Archive for the ‘Blues’ Tag
Manitoba Hal Live in Ghent
The world has never been smaller. The musical world has never been larger.
I’ve been writing about roots music for sixteen years. Manitoba Hal has been releasing albums for a little more than that. We’ve never crossed paths. Until now.
Manitoba Hal Brolund has been making music for several decades, has released 15 albums, and has travelled the world playing the blues on his ukulele. See…that last world surprised you, too—proving again that there is always someone new to hear and something worthwhile to discover.
Manitoba-raised, Nova Scotian by choice, Brolund traveled to Belgium a year ago, and this two-disc set sounds like a fairly true representation of the performance he did that April evening at the Missy Sippy Blues & Roots Club in Ghent. It is well-worth investigating.
Establishing himself from the start, Manitoba Hal cuts through “Come On In My Kitchen” before easing into the darkness of Tom Waits’ finest song, “Way Down in the Hole.” Manitoba Hal performs unaccompanied, so it rests entirely on his own musicianship, looped rhythms, gravel-worn voice, and charm to keep the listener enthralled, and from the enthusiastic audience response recorded herein, one has to suggest that he succeeded.
The set is a mix of covers and originals, but since I am by no means a blues expert—and I’ve only just been introduced to Manitoba Hal—I can’t be definitive in which is what. Well-known sounds abound as “St. James Infirmary,” “They’re Red Hot,” “My Creole Belle,” “Let the Mermaids Flirt With Me,” and “Baby, Please Don’t Go” are intermixed with material with which I am less familiar.
Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago” allows Manitoba Hal to explore the range of his instrument on a number with which all blues listeners are cognizant. “Ain’t No Grave” is sparsely played, but effectively delivered. One of the more hypnotising numbers featured is “Dancing in the Moonlight” (not the King Harvest song.)
The featured evening closes with two indispensable blues of very different derivation, “Who Do You Love” and “The Thrill is Gone.” Within these ten minutes, the measure of Manitoba Hal is confirmed. Keeping a steady bass line going via looping while playing the notes over-top, Hal gets pretty gritty on “Who Do You Love.” Closing with “The Thrill is Gone,” Hal visits uptown for a few moments, demonstrating his dexterity and aptitude in revealing different aspects of the blues.
On a ukulele.
Rory Block Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White Stony Plain Records
Indisputably, Rory Block is one of the most impressive contemporary blues artists. Rooted so deeply in country blues traditions, Block can’t be anything but authentic. Unfortunately, I’ve not caught every installment of her Mentor Series, which started with her tribute to Son House in 2008 and now stands at six volumes, but I’ve heard enough to know that she does nothing in half-measures.
As Block writes in her liner notes, “More than any artist in my Mentor Series, Bukka inspired me to write new songs.” With that, one shouldn’t be surprised that Block has done a true tribute here; not only has she crafted five Booker T. Washington “Bukka” White songs in her own individual, immitigable style, but she has created a further five originals capturing the time and mythologies of White’s life and career.
An exciting album from start to finish, Block—who plays everything on this disc, including percussive Quaker Oats boxes—and co-producer Rob Davis establish a sparse, natural sound.
Opening with a pair of originals setting the table as a frame of reference for both the uninitiated and the connoisseur, in short order Block nails standards including “Aberdeen Mississippi Blues,” “Fixin’ To Die Blues,” and “Parchman Farm Blues.” With attention to detail, but an even greater sense of purpose, Block enlivens these performances with a balance of passion and precision that breathes life into oft-encountered numbers.
Masterfully, she closes the set with the album’s most significant performances. Built upon “Bukka’s Jitterbug Swing,” Block’s “Gonna Be Some Walkin’ Done” captures not only the reality of White’s circumstance, but envelopes the traditions of finding something new in what has come before. “Back to Memphis” pulls everything together, encapsulating eighty years of blues history and development in five minutes.
As someone who doesn’t have much patience for raucous noisy blues, Rory Block’s interpretation of the music’s foundation is always welcome. Her voice is magic, and her approach to blues guitar is clean, restrained, and just damn fine beautiful. Keepin’ Outta Trouble: A Tribute to Bukka White is an excellent album.
