Memphis Blue ~ Sweet, Strong & Tight
1. Hands Off 04:22
2. No Time To Cry 03:19
3. Rudy's Blues 02:42
4. VooDoo Woman 03:53
5. Me & Jesus 05:10
6. Rollin' Up On Me 03:45
7. Love is After Me 03:01
8. Coat & Hat 04:33
9. Sweet, Strong & Tight 03:32
10. I'm Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down 03:25
11. SuperBlues 04:26
12. Memphis Stomp 03:25
13. 800 Mile Blues 04:53
Bobby Rush says " Barbara Blue, You are a wonderful person and so is your music. This new CD is one of your best, I LOVE it!"
Ronnie Earl ...... " BB's somewhere between an Earthquake & a Hurricane"
Taj Mahal ......... " B's got the goods"
Barbara Blue was born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pa. She moved to Memphis in 1997 and has been performing there ever since. She has been named “The Queen of Beale Street” and on Friday May 8, after the ribbon is cut on the brand new Blues Hall of Fame, Blue will be honored with a brass music note on what is being called the Beale Street Walk of Fame.
For her 10th independently released album Queen Blue decided to record at the famous Royal Studios in Memphis. The recording is produced by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell and co-produced by Blue. Mitchell is the son of the late Willie Mitchell co-owner of the Hi Records label. The senior Mitchell worked with Al Green, Ann Peebles, and Buddy Guy. The younger Mitchell learned from his father and his credits include Green, Solomon Burke, William Bell, Rod Stewart, John Mayer and many others.
This recording features The Royal Rhythm Section. Formerly they were known as The Hi Rhythm Section and they still are led by The Rev. Charles Hodges, B-3 organ; and Leroy “Flick” Hodges, bass. Rounding out the Section is David Smith, who plays bass on half the tracks; Stax ace Lester Snell, Wurlitzer organ; Steve Potts, the drummer who replaced Al Jackson Jr. in Booker T. and The MG’s; and rhythm guitarist Michael Tols. The Royal Horn Section features Lannie McMillan, sax; Marc Franklin, trumpet; and Joe Spake, baritone sax.
The opening track is “Hands Off”. “Keep your hands off him, he don’t belong to you”, was written by Jay McShann and first recorded in 1955. One immediately notices the fine production work, and horn arrangement by McMillan. The organ solo will charge you up. Bobby Rush guests on harmonica. Blue’s vocal timbre is perfect and she ends the song with a soulful narrative.
“No Time To Cry” is from Delta Joe Sanders. Ronnie Earl is featured on guitar and he takes a beautiful solo. The background vocalists Shontelle and Sharisse Norman are the icing on the cake.
“Voodoo Woman” was written by Nancy Apple and appears on her album “Shine” released in 2009. Blue has added Sonny Barbato on accordion and Cody Dickinson on washboard. The song is more Zydeco than Memphis and it makes you want to get up and dance.
“Me and Jesus” was written by Phillip Wayne Cox of the Common Man; a bluegrass, roots and country gospel band. Blue makes this song her own with a fabulous Memphis treatment. “Coat and Hat” was written by T. Plunk also of the Common Man band. Sonny Barbato is featured again on accordion. Blue’s clarity and dramatic phrasing is perfect on this song and throughout the recording.
“Love is After Me” was written by the songwriting team of David Porter and Isaac Hayes. It was a hit for Charlie Rich and appears on his only Hi Records album “Charlie Rich sings Country and Western” released in 1967. This song became a southern soul favorite. I love how Blue wraps herself around it.
Ed Randle’s “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” was a huge hit for Ann Peebles in 1972 and Blue’s version is equally moving. “SuperBlues” is from Reba Russell and once again Bobby Rush is featured on harmonica.
Blue recognizes a songs potential. “Rudy’s Blues” is the first of five songs written or co-written by Blue. It’s an adaption of “The Ballad of Rudy Williams” by Craig Schuster and Tyler Goodson. The original is sort of an unfinished jewel that is wonderfully rearranged by Blue and Snell. Dedrick Davis is added on trumpet and he takes a fabulous solo.
“Rolling Up on Me” was co-written by McMinn, Blue and Snell. Once again Earl is featured on guitar. “800 Mile Blue” was co-authored by Blue and guitarist Earl. “Memphis Stomp” was co-written by Blue, Snell and producer “Boo” Mitchell. It is a tribute to his dad, Willie Mitchell. McMillan’s horn arrangement deserves an award of its own.
There is so much Memphis in Blue. She is Memphis Blue. The title track is one of the greatest new songs to come out of Memphis in years. “Sweet, Strong, and Tight”, who could ask for more?
