Today’s VCV is once again inspired by the Blues Power Rankings, the weekly recap of the biggest artists and albums at blues radio stations from around the world. Here is a six-pack of songs to diversify your iPod.
- Otis Taylor – “Hands On Your Stomach”: Talk about diversity! I know many people – one of my best friends, for instance – have a stereotype of what the blues sounds like whenever you mention the idiom. Otis Taylor shatters your illusions of what the blues is and what it can be. Taylor is a shaman on this track, creating music with very deep, traditional roots that when blended don’t result in a composition that sounds like something you would obviously identify as blues. Ghostly imagery and vintage fingerpicking aren’t new, but they sound fresh here combined with Tejano brass accents. There are no instrumental solos or bridges or tortured wails. “Hands On Your Stomach” is a blues song that isn’t.
- Magic Slim & The Teardrops – “Do You Mean It?”: And on the other end of that spectrum is 73-year old Magic Slim, who plays the blues the right way because it’s the only way he knows. Slim is like the AC/DC of the blues; you don’t buy his records to hear him sound like anything but Magic Slim. Yes, his records have mined the same terrain for years, but he’s the only one who lives in that county, and there are times that is the only place you want to visit. “Do You Mean It” is a great little shuffle that seems obvious and simple until you realize there are a lot of starving musicians trying to crack the code to what comes so easily to Slim.
- Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King – “Wishful Thinking”: Bnois King gives a nice, sweet, easy vocal on this tale of unrequited love, but the undisputed star of this song is the evocative slide guitar of Joe Kubek. He doesn’t smoke on this song but rather makes his guitar weep. He doesn’t beat you over the head with excessive noodling and that restraint adds to the power of what and when he plays.
- Karen Lovely – “Blues Ain’t Far Behind”: When we think of musical excess in rock or the blues, we usually think of guitar players who play too damn many notes and think any space in any song must be filled with more testaments to their brilliance. We rarely think of music at all when we think of singers falling in love with themselves, but it has been known to happen, especially in pop and R&B. I bring this up because if I had a voice like Karen Lovely, I’d probably oversing every note and fill every space of every song with something. It might be an extraneous “ooh” or “baby.” She doesn’t do that because she understands how to interpret a song and delivers only what’s needed. “Blues Ain’t Far Behind” is a great showcase of a singer who is both a natural and a pro.
- Moreland & Arbuckle – “Legend Of John Henry”: Moreland & Arbuckle deserve credit for taking a well-known song and bending it to their will until it sounds as much a part of their sound as something they themselves wrote. Moreland eagerly unfurls different guitar sounds and attacks over the course of six minutes, and Arbuckle’s distorted, amplified harp wails while what sounds like some Mark Sandman-inspired bass swerves between the sounds. The legend of John Henry might feel a bit dated in 21st Century America, but this furious collision of modern and traditional sounds makes it compelling.
- “Do The Do” – Tim Woods feat. John Primer: It amazes me John Primer found time to write and record his BMA-nominated album last year because he has been as in demand as a session man in any genre. He cuts songs for another BMA-nominated record last year and has sat in with Mississippi Heat, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, and now Tim Woods. Woods’ Blues Sessions album explores many blues styles but “Do The Do” plays to Primer’s Chicago experience. Woods gives Primer room and he delivers a great solo. It’s not flashy; it’s Chicago.