304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
304 North Cardinal St.
Dorchester Center, MA 02124
Bluesdoodles rating: 4 Doodle Paws – a wonderful album full of supreme blues interpretation, including the ‘pop’ songs; few artists try to imbue their covers with the definitive spirit of the age in which they were conceived, but Howell and co. most certainly do, and they do it brilliantly.
Steve Howell is no stranger to the pages of Bluesdoodles, and I’d particularly recommend his album from 2018 to you…Steve Howell and The Mighty Men. On that release, Steve has chosen some true classics all of which are firmly rooted in the rural acoustic blues and traditional jazz of the American South. As I said last time, I would call Howell a musical historian as he obviously has a wealth of knowledge about the birth and development of the blues, and he uses this to carefully select the songs he is going to interpret. So settle back for this latest release, Been Here And Gone, and prepare for some clever translations of jazz, country blues, blues, and traditional songs from times long past that can still teach us a thing or two about music and, indeed, about life. Plus, there are a couple of pop songs for good measure.
It all starts with a rather surprising inclusion of a song written in the 60s by Billy Page for Dobie Gray, but perhaps known best from the version by Bryan Ferry…although I much prefer the Ramsey Lewis Trio’s instrumental version: until now. Steve also takes an instrumental approach, slows it down and turns it into a laconic and enthralling interpretation. The guitar certainly sings the lyrics with sensitivity, the more solo sections are a delight and the drums and bass are simple and clever. Bad Boy was written by Lil Armstrong (Louis second wife) and Avon Long and released in 1936 as Brown Gal…it was refigured by numerous artists over the years (Ringo Starr, Mink Deville) and Steve combines both eras in a fascinating way…it is bluesy jazz, slow and smoky with layers of gentle, intelligent chord work on the guitars and a jazz toned blues solo that is (again) simple, clever and so in tune with the original song.
Candyman is not any of the versions that tend to spring to mind…mercifully. This is another example of Steve’s encyclopaedic blues knowledge as he takes a lost in the mists of time song (although often credited to Rev Gary Davis or to Mississippi John Hurt) the original has to be classed as “Traditional” and adapted by the subsequent writers. This version is a bit Rev Davis but a whole lot Steve and the Mighty Men. It has the instant feel of the time and yet this Candyman is a salty dog, and Santa Claus…it delivers with empathy and beautifully layered backing. I Believe To My Soul is from the pen of Ray Charles in 1959, although I know it from Humble Pie’s excellent reading. Steve takes a more lugubrious, nigh on heavy blues approach and it fits perfectly with the lyrics and stands up to the more aggressive versions. He also inserts three (short) picked to perfection guitar solos.
Such A Night was written by Lincoln Chase who wrote many songs in the 50s: this one was first released by The Drifters (when they were ‘fronted’ by Clive McPhatter) and also covered by some bloke called Elvis! It has since been murdered numerous times, but not this time…Steve and Co give it a new lease of life with deft instrumentation with a hint of Scotty Moore in the ‘attack’ and great vocal delivery too. La La Means I Love You by Thom Bell and William Hart and released by The Delfonics in 1967 is the basis for this version, although Prince did make a decent version too. Here it is an instrumental interpretation of skill with semi-acoustic guitar taking the verses nicely and lulling you sweetly. The electric solo is as wide-ranging on the neck as it is inventive.
Next up is the very British Ferry Cross The Mersey by Gerry Marsden (and his Pacemakers). This is another oft-covered song that I’ve tended to avoid, apart from The Stool Pigeons’ electric guitar instrumental version with an adapted title of ‘Gerry Cross The Mersey’ on an album of the same name. Steve does an instrumental take too: it has every element of Gerry’s but builds extra pathos with the various guitars that speak such volumes…electric, acoustic and, I think, baritone make for a song I’ve never fully appreciated until now. Jimmy Bell was written by William ‘Cat Iron’ Carradine and I had only heard it once (and I mean once) before when a cover of it turned up on the Stoney and Meatloaf album. Thankfully, Steve plays to the earlier recipes and, don’t be surprised if the chord patterns sound a tiny bit like the first track…it’s still very different, bluesy and swampy with lots of guitar layers to pare apart on each listen.
Black Is Black was written in 1966 by Michelle Grainger, Steve Wadey and Tony Hayes for Los Bravos. This instrumental is bright and captures the time beautifully…I now know where the writer for the theme tune to Joe 90 got the inspiration: listen to the intro! After that, it is a faithful and intriguing reading of the pop classic with so much to enjoy from the clever backing guitars to the Hank like tremolo work on the lead. Wild Bill Jones is another “Traditional”: an Appalachian tale of murder and intrigue first laid down in 1924 by Eva Davis. I’ve only heard this once on a version by the unbelievably named The Knob Lick Upper Ten Thousand who was a bluegrass trio in the early 60s…yes, really! Some neat acoustic work as the past is recreated in lyrical vocals and guitar strings. It’s more country blues than bluegrass here and reverb-ed electric backs the acoustic nicely. One of my all time blues heroes (along with Son House) is the great Big Bill Broonzy: he wrote Willie Mae (with ‘Blues’ appended) in 1951 and it has appeared in various forms over the years. Steve brings in bass and guitars but otherwise stays faithful and does the song the justice it deserves…it wouldn’t be Steve however if he didn’t make his own mark: the electric ‘power’ chords come as a surprise on the first listen but after a few run throughs, it makes perfect sense and adds drama to a great song.
Walk Don’t Run is an instrumental composition written and released by jazz guitarist Johnny Smith in 1954, and made most famous by the Ventures in 1960…although their version was probably more inspired by the Chet Atkins cover a few years earlier. Steve gives it a faithful polish to keep the art of the guitar instrumental alive and flourishing.
Once again we have an album from Steve full of supreme blues interpretation, including the ‘pop’ songs; few artists try to imbue their covers with the definitive spirit of the age in which they were conceived, but Howell and co. most certainly do, and they do it brilliantly. It is an album of education and discovery and deserves a listen.
The ‘In’ Crowd (Billy Page)
Bad Boy (Lil Armstrong/Avon Long)
I Believe To My Soul (Ray Charles)
Such A Night (Lincoln Chase)
La La Means I Love You (Thom Bell/William Hart)
Ferry Cross The Mersey (Gerry Marsden)
Jimmy Bell (William ‘Cat Iron’ Carradine)
Black Is Black (Los Bravos)
Wild Bill Jones
Willie Mae (Big Bill Broonzy)
Walk Don’t Run (Johnny Smith)
Steve Howell: vocals, guitars
Chris Michaels: electric guitar
Dave Hoffpauir: drums
Jason Weinheimer: bass, organ
(After more delights from Mr Howell, iTunes moved on to Steve Hunter. This Steve is one of those guitarists you have heard even if you haven’t heard of him…he’s on five Alice Cooper albums, he worked with Lou Reed, Aerosmith, Jack Bruce and more. This track is a solo cover of the Albert King song, Night Stomp, and he does it proud.)