Paul Rishell and Annie Raines
A Night in Woodstock
Mojo Rodeo MOJR1950

Moreland & Arbuckle
1861
Northern Blues Music NBM0044

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, along with Moreland & Arbuckle, are two Dynamic Duos of the guitar-harp-and-vocal acoustic blues. Moreland & Arbuckle is actually a trio, for, in addition to Aaron Moreland, guitars, and Dustin Arbuckle, harp and vocal, there is Brad Horner on drums, adding a nicely rocked-up feeling to the music that serves importantly in making Moreland & Arbuckle’s blues a hybrid between city and country styles.

On A Night in Woodstock, guitarist/vocalist Rishell and harp player/vocalist Raines mix city and country styles as well, playing acoustic blues by themselves, and also playing with a combo of bass, second guitar, keyboards and drums. Both Dynamic Duos are masters of the acoustic blues, and in their eager involvement with the later electric blues as well, serve as contemporary artists as well as folk interpreters.

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A Night in Woodstock is a live album, recorded in 2005 at the Joyous Lake in Woodstock, New York, where Rishell and Raines were filmed as part of a documentary on jug band music. The CD opens with five acoustic tracks of just Rishell and Raines, starting with two traditional country blues from the 1920s, Blind Boy Fuller’s playfully erotic, double-entendre “Custard Pie,” followed by Tommy Johnson’s “Canned Heat Blues” on the perils of drinking Sterno for the alcohol in it during the Prohibition era.

"This is all excellent ensemble playing, with Rishell and Raines showing themselves as much masters of the electric city blues as they are of the acoustic country blues."

This is followed by Rishell picking up his National Reso-phonic resonator guitar for blues contemporary Johnny Winters’s mean-spirited “Dallas.” Raines has the vocal honors on the Raines/Rishell original, “Got To Fly,” while Rishell once again does the vocals on the medley of famed Sun Records’ producer “Cowboy” Jack Clement’s “It’ll Be Me,” with additional lyrics by Rishell. “It’ll Be Me” was first recorded as the flip side of Jerry Lee Lewis’s classic “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Raines is a true master of the second-position harp, the traditional harp accompaniment to the old-style country blues. Technically speaking, second-position harp is playing a harmonica that’s tuned to the subdominant note of the tonic, or signature, note that the song is in, and makes possible the bent notes so essential to blues playing. Second-position playing as such has been around even longer than the country blues has been recorded and has a venerable history along with many venerable masters.

But on her masterful, original harp break on “Got To Fly,” Raines demonstrates excellently that if anyone can teach this hoary second-position dog new tricks, it’s her!

A Night in Woodstock then goes on with a jazzy bridge of two songs before going into a set of five electric city blues with the combo of Reed Butler, bass; Billy McGillivray, drums; Chris Rival, rhythm/second electric guitar; Bruce Katz, keyboards; and John Sebastian, second harp.

The bridge starts with the Louis Armstrong old-time jazz rag, “Old Man Mose,” where Rishell and Raines are joined by Butler’s acoustic bass and vocal chorus with Raines. This is then followed by Rishell’s torchy original, “Blues On A Holiday,” with Katz joining Rishell’s guitar and Butler’s bass with piano, while Raines does the harp honors on a deep-sounding chromatic harmonica. Then McGillivray and Rival join in for five songs of city blues.

"Raines is a true master of the second-position harp, the traditional harp accompaniment to the old-style country blues."

Raines shows herself as adept at playing city blues harp as she did earlier in playing country-style, with Sebastian joining in with second harp on the Rishell/Raines original “Can’t Use It No More.” Sebastian is another master of the harp, of course, first as a noted folkie studio player back in the early 1960s, then as founding member of the seminal blues/rock band, the Lovin’ Spoonful, then again with his own group, John Sebastian and the J Band.

Rival complements Rishell’s electric guitar with his second lead on “Moving To The Country,” another Rishell/Raines original, while Butler does the vocals on Mississippi bluesman Jerry McCain’s “Bad Credit.” Raines steps up to the vocal tasks again on the rollicking lope, “I’m A Lover Not A Fighter,” while Katz has a memorable piano break on the slow blues, “Blues Shadows.”

This is all excellent ensemble playing, with Rishell and Raines showing themselves as much masters of the electric city blues as they are of the acoustic country blues.

A Night in Woodstock ends with a point-counterpart harmonica instrumental, “Orange Dude Blues,” where Sebastian and Raines alternate lead and rhythm playing. This memorable CD demonstrates that it was indeed a memorable evening at the Joyous Lake back in 2005, and the performance is available on DVD as well as on this CD recorded on Rishell and Raines’s own Mojo Rodeo label.

