Mississippi Heat have been a fixture on the Chicago Blues scene since their formation in 1991. "Handyman", their fourth album, finds them in fine form. The band has a reputation for quality which enables them to entice guests such as Carl Weathersby, Billy Boy Arnold, and Zora Young to record with them.
Things kick off in fine style, with "One More Chance." Billy Boy Arnold delivers the silky smooth vocals, while Carl Weathersby lays down the Albert King-like guitar licks. Weatherby contributes guitar throughout, but Arnold only gets to plays harp (and sing) on "It Hurts to Be Lonesome," and in tandem with bandleader Pierre Lacocque and the horns on the rhumba of "Ghost Daddy".
Katherine Davis then saunters up to the mike for "Excuse Me." Lacocque's harp has a warm rich tone, which complements Davis' almost resigned tone as she explains the problems of being nice whenever trouble comes along. Davis resurfaces later on the self-penned and self-explanatory "These Men Look Good To Me," and "Don't Cross Me" where she lays down the law to her man.
The rocking groove of the harp intro to "Handyman", prefaces the piano, closely followed by the horns. George Baze tells us how, when it comes to love, he's the handyman: "Satisfaction guaranteed / You know I'm the one you need." Baze also sings on his own "Dog In My Back Yard," a low down and dirty 12-bar, and the horn driven "Payday" (co-written with Lacocque). It's sad to report that Baze, who had been a long time member of Junior Wells' band, passed away during the mixing of the album late last year.
Barrelhouse Chuck then delivers "Farewell to S.P. Leary," his tribute to the legendary drummer, who was also a close friend. The song is built around a wailing harp and Chuck's fine keyboard work. Harp and piano are in perfect harmony again on the ensuing instrumental "Cornell Street Boogie." It's named after the street where Little Brother Montgomery lived in Chicago, and was written in Montgomery's house, with the man himself adding 12 bars to the tune at Chuck's behest.
The penultimate "Stay With Me" features an extended piano/harp duel intro. This is all just a build up for guest vocalist Zora Young, however. She lists out the reasons why her man should remain, while the backing singers plead "Baby, stay with me," and the oft-repeated Blues incantation "Baby please don't go / I love you so."
Proceedings close in fine style with the instrumental "Johnny Boy," on which Lacocque once more leads the way. The band effortlessly drop into the groove on what is a good time stomp, which in parts reminds me of the J. Geils Band's "Whammer Jammer." It's got an infectious beat that makes you want to clap along with the band.
Mississippi Heat provide a yardstick for Chicago Blues. Every band that claims to play Chicago Blues should strive to be as good as Mississippi Heat. If there's such a thing as contemporary classic Chicago Blues, this is definitely it!
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This review is copyright © 1999 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.