Little Bill & The Blue Notes
One Night Only
(Monkey Hat Records ONO2087)
by John Taylor
Review date: March 2003
"Keeping the Blues Alive Award"|
Achievement for Blues on the Internet
Presented by The Blues Foundation
The title may be a little misleading - it's a studio effort, whereas one might be forgiven for assuming it's a live recording - but this one's nonetheless a gem. Bill Englehart, born in 1939, has been playing the blues since the age of fifteen. That's a long time indeed, and this is his ninth recording since 1989. (He waxed a handful of singles and a single album back in the early sixties). Yet there's nothing here of the jaded or weary; instead there's a palpably joyous air of celebration evident in every note, tempered by the kind of easy-going assurance that comes only with experience.
Bill's long been a fixture in the Pacific Northwest, where he's won more awards than I'd care to count. Here he's aided by long-time associates Tommy Morgan on drums and Dick Powell on keys and harp. Dick's B3 work is a highlight - he has the knack of establishing just the right mood, just the right atmosphere for every tune. He's no slouch on harp, either, with a nice, squalling tone. Newest member Billy Stapleton contributes excellent guitar, occasionally stepping forward to show just how much can be said in a few notes. Indeed, the sound throughout is an ensemble one; there are few solos, and all are kept short and sweet, played with understated taste and an admirable economy. Bill himself lays down a fluid foundation on bass and sings with convincing authority. There's a weathered wisdom in his voice, and appealing grit - on B. B. King's "Guess Who" he sounds like a slightly rougher-edged Johnny Adams.
Other covers include the opener, Titus Turner's immortal "Grits Ain't Groceries," a jazzy swing through Fats Waller's "Ain't Misbehavin'," Ray Charles' "Losing Hand," an innovative "Bye Bye Blackbird," and a slightly countrified "Shake, Rattle & Roll" that brings things to a close. Bill's own compositions up the playlist to nine in total - somewhat short by today's standards, and I can't help but wish there were a few more tracks. It's the kind of outing one simply doesn't want to end.
For those who care, the disc comes with inexpensive, albeit well-designed, packaging (cardboard sleeve). Production's fine, although attempts to mix the sound across channels on "Shake" aren't quite smooth enough and end up rather distracting.
Don't expect earth shattering, but if you like the sound of well-oiled-but-never-slick veterans sharing the sheer joy of making music together, this one's a clear winner.
Monkey Hat Records
Web : www.havemusic.com/littlebill
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