Unfortunately, J.B. Lenoir isn't more recognized for his contributions, though it's not from lack of content or comment, much of that being thoughtful and outspoken on social issues; he just wasn't around long enough to garner the critical acclaim he seemed close to. Following a serious car accident in 1967, his injuries contributed to a premature death at only 38. He was born in Monticello, MS, March 5, 1929, and moved to Chicago at age 20, after short stints with Elmore James and Sonny Boy Williamson. Once in the Windy City, he came under the influence of Big Bill Broonzy, another songwriter who tackled topical issues, and one highly respected for his willing assistance to young players. Lenoir's best-known recording was perhaps "Eisenhower Blues," released on the Parrot label in 1954, which possibly drew the attention of varied government offices as the song was pulled soon after release and later reappeared with its more tactful title, "Tax Paying Blues." Prior to that, Joe Brown was the first producer to take note of Lenoir's inimitable style and originally leased pressings to the Chess brothers, later deciding to keep the masters for issue on his own J.O.B. label. This 55 minute CD compiles 20 tracks, mostly cut for Brown's enterprise, and offers a helping of rare, alternative takes in the process.
The lion's share of sides stem from the first few years of the 1950's with "Let's Roll," from J.B.'s maiden voyage as a recording artist, leading off. Lenoir's plaintive, high-pitched voice stands out over his down-home guitar, Sunnyland Slim's quality piano work, and the steady beats from Alfred Wallace, while the unissued side moves at a slightly slower pace. "People Are Meddling In Our Affairs," a gritty and grinding cut, was his first topical blues, the title self-explanatory as to the song's content, and the small band turns up the heat for an infectious slice of boogie with "(I Wanna) Play A Little While," featuring more of Lenoir's solid guitar playing. Rocking cuts like "How Much More," "The Mountain," and "I Have Married," are keenly interspersed with slower grooves, as on "How Can I Leave" and "Slow Down Woman;" both the issued and unissued versions of this being exceptional. J.T. Brown, a frequent contributor to many of Elmore James' records, blows solid sax on a good-sized handful, spotlighting on two takes of "The Mojo," a rollicking, stop-and-go number. A session for the USA imprint in 1963, produced by Willie Dixon, pointed in the direction Lenoir would later focus on, something he referred to as his "African Hunch Rhythm." The two versions of "I Sing Um The Way I Feel," feature bongo accompaniment to Lenoir's distinct guitar figures, while its flip-side was "I Feel So Good," a full band arrangement featuring Jarret Gibson's lowdown baritone sax with Dixon occasional vocal assistance. Six titles include both the song's issued take and one unissued counterpart, allowing the listener to compare tracks, but there are no duds, often it was a producer's ear or gut feeling which told him one take was better than another. Each of the twenty cuts offers up vintage Chicago Blues.
For those unfamiliar with this one-of-a-kind bluesman, "Mojo Boogie" is a fine starting point with Bill Dahl's detailed liner notes making for fine reading while thumbing through this thoughtful compilation, and the inclusion of beautiful period photographs makes it more appealing. Lenoir would later rely on his African Hunch Rhythm style (now available on the Evidence label), and his social comments became the impetus for a number of followers, including John Mayall. While sadly never reaching the level of acceptance he'd hoped for, J.B. Lenoir was successful enough to tour Europe, yet we can only wonder at the additional brilliance he'd have managed had he lived a full life. Contact Universal Music and Video Distribution, 10 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, CA 91608 or search your favorite e-tailer.
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