Thank you for your interest in Fervor Coulee. Donald
MonkeyJunk Time to Roll Stony Plain Records
There is an American band starting to make a bit of noise south of the border with an aggressive, swampy blend of rhythm & blues that is as deeply entrenched in tradition as it is forward looking. They are called The Blue Shadows (Canadian readers pause—they have nothing to do with our Blue Shadows, natch) and if I didn’t know better I would suspect they’ve spent their time cribbing from MonkeyJunk.
MonkeyJunk, the preeminent Canadian power trio not named Rush, never have messed around. Give them a stack of amps and a stage, and the Ottawa-based group are happy to deliver their spirited blues-rock to whomever is willing to listen. Time to Roll is their fifth set of music, and to me it sounds their most accomplished to date.
Adding bass to the mix for the first time, MonkeyJunk’s approach hasn’t dramatically changed—lively party music with lyrics more impressive than frequently encountered within this segment of the blues. For generations raised on early J. Geils Band, Foghat, and the Allman Brothers, MonkeyJunk slips smoothly into a familiar groove.
Recorded over a concise series of sessions, the immediacy of the process may be part of the reason Time to Roll sounds so fresh and invigorating. “Blue Lights Go Down” aches with palatable passion; I’m not sure what it is about Tom Wilson, but one didn’t need to refer to the credits to immediately identify his signature touch on this co-written number.
With a throbbing introduction reminiscent of both Russ Ballard’s “On The Rebound” and “Can I Get a Witness,” the title track is a rallying exhortation for moving on from the constraints of the predictable. Three songs are co-written with fellow Canadian bluesman Paul Reddick, the most vibrant of which is “Pray for Rain,” an incantation of mesmerizing eyes and dramatic rhythms.
As strong as the first half of Time to Roll is, the band busts it to pieces within a blistering second act.
Fittingly paying tribute to Albert King by updating “The Hunter,” MonkeyJunk also offers a plaintive “Can’t Call You Baby” to add considerable intensity to this ten-track album. Delving a bit further south with the call and response rhythms of “Undertaken Blues” and the positively peppy “Gone,” a staggering Booker T-influenced instrumental “Fuzzy Poodle” closes the disc.
MonkeyJunk has become one of the most awarded bands in Canadian blues history. Time to Roll won’t change that: it is an electric collection of tradition-rich, rollicking modern blues.
Thank you for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Matthew Skoller Blues Immigrant Tongue ‘N Groove Records
Veteran Chicago harp player and bandleader Matthew Skoller has released an engaging, passionate collection of tasteful, groove-laden blues.
There is so much going on in these songs that one may be tempted to over-think things. Better to just relax into the propulsive rhythms and absorb their medicine. Most of the tracks are co-written by Skoller and producer Vincent Bucher.
“My Get It Done Woman” is about what you expect—nasty and base, just as we like it. A hard-trodden man faces his future in “Tear Collector” and the “Greyhound runs too slow” for the woman moving on in “747.” Skoller rails against the industry’s self-serving nature in “Only In the Blues,” a tune that some enterprising band will arrange as “Only in Bluegrass.” “The Devil Ain’t Got No Music” is like going to church—there’s a message there, if only it is heard.
One suspects Skoller is most proud of his “Blues Immigrant,” a wide-ranging opus of social (in)justice and circumstance. Over a foundation of guitar (Giles Corey,) bass (Felton Crews,) and drums (Marc Wilson) Skoller laments the obstacles that are placed in the way of those motivated to move forward. It’s a gentle number, one that belies the frustrations expressed.
Inexplicably, the album kicks off with its weakest song. “Big Box Store Blues” rails against the corporate monoliths that have destroyed local businesses, but sounds about a decade late. Similar ground is covered more successfully in the “Story of Greed.” Skoller connects everything nicely, closing the album with Luther Johnson’s “Down to the Nitty Gritty” and Papa Lightfoot’s down-trodden “Blue Lights.”
Blues immigrant is a terrific album from a fella who gets it!
