For their second annual Women's Blues Series Music Director Paul Metsa once again put together a solid line-up of talented women. While they varied in their instruments and style, all four women share strong vocal skills, a passion for the blues, and the attitude that blues is not just for men. And after hearing what they all had to offer, that certainly is a good thing. As E.C. Scott says, women really rule the world, but men just don't know it. On these four days the blues women ruled, and they did so with some great blues from a woman's perspective.
The Doņa Oxford Band, Wednesday March 26th
Doņa kicked things off with her great boogie woogie piano playing and big, powerful voice on the 26th. Her first song, "Have a Drink of Tanquery" showcased her big, powerful low pitched voice that can easily get loud and brassy or go low and bawdy. Standing behind her electronic keyboard she played excellent, expressive slow rolling blues as she shook her body about.
She came right back with "The Hammer Keeps a Knockin'," bringing her voice to a powerful, mournful wail. While Doņa can sing with power, attitude, and clarity, subtlety is not a large part of her vocal stylings. She's at her best on the fast, powerful boogie woogie piano playing and shouting vocals on "I'm on Fire." Shaking and dancing, swaying and belting it out clear and loud, her enthusiasm and passion carried the song.
While loud and up-tempo seem to suit her the best, Doņa plays a mean piano that she can tickle with slow, grinding feeling, bringing her vocals down a bit to sing more slow and soulful and remind you of the great lady blues singers that came before her. She gave a great reading on "No More Hard Times" with her piano and lowered vocals capturing the atmosphere and spirit of the song. Her attitude and songwriting ability came out in her original, "Actions Speak Louder Than Words" from her live CD, Raw. Doņa seems to draw from a well of personal experience on this mid-tempo, sad-but-unbroken tale of breaking up. Her subtle piano playing, swaying back and forth, expressive keyboard trills, and powerful vocals.
Doņa wowed the crowd with her great boogie woogie playing, pausing to explain how she played it and then showing off her fast, strong playing that definitely grabs your attention. Unfortunately, her backing band was a bit ragged and out of synch most of the night. So it was her long piano solo that showed how talented the former Shemekia Copeland band leader can play. She ended the set by doing a jump blues medley, lifting up one end of her keyboard as she played one handed.
Trady K. and The Right Hand Band Thursday, March 27th
Thursday night Canadian harmonica player and singer Tracy K. and the Right Hand Band made their U.S. debut at Famous Dave's. Singing in a husky, raspy voice with a hip inflection Tracy wowed the crowd with her passion for blues. Tracy's harp playing has a full, rich, chromatic sound. The "Mojomomma" as she calls herself smoothly held and bent notes on her harp, serving up a solid version of "Walking." Tracy performed several songs from her debut CD, Welcome to My Fantasy. The title cut features a pleasing, mid-tempo country blues sound with Tracy playing rhythm on her acoustic guitar. The smooth, rising chords and solid band sound backing Tracy's husky, enthusiastic vocals as she danced on stage made this a highlight of the night. She plays to the crowd, showing a performing veteran's feel for changing tempos, mixing solid original songs with an impressive mix of covers, and dancing on stage while performing, flashing a bright, devilish smile to the crowd. And even though the crowd was small due to nasty weather outside, she nonetheless had everyone cheering and calling for more.
Tracy's originals have a feel of real experience to them. "Here All Along" tells of searching at great distance for what was in reality right at home. Tracy sang with enthusiasm, her raspy voice smoothing out for some long, held notes and great vibrato. "I'll Do Anything" features seductive lyrics as she got alternately lowdown and gritty and then sultry as she sang about love. Tracy also gave the crowd dead on covers of "Messing With the Kid," featuring some great harp playing, and "Take Another Piece of My Heart" which showcased her strong, passionate, smoky vocals. She dedicated "Bring It on Home to Me" to Sonny Terry, who she said got her interested in blues when she heard one of his records. Her beautiful, sweet sounding harp wailed with passion and strong trills. Tracy's vocals filled the room with power and passion of her husky voice.
Tracy gave her influences as Sonny Terry, Bonnie Raitt, Lucinda Williams, Little Walter, Koko Taylor, and Big Dave McClain. Her debut CD was independently released, and she is currently working on a second CD. Her backing band consists of solid musicians on lead guitar, bass, and drums. Tracy said she is interested in doing more gigs in the US, and looks forward to playing blues festivals here. She has performed extensively at blues and musical festivals in Canada. Recently she was the only woman invited to perform at a harp workshop in Toronto. She played harp on a neck brace and accompanied herself on guitar, which she called "walking and chewing gum." Tracy closed out her show with her original "Slow Dance." This slow, beautiful blues song featured her powerful, sultry singing and great instrumental work by her band on this emotional number. Tracy K. is definitely an act to catch in Canada and to look for when she returns.
Nellie "Tiger" Travis Friday March, 28th
Making her Twin Cities debut, Nellie and her solid backing band from Chicago captured the attention of the crowd right away with her rich, deep, expressive voice, energetic, enthusiastic playing, and visual display on stage. Nellie strolled out on stage wearing a distinctive black and yellow matching outfit befitting her blues name and launched into the fast rolling blues of "I'm a Dirty Old Woman." Right away her deep voice, that she can get down and growl with, set the mood for the night. Nellie's voice has a strong, husky, smoky quality that sometimes evokes a young Koko Taylor. All the while her solid backing band on guitar, drums, bass, and keyboards/sax provided a tight instrumental foundation for her expressive vocals. Given her enthusiasm and style, she even won over the hard core blues fans with her singing and dancing on her cover of "Mustang Sally." She filled the dance floor then and kept it crowded all night long.
