BROTHERS IN BAMAKO Eric Bibb & Habib Koite (Stony Plain) 4/5
Somewhere on the road between Memphis and Mali, these two musical soul brothers met, conspiring to bring us a rich blend of blues and West African music. The result is something greater than the sum of its parts, a deep spiritual well- quiet, strong, inspiring.
Growing up in Mali, West Africa, Koite is heir to ancestral knowledge set to song that places him among the most influential voices of contemporary Africa. Eric Bibb comes from the traditional blues sound, producing an earthy mix of folk and gospel dating back to the work songs of the deep south. The two approaches fit together naturally, spectacularly so.
Brother In Bamako (Mali’s capital city) is just the two men, their voices and instruments, weaving magic. I was deep into reading Pete Townshend’s biography and starting the chapter dealing with the death of Keith Moon when I put this CD on. Feeling vulnerable and questioning as a result of what I was reading, this disc was just the spiritual balm I needed to feel that everything would be okay- funny how that works, isn’t it?
Brothers In Bamako is quiet and spiritual, in any way you need it to be, good music to listen to when you’re thinking about stuff. At 54 as I look back while wondering how many more miles I have to go, Eric Bibb and Habib Koite have made music to make such contemplation possible.
TOP TRACKS: Tomboucto, Send us brighter Days, Blowin’ In The Wind
THEM MENZ Dalannah Gail Bowen (Quest) 5/5
There’s been a lot of great blues in 2012, but this just might take the cake. Bowen is the most powerful voice I’ve heard all year, and this is one hell of an album.
Some records take a few spins to find your way in, but Them Menz had me by the heart before Dalannah and her amazing band had even gotten to the first chorus of the first song. As a singer she is a force of nature- part Etta James, part Koko Taylor with the sass of Memphis Minnie. She’s been at for 4 decades and has opened for artists like The Guess Who, Led Zeppelin, BB King and Willie Dixon back in the day.
Her life story is equally compelling, a survivor of addiction and homelessness who now gives much of her time to support the poorest neighborhood in the nation, Vancouver’s downtown east side. “I promised myself that I would live in gratitude for (this) second chance and share the gift that I have been given, this voice that seems to touch people and connect with them” she says. Them Menz, striking the perfect balance between raw, powerful blues and sophisticated jazz, is a thoroughly uplifting experience.
When Bowen sings she leaves it all on the floor, holding nothing back. Being in the presence of such greatness cannot help but lift you up too. This is one of the very besat albums of the year, in any genre.
TOP TRACKS: Timin’, Mean Man, Just Don’t Like The Deal
BLUES IN OTHER COLORS David Maxwell (Shining Stone) 4/5
Not since I first heard Harry Manx’s West Eats Meet have I been this intrigued by a blending of music. Maxwell is a Grammy and Blues Music Award winning keyboard player and, as the title implies, this disc is a heady mix of blues with music from other cultures.
“Blues In Other Colors represents a snapshot of the melding of traditional blues with music from other countries to which I’ve been drawn” explains Maxwell in a blurb on the back cover of the CD. BIOC is an entirely instrumental album and he is joined in the studio by a host of all-stars including Harry Manx. Maxwell blends the traditional blues instruments of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards with exotic instruments from India, West Africa, Morocco and Turkey, to expand the music beyond thr traditional borders of the blues.
“There is a ‘blues’ sensibility in the vocal and instrumental folk and classical music from many places around the world” notes Maxwell. “For instance, one can ‘feel the blues’ in some of the traditional music of Spain (flamenco), Northern and Western Africa, many countries in what is referred to as the near and middle east, as well as parts of Asia, India and Japan.”
Blues In Other Colors is a blues cruise around the world that I highly recommend.
TO PTRACKS: Just the Blues, Blue Dream, Heart of Darkness
RESTLESS Working Class (Independent) 3/5
Some soulful uptown blues Nova Scotia style here to get your motor runnin’. There’s a great soul vibe at work too, which makes Working Class’s new CD good company.
This is a mix of mostly original material with great covers in Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together and Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Strangely, the vibe I got from this CD when I first threw it on was the band in the 50’s high school dance scene in Back to The Future, must be the similarity in instrumentation- guitars, trombone, sax, keys, drums, bass-or, perhaps the fact that Restless sounds like a good time waiting to happen.
From the reggae grooves of Light Of Day to the swing of the opening track Walk Alone, there are too many styles incorporated here to call this a blues album in the strictest sense. A lot of the tunes have an uptown swing to them, and the production is pretty sweet- good top end with some punch on the bottom, and the instruments are placed across the stereo signal as they would be on stage- nothing jammed to the far left or far right- giving the album a natural and almost ‘live’ feel.
