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Posted: August 20, 2009

Saffire gets uppity for its final tour

Acoustic blues trio hits Swallow Hill on Saturday; plus Tommy Castro and Woodstock revisited

Mike Cote

SAFFIRE THE UPPITY BLUES WOMEN Havin’ the Last Word (Alligator)

The aptly titled Havin’ the Last Word, released earlier this year, is to be Saffire’s final studio album, and this year’s tour – which comes to Swallow Hill on Saturday -- will be a farewell for the bawdy acoustic blues women.

Let’s hope this is one of those “farewells” that gets reconsidered down the line because it would be a shame to say goodbye forever to the fiery combination of Ann Rabson, Gaye Adegbalola and Andra Faye (whose story is chronicled in the documentary “Hot Flash,” a bittersweet portrait of the band's 20 years now out on DVD). 

The double-entendre naughtiness of a song like “Kitchen Man,” anchored by Rabson’s piano and vocals, Faye’s mandolin and Adegbalola’s guitar, epitomizes the spirit of the classic blues women Saffire has championed over the past 20 years.

If that was all Saffire represented, it would have been enough to sustain it as a novelty act. But Saffire has never been satisfied with just the easy pickings. Anyone who has battled cancer or watched a loved one face it will appreciate “Bald Headed Blues,” Adegbalola’s amazingly upbeat take on the darkest of subjects.

The disc closes with, “The Bad Times,” a Rabon tune featuring Faye’s fiddle work -- that acknowledges how getting through the rough patches helps you find your way to bliss.

TOMMY CASTRO Hard Believer (Alligator)

On his debut for Alligator Records, soul blues ambassador Tommy Castro delivers the high-octane entertainment his fans have come to expect. He tackles covers of classic R&B like “Ninety-nine and One Half” and “My Babe” (not the Willie Dixon tune – but you might remember it from a cover by Foghat in the ’70s) and Bob Dylan’s “Serve Somebody,” drenching them in Stax-style ’60s soul dressing.

Castro stands them up against equally strong originals: the lover’s lament “Definition of Insanity,” blues tribute “Make it Back to Memphis” and the tongue-in-cheek econ tale “Trimmin’ Fat.” Producer John Porter (B.B. King, Taj Mahal, Buddy Guy) understands Castro’s brand of blues, putting just the right emphasis on his smoky voice and stinging lead guitar, augmented by punchy horn charts.

Catch Castro and his band at the Boulder Outlook Hotel on Sept. 21 and 22. Expect tickets to sell out fast for these shows.

SANTANA The Woodstock Experience (Columbia Legacy)
SLY AND THE FAMILY STONE The Woodstock Experience (Epic/Legacy)

The 40th anniversary of Woodstock prompted Sony BMG to dust off albums by rock artists who recorded studio albums in 1969 and pair them with their live performances from the music festival.

Santana fans who bought the double-disc Legacy Edition of the band’s eponymous debut from a few years ago already have nearly all of the live tracks, but for the uninitiated, Santana’s performance at the festival was considered among the best as the band tore through most of an album that wasn’t even in stores yet, introducing future classics like “Evil Ways” “Jingo” and “Soul Sacrifice,” all fueled by Latin percussion and Carlos Santana’s distinctive guitar.

Sly Stone didn’t fare long as a live performer, succumbing to drug addiction in the ’70s, so hearing his funky soul band in fine form is a rare treat. Six of the three performances from the live disc in the Sly and the Family Stone set were previously unreleased, including “M’Lady,” “Everyday People” and the title track of Stand, the studio album included in this package. Extended arrangements show the band was more than just the singles hit machine dominating the Top 40 charts at the time.

The series also includes Jefferson Airplane, Johnny Winter and Janis Joplin. With collectors in mind, each slipcase set is packaged with a 16-by-20-inch foldout poster, and mini-LP covers with paper inner sleeves to hold the discs.

Mike Cote is the former editor of ColoradoBiz. E-mail him at mcote@cobizmag.com.

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