Nellie is touring behind her CD, Nellie "Tiger" Travis Live. She performed several songs from the CD, all of which prominently feature her big, powerful voice and emotional, solid song crafting. "He Wasn't There for Me" she dedicated to her son. This slow rolling blues number allowed Nellie to show of her vocal range with great held notes, soaring and swooping notes from high and piercing to low and smoky with passion. "I Got It Like That," also a slower blues number, let her get slow and soulful with her singing, soaring high with passion, and then dropping it down and sultry. Given the quality of these numbers, it would have been nice to hear more of her music. Still, her covers were solid. Her backing band provided a solid, heavy, often funky rhythm that gave a little different spin to classics like "Thrill Is Gone" and "Hootchie Cootchie Woman." On the latter Nellie sang low and throaty, growling deep, and then holding notes with great vibrato. She displays excellent control of her voice, all the while dancing on stage, moving with passion, and flashing a big, bright smile at the crowd.
After singing for years on the chitlin circuit in Mississippi, Nellie migrated to Chicago like so many blues musicians before her to make her mark. Her mix of blues and old school R&B is very danceable, changing tempos and moods effectively. Nellie closed things out with a long, rousing, energetic version of "Proud Mary" that had nearly everyone at Famous Dave's up and dancing. This young lady looks to have a bright future in the blues given her great voice, passion for the music, and ability to write songs that immediately connect with the audience. Hopefully she can come back North soon, and give us a larger helping of her original music.
E.C. Scott and Smoke Saturday, March 29
E.C. returned to Famous Dave's less than 5 months after capturing the crowd last November with her strong, rich husky voice, playfully risque sense of humor, and powerful three piece backing band. The crowd was larger and ready to party right away, because as E.C. said, she's in town so that means it's time to party and have a good time. As she did previously, E.C. started out singing on a cordless microphone, sitting down at a table. After a few bars she stood up and shook hands with her fans as she slowly sang her way to the stage. The funky blues of "Started Running" came alive with her rich, textured, husky voice and captured everyone's attention right away. After greeting and joking with the crowd for a few minutes, she launched into the rocking blues of "Your Momma Don't Like Me." This tongue in cheek song perfectly captured her attitude and energy as she smiled and sang humorously about why momma might not approve of her. With her backing band sharply dressed in tuxes and E.C. wearing a black formal dress, this was one of the best looking bands to grace the Famous Dave's stage. Yet their solid music means they have plenty of substance to go with their style.
E.C. has crafted a number of great original songs, which showcase her great voice and often bawdy, winning spirit. "Come Get Your Love" is the title cut of her debut CD. This up-tempo, up beat, funky blues had E.C. moving and shaking on stage, singing her siren song in a sexy, sultry voice. "Doing My Own Thing" is her theme song, filled with attitude on this slow, suggestive blues number. "Call Me" answers the question of where you go when you want good loving. E.C. swayed and bent with passion as she sang from low and sultry to high and passionate about being large and proud. This beautiful song captures her strong spirit and love for life, while also displaying her great voice control. E.C.'s blues is flavored with a little funk and R&B. Her solid backing band laid down a solid, often funky rhythm they kept up with enthusiasm all night long.
Her wide ranging covers ran from the R&B of "Sledgehammer" to the passionate soul of "Stand by Me." You get the feeling listening to E.C.'s great voice and seeing her solid stage presence that she and her band can do just about anything they want. At the close of her first set she started into "What a Good Feeling." Then she got many members of the crowd to sing the refrain on her cordless mike as she moved through the crowd, singing and joking with the crowd and making her presence felt throughout the entire room. E.C. likes to talk to her fans, make sure they are having fun, and seeing how they like the show. Yet her originals are what really shined. "Looking for a King" (for my king size bed), funky blues with attitude, had her singing at her strong, sultry, seductive best with joy and energy. "The Other Side of Me," a beautiful love song, features E.C.'s strong, rising vocals and emotional depth. E.C. shows how you can be earthy, a little bawdy, and have attitude, yet also have style, grace, and humor. This song will be the title track for her new CD due out in late May or early June.
E.C. is proud of her backing band Smoke. For just three players, they produce a whole lot of solid, funky music blues and R&B. And her bass player has fez's that would make Lil' Ed envious. E.C. capped off the night with "We're Going to Party Tonight" pulling and inviting members of the crowd up on stage to dance with her and the band as she sang out loud, strong, and huskily. Eventually she sang "Who Let the Dog Out" within the song, shouting her vocals, shaking her body, and shaking her fist over her head with passion. Everyone seemed to have a great time, but no one more than E.C. E.C. says she is appearing at a number of festivals this summer, and is solidly booked into November. She is one of the most talented and dynamic live blues artists you will ever find. Hopefully she will be able to come back and turn up the energy in Famous Dave's again soon.
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