New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Tag: muddy waters

Edgy, Oldschool Electric Florida Blues From the Wailin’ Wolves

The Wailin’ Wolves come from blues country: deep down in Florida, as Muddy Waters used to sing. They’ve been a mainstay of East Florida roadhouses for years. There’s been some turnover in the band in the wake of the death of co-founder and guitarist Bert Calderon, but they continue to soldier on, and put on an often electrifying, unpredictable show. They’re playing a free outdoor gig at 3 PM on Oct 25 at Fish Camp, a burger joint at 12062 Waterfront Drive on Lake Lamonia in Tallahassee; there’s no cover.

Some blues bands go into the studio and make rushjob albums (Rounder Records was notorious for doing that throughout the 80s and 90s). Not the Wailin’ Wolves. They’ve got more than an hour of frequently feral live audio at their music page, a mix of classics and originals.

The group’s latest lead guitarist, Lenny Widener is the rare blues player who doesn’t waste notes, although he takes a lot of chances: he’s always thisclose to going over the edge, whether with his wah-wah on or just an icy, gritty tone on his Strat.

Frontwoman Brittany Widener is a brassy belter: imagine Susan Tedeschi but with more sass and simmer. Keyboardist Jim Graham holds the group together throughout the solos, and seems just as home playing honkytonk and blues piano in a swinging pocket with bassist Adam Gaffney and drummer Deb Berlinger.

Hit their music page and give a listen to Bert’s Bolero, a haphazard minor-key blues written by Calderon, which sounds like early Santana covering the Doors. Taxi Man, with a sultry vocal from the group’s frontwoman and some wry wah guitar, is another original, which they follow with the slow boogie Help Me. Some choice covers include a careening take of Hey Bartender, an unexpectedly energetic version of The Thrill Is Gone and a growling, upbeat, Stonesy reinvention of the Howlin’ Wolf classic Built For Comfort. This is how people play the blues in the parts of the world where it’s still party music.

For those who might why a New York music blog would suddenly take an interest in places like Tallahassee, or Sioux Falls, that’s because both of those cities have live music. And thanks to a power-mad dictator in the New York state house, New York City has little more than buskers in city parks and jazz groups phoning in sidewalk cafe gigs. Much respect to the people of Sioux Falls and Tallahassee for keeping the arts alive when they’re all but dead in Manhattan.

Rare 1969 Live Recordings From a Hall of Fame Caliber Blues Festival Lineup Now Available on Vinyl

Half a century ago, Michigan blues fan Jim Fishel brought a low-budget analog tape recorder, a handful of cassettes – and a couple of fresh sets of bulky C batteries – to the Ann Arbor Blues Festival. One can only wonder if he was aware just how much history he was going to capture. The highlights of those field recordings have just been released on vinyl for the first time ever on vinyl, in two volumes streaming at Bandcamp. It’s a goldmine of rare and often unusual performances by some of the greatest blues artists of all time.

The sound quailty varies. A handful of numbers – including J. B. Hutto savagely chopping his way through the Elmore James soundalike Too Much Alcohol, and Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins swinging I Wonder Why – are so trebly that when the guitars are cooking, with the reverb all the way up, it’s painful to listen to them at high volume on headphones. But others are surprisingly good quality – digital tweaking is most likely responsible for a surprising amount of bass presence. And many of the performances are amazing. These artists aren’t pandering to a stoned hippie audience – they’re kicking out the jams just like they’d been doing for decades on the chitlin circuit.

Barrelhouse pianist Roosevelt Sykes’ hilarious hokum blues Dirty Mother For Ya – which he proudly recalls recording for Decca Records in 1934 – opens the album. Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup contributes a raw, fresh take of So Glad You’re Mine, just guitar and drums. Junior Wells sends a shout to his blues harp mentor, the late Sonny Boy Williamson, with an expansive performance of Help Me. B.B. King sings a wrenchingly impassioned version of I’ve Got a Mind to Give Up Living after introducing it with a long, unexpectedly upbeat solo.

