"Clark Street Ramblers" and "Acoustic Blue Chicago" are two of the four compact discs issued by Chicago's well-known blues club, Blue Chicago. With two clubs centrally located approximately two blocks apart on Clark Street in downtown Chicago, Blue Chicago offers live blues music 7 nights a week (one club is closed on Sunday and the other on Monday). "Clark Street Ramblers" and "Acoustic Blue Chicago" feature several well-known Chicago blues performers who appear regularly at Blue Chicago, offering listeners a taste of what they might hear on a visit to one of the clubs, or on Saturday nights at the Blue Chicago Store which is next door to the Blue Chicago located at 536 North Clark Street.
"Clark Street Ramblers" is a compilation and sampler of regular Blue Chicago performers including Johnny B. Moore, Eddy "The Chief" Clearwater, Willie Kent, Aron Burton, Eddie Shaw, Maurice John Vaughn, Michael Coleman and the late George Baze. The material on this recording ranges from the classic Chicago blues sounds offered by Eddie Shaw and Johnny B. Moore to the more modern sounds offered by "newcomers" Maurice John Vaughn and Michael Coleman. In addition to the headline names on the CD, the backup musicians represent a relative "who's who" in Chicago blues. Just a few of the band members on the CD include Baldhead Pete (drums), Ken Saydak (piano), Willie Davis (guitar), Willie "Vamp" Samuels (bass), Lafayette "Shorty" Gilbert (bass) and Eddie Vaan Shaw, Jr. (guitar).
"Clark Street Ramblers" includes a combination of classic Chicago musicians performing covers of classic songs by Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, Detroit Junior and Mississippi Fred McDowell; as well as original tunes by Willie Kent, Maurice John Vaughn, Eddie Shaw, Michael Coleman and George Baze. Every song on the CD is a keeper, although I will establish my personal preference for the original tunes just because I think they feel fresher. Of particular note among the originals are George Baze's "Park My Car," since we will no longer be able to enjoy his live work; "I'm Tired," by Eddie Shaw which features some nice guitar by Eddie Vaan Shaw, Jr.; and "All Night Long," by W.C. Handy award winner, Willie Kent. Among the covers, I especially enjoyed Eddy Clearwater's interpretation of Jimmy Reed's "Sun Is Shining"; "Turn Up The Heat, " Maurice John Vaughn's cover of the Detroit Junior tune; and Sammy Fender's "You're Going To Miss Me," as performed by Michael Coleman. Regardless of the song or performer, this CD will give anyone a good overview of the music available on any given night at the blues clubs throughout Chicagoland.
"Acoustic Blue Chicago" is the newest recording from Blue Chicago and is a recorded live performance from the basement of the Blue Chicago Store which offers acoustic blues on Saturday nights in an alcohol-free/smoke-free setting open to blues fans of all ages. "Acoustic Blue Chicago" offers music by four noted Chicago performers, who also appear regularly at the Blue Chicago nightclubs. Opening with the Jimmy Roger's classic, "Ludella," Johnny B. Moore plays a low-volume electric guitar throughout the record and is followed on vocals by Willie Kent, Mad Dog Lester Davenport and Bonnie Lee. "Ludella" is followed by a Johnny B. Moore original, "Got To Find My Baby," one of only three originals on the CD. Willie Kent follows Moore on vocals with his own original number, "Looks Like It's Gonna Rain," which has the feel of a classic Muddy Water's slow blues.
Johnny B. Moore and Willie Kent dominate the vocals on the CD with Mad Dog Lester Davenport offering his signature harp on several songs, but solo vocals only on "Tell Me Mama." Bonnie Lee also has only one solo vocal performance on "Fast Life." However, both Davenport and Lee return for the final number on the CD, an acoustic version of Willie Kent's, "All Night Long," which also appears in an electric version on "Clark Street Ramblers." Given Bonnie's excellent vocals, it is unfortunate that she only performs one solo number. Blues fans who want a little more Bonnie Lee can also hear her perform two numbers on Blue Chicago's first CD, "Red Hot Mama's" (Blue Chicago - 5001).
If I had to make a choice between "Clark Street Ramblers" and "Acoustic Blue Chicago," I would probably pick "Acoustic Blue Chicago" because you get to hear some very interesting acoustic versions of Chicago blues tunes and can experience the feeling of the live recording. The final tune on Acoustic Blue Chicago, "All Night Long," is especially enjoyable because it brings all four performers on the stage to generate that special feel that you get when you are able to experience an all-star performance. Nevertheless, I enjoyed both CD's tremendously and would recommend both to long time blues fans and newcomers to the blues genre. It's certainly the next best thing to sitting down at Blue Chicago or the Blue Chicago Store and hearing the music live.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.