Who'd've thunk it? Along with windy Chicago and verdant Mississippi, Arizona is, in fact, a fertile environment for the blues. The proof's in these two discs, with the commonality between them being Bob Corritore, boss harmonica player and owner of Phoenix's Rhythm Room. On Travelin' the Dirt Road, he co-leads a session with guitarist/singer Dave Riley; on House Rockin' & Blues Shoutin,' a collection of 1997-2005 live performances from the Rhythm Room, he serves as producer. Dirt Road captures the transitional period of Southern blues as it developed into the electrified urban styles that impacted the genre as a whole and eventually became a cornerstone of rock 'n' roll. Riley's down-home lyrics and raspy, genial delivery represent the rural aspect of the blues on some songs, he sounds as if he could be performing on a back porch (with bits of urban bravado slipping in). Corritore's amplified, always-midnight harmonica echoes electric Chicago masters Little Walter and Walter Horton, and has such a scorching, searing quality it could be used to cauterize wounds. The production is bare-bones; you could almost feel the spaces between the sounds. If you yearn for rootsy, no-frills blues (with electricity), go no further: This is a winner.
House Rockin' spans not only years, but approaches to the blues (leaning toward the modern, however). The spare, rural-based styles are represented by stark solo performances from Long John Hunter and Robert Lockwood Jr., while the contemporary bright lights/big city swagger comes courtesy of the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and the Mannish Boys (featuring vocal ace Finis Tasby). For undulating boogie-woogie, there's Henry Gray with dandy jazz-tinged guitar from Kid Ramos, and for stately, emotive ache, Big Pete Pearson and Billy Boy Arnold. Dive in.