Did you ever break into a big smile, or laugh out loud while listening to the blues? The first time I heard B.B.King sing “How Blue Can You Get?” it happened to me. It is still one of my favorite blues songs and I enjoy covers of it by other artists, always anticipating the punch line. “Crawlin’ King Snake” did it for me the other day. It’s the first track on Volume 3 of This is the Blues, a continuation of a salute to the blues by Eagle Rock Entertainment.
Pete Brown produced three tribute albums (Clarksdale to Heaven: Remembering John Lee Hooker, Knights of the Blues Table, and Rattlesnake Guitar: Music of Peter Green) back in the ’90s and several of the choice tracks appear in this collection. Homage is also paid to Robert Johnson, T-Bone Walker, and Willie Dixon among others. Getting in on the action with the tributes are such artists as Jeff Beck, Jack Bruce, Miller Anderson, Arthur Brown, Gary Brooker, and the Kingdom Gospel Choir.
There are songs on each volume that I first heard when I was about 17 years old — by Eric Burdon and the Animals. “Please Don’t Let Me be Misunderstood” is covered on Vol. 4 by Miller Anderson, a Houston native who now hales from the UK and is a veteran of the Spencer Davis Group. His acoustic version, a plaintive cry of soulful desperation, reminded me of Richie Havens singing “Freedom” at Woodstock. Anderson’s track could stand alone as the title track of this set because “This is the Blues!” It segues into a version of “Oh Well” that begins with a bongo beat reminiscent of the original “Sympathy for the Devil” by the Rolling Stones and includes Billy Sheehan, Roy Z, and others.
The other song I associate with the Animals is “I’m Mad” and is actually a variation of John Lee Hooker’s “Bad Like Jessie James”. It is the third track on Vol. 3 and is performed by LLC (Leo Lyons, Ric Lee, and Vince Converse).
Vince Converse on guitar and vocals brings a new energy and edge to this classic while enthusiastically displaying Hooker’s influence. Several of his guitar fills evoke fond memories of Jimi Hendrix, and Converse takes full advantage of the opportunity to improvise lyrics.
Speaking of lyrics, well, some of these tracks have some great stuff! “Let me be your little dog/Till your big dog comes/When your big dog gets here/Show him what your other dog done!” Even the titles are thought-provoking and interesting: “Little Red Rooster,” “Little Wheel,” “I’ve Got News for You,” “Hellbound on My Trail,” and “Fool No More.”
“Tribute” and “collection” albums often yield unexpected surprises filled with irony and brilliant performances. This is the Blues Volumes 3 & 4 lives up to those expectations. Knowledgeable music fans will be pleased to see familiar names in the credits and enjoy the covers they’ve chosen. Well known groups such as Humble Pie, Procol Harem, Thin Lizzie, Jethro Tull, and the Yardbirds are represented as are others.
One of the more surprising tracks for this reviewer was “Will the Circle be Unbroken” — not my idea of a traditional inclusion in the blues genre. We live in the mountains of Western North Carolina and are most accustomed to hearing this song done by either gospel, country/western, or bluegrass groups. This hybrid cover includes Jeff Beck on guitar, Siggi Josiah and Earl Green doing the vocals backed up by the Kingdom Gospel Choir. It’s impossible to sit still when this track comes on, so stand up, start clapping with the music, smile and sing along. You may never listen to the blues from the same point of view again!