Easy Baby is hardly at the forefront of today's blues boom, he's more along the lines of one of the genre's unheralded many. There is certainly no lack of artists who were deserving of one or more opportunities in the field who were instead left behind as others blossomed. Born Alex Randle in Memphis, in 1934, he moved to Chicago in 1956 and was soon playing all over the city, supplementing income from his regular job as an auto mechanic. George Paulus stepped up as the first producer offering his Barrelhouse label as an outlet for Easy Baby's music and in 1977, joined by Eddie Taylor, Mac Thompson, and Kansas City Red, Randle laid down a smoldering set of rough-hewn harp on 'Sweet Home Chicago Blues'. That was the first, and last time, Easy Baby was heard from until a few tracks appeared on a recent compilation (Blues Harmonica Orgy - Random Chance Records). Wolf Records' decision to issue these sessions, tracked in the Summer of 2000, will please those interested in pure Chicago boogie and blues. Clocking in at 55 minutes with an even dozen cuts, Easy Baby might well be the very last from Chicago's golden era of the 1950's, but he's not going without leaving his mark.
The supporting cast here includes both Johnny B. Moore and Eddie Taylor, Jr. on guitars, Allan Batts delivering fine piano, and either Sho Komiya's acoustic bass or (producer) Karl Meyer's electric, along with Timothy Taylor, Ashward Gates, or Sam Lay driving the backbeats. Whether on the natural and lowdown crawl of "Call Me Easy Baby" and "Good Morning, Mr. Blues," or the shuffling grooves of "Beggin' Woman" and "Baby, You Fine," Randle is comfortably in his element blowing standard diatonic or chromatic harp. There's not a dud in the bunch and his exuberance becomes incredibly clear as he tosses in varied shouts of encouragement to his sidemen to add more fuel or pump the brakes for dynamic effect, as on "All Pretty Women," where he manages to draw alley brilliance from his guitarists. His well-chosen covers consist of Rice Miller's "Let Me Explain" and John Lee Wiliamson's "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl," among others, but it's truly on his own compositions where he shines, proving he's a force to be reckoned with. His laugh is infectious, heard on a few spoken introductions or during instrumental passages in the songs, and it's impossible not to recognize the fun these sessions provided.
While illness may have slowed him down a bit since his initial recordings over two decades ago, Easy Baby has effectively grown and matured, his harp work is shattering throughout and his voice booms at times and whispers at others, and consistently excercising with his church group has kept his vocals razor sharp. Blues may be moving ahead with the times, but it's more than refreshing to hear someone this under-rated and far-too-little recognized step up to the plate and deliver a vintage-sounding Chicago Blues throwdown. It's also heartwarming to see Eddie Taylor's sons so actively involved in keeping a tradition alive, for it was Eddie's seminal work on Vee Jay that contributed another chapter to the Chicago handbook of blues playing. Congratulations are in order for Karl Meyer's reluctance to follow the trend of over-production; by keeping things relaxed and informal, everything flows from beginning to end. Easy Baby shows his vitality here and one can only hope that his importance will be recognized through further documentation of his exceptional abilities.
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This review is copyright © 2002 by Craig Ruskey, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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