FILLMORE SLIM: Son Of The Seven Sisters
Fillmore Slim Media Release (no issue number) (60:12)
Son Of The Seven Sisters/ Broke, Baby/ I’m A Playboy/ Jody Must Be In My Business/ I’m A Badd Brutha Foya/ Emma Lou, Queen Of The Homeless/ Rock Star/ Last Night/ Dedicated To Johnny Guitar Watson/ Mary Sue/ Legend In My Own Time/ Fast Gun Annie/ Little Bluebird
Hopefully readers will be familiar with Fillmore Slim aka Clarence ‘Guitar’ Sims, if not, you could find out plenty by reading his autobiography ‘Blues Man Mack’ that I reviewed in B&R 327. However, the opening line of his otherwise lightweight song ‘Rock Star’ will tell you all you really need to know: ‘I dress like a rock star but I was born to sing the blues’. But this is in no way a country boy still resident in the Delta cotton belt, for he is a contemporary bluesman from those city streets where white folks seldom, if ever, tread and his songs usually reflect his surroundings.
Slim, as I like to call him, is not blessed with an exceptional singing voice but he certainly knows how to tell a good tale. His standing is such that he invariably attracts the highest quality west coast musicians and here he is accompanied by the likes of Rick Estrin (who had a hand in the excellent production), Kid Andersen, Jim Pugh and Jon Otis on drums (yes, the son of Johnny Otis) plus horns and more.
The album opens in untypical manner with a title track that harks back to Slim’s early roots in New Orleans when voodoo and the like were popular fixations. The song is propelled by an unusual loping guitar figure plus swampy sound effects and matching harmonica, which all adds greatly to its appeal. The thirteen tracks include only two covers, a nice version of ‘Last Night’ and a passable rendition of the enduring Johnny Taylor hit ‘Bluebird’ from his early Stax period. Otherwise it is all self-penned originals.
The nearest you get to more traditional up-tempo twelve-bar offerings is the strident ’Broke Baby’ and ‘Emma Lou, Queen Of The Homeless’ with extravagant Elmore licks from Kid Andersen. If you think the increasing number of people sleeping in shop doorways in your town is a particularly British phenomenon then check out ‘Emma’ and know otherwise. Only fools think the blues is locked in a bygone era.
Far more predominant is tough, funky stuff like ‘I’m A Playboy’ and ‘I’m A Badd Brutha Foya’ with boastful bad boy declarations embellished by subtle horns and strong bass lines. One can imagine him sitting in the back of a white Cadillac composing this sort of stuff. ‘Dedicated To Johnny Guitar Watson’ does exactly what it says on the tin as it is a faithful homage to the man in his DJM days with accurate sound-a-like guitar licks.
There is room also for some, tough down-in-the-alley blues and ‘Jody Must Be In My Business’ is an entertaining dialogue with his woman played appropriately by Diva Ladee Chico who provides constant background reposts in the time-honoured manner. ‘Mary Sue’ is another equally fine and seductively funky blues with just the right laid-back feel, while Joe Pugh performs admirably at the keyboard.
‘Legend In My Own Time’ is really a like for like remake of the title track from Slim’s 2006 Mountain Top album and fourteen years later it again has Rick Estrin interjecting on chromatic harp. So what if Slim does rather bathe in his own notoriety, why shouldn’t he. Last, and by all means least is ‘Fast Gun Annie’ a C&W pastiche complete with some banjo accompaniment and yodelling, all of which is way outside my comfort zone and into skip button territory.
Overall, this is a very enjoyable album and how pleasing it is to have a vintage artist offer predominantly new songs.
If you don’t have a recent Fillmore Slim item in your collection you are indeed missing something and this new release would rectify the omission very nicely.
ALABAMA MIKE: Hip You To My Blues
Big Tone Records 246 (48:00)
Black Cadillac/ I’m Selfish/ California Blues/ Frustrate My Life/ 20% Alcohol/ Diabetic Man/ Cut That Out/ How You Want Your Rollin Done?/ V-8 Ford Blues/ Hip You To My Blues/ Stop Accusing That Woman/ I’m In Love With A Woman/ Hello Central/ Keep My Grave Clean/ I Feel So Good
It was a surprise to learn about a new release by Alabama Mike (real name Michael A. Benjamin) on Big Jon Atkinson’s new label. Alabama Mike’s earlier recordings, such as those with The Andy T Band in 2017’s ‘Double Strike,’ often displayed a gospel-rooted vocal style in the manner of Little Johnnie Taylor.
This new release finds him in a down-home blues vein with a dose of Lightnin’ Hopkins flavour along with some tracks that evoke early ’50s Chicago style. This recording reflects Alabama Mike’s long-burning desire to ‘do a record in the classic style of early electric blues pioneers….’
The backing musicians on this set of retro blues include Kim Wilson on harmonica, Big Jon Atkinson and Danny Michel on guitar, Troy Sandow and Kedar Roy on bass, Joe Lempkowski on harmonica, June Core and Malachi Johnson on drums, Robert Welsh on keyboards, on retro-sounding performances.
Alabama Mike certain invests his vocals with intensity and soul. The Lightnin’ Hopkins influence can best be heard on the opening ‘Black Cadillac’ (with Atkinson on guitar) as well as the revival of Hopkins’ ‘Hello Central’ with Danny Michel on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica and Marty Dodson on drums lending the performance a swamp blues flavour. Danny Michel also channels Hopkins guitar on the swampy ‘California Blues,’ with choice Joe Lempkowski harmonica accompaniment.
A reworking of John Lee ‘Sonny Boy’ Williamson’s ‘Cut That Out’ sounds like a down-home version of Junior Wells 1950’s recording. Kim Wilson is on harmonica, Atkinson on guitar and Dodson on drums. Welsh provides the greasy organ on ‘Diabetic Man’ with Wilson on the harp. On ‘How You Want Your Rollin Done,’ Atkinson plays some excellent T-Bone Walker-styled guitar. On Big Bill Broonzy’s ‘I Feel So Good,’ Alabama Mike delivers a strong vocal in the manner of Muddy Waters with J.B. Hutto styled slide guitar in the backing. ‘Keep My Grave Clean’ is an ingenious band reworking of what was Blind Lemon Jefferson’s most famous recording, while the cover of J.B. Hutto’s ‘Too Much Alcohol’ sticks close to the arrangement of Hutto’s Delmark recording.
A moody rendition of Willie Love’s ‘V-8 Ford’ with Atkinson and Welsh closes a release of notable down-home blues performances. There are a couple of times the backing may be a tad skeletal, but Alabama Mike’s singing and the idiomatic support result in a most entertaining blues album.
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