Album Reviews

Big Jay McNeely

Blowin’ Down the House

Artist:     Big Jay McNeely

Album:     Blowin’ Down the House

Label:     Cleopatra Records

Release Date:     09/30/2016


Before there was the electric guitar of rock ‘n’ roll, there was Big Jay McNeely’s saxophone of rhythm and blues. Born Cecil James McNeely, the young sax player began his career in 1948, appearing on a Johnny Otis record titled Barrelhouse Stomp. He was a pioneer of the “honking” style featured on some of his old tunes such as “Get on Up Let’s Boogie” and “Blow Blow Blow.” He has even incorporated a similar honker grit into the vocals on his new tracks featured in his new album, Blowin’ Down the House.

A true entertainer, the album cover showcases a notorious picture of McNeely lying on the floor in a club, taken by Bob Willoughby, with two white kids at the front of the stage. This photo encapsulates the erratic energy that permeated to youth audiences– white, black and Chicano– who were spellbound by McNeely’s wailing blues.

If the album cover doesn’t take you back to the 1950s, perhaps the B side of the album provides the ultimate homage to the days where McNeely was recording for big record labels in California. On “Blow Blow Blow,” McNeely’s in the fast lane, dancing around fast melodic riffs and long repeated high range notes. He turns the heat down a notch in “Willie the Cool Cat,” as the band starts in unison and breaks into a walking bass and rag piano accompaniment, with a call and response between McNeely’s saxophone and horn section. The A side, featuring McNeely’s newly written songs, sound like they could be on a Jimi Hendrix album. Perhaps that’s not such a coincidence, though, as Jimi’s father used to take him to hear McNeely play, deeply influencing Hendrix’s style. The gas and jazz horn section is still prominently featured, along with McNeely’s uncompromising, moaning saxophone lines. These new songs bring a sentiment of yearning and frustrated passion to McNeely’s extensive arsenal of work.

Would you like to hear some boogie woogie? Get on up and let’s boogie to Big Jay McNeely’s new album Blowin’ Down the House!

-Julia Egan

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