Glamourpuss, Bluesman's Prayer
(Northern Blues, 2006)
Janiva Magness, Do I Move You? (Northern Blues, 2006)
Watermelon Slim & the Workers, self-titled (Northern Blues, 2006)
First of all, I have to tell you that these three CDs have artwork that separates them from the bulk of albums that are released. The Toronto designer "A Man Called Wrycraft" is responsible for all three, and they look stunning. Multi-fold digipacks all, they are colourful and individualized, each one representing the artist involved clearly and brilliantly. I just had to commend Wrycraft and Northern Blues for producing such distinctive packaging. Now what about the stuff inside?
Well...It is fine, too!
Glamourpuss is a New Brunswick band whose one-sheet bio describes them as "Canada's High Energy Blues/Rock/Zydeco Band." And that's all true, they are certainly high energy, and they absolutely include a variety of styles in their repertoire, but Glamourpuss goes beyond categorization. There are five members, each of whom adds to the band his own unique offering. Ron Dupuis is the drummer, a solid timekeeper, who also sings. Travis Furlong plays guitar and sings. Roger Cormier is another singer, who also plays piano, Hammond B3 and accordian, for those Zydeco touches. Larry Mallet is a guitarist, harmonicist, and singer. And Paul Boudreau plays bass and provides the bottom end which is the foundation. Michael Jerome Browne (a bluesman in his own right) produced, and adds a bit of harp. Listening to this album is like taking a workshop in blues styles, but still it manages to sound like Glamourpuss from start to finish. From the straight-ahead Zydeco of "Tu Peux Cogner" to the ZZ Top blues of "Walk Away," they cover it all. There are three songwriters, and from the sound of it they each sing their own tunes. "Drivin' the 401" celebrates one of Canada's highways, and sounds like just the stuff you'd be listening to on a hot summer night, with the window rolled down, and Glamourpuss cranked up on the stereo.
Bluesman's Prayer is recommended!
Do I Move You? is the question asked by Janiva Magness on her new CD. The answer is bound to be, "You sure do, Janiva!" Right from the first notes of "I'm Just A Prisoner," Ms. Magness's powerful vocal cords tie you up in a funky concoction of blues, R & B and soul. She moves easily into the older Willie Dixon blues of "Workin' On Me Baby" (done here as an electric shuffle). Janiva co-produced with the brilliant Colin Linden (who plays guitar throughout) and they achieve a sonic masterpiece. Rick Bell is apparent on many tracks, adding piano and organ. Bell is the equal to the great Garth Hudson when it comes to adding "honey" to already tasty tunes. Janiva turns in a Joplinesque take on Delbert McLinton's "You Were Never Mine," and pays tribute to acoustic blues with "Don't Let Your Memories." She belts, she moans, she sings sultry and low, whatever the song requires. Do I Move You? You bet! Oh, nice cover photo too!
The cover of the third disc from Northern Blues features a scary-looking guy with a straw hat and a string tie. That's Watermelon Slim. Turns out he was the only Vietnam veteran to release an album of protest songs while the war was still going on. Now some 30 years later he turns in his most recent album of blues music. And quite an album it is! It starts with some potent drums and a stinging slide guitar, then Watermelon Slim comes in with a voice that's deep and experienced. Cool.
The band are called the Workers, and for good reason. They put out the effort to keep this music moving. Michael Newberry (drums), Ike Lamb (guitars), Cliff Belcher (bass) and Mr. Slim hisownself on slide guitar and dobro (and harp) are joined by Dennis Borycki on piano and they make a powerful unit. Whether rocking out on opener "Hard Times" or the slow blues of "Possum Hand" they find a groove and work it out. This is some of the tastiest blues I've heard in a while. Apparently Watermelon Slim was out of the music scene for a long while, but a near-fatal heart attack gave him a new perspective, and he decided that driving around playing the blues was better than driving industrial waste around Oklahoma to disposal sites. I think I agree with him, especially if this is an example of what he can do!
Three new albums of blues music, played hot, recorded right, packaged beautifully. The only thing that's missing is a cold beer. You'll have to provide that yourself. Aah, that's better. See you on the flip side.