We tend to be used to rock being ‘big in Japan’, but the Japanese have great taste in food, whisky and the blues…Rob Stone may hail from Boston but, for the last twelve years or so, he has been a regular visitor and satisfying his growing fanbase in Japan.
Rob is best known here for his work with the C-Notes, a band firmly residing in the blues; for his sojourn in Japan, however, he is joined by two noted musicians: Elena Kato may have started out playing classical piano, but she soon embraced blues, jazz and R’n’B after a stay in New Orleans, Hiroshi Eguchi moved to Chicago at eighteen and played bass around the circuit before returning to Japan in 2004. This Trio In Tokyo, have put together nine carefully selected covers and one original.
No Money is an unknown to me, although I’m guessing that the composer is James Woodie Alexander, a close associate of the great Sam Cooke…whatever, the trio soon show their credentials: the bass and piano are pure jazz/blues and brilliantly realised as you’re left in no doubt that the piano is certainly Elena’s forte; the walking bass is spot on and the vocals and harp of Rob are up to the task of matching and enhancing talented players. Got To Get You Off My Mind is the Solomon Burke soul song given a magical lilt via the piano and bass and the harp makes it, for me at least, way better than the original.
Come Back Baby was a slow blues Ray Charles hit, albeit called just Come Back and credited to him, whereas it first appeared fourteen years earlier by the composer Walter Davis. This version is a bit closer to Charles’ version and, again, the piano and bass build the perfect base for Rob’s expressive voice and the piano solo is straight out of a Chicago blues joint…brilliant.
Poison Ivy is next and it is not the Lieber/Stoller hit, but can earlier song written by Chief Records owner, Mel London and released in 1954…this jazz focussed reading is very good; these three are as one and again this is better than the original. There Is Something On Your Mind is by Big Jay McNeely, who Rob was scheduled to record with but sadly Big Jay died before that came to fruition and is here as a memorial and, although Big Jay’s sax would have been destined for a solo, Rob pays full and fitting tribute with his superb harp work. A very soulful blues that leans a bit too much toward soul for me, but with more masterful playing, it still has bite.
Money Hustlin’ Woman from the Texan pianist Amos Milburn has a great (near) solo from Hiroshi and, to be honest, it should have lasted longer as the way he plays the upright bass flows so nicely. It is another sparkling vehicle for Elena and Rob. Jack You’re Dead, written by Miles and Bishop, but made famous by Lois Jordan and is a feel-good song despite the title; I didn’t miss the horn version of Jourdan’s because that walking bass, harp and piano more than fills the space.
What Am I Living For? harks back to 1958 and Chuck Willis (although the Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown and Van Morrison versions are worth a visit) for pure slow blues…once again the backing is mesmerising and the harp solo is ideal. Blow Fish Blow! is an instrumental that may (or may not) refer to the potentially lethal delicacy…after the left in on purpose false start, this is an entertaining and varied piece that is a delight.
The final track is Goodnight Irene by good old Lead Belly, one of my old blues heroes: Gallis Pole is genius. This song of his has been covered so many times (Ry Cooder’s version is one of the best), and so is this one; the piano makes this into a dramatic finale as the trio become a duo and pour suitably emotional tones through every note of voice, piano and harp.
Although this album may come across, on one listen, as fairly ‘samey’, subsequent run-throughs reveal the superb skills of a trio that just love to celebrate each song and, even with only four instruments (counting Rob’s capable vocals) they make a great sound. I may not listen to it all at once but when any of these tracks come up, I am drawn in by the technical excellence and thoughtful reworking of some great classics.
Bluesdoodles rating: 3 Doodle Paws – a great listen with an album full of accessible, technical excellence and memorable readings of some classics.
No Money (J Alexander)
Got To Get You Off My Mind (S Burke)
Come Back Baby (W Davis)
Poison Ivy (M London)
There Is Something On Your Mind (B J McNeely)
Money Hustlin’ Woman (A Milburn, A Cullum)
Jack You’re Dead (D Miles, W Bishop)
What Am I Living For? (Jay, Harris)
Blow Fish Blow! (R Stone)
Goodnight Irene (H Ledbetter)
Rob Stone: vocals, harmonica
Elena Kato: piano
Hiroshi Eguchi: bass
(Brad Hayman: bass on There Is Something On Your Mind)
(iTunes served up some slick blues from Robben Ford with title track from his 2003 album, Keep On Running and his great interpretation of the Spencer Davis hit.)