Why if someone was really upset and feeling down would they play music called the Blues? Wouldn't that just make them feel worse, singing about how down they are and all the troubles in their world? Yet, have you ever seen somebody playing the Blues who looks depressed? Hell, it usually looks like they're having the time of their life.
They could be singing lyrics that talk about how many times their woman has cheated on them in the past week, or how the world just keeps getting them down, and all the while they have a huge smile on their face. Of course some of them may not have actually ever experienced anything that makes them seriously Blue, so they're just having a great time playing some wonderful music. But what about somebody who has genuinely suffered at the hands of the world? Why in the world would they want to sing about stuff that will just depress them more?
I've heard a lot of people asked that question, people like B. B. King, Muddy Waters, and Big Bill Brozney who laid the foundations for the Blues we hear today, and they all seemed to be saying roughly the same thing; the emotional release that you get from singing about troubles helps you get over your own. Blues came out of the cotton fields via Southern Baptist churches, where they sang Gospel and Spirituals to help cope with a world that spat on them at every opportunity.
Out in the secular world people needed the same comfort, and that's where the Blues came in. Instead of testifying about the wonders of God to alleviate a wounded soul, they testified to the ongoing troubles of simply getting by. Is it any wonder that so many of the old time Blues musicians sound like they're only a couple of steps removed from the pulpit?
Now if there were ever a man who had a right to complain about the hand that life has dealt him recently it would be Lurrie Bell. Since the beginning of this year he's lost his partner – the mother of his child, photographer Susan Greenberg to illness, and his father, famed Blues harmonica player Carey Bell, to complications from a heart condition and diabetes. Yet instead of wallowing in misery like so many would be tempted too, Lurrie has chosen to celebrate the love he shared with these two very important people in his life.
He has just released his first album on his own Aria B G Records (named for his daughter) and Let's Talk About Love is 12 classic Blues love songs. Matthew Skoller who produced the album, writes in the liner notes that instead of talking about the troubles that have beset him throughout his life, Lurrie wanted to make a record that reflected the love that resided in his heart. With that in mind, they set out to find 12 "chestnuts" (his word not mine) that spoke to Lurrie the loudest. They took three months putting this disc together, getting the right people for the right songs, and making sure everything was just right.
If anybody ever had any questions about the talent of Lurrie Bell as either a guitarist or a vocalist, this album shows that the descriptions of him as one of the masters to be talked about in the same breath as other greats who have come out of Chicago aren't exaggerations. From the first song, title track "Let's Talk About Love" to the final cut on the disc, "Wine Headed Women" Lurrie shows he can handle any type of Blues style that's been invented with style and passion.
One of the other highlights of the disc are some the friends that stopped by to help out. "Earthquake And Hurricane" features the amazing harmonica playing of the great Billy Branch. They first played together years ago in a band made up of second generation Chicago Blues musicians, and they've played behind various other front people together on many occasions since then.
This time they've stepped up to the lead microphones and the results are awesome. The way Billy can make his harmonica work in counter point to Lurrie's voice is just wondrous, playing the high harmonies to Lurrie's alto. They trade solo's, guitar to harmonica, back again, until they finally join together like a meeting between two forces of nature so strong and natural is the sound.
On the very next song, Lurrie switches gears to play a soulful version of Papa Staples' "Why (Am I Treated So Bad)." This is the closest he comes to bemoaning his own fate on the disc, but it's such a glorious example of his great voice and amazing guitar that you can't help but feel lifted up by it.
Since it is a Gospel song encouraging listeners to keep their heads up in spite of everything, it makes sense. But the fact that he can communicate those feelings with the tone of his voice and the notes he plays on his guitar even while asking why he was treated so bad, is testament to what a glorious talent he brings to the table.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that his guitar work is the type I personally prefer over most other kinds. Lurrie would rather put his heart into one note, instead of playing 20 just for show in the same space of time. That doesn't mean he can't burn up a fret board when it's called for, but he doesn't have to do it on every song, or even worse every lead. He doesn't try and make the song fit his guitar lead, instead he makes his leads fit what the song needs to make it that much better.
Lurrie isn't a shouter when it comes to his vocals, instead as a singer he seems to have more in common with jazz vocalists than with a lot of Blues singers. Maybe it's his phrasing that distinguishes him, the way he carefully ensures that each word is distinct no mater how fast or passionate he gets. Or perhaps its that even through your stereo you can feel how important it is for him to communicate the deeper meanings behind each song; the feelings the lyrics generate in his heart.
Lurrie Bell had every excuse in the world for either never making music again, or recording an album of songs that talked about all he's lost in recent days. Instead with Lets Talk About Love he's created a work that celebrates the love with which he was blessed. Not only is this a CD of great music, it is also an expression of love from an extremely brave man honoring the two people who meant most to him in the world and who he lost within months of each other.
Let's Talk About Love and Lurrie Bell are truly inspiring, artistically and personally. Its not often that popular music can transcend personal tragedy with dignity and sincerity, but Lurrie Bell has done just that; what an amazing accomplishment.