labels still keep blues alive
Singer thrills fans in Conway
A genius at work
Singin' in the rain
to host bluesmen
festivals compete in the delta, but Clarksdale wins
Hurt Festival in Avalon, Miss
Traveling' a helpful guide to tri-state sites
goes home then to funeral
blues played near here
memorable weekend: Blues Divas and Handys
King stops the show at blues weekend
Century of Boogaloo -
highlights from last year
was a great year for music, both live and recorded. Our musical journey
started out last January in Clarksdale, Miss., where we heard a young
soul singer named O.B. Buchana
at the local VFW Hall.
___ He played to an enthusiastic audience
that line-danced the night away, impressing those in the audience who
just sat and watched. Buchana reminded
great Southern soul singers of the past (James Carr, Johnnie Taylor, O.V.
Wright and others), as well as Howard Tate, who's still going strong.
Tate, in fact, put on a great show at Hendrix College in November.
His newest CD, Rediscovered (Private Music-BMG) was one of our favorites
of 2004, a remarkable comeback album by an artist who dropped out of the
music scene 30 years ago but reunited with his old producer three years
ago and is once again a concert favorite. We also recommend a recent reissue
of Tate's Get It While You Can: The Complete Legendary Verve Sessions
from 1967 available online from www.hip-oselect. Indispensable. Our musical
journey continued in February to Ole Miss, where Living Blues magazine
hosted a blues symposium (this year's will be held Feb. 18-19) with B.B.
King as the headliner.
After receiving an honorary doctorate and congratulations from actor Morgan
Freeman, another native of Mississippi, King played for well over an hour
and put on a terrific show. Afterward, B.B. met his fans and autographed
our LP version of Live at the Regal, which, he told us, many critics consider
We told him "Live at the Regal" was the greatest live blues
record of all time. He appreciated the compliment, but it wasn't until
we did some research months later that we found out that B.B. considers
My Kind of Blues (Ace) his favorite record. So we pick "My Kind of
Blues" as another one of our favorites of 2004. Our British version
of this early '60s LP has several bonus tracks and showcases B.B. in his
prime, just before his breakthrough with "Live at the Regal"
and his crossover success with white audiences. Other live musical highlights
last year included a short visit to the Memphis in May festival, which
was an almost total washout, but we did hear Charlie Musselwhite around
midnight and he was in great form, as always.
His first record, Stand Back: Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's South Side
Band (Vanguard) everyone's blues collection. The Blues Divas Mavis
Staples, Bettye Lavette, Ann Peebles, Denise LaSalle, Deborah Coleman,
Irma Thomas and Odetta performed that weekend at Ground Zero in
Clarksdale. They're going like gangbusters and still recording and winning
awards. Bettye Lavette's Woman Like Me (Blue Express) won a Handy Award,
while Staples' new CD, Have a Little Faith (Alligator), will likely win
a Handy and Grammy award this year. It's a great gospel CD from a label
based in Chicago, where Mavis first recorded with her family more than
45 years ago, when she was a teenager.
She still sounds youthful after all these years. Tony Bennett, who is
78, sounds almost as youthful on last year's CD, The Art of Romance (Columbia)
as he sings songs by Johnny Man-del ("Close Enough for You,"
"Little Did I Dream," "Where Do You Start?"), Johnny
Mercer ("I Re-member You"), Oscar Hammer-stein ("All in
Fun") Harold Arlen ("Don't Like Goodbyes"), Stephen Sondheim
("Being Alive") and other greats. Wonderful stuff, and so is
50 Years of the Artistry of Tony Bennett (Columbia/Legacy), a five-CD
set that includes just about everything he's recorded, from "A Sleeping
Bee" to "Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams."
Bennett is as good as Sinatra without the weirdness.
Record labels are releasing outstanding music despite pressures from the
Internet and listeners who copy music for each other. Because of the growing
number of freeloaders and who among us hasn't cut corners now and
then? record companies keep improving the quality of the sound
and putting their material in ever more attractive packaging.
Even if you don't have a high-end system, many CDs and especially LPs,
sound almost like live music these days. The best-sounding CD we've heard
this year is another of our favorites of 2004. Patricia Barber's Live:
A Fortnight in France (Blue Note) is a double winner with outstanding
sound and wonderful music from a jazzy pianist-singer from Chicago who
thrilled audiences during her tour of France last spring. Listen to the
CD and it's as if you're there. Blue Note has made its fortune with pop
singer Norah Jones, which makes it possible for the label to record lesser-known
artists such as Barber and Keren Ann Zeidel, who performs using only her
given names. Keren Ann's CD, Not Going Anywhere (Blue Note-EMI) is in
a category of its own. Her voice is lovely and her songs fill the air
like a bolt from heaven.
Blue Note's gifted roster produced other favorites last year: Joe Lovano's
I'm All for You: Ballad Songbook with Hank Jones on piano, Paul Motian
on drums and George Mraz on bass. Lovano, a great saxophone player who
keeps getting better, gets great support from his rhythm section as they
play jazz standards "Monk's Mood," "Stella by Starlight,"
"I Waited for You" and more.
Definitely one of our favorites from last year. Hank Jones, who is in
his 80s, keeps performing and recording. His Someday My Prince Will Come
(Eighty-Eights/Columbia) was recorded with the Great Jazz Trio, which
included his late brother, the drummer Elvin Jones, and bassist Richard
Davis. Hank Jones is a fine pianist, and hearing Elvin on his last record
is a special treat. The Great Jazz Trio has an earlier record out, Autumn
Leaves. Our is on LP, and it's terrific. Take it for a spin. Speaking
of LPs, our favorite classical vinyl of last year was Janos Starker's
Bach: Suites for Un-accompanied Cello (Speakers Corner/Mercury Living
Listening to this three-LP set is to be in the presence of not just one
but two musical giants. This is very special a miracle of reproduced
sound at its best.