october 2011
beyond the blue

shirleySHIRLEY BROWN, Stax Remasters: Woman to Woman-- Acquisitive but abstemious; domineering but subservient; love struck but lovelorn; secure but needy; vulnerable but impregnable; self-reliant but co-dependent--Shirley Brown was a bundle of compelling contradictions back in the day when she was speaking up and out for women in love with the landmark 1974 single “Woman to Woman,” a surprise million seller by a then-unknown artist whose career making debut turned out to be the final hit for the Stax organization. In presenting the contradictory personas Ms. Brown adopted on record, the Woman to Woman album paradoxically illustrates the paradox of a stillborn career.

gradyGRADY CHAMPION, Dreamin’-- Because he’s been a boxer in his time, Grady Champion has surely become used to his music being described as having a knockout punch or TKO potential, or, no doubt, on some of his soulful ballads, as having the ability to float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. Guess what? All of this is true, and you don’t even have to get far into his new album, Dreamin’, to find out this much about the 2010 winner of the International Blues Challenge.

albertaALBERTA HUNTER, Downhearted Blues: Live At The Cookery--With a career that began in 1917, flourished during the blues’s golden age in the 1920s, took her to Europe, into the movies and onto the stage, and in close proximity to the jazz giants of her youth (notably Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller), Alberta Hunter had lived a lot of life after coming out of a self-imposed 20-year retirement to begin her extended run at The Cookery. These recordings show this artist undiminished by age, all faculties intact, her showmanship honed, her musicality unassailable, her spirit possessed of infectious joie de vivre. Long may she live.

jonesGLENN JONES, The Wanting--Since walking away from his psych-rock band Cul de Sac seven years ago, Glenn Jones has worked diligently as a solo guitarist and now mingles in the front of the thinning ranks of formidable acoustic pickers carrying on the iconoclastic tradition of John Fahey.

picottROD PICOTT, Welding Burns-- A once-thriving Midwestern American town left in ruins by its factory jobs being outsourced to Mexico and China. A blue collar worker numbing himself with alcohol as he surveys the tedious routine his life has become, a legacy of “broken homes, wrecked cars, scars and welding burns” handed down as bitter legacy from his hard drinking father. Unemployed men, fueled by drink, drugs and desperation, systematically plotting gunpoint holdups that will net them the cash they can’t find via gainful employment. Bittersweet memories of damaged women whose hold on their men seems to bind them with mighty cables, even as those men know better. Last chances, last gasps, broken hearts, an unrecognizable homeland bereft of opportunity populated by the hollow shells its citizenry has become. Attention OWS protesters: Rod Picott has delivered an impassioned primer on the state of the union. Are you listening?

siegalIAN SIEGAL AND THE YOUNGEST SONS, The Skinny--British bluesman Ian Siegal ventured into the North Mississippi hill country, to the late, great Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch Studio. Then he enlisted Jim’s son Cody as a producer and drummer, and rounded out his studio band with the offspring of R.L. Burnside, Junior Kimbrough and Bobby Blue Bland. Dubbed the Youngest Sons, the band comes on like gangbusters, and their virtuosity clearly had a salutary, freeing effect on the much-lauded Siegal, who has been impressive enough on four previous albums but really cuts loose on The Skinny with some of his tastiest, tartest playing and delivers one masterful blues vocal after another in what is his finest hour on record.

raySUGAR RAY AND THE BLUETONES, Evening-- If ever a bluesman has sounded like he’s been through the mill but emerged with body, soul and spirit intact, it’s Sugar Ray Norcia. The former Roomful of Blues lead singer, who ended a seven-year tenure with that group in 1998 to embark on what has been a fruitful solo career, puts so much feeling into his instrumental harmonica breaks it’s a wonder he has any energy left for singing, but he does, to spare. Having long ago learned to make the most of what he’s got, Sugar brings a cool, winning bravado to those moments when he can brag a little about himself—as he does with disarming insouciance in the delightful and aforementioned “I’m Having a Ball”—but on Evening he shines mightily during the quiet moments.

parallelANDREA WOLPER, Parallel Lives-- Only three albums into her career, Andrea Wolper is gathering the sort of critical momentum more common to a seasoned veteran with a broad catalogue to her credit. Parallel Lives, the third of those three albums, is a further refinement and step forward from the first two projects, this one featuring the surprising choices in outside material that marked her first two long players.

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