"Arms of the Blues" is the second album on Cannonball by the Twin Cities' Blue Chamber featuring Big John Dickerson. It sees them building on the deserved reputation they established through live performances which originally persuaded Cannonball to pick up and repackage their first CD.
The band are tight throughout, and Big John Dickerson, an erstwhile member of the elite club of singing drummers, is in top form on vocals. Dickerson's pedigree is chocked full of soul including stints with Jerry Butler, Bettye Swann, the Temptations, Marvin Gaye, James Brown and Bobby Bland. This is particularly reflected in his performance on Mike Bloomfield and Nick Gravenites' "Reap What You Sow" where the band get a chance to show off their more soulful side. The arrangement demonstrates that Blue Chamber are more than capable of holding their own in the company of people like Bobby Bland.
Most of the material is lively and uptempo--nine of the twelve tracks are originals--making the best possible use of the horns. There's a few slower tunes thrown in to vary the pace too, in the shape of the aforementioned "Reap What You Sow," the title track, and "When I'm Gone." The title track sounds uncannily like the theme tune to a movie, even though it isn't. For some reason, however, the mood it creates makes me keep thinking about "In The Heat of The Night."
The band tackle B.B. King's "You Upset Me Baby" in the same sort of way that B.B. now attacks "Let The Good Times Roll." The injection of pace gives the song a new lease of life and the tight and punchy vocals add extra emotion, with Dickerson sounding upset and angry, rather than just sad. Proceedings are then brought to a close by "Black Coffee." It's basically a delta style blues with some saloon style piano, so stylistically it seems a bit out of place here. It does show that there is yet another side to the band too, however.
"Arms of the Blues" is ideally suited to those who like their Blues big. Big John Dickerson is the perfect foil for the band's big sound, with his great big rich vocals fitting somewhere around the point where the two Louis'--Armstrong and Jordan--meet. If the tune needs him to mellow down a bit, however, that's no problem either. So whether you want jump, swing, R&B, soul or just plain ole Blues, "Arms of the Blues" has just what you are looking for.
Cannonball Records: www.canball.com
This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.