There is any number of cheesy blues compilations out there; most consisting of tired re-treads with little or no thought given to programming. Some, though, stand as landmarks; Vanguard's "Chicago/The Blues/Today!" (recently re-mastered and repackaged), is exemplary, and
Alligator's "Living Chicago Blues" set definitely stands the test of time. Now we have Cannonball's "Blues Across America" collection. "The L.A. Scene," fifth in the series, is as good as compilations get!
The formula is simple; four artists are given three tracks each to strut their stuff. Each fronts a crack band that features Kirk Fletcher on guitar, piano by Fred Kaplan, and Paul Fasulo on drums. Buddy Clark and Mark Goldberg split bass duties; Kid Ramos contributes guitar on half the cuts.
First up is Joe Houston, a transplanted Texan with a sax sound as big and wide as -- well, as Texas -- who's been active on the California scene since the early 50's. He leads off with "If You See My Baby," a 12-bar burner, then travels to "Sweet Home Chicago." A curious choice, geographically speaking, and yes it's been done to death, but Joe does it justice. He closes his set with a jazzy "All I Need Is You." Up next is Johnny Dyer. Originally from Mississippi, his sound leans a bit more toward Chicago; growling harp combined with gritty vocals. "I Wonder Why" is a classic shuffle, "'Cross Town" features great piano from Mr. Kaplan, and "Real Easy Baby" is a relaxed instrumental; all are Dyer originals.
Finis Tasby qualifies as a recent rediscovery, having released his full-length debut in '98. In the early 60's a club owner told Finis he couldn't sing; Finis took it to heart, and his subsequent silence was the blues world's loss. Thankfully he's put that very(!) bad advice to rest, and we're the benefactors of his soulful crooning. A bit more "uptown," with a full horn section for support, Finis does an excellent job on Lowell Fulson's "Reconsider Baby" before tackling another curious choice in "Kansas City." He absolutely shines, though, on "Victim Of Circumstance, a classic slow blues that again features incredible keyboard work from Fred Kaplan.
Bringing it all home is Kirk "Eli" Fletcher. Man, this cat swings! Influenced by Junior Watson and the late Hollywood Fats (and if one's to have influences, are there any better?), he plays with a quirky inventiveness that'll leave you gasping for breath as you follow his musical detours. Two instrumentals and Sonny Boy's "Ninety Nine," featuring Lynwood Slim on harp and vocals, bring things to a satisfying conclusion.
"Blues Across America" will stand as a significant and important document in blues history. And while there's not a bad set in the bunch, we'll all have our favorite; for me, this one's it. Having said that, though, I can't wait to hear what comes next!
1660 Lake Drive West
Chanhassen, MN 55317
This review is copyright © 2000 by John Taylor, and Blues On Stage, 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.
Click button to join
our mailing list!