Sunday, August 31, 2008

Donny McCaslin - Recommended Tools (Greenleaf, 2008)

Taking his cue from the great Sonny Rollins trio records like Freedom Suite and Way Out West, tenor saxophonist Donny McCaslin makes a bold statement with this muscular and powerful album. Supporting members Hans Glawischnig on bass and Johnathan Blake on drums play very well, but it is clear from the start that this is McCaslin's showpiece, and he handles the pressure very well. The sense of virile and masculine potency that pervades the entire album is stated in the first two performances, "Recommended Tools" and "Eventual" where McCaslin plants his feet and digs deep, billowing great swaths of dark toned tenor over propulsive bass and drums. The only true ballad on the album, the appropriately titled "Margins of Solitude" is thoughtful and brooding like an abstract painting. The album ends with its arguably finest performance, the extraordinary "Fast Brazil" which takes a very interesting rhythmic approach and knocks it out of the park. Mainstream jazz fans will enjoy the control that the group is able to find at often scalding tempos, while fans of the avant-garde, will no doubt be impressed by the intense energy that is focused by this group. This was a very precise and boldly defined statement by a saxophonist who has clearly come into his own. Revelling in the open space that the trio setting offered him, McCaslin has produced an excellent album.

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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Anthony Braxton, Milford Graves & William Parker - Beyond Quantum (Tzadik, 2008)

A meeting of three luminaries of avant-garde jazz, multi-reedist Anthony Braxton, bassist William Parker and drummer Milford Graves unite for a very exciting album of adventurous free jazz. Not as cerebral as the usual "composed" Braxton project, this one is strictly a blowing session and there is extraordinary collective improvisation present. "First Meeting" is very exciting free jazz collective improvisation, with fast paced, strong and agile playing. Braxton leads with swirling and dexterous saxophone. "Second Meeting" begins slowly in an abstract and open manner before the pace picks up very quickly, and is urged on by vocalizations. "Third Meeting" and "Fourth Meeting" start of at a mid-tempo, and mix more spaceous and open improvisation, with raucous and flat out free improv. Relitavley short, the concluding "Fifth Meeting" has two horns (Parker dispensing with his bass for a reed instrument) in an exotic and exciting performance. I am very enthusiastic about this disc, because of the amazing amount of energy that these three musicians have brought to play in this music.

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Friday, August 29, 2008

I have a new podcast available, reflecting some of the music I have been listening to lately. This is the set list:

B.B. King - See That My Grave Is Kept Clean - One Kind Favor
Joe Harriott - Rega Megha - Indo - Jazz Suite
Grant Green - Look at That Girl - Blues For Lou
Jeff Gauthier - Friends of the Animals - House of Return
Atomic/School Days - Visitors - Distil
Bobby Few - Enomis - Lights and Shadows
Albert King - I Get Evil - Let's Have a Natural Ball
By Any Means - Zero Blues
- Live at the Crescendo

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

B.B. King - One Kind Favor (Geffen, 2008)

The great bluesman B.B. King (nonpareil guitarist and singer) has focused for much of his late career work on collaborations with pop stars and other musicians, but this project is a little different. King goes back to some of the music of his youth and takes solace in the deep blues. King's protean voice has lost some of it's energy, sounding vulnerable and tired at times, but that is hardly a criticism of a man in his mid-80's who has seen more hard traveling than 100 regular men combined. But it is somewhat unnerving to see King confront the inevitable with a powerfully weary version of "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean" that leads off the album. "Backwater Blues" is particularly poignant in the wake of Hurricane Katrina and with another storm getting ready to move into the Gulf. "I Get So Weary" is easy to believe as well, here B.B. really sounds aged and tired. But there is still strength in the old lion yet, with a crackling version of the old blues standard "How Many More Years" and a deeply swinging version of "Sitting On Top of the World." While King's voice may have lost a step, his guitar work is still as impressive as ever. Each perfectly shaped note emerging with crystalline clarity. The excellent backing band is with him every step of the way, especially Dr. John, whose beatifically understated and subtle piano work is a highlight throughout the disc. So B.B. King has come full circle with this album, looking back on a lifetime of triumph and pain that is the very soul of the blues.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Joe Harriott - Indo-Jazz Suite (Atlantic, 1967)

