Los Angeles pianist/composer Connie Han is barely 23 but her Crime Zone debut (Mack Avenue Records) cannot be ignored. With a sax/trumpet frontline and a blistering drums/bass rhythm section, Han’s hands hold the key, actually all 88 keys, as she glides effortlessly through a sophisticated yet spectacular adventure with nods along the way to Freddie Hubbard, Blade Runner, Japanese anime, Elvin Jones, Herbie Hancock, Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. In other words, at this point, she’s still a brilliant chameleon.
Hippest Calendar Ever
The 2019 Blues Images calendar, the one with classic 78 RPM record ads from the ‘20s and ‘30s — like the one on this year’s cover advertising “Piney Woods Money Mama” by Blind Lemon Jefferson (1928) — is the hippest calendar on the market today. Where else can you know when Blind Leroy Garnett died in 1933 (Jan. 3) or when Frankie “Half-Pint” Jaxon was born in 1895 (Feb. 3)? Each month has another classic ad and each calendar comes complete with a CD of just under 80 minutes (or 23 songs). This installment includes classics by Memphis Minnie, Blind Blake, The Beale Street Sheiks and Charley Patton. Two songs — Papa Lightfoot’s “Winding Ball Mama” and “Snake Hipping Daddy” — are so rare that you’d have to spend thousands to find a clean copy devoid of skips. But that’s the job of John Tefteller of Tefteller’s World’s Rarest Records who consistently roams the world to haunt flea markets and private collections for that oh-so-rare record. He’s now partnered with the folks who brought you that amazing PBS special American Epic whose new scientific clean-ups have miraculously obliterated most of the surface noise usually associated with pre-war blues records. For more information, go to bluesimages.com.
Chucho…Son Of Bebo
Jazz Bata 2 (Mack Avenue Music Group) by pianist/composer Chucho Valdes, 77, continues where his 1972 Jazz Bata left off. It’s a stunning set with no drum kit, only piano, double bass, vocals, percussion and the exquisite sound of the bata (a sacred hourglass-shaped drum from the Yoruba religion in Cuba). Recorded in The Garden State, with deeeeeep West African classical as well as avant-garde, bolero, Afro-Cuban and impressionist jazz-jams, it marks the centennial of the pianist’s father Bebo Valdes, still, five years after his death, a pioneering force in modern Cuban music. The addition of sterling violinist Regina Carter on “Ochun” (a Haitian merengue) and “100 Anos de Bebo” (a distinct mambo) is the icing on this delicious cake.
First Time On CD
I remember discovering Lee Michaels when I was 20 years old in 1971. “Do You Know What I Mean” was all over the nascent FM Radio format of deeper cuts and longer songs (another staple back then was the 13-minute “Endless Tunnel” by San Francisco hippie band Serpent Power; I miss those days). Michaels was unique: an early rock proponent of the splashy Hammond B-3 organ, he’d open concerts for almost everybody with just his trusty drummer Frosty. After a seven-album A&M run, he signed to Columbia where Tailface first surfaced in ‘74. By that time, I was married and forgot about him. Until now.
Tailface (Manifesto Records), now available for the first time on CD, instantly brought me back to those halcyon days of youth, freedom, pot, girls galore and no health problems. Digitally remastered, it sounds great! Seven songs — one better than the next — written, produced, sung and played by Michaels on guitar and keyboards with Frosty on drums and Rank Frank on bass. Although I never realized it at the time, Michaels was a soul singer and, man, his brand of what they used to call “blue-eyed soul” has certainly stood the test of time. Highlights include “Garbage Gourmet” and “Roochie Toochie Loochie.” (Manifesto has also released the CD debut of Lee’s Nice Day For Something, from ‘73.)
Nowadays, Mike Zito, 48, is acknowledged as a tried ‘n’ true blues-rock icon (Gone To Texas, in 2014, is his masterpiece). We almost lost him to alcoholism but starting Royal Southern Brotherhood in 2010 with Devon Allman and Cyril Neville helped save his life. In 1998, though, he was a rough ‘n’ tumble 27-year-old guitar slinger out of St. Louis with this Blue Room debut that had him totally shredding on lead guitar and covering Elton John’s “Rocket Man” (left off the original release). Ruf Records has re-released it for its 20th anniversary and it shows a wild ‘n’ wooly star-in-the-making feeling his oats and bashing out a brand of pure punk-rock blues.
Speaking Of Punk…
If Amy Winehouse and Little Richard had a baby, it would grow up to be Canadian red hot blues mama/vocalist/drummer/composer/producer/bandleader Lindsay Beaver, 33 (now residing in Austin Texas). After 15 years of toiling in the trenches, she finally signed her big-time deal with Chicago’s Alligator Records where, on her debut, she’s Tough as Love. She wrote 7 of 12, her covers (including under-the-radar gems by Little Willie John and Art Neville) rock. Her touring band is here in all their ragged glory. New Orleans stalwart Marcia Ball tickles the ivories on two tracks. If her sound is reminiscent of late ‘50s/early ‘60s deep south beer halls, her presentation is pure punk. She’ll be on the 2019 road and, man, this is one bad-ass bitch I would pay and travel to see.
Singer/Songwriter/Guitarist/Percussionist/Producer Ruth Wyand is a Tribe Of One on her self-released 14-track manifesto of the solo blues. Like one-man bands throughout history (starting in the 1400s), the woman from Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina has an intricate acoustic guitar style in the “Piedmont” tradition of the Rev. Gary Davis, Elizabeth Cotton, Blind Boy Fuller, Brownie McGhee and, more recently, Jorma Kaukonen, wherein she alternates her complex fingerpicking with her thumb as bass. She also burns on bottleneck slide, multiple foot drums and scorched-earth vocals. She wrote 11 and covers Dylan (“Blind Willie McTell”), Hendrix (“Little Wing”) and Etta Baker (“Mint Julep”). Highly Recommended.
No Drums, No Bass
I was 13 in 1964 when I somehow latched on to an album called Lots More Blues, Rags & Hollers by Koerner, Ray and Glover. It was an intimate acoustic affair that got me started on a lifetime of loving the blues. There really hasn’t been an album since that approximated the organic approach of those three. Until now. Journeys To The Heart Of The Blues (Alligator) by Joe Louis Walker, Bruce Katz and Giles Robson strips the blues down to its essential purity. With classic songs by Sonny Boy Williamson, Jazz Gillum, Smiley Lewis, Papa Lightfoot, Big Maceo and others, it’s a piano/guitar/harmonica party with guitarist Walker’s soulful vocals carrying the album. Walker, 69, is from San Francisco and has released 23 albums in 32 years. Katz, 66, from New York City, was in Gregg Allman’s band and has nine of his own albums. British harmonicat Robson, 40, can blow with the best of ‘em. Together, according to Robson, “it’s blues played intimately, and at a low volume, and with the wonderful space that is created when drums and bass are taken out of the equation.” This, then, is the real deal.