Blues Fuze, The View At Avalon, Rasky Records
Regional blues bands hail from all over these United States. All too often, such groups become mired in silly retro Chicago nostalgia or else they shamelessly copy Stevie Ray Vaughan. While some of them are pleasant to listen to, itís rare when one discovers a blues band with a unique sound. Such is the case with Blues Fuze, a northern Virginia aggregation that works extensively, covering their home turf, West Virginia, and the competitive Baltimore/DC circuit.
Blues Fuze live up to their name by "fusing" elements of blues, rockabilly, jazz, swing, and R&B into an engaging and satisfying whole. Bassist Robert H. Ray plays a vintage Epiphone standup acoustic "doghouse" for most of the record, laying down a solid, traditional foundation with veteran drummer Bill Mason, whose resume boasts gigs with Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, Ben Webster, and Earl "Fatha" Hines. Mason is a steady influence, who provides lead guitarist Ralph Fortune and singers Linda Heimstra and Pam Seekford the space to work their instrumental and vocal sorcery. Outstanding tracks are the jumping "Rock This House," Sleepy John Estesí lowdown "Floating Bridge," Percy Mayfieldís "The Hunt Is On," Paul Butterfieldís "Born In Chicago" (with Catfish Hodge on guitar and vocals), and Roosevelt Sykesí "Too Smart Too Soon." The catchword here is subtlety ó Blues Fuzeís music feels good, grooves easy, and doesnít smack the listener upside the head with volume or histrionics. The View At Avalon is one of the better releases heard so far this new year.
(Rasky Records, Route 1, Box 67A, Sperryville, VA 22740; 888/200-2253)
Kim Lembo, Ready To Ride, Blue Wave Records
Kim Lembo is a Syracuse-based blues shouter whose third disc walks a fine line between acoustic blues, hard-edged rockers, and the occasional R&B ballad. One can hear traces of Etta James, Janis Joplin, and even Billie Holiday here and there, but Lembo seems to have her own approach and style. She can growl, purr, shout, and testify with the best of them. Check out cuts like the funky "Mean Old Daddy," the sultry "Keep On Loviní Me Baby," the Delta-inspired "Sunday Morning," and the hot shuffle "Love Crazy," with slippery, dirty harp work by Pete McMahon. Savoy Brown guitarist Kim Simmonds adds Dobro to a couple of cuts.
Kim Lembo doesnít screw around. She just sings her tush off. Iím in love again.
(Blue Wave Records, 3221 Perryville Rd., Baldwinsville, NY 13027)
Otis Rush, Any Place Iím Going, House Of Blues Records
Chicago blues veteran Otis Rush has experienced a checkered career. After a few hits in the late fifties, Rush fell victim to some bad breaks, poor business decisions, substance abuse, and a myriad of personal problems. Over the years, he played most frequently in Europe and Asia, where he was accorded superstar status. Then white guitarists like Eric Clapton, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and others began singing Rushís praise, declaring his early work to be groundbreaking, and highly definitive of what has become known as the West Side School of Chicago blues guitar. Rush has always seemed to be possessed by demons beyond his control. In the last few years, his daughter took over management of his career, and now with elder statesman status accorded by the blues world, Rush is back with Any Place Iím Going. This album is a bold, fresh statement and a synthesized effort of what he does best: minor key shuffles, funky grinders, and slow laments, laced with straight ahead lead guitar, and manly, gospel-inspired vocals. Thereís hardly a minute to breathe, as Rush gets down and dirty from start to finish.
Singling out individual tracks just wonít do ó itís all good, so give it up for one of the true masters of Chicago blues guitar, Otis Rush.
Jonny Lang, Wander This World, A&M Records
Guitar god wunderkind Jonny Lang is back with his second disc following his successful 1997 debut. This time, Lang ventures into a more soulful R&B approach mixed with hard rock elements, effectively pushing the blues to the backseat of the bus. While he often comes up a winner here, Lang tries a few vocal tricks that fall flat, and a couple of tunes just donít quite work either. It seems as if this North Dakota native should use a little more care when choosing his material.
Still a teenager, Lang remains one of the hottest, young six-string turks on the scene, and thereís no reason to believe he wonít emerge totally victorious next time.
Delta Wires, Live In San Francisco, Mud Slide Records
Delta Wires originally began as a college research project. This Oakland, California-based nine-man blues and R&B band cooks long and often on this, their first recorded outing. Frontman Ernie Pinata supplies adequate, workmanlike vocals and harp, and lead guitarist Bobby Delgado burns up the frets, backed by a band thatís tighter than a pair of cheap Italian loafers. All in all, Live In San Francisco is a fun recording, but hardly essential.
(Mud Slide Records, PO Box 55150, Hayward, CA 94545)
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