Since 2005 Ruf Records of Germany has been putting together a traveling revue featuring musicians signed to their label and touring them through Europe and North America. This year's version of what they call The Blues Caravan, Blues Caravan 2008, features three women; two established performers, Candye Kane and Deborah Coleman, accompanied by one of their new discoveries, British guitarist Dani Wilde
On January 27th 2008, the three women were recorded live in Bonn Germany and that concert has now been released as a CD Blues Caravan 2008: Guitars & Feathers. The guitars in the title are a reference to Dani Wilde's and Deborah Coleman's guitar playing ability, while the feathers are… well… that's Candye Kane. Aside from being a reference to Candye's last release on Ruf Records, Guitar'd and Feathered, it also refers to Candye's larger than life personality and the fact that she does have a thing for feather boas.
(As of this writing Candye Kane is in recovery from Pancreatic Cancer – the kind that can be dealt with through surgery – and is actually well enough to be talking about a return to performing this July. She had been diagnosed sometime shortly after this concert, and in all probability this could have been one of the last shows she gave before her surgery. As a musician she, of course, had no insurance that would cover the majority of her medical bills, but thankfully the blues community rallied around her and were able to raise sufficient funds through concerts and individual donations that it appears she won't have debt to deal with as well as recovering from surgery. For those who'd like to keep up to date on how she's doing, she posts on a regular basis to a special page on her web site)
Unlike previous Blues Caravan recordings where the three performers have worked together, this one was set up as three mini concerts, with the three women coming together to cover Ray Charles' "Won't Leave", to open and again at the end for a finale. First up is Dani Wilde who performs four original tunes. The Brits seem to have a factory that produces high quality, high energy, electric blues guitarists, and Dani is the latest model. Britain has never been known for mass production like the States, instead of millions of family cars coming off the line, they are better known for luxury sedans like the Rolls Royce. The same thing seems to apply to their guitar players.
Like her predecessors Dani plays with both elegance and power and an understanding that while speed is important, it's also important to hear every note. While its hard to make a definitive judgment on someone's playing after only hearing them for four songs, Dani is definitely more than just another guitar hero(ine). She plays with a passion and commitment that belies her years, and the fact that she felt assured enough to play her own compositions on this night says a lot for her self-confidence. This also comes across in her vocals, for although her range is limited, she sings with a clarity and expression that many vocalists with more experience lack.
As far a vocals go, there are few around these days who can compare to Candye Kane when it comes to power and expression. While there are a lot of big voiced women out there, and women who have a larger range than Candye, there are very few who can do as much with their voices as she can. Not since Mae West has there been a woman who can put so much innuendo into her voice. Unlike many people with large voices though, Candye doesn't just attack her songs and try to bluster her way through them. At the same time she doesn't try and milk them for emotion that isn't there like far too many of today's pop divas. Instead she gives as a true a reading of a lyric's meaning as possible, while always remembering her purpose on stage is to entertain those listening.
While Candye Kane is a hard act to follow, Deborah Coleman doesn't have any trouble grabbing an audience's ear. While Dani Wilde is a talented player, Deborah Coleman's playing shows what experience adds to someone's guitar work. There's an intangible quality to her playing that says, "this is a blues woman" that can only be achieved from a combination of life experience and years of playing. I talked earlier about the history of British blues guitarists, but that pales in comparison to the history that's evoked by Deborah's singing and playing.
That's a point driven home firmly by her version of Willie Dixon's "Whole Lotta Love". While Led Zeppelin might have made a name for themselves covering it as a hard rock number, Deborah's version reminds us where it came from. Instead of pummeling the listener into submission with volume, she digs deep into the emotions of the song and makes it real. There's an authenticity to Deborah's playing that makes her performance live long after she's done on stage; she brings the blues to life in a way that few other performers, male or female, can.
Ruf records' Blues Caravan recordings have provided showcases for their talent in the past, and has proven to be a great vehicle for exposing an audience to a variety of blues styles in one package. Blues Caravan: Guitars & Feathers is no exception as its an opportunity to hear three very unique women performing their music on one great disc.