february 2011

big joe
Big Joe Maher: Alive, well and bringin’ it

Big Joe and the Dynaflows
Severn Records

Perhaps it’s fitting that with Tom Principato having a new album out (reviewed elsewhere in this issue), his former drummer, Big Joe Maher, is back with his own new blues outpouring, You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down. The title is telling, as Big Joe suffered a near-career ending back injury in a fall in 2001; fittingly, he kicks off this lively affair with his self-penned title track, a swinging, self-penned jump blues that Big Joe belts out with assurance and good humor as the band blazes away behind him, with guitarist Rob McNelley taking off for a rousing solo about halfway through. The tone throughout is lighthearted and high spirited, as Big Joe on drums and Bill Campbell on bass form a solid rhythm section that provides the ballast for the guitar-keys-sax lineup to do its thing as the man in charge belts, growls, romps and even caresses some mighty fine blues, covers and originals both. The formidable band lineup includes a trio of players who have worked with Delbert McClinton, specifically the late Dennis Taylor on sax, producer/keyboardist Kevin McKendree and the aforementioned guitarist, Rob McNelley. Needless to say, you work with Delbert, you know how to deal some gritty, downhome blues.

Big Joe is not the most technically gifted blues singer out there, but he makes this an irrelevant fact by virtue of the heart and soul he brings to all his vocals, and a sure sense of style and phrasing—listen to the tenderness, the sincerity permeating his seething treatment of Johnny Green’s “Someday,” wherein Joe’s weary determination lets you know he’s going to do some celebrating when the woman who dumped him finds out what it’s like to be on the other end of the kissoff. A different set of expectations informs a cool, gently swinging take on Jay McShann’s “Confessin’ The Blues,” wherein the topic concerns an expectation of love impending, a feeling McNelley supports with a stinging, exultant guitar solo as McKendree pumps away on the 88s under it all.

Big Joe and The Dynaflows, ‘What The Hell Were You Thinkin’?,’ the final cut on You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down, live at Loafers Beach Club, Raleigh, NC, March 27, 2010

As good as the covers are, Big Joe’s originals stand out. In addition to the abovementioned title track, he cooked up a swaying, surging, horn-infused New Orleans-style love ballad expressly for his cousin’s two-and-a-half-year-old daughter, “Evangeline,” a fine performance shot through and through with a scintillating late ‘50s Crescent City feel. “Property Line,” a funky, strutting, organ-fueled blues, finds Joe inveighing against some especially unwelcoming neighbors who regard Joe and his family’s retreat from the city to the country—their country—with a decidedly suspicious eye, an attitude the singer makes clear he regards with, well, contempt, although the bouncy, percolating arrangement is at odds with the escalating conflict, with Joe fading out as he gives someone what-for in an uppity narrative passage. An instrumental, “Supercharger,” is a straight-ahead, no-holds-barred guitar assault from Big Joe’s pen in honor of blues guitar legend Earl Hooker that McNelley storms through with fire, wit and attitude. The fifth of five Big Joe originals is the deepest of the lot. A slow, ruminative blues keyed by McNelley’s thick-toned cries, “Nothin’ But Trouble” is a lament for hard times—not the hard times of years past, but right now, as Joe makes no bones about who he blames: “People talkin’ ‘bout change/I haven’t seen none yet/no money, no jobs and more taxes/keeps me so I don’t forget/I see nothin’ but trouble/yeah, trouble ahead of me…” which gives way to McKendree sending up a mournful guitar cry every bit as sorrowful as Big Joe’s vocal. Not to worry, though—the guys send us home on a wild, barnburning note with a witty McClinton-McKendree-Tom Hambridge diss of a loose woman, “What The Hell Were You Thinkin’,” complete with a pumping piano attack by McKendree straight out of the Jerry Lee playbook and a raucous, freewheeling reading of the riot act by Big Joe. Good from the first drop to the last, You Can’t Keep a Big Man Down delivers musically on its title assertion, as the man himself has done physically—and then some, on both counts.—David McGee

Big Joe and The Dynaflows’ You Can’t Keep A Good Man Down is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (www.johnmendelsohn.com)
Website Design: Kieran McGee (www.kieranmcgee.com)
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY; www.flickr.com/audreyharrod), Alicia Zappier (New York)
E-mail: thebluegrassspecial@gmail.com
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024