It's been way too long since I've contributed any reviews to the forum. That changes starting today, folks. There's a TON of material now well overdue and I'll be adding little by little until I wade through the piles of CDs I've been stumbling over. Enjoy and please stay tuned...
Junior Watson/Fred Kaplan/Bharath Rajakumar
Best Of Three
Exclusive (2010) 1001
16 tracks, 50 minutes. Highly recommended. As disappointing as it may be, blues discs like this simply don’t come along often enough. Why is anyone’s guess, but perhaps it’s because most artists or bands don’t necessarily think “old-school” when it comes to recording new music. With all the technology available and the relative ease of recording a complete CD project with your laptop or desktop computer, why bother finding old-fashioned amps, reel-to-reel tape recorders and microphones, or locating studios or rooms with honest-to-goodness ambiance? What Junior Watson, Fred Kaplan and Bharath Rajakumar accomplish with the Best of Three disc, whether intended or not, is the delivery of a brand new project with natural warmth and a well-honed sense of decades-old style.
Neither Watson nor Kaplan should be strangers to readers since they’ve both got recording pedigrees anyone would envy. Kaplan has become a staple of lowdown blues and uptown boogie-woogie piano since his early days as part of the now-legendary Hollywood Fats Band. Watson has taken part in countless projects as a guitarist in the blues world following his lengthy stint in Rod Piazza‘s Chicago Flying Saucer Band (later becoming the Mighty Flyers). While Bharath Rajakumar might not be a name all that familiar to many around these parts, one listen to this disc (or anything else he’s done in the past) will assure everyone of his abilities as a potent vocalist and powerful harp player. The band is fleshed out by Kedar Roy on upright bass and the forceful, yet restrained rhythmic underpinning from the inestimable Richard Innes on drums.
Junior Watson offers a pair of swinging instrumentals, Bluelake Boogie and Happy Hoppy, and also tackles three numbers with as a vocalist. Watson’s warm, tongue-tied vocal style is showcased well on Let’s Get High, My Lil’ Baby and Straighten Up Baby. For those unfamiliar with Junior’s guitar playing, his zig-zag approach almost defies description, although it can be likened to an almost out-of-control automobile speeding dangerously down a city street. Without hand signals or directionals, Junior’s playing swerves left and right, stops almost without reason or brake lights, and then speeds off before you realize what you’ve witnessed. He’s simply one of the finest guitarists in blues, and his garbled vocal delivery is more than a pleasure for the ears.
Fred Kaplan hands in five riveting piano workouts, all nodding to his varied influences which are as deep as Lake Michigan and as lengthy as the California coastline. Ford 150 rumbles along a swift groove while Attention Please rides atop a comfortable walking rhythm, both offering plenty of two-fisted piano expertise. Crawlin‘ seems to be a nod to Floyd Dixon‘s laid back style while Made In Maceo is an obvious tip of the skimmer to Big Maceo Merriweather with solid left hand bass and rippling right hand flourishes. Kaplan closes out with Fred’s Blues, a lowdown and heartfelt drag. While the heyday of blues piano seems so very distant these days, Kaplan has handed in some seriously enjoyable and refreshing work!
Bharath Rajakumar won’t be a stranger to in-the-know blues aficionados, but it’s also a safe bet that he’s not the most recognized talent here. As a vocalist and harp player, he’s studied long and hard listening to numerous masters from the 1940s and ‘50s. His leadoff track Somebody Else is a stark, slow blues while the thumping Boogie Woogie instrumental is a throwback to Sonny Boy Williamson’s 1951 Trumpet catalog, with unamplified harp riding over a bouncing rhythm. Reelin’ is a storming, fully-amped Chicago-like shuffle that owes a debt to Big Walter Horton, while Little Walter’s Tonight With A Fool sounds almost like a long lost outtake recently found in the vaults. Bharath’s other vocal offering is the hoodoo-influenced Cursed warning of bad luck and trouble, but the disc’s true diamond could easily be the untitled (and hidden) track laced with Junior Wells-like harp, distorted Pat Hare-inspired guitar from Watson and a solo from Kaplan that might have melted the shellac on his piano.
