“And The Band Played On”
“Evolution, revolution, gun control, sound of soul…
And the band played on”
—The Temptations, “Ball of Confusion”
[T]hese half dozen albums reveal flat-out blues bands that consistently deliver relentless grooves across the varying styles of Chicago, Memphis, Texas, horn-drenched R&B and even acoustic like Reverend Gary Davis. No ball of confusion could distract these bands from playing on.
The “Hoochie Man,” Linsey Alexander, now in his 70s, may finally be getting the attention he deserves. Alexander claims that he can’t play like B.B. or Albert King and so he just has to be himself. When you listen, however, you’ll hear both Kings in his style, which marries Chicago blues with Memphis, where Alexander spent his adolescent years. On Come Back Baby, his second Delmark release, he’s backed by his nine-piece, veteran Chicago band, with guest spots on harp from Billy Branch. Throughout the album, Alexander displays humor—on tunes like “Call My Wife” and “Too Old To Be A New Fool”—while his slashing guitar and authentic vocals say it all: he’s a real deal bluesman.
Pierre Lacocque assembled both his band, Mississippi Heat, and guests Carl Weathersby and Sax Gordon for the band’s fifth Delmark release, Warning Shot. Charlie Musselwhite said it best: “This album has great performances by everybody, enduring melodies, adventurous chord changes and rhythms and ALWAYS inspiring, heartfelt blues. Of course, I’m especially fond of Pierre’s tasty and brilliant harmonica playing throughout.” Inetta Visor’s gut-wrenching vocals and Gordon’s support on sax give the sizzling band some extra energy. This album just keeps cooking.
The Milwaukee-based Altered Five Blues Band impressed enough of the right people with 2012’s Gotta Earn It to enlist Grammy-winning producer Tom Hambridge for their follow-up, Cryin’ Mercy. This original, contemporary group includes powerful vocalist “JT” Taylor along with a tight band featuring blazing interaction between keyboardist Ray Tevich and guitarist Jeff Schroedl. Check out the passion and defiance in tracks like “Stay Outta of My Business,” “Urgent Care,” “Demon Woman” and “Here’s Your Hat, What’s Your Hurry.”
Apparently, Mike Zito left Royal Southern Brotherhood because they just don’t play enough blues. He’d rather go on the road with his band, Mike Zito and the Wheel. “With the guys in the Wheel,” said Zito, “we’re all on the same page. We’re not interested in solos; we want to play together.” Songs From The Road: Mike Zito and the Wheel—the latest installment of Ruf Records’ fine, titular series—captures the band (on both CD and DVD) live at Dosey Doe, in Zito’s adopted home state of Texas. Selections are mostly from the band’s fine studio album, Greyhound. What separates Zito from so many other blues rockers is his blend of solid songwriting, soulful vocals and fiery guitar. Watch the DVD to get an even better sense of the magic in the room that night. (Zito’s counterpoint in the Wheel, and recent Blues Music Award nominee, saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter, just released his own stellar album, Walk Away.)
Saxophonist/singer/songwriter Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer blows in from the West Coast with a sound that hearkens back to great soul sax players like King Curtis, Hank Crawford and Grover Washington, Jr. Now based in Los Angeles, Spencer had been a fixture in Oakland’s gritty blues and soul clubs while also serving as a sideman to legends like Etta James and Z.Z. Hill, among others. Spencer’s latest album, Hurricane Unleashed, features ten originals, including four first featured on Spencer’s 2003 debut. Throughout, Spencer and his band lay down blues, ballads, funk and two killer instrumental covers: “Honky Tonk” and Washington’s “Mr. Magic.” Transport yourself back to the sounds of those great sax players of old and enjoy Spencer’s down-home approach.
New York’s acoustic Empire Roots Band features some of the city’s best blues/roots players joining together to present the music of the Reverend Gary Davis for Harlem Street Singer, a recent documentary film about Davis’ life and career. Guitarist Woody Mann studied with Davis himself, in addition to performing with Son House and Bukka White. Pianist Dave Keyes has worked with Odetta, Ruth Brown and Lou Rawls, among others. Vocalist Bill Sims, Jr. also fronts the Grammy-nominated Heritage Blues Orchestra. Bassist Brian Glassman tours under the auspices of the U.S. State Department and has supported jazz greats like Kenny Burrell and Lionel Hampton. Combining the talents of Mann, Keyes, Sims and Glassman, the Empire Roots Band adds jazz-inflected licks, precise solos and a rousing blues feeling to Davis’s gospel blues. Let’s hope this band becomes an ongoing touring unit and, like the aforementioned, will play on, touring with fervor and commitment.
– Jim Hynes