Emanuel Young with Howard Glazer and the EL 34s
Live in Detroit
recorded live at The Halligan Bar, Detroit, Michigan
Random Chance RCD-35

Howard Glazer and the EL 34s
Liquor Store Legend
Random Chance RCD33

Detroit blues vocalist/guitarist Emanuel Young is described in the short biography included on the sleeve notes to Live in Detroit as a "living Detroit legend." He's been playing the blues in the Motor City since the end of the 1950s and held one of the longest runs in Detroit musical history as host of blues night at Cooley's Lounge from 1978 until the place closed in 2005.

He's played with many of the greats of Detroit blues, including a year-and-a-half stint with John Lee Hooker, and has also played with Albert King, Jimmy Reed and Martha Reeves, lead singer with the Motown soul group Martha and the Vandellas.

Detroit has long been among the major hubs for electric post-World War II blues, because of the large number of African Americans who came to the North to take good-paying industrial jobs. Although more sophisticated in its sound than the electric blues of Mississippi and other primarily rural Southern states, it is rawer than the polished Chicago blues that history's made famous. Nonetheless, it has always possessed a hard rockin', infectious sound that has captured the blues imagination and moved people to the dance floor.

John Lee Hooker started his blues career in the Motor City, and it was also home in the 1950s for Sonny Boy Williamson II. Detroit blues masters such as Eddie Kirkland and Johnny "Yard Dog" Jones, along with many others, have long kept the blues alive here, and that doesn't include those major Black artists from pop genres who put Detroit on the musical map, such as the many stellar talents who recorded for Motown (which started in Detroit in 1958 and stayed there throughout the 1960s, drawing international attention to Detroit's substantial local talent). Detroit was also called home by R&B and soul greats Hank Ballard and Wilson Pickett.

Live in Detroit captures an electrifying performance by Young at The Halligan Bar, where he's backed by one of Detroit's hottest young blues groups (and national recording artists on New York City's Random Chance Records), Howard Glazer and the EL 34s.

The 11-track Live in Detroit CD features two Emanuel Young instrumental originals, "Lucky Lucy" and the onomatopoeic "The Train," along with an array of classic blues from artists as diverse as Ivory Joe Hunter, Howlin' Wolf, Hound Dog Taylor, Albert King, Hank Ballard, John Lee Hooker and B.B. King.

To each of these songs Young gives his own unique approach, adapting to each, from the rawness of John Lee Hooker and the elemental sounds of Chicago blues to the sophisticated renderings of Albert King and B.B. King, a basic fast-or-slow Detroit boogie shuffle with extended guitar solos (except for rhumba-based styling on "Lucky Lucy" and Howlin' Wolf's "I Should Have Quit You").

And guess what? It works, and works well, every time! Even when one wouldn't expect such a basic sound to work backing such sophisticated sounds as those of Ivory Joe Hunter, Albert King and B.B. King. But it does; and more, it even gives a new impression to their renderings.

Glazer, an excellent guitarist himself, and his band, the EL 34s, know enough to just lay down the solid underpinnings and let Young be up front doin' his thing. Glazer complements Young's excellent lead playing with excellent rhythm playing and train-chugging onomatopoeia on "The Train."

Young demonstrates an insistent virtuosity in his guitar playing and clear, yet emotionally vibrant and enthusiastic vocals. Especially demonstrated here is his masterful way of putting together multi-faceted extended guitar solos that hold the listener's attention throughout, and never get boring.

Young also displays creative ingenuity in adapting a song's lyrics to fit him, noticeably on his rendition of "I Should Have Quit You" (based on Wolf's "Killing Floor") and B.B. King's "Poor Boy" (based on King's "Sneaking Around"), along with originality in approach on his two instrumentals and his way of "vocalizing" the guitar to imitate the human voice.

And also, 48 seconds of delightful banter from Young introducing Howlin' Wolf's "Back Door Man" that includes the truly memorable line, "See, the police don't put you in jail for stealin'. They put you in jail for gettin' caught."

All 10 of the musical tracks on Live in Detroit are long, ranging from 4 minutes and 37 seconds for B.B. King's "Poor Boy" to 8 minutes and 46 seconds for Hank Ballard's "Tore Up Over You." All of this making Live in Detroit a most memorable display of contemporary Detroit electric blues from a master who's backed up by a really solid band steeped in the genre.

***

Live in Detroit was released in 2008. The year before, Howard Glazer and the EL 34s released Liquor Store Legend, the band's latest release on Random Chance. Liquor Store Legend is 13 tracks of original blues, rock and blues-rock written by Glazer, with plenty of creative lyrical twists and adapted musical inflections that range from Chuck Berry, Creedence Clearwater Revival and 1950s rock 'n' roll to a variety of traditional and modern blues styles.

Howard Glazer and the EL 34s is a full-sounding trio of Glazer on electric, acoustic, resonator and lap steel guitars; Bob Godwin, electric and acoustic basses; and Charles Stuart, drums, congas and percussion; with the addition here of Larry Marek, organ on three tracks (especially powerful on "Wonder Why") and on background vocals of four tracks.

The opening title track is an unusual braggadocio of being a real pro at buying alcohol at the liquor store, while "Power" is a psychedelic blues-rock protest that calls for speaking out on injustice that reminds this writer musically of the Doors. "Gas Pump Blues" is another protest song that was composed in those "halcyon" days of 2007, when gas was only around $3 a gallon -- made even more timely and relevant today when gas is over $4 a gallon and predicted to go much higher!

Glazer's lyrics on these last two songs are eloquently left wing, and are adapted well to their musical forms. Indeed, Howard Glazer is a poet who works within the blues, rock and blues-rock genres, something demonstrated throughout on Liquor Store Legend.

The 7-minute, 9-second next-to-last track, "Bar Fly Boogie," is a display case for the band's excellent playing, a resonator guitar-driven rocker built around the Z.Z. Topp "Lagrange"/John Lee Hooker "Boogie Chillun" riff with a wah-wah pedal elecritc guitar solo from Glazer, electric bass solo from Bob Godwin, and drum solo from Charles Stuart. Then, moving from this display of prowess from the whole band, Liquor Store Legend ends simply but appropriately on a resonator guitar-and-vocal traditional blues solo from Glazer himself, "Next Train Out."

Glazer is a masterful guitarist whose deep-voice vocals are expressive and solidly done, and complemented nicely by the rhythm section of Godwin and Stuart. Further, every song on Liquor Store Legend is different from the others. A substantive exercise throughout in blues and rock that demonstrates that Howard Glazer and the EL 34s have taught that old blues dog some nifty new tricks.

So, from backing the traditional blues of Young to laying down top-notch contemporary blues-inflected rock and blues-rock, Howard Glazer and the EL 34s present us with the delightful musical side of the Motor City in two memorable, listener-friendly CDs that demonstrate compelling all-round artistry, versatility and soul. Good blues news indeed!

George Fish can be reached at georgefish666@yahoo.com.