Famous Dave's first Women in Blues Series showcased both local and national acts on the stage in Calhoun Square over four nights. Renée Austin kicked things off on the 20th, with Alberta Adams following on the 21st, Joanna Connor on the 22nd, and Lady Bianca wrapping things up on the 23rd. All performers provided good shows to enthusiastic audiences. Based on the initial success of the series, I hope Music Director Paul Metsa can put together a 2nd Women in Blues Series next year.
Renée Austin provided a fitting kick-off to the Women in Blues Series with her high-energy, upbeat performance as she demonstrated once again why she is one of the best, if not the best, R&B and blues singers in the Twin Cities today. Renée's band has found their stride over the last 6 months as they have played all over the Twin Cities and opened for a number of national acts. They played a good mix of blues and R&B covers like "Rain," "Rock Me Baby," and "Knock on Wood," blended with songs from her first CD and new songs intended for the next one. Both "One Man" and "Catfish Woman" from Renée's CD, "Dancin' With Mr. Blue," gave her a chance to show her incredible vocal range and power.
Renée is much more than a singer, as she demonstrated this night. She interacted well with the crowd, drawing them in with her energetic movement and smiling presence on stage. She also showed her instrumental skills, playing acoustic guitar, keyboards, B-3, and even a little trumpet. Yet it is still Renée's powerful, passionate voice that impressed the crowd the most. In the same song she can sing low and sultry, take her voice to soaring highs, and hold long notes for emotional effect. Two new songs that she showcased and are intended for the new CD were "Fool Moon" and "Snake." The former is a slow, jazzy-blues number where Renée lets her voice shine on the torchy song while her band plays with subtle confidence behind her. Renée hit some powerful, low, sultry notes and some great, high soaring vocals while the emotional message of the song connected to the crowd. "Snake" is a funky, R&B song the band has been tweaking to good effect. Renée's passionate singing and stage movement, along with the solid playing behind her, particularly Tim Wick on B-3, make this a solid number. Renée finished things off with a powerful rendition of "Chain of Fools," which she sings in the same key as Aretha Franklin.
Alberta Adams, the Queen of Detroit blues, headlined the Thursday's show. Backed by The Blue Suit Band, which included the talented Rob Stupka on drums, Alberta sang through a cold to provide her earthy blues, spiced with a life time of experience. Alberta laughed and kept a lively banter going with each of her songs. "Going Home to Momma," "He May Be Your Man," and "Married Man" all dealt with straight to the heart emotions of the joys and sorrows of relationships, getting involved with the wrong person, and advice on how to avoid heartache in the future. Alberta sings with the passion and authority of someone who has a lot to share based on her experiences. Alberta really seems to have a lust for life and a joy of performing, as she showed on "Teen Weenie Bit of Your Love" which closed her first set.
After a few warm-up numbers, Alberta's daughter Sassy sang "Dr. Feel Good" to start the second set. A strong singer herself, Sassy also seems to have inherited her mom's stage presence. Alberta gave the crowd strong, emotional singing on "Any Way You Want It," and a rich, textured delivery on "Blues Have Been Good to Me." Alberta probably showed the most emotion in her husky, rich voice when she sang "Five Long Years" after dedicating it to her friends Koko Taylor, who has been ill, and the late John Lee Hooker. Alberta provided a rousing finish with her strong, upbeat version of "Every Day I Have the Blues." While Alberta may sit down to sing most of the time now and the years have affected her voice, there is no doubting the real passion and life experiences she brings to singing the blues.
Joanna Connor brought her wicked slide guitar and strong vocals to rock Famous Dave's on Friday night. She started things off with some powerful, howling slide guitar riffs as she sang "Turn Your Lamp Down Low" in her strong, clear voice. While known primarily for her slide guitar ability, Joanna is also a solid singer and songwriter. Joanna is doing more R&B and even a little world beat in addition to blues as she broadens her musical interests. "Your So Fine" is funky, up-tempo blues driven by Joanna's guitar and strong vocals. "Boogie Woogie Baby" featured fast, snarling guitar licks as Joanna attacked her guitar on this boogie woogie tune. Joanna gave the crowd some R&B with the fast, funky beat of "Rock Steady Baby" as she and guitarist Anthony Palmer provided jangling guitar licks.
Joanna started her second set with a series of songs featuring her fast, wicked slide guitar. On "Woke Up This Morning Without You," Joanna played a heavier slide guitar that wailed, featuring some great, fast fills. This long song gave Joanna's drummer and bass player opportunities to show their talents on solos. Shifting gears, Joanna played some eerie slide guitar on "Living in the Shadows" and country blues on "Honey You Are My Desire." She then gave a taste of something different with "Afrisippi," a blending of West African and Mississippi blues rhythms. Joanna finished things off with the funky blues of "Fever" from her new CD and a little more R&B. While Joanna's show gave a taste of her expanding musical interests, she continues to be one of the great slide guitar players in blues today.
Saturday night Renée Austin did a nice, solid short set before giving way to Lady Bianca. Lady Bianca played electronic keyboard while singing in a powerful, emotional voice that really has to be heard live to be appreciated. Mostly her show featured the rolling, hip, jump blues of the West Coast. A solid keyboard player, Lady Bianca opened both sets with boogie woogie piano, singing her own intro in a strong, clear voice about "singing blues in America." On "You Done Me Wrong" Lady Bianca showed a fluid, hip blues keyboard style while singing low and passionate, getting down and dirty vocally with a little growl. She followed with the slow, blues grinder "I Made Up My Mind." Her vocals were deep, expressive wails where she showed the range and power of her voice. Lady Bianca then coaxed the audience into singing along on "Stop Telling My Business," where she sang in a sharp, puncturing manner that fit the attitude of the song. All night Lady Bianca worked the crowd well by getting them involved and changing the tempo of her songs.
Lady Bianca featured a number of her songs from her last CD in her second set. "Spendin' Money" is a funky beat blues song about spending money downtown to beat the blues. "Blues Fonk" is up-tempo blues where Lady Bianca sang in a smooth, jazzy style. Lady Bianca has both a gospel and jazz background, which she demonstrated throughout her show by doing some scat singing, and wowing the crowd with her swooping, soaring, repeated vocals on songs. During the middle of her second set Curt Obeda got up and played with Lady Bianca. An old friend, he has played with her in the past. Curt's stinging guitar licks added a nice complement to Lady Bianca's playing and singing. Lady Bianca closed things out with "Sexy Bones," an R&B song about all the good looking guys a lady can see most anywhere if she's looking. Lady Bianca's powerful, expressive singing and solid keyboard playing served as a strong finish for the Women in Blues Series.
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