Adam Pearce’s review, Blues Matters
DAN TREANOR’S AFROSIPPI BAND
BORN TO LOVE THE BLUES
They say that the blues is a broad church and Dan Treanor’s Afrossippi Band are exponents of the whole church. Mr Treanor himself plays some fine guitar and the guests on this album, Erica Brown and Merrian Johnson (MJ) are vocalists of massive talent in blues, soul, gospel and rock. Add to that Michael Hossler’s lap steel, Gary Flori on congas and a wicked rhythm section of Scott Headly and Jack Erwin (drums and bass respectively) why they achieved 3rd place in the International Blues Challenge. The album touches on just about everything that we normally call blues and the best parts of the album are where they try to stretch the format a little or where they do a little of the unexpected. Take Mississippi Fred’s Dream, a delightful piece of North Mississippi with fife and drums at the heart and superb slide geetar. But it is the way that they develop the song, bringing rock & roll, soul, gospel & jazz et al to show the roots of today’s music is in blues. These are not just excellent players who have great heart for the music, they understand it as well. Right from the opener Can You Hear Me you can hear traces of the classic players and singers but it has a fresh feel to it, thoroughly energised and you can feel the pleasure in every note. Treanor’s mouth harp on Done Got Old is stunning; dynamic and carrying the song brilliantly. Hurt Like Mine plays hard, dark and powerful with more of that wonderful harmonica and Erica Brown’s vocals spitting and angry but soulful as well. On the ballad side they do a fabulous version of Sam Cooke’s A Change Is Going To Come – soulful and loaded with feeling and everything the song needs; Merrian Johnson sounds like one of the few soul vocalists who can sing a note without a Whitney warble and the song hits directly to the listener’s heart. A gorgeous album, one I’ve been waiting around three years for, and I can only hope it is nominated for a stack of awards – it really is that good.
In 2016, Erica was contacted by Grammy-nominated Bluesman Carl Gustafson, (Blinddog Smokin’ Blues Band) and was asked to contribute vocals to a project he was producing, along with 2017 Grammy Winner in Traditional Blues, Blues Man Bobby Rush. That project has blossomed into the epic music novel “Rush Through History”, the story of Rush’s family, the Ellis Family. Along with Rush on harmonica, other musicians on the project include Blues Woman Teeny Tucker (daughter of Tommy Tucker, writer of the 1963 Hit “Hi Heel Sneakers”), Ms. Tata Vega (the “musical voice” of the character “Shug” in the movie The Color Purple), gospel vocalist Linda McCrary, vocalist Natalie Cadet, famed gospel, rock, blues, jazz and funk B-3 organist Cory Henry, along with Mississippi Hill Country blues (and sons of R.L. Burnside) brothers Gary and Duwayne Burnside, Blues Guitar master Lightnin’ Malcolm, African Folklorist and master Djembe player Weedie Braimah, Cuban drummer Pedrito Martinez, and guitarist George Dez. The massive project is expected to complete in 2017. For more information on the project, go here: https://www.facebook.com/Rush-Through-History-610241262506160/
At times, the music smoldered, other times it wept.
Moments of foreboding were tempered with bursts of joyful swing.
There was a time to rock and a time to slither, a time to contemplate and a time to wail.
And while the music wore many faces, on this night, its common thread was the legend who crafted it.
The genius of American songwriter Willie Dixon — whose numbers have been covered by The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Cream, Led Zeppelin and countless others — was exuberantly exposed to several hundred blues aficionados Sunday at Memorial Hall.
“Way Down Inside: Songs of Willie Dixon” is a project of Colorado’s favorite sons Big Head Todd and the Monsters with able assistance from genuine blues royalty.
This all-star collective, tagged the Big Head Blues Club, features vocalist Mud Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters; guitarist/vocalist Ronnie Baker Brooks, whose father Lonnie Brooks is a Chicago blues master; vocalist/mouth harpist Billy Branch; and Erica Brown, perhaps the most powerfully voiced of this all-star collective.
While the nearly two-hour show is designed to show Dixon’s astonishing songwriting range and influence across all genres, it serves another, equally enjoyable purpose: to expose the incredible vocal and instrumental chops of this exclusive eight-member club.
In blues terminology? These cats can play.
Branch is a bonafide genius on the harmonica, and no slouch as a singer. (Big Head) Todd Park Mohr and Brooks are as masterful on the fretboard as they are the microphone.
And both Morganfield and Brown have been blessed with voices that simply ooze the blues in its rawest form.
The songs, of course, speak for themselves. While you might not recognize Dixon’s name, if you’ve heard the Doors’ treatment of “Back Door Man,” The Rolling Stones’ take on “Little Red Rooster” or Zeppelin’s reworking of “You Need Love” into “Whole Lotta Love,” you know his work.
With the exception of the sorely missed “Back Door Man,” these and other gems were flashed in all their ragged yet polished glory.
There were shades of romance (“I Want to be Loved,” “Let Me Love You”) tempered with flashes of sexy (“Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Wang Dang Doodle,” “Midnight Lover”).
If the club was in a buoyant mood (“Good Advice,” “Spoonful,” “Hidden Charms,” “Pretty Thing,” “Crazy Mixed Up World”), they also showed a haunting, moody side with “My Love Will Never Die,” “Sitting and Crying the Blues” and the timeless “It Don’t Make Sense (If You Can’t Make Peace),” a high point of the evening.
Noting that the politically charged number is “more relevant now than ever” in this age of destruction, Branch said blues has never shied away from the darker side.
Rather, “Blues is the facts of life.”
Another peak came during “Hoochie Coochie Man,” which was interspersed with recollections of Dixon from the club’s main voices, including words of wisdom spoken to a young Brooks.
“At that time I had just started singing, or trying to sing,” Brooks said. “And my dad, Lonnie Brooks, asked Willie to give me some pointers.
“So Willie told me, ‘Son, you got to come from the heart when you sing the blues. What comes from the heart, reaches the heart.’ ”
And way down inside, that’s exactly what the world needs now more than ever.
Big Head Blues Club featuring Big Head Todd and The Monsters with Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch, Ronnie Baker Brooks & Erica Brown presents: The Songs of Willie Dixon. Nov. 2, 2016 Photos by Dianne Bruce Dunklau. Read a review of the concert by Chicago Blues Guide Editor Linda Cain: www.chicagobluesguide.com