Mississippi Fred McDowell’s shuffling, twangy slide guitar interpretation of the folk staple John Henry turns out to be more about jaggedly leaping riffage than the story itself. “I plays it different from other folks, you know, I plays it so you can understand it,” he deadpans. Longtime Muddy Waters pianist Pinetop Perkins shows off a punishing left hand in his signature boogie-woogie instrumental.

“The Original Howlin’ Wolf and His Orchestra” get seventeen minutes to seemingly make up a couple of tunes on the spot – and assail an unresponsive sound guy to “Wake up over there!” Hearing the Wolf backed by brass is quite a change, and lead guitarist Hubert Sumlin’s searing solo reminds why he was Jimi Hendrix’ favorite player.

A suave, thirtysomething Otis Rush delivers the elegant Great Migration chronicle So Many Roads. Muddy Waters, in rare form as a showman, tells the crowd he’s going to take them back to the 40s – when he’d run out of a barbershop after a pretty woman on the street – then takes his time with Long Distance Call.

Interestingly, it’s harpist Charlie Musselwhite and band who veer the closest to jazz here, with the jump blues instrumental Moovin’ and Groovin’. T-Bone Walker is all over the place but just as sophisticated throughout a careening, eleven-minute Stormy Monday, then returns to do the same behind Big Mama Thornton’s unleashed wail on Ball and Chain.

Magic Sam turns in one of the night’s most feral numbers with I Feel So Good (I Wanna Boogie). Shirley Griffith’s spare, precise take of Jelly Jelly Blues is the biggest throwback to the old delta style here. One of only two acoustic performances here is from Big Joe Williams, whose high-voltage Juanita strangely doesn’t seem to grab the audience.

Sam Lay’s version of Key to the Highway doesn’t take many chances with the Muddy Waters original. The band follow Lightning Hopkins’ unpredictable changes in Mojo Hand with aplomb; then James Cotton works the dynamics of his blues harp instrumental Off the Wall up and down for fifteen increasingly interminable minutes. The album winds up with Son House prefacing his iconic Death Letter Blues with some oldtime blues history, then giving an impressively shivery treatment, solo on acoustic with his slide.

Obviously, you can’t expect a field recording to be perfect, sonically or otherwise, and this isn’t. Clifton Chenier was every bit as proficient at blues as he was at zydeco, so the cajun ballad Tu M’a Promis is out of place. A pretty pointless Luther Allison interlude is haphazardly edited, and the Big Mojo Ellum tune could have been left on the cutting room floor. The piano goes further and further out of tune, intros and outros get chopped off, there’s audience chitchat and a couple of quaint moments where the tape stops and then restarts. Still, for diehard electric blues fans, this is a must-hear and it’s a great introduction for kids who’re just getting into the music.

Purist Tunesmithing, Classic Playing and a Midtown Album Release Show from Adventures in Bluesland

Phil Gammage’s Adventures in Bluesland play about just as many styles of electric blues as there ever were. If you think that the blues us limited to Robert Johnson and bumpa-bumpa-bumpa 1-4-5 chord chamges, this band’s new album The American Dream makes as good an introduction as any. And for people who’ve spent some time with the blues (hell, that’s pretty much everybody, right?), it’s a reminder why we like the music. The band are playing the album release show on June 10 at 9 PM at Lucille’s Bar, adjacent to B.B. King’s on 42nd St. Cover is $10

For a guy with sizzling guitar chops, Gammage – probably best known as the lead player in long-running postpunks Certain General – doesn’t even take a solo til the fifth track. This album’s more about recreating the ambience of classics from the 50s onward, yet it isn’t reverential. But it is purposeful: there’s no gratuitous Claptonizing, no wanky funkdaddeh fingah-poppin’ bass, no campy fusion keyb solos or brontosaurus drums. The opening track, One Kind Favor – – an alternate version of Blind Lemon Jeffersons’s See That My Grave Is Kept Clean – sets the stage. This one’s a noir blues: Don Fiorino’s keening lapsteel soars tersely over Gammage’s multitracked, lingering, reverbtoned lines, drummer Kevin Toole keeping a steady, ominous pulse with his rimshots.

