Dishing up the blues on harmonica and guitar
BOB CORRITORE AND FRIENDS Harmonica Blues (Deltra Groove)
What to do if you’re a veteran blues harmonica player who doesn’t sing but wants to put out a solo disc? How about surround yourself with some of your friends and heroes. That recipe suits Bob Corritore well on this new set of traditional Chicago blues.
You have to appreciate Corritore’s journey to assemble this 15-song set recorded between 1989 and 2009, jampacked with performances by some of the best in the blues. There’s a bittersweet side to this collection, too, since some of the players are no longer with us.
The album kicks off with the late Koko Taylor singing her self-penned “What Kind of Man is This?” featuring Bob Margolin on guitar and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. Corritore plays just a beat behind Taylor’s vocal, punctuating her big, brassy voice with a powerful but restrained wails and moans. He gets to punch up the volume a bit for the solo, of course.
Other late great icons appearing include Nappy Brown (“Baby Don’t You Tear My Clothes”), Little Milton (“6 Bits in Your Dollar) and Robert Lockwood Jr. (“That’s All Right”). They’re nestled along songs featuring such still-active players as Eddy Clearwater (“That’s My Baby”) and Pinetop Perkins (“Big Fat Mama”).
Corritore, long-time owner of the Rhythm Room club in Phoenix, includes performances from some of his blues friends who also relocated to Phoenix. Guitarist/singer Louisiana Red’s spoken word intro to “Tell Me ‘Bout It” lends it an instant down-home charm. Guitarist/singer Dave Riley – with whom Corritore has recorded two duet albums in recent years – pays tribute to his late mentor and bandmate Frank Frost.
THE ROBERT CRAY BAND Cookin’ in Mobile (Vanguard DVD/CD)
Robert Cray released his first live album, the double-disc Across the Pond, just a few years ago. But Cookin’ in Mobile ups the ante by including a DVD of the performance, recorded at the Saenger Theatre in Mobile, Ala., a mere five months before its July release. Despite a considerable amount of crossover pop success, Cray has never been content to simply churn out the hits; the guitarist/singer and his band offer a strong set that represents where the band happens to be right now.
Cray is backed by long-time keyboard player and songwriter Jim Pugh, drummer Tony Braunagel (best known for his work with Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal) and reunited with original band member bass player Richard Cousins. He leads the quartet through a set of R&B-laced blues that captures his powerful but understated guitar playing, his soulful singing and his gently-grooving vibe.
Cray can’t leave the stage without performing a couple of songs from his commercial breakthrough Strong Persuader album; the 12-song show features the crowd pleasers “Right Next Door” and “Smoking Gun.” He pays tribute to Howlin’ Wolf, and one can suspect, Wolf’s ace guitarist Hubert Sumlin, with a cover of “Sitting on Top of the World.”
The rest of the performance is more eclectic, kicking off with the gently swinging “Our Last Time,” one of four songs written or co-written by Pugh, and featuring material from Cray’s 2009 disc This time, including the Cray-penned ballad “I Can’t Fail,” Braunagel and Johnnnie Lee Schell’s “That’s What Keeps Me Rockin'” and the tongue-in-cheek “Chicken in the Kitchen,” a tune that has Cray reviving old-school blues imagery. Highlights include an extended crowd-clapping organ solo by Pugh during “One in the Middle.”
The DVD features some bonus material, including is a promotional video for “Twenty,” the title track of his 2005 album (a song that takes a tough look at what it means to be a soldier); and an outtake of the early Cray blues hit “Phone Booth,” culled from the Mobile concert.
“Mobile has changed. They’ve taken down all the phone booths,” Cray says, joking with the audience. Cray and his band, however, remain the same – compelling, persuasive – and cookin’ indeed.