Years ago James Cotton cut an album called "Live & On The Move." One of the great live discs of all time it featured a barn-burning horn band that shook the room with fiery intensity like nothing before and few recordings since. The Best of Calvin Owens rocks the speakers every bit as hard as that classic. 72-year-old Calvin Owens is the undisputed champ of blues trumpet. The Houston native served a tenure as the A&R Director at Peacock and put in time with Johnny Copeland and Arnett Cobb. Prior to building his own smoking ensemble, his most notable gig was as trumpeter and musical director with B.B. King for most of 30 years. He's cut four discs under his own name, one for Top Cat and three on Sawdust Alley. The latter contribute to this excellent 13-cut package.
Mr. Owens, who it must be noted plays with the intensity of a man half his age, smokes out of the gate on "Texas Stomp." The band burns, particularly Hammond man Peter Van Bogart and the uncredited guitarist. (Outside of spotlighted soloists, the personnel list indicates player names, though not where they play). "Woke Up Screaming," with the great Johnny Copeland on vocals, is one of many treats here. 'Fathead Newman' takes a solo over the stage-crowding big band and, as is the case throughout, Owens' stratospheric trumpet drives it with all cylinders firing. "Todo Mi Culpa" features the impressive Spanish vocalist Norma Zentengo.
On "Everything Is Everything," Bobby Byrd takes the vocals on an uptempo romp that also lets bari player Fred Ford and tenorist Shelley Carroll take solo spots. "Double Dealing" features Trudy Lynn, one of the gems of the Texas blues scene, taking the vocal spot, and "The Blues I Have For You" features Otis Clay, one of the finest vocalists on the planet. Obviously Calvin Owens runs in some pretty impressive company.
If you're going to play a zydeco number, it's always a good idea to surround yourself with zydeco players. For "Take Me To The Zydeco" Calvin brings in accordion heavyweight Chubby Carrier on a tune they wrote together. This is like no zydeco you've heard before. The horn charts work splendidly here, and the interplay between Carrier and Owens is surprisingly effective. For the Conway Twitty/Troy Seals (really!) number "One Of These Nights," Owens shares the spotlight with Ruby Wilson. This is a new voice to these ears and one to remember. She invests all the power in her impressive pipes into this gorgeous ballad punctuated by a sweet Fred Ford alto solo.
"Mr. Head," naturally enough features another drop-dead solo from the maestro, David 'Fathead' Newman. "Everybody Lives The Blues" is a rap number featuring Big Snap. "Texas Red Shuffle" is something of a treat for me. One of my all-time favorite dance numbers is "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells. "Texas Red Shuffle" was co-written by Bell and Owens. Opening with a funky drum riff, it shows off Bell's still cool vocals over a groove that begs for a dance-floor. This is the official 'party' tune of the disc. The classic "Don't You Want A Man Like Me" is a double-barreled treat. Not only is it the only tune to feature Calvin Owens' vocals -- and his most impressive trumpet work on the set -- it also features the guitar work of Riley King. B.B.'s instantly recognizable guitar work is stellar and seems to inspire Calvin and the band to give 110%. On the closing instrumental, "True Blue," B.B.'s back for more of the same thunder that he and Calvin Owens produced together for so many years. These old friends still work well together.
Calvin Owens is no mere former sideman stepping out on his own. He's a natural band leader and extraordinary instrumentalist who impresses with each note. This is nearly perfect A to Z.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Mark E. Gallo, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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