KFJC 89.7FM

Music Reviews

Big Chief Ellis – “Big Chief Ellis” – [Trix Records]

humana   8/9/2018   Blues, CD


This is a slice of blues history (first released in 1976) that is a great addition to our library. All compositions created, played on piano, and sung by Big Chief Ellis, with Tarheel Slim, Brownie McGhee, and John Cephas on guitar. Be sure to read the liner notes that describe how Wilbert Ellis, despite his religious parents’ mandate that forbade music in the house, got his aunt to let him play her piano by mowing her lawn. His clear, strong voice, and his sure-fingered piano work make this a must-play for any blues show.

Anderson, Marisa – “Traditional & Public Domain Songs” – [Mississippi Records]

Thurston Hunger   5/5/2018   12-inch, Blues


No stranger to KFJC’s airwaves, Marisa Anderson
unites with Portland powerhouse Mississippi Records
to reissue her 2013 release of an homage not just
to the Traditional Songs of the title, but to the
guitar. It’s all instrumental, and all electric,
and weaves between reference and reverence. She
can pluck gentle and clean as on “Farther Along”
or tiptoe near the third wire that Junior Kimbrough
use to ride with “Pretty Polly.” Songs that are
pulled deep from the heartland, if not the heart
of this country appear : “May The Circle Be Unbroken”
and “Amazing Grace.” But Marisa’s domain extends
beyond natural and sonic borders, “Bella Ciao”
is indeed beautiful, and builds up a nice storm set
of chords. Dig the super reverb recoil on “Johnny
I Hardly Knew Ye.” A lot of the album has a solemn
and introspective vibe, often soothing but not without
a bout of bitterness. That being said, she concludes
with a downright jouncy “When the Roll Is Called Up
Yonder.” Perhaps that is the arc of the blues, to
struggle humbly and with grace, but carry a heavy
weight till we hit our run-out groove and the
needle rises with us to the skies.
-Thurston Hunger

Louisiana Red – “Driftin'” – [Earwig]

Hemroid The Leader   5/4/2018   Blues, CD

His feet are walking on hard ground and his head is in the blue ethers. Always a story-teller, Red tells about BB King and Lightnin’ Hopkins. The band tracks are Chicago blues. The solo tracks can be strange, childlike (see #5, 8). Very addictive.

Brooks, Hadda – “That’s My Desire” [Virgin Records]

humana   3/17/2018   Blues

This is a gem of a selection of Hadda Brooks’s repertoire, from her amazing piano boogies (she’s not called “Queen of the Boogie” for nothin’) to her lovely sung ballads. The liner notes describe how she didn’t think she could sing; we can all be glad that she gave it a try. In fact, she gave both herself and her audience a great gift when she decided to sing her torch songs. She may not have been as well-listened to as she deserved, but we can remedy that now by paying her homage.

I’ve Got The Blues But I’m Too Damn Mean to Cry [coll] – [JSP Records]

Naysayer   4/14/2017   Blues, CD

WOW. 4 CD’s. 103 tracks of protest in early American blues and gospel. Time period: 1910’s to the late 1930’s. We know the sound. No need to restate. So many artists, some well known and others obscure. Solos, choirs, groups, bands. But this is music of protest, some stated blatantly, others sung with humor, many layered with symbols and meaning to hide the target. These are songs, angry songs, desperate songs about abusive and oppressive conditions created and maintained by the white population relentlessly directed toward the black population. Despicable working conditions, police brutality, forced labor, prison horror. Continuous abuse and exploitation of one group of people by another. The variety of reactions to this oppression are as varied as the artists performing the songs. From thoughts of suicide to attacking and killing “Mr. Charlie”, from looking for the fabled promised land to all out revolution. The conditions and situations today of mistreatment and persecution are frighteningly and disgustingly no different then they were 100 years ago. These are essential tracks to play. Utilize this superb collection.

Callier, Terry – “Live At Mother Blues 1964” – [Premonition Records]

Naysayer   4/13/2017   Blues, CD

An exceptional talent, frighteningly underrepresented in our library, Terry Callier was a prolific musician and singer, performing blues, soul and folk songs. This 1964 recording live at Chicago’s Mother Blues folk club, offers an intimate performance of Callier, singing eight quiet yet moving folk tunes accompanied by his guitar playing and two acoustic bass players. The moment he starts to sing the audience goes quiet, except for the random plate or cup being moved. His voice is rich and powerful with so much emotion. It kind of makes you melt. It’s like loneliness and sex and strength and pain and kindness and sadness all wrapped up into one. Folk singers were true story tellers and Callier is right up there with the best, weaving his tales with assuredness and power. Your knees will buckle.

