Barbara Blue drops Fish In Dirty H2O

Barbara Blue may have been born in Pittsburgh, but she has made Memphis her home and Memphis adopted her in a way virtually unknown in this historic, musical city. You see, she played on the famous Beale Street back in 1997 in the delightfully named Silky O’Sullivan’s and she has been there ever since….well, not literally of course; she performs there five nights a week with occasional ‘rest periods’ to allow her to record eleven albums (three with the excellent Phantom Blues Band), appear on blues cruises and compete in the International Blues Challenge… I’m sure she also finds time to eat, drink and sleep somewhere along the line! That must be the definition of a hard-working philosophy and a tribute to Barbara’s dedication and commitment to the blues. Fortunately for us, she has somehow found time to assemble a stellar cast of supporting musicians and recorded this eleventh album called Fish In Dirty H2O… I even found the subscript command it’s not something I use every day!

If you haven’t heard any of Barbara’s previous work, then you can welcome into your ears a powerful blues and soul singer who, mercifully, is never overbearing or shouty or screamy and always stays, literally, in tune with the song and can effortlessly convey the whole gamut of human emotions in her remarkable voice.

My Heart Belongs to the Blues kicks the album off, but my review copy seems to be bereft of this one and instead starts with the slow burning blues of Johnny Lee. It is a gospel-tinged piece of heaven with Barbara’s vocals combining with some lovely picked guitar and a short solo that has as much emotion as the verses. Accidental Theft is next and is classic blues with the riff and the excellent slide guitar expanding the story of the theft in question being Barbara’s heart…a blues classic already, with the superb slide solo earning repeated listens. Dr. Jesus puts gospel into R’n’B as the piano and slide guitar introduce a song that has a message with a touch of humour…the backing vocals bring the gospel-y and soulful chorus alive, and the guitar solo is picked to perfection to keep the blues front and centre. Meet Me In Memphis is not the more famous Jimmy Buffet song, but a version by the Memphis native Eric Hughes. Here however, the feel veers away from the lighter blues approach and is injected instead with additional soul as the horns and keyboards reinforce the song to BB’s adopted and adoptive city. All it lacks in my view is an expansion of the keys into a solo maybe, as they are a bit buried in the mix, but so effective when they are audible. The guitar phrasing to the fade is worth waiting for. The Koko Taylor, and title track Fish In Dirty Water (that’s easier than typingH2O) features vocals from Al Kapone who, apparently, is a rapper (which isn’t paper around a sweet as I thought)…fortunately his contributions are restricted to the central section, allowing us to appreciate the clever keys and guitar backing that BB sings so beautifully over. It may provide a modern sheen to this classic, but I would definitely have preferred it was all BB and I’m sorry, but I will be “FFwd-ing” past that bit. Things improve dramatically with the soulful blues ballad of Walk Away. This is the quality I expect and it delivers as the keys and light hi-hat paint pictures in the background while BB shows how a ballad should be sung…emotion drips from every word and, unlike many of her peers, BB shows restraint and keeps pouring out the blues in a subtle and far more effective way that “doing a Tina’! A sax solo keeps the mood just right and also gives time for an appreciation of the complex and classy guitars and keys across the whole track. BBQ Man is R’n’B with a jazzy touch and is also, possibly, replete with the odd saucy double entendre. It benefits from neat backing and a tidy piano solo to give it a fun feeling to match the vocal. Wild Women starts with a great drum shuffle than as the piano, organ and horns set the scene BB cuts in with a subtle and effective vocal describing how wild women get the blues. Gravy Train is a horny shuffle with delightful piano and guitar punctuations and the solos from both are spot on too. That’s Working For Me generates a jazzy feel, courtesy of the tenor sax and BB’s smoky vocal putting you in the mood for lounging or, if you listen carefully to the lyrics, maybe that mood would be directed elsewhere! Slow Burn does what it says, as the extended slow burn of the instrumental melody inspires BB to put in a careful and nuanced performance. This is a song to really listen to and not just to hear because the lyrics are heartrending but the guitar behind the vocals and the keys are magical in their simplicity. Robert Johnson’s Come On In My Kitchen closes the album. This is brave to say the least as many have tried to interpret this seminal blues song…and many have failed. Here however, the band take the basic structure and build on it in a way that won’t offend the purists but brings enough of a modern edge to make it a worthwhile listen. Obviously, the slide guitar is key to the whole song and both the acoustic and electric keep the feel and atmosphere of the original. Not quite up with Moody/Marsden but then few are…nevertheless, it is a damn good reading of a slice of genius.

This is a hugely enjoyable slice of blues, soul and jazz by an emotive and accomplished vocalist backed by a band of quality. It has the variation in approach by all of them to make sure you never get bored and, apart from the misstep of using a rapper and, in my view, spoiling a good song, then Fish in Dirty H2O will be a regular listen for me.

EIGHTpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing:

  1. My Heart Belongs to the Blues
  2. Johnny Lee
  3. Accidental Theft
  4. Dr. Jesus
  5. Meet Me in Memphis
  6. Fish in Dirty H2O
  7. Walk Away
  8. BBQ Man
  9. Wild Women
  10. Gravy Train
  11. That’s Workin’ for Me
  12. Slow Burn
  13. Come on in My Kitchen
Musicians:

Barbara Blue: vocals

Bernard “Pretty” Purdi: drums

Dave Smith, bass

Lester Snell, Rick Steff and Mark Narmore: Keyboards

Will McFarlane, Michael Tols, Johnny Lee Schell, and Scott Sharrard: guitar Lannie McMillan: tenor sax

Marc Franklin: trumpet

Jim Spake: baritone sax

Steve Graham: trombone

Additional vocalist: Al Kapone

Background vocals: Maureen Smith, Candace Mache, Lynette “Sue” McCracklin, Lorinna McMinn and Celia Purdie



Produced by Jim Gaines and Barbara Blue.

Lori spoke to Barbara Blue read what they talked about

Barbara Blue drops Fish In Dirty H2O

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