Saxophonist Harriott had an interesting and all too short career. Born in Jamaica, the moved to London, and became a pioneer of Ornette Coleman like free jazz, before moving into experiments in ethnic inspired music. This collaboration between Indian and English musicians performing the compositions of John Mayer was very successful, and must have been a favorite in the swinging London of the late '60's. Each of the four performances here have a delightfully exotic feel, with the opening "Overture" melding flute and percussion with trumpet and saxophone over sitar accompaniment. "Contrasts" features Harriott's pungent alto saxophone and an interesting arrangement for piano, flute and riffing horns. "Rega Mehga" takes things even further out with Harriott improvising strongly over spicy sitar accompaniment. "Raga Gaud-Saranga" ends the album with some blustery trumpet over sitar and other Indian instruments and swirling flute. I found this album to be very enjoyable, it is wonderful to hear two musical cultures meet and find common ground.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Grant Green - Blues For Lou (Blue Note, 1999)

Alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson was guitarist Green's champion, bringing him out of the Midwest chitin circuit and on to the New York City jazz scene where he recorded prolifically for Blue Note. Green recorded so often that this album honoring his debt to Donaldson actually lay in the vaults for several decades before finally seeing the light of day. It's a fine album, with organist Big John Patton and drummer Ben Dixon fitting together with Green very well. There are some very nice up-tempo performances on this album, with "Surrey With the Fringe On Top", "Big John" and "Look at That Girl" have Patton keeping the organ and bass pedals at full simmer and Green's swift, bluesy guitar grooving strong. One of the devices he liked to use was to repeat a series of notes until the tension is unbearable, and then let loose with a flurry of improvised notes like a dam bursting with ideas. Also interesting on this album, although not quite as successful as the cookers are a couple of pop flavored performances that seem to foreshadow the R&B flavored jazz that Green would follow in the 1970's. "That Little Girl Of Mine" and "Personality" don't offer the possibilities for improvisation the others so, but the do demonstrate Green way with melodies. This is a good solid album, which shouldn't come as a surprise, since Green made many such records during this very fruitful period.

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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Die Enttauschung - (self titled) (Intakt, 2008)

I read a review of this album in the most recent Downbeat, and all of the critics seemed to enjoy it, even the arch curmudgeon John McDonough, so I thought I would take a shot at it. The collective is comprised of Rudi Mahall on bass clarinet, Axel Dorner on trumpet, Jan Roder on bass and Uli Jennessen on drums. Working from the same fertile ground as the Eric Dolphy - Booker Little group and the original Ornette Coleman Quartet, Die Enttauschung play nimble, exciting and accessible modern jazz. The groups performances are pithy and short, allowing the members to state melody, expand upon it, and then close it out with alacrity. Roder and Jennessen make for a tight and engaging bottom, shifting tempos and rhythms as Mahall and Dorner pirouette above them like acrobats. I liked this album quite a bit, it was infectious and fun. Respectful of the past and looking forward to the future, this group has made a fine statement.

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 22, 2008

Jeff Gauthier's Goatette - House of Return (Cryptogramophone, 2008)

Jeff Gautheir wears many hats - instrumentalist, composer and label chief to name just a few. On this recent album with his group Goatette he plays violin and is joined by Nels Cline on guitar, David Witham on piano, Joel Hamilton on bass, and Alex Cline on drums. The group covers a lot of ground with different textures and tone colors throughout the album. My favorite track on the disc was "Friends of the Animal" which has an exciting and adventurous fusion feel, somewhat like an updated version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with Gauthier's violin swirling around a snarling Nels Cline guitar solo. Many of the other tracks offer differing textures as well. "Biko's Blues" opens the disc at a melancholy mid-tempo, with Gauthier's violin hinting at sadness and loss. "Dissolution" and "Dizang" are very thoughtfully composed and improvised performances with layers of subtlety available for discovery for the patient listener. This was a successful album with a very interesting sound. Drawing on modern jazz, rock 'n' roll and world music, the music found on this disc should find wide appeal.

