This album is like one of those fabled WWII jeeps you'd hear about that were supposedly sold by army surplus dealers; they came crated, packed in preservatives which kept them like new, even years later. This CD was recorded nearly 20 years ago (June 1982) in Chicago by Horst Lippman, a German blues entrepreneur who sponsored a number of American Blues Festivals
in Europe and headed up his own label. Lippman recorded a number of second-line blues players both in Europe and the US.
In 1982 Chicago Blues as a commercial form was definitely an endangered species, not many of the originators were working regularly, the market had all but dried up in the black community--and only a few performers were able to cross over to the lucrative white college market. Lippman found some young men who'd grown up in the tradition and were still playing in the genre with energy and passion, and cut several albums on this field trip to the USA.
Billy Branch was born in Chicago, grew up in California, when he returned to go to college he began hanging out in blues bars, sitting in. He eventually toured with Willie Dixon, and played the Berlin Festival in 1977, with an early version of his Sons Of Blues band. Lurrie Bell was son of harpist Carey Bell, he began gigging in dads band at age 13. By his mid 20's he had worked with Eddie Campbell and Eddie Clearwater, and in the late 70s joined up with Branch.
The album program consists of tunes that are largely the standards you'd probably expect. Branch (a rather generic harpist) had a taste for Junior Wells, his cover of Sonny Boy Williamsons "Help Me" has definite Wells colorations, as does "Don't Start Me Talking." Bell has a more unique sound and style. His guitar tone is sharp edged and penetrating, his attack
sometimes fierce. He approaches solos with the same anarchy that Hubert Sumlin uses--pushing the envelope with melodic and rhythmic variations that are often fresh and surprising. His vocals also have an impassioned drive that ups the overall ante a notch. "Breaking Up Somebody's Home" sounds like more than just a lyric to Bell, as does Magic Sam's "I Need You So Bad." He even manages to inject some energy in the oft covered B B King chestnut "Sweet Little Angel." The set closes with a driving "Mystery Train," putting some funky steam on the tracks. What could've been just a routine bar-band set turns out to have some more rewarding depths. Bell has gone on to fabled status, his chemical and mental problems keeping him on the
fringes of the scene. His impromptu sit-in sets are storied, the fire still burns.
As for this time capsule piece, there's really nothing new here, just some solidly played Chicago Blues-- shiny and well preserved as a virgin jeep.
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This review is copyright © 2001 by Tony Glover, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.