Yes indeed, new recordings like this are very few and far between, and as infrequent as they may be they truly help us realize just how truly communicative the blues language is to those who have taken the time to study its nuances and understand it fully. There’s no fire-scorched guitar, there’s no overblown harmonica heroics and there isn’t a note from any keyboard newer than a 1960s Farfisa organ. This is the real deal stuff, folks; all done ‘live’ with old equipment, without overdubs or recording download programs. This is a limited-edition pressing available on a first-come-first-served basis. When they’re gone, they’re gone. Get yours now by writing to: email@example.com and make sure to tell Fred each of the three full-length CDs by these featured artists are eagerly awaited.
Mitch Kashmar & The Pontiax
100 Miles To Go
Delta Groove (2010) DGPCD140
12 tracks, 49 minutes. Excellent. 100 Miles To Go marks the fourth disc in the Mitch Kashmar catalog in the past five years, and although it appears to be a new offering from the folks at Delta Groove, it’s actually a reissue of a long out-of-print vinyl album by the West Coast harpster recorded with his formidable five-piece band back in 1988. If you’re an avid listener to stripped-down, harmonica-fueled blues with more than a small dose of bristling guitar scattered throughout, this should be right up your alley. Kashmar easily proves that his talents as songwriter, singer and harp player more than two decades ago were all to be reckoned with. Nine of the disc’s dozen tracks were penned by him. There are two solid harp instrumentals, his own Lip Service and William Clarke’s Horn Of Plenty, where Kashmar and the band are joined by Clarke himself. Guitarists Bill Flores and Jon Lawton acquit themselves well on a handful of cuts, including the Slim Harpo-influenced My Kinda Woman and the Little Walter by-way-of Willie Dixon gem, Long As I Have You. The funky Let It All Fall Dead displays Kashmar’s early talents all in full view; the lyrics are balanced and visual, the singing smoky and heartfelt, and his high register harp playing is flawless. There are a pair of new bonus tracks recently recorded by the band showing they can still wrestle these blues around even if they‘re all a little older. Listeners won’t find anything groundbreaking here, but it’s a highly rewarding effort by a frontman and his band who proved their talents night after night up and down the Left Coast almost twenty-five years ago.
Bob Corritore And Friends
Delta Groove (2010) DGPCD139
15 tracks, 59 minutes. Recommended. Bob Corritore is surely no newcomer to the blues world. The opening sentence in the disc’s liner notes make that clear by stating ”Harmonica Blues celebrates forty years since Bob Corritore first picked up a harp.” Living in Chicago in the 1970s meant he was probably at the center of the blues harp universe as well - not a bad place to hob-nob considering who was around then. Since those early days in the Windy City a few decades back, Corritore relocated to Phoenix, AZ, and opened up The Rhythm Room. If you haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, it’s a long-running and highly successful club that has played host to almost every touring blues artist or band you can think of. The list of singers on this CD is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Corritore’s recording itinerary; he’s played with or behind a seemingly endless number of top-shelf stars. The tracks mostly date from the last ten years (1815 West Roosevelt with Eddie Shaw was cut in 1989) and feature past greats like Koko Taylor, Robert Lockwood, Jr., Nappy Brown and Little Milton along with still-living legends; Pinetop Perkins, Honeyboy Edwards, Louisiana Red, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and more. Add Carol Fran, Big Pete Pearson, Chico Chism, Bob Margolin, Kid Ramos, David Maxwell, Bob Stroger and Eddie Taylor, Jr. to the mix and you’ve got a bona-fide top-notch blues disc. In short, there’s a great variety of singers with Corritore’s creatively full-toned harp well to the fore on every track. Don't let that fool you into thinking this disc is only a vehicle for Bob's harmonica flights. He proves without question that he fully understands what being a strong sideman is all about. This one is bound to please no matter where you stand in the blues universe. Hat’s off to the fine folks at Delta Groove for consistently offering some of the best music around!
© 2010 by Craig Ruskey