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Thursday, August 21, 2008

Atomic/School Days - Distil (Okka Disk, 2008)

Atomic/School Days is a very interesting collaboration of Scandinavian and American musicians
Ken Vandarmark on saxophones, Jeb Bishop on trombone, Magnus Broo on trumpet, Ingebrigt Haker Flaten on bass on Kjell Nordeson on vibraphone, Havard Wiik on piano and Paal Nilssen-Love on drums. These musicians have collaborated with each other in a wide variety of projects and that familiarity show throughout this set. The music is wide open with both free and composed sections, and there are some very exciting solos as well as periods of collective improvisation. The music here was recorded live at the Green Mill club in Chicago in 2006. "Deadline" opens the album with fast and frenetic playing and some great raw soloing from Vandermark on baritone saxophone. "Irrational Ceremony" is slow and spacey in the beginning, with spare piano and drums gradually picking up the pace. Horns muscle in over rippling piano with a strutting trombone solo over bubbling bass clarinet with neat drumwork making for a very cool sound. Strong muscular trumpet struts in with a solo over vibes, comping piano and drums. Nillsen-Love really sounds great, just propelling the music forward like a rocket engine. There is some wild, cathartic group improv before moving back into the slow and spacey for the conclusion. This was a really extraordinary performance, very exciting and indicative of the powerful music that this band is capable of. "Visitors" has fast drumming and piano to open, then horns lick in to gear with a cool fanfare backed by vibes, flatulent baritone then a free sounding tenor solo. "Dark Easter" has slower, more open hons bobbing and weaving around each other. The music moves into wild free territory, then a percussive vibe and drum duet, trumpet soloing over choppy drums and vibes giving way to tough trombone to take things out. "Andersonville" opens with fragile vocal sounding trombone with the other horns framing it. The music is spacious and relatively mild, then breaks down into a clarinet and percussion section, with some shrieking tenor saxophone to liven things up. A majestic trumpet interlude underpinned by riffing baritone. "Fort Funston" has a nice tenor saxophone solo, really digging deep and just going all out, and cool progressive big band riffing. Wiik takes over with a rapid and percussive piano interlude, before the band wraps things up. I found this to have been a very exciting and interesting set. There is a wide variety of music on display here and the musicians play with passion and joy.

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Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Bobby Few - Lights and Shadows (Boxholder, 2007)

Pianist Bobby Few came out of the fertile Cleveland jazz scene which was wide open with swing, bop and free (and would send Albert Ayler into the jazz world.) After following Ayler to New York in the mid-1960's, Few decamped to Europe for many years, playing with soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy among others. On this particular disc, Few is playing solo piano, sounding very deep and thoughtful, reminiscent to contemporaries like Andrew Hill and Cecil Taylor in his quieter moments. "Bells" opens the disc, not the epic Ayler composition, but a spontaneous improvisation of Few's own, sounding dark, spacious and mysterious. These feelings also occur in further performances like "Enomis" and "From Different Lands" where the overall feeling is probing and careful, spare and open. The longer improvisations are interesting as well. "Lights and Shadows" is a strong, lengthy improvisation with rippling pianism using the whole instrument in the course of the performance. "What You Doing?" has a building sound of low bass notes and a deep and probing structure, like a space probe searching through the depths of intergalactic space. I liked this disc and found it to have thoughtful and patient performances that did not rely on flashy technique by rather a deep understanding of the instrument and improvisation.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Big Road Blues discusses their most recent radio program: "The most recent song on today’s show is Junior Wells’ “Trouble Don’t Last Always” cut circa 1969/1970. The song comes from Southside Blues Jam which is easily one of Wells’ best records from this era featuring longtime partner Buddy Guy along with Otis Spann. Spann’s rumbling, two-fisted piano adds much to this date and is his last studio recording before his untimely death in April 1970. Fittingly the album is dedicated to Spann."

Mac Walton has a very good post examining one of my favorites, harmonicist Little Walter Jacobs: "You see, Little Walter was the brotha who electrified the harmonica, transforming it from a back-up instrument to a solo voice, making it moan low or soar high into the stratosphere, like the greatest of instruments, making sounds the harmonica never made before. Little Walter was the brotah who identified in words and sounds what many African Americans knew but could not bring themselves to say: they had them "blues with a feeling" and those blues followed them every night and every day."