Restless is a groovin’ good time, worth tracking down. Go to the band’s website (www.workingclassband.com) for options on how to lay your hands on a copy.
TOP TRACKS: Walk Alone, Restless, Let’s Stay Together
LIVE AT HULL 1970 The Who (MCA/ Universal) 4.5/5
Another archival release from The Who. Whomever is sweeping out the proverbial vault- and one has to assume it’s Pete Townshend- has uncovered a real treasure.
Having just read Townshend’s biography Who I Am I was, understandably, in a Who frame of mind. Hull was recorded the night after their now famous Live At Leeds and, from what I’ve read, this is a much sought after gig and was only available previously as part of the long-deleted Leeds box set.
Hull 1970 is likely to include some revelations for Who fans that are already familiar with the recording. It has been re-mixed, an important element of which is some of John Entwhistle’s bass parts on a few songs. They had been missing from the original recordings due to a mix-up on the night. Were they found on the tapes, or some imported from the Leeds tapes? Don’t know, don’t care- it sounds great.
The Who were touring Tommy at the time, opening with a dozen songs from previous albums before taking on their famous rock opera. Everybody was in fine form on the night, to a man- Roger’s vocals to Pete’s soloing, Entwhistle’s bass playing easy puts him up there with John Paul Jones and Geezer Butler. I must single out Who drummer Keith Moon, however. Loved his performance here- manic, chaotic and freakishly precise. Even as a drummer I never liked his style before, that perpetual motion “hit everything at once, repeatedly” approach not attractive at all. But perhaps for the first time, I can hear and feel why people like Neil Peart cite Moon as an influence.
Casual fans don’t need to bother with this- any of their Greatest Hits discs will do well enough. But for fans that want every note these guys played, or anyone that just likes the sound of a great live gig, Live At Hull 1970 is absolutely for you.
TOP TRACKS: Young Man Blues, I Can’t Explain, The Acid Queen, We’re Not Gonna Take It
MY GUITAR’S MY ONLY FRIEND James “Buddy” Rogers (Blue Wave) 3/5
Some solid guitar-based blues here from the Vancouver-based axe slinger, a little dirty around the edges but otherwise pretty clean and up. I like it, but I do like my blues rougher around the edges than this.
On first listen, Rogers will remind you of Robert Cray and The Powder Blues Band- so it was hardly surprising to find out that PBB guitarist Tom Lavin produced this set. Rogers is a good guitarist, citing Johnnie Watson, Jimmy Vaughan and the 3 Kings as influences. He started playing guitar at age 10 and ended up sitting in with some of the greats on the Vancouver scene like Tom & Jack Lavin (Powder Blues), Jim Byrnes, Russell Jackson and Muddy Fraser.
My Guitar is an upbeat, arty blues record with tunes like Let’s get Loose and Guitar Sue, plus a couple of Powder Blues classics in I’m On The Road Again and Sweet Little Girl. James is a good player but to my ears the album just sounds too damned cheerful. I’m by no means a blues purist but I like some grit and desperation in this music, it touches me deepest when you can hear the pain in a singer’s voice, or if his or her guitar occasionally howls and screams as if the world is coming down around them- hope that makes sense!
This disc is good, but sounds too much like Powder Blues Jr. to be truly great.
TOP TRACKS: Disappearing Baby Blues, Buddy’s Walk, Sweet Little Girl
PIANOLAND Deanna Bogart (Blind Pig) 4/5
Very cool album here. Bogart isn’t your average piano player, and calling this blues is too narrow a definition- sure there’s blues in it, but that’s just the beginning.
“In art, as in life, you can’t have magic if you’re not willing to risk the train wrecks” she says, and ain’t that the truth? I haven’t been this captivated an intrigued by a piano player since I first bought the soundtrack to Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown by the Vince Guaraldi Trio. There’s lots of swing and boogie woogie on Pianoland there’s even a track called Boogie Woogie Boogie that has a fascinating jazz edge to it.
Bogart’s band follows along right in her hip pocket, giving musical flights of fancy a steady take off platform; there’s Scott Ambush on electric bass, Jeff Reed on upright bass, guitarist Dan Leonard and drummer Mike Aubin, whose presence is perhaps the most obvious throughout.
As a singer Deanna somewhat recalls a cross between Carly Simon and Carol King. The album is mostly songs written by Bogart with some James Taylor, Willie Dixon, Pete Johnson, Errol Garner and Harold Arlen thrown in too. The performances are, in turn, sensitive, rollicking and sassy, like the swingin’ version of Dixon’s I Love The Life I Live. Blues? Not really. Jazz? Not exactly. Both? Probably.
I was a fan before the first song was half done, and I think you will be too.
TOP TRACKS: In The Rain, Death Ray Boogie, I Love The Life I Live