Album Reviews

Toronzo Cannon

The Chicago Way

Artist:     Toronzo Cannon

Album:     The Chicago Way

Label:     Alligator

Release Date:     02/26/2016

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This explosive debut might just mean that Toronzo Cannon could give up his day job as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. Something tells me, though, that he may just want to hang on to it for a while longer so he can continue to tap into the pulse of Chicago’s people and derive more story material for his songs. He wrote all eleven of them for this, his Alligator Records debut. Over the last fifteen years or so, Cannon has been one of the hardest workers on the Chicago blues club circuit. Playing alongside the best and similarly ambitious blues players in the world has just continued to sharpen his skills as both a fiery guitarist and a writer with subject matter spanning pain to joy to humor. He has earned every bit of the recent acclaim that’s come his way, much of it tracing to his amazing set at last year’s Chicago Blues Festival.  From here on out, he will be in the spotlight for a good long time. His spirited enthusiasm is contagious.

Toronzo’s last album for Delmark, John the Conquer Root, grabbed my attention, mostly because he was the closest to capturing Hendrix’s guitar sound than any other guitarist I’ve heard.  This time around, I’m struck more by his attention to detail in every note and every word.  Cannon has a deep respect for his predecessors and channels the the spirit of artists like Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and Son Seals. Label president Bruce Iglauer says “I’ve watched Toronzo grow as a singer, player and songwriter over the last ten years. He’s now become a major blues talent… His music comes right from the heart of the city.”

The album moves powerfully and relentlessly through the first eight tracks, only reaching that vintage Chicago slow burn on track nine, the smoldering “When Will You Tell Him About Me?”  Believe me, by then you need a breather.  Cannon’s typical set closer, “Walk It Off” and “Chickens Comin’ Home to Roost’’ are perhaps the most dynamic of those preceding tracks.  Humor takes hold in “Bad Contract” and “Midlife Crisis” while clever wordplay is best exemplified in “Mrs. From Mississippi.” The word ‘electrifying’ characterizes every single tune in both his incendiary guitar soloing and heartfelt vocals. Cannon will appear in many of the major blues festivals this summer, including the Chicago Blues Festival in June and the Pennsylvania Blues Festival in September. In the meantime, this will really build your anticipation for his live act.

– Jim Hynes

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