Lester, Julius – “Julius Lester” – [Vanguard]

mickeyslim   8/5/2015   12-inch, Blues

Julius Lester accompanies himself on the 12-string, this is one of the two recordings he made in his lifetime. It’s some original and traditional folk blues music from 1966. The guitar and voice seem disconnected, I thought it was two different people at first. Lester’s voice is pretty sounding, unlike other southern blues crooners.

Lester went on to host a radio show at WBAI, teach Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst, but really made a name for himself writing books for children and young adults (which makes for interesting liner notes by Lester.)

Hollow front-porch blues. Slim approved.

PGM: DO NOT PLAY THE FIRST TWO TRACKS ON EITHER SIDE, THE RECORD IS BROKEN!

Smoky Babe – “Way Back In The Country Blues” – [Arhoolie Productions]

humana   7/4/2015   12-inch, Blues

You’ve gotta love Arhoolie for unearthing a diamond in the rough. Unsung blues gem Robert Brown (known as Smoky Babe) recorded these unreleased tracks with folklyricist Dr. Harry Oster. They are heartfelt, downhome treasures, as are the photos and liner notes on the album sleeve. Perfect for a Fourth of July day spent with sweat rolling down your face and cool lemonade sluicing down your parched throat.

Greatest Show On Mars, The – “Clothesline Revival” – [Paleo Music]

Naysayer   1/17/2015   Blues, CD

Conrad Praetzel’s latest rendition of the project “Clothesline Revival”, the third under this name, is western blues for the 21st century, and if contemporary blues sounded more like this it would be chart busting much more often. Which does not mean to say this is easy listening. No sir. But it is fun, creative and contagious. Using samples from the iconoclastic Alan Lomax collections as well as other found sound vocal oddities, Praetzel’s work, which is a one man band for this album, plays traditional western blues instrumentation mixed with electronic beats and samples. Riffs are repeated. Traditional vocal arrangements filter in and then take over. The twang of the stringed instrument propels the cuts forward. With elements of 20’s and 30’s blues and western twang, the rough and rich tone stylings of an R.L Burnside, and the use of electronics to fill out the sound, “The Greatest Show On Mars” is a successful addition to the world of blues musics.

Schooley, John & Daniels, Walter – “Dead Mall Blues” – [12XU (Austin, TX)]

mickeyslim   11/5/2014   12-inch, Blues

John Schooley and Walter Daniels, two ex-punksters/current noisefolkbluesters. Daniels played in Jack O’ Fun with Tim Kerr from Big Boys, and Schooley’s band, The Revelations toured with The Oblivians and Schooley also toured solo with R.L. Burnside (if that’s any testament to his blues abilities).

Here is their folk/blues album, chalked full of covers, this is also the first album where they both play exclusively acoustic instruments. Since they’re so used to making those awesomely strange distorted noises and electronics, they are kind of forced to bring that out in the acoustic sounds. Great collaboration!

Covers of Blind Willie McTell, John Fahey, Hank Williams, and a couple traditional pieces. My favorite is the original “Winston Churchill Cigar Blues.”

PunkFolkBlues

Lemon Nash – “Papa Lemon-New Orleans Ukulele Maestro & Tent Show Troubador” – [Arhoolie Productions]

selector   11/5/2014   12-inch, Blues

 

A different way to listen to the uke. This is definitely blues, both southern and folk, with a few World War I songs. Songs related to Lemon Nash’s time in the bars, halls, and the red-light district of 50’s New Orleans and in traveling throughout the south in medicine shows.

Far from common strumming, his right-hand action on the uke is quite nice with lots expert transitions to triplets and picking.

A number of songs are interspersed with cool old stories of his personal experiences. Sweet and fun.

–Selector

Mean Mothers: Independent Women Blues, Vol. 1 [coll] – [Rosetta Records]

mickeyslim   9/24/2014   Blues, CD

Ladies being ladies, and they ain’t taking shit from no one! Volume One in a collection of independent women’s blues music from 1926-1949, and it bakes. Tunes that assert females are just as strong as their male counterparts, if not stronger.