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Sunday, August 17, 2008

Albert King - Let's Have a Natural Ball (Modern Blues, 1989)

This is a collection of singles King cut in the late 50's, well before his rise to soul-blues legendhood with the Stax label. On this disc, he plays some stinging guitar led electric blues and sings in a deep, strong voice. Tight, economical guitar playing and punchy horn riffs over rippling piano over solid bass and drums are the order of the day here. A couple of killer instrumental sides "Dyna Flow" and "This Morning" feature King's great guitar chops, while "Don't Throw Your Love On Me" and "Goin' to California" are great simmering mid-tempo blues, while "I Get Evil" and the swift, swinging title track are the standouts amongst the cookers. This is a great disc of classic electric blues.

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Friday, August 15, 2008

By Any Means - Live at the Crescendo (Ayler, 2008)

This is a collective group of free jazz heavyweights Charles Gayle on alto saxophone, William Parker on bass and Rashied Ali on drums. The group was responsible for the wonderful Touchin' On Trane album under Gayle's name for the FMP label several years ago and it is great to hear them recording again. The music here was recorded live and is fast paced and frenetic, but always in control. It seems to be a very focused form of free-bop rather than more abstract free improvisation, and it is quite accessible. The band functions very well as a full unit, and there is also much solo space available. Parker especially takes advantage of this, belying the myth of "boring" bass solos with flair and inventiveness. Apparently a concert recorded earlier was rejected by the musicians as not quite being up to snuff, but this was acceptable to all concerns. It is easy to understand why, with the group covering several facets of modern jazz from Ornette Coleman like free blues in "Zero Blues", to more spacey and spiritual improvisation on "Peace Inside" and "
Machu Picchu" which are anchored by massive Parker bass solos. "Eternal Voice" brings it all back full circle with a collectively improvised blowout that lays it all on the line and succeeds spectacularly. Gayle's tart and citrus tone echoes masters like Coleman and Sonny Simmons, while Parker lays down great Mingus like slabs of bass and Ali's pulse is ever shifting like the desert sands. This was a very impressive and completely successful recording of three masterful musicians totally in the moment. The music is frequently thrilling and is a treat for fans of open ended improvisation.

Send comments to: Tim

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Greg Osby - 9 Levels (Inner Circle, 2009)

Equal parts smart and savvy, saxophonist Greg Osby seems like a natural to start his own record label. His first record on the new Inner Circle imprint carries on the musical exploration path he set out upon with a very successful series of recordings for Blue Note records. Joining him on this recording are
Sara Serpa on vocals, Adam Birnbaum on piano, Nir Felder on guitar, Joseph Lepore on bass on and Hamir Atwal on drums. The title of the album and of the individual compositions seem to suggest a spiritual quest, or a statement of philosophy that Osby is going to follow in his music. if so, it seems to work as the album is well played and generally successful. I have always liked Osby's music, but at times I have found it overly intellectualized and complex, and lacking in emotional commitment. It was music that I admired more than I viscerally enjoyed. This album seems equally positioned toward the head and the gut, and was easier to connect with. "Principle" opens the disc with prominent piano and then saxophone and wordless vocals operating together. Felder adds a fleet solo of modern liquid sounding guitar. "Tolerance" has a gently melodic feel with Serpa's wordless vocalizing along with mild saxophone. "Humility" features Osby on soprano saxophone, he has a limpid and pastel tone akin to Branford Marsalis's soprano playing. The pace picks up with the mildly boppish "Truth" that has a swirling saxophone solo and some fine guitar. "Resilience" was the key track of the album for me, it opens with a dark and stormy feel, like a parable of a trial through trouble. There is a strong and impressive saxophone crescendo. This reminded me of some of John Coltrane's meditative performances like "Wise One" or "Crescent." "Two of One" is a feature for Sara Serpa with delicate lyrical vocals. Despite some nice soprano saxophone soloing, this was a little too gentle and poppy for me. "Optimism" ends with disc with a very good performance, a lengthy improvisation of over thirteen minutes. This thoughtful and meditative album works well as a whole, with good solos and fine ensemble playing. Fans looking for daredevil thrill a minute soloing may be disappointed, but this is not the band's mission. By paying careful attention to both form and improvisation, the group has produced carefully reasoned music that bodes well for the future.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mac Walton has a nice review of a recent Son Seals DVD: "One distinguishing feature of Seals is that is often overlooked is that he was great at both rhythm and lead guitar. Another interesting facet of Seals is that he was a very good songwriter. He didn't just write about women who left him or who still hasn't come home at 3 O'clock in the morning. He wrote about the concrete reality of being poor, black and male in an urban city where white males run a corporate world. He said, "When I had money/I was the talk of the town/Now I'm broke and raggly/and they don't even want me around/It's bad bad, boy/how your friends can let you down/I think I'll pack my rags and move to some other town."

