Honeyboy Edwards at Cozy's in Sherman Oaks

Honeyboy Edwards’ show at Cozy’s last year was bittersweet. It was amazing to see the 94-year-old guitarist get up and play the delta blues he learned in 1940s Mississippi. And while he makes B.B. King look young, it was also strange to watch a guy play the same songs he’s played for so many years in front of small audiences.

The music itself was great, if a little repetitive. Edwards’ fingers aren’t as nimble as they once were, but who can blame him. Before the show I glanced over at the bluesman only to see him double-fisting (a whiskey and a Heineken) — just like the music, it seems some things never change.

Chris Robinson plays the harmonica on "Thorn in My Pride"

The Black Crowes’ latest tour made a stop at the Spotlight 29 Casino in Coachella this past December. The venue was a little unconventional for the band (Chris Robinson asked the audience at one point “What is this place, a fuckin’ casino?”), but the acoustics were great and there wasn’t a bad seat in the house.

The set lacked material from their two most recent albums (“Warpaint” and “Before the Frost”), but given that this tour might be the band’s last for a while, it’s understandable that they focused on their entire catalogue. Rich Robinson and Luther Dickinson’s playing was fantastic and the show proved to be the best Black Crowes concert I have seen.

Set list: Waiting Guilty, Another Roadside Tragedy, Wiser Time, Oh! Sweet Nuthin’, I Ain’t Hiding, Thorn in My Pride, Girl From a Pawnshop, Hotel Illness, Jealous Again, She Talk to Angels, Hard to Handle, Shake Your Moneymaker (Encore)

Luther Dickinson on slide

Leaf Hound grew out of the London-based band Black Cat Bones, one of the many groups that dipped into hard rock, blues, and proto-metal in the late 1960 and early 70s. They are a curious band that sounds like everyone else and no one all at once. Much of the 1971 LP, “Growers of Mushroom” draws on Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, but the aggressive playing and raw production give the album an edge that those two groups lacked.

The comparisons to Zeppelin and others are obvious. Guitarist Derek Brooks does his best Jimmy Page, but doesn’t have the same pedigree, chops or inventive phrasing of Page. Vocalist Peter French’s style sounds like an amalgamation of Robert Plant and Terry Reid, and listeners will likely conjure those two singers within the first few minutes of “Freelance Fiend,” the album’s opening track. To French’s credit, he does have an idiosyncratic delivery and uncommon confidence which make his performance intensely listenable. Leaf Hound is rounded out by rhythm guitarist Mick Halls, bassist Stuart Brooks, and drummer Keith George-Young, all of whom are serviceable and keep the tunes moving.

“Growers of Mushroom,” originally released on Decca, is a quick listen with 11 tracks, only one of which is longer than 5 minutes. In the end, all the comparisons to other heavy rock bands don’t mean much — this is the kind of record that ought to be played loud and late at night.

Highlights: Freeland Fiend, Drowned My Life In Fear, Work My Body, With A Minute To Go

Little Feat’s eponymous debut started out as a little-known record filled with trucker love songs, road anthems, and its fair share of slide guitar. While the album sold only 12,000 copies in 1971, it remains the band’s best effort. It contains the definitive version of their classic, “Willin’,” and is the closest the band ever came to the raw, roadhouse vibe they tried to cultivate.

Led by Lowell George, the band put together an exceptional set beginning with “Snakes on Everything.” The track is a straight rocker and sets the stage nicely with George’s fluid slide work. The A side then takes a sentimental turn with the vocal harmonies of “Strawberry Flats,” the loneliness and regret that runs through “Truck Stop Girl,” and the prayer-like contemplation of “Brides of Jesus.” The theme continues with “Willin’,” a song about lovesickness and isolation. Ry Cooder guests on slide guitar for Lowell George who injured his hand during the sessions.

“Hamburger Midnight” sounds like a barroom fight with wailing guitars and vocals. “Forty-Four Blues: How Many More Years” is an enjoyable medley of Howlin’ Wolf covers, and the the rest of the B side is marked by the same laid back, western aesthetic that dominates the disc’s opening cuts.

Buoyed by images of smuggling, smoking and struggle, “Little Feat” is a major moment in the band’s catalogue and stands as one of the finest examples of western blues/rock of the early 1970s.

HIghlights:

Strawberry Flats, Truck Stop Girl, Willin’, Hamburger Midnight, Forty-Four Blues: How Many More Years

Rory Gallagher’s sixth and most accomplished studio effort is a perfect blend of his idiosyncratic style and the popular rock sound of the late 1970s. Gallagher moves fluidly between Delta blues, Irish folk, jazz-flavored riffs, and the sort of escapist, spacey hard rock pioneered by the album’s producer, Roger Glover. Glover, best known as the bassist of Deep Purple, succeeds in showcasing Gallagher’s virtuosic talent. The production is clean, but not overly slick, and Gallagher, Gerry McAvoy (bass), Lou Martin (piano) and Rob D’Ath (drums) are as tight as ever.

The album opens with “Do You Read Me,” which became a live standard. Rory’s modest vocal talents are covered up by inventive, crystal clear lead lines, and the uncanny tone of his 1961 Fender Strat takes center stage. “Country Mile” is a hard-driving tune featuring Gallagher’s unique slide style. The third cut, “Moonchild,” is an up-tempo run best suited for a late night road trip, which anticipates the sort of solos that would become commonplace in 1980s rock.

The album’s title track is a self-assured jam with tasteful jazz accents. An example of superior songwriting, “Calling Card” demonstrates how many varied styles can feel perfectly at home on a Rory Gallagher record. Lou Martin has nice moments on piano, and the track comes to a close with appropriate swagger, as Martin and Gallagher trade licks.

The contemplative change-of-pace, “I’ll Admit Your Gone” features understated acoustic slide work, and comes together at its own pace, but the track is not helped by a distinctive pop sensibility. “Secret Agent” sees the album taking a turn back toward hard rock. Glover’s influence is felt most here, as the wailing guitar, powerful organ and heavy cymbals recall classic Deep Purple.

“Jackknife Beat” is a relaxed groove marked by Gallagher’s colorful playing and McAvoy’s bass. “Edged in Blue” can’t decide whether it wants to be a ballad or a barroom favorite, and is the lone throwaway on the disc. The album concludes with “Barley and Grape Rag,” which rocks with confidence and ease. The story goes that the track was cut late at night in the kitchen of the recording studio. There is an informal feel, and Gallagher seems to be having more fun here than anywhere else on the record.

All in all, “Calling Card” remains the best release from a player known for underwhelming studio work and raucous, unapologetic live performances. Originally released by Chrysalis (and distributed in the states by Reprise), the re-mastered CD from Buddha features two additional tacks, “Rue the Day,” and “Public Enemy No. 1.” They are nice inclusions, but don’t offer much to the set.

Highlights:

Do You Read Me, Calling Card, Jackknife Beat, Barley and Grape Rag

The Goal?

January 28, 2010

It’s simple. This is a place where you can find album reviews of blues records, new and old. Each review will consider the record as a whole, with attention to its context within the musician’s career and the output of contemporaries.

I’ll also review concerts and post pictures from the shows.

Disclaimer: The term Blues is used loosely to include blues, blues rock, country blues, and pretty much any music that draws inspiration from the blues.