june 2012

Toronzo Cannon: driving with a purpose

Manly Tales

By David McGee

toronzo cannonLEAVING MOOD
Toronzo Cannon

It’s interesting that the rising Chicago bluesman Toronzo Cannon’s Leaving Mood arrives at about the same time as his labelmate Sharon Lewis’s The Real Deal. For one, both artists are blessed by the keyboard artistry of Roosevelt Purifoy, who stands out on every track he takes a major role in, whether he’s adding moody organ to Cannon’s testy documenting of personal economic and romantic woes in “Hard Luck” (which may not be as direct an indictment of the current state of the union as Lewis’s “What’s Really Goin’ On,” but is fairly damning nonetheless in its tight focus on one man’s plight) or adding a sprightly, skittering voice to the anxious soundscape of Cannon’s unapologetic kissoff of a wayward gal in “Baby Girl.” For another, Cannon, like Lewis, sees the bigger, dysfunctional picture of personal relationships and takes dead aim at them in the chugging blues of “Open Letter (To Whom It May Concern)” (does anyone else hear a taste of Tony Joe White influence here) and gets its point across both in the odd vocal effect that makes Cannon’s voice sound a bit disembodied and in Matthew Skollar’s busy harp work.

Toronzo Cannon and the Cannonball Express perform the title track from his album Leavin’ Mood

Whereas Ms. Lewis doesn’t hide her troubles with unreliable male paramours, Cannon similarly ungilds the lily in documenting some ill-fated liaisons with flighty women. The bump-and-grind of “I Can’t Take Her Nowhere,” with its howling electric guitar solo and Purifoy’s colorful organ support enhances Cannon’s frustrating quest to make his gal safe for democracy; a similarly thoughtless woman inhabits the storyline of “Leaving Mood,” a dark, prickly, Hendrix-indebted diatribe made vivid by Cannon's sturdy vocal while gaining an atmospheric assist from Purifoy’s organ and Cannon's own hypnotic, repeating guitar figure that explodes into a firestorm of rage in the first instrumental break after he declaims, “Time to get off this train ‘cause it’s the end of my life/it’s time to leave this pace/see my father’s face…”

With Mike Wheeler on guitar and Larry Williams on bass, Toronzo Cannon performs ‘Earnestine,’ from his new album Leavin’ Mood

Opening in a Stevie Ray Vaughan mode, Cannon slings his guitar mightily and roars through “She Loved Me,” his self-penned story of a seemingly homicidal woman (a true rarity as far as subject matter goes in popular song) who stole his gun and “now she in jail, murder in the first degree.” The twist is that she’s been set up to take the fall for “doing my crime,” which may explain the ferocity of the ensuing, roiling electric guitar solo (both Cannon and special guest Carl Weathersby handle the guitar chores on Leaving Mood). On the other hand, the bright, buoyant “Earnestine” is both an occasion to pay tribute to a woman who’s captured his heart and an opportunity for Purifoy to add rich colors to the instrumental palette with his multi-textured organ soloing, whereas “Do I Move You,” slow, churning and earthy, is a most gentle seduction, with Cannon delivering a direct but tasteful come-on as the organ and guitar smolder behind him. A triple-threat singer-songwriter-guitarist, Toronzo Cannon currently works full-time as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. As a triple-threat singer-songwriter-guitarist emerging on this, his first Delmark album, the long-term odds favor him being able to quit his day job and drive himself into the front ranks of contemporary blues artists.

Toronzo Cannon’s Born to the Blues is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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