardist, singer and songwriter Dave Keyes is a 30-year veteran of the blues, roots, and Americana music scene. The three-time Blues Music Award nominee, who has released six highly acclaimed albums under his own name, was named the “Best Unsigned Artist” by Keyboard magazine
His music will tell you much more.
Keyes adds world-weary vocals to tireless piano stylings that rock, romp, boogie and sometimes pianissimo their way through a set of mostly originals (plus one cover) with considerable feeling for music just keeps moving right along.
The album kicks off with “Shake Shake Shake,” a rollicking invitation to dance your way onto the floor where the music flows, highlighted by a spirited sax solo, followed by “That’s What The Blues Are For,” a bouncy blues with liquid guitar work. “Blues and Boogie” is next, a romp through some of each.
Next is a little gem with just Keyes and his keys on the plaintive Wille Nelson chestnut, “Funny How Time Slips Away,” filled with just the right amount of heartache and melancholy; a late-night ode to lost love.
Then he bounces back with “Ain’t Doing That No More,” soaring along with a rhythmic taste of New Orleans second-line flavor; followed by “Ain’t Going Down,” a tough, percussive anthem of survival.
Then it’s time for a bombastic boogie-woogie instrumental on “WBGO Boogie,” titled after a Newark jazz and blues radio station. He romps, he stomps, his left hand driving a right hand that knows exactly what it’s doing. “Not Fighting Anymore” carries Latin rhythms into and out of a relationship struggle.
“Invisible Man” is a loping lament about finding a woman — “your mind is taking orders that your body can’t fill” — aided by the incomparable Doug MacLeod on acoustic guitar with a little vocal advice.
It all wraps up nicely in the anthem-like “7 O’clock Somewhere,” a romping tribute to front-line workers driven hard by Keyes’ piano and stinging guitar.
This a fine, fun album full of Dave Keyes’ sparkling piano and sharp vocals. Plus great music from his bandmates. What more can a music lover ask?
Here’s a video of “That’s What The Blues Are For”:
Billy Price may well be one of the best-kept secrets in soul music, unless you live in the Pittsburgh-Washington D.C. music axis or happen to be one of his many appreciative fans in Europe.
Since I’m from the Pittsburgh area, I’ve known Billy Price, and watched him perform, for many of the 50+ years in the title of this excellent career retrospective.
So it’s no surprise to me that this 3-CD set packed with 41 delicious songs that span his thankfully ongoing career is full of sweet, satisfying soul music.
It’s not like Price had to work very hard to fill this exemplary set. With the Keystone Rhythm Band, then the Billy Price Band, plus solo projects, he has released 20 albums, CDs, and DVDs. Not to mention the live shows he’s performed over the years.
To give you a brief overview of the man’s credentials: “This Time for Real”, an album with the late Chicago soul singer Otis Clay, received a 2016 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2015. His 2018 album “Reckoning,” produced by Kid Andersen at Greaseland Studios for Vizztone, was nominated for a 2019 Blues Music Award in the category of Best Soul Blues Album of 2018. His 2019 album “Dog Eat Dog,” also produced by Andersen, was nominated for a 2020 BMA for Best Soul Blues Album of 2019. He was also nominated for a 2020 BMA for Best Male Soul Blues Artist. Oh, and early in his career he recorded as a vocalist with the late and very great guitar wizard Roy Buchanan.
And at this writing, Price is preaching to European audiences while touring with Anthony Geraci the Boston Blues Allstars.
The nature of soul music is that so much great music has already been written and sung, and much of Price’s early works covered the greats — Al Green, O.V. Wright, Bobby “Blue” Bland and more. But that’s just fine. There’s nothing wrong with being an interpreter of great music (there are still hundreds of cover orchestras interpreting Mozart!). And Billy worked hard to fill his bands with crack musicians and arrangements that always honored their source.
The first of the three discs here highlight some of that work, with a sprinkling of original material. Discs two and three sort of reverse that, adding more originals with a sprinkling of covers.
Price’s music ranges from tender to tough, hitting all the nuance in between, matching soulful vocals and ever-sharp horns, a soul music feature that Price has absorbed, polished and makes shine in everything he does.
