A Bushel of Blues: A Peek and a Listen at Some New Releases
This month I'm going to shout about a few new blues releases that have really caught my attention. It's a mixed bag that includes an all-star line-up of a handful of Chicago blues legends, one of America's finest soul vocalists, and a guitarists' guitarist and former Nighthawk. I'm talking about new releases from Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin and his All Star Blues Jam, Mighty Sam McClain, and Jimmy Thackery. They're all out on tour this summer, and I hope that you'd not only support these blues artists at the CD store, but also check them out at a nightclub near you.
That said, let's look into a high-quality bushel full of late Spring blues.
Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin is perhaps best known as Muddy Waters' guitarist from 1973 to 1980. Since then, he's carved out quite a respectable solo career on Alligator and Blind Pig, and later this month, his Telarc Blues debut, All Star Blues Jam, brings Bob back together with some true Chicago blues legends. Fellow Muddy Waters alumni Pinetop Perkins and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith join harpman extraordinaire Cary Bell and long-time blues guitarist Hubert Sumlin for over an hour of traditional blues. Bell learned harp in one of the world's most exciting blues incubators around, Chicago's Maxwell Street, and Sumlin's career includes a quarter century as Howlin' Wolf's guitarist. Like many of his contemporaries, though, Hubert also played in Muddy's band for a short time. Fitting in nicely with these blues giants are Tom "Mookie" Brill on upright bass and harmonica and Jimmy D. Lane, son of the late Jimmy Rogers. My favorites on this disc include Margolin's own "Mean Old Chicago," Johnny Shines' "Brutal Hearted Woman," and Little Walter's "Juke." Bob Margolin's All Star Blues Jam has a raw, unpolished edge to it because the jams were captured live on a two-track machine in either in Bob's home in North Carolina or in the Blue Heaven studio in Salina, Kansas. As I listened to Bob Margolin's All Star Blues Jam, I thought that the band was right there in my living room.
Bob's Telarc labelmate Jimmy Thackery also has a new studio CD out, True Stories. Last month, I had the good fortune to catch Jimmy live with Tab Benoit at Tacoma's Jazz Bones. That show featured two of the blues' most talented guitar slingers on the same stage. That fire, and then some, sparks on True Stories. From the sax-driven "Crazy ‘Bout a Saxophone," to the guitar-fueled "Got It Going On," "Baby's Got the Blues," and "Putting Out Fires," Jimmy Thackery's disc features songs that are built around stories that have happened to someone close to Jimmy and his wife Sally. I especially liked the disc's closer, Roy Buchanan's "The Messiah Will Come" instrumental as it floats in on Ken Faltinson's B3 and Jimmy's expert Stratocaster and then slowly rocks on for more than nine minutes giving a chance for Jimmy to really stretch.
Mighty Sam McClain has been around a long time. I first discovered his deep and soulful vocals when I heard Hubert Sumlin's House Party, released in 1987 on Black Top/Rounder. Since then, he's recorded many soul and blues records on Telarc, AudioQuest, JVC, and Malaco, and has released his tenth recording, One More Bridge to Cross on his own Mighty Music label. Mighty Sam McClain has few equals as a soul singer, and when he belts out Gospel-influenced songs like "Open Up Heaven's Door," or gets mightily funky on "One More Bridge to Cross," or sings of love gone wrong like "Why Do We Have to Say Goodbye," his range is wide and pitch impeccable.
I'm confident that if you pick any of these releases up on your next visit to the record store, your blues collection will be the richer for it. Better yet, catch them live.
In June, I'll celebrate my third year as your blues correspondent for Cosmik Debris magazine. It's been a great ride, as well as a great privilege, to write for what is arguably the longest-lived, continuously published music magazine on the World Wide Web.
Next month, we'll review the results of the 24th annual W.C. Handy Awards. I'll also preview B.B. King's new release, Reflections, and we'll learn more about some choice Muddy Waters reissues, produced by Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin.