LIVE AT BLUESVILLE Suzie Vinnick (Independent) 5/5
I’ve been a fan since David Gilmour of Gilmour Guitars turned me on to Vinnick’s music a few months ago. Live At Bluesville, much live her previous disc Me N Mabel is just Suzie and her guitar- and I simply can’t imagine this record being better.
In November of 2011, as part of a two week tour in the US, Suzie and Mabel (her favourite guitar) spent a few hours recording at the Sirius/ XM Radio studio with Bill Waxman, the program director for BB King’s Bluesville channel on the satellite giant. She felt so good about the sessions she wanted to share them with her fans- the result is this fabulous disc.
Live At Bluesville mixes a couple of Vinnick originals with classics like Willie Dixon`s You’ll Be Mine and Steve Winwood`s Can’t Find My Way Home, arguably one of the best tunes ever written. Suzie`s voice is supple and expressive, like a mix between Edie Brickell and Maria Muldaur- her guitar playing delicate and fierce, and her choice of material is pretty much flawless. I can imagine the people in the control room watching her play these songs standing and cheering after each take.
This disc is a sparse, intimate and completely engaging experience that I simply cannot recommend enough- not just for blues lovers, but music lovers in general.
TOP TRACKS: Can`t Find My Way Home, You`ll be Mine, Looking For A Kiss
LIVE AT METROPOLIS STUDIOS The Zombies (Convexe) 4/5
And so begins a terrific series by the label that was started to manage some of Jeff Healey’s legacy, a series of half a dozen classic artists recorded and filmed in 2010 and 2011 before a small, enraptured audience of 120 at London’s famed Metropolis Studios. Here is your chance to get to know some great tunes again.
Since their formation in the 60`s the Zombies have enjoyed chart hits in the UK and over here, along with an enduring cult status. Led here by founding members Colin Bluntstone and Rod Argent, the group performed what amounts to a terrific Best Of set. Like everyone else I know songs like She’s Not There and, of course Time of The Season, but these guys can get their blues on with songs like Mystified. I knew I’d enjoy this set, but am pleasantly surprised by how much. Rather than a ragged bunch of fogies trying to cling to past glories, Bluntstone and Argent lead their band through a celebration of a gloriously underrated catalogue.
This is a 2 disc package- a CD alongside a DVD of the performance filmed in HD and recorded in 5.1 Surround Sound… in other words, the next best thing to being there. This, along with similar sets by Van Der Graaf Generator and Bill Nelson, were released June 26th. I have listened to, watched and enjoyed both of those as well, but pick The Zombies as the best of the three, if only because I am more familiar with the material. There is a second wave featuring Caravan, Barclay James Harvest and the immortal Roy Harper are due July 31st and, after what I’ve seen and heard today, I can’t wait!
TOP TRACKS: Time of The Season, Mystified, Hold Your head Up
BLOOD RED BLUES Cee Cee James (FWG Records) 4/5
Take some tasty guitar work, add in the whiskey drenched vocals and soak them in sweat and you have this, James’ 4th album- and it’s a beauty.
It’s not going too far to suggest that Cee Cee James sounds like Joplin, but with more control and better chops. Produced by Grammy award winner producer and engineer Jim Gaines, BRB is raw and refined at the same time. Husband Rob `Slideboy` Andrews is a tasty player, giving these songs a nice, greasy sheen. Throughout this set of a dozen songs James sings about paying her dues, and she sings of love and healing too- perhaps not unusual in a blues album, but still excellent to hear, and her band grooves until the cows come home.
Cee Cee, as producer Jim Gaines notes, is an old soul, `her songs wonderful stories of her life experiences, backed up by Rob’s delta roots blues slide and rhythm playing. They work so well together, almost telepathically, really. The up-tempo stuff is good, makes even me want to dance (a rare occurrence indeed!) but it’s the slow burning tracks on Blood Red Blues where she really shines, and where you’ll find a goodly portion of the magic in these grooves.
2012 has been a fine year for the blues, and this disc is one of the best I’ve heard since New Year’s- now I have to try to find her other 3 discs to use for my blues radio show!
TOP TRACKS: Comfort Of A Good Heart, 100 Ways To Make Love, Feel My Love Come Down
IRENE TORREZ AND THE SUGAR DEVILS (self titled) (Independent) 4.5/5
The Devils make a joyful noise, a mix of jazz, blues and soul, touched by reggae- especially on the opening cut Without You. This short album (7 songs, just shy of 22 minutes long) is exhilarating.
