Blues & More, by George Fish


August 23, 2009

Craig Brenner & the Crawdads
Live to Love
Craig Brenner

Bloomington’s own Craig Brenner & the Crawdads have just issued a new CD that romps with boogie, blues, jazz, R&B and even country in a delightful potpourri of 10 original songs. Craig Brenner, leader of the group and composer, lyricist and arranger of all 10 original numbers on the new CD, Live to Love, is an exemplar of what can happen when formal musical training meets deep-inside soulfulness and creativity.

Brenner graduated from Florida Southern College in 1970, then studied jazz piano with Wally Cirillo in Miami. He attended the justly renowned Indiana University School of Music in Bloomington from 1976 to 1980, where he studied piano, composition and improvisation, then undertook additional study through a grant from the Indiana Arts Commission, studying boogie-woogie and stride piano under Bob Seeley and blues piano under Big Joe Duskin.


July 26, 2009

Editor's Note: "The Blues of Poetry" will be an occasional theme pursued in "Blues and More" columns, which will explore poetry set to music, and poetry inspired by music. Future topics will include the ragtime and blues poetry of award-winning Indiana poet Jared Carter; the poetic musings inspired by music of another Indiana poet Richard Pflum; a look at the highly lyrical and poetic songwriting of Canadian Paul Reddick; and the CD of Indiana Poet Laureate Norbert Krapf reading his poetry to musical accompaniment featuring Bloomington jazz pianist Monika Herzig.

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Joseph Kerschbaum, spoken original poems
Josh Johnson, musical composition, guitars, keyboards, bass, with J.B. Murray, drums
Our Voices Sound Like Silence
Kerschbaum and Johnson

The CD Our Voices Sound Like Silence is best looked at as an interlocking poetic oratorio in 11 movements, each part contributing to an interlocking, complete composition in words and music. Thus is Our Voices Sound Like Silence embraced both in its totality as a composition and through each one of its 11 separate, complementary parts. These parts are: the eight original poems of Joseph Kerschbaum, which he reads over a musical backdrop composed by Josh Johnson, with Johnson playing multiple instruments accompanied by drummer J.B. Murray; and the three strictly musical interludes that begin, end, and form a bridge between the two thematic groups of Kerschbaum's readings that comprise four poems each. Structured, yet flowing freely, as a river within the boundaries of its banks, is this composition in word and music that forms the totality of this CD.


July 12, 2009

The First Annual Chubby's Reunion Fest was a two-day gala event held May 9-10 at the Indianapolis East Side music club Zanies Too, a most worthy event to honor a most worthy person, Chubby Wadsworth. The Chubster, as he's affectionately called, is the grand dean of Indianapolis original music, which he spotlighted, encouraged and actively supported at Chubby's Club LaSalle.

While no one seems to be sure when Wadsworth took over the reins of Club LaSalle, it was an active music venue in the 1990s right up to the last live performance there, the Bluesapalooza jam on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 2003 (Club LaSalle closed its doors permanently in February 2004, and the building was demolished earlier this year).

Club LaSalle is remembered fondly by musicians and fans alike as a place where both were always welcome, and where creativity and original voices were cultivated and encouraged. Unfortunately, while an artistic triumph in culturally starved Indianapolis, Club LaSalle was always touch-and-go financially, in part due to its location on the rough Near East Side in the "heart of Indianapolis's murder district." But inside the club it was always safe, and far too many now mourn the passing of Club LaSalle when they themselves didn't patronize it during the time its doors were open.


April 19, 2009

Indianapolis’s Locals Only Art & Music Pub, located at 2449 E. 56th St., half a block east of the intersection of 56th and Keystone Avenue, is one of the Circle City’s most outstanding original music venues, and its noted open mics are active incubators of that music. All three of the CDs reviewed below have strong ties to those open mics.

Johnny Ping, creative force behind the Accidental Arrangements, used to host the Tuesday night open mics, while Jethro Easyfields has long hosted the one on Wednesday nights. Simeon Pillar, Muncie singer/songwriter and musical collaborator with Easyfields, has been playing at the Locals Only open mics for three years now.


April 5, 2009

Editor's note: George Fish was waylaid by back-to-back viral infections for much of February and March. This month he has two new CD reviews of indie and small-label artists that are well worth checking out.

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Shout Sister Shout--All that Jazz (Oh yeah!)

