My initial exposure to two-fisted, boogie-woogie piano pounder and singer Doņa Oxford was seeing her as part of the backing band for blues diva, Shemekia Copeland. Along with long time musical partner, Arthur Neilson, Oxford developed a base of followers that have allowed her to spread her wings and take off on her own. Oxford's first solo recording, Rowena Said, offered the first glimpse of Oxford's potential as a solo performer, while allowing her the ability to remain within the "safety" of Copeland's band.
More recently, Oxford left her New York City base and relocated to Chicago where she mixes her time performing solo with her own band and regularly backing up other Chicago luminaries such as Sammy Fender, Jody Williams and Chico Banks. In 2002, Oxford released her second CD, Raw, a live recording showcasing Oxford's talents as a piano player, singer and all round entertainer. On Raw, Oxford is backed by her senior collaborator, Arthur Neilson, on guitar, Dave Post on bass and drummer, Andrew Burris. On two songs, "Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing" and "'Til The Well Runs Dry," Oxford is joined by Hiro Suzuki (guitar) and Tim Tindall (bass). Although the music is recorded in two locations, The Red Lion in New York City and B.L.U.E.S. in Chicago, Raw is assembled to generate the feeling of a single performance.
After an introduction by Buddy Fox, the band opens with the first of four Oxford originals entitled "Let's Have a Ball." The opener features an extended piano solo by Oxford, followed by a nice guitar romp by Arthur Neilson, as Oxford pounds the 88's behind him. Oxford's vocal are rich and sultry, fitting well with the overall style of the music. After a quick introduction of her band mates, Oxford moves to the second number for the evening, "The Hammer (Keeps A Knockin')" This is a nice medium tempo stroll that ebbs and flows with feeling and an ongoing musical exchange between Oxford and Neilson. After lulling the audience into a relaxed mood, Oxford explodes into "I'm On Fire," a high-energy, up tempo rocking boogie that gives her and ample opportunity to feverishly pound the black and whites, giving it all up for her fans, a la Jerry Lee Lewis, while Neilson lays a ripping guitar behind her.
As part of the continuing change of moods and feelings, Oxford and her "second" band slows things down for "Nothing From Nothing Leaves Nothing," featuring a nice, burning guitar solo by Hiro Suzuki. The mood changes again as the tempo starts to pick back up for Willie Dixon's "Crazy About You Baby," one of my personal favorites on Raw. Interestingly, the solos on this tune are dominated by Neilson's guitar as Oxford chooses to remain in the background, except for her distinctive vocal treatment of the song. The song also include a brief snippet of the signature musical sound of The Rolling Stones', "Satisfaction."
Raw moves towards the midway point with an Oxford "sandwich" that includes Oxford originals "It's Our Day" and "Here We Go Again," wrapped around Denise LaSalle's, "When You Find A Fool, Bump Her Head." One of the things I appreciated most in this section of the recording was the fact that Oxford does not use her original material to beat the listener to death with her prowess on the ivories, instead choosing to take advantage of the talents of her band, working together to achieve a nice blending of sound. On "Here We Go Again," Oxford brings her piano back to the forefront, taking a dominant position in this song instrumentally and vocally, continuing however to play off of Arthur Neilson's guitar exceptionally well. The following song, "Something You Got," includes more nice piano work on this familiar New Orleans R+B tune.
In an unusual twist, Oxford heads down the home stretch of the CD with a nice version of the Jackson 5 classic, "I Want You Back." Although I can't honestly say that the original version of this song thrilled me, I enjoyed Oxford's interpretation. Oxford then takes on some nice piano-laden jump blues for Wynona Carr's "Til The Well Runs Dry," this with her "second" band including Hiro Suzuki and Tim Tindall. Following "You'll Never Ever Know," Raw closes with the burning boogie-woogie instrumental original, "Doe's Boogie," the final original on the CD. For the finale, Oxford makes it clear that she can hold her own on the piano with the best in the business, male or female. The piano on "Doe's Boogie" is ripping good, as is the fiery guitar solo by Arthur Neilson.
Doņa Oxford's display of musical talent on her latest release, Raw, clearly puts her in the same class as her female peers, Deanna Bogart, Marcia Ball and Kelly Hunt, while reflecting the influence of her mentor, the great Johnnie Johnson. To learn more about Doņa Oxford and her latest release, Raw, check out Oxford's website at www.donaxoford.com.
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This review is copyright Š 2003 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, 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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