Since I have a not-so-secret soft spot for ladies blues music, I tend to agree. This album does a great job at exemplifying one of the many themes in blues, and one of the few that is strictly for women, especially at that time: personal independence and not putting up with peoples disrespect.

Maggie Jones, Ida Cox, Rosa Henderson, Billie Holiday, etc. Beautiful voices from beautiful ladies. Rosetta Records release with great liner notes.

3WR: Big Mama’s Blues

Williams, Elmo & Hezekiah Early – “Takes One to Know One” – [Fat Possum Records]

selector   8/24/2014   Blues, CD

 

Lots of loud rockin blues out of Natchez Mississippi. Elmo fronts with vocals and jams wildly distorted riffs on a Fender, while Hezekiah plays the snare drum and harmonica (simultaneously). Pretty simple, fuzzy, raw, crankin’ electric blues. 1998 release from Fat Possum Records. My favorites: Blue, Booster, Hoopin’, and Natchez for the loud distortiony sound.

— selector

Mississippi: Saints & Sinners [coll] – [Rounder Records]

abacus   8/21/2014   Blues, CD

deep Delta roots as collected by Alan Lomax ’36-’42. riverside penitentiary hollerin, red-light ragtime bounce, hard-times and hopeful times; hunt songs, work songs, prison songs, and Reverend Savage church songs. and man oh man that Hemphill make some sounds! plenty of interviews, introductions and interjections to place us right there in the dust with the heat and the hunger and the fireflies and hard work days and no work days all for the white man’s cake and cream. yeah Times Is Getting Hard.

Brooks, Hadda – “Queen of The Boogie” – [Bayside Record Dist.]

humana   7/10/2014   12-inch, Blues

Looks can be deceiving, and while the smiling woman on the album cover looks lovely and elegant, she probably can pack a punch, if her amazing piano playing is any indication. She shows chops for sure in each of the songs on this album. Remember the Scott Joplin we added a while back? This is in a league with that. Fantastically energetic boogie and blues, most recorded in 1945-1950, not a one of these will disappoint. Sometimes Brooks is joined by sax, bass, drums, and guitar. She sings on one (B4). I know this gem will get a lot of play. Read the sleeve notes for more facts about this gifted musician.

Jackson, Lil Son – “Lil Son Jackson” – [Arhoolie Productions]

mickeyslim   7/2/2014   12-inch, Blues

 

Born in Texas in August 1916 as Melvin Jackson. Wasn’t a child prodigy like his contemporary, Lightnin’ Hopkins, but did learn to be a mechanic. It wasn’t until after serving in WWII that he decided to make a living playing the guitar, when he earned his nickname for his short stature. Eventually went on to record for Imperial Records with a couple hits.

Coming home from a performance or something, his driver fell asleep at the wheel resulting in a crash. His injuries were enough to make him leave to business, and he went back to being a mechanic.

Great blues numbers here, all tracks are Jackson solo on guitar and vox. Songs about love (Girl I love, Roberta Blues, Louise Blues), foreign places (Cairo Blues, Santa Fe Blues), and general blues-i-ness. Almost MS delta sound, but unique in its own right.

Recorded by Arhoolie label-founder Chris Strachwitz in 1960 (the year he founded the label) in Dallas, TX.

Gibbs, Philip – “Box Canyon Blues” – [Self Release]

humana   4/29/2014   Blues, CD

This is a guy and his guitar, except for the last song, which includes other instruments. Gibbs wrote most of the songs on here, and he sings them and plays them with a simplicity and beauty that are rare and true. It’s blues, country, human, and just plain great. Every one is a pleasure to listen to, and I can’t wait to fill in again so I can play me some of these. They are short, sweet, and to the point.

Burks, Michael – “Show of Strength” – [Alligator Records]

billiejoe   4/8/2014   Blues, CD

CD from the acclaimed blues artist from Milwaukee. He just passed away in 2012, this was his last album that came out the same year. It’s electric guitar and drum heavy. His talented guitar playing shines. The lyrics are quite cheesy and are about love, both lost and celebrated. What the songs lack in poetic language they more than made up for with Burks’ passionate creative execution. Since I Been Loving You is my favorite. It seems the most honest to me.