Shout Sister Shout
Hit that Jive
MC Records MC-0063

Shout Sister Shout is an excitingly different quintet hailing from Lansing, Mich., capital of the Wolverine State, right next door to my old 1960s college stomping ground of Michigan State University, in next-door East Lansing. This quintet -- Rachel Davis, vocals; Joe Wilson, trombone, steel guitar and background vocals; Andy Wilson, harmonicas, trumpet and flugelhorn; Dominic John Suchyta, standup bass and background vocals; and Joshua Davis, guitars and vocals -- loves the music of the 1930s and 40s, and lovingly re-does these songs in a uniquely different way.


February 8, 2009

Steve Howell
My Mind Gets to Ramblin'
Out of the Past Records TP003

David Egan
You Don't Know Your Mind
Out of the Past Records/Rhonda Sue Records TP004

The-gray and white in the facial hair of Steve Howell and David Egan, as pictured on their respective CD sleeves, shows that these are two seasoned veterans who've been honing their chops for a long time and have devoted years to mastering their musical art.


January 25, 2009

Long before I actually "discovered" the blues when I went to college, I was an avid fan of the rock 'n' roll and R&B/soul I heard on AM Top 40 radio. In fact, I was just knocked out by R&B and even blues before I really knew what it was! It was "only rock 'n roll to me" as I eagerly rocked on to the sounds of Ray Charles, Solomon Burke, Hank Ballard, and even Jimmy Reed and Bobby Bland that I heard on Top 40 radio, not really knowing what I was listening to, only knowing that I really, really dug it.

Rock 'n' roll is often considered a bastard child of the blues, but it was Muddy Waters himself who said, "Blues had a baby, and they called it rock 'n' roll." Rock 'n' roll was the "jungle music" dismissed by the highbrow critics that just excited the hell out of me and millions of other youth across the land.

Rock 'n' roll was also the great leveler and door opener that brought the music of the riffraff, African Americans, and the other "undesirables" of the Eisenhower Era to our young white ears and, for some of us, was the opening wedge that made some of us more receptive to the countercultures that would explode in the mid-1960s.


December 28, 2008

The notable, frequently dramatic, story of pioneer modern blues label Chess Records and its founder, Leonard Chess, has made its way to the movie screen in a film as remarkable and as powerful as its subject -- Cadillac Records. While the film is not always historically accurate, it does indeed tell a powerful and well-scripted story that engages the watcher's attention fully.

We identify readily with the humanness, rough edges and creativity of the film's protagonists -- legends who are put into human terms in the film without sacrificing any of the creative greatness that made them legends in the first place. For Cadillac Records focuses itself around the frequently tempestuous musical and personal relationships of Leonard Chess with Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon, Chuck Berry and Etta James.

The excellent soundtrack features many of the Chess classics played by a band of first-class musicians formed by harmonica great Kim Wilson, who plays harp on the soundtrack and masterfully re-creates the signature Little Walter licks. Other notables in the band are guitarist Billy Flynn and pianist Barrelhouse Chuck.


December 14, 2008

Odetta, the powerful voice of folk and blues whose music was the anthem for the Civil Rights Movement, died December 3, 2008 in a Manhattan hospital. She was 77. She died of a heart attack but had been admitted several days earlier for kidney failure.

Born Odetta Holmes on December 31, 1930, in Birmingham, Ala., during the height of the Great Depression, she grew up on the black folk, blues and prison work songs that she heard around her. In 1937 she moved with her mother to Los Angeles, and in a 2007 videotaped interview for the New York Times, she recalled her humiliation on the trip as all the "colored" passengers were required to move from the train car they were riding in.

One of her teachers commented to Odetta's mother in 1940 that she had a voice that should be trained, and so Odetta studied classical voice music in high school and at Los Angeles City College, where she earned a degree in it. But she later dismissed her classical training as a "nice exercise, but it had nothing to do with my life," for she had discovered folk music -- the traditional songs of the African American and Anglo-American folk and working people's lives, and that music became her passion to sing.


November 30, 2008

Dave Specter, with Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson and Sharon Lewis
Live in Chicago
Delmark DVD DVD1794

Live in Chicago was recorded and filmed at two of Chicago’s leading blues clubs in August 2007, Buddy Guy’s Legends on Aug. 2 and Rosa’s Blues Lounge on Aug. 20. This DVD features live performances from one of Chicago’s most acclaimed younger blues guitarists, Dave Specter, with his band and special vocal guests Tad Robinson, Jimmy Johnson and Sharon Lewis performing in sets of solid, soulful contemporary Chicago blues.

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