An excellent microcosm of just how all of this works can be found on track 14 of Disc One. It’s a medley of three great songs, starting off with the Bobby Bland classic, “Cry, Cry, Cry,” moving into a Price original, “BP’s Dream,” then the O.V. Wright chestnut “Eight Men & Four Women,” and finally wrapping it back into “Cry,” all filled with passionate vocals, complete with the soulful pleading and testifying that mark Price’s style.
I’m not gonna write about all of those 41 tracks, except to testify myself about their scope and quality. This an exciting set of music by Billy Price. His vocals preach and plead, his bands crackle with kickass horns and sharp guitar work (some of the sharpest from the late Pittsburgh guitar great Glenn Pavone). Old fans will find great music to revisit, newcomers will just find great music.
Make that great soul music.
If you want to see a complete list of all those song credits, including composers and musicians (they’re not in the excellent CD notes by Price on his musical history), you can enjoy yourself with this comprehensive list from Price’s web site.
Here’s a great live performance of one of the cuts, “It Ain’t a Juke Joint Without the Blues”:
Disc 1 1 I Know It’s Your Party (I Just Came Here to Dance) (Live Version) 2 Why Can’t We Be Lovers 3 Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown 4 This Time I’m Gone for Good 5 When the Lights Came on 6 Absolute Love 7 Nothing Stays the Same Forever 8 This Magic Hour 9 It Ain’t a Juke Joint Without the Blues 10 No Matter How You Turn or Twist It 11 Soul Sailin’ 12 You Don’t Exist No More 13 You’ve Got Bad Intentions 14 The Jury of Love: Cry Cry Cry – BP’s Dream – Eight Men & Four Women
Disc 2 1 Real Time 2 Let’s Get Married 3 Free 4 Under the Influence 5 Is It Over? 6 Power of Love – I Didn’t Know the Meaning of Pain (Live Version) 7 My Love Comes Tumbling Down 8 One and One 9 Slipped, Tripped, and Fell in Love 10 The Big Show 11 Since You’ve Gone Again 12 The Hard Hours 13 Something ‘Bout ‘Cha (Live Version) – That’s How It Is (Live Version) – Blind Man 14 39 Steps
Disc 3 1 Let’s Go for a Ride 2 Beautiful Feeling 3 Part Time Love 4 Your Time to Cry 5 Can I Change My Mind (Live Version) – Is It Something You’ve Got 6 Don’t Leave Me Starving for Your Love 7 I Can’t Lose the Blues 8 Mine All Mine All Mine (Live Version) 9 Love Ballad 10 Who You’re Working for 11 I Betcha Didn’t Know That 12 Ain’t It Funky Now – Back from the Dead 13 Dangerous Highway
There is so much new music floating around these days that’s based on the blues, incorporates the blues or updates the blues, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. Much of it is inspired, exciting music.
That’s why I love this new album by Duwayne Burnside, son of the late, legendary R.L. Burnside — it’s the blues in raw and primeval form, its roots nurtured in the fertile Mississippi blues soil that Burnside calls home.
It’s just the power of Burnside’s rich, rugged vocals, propelled by his acoustic guitar, exploring vital, classic blues material.
He’s been an exciting electric guitarist for decades, but this is his first new album in 17 years, recorded almost like field recordings in the area around Burnside’s home in Holly Springs, Miss., in 2018 and 2019.
“Although I’ve never stopped playing shows, this album is a rebirth for me,” Burnside says. “It puts me in the game again, but it’s perfect, too, because playing stripped down like this, you can hear this music come right out of my heart because that’s where my daddy put it.”
The album kicks off with the hypnotic messaging of “Going Down South,” “Jumper on the Line” and “Poor Black Mattie,” three of his father’s songs. “When I play them,” he says, “I’m doing my best to show respect and love for him and the music. When I play on acoustic guitar, especially, it goes back even further, because this music started without electricity. I think about all the musicians who came up from the early days, out of the Delta and the hills, and took their music to the big cities and all around the world. It makes me feel like I’m a part of all that history.”
Next, he shows his respect and creativity with his own “She Threw My Clothes Out,” followed by “Alice Mae,” written by R.L. Burnside for Duwayne’s mother. That’s followed by Burnside’s rhythmic version of the very traditional, very classic Robert Johnson song, “Dust My Broom.”