Creepy in the Woods is a westside Chicago-style groove, with Gammage’s Elvis-like vocals over a backdrop that’s not nearly as creepy as the title imlies. Float and Sting has mmore of a ghoulaiblly feel akin to the darker steuff Sean Kershaw‘s been pouting out lately, with a familiar deep-cut Stones riff driving the bridge. The suave ballad I’m Drifting featires a a simmering, blue-flame Robert Aaron alto sax solo midway through. Booze, Blues and New Tattoos is a Texas boogie, but not the over-the-top ZZ Top kind, Gammage adding some unexpected, spaciously noir-tinged riffage.

With its languid, morose, jazz-infused ambience and mournful foghorn harp, Watching the Traffic Flow might be the strongest number here. Our Lucky Day is just vocals and growling, Stonesy distorted guitar til the first verse is over, while Feel the Music is sort the missing link between Muddy Waters’ version of Sweet Home Chicago and Otis Rush – until a long psychedelic interlude driven by Aaron’s sax.

The second of the cover songs here is Last Kind Word Blues, the band’s only adventure in country blues, and it’s absolutely macabre. By conttrast, Walk on the Beach is an upbeat, Elvis-inspired party number with a searing Fiorino solo and some smoky Aaron sax. The album comes full circle with the noir, bossa-tinged Come to Me. While it’s not officially out yet, the band’s webpage has several tracks streaming along with some excellent live footage and other material.

Cellist Maya Beiser Reinvents Art-Rock and Metal Classics

There’s a little cello metal on Maya Beiser‘s new album Uncovered (streaming online), but most of it is art-rock. Beiser has made a name for herself in the classical and avant garde worlds; this time out, she plays gorgeously reinvented, sometimes ethereal, often otherworldly covers of well-known FM radio rock and blues songs. The new arrangements by Band on a Can All-Stars clarinetist Evan Ziporyn are magical, enabling Beiser to become a one-woman orchestra via lushly layered multitracks, occasionally backed by simple, emphatic bass and drums. She’s playing the album release show at le Poisson Rouge on Sept 4 at 7:30 PM; advance tix are $15 and worth it.

Other than a coy vocal come-on early in the album’s opening track, Led Zep’s Black Dog, the rest of the album is all instrumental. With the other Zep cover, Kashmir, it’s ironic that since Beiser goes easy on the bombast and heavy on the poignancy, the moody faux Egyptian bridge doesn’t carry the impact it does on the original. And where Beiser swoops and dives through Black Dog, she follows a steadily rocketing trajectory through the album’s heaviest number, Back in Black, up to a crescendo that’s just as funny if completely different from the AC/DC version.

There are also a trio of blues tunes. Howlin’ Wolf’s Moanin’ at Midnight gets a hypnotically atmospheric, darkly otherworldly treatment. A remake of Muddy Waters’ Louisiana Blues is much the same but more rhythmic. And Beiser does Summertime as a dirgey, atmospheric waltz, using the Janis Joplin version as a stepping-off point.

But the real gems here are the art-rock songs. Beiser plays the famous series of chords that open Jimi Hendrix’s Little Wing with an unexpected, striking fluidity instead of the punchiness you might expect; later on, she fires off a solo that brings to mind ELO’s Hugh McDowell. The high point of the album is the King Crimson classic Epitaph, a vividly elegaic take featuring Ziporyn’s bass clarinet doing a marvelous mellotron impersonation, Beiser substituting a long, loopy, ominously ambient outro in lieu of Michael Giles’ symphonic drumming on the original. Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here gets much the same treatment, but in reverse: atmospherics to open it, and then an artful cut-and-paste of the song’s central riffs in lieu of the slow segue into Shine on You Crazy Diamond. There’s also a Nirvana cover: Beiser and Ziporyn give it all they’ve got, but ultimately they’re stuck with a tune that never rises above peevishness. Beiser isn’t the first cellist to cover radio rock and metal: Rasputina did that on their covers album over a decade ago, and then there’s Apocalyptica, but this is even better.

People who like this album also ought to check out Sybarite5‘s similarly outside-the-box, playful album of Radiohead songs arranged for string quintet.