As a singer Torres recalls a cross between Rickie Lee Jones and Sade. Musically, if Antonio Carlos Jobim were still around (he died in `94), I could imagine him being a part of a record like this. This feels like the kind of cool that Sting used to reach for but never quite grasped. Helping Torres achieve this exotic blend of rhythms and melodies are drummer Drew Austin and bassist/ guitarist Josh ‘Yoshi’ Piche. Special guests in the studio include Rob Christian on keys and sax, Brownman Ali on trumpet, Jesse Deitschi on bass, Chris Mason on organ, and Ettiene Stouffle on sax. These tracks, recorded in Toronto and New Orleans, are all original songs, combining elements that are both traditional and modern, resulting in music that, with the right breaks, could reach a huge audience.
There’s a Latin thread that ties all of these songs together, making me wish there were more here than just the 7. If you walked into a bar and these guys were on stage grooving away, you’d be thinking you were in for the night of your life before even sitting down.
TOP TRACKS: Without You, Before You Go, I’ll be Good To You
LIVE FROM THE ARTIST’S DEN Robert Plant & The Band Of Joy (Universal) 5/5
Oh wow- I’ve seen some of this on PBS in the last few months but still, my mind has just been musically, thoroughly, and pleasantly blown.
This is one of the best music DVD’s I’ve ever seen. Filmed on a snowy night in Nashville for the TV series of the same name, Live From The Artist’s Den features Plant along with Patty Griffin, Buddy Miller, Darrell Scott, Byron House and Marco Giovino, interpreting songs from their Band Of Joy album, alongside other Plant solo treasures like In The Mood and Down To The Sea. They also radically and enthusiastically re-interpret 6 Zeppelin classics.
Robert Plant’s affection for American music in all its forms is well known and, particularly since his Grammy award winning collaboration Raising Sand with Alison Krauss, he’s pursued bluegrass and mountain music with enthusiasm. This DVD documents a great band in its natural habitat- sublime players all, even Plant when he steps back into a supporting roll, singing backup or blowing some fine blues harp.
This isn’t sonically as bombastic as Zeppelin, but thrilling and risky in entirely different ways. Great songs with sublime musicianship and stellar vocal harmonies equals an unforgettable night. Of the bonus features the uncut interview with Plant- we see bits of it throughout the show- is the highlight. Surprises and delights abound- this is THE music DVD of the year.
TOP TRACKS: Angel Dance, Down To The Sea, Black Dog
CHECKERBOARD LOUNGE: LIVE CHICAGO 1981 Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones (Eagle Vision) 10/5
Perhaps the most monumental blues performance I have ever witnessed. This DVD, and its companion CD, are THE blues release of the millennium. This set is so much more than the title suggests, even with a double score it feels like I’m being cheap.
The Checkerboard Lounge, Buddy Guy’s juke joint on Chicago’s south side, was crammed to the rafters on this winter night in 1981. The show starts with Muddy’s band playing a couple of numbers before he takes the stage, followed by various members of The Rolling Stones- Mick and Keith of course, along with Ron Wood and founding Stone (and keyboard player) Ian Stewart.
Generally speaking, the ensuing show is both ramshackle and riveting as several musicians in the house get up with the band. At various points we get Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, the amazing Lefty Dizz (Walter Williams, gotta find more of this cat’s music) and, after spending much of the show in the audience enjoying a couple of beers, he comes back up to join Muddy on the classic Champagne & Reefer.
There are never less than 4 guitar players onstage once Muddy and The Stones get up, and each gets their turn in the spotlight. I’ve always thought of Richards as a rhythm player, but he lays down some tasty solos that will surprise other fans too. The band, in its various incarnations, rampages through the Muddy Waters songbook, touching on such classics as Country Boy, Got My Mojo Workin’ and the aforementioned Champagne & Reefer. Other than Keith and perhaps Buddy (my favourite blues player) the star of the night is Lefty Dizz. He plays a right-handed Strat slung over his left shoulder, with the strings upside down and he friggin’ KILLS- a great player and engaging showman.
Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago is THE blues experience of the last 4 decades, giving a whole new meaning to “essential”.
TOP TRACKS: Hoochie Coochie Man, Champagne & Reefer, Got My Mojo Workin’