Those are followed by “Meet Me In the City,” “Stay All Night,” an alternative take of “She Threw My Clothes Out,” the Roosevelt Sykes chestnut “44 Blues,” “Bad Bad Pain,” and the album closer, “Lord Have Mercy On Me,” by Burnside’s neighbor Junior Kimbrough, one of the founding fathers of the hill country style.
They all combine to create a unique recording of earthy, gritty blues that’s filled with authentic, soulful music. And that feel requires a shoutout to Pinkie Pulliam on bass and Dan Torigoe on piano, who complete the sound on these sessions.
Torigoe, not incidentally, is the founder of this record label, Dolceola Recordings. He says that his label is “focused on analog field recording of American traditional music, with love and adoration for the great field recorders. I love R.L.’s first recordings made in 1968 by George Mitchell and wanted to make a sort of modern version of it with the current generation. So, while Duwayne is renowned for his solid electric guitar playing with influences from modern blues, the musical tradition of his father and his community is rooted very deep in his body and soul, and we wanted to capture that in a more primitive way.”
And they have done just that, recording the blues the way they were meant to be heard. If you watch the video at the end (I hope you do!), you’ll see Burnside on his front steps with some of that recording equipment, catching the music exactly as its created.
It may indeed be primitive by today’s digital standards, but so is the blues. If you’re a fan, don’t miss this album. If you haven’t been, listen to some of the origins of American popular music.
Blues music in all of its forms has always been intertwined with the music of the church.
Older blues musicians have often told stories about how, as youngsters, they learned that the blues was “the devil’s music,” and encouraged to engage in more sacred musical forms.
Fortunately, they didn’t always follow that advice, and we have been enjoying various takes on the devil’s music for generations.
Some blues musicians found their calling by combining the sacred and the secular in their music, strapping a blues-styled guitar behind a sanctified message. Artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Son House, Blind Blake, Rev. Gary Davis, and Blind Willie Johnson (a featured artist here) were blues and gospel performers as well as evangelists. The 1920s blues and hokum singer/songwriter Georgia Tom emerged in the early ’30s as the Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, who almost single-handedly created modern gospel music, and is sometimes referred to as the “father of gospel music.”
In the ’30s and beyond, gospel and jubilee quartets (Blind Boys of Alabama, Blind Boys of Mississippi, Soul Stirrers) carried the same message, while Tharpe gave gospel music an early rock and roll twist with her electric guitar.
All of this is a long-winded introduction to a fine new album by Robert Hill and Joanne Lediger that offers a contemporary look at gospel blues with six covers of traditional songs, one masterful Tom Wait adaptation, and four originals by Hill. He and Lediger have been performing together for the last fifteen years; Hill a slide wizard and Lediger a passionate vocalist. Hill’s daughter Paulina also joins on vocals.
That’s just the right combination for this fascinating selection of powerful songs. The opener is the dramatic call and response of the traditional “John the Revelator,” first recorded in 1930 by Blind Willie Johnson, and in the ’60s by Son House. Lediger’s intense vocals are backed by the visceral fire of Hill’s National Resophonic guitar.
That’s followed by “Run On,” an almost raucous, guitar-driven religious critique with an R&B flavor, then “Soul of a Man,” from another Johnson recording, with a very soulful vocal turn by Hill, backed by Lediger, in a strikingly passionate version.
That’s followed by a terrific bluesy version of Tom Wait’s “Way Down In the Hole,” with Paulina’s vocals leading Hill’s guitar on a wicked journey. Some of you may remember it as the theme from the excellent HBO series “The Wire.” The show highlighted a different version of the song in each of its five seasons, from 2002-2008.
Two Hill originals follow — “Jesus by the Riverside” and “Pay One Way or Another” — both nicely crafted to fit the classic context of the album. “Pay” is an especially tough, rhythmic creation on how “nobody gets out of this world for free,” driven hard by Ed Alstrom on the Hammond B3.
“Nobody’s Fault But Mine” is another soaring Blind Willie Johnson tune, and “A Devil’s Fool” is another original that shuffles joyously into the blues again, this time using Robert’s vocals and some piano to kick everything along.
There’s still more Johnson coming with “Samson and Delilah,” this time a rocking version with tough Paulina Hill vocals. “Preacher’s Blues” is another Hill original, with foot-stomping rhythm and old-timey feel. “Jesus On The Mainline,” based on the Mississippi Fred McDowell ’50s version, is a fitting closer for this session, as all three vocalists join in a mini-choir version. Once again, Hill’s sublime guitar work lifts this song out of the ordinary and into instant classic status.
