Barbara Blue Fish in Dirty H2O Big Blue Records www.BarbaraBlue.com
Barbara Blue’s music simmers: she isn’t flashing, and she sure as hell isn’t going to allow wailing guitars to overwhelm the mood she establishes with each song. Rather, Barbara Blue does a slow burn across this hour-long testament to the power of soulful Memphis blues.
A 21-year residence at Beale Street’s Silky O’Sullivan’s has provided Blue with an authenticity grounded in plain truth: folks ain’t comin’ back if you don’t give them something to keep them comin’ back. With Fish in Dirty H2O, the Reigning Queen of Beale Street grabs us by the ear and pulls us into her house.
Sultry and passionate, Blue doesn’t just growl and roar, although she does some of that on “Accidental Theft” and “My Heart Belongs to the Blues”. She may sing of “Wild Women,” but hers is a more nuanced, experienced approach. With the spiritual-sounding “Walk Away,” one of several songs co-written with Mark Narmore, she takes us to a place where there is no choice but to recognize truth: “there’s not enough money or time, to spend this life unhappy.” Al Green couldn’t express things with more clarity than Blue.
Not everything is heavy. She sings the praises of her “BBQ Man”—he’s “got the rotisserie rollin’,” she claims—with more than a little sauce drippin’ within her innuendo, and embraces life by “soppin’ up” the “Gravy Train.” Plenty of horns, keys, and B3 add flavour with a heap of the familiar Memphis feel. “Meet Me in Memphis,” indeed: with her voice alone, Blue could carry a song, but augmented as she is by a stellar band, including a rhythm section that never loses their groove—Bernard “Pretty” Purdie (drums) and Dave Smith (bass)—one is essentially forced to just hold on.
Songs like “That’s Working For Me” and “Johnny Lee” reveal a confident, powerful performer who isn’t about to allow herself to be limited: Barbara Blue presents herself with a commanding authority that will brook no argument to the contrary.
With recent releases from Rory Block, Trudy Lynn, Joyann Parker, and Suzie Vinnick, Barbara Blue further supports my assertion: the ladies are where one should look to find the most emotionally charged, exciting, and soulful blues being created today.
Her amazing rendition of “Drunken Angel,” not included on this album: