Music Reviews: The Rolling Stones’ Blue and Lonesome + Putumayo Presentsa

By Ernest Barteldes

The Rolling Stones

Blue and Lonesome

Polydor

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As any fan of the Rolling Stones knows by heart by now, the band started out as mostly a blues band – like the Yardbirds, Alexis Korner and other contemporaries, they fed on the American music and went from there. That is quite evident from their self-titled debut album, which relied heavily on covers; including “Route 66” and Willie Dixon’s “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (this was before they recorded Lennon-McCartney’s “I Wanna Be Your Man”).

Though they would often include blues themes in their subsequent records, they never really did a blues album until now. According to the liner notes on Blue and Lonesome, the idea came while they hit a snag while recording an original tune in December 2015 and decided to “clean the palate” with a rendition of Walter Jacobs’ “Blue and Lonesome,” and the idea was planted.  The band played live in the studio with wild abandon, almost sounding like a bunch of 20-year-olds as they went along.  In the studio next door was Eric Clapton, who was invited to contribute on a few tracks, and by the end of only three days the album was done.

The band – augmented by session musicians Darryl Jones (bass), Chuck Leavell (keyboards) and Matt Clifford (Wurlitzer) delivered one heck of disc – they sound energized and clearly happy to be doing this.  Jagger’s harp is second nature to him as well as his trademark voice.  Clapton contributed to “Everybody Knows About My Good Thing” and “I Can’t Quit You Baby,” but he was subtle, mostly adding to Keith Richards’ lead guitar and doing his best to stay out of the way – you can hear this clearly on the latter, when you hear Richards on the left and Clapton on the right, both with their distinctive sound.

This is the essence of the Stones masterfully doing what they studied deeply for years and throughout their careers, not some opportunistic rock band trying to sell records by taking on the blues and failing miserably – examples abound out there without me having to name names.

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Putumayo Presents: African Rumba

Various Artists

Putumayo

 

When Angelique Kidjo took to the stage at Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer of 2016 for her Celia Cruz tribute, she stated that when she was in her native Benin, there were two artists that had superstar status:  The Queen of Salsa and James Brown – but she also said that Latin artists were highly respected, especially in the western part of the African continent.

As the liner notes of Putumayo Presents: African Rumba state, “in the 1930s a Cuban song called ‘El Manicero’ (The Peanut Vendor) became a worldwide hit reaching even in the heart of Africa The Ensuing popularity of Latin music and dance styles like the rumba, mambo and cha cha cha, which evolved into salsa, had a powerful effect on African music throughout the 1970s.”

“Latin music was so popular in Africa,” the notes add, “that when a 1974 concert featuring an array of international stars was organized in what was then Zaire, it wasn’t James Brown or B.B. King who filled the stadium but Cuba’s Celia Cruz and salsa star Johnny Pacheco who elicited the greatest response.”

This is quite evident in this Putumayo compilation that brings together music recorded   over the span of four decades, which shows how Latin influence shaped the music in that continent. Kicking off with “Aminata,” a duet by Cuban pianist Harold Lopez-Nussa and Senegalese bassist/singer Alline Wade recorded in 2015. The roots of the song are clearly African, but the beat and general feel is purely Cuban.  The same can be felt with Michel Pinheiro’s African Salsa Orchestra. A native of Benin, he found success later in life (he was a farmer for a long spell) in Abidjan, in The Ivory Coast. His “Paysan” has a slower tempo than most of the tunes on the disc, but it is very soulful thanks to his heartfelt vocal delivery.

Ricardo Lemvo and Makina Loka were also supposed to appear at Celebrate Brooklyn in the summer of 2016, but the concert was cancelled for unknown reasons. A native of Congo based in Los Angeles, his music has a stronger Central African influence (especially on the guitars and percussion) with more low-key acoustic arrangements that focus more on the vocals and beat – perfect to dance while still enjoying the music, as can be heard on “Tata Masamba.”

Also notable is the earliest tracks in the collection – Orchestre OK Jazz’s “Micorasson,” which is basically misspelled  “Mi Corazón”  (“My Love”) dates from 1956 – the year Elvis made his first recordings for RCA.  The interesting thing is that they sing in phonetic Spanish even though none of them spoke the language but you can hear how hard they try – even if they slip in some of their native words.

This is a great introduction to a genre few Americans – except maybe for a die-hard World Music Fan – have ever been exposed to, and a fantastic starting point for those who want to get to know these musicians better.

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In Honor of B.B. King’s 90th Birthday: Live at The Regal

By Ernest Barteldes

On what would have been the late B.B. King’s 90th birthday, I tuned into Brazilian radio station Educadora FM (from Salvador, Bahia), which was doing a special broadcast in honor of  King, who passed away last May at the age of 89.

The record that the station chose to mark the date was Live at The Regal, an album recorded in Chicago in November 1964 and released the following year and became not only one of King’s most revered discs but also one of the most influential blues albums ever, cited by guitarists such as Eric Clapton and John Mayer, to name a few.

I was only able to hear part of the broadcast (I was on the Staten Island Ferry, which has a spotty WI-FI at times), but was immediately intrigued by it. I had certainly heard it before, but somehow it was not part of my personal collection – which I remedied as soon as I got a chance.

What we hear on Live at the Regal is B.B. King at top form playing songs that have since become classics. After a brief introduction, the album kicks off with “Every Day I Have the Blues” and going right into “Sweet Little Angel.”  The band behind him (rounded out by Leo Lauchie on bass,  Duke Jethro on piano,  Sonny Freeman on drums plus Bobby Forte and Johnny Board  on tenor saxophone) is sharp as ever, giving him the perfect backdrop for his unmistakable playing style. Songs like “Please Love Me”  and “Woke Up This Morning” have a fiery quality to them, and tunes like “How Blue Can You Get?”  have great response from the audience.

This was King’s first live album, which introduced him to larger audiences – he was already called “King of The Blues” back then, but the legend would grow as young folks discovered American blues across the pond via the likes of The Yardbirds and The Rolling Stones, who revered American blues even as many white Americans mostly ignored the genre.

The only thing that bothered me a bit was the sound editing – the ending of “Worry, Worry” is cut abruptly to give way to “Woke up This Morning,”  and the second introduction (which I assume to be the beginning of side B on the vinyl edition) jumps into “You Upset Me Baby”  – you can almost hear the click on the tape recorder.

I am hoping someone finds the source tapes to this recording (not at the Regal – the theater was demolished in 1973) and do a real nice remaster of this album – it certainly deserves it