And that’s typical of the entire album — it’s a joyous effort to polish up some great traditional gospel blues, add some new ones, and produced a smartly crafted set full of lyrical and musical wisdom. The playing and singing are inspired. Don’t be deterred by the “gospel” label. This is not heavy-handed religious music, but music that highlights the intense historical connection between blues and gospel; between the sacred and the secular, and how they both shine when their worlds collide.
It’s all a devil of a good time.
Here’s a 2019 live version of the track “Soul of a Man”:
Musicians: Joanne Lediger: vocals Paulina Hill: vocals Robert Hill: guitar, vocals, harp, keyboards Steve Gelfand: bass Frank Pagano: drums Ed Alstrom: Hammond B3 on “Pay One Way or Another”
I’ve seen Rory Block perform many times. I’ve listened to her albums even more. I’ve never ceased to be amazed at her talent.
For decades, she’s been a one-woman force in the preservation of traditional county and acoustic blues music. She’s done that with power and authenticity and an obvious passion for the music she performs. Despite her faithfulness to this great American music, her voice and guitar style are unique and instantly recognizable as her own.
She does all of those things on her latest album, “Ain’t Nobody Worried,” but with a twist. This is the third album in her Power Women of the Blues series, and the first two — “A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith” and “Prove It On Me” — were pretty much traditional blues, all expertly done.
This time out, Block pays tribute to more contemporary women of American music, from Mavis Staples to Koko Taylor. Why? As she puts it: “I do these songs because I play the music I love the most.”
All are done with her distinctive acoustic guitar and vocal work. Where she wanted something extra, she recorded additional guitar and percussion herself. And did her own backup vocals.
She opens with a spirited version of the classic Staples Singers gospel-flavored “I’ll Take You There,” then turn sensuously secular with “Midnight Train to Georgia,” the soulful Gladys Knight hit, and then layers her distinctive style onto “My Guy,” the Smokey Robinson opus given wings by Mary Wells.
Then she adds eight more tracks that range from Tracy Chapman’s groundbreaking “Fast Car” to the Etta James masterpiece “I’d Rather Go Blind” to Bonnie Raitt’s glorious “Love Has No Pride” to Koko Taylor’s deeply tough blues, “Cried Like a Baby” to some serious Motown on “Dancing ln The Streets” by Martha and The Vandellas.
Block also includes her own “Lovin’ Whiskey,” the song she says launched her career, plus a cover of “Freight Train,” by the very talented and influential guitarist Elizabeth Cotton.
(You can find the complete track list, with Rory’s comment on how and why she chose each song below the video at the end of the post.)
Those few paragraphs above don’t really do justice to this excellent Rory Block album. You know, “words can’t begin to describe,” and all that. The results are impressively imaginative, highly creative and, best of all, thoroughly enjoyable.
Here’s “Cried Like a Baby”
Track Listing and Comments by Rory Block “I’ll Take You There” — The Staple Singers (featuring Mavis Staples) Not much explanation needed. This is one of the all-time great and powerful crossover gospel songs with an immense rhythm track, graced by the matchless voice of Mavis Staples. Mavis proved that gospel is a force in pop music. “I’ll Take You There” was the first track we recorded and is the first track on this CD. It just felt right.
“Midnight Train To Georgia” — Gladys Knight and The Pips Who can say “Midnight Train to Georgia” wasn’t one of the most soulful songs of its time, and who didn’t try to learn to sing listening to Gladys Knight’s superlative rich vocals? Who didn’t try to learn backup vocals and dance moves from the Pips? This song was a must-do, and the second track we recorded.
“My Guy” — Mary Wells Mary Wells nailed this perfectly crafted song by Smokey Robinson, giving it passion, charm, and a wry sense of humor. I recorded it in the same key as the original, but then was dismayed to find my natural vocal range was deeper, so I thought about slowing the track or re-recording it. In the end,I sang it in a somewhat jazzy head voice and went with it. I could have given it a bit of growl in a deeper key, but maybe it didn’t need growl. After all, it is a spirited and fun song, and I had a great time singing, especially on the outro.
