Saturday, 23 February 2019

A Complete Introduction To Chess


This is a truly wonderful, invigorating, life-affirming compilation from the now defunct Chess Records, launched by Chicago brothers Leonard and Phil Chess in the late nineteen forties. The label was responsible for bringing to the world the sound of blues, early rock 'n' roll, original r 'n' b, some jazz and soul too. Artists such as Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, Willie Dixon were introduced to the world and notably to the young Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones, of course, and all the many UK blues-influenced bands like The Yardbirds, The Animals, The Kinks, Fleetwood Mac, John Mayall's Blues Breakers, Eric Clapton and many more. Then, lest we forget, there was Chess's biggest artist, the legendary Chuck Berry, who inspired so many.

The box set covers 4 CDs. They cover the development of the label, its artists and changing musical trends.

CD 1

This is a CD full of early blues material plus some ground-breaking early rock 'n' roll numbers. There is a case for 1951's "Rocket '88" by Jackie Brenston And His Delta Cats being the first true rock'n'roll record, (but many plead the case of 1949's "Rock Awhile" by Goree Carter). Chuck Berry's 1956 offering "Maybelline" pre-dated any Elvis rock 'n' roll recordings. Then there is the intoxicating rhythm of Bo Diddley's self-titled track. Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" was subsequently covered by Elvis. Thereafter it is blues all the way with iconic numbers such as Bo Diddley's "I'm A Man", Elmore James' "Dust My Broom", Muddy Waters' "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Mannish Boy". Stuff like this would provide The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton and many pub bluesers with covers for decades.

CD 2

This kicks off with Chuck Berry's rocking "Rock 'n' Roll Music". The classics come thick and fast now - Jimmy McCracklin's quirky, infectious "The Walk", Howlin' Wolf's totally iconic "Smokestack Lightnin'", Berry's "Johnny B. Goode", Dale Hawkins' "Susie Q", Etta James' magnificent "I Just Wanna Make Love To You" and Howlin' Wolf's "The Red Rooster". The Stones used the latter for "Little Red Rooster". Some really good cuts on here. There is also some rock 'n' roll- style doo-wop soul in Harvey & The Moonglows' "Ten Commandments Of Love" and some jazzy, swing in "(I Don't Know Why I Love You) But I Do" by Clarence "Frogman" Henry.

CD 3

Here we have Chess beginning to delve into soul, with numbers like "Rescue Me" by Fontella Bass, the Northern Soul classic "Landslide" by Tony Clarke and also jazzy material like "Wade In The Water" and "The In Crowd" by The Ramsey Lewis Trio. These two also became Northern Soul floor-fillers. Chuck Berry contributes two stonking rockers on this disc in "The Promised Land" and "No Particular Place To Go".

CD 4

Some copper-bottomed blues still finds its way on to the final disc - the lively "Wang Dang Doodle" by Koko Taylor and "I'd Rather Go Blind" by Etta James. Gritty, urban "blaxploitation" soul/funk arrives for the first time now in the shape of the marvellous, evocative "Woman Of the Ghetto" by Marlena Shaw. There is classic soul like Solomon Burke's "Let Me Wrap My Arms Around You" and Irma Thomas's "Good To Me". We also get some novelty recordings in the infuriatingly singalong "Here Comes The Judge" by Pigmeat Markham and Chuck Berry's "My Ding-A-Ling". The less said about that one, the better. Other than it is the only duff track in one hundred of them.


Friday, 22 February 2019

Amy Rigby - Til The Wheels Fall Off (2003)


Released April 2003

Amy Rigby sings wry, witty, guitar-driven country rock. She far is less earnest than Mary Chapin Carpenter and more cynically world-weary than Lucinda Williams, but she has that strong woman but angst-ridden thing that so many contemporary female country rock singers have. Some of her songs are amusingly observational which renders her more unique in this respect than many of her peers.


