Vargas Blues Band – Last Night

Vargas Blues Band - Last Night (Front)

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Ronnie Earl & Duke Robillard – The Duke Meets The Earl

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The Duke Meets the Earl seems like an obvious album, pairing two of New England’s finest contemporary blues guitarists, Duke Robillard and Ronnie Earl, who both share the same sort of hard, clear tone in their playing (Earl actually replaced Robillard in Roomful of Blues when the latter left the group for a solo career). For Earl, who has been working in a kind of jazz blues hybrid style in recent years, it marks a return to straight blues, and with guests like Jimmy McGriff and Mighty Sam McClain aboard on select tracks, The Duke Meets the Earl has the feel of a super session. Throughout, Earl’s guitar is featured in the left channel and Robillard’s in the right, leading to some wonderful guitar dialogues, particularly on an epic, nearly 16-minute-long version of Walter Price’s “My Tears.” Another extended workout occurs on “A Soul That’s Been Abused,” an Earl original, which features McClain on vocals and stretches out to just over 13 minutes. McGriff brings his Hammond B-3 magic to two cuts, Eddie Taylor’s “Lookin’ for Trouble” and B.B. King’s “I Need You So Bad,” while the B-3 part on “A Soul That’s Been Abused” is handled by Dave Limina. Other highlights include covers of T-Bone Walker’s “Two Bones and a Pick,” Magic Sam’s “What Have I Done Wrong,” and Earl’s smooth, clear slide style on another original, “Zeb’s Thing.” With only eight tracks, but clocking in at over 70 minutes, The Duke Meets the Earl gives these two fine guitarists plenty of room to talk to each other, and the result is a classy set of no-frills contemporary blues, with just the slightest hint of jazz to keep it all smooth.

Melvin Taylor – Blues On The Run

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Melvin Taylor may run a little long at times on his Blues on the Run, but that gives him the opportunity to dazzle with the full scope of his chops. He can play Chicago blues as gritty as anyone, but he can also rock hard and has enough sensitivity for jazz. Hearing him run through all these styles is a little dizzying, however, especially since he doesn’t know when to let a little space into the music. Nevertheless, the record functions as an effective showcase for his talents.

James Brown – Gettin’ Down To It

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James Brown recorded the pet project Gettin’ Down to It in Cincinnati, OH, at King Studios, between December 1968 and March 1969. Although you can’t tell by the album’s title, it reflects Soul Brother Number One momentarily stepping back from the fiery racial and political atmosphere of the times. Following the murder of Martin Luther King, Jr., the riots sparked by that event, and his calming effect on it, Mr. Dynamite replaced “Say It Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)” with his love of standards utilizing the melancholy phrasing of his favorite male vocalist, Frank Sinatra. Aided by the acoustic piano trio led by Dee Felice, Brown tackles such romantic chestnuts as “Strangers in the Night,” “That’s Life,” “It Had to Be You,” “Willow Weep for Me,” and “All the Way.” Although laid-back could be applied to the album’s overall tone, these 12 tracks are by no means “mellow.” After all, this is James Brown! For instance, “(I Love You) For Sentimental Reasons,” clocking in at 7:40, combines pianist Frank Vincent’s percussive vamping with James testifying as if he had this tune confused with “Ain’t It Funky Now.” While the disc is made up of mainly standards, that doesn’t stop Brown from including two of his compositions, “Cold Sweat” and an instrumental take of “There Was a Time,” reworked to fit the album’s easygoing mood with jazzy elements intact. Even though there aren’t any bonus tracks, this Verve reissue does include the original packaging and liner notes with Marc Eliot’s insightful addendum tacked on. A curious entry in the James Brown catalog, Gettin’ Down to It is a savory listen.

Frank Zappa – Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa – A Memorial Tribute

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This 1996 CD compilation was the first one put out privately by the Zappa family following Frank Zappa’s death in 1993. The music includes three new versions of familiar Zappa works, followed bytheir better-known counterparts that have previously appeared on both LPs and CDs. As Dweezil Zappa explains in his liner notes, this previously unreleased excerpt from “Black Napkins” is not yet fully formed; oddly enough, like the version that follows from Zoot Allures, the Napoleon Murphy Brock sax solo has been edited out. The new version of the next instrumental, “Zoot Allures,” fares better in comparison to the well-known take from the Zoot Allures CD, in spite of some distortion inadvertently added by the Tokyo PA system during its recording. “Merely a Blues in A” marks the initial release of a gritty blues likely improvised during a 1974 Paris concert. Finally, two versions of Zappa’s sensational blues “Watermelon in Easter Hay” close the CD. The early 1978 concert version features a slightly faster tempo with minimal accompaniment by his band, although Zappa’s solo ideas are already well conceived. Zappa’s solo on the studio version, originally heard on the release Joe’s Garage Acts 2 & 3, was taken from a concert recording and mixed with a sparse yet effective studio backing; it remains one of Zappa’s most fascinating guitar solos. Unlike the posthumous new Zappa CDs that have appeared on Rykodisc after 1993, this one carries a rather high price tag, although it consists of only four new recordings among its seven tracks. The fancy package includes a removable stick-on moustache and goatee like the late composer’s own facial hair. Zappa fans will likely enjoy this limited-edition CD, which is available exclusively through http://www.zappa.com, although they would have likely preferred all previously unreleased songs and alternate takes instead.