Random Chance Records is a small, high-quality blues and jazz record label based in New York City. It has some excellent, exciting issues, as these two reviews below indicate.
Jimmie Lee Robinson
Random Chance Records RCD14
Chicago Jump is composed of previously unreleased material from the late Jimmie Lee Robinson, Little Walter's long-time guitarist in the 1950s, that was recorded in November 1995 and February 1996. Coaxed out of retirement in the late 1980s by Scott Dirks, harpman with one of Chicago's leading blues bands, the Ice Cream Men, Robinson hadn't played regularly for over a decade. One of the last remaining traditional 1950s Chicago-style electric blues guitarists, Robinson soon re-established himself as a blues artist of note, playing festivals and recording his widely-acclaimed “comeback” album for Delmark, Lonely Traveler, that was released in 1994.
Scott Dirks wanted to record Jimmie Lee Robinson playing the material of others he did regularly in his gigs, but had never recorded himself. For, in his 50+ blues career, Robinson played with the young Freddy King in the early 1950s Every Hour Blues Boys, was a friend and musical cohort of Eddie Taylor's, and in addition to being a mainstay of Little Walter's band, also played and recorded with Willie Mabon.
So, for these sessions recorded at Twist Turner's House of Sound in Chicago, Dirks gathered together Twist Turner on drums, Rockin' Johnny Burgin on rhythm guitar, Sho Koyima on bass, and himself on harp, to record what became this, the Chicago Jump CD.
Alas, the business of blues recordings didn't make the recording marketable until after Robinson's death in 2002. For the success of Lonely Traveler, along with plenty of other Jimmie Lee Robinson solo material available, kept the recording tapes unsaleable at the time of their recording. But, after Robinson's death, Scott Dirks shopped the tapes around again, New York City's Random Chance Records expressed interest, and now, Random Chance's Chicago Jump CD makes this previously unreleased, musically exciting material played in the classic traditional style of mid-1950s Chicago blues happily available.
As befits a guitarist who became notable playing and recording not only with the seminal Little Walter, but also with the notable but lesser known Willie Mabon, Chess-mate with Little Walter (recording for Chess “I Don't Know,”and “Seventh son”). Chicago Jump contains four of Walter's paradigm Chicago harp-and-vocal originals, “Tell Me Mama,” “Aw Baby,” “Last Night” and “Confessing The Blues,” and two of Mabon's songs, “Poison Ivy” and “Got To Have Some.”
Other material on Chicago Jump is Jimmy Reed's “Ain't That Lovin' You Baby;” two Jimmie Lee Robinson instrumental originals, “Jimmie's Jam” and “Chicago Jump;” B.B. King's “See See Rider;” “and two blues of troubled love, “Angry Lover” and “In Love with You Baby.”
Although always a gutbucket guitar player and vocalist himself, Jimmie Lee Robinson held in high regard the more polished, urbane and sophisticated blues of Charles Brown and B.B. King, and admired both men as artists. Fittingly enough, then, Robinson recorded for Chicago Jump two of the most popular songs of these masters. Brown's “Drifting blues” is done soft, slow and ruminative in the classic Charles Brown style. However, Robinson does B.B. King's “3 O'clock Blues” as a straightforward, gutbucket Chicago blues-belting ballad - and it works perfectly!
Jimmie Lee Robinson's guitar solos, despite all the intervening years since he was at the pinnacle of his blues career, show well why he was so highly regarded as a guitarist, and why his comeback was so eagerly received. The same can be said for his dynamic, expressive, appropriately modulated vocals. Scott Dirks plays paradigm amplified Little Walter/James Cotton modern Chicago harp on eight of the 14 cuts, including on all the Little Walter and Willie Mabon numbers. Robinson also adds his own unique verses to Little Walter's “Last Night” and Willie Mabon's “Got To Have Some,” showing that, to the end, he was a true Chicago bluesman (read: urban folk artist), one who carried on his own tradition as well as that of others.
I Get Evil
Random Chance Records RCD-8
Chicago-blues-legend-in-his-own-time drummer Sam Lay, who's been the beat behind Howlin' Wolf's and Paul Butterfield's bands and on Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited album -- and that just starts the list of noteworthy credits! -- gives a crash course in Chicago Blues 101 on I Get Evil. But I Get Evil is much more than a syllabus or a compendium of the classics, it's a creative renewal of living Chicago blues itself, where vocalist/drummer Lay and the Sam Lay Blues Band take nine modern blues classics and a Sam Lay instrumental original to show that these are still the living blues today, not just venerable museum pieces from yesteryear.
The Sam Lay Blues Band does ensemble work here on six of I Get Evil's 10 cuts, on blues standards from Jimmy Reed, B.B. King, Muddy Waters, Lowell Fulson, and Jay McShann, along with Buster Brown's R&B rock chart hit, “Fannie Mae.” Guitarist Fred James and pianist/organist Celia Ann Price deliver some fine solos indeed. There's some really boogiein' extended piano from Ms. Price, and, from Fred James, virtuoso single-string electric solos in the late 1950s Chicago tradition, with Muddy Waters-style slide guitar on Muddy's “Mean Disposition.” Cecila Ann Price and Fred James also know well how to augment the sound dynamically in rhythm work as well. Harmonica player Greg “Fingers” Taylor joins in on Jimmy Reed's “You're So Fine,” and, of course, “Fannie Mae,” which is inconceivable sans harp. On his harp solo on “You're So Fine,” Taylor starts out playing Jimmy Reed-style on his hand-held amplified harp, then transforms the solo unexpectedly, but still in full control and without breaking the continuity, by suddenly switching to play in the paradigm deep-throated Chicago style of Little Walter!
Lay accompanies himself on Delta-style solo guitar and vocals on three classic covers and one original instrumental, “Sam's Big Boy,” where he establishes himself most proficiently as a blues guitarist, adding a new, creative extension to himself beyond the vocalist/drummer for which he's already so well noted. Sam Lay is quite credible as a folk blues vocalist on all three of these covers, B.B. King's “Rock Me Baby,” John Lee Hooker's “Boogie Chillen,” and Muddy Water's “Still A Fool,” and surprises with delight in a thoroughly convincing rendition of “Rock Me Baby” as a Delta country blues. “Rock Me Baby” is, of course, a song long-established as a staple of electric ensemble city blues. However, craftsmanlike as Lay's guitar is on “Boogie Chillen,” his understated playing notably lacks the driving force John Lee Hooker put into his guitar work on the original.
The material on Still A Fool is all certified blues juke classics, the meat-and-potatoes of Chicago Blues 101. Additionally to that mentioned above is foundational Lowell Fulson with “Black Night,” and the better-known foundational of Jay McShann's “Hands Off” (“Keep your hands off her/She don't belong to you) and B.B. King's “I Get Evil,” which Chuck Berry rendered somewhat differently as his rock 'n' roll hit, “Don't You Lie To Me.”
But then, who could possibly be a better teacher of Chicago Blues 101 than Sam Lay, with his earned Ph.D. in bluesicology, along with his most able and accomplished assistants, soloists Fred James, Celia Ann James, Greg “Fingers” Taylor, and bassist Ken Smith?