1. Why Do I
2. Til The Wheels Fall Off
3. Shopping Around
4. Don't Ever Change
5. Are We Ever Going To Have Sex Again?
6. The Deal
7. O'Hare
8. How People Are
9. Even The Weak Survive
10. Last Request
11. Here We Go Again
12. Breakup Boots
13. Believe In You
14. All The Way To Heaven

"Why Do I", after a low-key intro, burst out into a powerful, bassy, rocky number, with, for me, echoes of country singer Tish Hinojosa in the vocal delivery. It has a nice jangly guitar backing too. "Til The Wheels Fall Off" is a livewire Elvis Costello & the Attractions-influenced, organ-driven rocker. It has some excellent guitar and brass on it as well. "Shopping Around" has a plaintive vocal over an acoustic and thumping drum backing. These first three tracks have been all upbeat and punchy, however, the album gets slightly more quieter in tone from now on. This starts with the gentle, acoustic "Don't Ever Change". It is a rather moving and sincere song sung by Rigby to her daughter. Underpinning the song is a delicious little bass line. Quite appropriate for a lovely song.

"Are We Ever Going To Have Sex Again?" is the album's best known track, no doubt due to its up front subject matter and its honestly expressed and amusing lines. It will surely strike a chord with many people. "We used to be triple x rated - look at us now, so domesticated...". Great line. It has some bluesy guitar backing it up. "The Deal" is a jaunty, quirky sort of Paul McCartney-esque number, with a few vague Beach Boys early seventies airs about it too. It features some oddball synthesiser at the end. "O'Hare" is a bleak but melodic rock ballad-style track with a convincing, annoyed-sounding vocal from Amy and a killer mid-song guitar solo. It is a song that begs repeated listens. Each time you hear it, it sounds better, as indeed does the album.

"How People Are" is a quiet, acoustic song with echoes of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush in places.  Half way through it benefits from a brush drum, jazzy interjection. It is a serious, reflective track. "Even The Weak Survive" is another Elvis Costello-influenced track, this time in its slow, stately beat. The vocal is excellent and the song has, once again, a growing appeal to it. "Last Request" is a short, sharp, powerful, crashing rock number, full of riffs and shredding guitar lines. It finishes a bit too soon, only two minutes in. "Here We Go Again" has spoken vocals on the verses and an addictive, shuffling rhythm. It is another example of the different types of song contained on here.

"Breakup Boots" is more of a traditional-ish sort of country song about putting on her breakup boots, unsurprisingly. "Believe in You", apparently, is a tribute to George Harrison. It is a worthy one, too, full of psychedelic sounds and Eastern bits. Of course, it is Beatles-esque. The final track is the quiet, evocative "All The Way To Heaven". This has been an album that explores quite a few different styles over its songs - there is punky rock material, Costello, Beatles, McCartney, Beach Boys and Harrison influences, traditional country, full on rock, soulful stuff too. As I said earlier, it is an album that requires several listens. With each one I found I liked it more.


John Mayall - Nobody Told Me (2019)

Released February 2019

This is a wonderful album from legendary UK bluesman John Mayall doing a Van Morrison and featuring guest artists on all the tracks such as Joe Bonamassa, Todd Rundgren and Steve Van Zandt. The album rocks, big time, from beginning to end. The musicianship, and the sound quality, is superb throughout and the incredible thing is that John Mayall is now an astonishing 85 years old. Fair play to him. I love this album. If your only experience of blues rock is The Rolling Stones' "Blue And Lonesome", maybe consider checking this out.


1. What Have I Done Wrong
2. The Moon Is Full
3. Evil And Here To Stay
4. That's What Love Will Make You Do
5. Distant Lonesome Train
6. Delta Hurricane
7. The Hurt Inside
8. It's So Tough
9. Like It Like You Do
10. Nobody Told Me

“What Have I Done Wrong” features blues guitar virtuoso Joe Bonamassa, and, unsurprisingly is chock full of searing blues guitar licks and some punchy horns. Mayall’s voice is still so strong and effortlessly able to cope with a muscular number like this. "The Moon Is Full" has a quirky, staccato slightly funky backing and more scintillating guitar breaks. "Evil And Here To Stay" is a familiar, slow burning blues, reminiscent of some of Albert King's work.

