Sleepy LaBeef is a road warrior, an Arkansas born veteran of the honky-tonk circuit who mixes country, rockabilly blues and R&R, singing your basic roots music in a booming baritone. Between 1980 and 1996 he cut four albums for Rounder Records--having headquartered out of Amesbury Mass. after his tour bus burned on the Maine Turnpike on New Years Eve.
Two of those albums were produced by writer Peter Guralnick. An earlier 1980 Nashville session included contributions by backup musicians ranging from Elvis's drummer D J Fontana, to bass player Henry Strzlecki, who anchored Bob Dylan’s BLONDE ON BLONDE sessions in 1966. This set is put together from session out-takes from all four albums, focusing on his more blues tinged numbers.
The material ranges from a couple by Muddy Waters ("Sugar Sweet", where band members all solo and "Mannish Boy", the latter mixed with lyrics from several Bo Diddley numbers), Jimmy Reed ("Bright Lights Big City"), and Lightning Slim ("Rooster Blues") to Little Richard ("Long Tall Sally" and a raucous "Rip It UP"). Sonny Boy Williamson's "Bottle Up and Go" gets the treatment, as does the gospel standard "This Train". Most of the numbers are more in the honky-tonk/rockabilly vein than deep blues but they all have a good energy and a strong presence. The 5:19 "Got You On My Mind" is the bluesiest piece here, with a slow steady riff and wailing harp from producer Scott Billington.
LaBeef says he has a repertoire of over 6000 songs, these are a few that got caught on tape over the years. Though nothing earth shaking happens, this is a pleasant set from a workhorse performer.
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.
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