“Fast Car” — Tracy Chapman Remember when this song came on the radio and blew our minds? lt was a trendsetter, with a stereotype busting, cutting edge approach that was almost unheard of at the time. It was, however, (if I can pat myself on the back), an idea I had always cherished -taking an acoustic song and suddenly applying an earth shaking drum track when least expected, taking the song, with its emotionally honest and arresting story, to another level altogether. Tracy was one of the first to really turn this approach into pure gold.
“Cried Like A Baby” — Koko Taylor I met Koko Taylor on the road in Germany. I opened for her and her tighter-than-ever band for several shows on that tour, including a TV show that ended up as a laser disk (remember those)? She dubbed me `’Little Miss Dynamite,” a name I deeply appreciate and cherish. No one could nail the power of a sexy full-out blues wail like Koko. On the outro,I ad lib one of my conversations with her, including her worldly wisdom and advice.
“Love Has No Pride” — Bonnie Raitt Greenwich Village in the `60s was a hotbed of immense musical talent, with the likes of Bob Dylan living just two doors away from The Allan Block sandal shop, Joan Baez performing in local venues, Bonnie Raitt making waves with her heart wrenching blues, and the list goes on and on. My first boyfriend, Stefan Grossman, was friends with many of the pivotal players in the burgeoning scene. One of his good friends was a great songwriter and musician named Eric Kaz, who, together with Libby Titus, wrote “Love Has No Pride.” We always thought it was the best song ever written, performed by Bonnie, the best singer on earth.
“I’d Rather Go Blind” — Etta James This song led the way for the concept of this recording, establishing the theme celebrating great women of song. I just kept saying, “I can’t wait to sing `l’d Rather Go Blind.” This song is one of the most haunting and moving portrayals of heartbreak ever written, sung by the amazingly gutsy blues voice of a woman who meant every word she sang. Etta, we got the tissues out.
“Lovin’ Whiskey” — Rory BIock This is the song I thought no one would care about. This is the song that got me on an airplane. This is the song that launched my career. This is the song I didn’t want to put on the record. This is the song that earned me a gold record and has remained my most popular and requested song for over 3 decades. I have heard repeatedly that it’s because it’s about the hidden struggles of the heart, and knowing we are not alone. More people say that it helped them through the hardest times of their lives than any other I have written. Murphy’s Law, you never know. Oh yes, great guitar player Bud Rizzo played the original heart-wrenching solo. I decided to follow it note for note, for better or worse, on my acoustic version. I also stuck with the original drum pattern that I somehow constructed on one of the first drum machines ever invented. It made no sense in that it wrapped around so the “one” beat was in a different place every verse, but it somehow worked… and you know, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
“Dancing ln The Streets” — Martha and The Vandellas Great song, great performance from Martha and her Vandellas, great groove, solid gold, what’s not to love? Had to do this one for the pure joy of it.
“You’ve Got A Friend” — Carole King This song came on the radio in one of the hardest periods of my life. Waking me from a deep sleep in a state of despair, hearing the vulnerable and unpretentious voice of Carole King made me sit up straight in bed and say “Maybe I can do this!” lt was a life changing moment. She was the voice of every woman
“Freight Train” — Elizabeth Cotton This could be the most influential guitar style ever created. Libba Cotton once was Nanny to the Seeger children, until she was overheard sitting in another room singing this haunting tune. I celebrate her, not because this song became gold, but because in the most unassuming way, quietly and without a lot of fanfare, her guitar picking became one of the most influential guitar styles of all times.
What can you say about George “Buddy” Guy that hasn’t been said many times over? Even saying that he has a fine new album isn’t exactly big news. He’s created plenty, if you think 50 is plenty.
The living legend turned 86 this year, and he still sounds great at the peak of his blues powers. (Okay, the album was probably recorded when he was a mere 85 or so.)
An abbreviated list of his accomplishments: The recipient of the 2015 Grammy Lifetime achievement Award, Buddy Guy’s incredible career spans over 50 years with just as many albums released. Career highlights include 8 Grammy Awards, 38 Blues Music Awards, the most any artist has had, a Kennedy Center Honors, NARM Chairman’s Award for Sustained Creative Achievement, Billboard Music Awards’ Century Award for distinguished artistic development, Presidential National Medal of Arts, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, plus, more.