“That’s What Love Will Make You Do” is a delicious serving of Booker T. -style organ-backed blues/funk groove. It is powerful as whatever and comes pounding out of your speakers (with superb sound quality too). “Distant Lonesome Train” is just mouth-wateringly blues/rocky. If you like this sort of kick posterior thumping guitar and drum-driven blues rock material you will absolutely love this. "Delta Hurricane" begins with a huge guitar, drum and horns sound, and, as you would imagine from the title, has a Delta blues rock sound, with a lot of Chicago blues sound in it too. "The Hurt Inside" has Albert King from his Stax period all over it, with its soulful melody and sumptuous horn backing.

“It’s So Tough” features The E. St Band’s Steve Van Zandt and is once more a tough rocker, with some contemporary lyrics about the state of things. "Like It Like You Do" is a lively, catchy, rock 'n' roll-influenced number. "Nobody Told Me" is the album's only real, late night smoky blues ballad and it is a good one to close this mightily impressive offering.

If you like solid, traditional blues rock you will love this. If you think that, sixty years on, it is simply more of the same, then you are unlikely to change your opinion. It is what it is, and that is top quality blues rock.


Thursday, 21 February 2019

Albert King - I Wanna Get Funky (1974)


Released in 1974

Despite the title, this is far more of a Stax soul meets the blues album than a funk one, despite several undoubted funky moments. It seems very much to me like a Stax album, which of course it what it is. Lots of horns all over it. It continues King's successful relationship with Stax Records and includes some really solid soul material and, of course, King's trademark blues guitar too.


1. I Wanna Get Funky
2. Playing On Me
3. Walking The Back Streets And Crying
4. 'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone
5. Flat Tire
6. I Can't Hear Nothing But the Blues
7. Travelin' Man
8. Crosscut Saw
9. That's What The Blues Is All About

"I Wanna Get Funky" is, unsurprisingly, a medium pace funk-influenced cooker of a track. "Playing On Me" is a muscular number, with some excellent soulful vocals from King and an addictive horn and organ staccato backing.

"Walking The Back Streets And Crying" is a classic piece of slow burning blues balladry. King contributes some killer guitar half way through. "'Til My Back Ain't Got No Bone" starts with a Barry White-style spoken vocal, over a seductive bass and electric guitar rhythm. The beat increases a bit as the narrative progresses, and a funky riff is added. After about four minutes, he ups the vocal and starts singing and the funky bass matches him, as do the horns. Despite that the song keeps to its almost walking pace groove. This track has a subtle funk about it and is quite infectious.

"Flat Tire" has a typical Stax horn-driven intro and some funky wah-wah backing behind another semi-spoken vocal. "I Can't Hear Nothing But the Blues" is a delicious slice of Stax blues. It has one of those great bits where the tempo slows down to just a bass line, a bit of organ and a quiet drum beat and King starts to semi-sing "hey Mr. Bartender....". "Travelin' Man" is a lively, organ-driven piece of soulful, bluesy funk. Next up is a re-make of King's 1965 classic, "Crosscut Saw", extended here to a funky seven minutes. The rhythm is insistent and exhilarating and never lets up. It is full of searing blues guitar and those punchy horns. When push comes to shove, I think I prefer the sheer blues power of the original, but this one is great also, with some wonderful guitar and drum interplay in the track's final few minutes. "That's What The Blues Is All About" is an invigorating slice of lively funky soul to finish the album with. It has a killer keyboard riff underpinning the verses.

All Albert King's Stax albums are recommended, to be honest. You can't go wrong with any of them.


Ananda Shankar - Ananda Shankar (1970)


Released in 1970

From the mid-late sixties, popularised by The Rolling Stones' Brian Jones and George Harrison in particular ("Paint It, Black" and "Within You Without You" being the classic examples, of course), it was fashionable to utilise traditional Indian/Eastern instruments such as the sitar, the tabla and the harmonium and/or employ Indian musicians to play them on albums. This album was one of the first extensions of the Eastern music/psychedelic rock fusion, making a whole album of it - merging traditional Eastern sounds with rock ones. It is quite a heady mix and the album was a success. Here we had Shankar's sitar combining with moog synthesiser and Eastern-influenced, often frantic percussion. It started a trend in what became known as "raga-rock".


