Editor's note: George Fish was waylaid by back-to-back viral infections for much of February and March. This month he has two new CD reviews of indie and small-label artists that are well worth checking out.
Shout Sister Shout--All that Jazz (Oh yeah!)
Shout Sister Shout
Hit that Jive
MC Records MC-0063
Shout Sister Shout is an excitingly different quintet hailing from Lansing, Mich., capital of the Wolverine State, right next door to my old 1960s college stomping ground of Michigan State University, in next-door East Lansing. This quintet -- Rachel Davis, vocals; Joe Wilson, trombone, steel guitar and background vocals; Andy Wilson, harmonicas, trumpet and flugelhorn; Dominic John Suchyta, standup bass and background vocals; and Joshua Davis, guitars and vocals -- loves the music of the 1930s and 40s, and lovingly re-does these songs in a uniquely different way.
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.
From the Bluff
Swirldisc SD 78453 630
Memphis six-man band FreeWorld’s fifth CD, From the Bluff, is a delightful admixture of influences: horn-driven soul/funk rhythms, modern jazz, Frank Zappa cacophonic sound mixtures and 1960s to early 1970s rock, with powerful sound lyrics that are both streetwise and philosophical, in the best of the San Francisco hippie tradition.
FreeWorld was founded in 1987, when its bassist/lead and backing singer, Richard Cushing, approached legendary Memphis jazz saxman Dr. Herman Green about forming a band. Now 78, Green had played and recorded with the likes of B.B. King, Miles Davis, Lionel Hampton, John Coltrane, Clark Terry, Bob Weir and many others in a 63-year career.
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.
A group of Brown County musicians are reaching out to their neighbors who struggle each day to put food on their tables.
The artists call themselves Brown County Musicians United to End Poverty. Their mission is "to gather musicians and other individuals interested in working together for the common cause of ending poverty in Brown County. ... Our ultimate goal is to help our impoverished neighbors unloose the shackles of poverty and experience hope."
Proceeds from the sale of their new, all-original-music CD It’s Not Just a Dream -- and from the release concert in Nashville the first weekend in October -- will benefit Mother's Cupboard Community Kitchen in Brown County (not to be confused with Mother Hubbard's Cupboard, the Bloomington food pantry).