And that doesn’t include his status as a major influence; as one of the last of the great bluesmen still standing.
And also, this is a magnificent album of 16 songs (yes, that’s 16 — finally, someone fills a CD with great new music, thank you very much).
It all kicks off with the rich and powerful sound of “I Let My Guitar Do The Talking,” which probably sums up his entire career. Then the title track continues that thought with the philosophical “Blues Don’t Lie” (“Life is gonna happen, whether you’re ready or not….”). “The World Needs Love” follows, the only track written by Guy alone; it’s a scorcher with a wicked guitar solo and a heartfelt vocal pleading of his case.
The next tracks bring in some of the supporting cast assembled here. “We Go Back” is a haunting reminiscence featuring Mavis Staples; the churning rhythms of “Symptoms of Love” adds Elvis Costello and producer Tom Hambridge (much more on him later) on background vocals, and “Follow the Money” adds James Taylor in a sly critique of dollar daze.
The songs here seem to dig deeper into the blues as they move along. “Well Enough Alone” evokes the mojo hand and a black cat bone smothered in stinging guitar, and “What’s Wrong With That” brings in Bobby Rush for a playful look at their good old days: “I like my bacon crispy, my pancakes cooked up right….”
The music takes a topical turn with the plaintive “Gunsmoke Blues,” featuring Jason Isbell, in an anthem to a litany of shootings (“A million thoughts and prayers won’t bring back anyone….”). Then the mood shifts back to a rocking “House Party” with Wendy Moten joining in the vocals as the band shuffles into a traditional blues groove.
The album closes with a few covers and more tough blues. (“Sweet Thing” is classic B.B. King, “I’ve Got a Feeling” is a bluesy take on the Beatles chestnut, “Backdoor Scratchin’,” “Rabbitt Blood” and “Last Call” add even more down-home feel, until Buddy closes with a deep blue cover of the Slim Harpo classic, “King Bee.”
Put all of that together, and it makes for a truly excellent Buddy Guy outing. The original songs, mostly co-written by the ridiculously talented Tom Hambridge are sharp and incisive, contemporary and timeless, and just plain good blues. (Hambridge also plays some drums. Check the full credits below to get the complete picture.)
When the songs are topical, they’re not oppressive. When they are solid blues, they are the real deal. It’s hard enough to write this kind of music, it’s even harder to make it feel like it’s been dredged from the depths of the blues — and having Guy sing and play guitar doesn’t hurt either.
Sure, there are many, many fine Buddy Guy albums that you can listen to. But this is one of the finest — traditional and contemporary, surrounded by choice Buddy licks.
“The Blues Don’t Lie” is living proof that the blues still don’t lie.
Here’s the leadoff track:
I Let My Guitar Do The Talking
The World Needs Love
We Go Back (featuring Mavis Staples)
Symptoms Of Love (featuring Elvis Costello)
Follow The Money (featuring James Taylor)
Well Enough Alone
What’s Wrong With That (featuring Bobby Rush)
Gunsmoke Blues (featuring Jason Isbell)
House Party (featuring Wendy Moten)
I’ve Got A Feeling
If you’re interested in the complete track credits, with all those crack musicians, down to which guitar Buddy played, here they are:
I LET MY GUITAR DO THE TALKING (4:27) (Tom Hambridge, Buddy Guy) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Mic Shau Music/adm. By BUG Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Signature Blonde Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Reese Wynans – B3 Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar Max Abrams & Steve Patrick – Horns
BLUES DON’T LIE (3:54) (Tom Hambridge) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP) Buddy Guy – BG Signature Blonde Strat, BG Sunburst Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums, Tambourine, Background Vocals Reese Wynans – B3 Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar Michael Saint-Leon – Low End Guitar Mike Hicks – Background Vocals Max Abrams & Steve Patrick – Horns
THE WORLD NEEDS LOVE (5:30) (Buddy Guy) Published by Mic Shau Music/adm. By BUG Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Glenn Worf – Bass Kevin McKendree – Piano Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
WE GO BACK (featuring Mavis Staples) (4:40) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Mavis Staples – Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums, Percussion Glenn Worf – Bass Kevin McKendree – Wurlitzer, B3 Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
SYMPTOMS OF LOVE (featuring Elvis Costello) (3:37)
(Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Elvis Costello – Background Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums, Percussion, Background Vocals Glenn Worf – Bass Kevin McKendree – B3 Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