1. Jumpin' Jack Flash
2. Snow Flower
3. Light My Fire
4. Mamata (Affection)
5. Metamorphosis
6. Sagar (The Ocean)
7. Dance Indra
8. Raghupati

The opener is a now-iconic cover of The Rolling Stones' "Jumpin' Jack Flash", featuring madcap sitar playing and an infectious moog backing. Personally, I can't get enough of it. It's great. "Snow Flower"  is a dreamy, hippy-ish number that would now be referred to a "chill-out" fare. It is deliciously "ambient". The album's other rock cover, of The Doors' "Light My Fire" is also wonderful too, and is far more than just a novelty. The sitar takes the place of the guitar and the whole thing is pretty credible, far more arty than it is cheesy. "Mamata (Affection)" is a quietly reflective, meditative and extremely melodic number, while the upbeat "Metamorphosis" features some infectious drum sounds. It is probably the most psychedelic-sounding track on the album.

The album's old "side two" is traditional stuff. The thirteen-minute "Sagar (The Ocean)" is certainly that, but it is also very hippy-psychedelic, man. Despite that, it is the closet track on the album to the classical Indian style. The final two cuts, "Dance Indra" and "Raghupati" are traditional Indian folk/dance tunes and are lively and upbeat.

"Side one" can be viewed as more of the "fusion" side, while "side two" was the more traditional one. Some have argued that it is the traditional stuff that should have populated the whole album. Personally, I think that misses the point. I love "Jumpin' Jack Flash" and "Light My Fire" done in this way.


Michael Chapman - Fully Qualified Survivor (1970)


Released in 1970

I recently heard Michael Chapman's 2017 album of bluesy Americana, "50". This was the first of his many albums I had ever listened to. Indeed, until that point, I had, shamefully, never heard of him. Inspired by that album, I decided to check out his earlier work and have found that this is a most interesting album - a sort of Roy Harper meets early David Bowie. It is folky but with definite rock leanings, particularly on the tracks that feature the relatively undiscovered guitar talents of Mick Ronson, before he took up with David Bowie full time (he had played on the 1969 "Space Oddity" album).


1. Aviator
2. Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime
3. Stranger In The Room
4. Postcards Of Scarborough
5. Fishbeard Sunset
6. Soulful Lady
7. Rabbit Hills
8. March Rain
9. Kodak Ghosts
10. Andru's Easy Rider
11. Trinkets & Rings

The first track, "Aviator" begins with a very Bowie-esque strummed acoustic guitar and some seriously delicious bass lines (played by Steeleye Span's Rick Kemp). It is eight minutes long and has a real air of mystery about it. There are similarities to the sort of lengthy folk/rock material that Al Stewart was putting out at the same time, both musically and lyrically. Chapman's voice has definite echoes of Bowie from the same period, but it has a sort of whiny grittiness that made it somewhat unique. There are hints of Dylan from "John Wesley Harding" as well, in places. The violin floats around in Van Morrison, "Astral Weeks" fashion, giving the track a haunting quality. Paul Buckmaster's strings are recognisable, particularly from the "Elton John" album from the same year. This is very much the sort of earnest, melodic and lyrically profound, meaningful music that was so de rigeur in 1970.

Another thing typical of the time was the guitar-picking instrumental, which we get here with the brief, pleasant tones of "Naked Ladies & Electric Ragtime". There is actually nothing electric about it, by the way, it is all acoustic. "Stranger In The Room" introduces electric guitar and some Beatles-esque drums, a Bowie vocal and another throbbing bass line. It is an impressive track, and somewhat surprising that this album, or Chapman's career, never really took off. This is up there with "The Width Of A Circle". Ronson provides some searing guitar lines throughout. Much as I love "Circle", however, this is just as good. It really is a bit of a revelation, actually.

