Aaron Griffin & Mojo Rising – Mojo Rising

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Aaron Griffin made his first effort at recording, and it’s surprising and reassuring to see just how fine and unerring this 16-year-old guitarist/singers’ instincts are for the blues & R&B traditions St. Louis has always known. As old time people used to say, fruit never falls far from the tree: Aaron’s father, Larry Griffin, has long been a respected, deep dish blues guitarist, having played countless nights in the demanding St Louis club scene, toured and recorded in the US and Europe, while also encouraging his talented son to follow that same path and tradition. The evidence here clearly shows his mentoring was not in vain.
We hear Aaron’s mastery of Albert King, and that gruff man’s template for economic phrasing and tone. Go to each song here and understand how Griffin is saying ‘I know/feel & understand what this song/style/artist is saying’, and playing it with feeling and swing. Rarer still, we not only have a 16-year-old player operating on a very high level as an instrumentalist, but also as a singer—I was surprised at how (again that word) unerring Aaron’s voice tackles songs usually sung so knowingly by men much, much older. Listen to how he takes to the instrumental blues steeplechase of Freddie King’s The Stumble, making it yield to his easy handling. Wisely, Aaron has also chosen a crackin’ horn and harmonica spiced ensemble for his maiden blues voyage.
With “Mojo Rising,” Aaron Griffin now has a fine basis for a career in the demanding world of top-notch blues artists, if he so chooses. I’m looking forward to just where he’s going next time.

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John Mayall – The Turning Point

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This prophetically titled project represents yet another crossroad in John Mayall’s ever evolving cast of prime British bluesmen. This album also signifies a distinct departure from the decibel drowning electrified offerings of his previous efforts, providing instead an exceedingly more folk and roots based confab. The 2001 “remastered & revisited” edition of The Turning Point boasts vastly improved audio — when compared to its previous CD counterparts — and a trio of three “bonus tracks” from the same July 12, 1969 performance at Bill Graham’s fabulous Fillmore East in New York City. The specific lineup featured here is conspicuous in its absence of a lead guitarist, primarily due to Mayall recommending himself out of his most recent string man. After the passing of Brian Jones, the Rolling Stones decided to tour and at the behest of Mick Jagger, Mayall suggested Mick Taylor — who had been with him since Crusade (1967). Mayall gave this potentially negative situation a positive outcome by retooling the combo into an acoustic quartet featuring old friends as well as some vital new sonic textures. Mayall (vocals/harmonica/slide guitar/telecaster six-string/hand & mouth percussion) joined forces with former associates Steve Thompson (bass) and Johnny Almond (tenor & alto sax/flute/mouth percussion), then added the talents of Jon Mark (acoustic finger-style guitar). It becomes readily apparent that Mark’s precision and tasteful improvisational skills place this incarnation into heady spaces. The taut interaction and wafting solos punctuating “So Hard to Share” exemplify the controlled intensity of Mayall’s prior electrified outings. Likewise, Mark’s intricate acoustics pierce through the growl of Mayall’s haunting slide guitar solos on “Saw Mill Gulch Road.” The Turning Point also examines a shift in Mayall’s writing. The politically charged “Laws Must Change,” the personal “I’m Gonna Fight for You J.B.” and the incomparable “Room to Move” are tinged with Mayall’s trademark sense of irony and aural imagery. As mentioned above, the supplementary sides “Sleeping by Her Side,” “Don’t Waste My Time,” and “Can’t Sleep This Night” — which were left off of the original disc owing to the restrictions imposed upon the vinyl medium — are sourced from the same mid-July 1960 Fillmore East set as the main program.

Popa Chubby – The Hungry Years

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Popa Chubby has been described by some as a comic book character, a charlatan, a shameless self-promoter and by others as an accomplished blues musician, showman and entrepreneur. Having followed Mr. Horowitz’s (aka Popa Chubby) career over the past many years, it is easy to understand the controversy. On the one hand he has proven to be a tireless musician with a rather large body (no pun intended) of work for a man with no major label support until his recent signing with Blind Pig. On the other hand, a lot of that early work, produced on his own label and/or oversees recordings, is often of inconsistent quality. This CD takes the pain out of trying to locate early Chubby material that is actually worth listening to. What you will find here is some pretty good original blues rock material put out by Chubby in his early years. The two lone exceptions seem to be “It’s Chubby Time” which has its origins in an early disco number which will readily come to mind from the opening note and “What’s Your Problem/Pipeline” which is a previously unreleased live version which seems disjointed and out of sync with the other selections. Guitarists will be especially happy with the selections as most feature Popa’s bag full of chops and tasty licks. Overall, it’s a pretty good compilation of Popa’s early material.