FOLLOW THE MONEY (featuring James Taylor) (3:42) (Tom Hambridge, Gary Nicholson) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Sony-ATV Cross Keys Publishing/Gary Nicholson Music (ASCAP) Buddy Guy – Martin Acoustic Guitar, Gibson J-200 Acoustic Guitar, Vocals James Taylor – Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Reese Wynans – Wurlitzer Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
WELL ENOUGH ALONE (4:13) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Signature Blonde Strat, BG Signature Blue Polka Dot Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums, Background Vocals Reese Wynans – B3 Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THAT? (featuring Bobby Rush) (5:26) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, BG Signature Blue Polka Dot Strat Bobby Rush – Vocals, Harmonica Tom Hambridge – Drums, Tambourine Reese Wynans – B3 Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
GUNSMOKE BLUES (featuring Jason Isbell) (3:09) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Signature Blonde Strat, BG Signature Blue Polka Dot Strat, Vocals Jason Isbell – Vocals, Electric Guitar Tom Hambridge – Drums Reese Wynans – Piano, Wurlitzer Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
HOUSE PARTY (featuring Wendy Moten) (3:00) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – Guild Starfire, Vocals Wendy Moten – Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Reese Wynans – B3 Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
SWEET THING (3:00) (BB King, Joe Josea) Published by Universal Music Careers (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Signature Blue Polka Dot Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Glenn Worf – Bass Kevin McKendree – Piano Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
BACK DOOR SCRATCHIN’ (3:54) (Tom Hambridge, Gary Nicholson) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Sony-ATV Cross Keys Publishing/Gary Nicholson Music (ASCAP) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Glenn Worf – Bass Kevin McKendree – B3 Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
I’VE GOT A FEELING (4:02) (John Lennon, Paul McCartney) Published by Sony/ATV LLC (ASCAP) Buddy Guy – ’58 Sunburst Strat, Sitar Guitar, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums, Percussion Reese Wynans – Fender Rhodes Michael Rhodes – Bass Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
RABBIT BLOOD (4:43) (Tom Hambridge, Richard Fleming) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Richard Fleming Music (BMI) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Glenn Worf – Upright Bass Kevin McKendree – Piano Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
LAST CALL (3:33) (Tom Hambridge, Bill Sweeney) Published by Tom Hambridge Tunes (ASCAP), Bill Sweens Music (ASCAP) Buddy Guy – BG Blonde Strat, Vocals Tom Hambridge – Drums Glenn Worf – Upright Bass Kevin McKendree – Piano, B3 Rob McNelley – Electric Guitar
I’M A KING BEE (2:44) (James Moore) Published by Embassy Music Corporation (BMI) Buddy Guy – Martin Acoustic Guitar, Vocals
Doug MacLeod is, simply put, one of the best at what he does — a masterful storyteller and an elegant picker and singer of the blues.
This fine little album is just six songs long, but that’s a lot of blues storytelling from MacLeod, who writes all of his own material (with a minor exception on this session).
It also doesn’t seem to be available as a “real” album, but as a collection released Sept. 9 by the Sledgehammer Blues label, found on streaming services. I recently ran across it on my Amazon Prime Music Unlimited service, gave it a listen,
If you’re familiar with his work, these songs will be instantly recognizable. Doug’s style is uniquely and unmistakably his own — from the folksy drama of his lyrics to the eloquence of his acoustic guitar work.
The songs are: The deeply hopeful despair of “Mystery Woman,” and “Come to Find,” “Bring it On Home,” the slyly salacious “One Good Woman,” the wistful “Old Country Road,” and the loving memory-driven “Norfolk County Line.”
Digression: MacLeod’s cover of Willie Dixon’s “Bring It On Home,” is an exception here to his preference for his own songs. But it’s an excellent take on the old Sonny Boy Williamson II version. (Just for the record, and because it’s one of my blues pet peeves, Sonny Boy was actually born Aleck Miller, and later took the name of John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson as his own. I’ve always thought that this was deeply unfair to the real Williamson, as his harp work was prolific and influential.)
But no matter. This is a fine sampling of Doug MacLeod’s literate, painfully honest approach to music. For more, there are many other albums available, and he’ll be sailing and singing on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues cruise next January (#38). See you there.