The decision of Henry Saint Clair Fredericks to adopt a stage name was understandable.
But perhaps instead of the subcontinent’s most famous mausoleum, he could have chosen “Sidney Opera House” (and passed himself off as the part of Sun House’s clan). Or got all funky with “M.Pire State” (and hooked up with a partner called “Bill Ding”).
OK, that’s enough silliness. This is a compilation of (mainly) covers Mahal recording during the 1990s.
This album is slightly warmer and more engaging than the prior reviewee. But, he still isn’t taking many risks with song choices. I’m not sure the world needed another version of Honky Tonk Women, and he manages to underwhelm with one of my favourite standards (John The Revelator).
He does a better job with Mercedes Benz, and one of the rare Mahal-penned tunes here is by far the most fun – as he gets all excited about big-butted belles on Big Legged Mommas Are Back In Style. I was expected Sir Mix-a-Lot to pop up any time with a bit of this:
Searching around for decent Mahal clips, I stumbled upon a series from back in 1972, of which this is the best:
That’s the sort of stuff I’d like to see from him here.
File under: Not arresting enough
I’m sure I’ve mentioned here more than once that I have a strong preference for the “dirtier” end of the blues music spectrum.
Blues should sound raw and dangerous, and if happens to tell of love gone bad or misadventure, all the better.
Taj Mahal doesn’t fit said bill. His recordings (well, certainly this Grammy-winning 1997 set) are slickly produced, and firmly in the jazz-blues domain. He does pick at a guitar better than most, and his vocal stylings ride the groove perfectly, but it is all a little too ‘big band’ and Cosby Show for me to love it.
I feel like a bit of a scrooge in not embracing this album as a classic. In the end it gets back to my ambivalence to this genre.
Imagine the Commitments fictional setup (without all the pale Irish corniness), and that’s the set-up here. Too much horns, organ and backing vocals on what are pretty standard ‘interpretations’ from THE songbook (including Mahal’s version of Mr Pitiful).
The best track on here is the least augmented, a sparse cover of a Hank Williams tune Mind your own Business:
More tracks like that might win me over to Mahal’s side of the fence.
File under: ¿dónde está la tierra?
My wife’s CDs have gone back-to-back here.
Of course, Mr.King is a stalwart of the blues world, wielding Lucille for about six decades and counting. But this is one of the weirdest collections of ‘classic’ tracks I’ve ever heard.
The album does showcase B.B.’s distinctive and highly influential guitar stylings. The wails from Lucille are splendid.
What is curious is the extent to which this not a blues album, but more of a mish mash of some blues classics, some mediocre R&B, and some down right lousy crooning.
I’m presuming this reflects this a particular cut-rate label’s poor (or is it just idiosyncratic?) song selection policy. I can find no decent information on the provenance of this CD beyond it being one in a serious of 90+ in some German label’s Blues Collection.
I haven’t been discouraged from chasing up more from this master (i.e. The Thrill Has [n’t] Gone), but I certainly wouldn’t recommend this compilation.
I can recomend B.B.’s suit in this clip though:
File under: A poor tribute to a well-dressed man
The music world is light on for creation myths.
The purported meeting between Robert Johnson and a talent-trading Satan is one that has always tickled my fancy. The notion that other-worldly skills might be bestowed upon a musician via a Faustian pact is appealing.
The tale has been twisted by various artists (and in multiple media since). I suspect my first encounter with was through the Muppet Show:
And then the Karate Kid took a swing at chasing down the legend:
Even the cheeky Tenacious D dudes got into it:
But ultimately, one must turns one’s attention to the gentleman who triggered all this. This collection of Robert Johnson tracks is a glorious journey back to a time when guitars, harmonicas and amplified sound could well have got one thinking about the netherworld (without the Led Zep histrionics).
Johnson is rightfully lauded as a father of modern music and this CD showcases his many skills. His voice is both strong and pained. His guitar-work is mesmerising and complex. His lyrics are amusing at times, and the songs are much more complete than a lot of the seemingly ad-libbed work of his contemporaries.
This is a record of true genius. If RJ did indeed make a pact with Beelzebub to tap into this talent then it was well worth it:
File under: Wearing a crown of horns?
Ahhh, it feels like time for some blues. It’s been too long.
And here we are with one of the true greats. Mr. Hooker is a giant of the boogie-woogie Delta blues.
This is music that sounds deceptively simple, with Hooker almost talking rather than singing over a stompy beat and a repeated riff.
But, surely it can’t be that simple. The growl, the syncopation, the sound of that electric guitar is somehow distinctive and memorable. It is infectious and uplifting.
Hooker’s tunes feel like the sneaky whispered aside of some cool guy sitting in the corner of some bar ready to prowl, or just back from some enviable sexual conquest. The purr on Boom! Boom! is a benchmark for blues:
I get the sense that Hooker had a sense for the popular and the crowd pleaser that lifted him above so many of his contemporaries and forebears.
This album is full of fun and innuendo. He was clearly a legs man, as Dimples and Big Legs, Tight Skirt testify. I’m not going to think too hard about Crawlin’ Kingsnake.
I’ve loved spending a day with John Lee, and with over 100 albums to his credit, everyone should own at least one.
File under: Earbait
Perhaps this could be seen as the bridge between Guthrie and Guns n’Roses. Buddy busts out a riff like the best of them, but his songs come straight of the American songbook.
I think I need to be a bit more judicious in my blues CD purchases. This is yet another collection from an icon of the artform where he just trots out a pile of tunes we all know and does his subtle re-intrepretation thereof.
Some of the song selections are decidely unimaginative (I Put a Spell on You, Lay Lady Lay, On a Saturday Night). Buddy trots out his, well, buddies Carlos Santana, John Mayer and Keith Richards.
I am well aware that the blues ouevre is obsessed with the cover version, but it all comes across as pretty unadventurous and conservative.
Guy has some very audible strengths. His licks are clean and smooth. His voice has great depth and pacing. Having seen him on stage I can vouch for his presence and prowess.
I just think I should have picked up an album of originals.
File under: Trying Guy
It is about time we had some more blues action on this blog.
Blues is exactly the sort of music that I feel a strong pull towards on a sporadic basis. This compulsion isn’t necessarily reflective of my seeking to wallow in self-pity, but rather the need for some vitality and warmth.
And the blues I’m usually after sounds a hell of lot like this CD.
Mr. Ford (and I feel he warrants such respect given he started recording in his 70s and still rocks along as he approaches 90) delivers very grungy, rural blues. It is tempting to call it old school, yet it doesn’t sound like it was recorded direct to ‘cylinder’ (i.e. it aint Blind Willie McTell or Robert Johnson). It’s just pared back and lo-fi.
It is funny, and slightly raunchy, with T’s entendres including “wood cutting”, and something about chicken heads:
The classic riff-vocal-riff of Leave My Heart Alone is blues personified, while the deceptively simple rhythms of the opener She Asked Me So I Told Her showcases the clever vocal pacing skills of this veteran.
This is perhaps the strongest of the old-bloke CDs I have from the much-to-love Fat Possum Record label.
File under: Blues is the new black