'Blues and More' by George Fish
Editor's Note: "The Blues of Poetry" will be an occasional theme pursued in "Blues and More" columns, which will explore poetry set to music, and poetry inspired by music. Future topics will include the ragtime and blues poetry of award-winning Indiana poet Jared Carter; the poetic musings inspired by music of another Indiana poet Richard Pflum; a look at the highly lyrical and poetic songwriting of Canadian Paul Reddick; and the CD of Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf reading his poetry to musical accompaniment featuring Bloomington jazz pianist Monika Herzig.
Joseph Kerschbaum, spoken original poems
Josh Johnson, musical composition, guitars, keyboards, bass, with J.B. Murray, drums
Our Voices Sound Like Silence
Kerschbaum and Johnson
The CD Our Voices Sound Like Silence is best looked at as an interlocking poetic oratorio in 11 movements, each part contributing to an interlocking, complete composition in words and music. Thus is Our Voices Sound Like Silence embraced both in its totality as a composition and through each one of its 11 separate, complementary parts. These parts are: the eight original poems of Joseph Kerschbaum, which he reads over a musical backdrop composed by Josh Johnson, with Johnson playing multiple instruments accompanied by drummer J.B. Murray; and the three strictly musical interludes that begin, end, and form a bridge between the two thematic groups of Kerschbaum's readings that comprise four poems each. Structured, yet flowing freely, as a river within the boundaries of its banks, is this composition in word and music that forms the totality of this CD.
Indianapolis’s Locals Only Art & Music Pub, located at 2449 E. 56th St., half a block east of the intersection of 56th and Keystone Avenue, is one of the Circle City’s most outstanding original music venues, and its noted open mics are active incubators of that music. All three of the CDs reviewed below have strong ties to those open mics.
Johnny Ping, creative force behind the Accidental Arrangements, used to host the Tuesday night open mics, while Jethro Easyfields has long hosted the one on Wednesday nights. Simeon Pillar, Muncie singer/songwriter and musical collaborator with Easyfields, has been playing at the Locals Only open mics for three years now.
My Mind Gets to Ramblin'
Out of the Past Records TP003
You Don't Know Your Mind
Out of the Past Records/Rhonda Sue Records TP004
The-gray and white in the facial hair of Steve Howell and David Egan, as pictured on their respective CD sleeves, shows that these are two seasoned veterans who've been honing their chops for a long time and have devoted years to mastering their musical art.
Long before I actually "discovered" the blues when I went to college, I was an avid fan of the rock 'n' roll and R&B/soul I heard on AM Top 40 radio. In fact, I was just knocked out by R&B and even blues before I really knew what it was! It was "only rock 'n roll to me" as I eagerly rocked on to the sounds of Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Hank Ballard, and even Jimmy Reed and Bobby Bland that I heard on Top 40 radio, not really knowing what I was listening to, only knowing that I really, really dug it.
Rock 'n' roll is often considered a bastard child of the blues, but it was Muddy Waters himself who said, "Blues had a baby, and they called it rock 'n' roll." Rock 'n' roll was the "jungle music" dismissed by the highbrow critics that just excited the hell out of me and millions of other youth across the land.
Rock 'n' roll was also the great leveler and door opener that brought the music of the riffraff, African Americans, and the other "undesirables" of the Eisenhower Era to our young white ears and, for some of us, was the opening wedge that made some of us more receptive to the countercultures that would explode in the mid-1960s.
The notable, frequently dramatic, story of pioneer modern blues label Chess Records and its founder, Leonard Chess, has made its way to the movie screen in a film as remarkable and as powerful as its subject -- Cadillac Records. While the film is not always historically accurate, it does indeed tell a powerful and well-scripted story that engages the watcher's attention fully.
We identify readily with the humanness, rough edges and creativity of the film's protagonists -- legends who are put into human terms in the film without sacrificing any of the creative greatness that made them legends in the first place. For Cadillac Records focuses itself around the frequently tempestuous musical and personal relationships of Leonard Chess with Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Etta James.
The excellent soundtrack features many of the Chess classics played by a band of first-class musicians formed by harmonica great Kim Wilson, who plays harp on the soundtrack and masterfully re-creates the signature Little Walter licks. Other notables in the band are guitarist Billy Flynn and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck.
Odetta, the powerful voice of folk and blues whose music was the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, died December 3, 2008 in a Manhattan hospital. She was 77. She died of a heart attack but had been admitted several days earlier for kidney failure.
Born Odetta Holmes on December 31, 1930, in Birmingham, Ala., during the height of the Great Depression, she grew up on the black folk, blues and prison work songs that she heard around her. In 1937 she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, and in a 2007 videotaped interview for the New York Times, she recalled her humiliation on the trip as all the "colored" passengers were required to move from the train car they were riding in.
One of her teachers commented to Odetta's mother in 1940 that she had a voice that should be trained, and so Odetta studied classical voice music in high school and at Los Angeles City College, where she earned a degree in it. But she later dismissed her classical training as a "nice exercise, but it had nothing to do with my life," for she had discovered folk music -- the traditional songs of the African American and Anglo-American folk and working people's lives, and that music became her passion to sing.
Dave Specter, with Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson and Sharon Lewis
Live in Chicago
Delmark DVD DVD1794
Live in Chicago was recorded and filmed at two of Chicago’s leading blues clubs in August 2007, Buddy Guy’s Legends on Aug. 2 and Rosa’s Blues Lounge on Aug. 20. This DVD features live performances from one of Chicago’s most acclaimed younger blues guitarists, Dave Specter, with his band and special vocal guests Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson and Sharon Lewis performing in sets of solid, soulful contemporary Chicago blues.
Paul Rishell and Annie Raines
A Night in Woodstock
Mojo Rodeo MOJR1950
Moreland & Arbuckle
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.
Carry the Light
Sweet Lucy KRB1138
Earwig Music Earwig CD 4954
The blues is many things, and one of those things is its Janus-faced looking to both the past and the future at the same time. That is what’s so well manifested by these two strong CDs from two most notable blueswomen.
While Liz Mandeville’s Red Top builds up a contemporary blues sound based on the stylistic bricks from its past, Kelly Richey’s Carry the Light trailblazes by forging ahead into straightforward blues-rock that owes more to the rock of the mid-1960s and early 1970s than to what’s culled from the traditional blues repertoire.
Yet it’s just as much part of contemporary blues as Liz Mandeville’s Red Top, and both CDs are eminently rewarding, affirmative statements of the real future of the blues (now very much a hybrid, polyglot genre), a future that looks lovingly toward its substantive past certainly, but simultaneously in eager anticipation of its uncharted, undetermined, and unpredictable future.
It Must Be the Blues
Brent Bennett Music
Bookends from the Soul
The summer crop of new CDs brought solid new offerings from three strong singer/songwriter/guitarists in the Central Indiana region. All are steeped in the blues, although, as they show on these new CDs, they are each comfortable and convincing in other genres as well. Below are three thumbnail sketches of the new summer CDs from Brent Bennett, Fast Johnny and Jethro Easyfields.