"Postcards Of Scarborough" has a lengthy acoustic intro before some solid drums kick in and Chapman's voice and delivery arrives in a downbeat Leonard Cohen way. "Fishbeard Sunset" is forty seconds of pretty pointless guitar picking before we are launched straight into the muscular thump of the rock-ish "Soulful Lady". It features more excellent guitar and impressive drums. Despite the folky, wordy dreaminess of some of the album, Chapman also likes a bit of solid rock power. There is an appealing blues rock feel to this. "Rabbit Hills" reminds me of some of Mott The Hoople's early Ian Hunter slow rock ballads. The bleak, evocative "March Rain" finds Chapman sounding slightly different vocally - gruffer but a tiny bit slurred, as if he's just got up. He actually changes his vocal style several times, slightly, throughout the album. "Kodak Ghosts" is a mysterious Cohen-esque number with some sumptuous, subtle electric guitar from Ronson, a change from his trademark full-on riffery. "Andru's Easy Rider" is a slide guitar-driven blues instrumental that is another slight change in style, showing that there really is all sorts of stuff on this album. Another change arrives with the funky bass and bongo intro to the intoxicating "Trinkets & Rings". Chapman's voice has a mournful, haunting Jim Morrison feel to it, albeit with a throatiness. This is a quality, adventurous number. Quite why this album wasn't huge, I don't know.

It is said that Mick Ronson got the Bowie gig on the back of his work on this album. Maybe that is somewhat apocryphal as Bowie knew his work anyway from "Unwashed And Somewhat Slighty Dazed". Either way he was off to slam out glam rock riffs. Great as they were, perhaps his better work was to be found here. This certainly was a really good album and I highly recommend it.


Wednesday, 20 February 2019

Tedeschi Trucks Band - Signs (2019)


Released February 2019

I am familiar with several of Susan Tedeschi's album, but this is the first I have heard of the four she has done with her hubby, the aptly-named (for such truckstop blues fare) Derek Trucks, who has played guitar for a later incarnation of The Allman Brothers Band. There will be other reviewers who are familiar with their earlier albums and are able to compare this one with those. I am, at present, only able to comment on this one, so my comments are from a slightly uninformed viewpoint. To me, it is an impressive, invigorating mix of blues, soul, rock with a few funky bits thrown in.


1. Signs, High Times
2. I'm Gonna Be There
3. When Will I Begin
4. Walk Through This Life
5. Strengthen What Remains
6. Still Your Mind
7. Hard Case
8. Shame
9. All The World
10. They Don't Shine
11. The Ending

"Signs, High Times" is a horn-driven punchy blues rocker with Susan taking vocals in typical gritty style and three other singers taking vocal parts. Susan's voice is by far the best. "I'm Gonna Be There" is a country-ish slow burner with a soulful, gospelly vocal from Susan and some killer guitar at the end. "When Will I Begin" continues in the same soulful mode, while "Walk Though This Life" has an absolutely sumptuous, irresistible bass line underpinning it. The horns are once more upbeat and muscular, as, of course is Susan's voice. There is a superb bass/drum/guitar funky-ish break on this track.

"Strengthen What Remains" is a fetching, quiet, non-blues rock number - a nice piece of country rock balladry. "Still Your Mind" has, for me, some hints of sixties baroque psychedelic rock beneath the surface. There is an intoxicating feel to its staccato rhythm. "Hard Case" has a funky undertone to it and also features some enticing wah-wah guitar parts. "Shame" finds Susan delivering a solid soul vocal, sounding almost like Stax legend Mavis Staples at times. It is a perfect mix of powerful rock and gospelly soul, something this band appear to do quite well.

"All The World" sounds like an Otis Redding ballad. The vocal is again delivered perfectly. "They Don't Shine" comes blasting out of your speakers with a real Stax punch. Great stuff. You can't go far wrong with this. It kicks your rear end. "The Ending" is a sparse, acoustic number with Susan on top vocal form in a tribute to the band's mentor, Bruce Hampton, who passed away in 2018. I didn't know this initially. It makes it sound all the more poignant. Good album.