Blue is fabulous throughout the recording as she emotes so much soul. She is also accompanied by the tightest band to ever come out of Memphis. This may be the album of the year.
There's a lot of folks asking where has the real blues gone...they need to look no further than this sparkling new release from Barbara Blue. Real deal blues pours from it's soundtrack it is a life lesson on the how's, why's and because's of the blues.
Ms. Blue fortifies the foundation of the blues with this release.A must have - play it LOUD!
Aptly titled "Memphis Blue, Sweet, Strong and Tight" is all that and more, if someone asked me what are the blues I would hand them this release and feel confident that they would 'get it'!
Barbara Blue pulled out all the stops on her latest release, Memphis Blue: Sweet, Strong, & Tight (Big Blue Records). As the title indicates, this one gives a nod to Memphis blues, funk, and soul and the vocal powerhouse is backed by the tightest band on Memphis soil (the Royal Rhythm Section and the Royal Horns) as well as a stellar group of guest stars. Produced and recorded by Lawrence “Boo” Mitchell at, where else, Royal Studios, this is without a doubt Ms. Blue’s best CD yet.
There’s plenty of Memphis grease popping in these tracks, especially on tracks like Jay McShann’s “Hands Off,” the Isaac Hayes/David Porter/Steve Cropper-penned “Love Is After Me,” and a handful of originals like “Rudy’s Blues” (where the protagonist’s woman is “three-handed”……right-handed, left-handed, and under-handed), the sassy title cut, and “Memphis Stomp,” a wonderful tribute to Memphis legend Willie Mitchell. Blue also covers the Ann Peebles classic, “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse.”
As mentioned, guest stars abound, with Bobby Rush contributing harmonica to three tracks (“Hands Off,” the rocking “SuperBlues,” and “Memphis Stomp”), and Ronnie Earl accompanying Blue on three tracks….(a bouncy reading of Delta Joe Sanders’ “No Time To Cry,” the funky “Rolling Up On Me,” and an acoustic duet, “800 Miles” that closes the disc.
A couple of tracks veer from the Memphis vibe a little bit……“VooDoo Woman” and “Coat and Hat” both have more of a Gulf Coast feel with accordion from Sonny Barbato, who plays piano on the lovely gospel tune, “Me & Jesus.” Cody Dickinson adds washboard on “VooDoo Woman.”
The Royal Rhythm Section (Lester Snell – Wurlitzer, Rev. Charles Hodges – B3, Leroy Hodges – bass, David Smith bass, Steve Potts – drums, and Michael Toles – rhythm guitar) are awesome, as always, as are the Royal Horns (Lannie McMillan – horn arragements/sax, Marc Franklin – trumpet, Joe Spake – baritone sax, Steve Graham – trombone, Jason Yasinsky – trombone, with Derrick Davis – guesting on trumpet for one track). Shontelle and Shareese Norman also add background vocals on a couple of the tracks.
Even with the fine band and guest musicians, this is still all Barbara Blue’s show. She fills each song with so much soul and passion that if goose bumps don’t follow, you should probably seek medical attention. This lady feels this music from her head down to her toes, and Memphis Blue: Sweet, Strong, and Tight provides proof positive that she is the Queen of Beale Street and will be for some time to come.
Friday Blues Fix Blog
Barbara Blue – Memphis Blue: Sweet, Strong And Tight
BIG Blue Records – 2014
13 tracks; 51 minutes
Memphis’ Barbara Blue has stayed close to home for this album which was recorded at Royal Studios, produced by Lawrence ‘Boo’ Mitchell and features songs mainly taken from Memphis writers past and present, with Barbara having a hand in five of the songs. As one might expect from the recording location, the album covers a wide range of styles including soul, rock and roll and country.
The musicians are a who’s who of Memphis music: The Royal Rhythm Section has Lester Snell on Wurlitzer, Rev Charles Hodges on B3, Leroy ‘Flick’ Hodges or David Smith on bass, Steve Potts on drums and Michael Tols on guitar; The Royal Horns feature Lannie McMillan on sax, Joe Spake on baritone, Marc Franklin on trumpet and Steve Graham or Jason Yasinsky on trombone. The guests include Bobby Rush on harp, Ronnie Earl on guitar, Sonny Barbato on accordion and piano, Dedric Davis on trumpet, Cody Dickinson on washboard and Shontelle and Sharisse Norman on backing vocals on two tracks.
