Review: Earwig Music Company Roundup

Posted on: Wednesday, Aug 25, 2010

Here’s another batch of top releases from Chicago’s excellent Earwig label.

Chris James and Patrick Rynn – Gonna Boogie Anyway

First up is Chris James and Patrick Rynn’s Gonna Boogie Anyway (Earwig CD4960). The pair follow their highly-rated 2008 debut Stop and Think About It with more of the the same, a joyous set mixing top Chicago blues with the roots of the delta. Bassist Rynn unperpins thoughtfully throughout but it is James who is to the fore of this dymanic duo with all vocals and a mix of guitar styles, making this a truly inspired collection.

They’re so pleased with the rhythmic opener “Money Don’t Like Me” that they also dish up an alternative instrumental take later in the set. The first features a powerhouse solo from James while the second cut showcases sax man Jonny Viau. The gear switches into shuffle with a couple of Bo Diddley covers, a robust version of “Dearest Darling” and “Little Girl” featuring former Bo sideman Henry Gray who also suggests his work with Howlin’ Wolf via the barely controlled menace of “H.M Stomp,” a track further supercharged by Bob Corritore’s harmonica. The brooding slow blues of “You Can’t Trust Nobody” is a highlight of the duo’s originals while “Life Couldn’t Be Sweeter” swings along with slide guitar, rolling piano (Gray again) and exuberant sax appeal.

“Headed Out West” sounds like it crawled out of a swamp decades ago but is another original while the pair stand up and be counted on Robert Junior Lockwood’s “Black Spider Blues” and again on the wonderful house rockin’ boogie that is the title track, again featuring the evergreen Gray.

Andy Cohen – Built Right On The Ground

A few paragraphs can’t do justice to the variety of delights discovered within guitar virtuoso Andy Cohen’s Built Right On The Ground (Earwig CD4959).

The well-known, the obscure and the wierdly wonderful are all here and it’s soon more than evident that traditional folk-blues, ragtime, country and good-time piano are all safe in these accomplished hands.

Cohen’s love of his subject is clear and is that of the the folk-lorist. As such, ‘cover’ simply isn’t the right word as he gets right inside the spirit of a range of artists as diverse as Woody Guthrie, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Minnie and Jimmy Rogers.

The only orginal here is the heartfelt instrumental “Jim Dickinson Stomp” which, in spirit and intent at least, goes straight to the heart of Memphis. Best of all are his ambitious stab at Henry Spaulding’s 1929 “Cairo Blues” – an eccentric and demanding guitar showcase, his swaggering barrelhouse piano on “Honky Tonk Train”, and Bobby Charles’ “Tennesse Blues”, a delicate duet lovingly crafted with wife Larkin Bryant on vocals and mandolin. It’s sweet and near perfection to end what is a truly inspired album.

Les Copeland – Don’t Let The Devil In

Even more extraordinary guitar work crops up on Don’t Let the Devil In (Earwig CD4958), a satisfying dishful of roots and blues from Les Copeland who hails from Kelowna (“grizzly bear”), British Columbia. Some of the offerings are tough enough to sit well with such wild imagery, others aching and fragile.

In all of this Copeland presents an astounding bag of licks across genres and styles.  There is the big, fat electric guitar of “Distant Train, super slide on “Riding the Sky Train” and “Ry Cooder,” the latter a fitting tribute with shades of “How Can a Poor Man?”

“What’s Your Name” and “Silently” are both enhanced by thoughtful harmonica acompaniment from Michael Frank, the former track is the album’s highlight while the latter actually recalls Ted Hawkins a tad with a vocal rasp and strident rhymic acoustic guitar.  “Ginseng Girl” is sassy and jazzy while Honeyboy Edwards shows up to add biting guitar on a deep-down- to-the-delta “Anna Lee.”

The album’s finale “Crying For An Angel” is a gorgeous, almost poppy instrumental. When you read that it was written by Copeland’s for his first daughter who died when just a few days old, it becomes a heartbreaker.

JOHN BOTTOMLEY

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