Battle Of The Blues: Chicago Vs Oakland captured

Battle Of The Blues: Chicago v Oakland knock out a few surprises

Compilation albums, as I’ve said before, can be a great way of sourcing new talent with the ‘various artists’ approach leading you hopefully, to previously unheard artists. It can also damage the wallet as, if it is well compiled (or curated as they seem to prefer these days), you end up shelling out for the full albums of the artists that have caught your ear. This latest compilation to cross my iPod at least takes a different approach to most: Battle Of The Blues: Chicago vs Oakland, takes as a starting point one of the blues capitals of the world and pits it against a much lesser recognised area. Oakland, California tends to better known for everything from rap to metal with blues rarely acknowledged….John Nemeth being one obvious exception. This album intends to put that right although I for one don’t care where the blues musicians come from as long as they do the genre justice. This collection does mainly hit the spot with eleven originals and two covers. It does have a Twist…Twist Turner to be precise: he is a drummer, producer, songwriter and with plenty of blues credentials. He started this project back in 2013 in order to give an airing to “the unknown and under-appreciated blues men and women of the Bay Area.” On returning to Chicago, he found a number of artists there who needed a similar boost and so put this work together and even played drums on every song as well as writing the originals. A sad codicil to this project is that, since recording, Country Pete and Emery Williams have both passed away.

It starts with Broke Ass Man featuring Mz SuMac (daughter of Craig Horton) on vocals. This soulful, jazzy and even poppy song showcases her formidable range and it is accessible even if it doesn’t catch fire despite two quality sax solos and a neat guitar backline. Funny How Time Slips Away was written by Willie Nelson and is lifted from the original with fine vocals from Aldwin London. It’s another example of soulful singing and sax work and like Broke Ass Man could have been a massive hit when soul ruled the airwaves. Take It Easy is an instrumental featuring one of the unsung pioneers of the lap steel guitar. Freddie Roulette weaves that unique sound in and around a simple backing and engages with a technique you don’t hear very often as he uses some ingenious picking behind the slide work. It’s an enjoyable and inventive tune with the melodies cleverly entwined around the slide. Good Morning Mr. Blues features the 90 plus year old vocalist Nat Bolden who brings a smoky voice to the first real blues number…it shamelessly uses the Stormy Monday phrasing but to very good effect with the guitar and horns in total sync and harmony with the whole thing…the guitar solo is carefully crafted to reflect the mood and is a real treat. Stormy maybe, but it’s still a great slice of slow blues immaculately sung. Some proper R’n’B next as bassist and vocalist James Newman takes centre stage. Hit And Run Lover is slow-ish but the instrumentation behind the quality vocals (especially the guitar and organ) makes this a damn good song. Hurtin’ On You has the passionate vocals of the late Emery Williams Jr to percolate beautifully through this bluesy R’n’B song. Pure soul in the vocal, backed by more sweet guitar make this easy to like, even if not my usual fare. Now That I’ve Gone introduces us to the cousin of the great James Brown; he is obviously as modest as his cousin as ‘Mr. Excitement’ Del Brown delivers more slow soul with a hint of blues blowing through the backing. He has a powerful voice but has a vibrato that can be wearing as he pours everything into this ballad. Red Tide is the second instrumental and has Freddie Roulette back on lap steel…this time he sounds like a man possessed as he uses the slide at the bridge and makes some fascinating sounds that do genuinely add to this neat little tune. Cold In The Streets brings Gerald McClendon to the front…known as “The Soulkeeper” apparently, his smoky vocals are suited to yet another cleverly constructed slow soul song. It does have a suspect line or two (“cold in the streets but hot in the sheets”) but it does become a telling story and is pinned by a superb bass line that needs listening to and a classy guitar solo. Me And My Guitar brings back James Newman for a song about the guitar from a less common perspective. It, of course, has plenty of guitar to revel in with picky and slipped chords aplenty to enjoy and a truly inventive solo. Time Slippin’ Away has modest Mr Excitement del Brown back on vocals over this somewhat introspective R’n’B piece. The bass is the best bit with a lovely tone and phrasing and the guitar also bringing in some neat punctuations. Country Pete McGill is next and the late bass player and singer contributes to Hoochie Coochie Mama who apparently is likely to shoot you if you play with her feet! It is actually a standard blues with lap steel and is a brilliant update on the male version of this song…this is huge fun and the backing is flawless with a lap steel solo that has to heard to be believed as Freddie throws convention out of the window. The final track, Mama Don’t Weep, is Emery Williams Jr again and brings us a soulful, gospel-tinged song that resonates.

To my way of thinking, this more a soul battle than a blues one: the quality, however, is uniformly high and there is much to enjoy even if it isn’t a collection I will seek out that often. Should any come up on shuffle, they will be welcomed and enjoyed and I wish the surviving artists every success they so obviously deserve.

(The run on track on my iPod on this occasion was the title track from Deep Purple’s unjustly criticised ’93 reformation The Battle Rages On…a very fine album with an unacknowledged classic in the form of Anya…a powerful song on many levels and after whom I named one of my Westies.)

SEVENpawprint half inchdoodle paws out of TEN …

Track listing and featured artist:

  1. Broke Ass Man – Mz SuMac (vocals)
  2. Funny How Time Slips Away (Willie Nelson) – Aldwin London (bass, vocals)
  3. Take It Easy – Freddie Roulette (lap steel guitar)
  4. Good Morning Mr Blues – Nat Bolden (vocals)
  5. Hit And Run Lover – – James Newman (vocals)
  6. Hurtin’ On You – Emery Williams Jr (vocals)
  7. Now That I’ve Gone – Mr Excitement Del Brown (vocals)
  8. Red Tide – Freddie Roulette
  9. Cold In The Streets – Gerald McClendon (vocals)
  10. Me And My Guiatr – James Newman
  11. Time Slippin’ Away – Mr Excitement Del Brown
  12. Hootchie Coochie Mama – Country Pete McGill (bass, vocals)
  13. Mama Don’t Weep – Emery Williams J

Musicians:

Twist Turner: drums

John Brumbach: saxophone

Rusty Zinn: guitar

Mark Wydra: guitar

Art Love: bass

Skinny Williams: saxophone

Leon Allen: trumpet

Norman Palm: trombone

Chris Burns: piano, organ

(There may be others who I haven’t credited due to lack of info – if so, my apologies)

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