Hollywood Fats/Blue Flames

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Hollywood Fats/Blue Flames

Postby blueswriter » Tue Aug 03, 2010 8:33 pm

Rolling along, here's another new review for readers to peruse and soon purchase. ;)

Hollywood Blue Flames
Deep In America
Delta Groove (2010) DGPCD136


26 tracks, 2 CDs, 116 minutes. Highly recommended. Deep In America from the Hollywood Blue Flames now marks the fourth recording project which gathers together the remaining four members of the now-legendary Hollywood Fats Band. While it’s sad and disappointing that Hollywood Fats (real name Michael Mann) isn’t around (he died of a drug overdose in 1986) to reap the benefits of the cult status his band acquired over the years, Big Al Blake, Fred Kaplan, Larry Taylor and Richard Innes are carrying on the legacy, on this project with Junior Watson and Kirk Fletcher. This issue is also the second release from the Delta Groove label that contains rare and original ‘live’ recordings of Fats and the boys from thirty-plus years ago.

The first disc contains new recordings from the Blue Flames with guitar chores split about evenly between Junior Watson and Kirk Fletcher - Watson plays on five with Fletcher on four. Big Al Blake’s vocal style isn’t quite like anyone else singing blues today; he’s got a unique way of phrasing that helps him sound like a combination of tongue-twisted hipster and old man, and his harp playing is a treat to take in. His tone, whether amplified or acoustic, is thick and rich. Four of the tracks on disc one (Rambler & A Rollin’ Stone/Leavin’ California/Jalopy To Drive/Hip Hoppin’ Toad) first appeared on Mr. Blake’s Blues (in 1997), which was the first official recorded reunion of the remaining members of the Fats outfit. National Enquirer Baby and Nit Wit were on the Blue Flames’ first Delta Groove effort, Soul Sanctuary in 2005, with Fletcher. Watson’s an incredible guitarist whose playing is equally brilliant as it is bizarre. Check his stone blues chops and greasy, understated tone on Blake’s soulful slow blues, Rambler & A Rollin’ Stone and compare it to his slash and burn approach on National Enquirer Baby, a stumbling shuffle. Fletcher's contributions shouldn't be missed either. His tough yet reserved style is out front in Rocky Mountain Blues, He's A Blues Man and more. Blake’s overdriven harp is shown to great effect on Bad Boy Blues and Fly Like The Eagle. Blake also shows his abilities as a country blues guitar player on Hip-Hoppin’ Toad, Music Man and Leavin’ California. Kaplan’s piano is well to the fore on a handful of cuts, especially the pair of instrumentals Crescent City Rock and Hushpuppy. The joined-at-the-hip rhythm section of Larry Taylor and Richard Innes make for sure and steady driving from beginning to end.

Disc two, now the second volume of ‘live’ Hollywood Fats material, was recorded between 1979 and ‘80, and easily shows exactly why the band garnered its long-lasting reputation as perhaps the finest purveyors of genuine West Coast blues during their heyday. While the sonic quality of this historic material is somewhat less than perfect, the importance of these recordings simply can’t be overestimated. The Hollywood Fats Band recorded only one album (which was later reissued in CD form on numerous labels with bonus material), but every release seemed all too short-lived and quickly went out of print. Fats was an absolute genius, and his abilities as a smoldering guitar player are everywhere on the ‘live’ recordings. Witness the standout six-string trail Mann blazes during Nit Wit. He also plays the perfect foil for Blake’s harp and vocals on She’s Dynamite, Blue And Lonesome, as well as working seamlessly with Kaplan’s piano throughout a smoking Blues After Hours, the instrumental, Jumpin’ With Duncan or Kansas City, all of which are lengthy tracks. This second disc in the set pushes close to the seventy-minute mark, but there’s no overload or heroics. The dynamics swell and build as often as they whisper - these cats knew then, and still do today, what language and communication is all about. This is vintage, gritty blues which was laid out for drinkers and dancers in sweaty clubs, and it has all the necessary ingredients to make it a true pleasure to listen to.

Whether it’s the newer incarnation going under the banner of the Hollywood Blue Flames, or the original five-piece lineup of the Hollywood Fats Band, the two discs making up Deep In America run as deep as blues can. Grab yourself a copy of this rousing double danger offering and find out what all the ruckus was, and still is, about. Masterful!


© 2010 by Craig Ruskey
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