Blues Arizona

A cocktail review of recent state releases

The Hoodoo Kings' original "Blue Over You" is yet another mediocre composition, but this one's enlivened by former Hoodoo Kings and Forbidden Pigs guitarist Mario Moreno's exquisite hot-rod breaks. Dave Trippy has an appropriately smoky timbre and the rest of the band keeps up just fine, but Moreno is the star here.

And then the cream: King Karl's "Mathilda" is the hands-down winner on this set. No surprise, really--Bernard "King Karl" Jolivette, a native of Louisiana, was a singer with the Guitar Gable Band on the great swamp-pop Excello label in the 1950s, where he cut "Irene" and "This Should Go On Forever." He made some solo singles on the regional La Louisianne/Tamm label in the mid-1960s, and then disappeared from the market. This cut marks his first recording in a long time, and I suspect Bob Corritore, who plays harp on the track, had something to do with that. In any case, Karl doesn't sound a bit rusty. His version of Cookie and the Cupcakes' "Mathilda" uses the loping Cajun-waltz time of classic Excello sides and Corritore does a credible impersonation of Slim Harpo. Valley residents should count themselves blessed that Karl moved to town and beg him to cut a full album.

Rocket 88s, possibly the most frequently recorded band on the compilation, contributes the instrumental "Rockin' at the Roller Rink." You've got a right to expect more from a bunch of pros; while there are no flies on these guys, there's nothing really dazzling in this number, either. No doubt this song, like so many other selections on Desert Blues, sounds better live.

It's hard to imagine I'd ever want to hear another cover of a Jimmy Reed song. Luther Jackson and the Loose Cannons Blues Band prove me at least half wrong for thinking anything is forbidden to those with conviction and imagination; they take "Big Boss Man" uptown a little ways with a faster beat than the original (no real trick there--that's what most bar bands do with Reed songs, since the originals were nearly narcoleptic) and add jangly country-style guitar, courtesy of Parris Simmons. It's not for nothing that the first wave of rockabillies saw Reed as fertile ground to mine, but to appreciate singer and guitarist Jackson (who was, once upon a time, a member of the legendary Falcons), it would be nice to have a slightly less-worn number.

Bob Bingham's solo "Got a Real Bad Feeling" sounds like Leon Redbone, which isn't necessarily bad--I thought of "Polly-Wolly-Doodle," something I hadn't done in a while. Bingham, a guitarist who did time in the Hoodoo Kings and Rocket 88s, has that old-timey feeling down. But what does he want to do with it? Here's my suggestion: Hoagy Carmichael covers. Really.

Walkin' Cane Mark's "$40 in the Hole" isn't an especially proficient version of what seems to be someone else's song, to judge from the credits, but he makes up for it with abundant energy and that's good enough for me. I'm not sure I'd want to own one of his albums, but I'd check out one of his shows. Hell, Madonna's not such a hot singer, either, but there's a reason she's famous. And she and Walkin' Cane have this much in common: Subtlety is not in their lexicons.

The Jim Glass Band's "Blues on Sahuaro" is a long, slow, rip-snortin' instrumental showcase for Glass, a former guitarist with Big Pete Pearson's Blues Sevilles. He does a nice job, and Clyde "Flash" Covington's sax work adds a welcome counterpoint to the ax pyrotechnics.

I got to the end of Desert Blues hoping for one more keeper. No such luck. Lamar and Lucius Parr's "Don't Yell" is another competent piece that never quite catches fire. The problem here could be the recording--Lamar's voice doesn't stand out against Steve Hastings' echoing trumpet, although each could be an asset in a bar or a club. And in my book, all blues bands start off with bonus points for employing horns. But you still have to ace the test.--Robert Meyerowitz

George Howard and the Roadhouse Hounds
Great American Blues You Can Use
(Blue Tick Records)

The title of veteran Tucson bluesman George Howard's latest release seems appropriate. This is indeed blues you can use--as, say, background music in a movie with lots of smoky-bar scenes. There are no smoldering hunks of pure blues power to distract from the dialogue here, just a set of well-put-together songs that is a bit too slicked up to sound authentic.

Howard's band, the Roadhouse Hounds, is a group of accomplished musicians--most notably Bryan Dean, who maintains subtle command of his hot guitar licks, and Richard Gomez, who conjures a haunting atmosphere with his tremulous keyboard work. And so the problem with Great American Blues is less one of execution than conception--the recording is simply too laid-back.

The Bobby Parker Jr. composition "Blues Get Off My Shoulder" is a slow, soulful number that the Hounds serve well. Ditto for Syl Johnson's melancholy "Any Way the Wind Blows." But without a couple of legitimate window rattlers, one mellow song tends to blur with the next. Even Howard's cover of James Brown's "I Go Crazy" is stripped of its funk underpinnings to sound competent but uninspired. Where the band succeeds more readily is with a rousing version of Don Nix's "Going Down," or its cover of Rufus Thomas' "Walking the Dog" (which has a Randy Newman-in-New Orleans lilt to it, thanks largely to Gomez's halting piano riffs). There's also a respectable rehash of "Crosscut Saw," but once you've heard Albert King's retrofitted Latin-funk rendition, it's hard to get too excited about other attempts, including this one.

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