Big Road Blues has been having a great series of posts of blues advertisements that appeared in the Chicago Defender, and includes mp3's of the sides mentioned: "In our weekly survey of the blues ads that appeared in the Chicago Defender newspaper we turn our attention to Atlanta and two records cut by Columbia a couple of weeks apart in 1927. “New Jelly Roll Blues” b/w “Beaver Slide Rag” was recorded by Peg Leg Howell And His Gang on April 8, 1927 and “Barbecue Blues” b/w “Cloudy Sky Blues” was recorded by Barbecue Bob on March 25th. Howell was advertised in the Chicago Defender eight times between 1927 and 1929 while Barbecue Bob was advertised in 1927 and again in 1930 with his brother Charlie Hicks."

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Saturday, August 09, 2008

Akoya Afrobeat - P.D.P. (President Dey Pass) (Afrobomb, 2008)

is a band that follows in the footsteps of the great bands that Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti led like Nigeria 70 and 80. They use lengthy improvisations with great horn riffing and thunderous percussion to develop a hypnotic groove, and to bring the music to really interesting conclusions. Much like Fela's music, the focus of the lyrics here (at least the ones in English) are the political struggle of the people of Africa. Quite a bit of the music here sounds like a mash-up of James Brown's funky 70's sides with classic Nigerian highlife music. While there are some very good solos, particularly for saxophone, the focus is really on the collective as a whole and the music they make. This is music that is good for the dance floor, but also good for the mind as well.

Send comments to: Tim

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Bobby Hutcherson - Head On (Blue Note, 1971, 2007)

This is a very interesting reissue of music by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Originally categorized as an avant garditst because of his association with the likes of Andrew Hill, Eric Dolphy and Sam Rivers, Hutcherson in fact defied categorization. While he loved the exploration of the avant garde, as seen here, he was also interested in abstract orchestral shadings and funky fusion improvisation. This very long CD is contains two sessions, first the original Head On session, in which Hutcherson collaborates with a classical composer and pianist, and a second previously unreleased session where he leads a group through a series of long bass heavy fusion-ish improvisations. The first four selections on the album consist of the original Head On release, which have a collaboration between Hutcherson and third stream composer and pianist Todd Cochran. The music has a thoughtful pastel like feel, reminiscent of the work Gil Elans was doing at the time, or the music Maria Schneider would peruse more recently, while "Togo Land" and "Hey Harold" from the unreleased session are anchored by massive bass grooves, much like those that were being laid down by Michael Henderson for the Miles Davis groups at the time. Ethereal flute drifts hypnotically around "Hey Harold." The music doesn't sound dated at all, and it is just waiting for some forward thinking DJ's to spin into dance remixes. I found this disc to be enjoyable, as it showed two more sides of a multi-faceted musician. Hutcherson thrives here in both the near classical and the free funk arenas, as well as the hard bop and avant garde music that he had previously explored.