Demonstrating the variety of the music here Barbara starts with the jump style of Jay McShann’s “Hands Off”, a song covered by many female singers including Janiva Magness. The horns punctuate the song with some soulful blasts that root the song in Memphis and Bobby Rush’s harp solo is the icing on this particular cake. “No Time To Cry” is an interesting song from Joe Sanders which fits Barbara well with its lyrics about making one’s way in the music business, Ronnie Earl taking a poised solo in the middle.
“Rudy’s Blues” is another strong song lyrically as Barbara tells us about one of the old-time Memphis characters: “Rudy had a three-handed woman, she kept giving him the blues; she was right-handed, left-handed and underhanded too.” Guest Dedric Davis adds some fine trumpet playing that also fits with the story of old Rudy. Accordion and shakers give a suitably swampy feel to “Voodoo Woman” before another change of style in the superb “Me And Jesus”. PW Cox’s song has a strong gospel and country feel with rolling piano and churchy organ and talks about belief and whether one needs to demonstrate one’s faith in public: “I talk to God at least once a day and I don’t need anyone to know” sings Barbara before concluding that “Me and Jesus are all right”.
Barbara co-wrote “Rolling Up On Me” which takes us right on to Beale Street with an insistent beat and some soulful guitar and organ rhythm interplay, Ronnie Earl again providing a beautiful solo section. For those of us who developed our musical interests in the 60’s no names are more evocative of Memphis than Hayes, Porter and Cropper and those three are the writers of the funky “Love Is After Me”, a classic piece of Memphis soul. Barbara’s vocals are well supported by the backing vocalists and the horns provide the punch we associate with the heyday of Stax to provide one of the highlight tracks here.
“Coat & Hat” again features the accordion and it’s a strong song (credited to T Plunk) lyrically though Barbara’s deep voice is less suited to this slow country song. The sub-title of the album, “Sweet, Strong And Tight” brings back the horns for a barnstorming tune written by Barbara on her own in which she explains what she can bring to a relationship and Bobby Rush plays the main solo.
Another classic Memphis artist was Ann Peebles and one of her best known songs is covered here. “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down” is a great song and it suits Barbara’s voice well in a very polished version with wonderful horns. Memphis singer Reba Russell is the writer of “SuperBlues” which brings Bobby Rush back on harp and “Memphis Stomp” is a co-write between Barbara, Lester Snell and Boo Mitchell which pays tribute to the late Willie Mitchell and appropriately has more fine horns.
To close the album “800 Mile Blues” really takes things back to basics on a quiet country blues with minimal instrumentation, just bass and guitar, a tune credited to Barbara and Ronnie Earl.
For this reviewer the highlights here are the tracks with the horns, but Barbara has done a good job in selecting material across styles and making most of them work well so that the album provides something for everyone to enjoy.
Song - Band Credits
The Royal Rhythm Section
Lester Snell ~ Wurlitzer
Rev Charles Hodges~ B3 Organ
Leroy "Flick" Hodges ~ Bass : Tacks 3,6,7,8,10,12
David Smith - Bass : Tracks 1,2,4,5,9,11
Steve Potts ~ Drums
Michael Tols ~ Rhythm Guitar
The Royal Horns
Lannie McMillan ~ Horn Arrangements & Sax
Marc Franklin ~ Trumpet
Joe Spake ~ Baritone sax
Steve Graham ~ Trombone : Tracks 9,10,12
Jason Yasinsky - Trombone : Tracks 1,7
Bobby Rush ~ Harmonica : Tracks 1,11,12
Ronnie Earl - Guitar : Tracks 2,6,13
Appears courtesy Stony Plain Records
Sonny Barbato ~ Accordion: Tracks 4,8
Piano: Tracks : 5,6
Dedrick Davis ~ Trumpet : Track 3
Cody Dickinson ~ Washboard : Track 4
Shontelle Norman ~ BGV : Tracks 2,7
Sharisse Norman ~ BGV : Tracks 2,7
Cover photo: John Henry Photography © 2014
Graphic Design: Thomas @ AGMW
This CD is dedicated to ALL of the Memphis Music folks throughout the ages to present days.... Who have enlightened me to what it takes to preserver an art form true of soul and full of emotion. Yep… It's a Memphis THANG! AMEN Brothers & Sistas!!
Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell
Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell
Eric Kilborne (Ronnie Earl's Guitar tracks & track 13)
Matt Hayes (Sonny Barbato's Accordion & Piano tracks)
Lawrence "Boo" Mitchell
Royal Studios ~ Memphis TN
Wellspring Sound ~ Acton MA (Ronnie Earl's Guitar tracks & track 13)(Sonny Barbato's Accordion & Piano tracks)
L. Nix & Co
(C) BIG Blue Records 2014
Barbara Blue is endorsed by and endorses Heil Sound