Innes Sibun – The box set

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Perhaps Innes Sibun isn’t a really familiar name to very many people. As an accomplished sideman playing alongside musicians whose credits listings include backing Bob Dylan, George Thorogood, and Ten Years After amongst others, also one whose extensive touring background has seen his band opening shows for headliners such as Taj Mahal, Johnny Winter, Chris Farlowe and Jools Holland, and who also undertook a full tour with Robert (Led Zeppelin) Plant’s own band, putting together this 10 track mostly live collection probably seemed just like another evening’s work. It certainly doesn’t sound like that though. Innes Sibun is an equally talented, experienced and committed guitarist and his enthusiasms and those of his band are put across with a refreshing clarity and depth on this CD, which was recorded at the Queens Head pub in the Wiltshire, England village of Box, and from which the album takes it’s title.

First track is a cover of a Rory Gallagher song. “A Million Miles Away” begins with a feverishly dextrous wall-of-shredding intro which swiftly mellows into the song itself, an edgy tale of barroom subterfuge taken at midtempo and which wastes no time introducing Innes Subin’s fretboard pyrotechnics to the listener. You might expect an evening dedicated solely to fast paced 12 bar rockouts on the strength of this opener but Innes Subin and his band – keyboardist Tim Blackmore, bassist Steve Hall and drummer Robbie Brian – are playing for more than kicks this evening and while second track “Station Blues” is taken at a near breakneck pace it’s with third track “I Want You Back” that the group really get into their stride, a slower number that echoes some of Eric Clapton’s more laid back moments and wouldn’t sound out of place on an enhanced reissue of 461 Ocean Boulevard. Other numbers such as “Someone Like You” contain some consistently inventive and occasionally remarkable guitar from Sibun himself, whose frenetic riffing might put blues rock enthusiasts in mind of Albert Lee or even Jimmy Page, but there is far more to the Innes Subin band’s music than just reverent recreations of what was the sound of the rock mainstream for nearly two decades. “Desert Rain” is a slow paced instrumental that provides the full band with an opportunity to show what they’re really capable of, and showcases an impressively atmospheric keyboard part from Tim Blackmore. A version of Tampa Red’s “Don’t You Lie To Me Honey” meanwhile, only lacks a harmonica break to remind us all of exactly how downright entertaining Dr Feelgood were, and album closer “Fisherman’s Wharf” is an acoustic ballad that contains more than a touch of proper progrock, such as Yes and King Crimson, about it.

So, a group of highly adept and experienced musicians doing exactly what they want to, and very thoughtfully recording it so that people who weren’t in that English country barroom might also appreciate their verging on masterful performance. If you ever get the chance to see the Innes Subin Band perform live, I would suggest that you take it.

Frank Goldwasser with The Alastair Greene Band – North

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Singer, guitarist and songwriter Franck Goldwasser is no stranger to those who have been paying attention to the West Coast blues scene over the last two decades. Born in Paris, France in 1960, his initial blues inspiration came from Hound Dog Taylor, Brownie McGhee and T-Bone Walker. After working his first professional gig at age 21 supporting Sonny Rhodes, Rhodes invited him to move to the San Francisco Bay Area. With the commitment of a true believer, Franck packed his bags and moved to the Bay Area within a year, whereupon he was immediately hired by Troyce Key (who gave him the stage name of Paris Slim) to play in the house band at Key’s legendary Eli’s Mile High Club in Oakland. He eventually assumed leadership of the group while Key took a professional hiatus, and became deeply immersed in the area’s still-vibrant blues scene.

Bubba Mac Blues Band – Just Life

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The Bubba Mac Blues Band is a nine-piece ensemble that hails from New Jersey and appears weekly at the Bubba Mac Shack in Somers Point, New Jersey. Their disc Just Life released in 2001 features 14 originals contributed by various members of the group. With Bubba on guitar/vocal and second guitarist Richie Baker also handling vocals along with Terry Showers and Karen Logan the female vocalists the band’s four-part harmony, in addition to the instruments creates a “fat” sound, not often heard in today’s leaner approach to blues. The overall feel of the album is an easy to listen to harmony filled tour of life’s moments. An understated approach to the use of the instruments lends a powerful presence to the songs. Touches of slide guitar (Mr Runaround Town) and violin (Walking with My Baby) are subtly unexpected and interesting.As mentioned, Bubba handles vocals and adds to the proceedings as one of three guitarists along with Richie Baker and Lew London on lead. Mike Conti and Nick Marion anchor the rhythm section on bass and drums. With Charlie Winters on harmonica and Chris Sooy on keyboards; add the two ladies on vocals and the sound with all nine players contributing is a full on auditory treat. Some of the material covered on this disc includes a tribute to the sixties in 60’s Generation, non-smoking: Designated Smoking Area Blues and a woman’s good man with: My Man. This is a thoroughly enjoyable disc featuring a wide variety of blues styles and music that has in some cases little to do with blues music styles. It offers a refreshingly big sound in a time when some productions are inclined to try to do more with less.