A Night in Woodstock is dedicated to the memory of the late Fritz Richmond, also a noted folkie studio player back in the early 1960s, on washboard bass, which he later played as part of the J Band.

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Moreland & Arbuckle hail from Kansas, and the title of their CD, 1861, commemorates the year Kansas became a state. As mentioned above, 1861 has a nicely contemporary feel as a country/city blues hybrid, made so not only by the addition of Horner’s drums, but also by Arbuckle’s playing of Chicago-style amplified harp, as well as acoustic harp. However, three of the tracks, the Moreland & Arbuckle originals “Tell Me Why,” “Teasin’ Doney” and “Wrong I Do,” feature Moreland and Arbuckle alone on acoustic guitar and harp respectively and are straight-ahead traditional country blues, but with the addition of a rhumba-rhythm electric instrumental coda to “Teasin’ Doney.”

"1861 demonstrates that Moreland & Arbuckle are original creators in the blues as well as adept interpreters."

Frenetically rocking arrangements are given to Hound Dog Taylor’s “Gonna Send Ya Back To Georgia,” with Taylor’s wild slide electric guitar duplicated equally wildly and well by Moreland’s acoustic resonator, as well as on the late acoustic master R.L. Burnside’s “See My Jumper Hangin’ Out On The Line,” where Moreland’s acoustic guitar drives as relentlessly as a locomotive churning down the tracks at full speed.

“Please, Please Mammy” opens up Jimmy Reed-style, with Reed’s signature elemental blues chords and high-register harp. More churning hybrid drive is felt on another rocking number, “Pittsburgh In The Morning, Philadelphia At Night.”

Two guest players join Moreland & Arbuckle on 1861 for three songs. Jeffrey Eaton plays “gas tank bass” on “The Legend,” a poignant tale of a shell-shocked Vietnam vet from 1969 finally losing it all 20 years later. Chris Wiser adds Hammond B-3 organ to a blues lament about a bad woman, “Diamond Ring,” and also joins with Moreland, Arbuckle and Horner in creating the ending up-tempo instrumental track “Wiser Jam.”

1861 demonstrates that Moreland & Arbuckle are original creators in the blues as well as adept interpreters, making this CD a solid contribution to the ever-new sounds that are still coming out of the old blues. As with Rishell and Raines, it just goes to show that the ole blues dog keeps on learning new tricks all the time.

1861 is another fine product from Canada’s Northern Blues Music label, another marking of it as one of the premier small labels in North America. Moreland & Arbuckle are also part of the Bluesapalooza tour that’s currently bringing contemporary blues to U.S. troops stationed in Iraq.

“Blues and More” Gets Around!

I’m proud as well as humbled to state that “Blues and More” is getting some positive recognition. First, I’ve received two complimentary e-mails from Davis Coen, whose CD, Blues Lights for Yours and Mine, I reviewed in the column on July 27, 2008, and from FreeWorld’s Richard Cushing, whose CD, From the Bluff, I reviewed on Oct. 19, 2008. Both of these national artists are using my “Blues and More” columns in their publicity.

Also, Cincinnati’s Kelly Richey has posted both of my “Blues and More” columns devoted to her CDs, Carry the Light on Oct. 5, 2008, and the all-instrumental Speechless on Nov. 7, 2007, on the “Blogs” page of her Web site.

The same attention was paid by three top regional artists, as well. Mike Milligan and Steam Shovel have linked my column on them of Feb. 19, 2008, to their Web site, as has Brent Bennett, whose It Must Be the Blues CD I reviewed on Sept. 7, 2008.

And finally, Jethro Easyfields, who was much surprised and delighted when I reviewed his CD, Bookends from the Soul, also on Sept. 7, honored his post-review promise to buy me a beer. It was a fine beer too, Mad Anthony Porter, an excellent dark beer from an Indiana micro-brewery in Ft. Wayne, which he bought me when I saw him at his Wednesday Open Mic at Locals Only, an outstanding original-music venue in Indianapolis (56th St., just off of Keystone), which I urge my readers to check out.

R.I.P., Levi Stubbs
June 6, 1936-Oct. 17, 2008

Levi Stubbs, lead singer for the superb soul group, the Four Tops, passed away on Oct. 17, 2008, after a long illness. Stubbs was noted for his vibrant, emotion-drenched vocals that made the Tops such a memorable act, on their Motown recordings in the 1960s, their ABC/Dunhill recordings in the 1970s, and their Casablanca recordings in the early 1980s.

Stubbs, one of the founding members of the Four Tops in Detroit back in 1954, was one of the most emotive vocalists this side of the blues, a master of just-on-the-edge expression. He, and the music of the Four Tops, will be cherished always, forever kept alive as long as people can still feel the soul that’s at the heart of all great music.

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