Still catching up on summer…
Ronnie Earl & the Broadcasters
Stony Plain Records www.RonnieEarl.com
Ronnie Earl has been around. Twenty-plus albums, the last ten on Canada’s venerable Stony Plain Records, has found the master guitarist one of the most revered guitarists producing the blues. At times a little jazzy, often late-night right, Earl and the Broadcasters has consistently released albums of high quality. With Maxwell Street, Earl pays tribute to a past member of the Broadcasters David Maxwell as well as Chicago’s Maxwell Street. As always, this is a largely instrumental collection of evocative music that draws in the listener with exquisite timing and interplay. Soulful vocalist Diane Blue appears—as she has in recent recordings—breaking things up with her sensitive offerings on a few numbers including the album closing “As The Years Go Passing By.” A near-12 minute reading of Otis Rush’s “Double Trouble” is a workout. Key cuts: those mentioned as well as “(I’ve Got to Use My) Imagination” and “Elegy for a Bluesman.”
Still catching up on summer…
Duke Robillard & His All-Star Combo
Blues Full Circle
Stony Plain Records www.DukeRobillard.com
It is a fool’s errand attempting to enumerate Duke Robillard’s albums: his Wikipedia page lists over fifty projects of which he has been a part, some forty of which carry his name and over twenty with Stony Plain.
Coming off the award-winning The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard, the quartet (bass, keys, drums, guitar) returned to the studio to layout some fiery electric jams only to be curtailed by Robillard’s rotator cuff surgery and rehabilitation. Among those initial tracks, “Mourning Dove” and “I Got the Feelin’ That You’re Foolin'” offer different shades of blues heartache, while “Blues for Eddie Jones” achingly traces the blues journey of Guitar Slim. Replete with flights of instrumental fancy, the All-Star Combo prove themselves to be a tight posse, with Robillard’s growly vocals providing character and depth. Guests include Kelley Hunt who provides additional swing on her composition, “The Mood Room.” The highlight of this robust, multi-dimensional examination of the blues is six and a half minute instrumental “Shufflin’ and Scufflin'” featuring blistering interplay between Robillard and Jimmie Vaughn over an epic bed of organ from Bruce Bears with Doug James painting waves of baritone sax.
Blues Full Circle gives credibility to the adage that one is born to the blues: Duke Robillard continues to create music that draws folks toward this realization.
It has been a busy summer- I’ve written quite a few reviews, and done more listening than I likely should have, but I’ve done even more reading: as a result, projects around the home didn’t get accomplished. Neither did writing. (I had planned on working on my short stories/novella this summer. Hmmm…didn’t happen.)
With all the music coming my way, I haven’t found the time/energy to sit down and write about enough of it. Lazy, perhaps- I do normally try to write about 75% of what gets sent to me. (Thanks, PR folks.) I fell short this summer, so today I make the attempt to write that wrong. I’ve also been working at refining my writing, trying to write tighter; working without constraints (or an editor) I’m sometimes not as focused on ‘how’ I am writing. This weekend I decided to concentrate on the quality of my writing, taking time to be more concise in my expression.
Here we go: several reviews of roots music released over these summer months. Hopefully, something leads you to further investigation.
Blue Moon Marquee Gypsy Blues www.BlueMoonMarquee.com
A refreshing platter of hardscrabble blues and roots music. Comprised of two Albertans now based on Vancouver Island (our dream most days), Blue Moon Marquee are A.W. Cardinal (vocals and guitar) and Jasmine Colette (double bass, drums, and vocals.) If you can imagine David Johansen recording original music during his Harry Smiths phase, you are coming close to what Blue Moon Marquee accomplish on this riveting set of energetic, guttural blues. Lonesome Ghosts of a couple years ago was a fine introduction, but Gypsy Blues is that much darker, smokier, and satisfying. With a hint of ragtime in their mix, Cardinal and Colette explore the back roads lurking in the listener’s mind, causing one to feel both trepidation and elation while experiencing one’s baser possibilities. Key cuts: “Double Barrel Blues,” “Hoodoo Lady,” and “Tossin’ and Turnin’.”