Send comments to: Tim

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Jimmy Reed - At Carnegie Hall (Vee-Jay 1961, 2007)

This album from bluesman, guitarist and singer Jimmy Reed has a very interesting and convoluted history behind it. Reed did in fact play as part of a package concert at the famed concert hall, but this album was not recorded there. Rather, the first part of this collection was a "recreation" of his performance, recorded at a New York studio. The second part was a reprise of some of Reed's most popular Vee-Jay era tunes, making this set a mix of new and old music. In that manner, it is a fine introduction to Reed's music. He was one of the most popular bluesman of his day, regularly appearing on the R&B charts, and crossing over into the pop charts as well. Much of this was due to the unpretentious, down home nature of much of Reed's work. His music used very simple blues forms, which endeared him to the emerging white rock 'n' rollers, and his intimate style of singing made him very appealing to all audiences. Some of his most popular tunes are available on this collection like the classics "Bright Lights, Big City" and "Baby What Do You Want Me To Do" which have become staples of both blues and rock 'n' roll. "Big Boss Man" and "Take Out Some Insurance" also appear amongst the music on this lengthy CD, which was originally a double LP. There are excellent essays in the booklet, both the original liner notes and newer notes that put the music into historical context. Reed's wheezy harmonica and drawling vocals take center stage throughout, but there is also room for the excellent guitar work of Eddie Taylor, who accompanied Reed on most of his hits before striking out on his own solo career. This set marked the high-water mark of Reed's popularity, soon alcoholism and epilepsy would slow his output to a trickle, and eventually take his life. But this gentle man left an enormous impact on blues and rock 'n' roll music, his simple songs led many to take up music and remain staples of the music, indelibly stamped in its DNA.

Send comments to: Tim

Monday, August 04, 2008

The Chris McGregor Septet - Up to Earth (Fledg'ling, 2008)

Composer, arranger and pianist Chris McGregor and colleagues in his Blue Notes band left apartheid wrecked South Africa for the relative freedom of London in the late 1960's. The musicians were eagerly accepted into the progressive jazz community that was beginning to flourish, and McGregor began to lead his own small groups and form his big band, The Brotherhood of Breath. On this previously unreleased album, he is joined by regular collaborators like Mongezi Feza on trumpet, Dudu Pukwana on alto saxophone and Louis Moholo on drums. They are also accompanied by some heavy hitting members of the English improv scene: Evan Parker on tenor saxophone, John Surman on saxophones and clarinets, and Barre Phillips and Danny Thompson on bass. The music consists of four lengthy tracks of high energy open ended improvisation. There is a melodic framework, but the music is very open and free. "Moonlight Aloe" opens the album with a lengthy performance of raw saxophone over a skeletal framework of piano. Things get even wilder during the medley of "Yickytickee/Union Special" with unfettered improvisation giving way to a marching band coda which comes on like a free folk improvisation Albert Ayler would play. "Up to Earth" and "Years Ago Now" meld the freewheeling improvisation with shifts of melody and tempo. I found this to be a very rewarding album, and I am surprised that it wasn't released at the time. The musicians are obviously thrilled with the music that gives them a chance to explore open ended themes and make the most of it.

Send comments to: Tim

Sunday, August 03, 2008

There was a sad blues related story in today's New York Times about a blues radio DJ who was murdered in Memphis:

"“Once, he put on a Little Walter record and it had a few really bad skips,” said Steve Franz, 44, a former WEVL disc jockey living in Tucson. “He faded down the record, laughed, and said, ‘Well, that’s the blues, folks.’”

Send comments to: Tim

Friday, August 01, 2008

Mac Walton has an excellent post on his blog about Albert King:

"But to say Albert influenced a number a few now-famous rock groups and guitarists is like saying Bob Dylan wrote a few songs, when everybody and their momma knows the dude wrote songs that defined a generation. No, Albert King didn’t influence a few rock groups or musicians. He resurrected a genre; he transformed a dying music into a living, breathing phenomenon that continues to speaks not only of relationships between men and women but hard times on the cold concrete of Urban America—hard times that reach all the way back to the cruel introduction of Africans, a sun people, into a strange, new land."

Big Road Blues has a post about relatively unknown bluesman Roosevelt Holts complete with mp3's of his music:

"Holts was born in 1905 near Tylertown, Mississippi, and he took up the guitar when he was in his mid-twenties. He started to get serious about music in the late 1930’s when he encountered Tommy Johnson. Johnson had married Holts’ cousin Rosa Youngblood and moved to Tylertown with her. Around 1937 both men moved to Jackson playing all around town and surrounding towns."

Send comments to: Tim