Nola Blue – 2016
10 tracks: 50 minutes
Benny Turner’s 2014 release Journey was well received and in the wake of that success he has now released a follow-up that combines previously released and newly recorded material. Benny’s 1997 debut Blue And Not So Blue was mainly sold from the bandstand and here six of its tracks are reprized with a recording from the same sessions not previously released plus three new tracks. Benny is, of course, Freddie King’s younger brother and his main instrument is bass (he played in Freddie’s band as well as for Mighty Joe Young and Marva Wright) and he is also a solid vocalist.
On the 1997 tracks Benny shares bass duties with Alonzo Johnson, drums are by Jeffrey ‘Jellybean’ Alexander, Larry Williams and Herman Ernest III with keyboards from Samuel ‘The Bishop’ Berfect, Davell Crawford and Marc Adams. You will note the absence of guitar on these six tracks, Benny preferring to rely on the keyboards or on using the bass as a lead instrument which he does on a couple of occasions to good effect. The only exception to the ‘no guitar’ rule is that Dr John plays guitar on one cut, simply because he was in the studio and thought it would fit well with the track! There are a large number of backing vocalists including several of the backing musicians. The three new tracks feature Bob Margolin and Derwin ‘Big D’ Perkins on guitar, Josh Paxton and Keiko Komaki on keys and Jeffery Alexander reprising his role on the drums.
Taking the 1997 tracks first the album opens with “I Can’t Leave”, a shuffle with plenty of jazzy tones from the organ and piano combo. Benny’s voice is great and the female backing vocals add to the soulfulness of the track. “If I Can’t Have You” is a classic song of the guy who has lost the love of his life but Benny provides some nice lyrical flourishes: “Without your sweet love, baby, I’m like a dog without a bone; and a dog without a bone is like a singer without a song”; harp is added to this one by Sean Lewis. The slow blues of “Have You Ever Been So Lonesome” features Benny on lead bass which is highly effective set against keys that give an almost orchestral sound.
Benny’s former employer Marva Wright duets with Benny on “Pity This Lovesick Fool” which sounds a little dated with the funky clavinet but it’s still a strong song and the two singers’ voices complement each other well. Another musician no longer with us is Charles Brown who plays piano on “So Deep” with more lead bass from Benny and a choir of five backing vocalists to add a gospel feel to the song. Charles’ piano and the churchy organ by ‘The Bishop’ work well together and the song is another winner from Benny. “Because Of You” is a lovely ballad with caressing keys and that appearance by Doctor John on rhythm guitar; this is a song that sounds so much like a classic of yesteryear that you check who wrote it – and the answer is Benny.
Indeed, Benny wrote all six of the tracks from the 1997 album but one track was left on the shelf. The idea was to make an album that was all original compositions, so the band’s take on “Black Night” (Jesse Mae Robinson) was not issued although it was a second number featuring Charles Brown in what may well have been his final recording session. Damaged in the Katrina floods, the tape was transferred just in time before it fell apart and we can now enjoy it. Opening and closing with storm sounds, Charles’ piano is right up front with Benny’s anguished vocal and horns add additional quality to the track – thank goodness it was rescued so we can hear it now.
The three remaining tracks are all covers recorded recently, each one very familiar to blues fans as they have become a staple of many bands. Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” is one of those songs that one has heard far too often, but Benny’s take on it is still excellent. The band play the familiar tune a little more slowly than usual and the combination of Bob Margolin’s expressive slide, ‘Big D’s rhythm work and the string sounds from keyboardist Keiko all works really well.
On Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” the band again plays slightly slower than is often the case and Benny’s voice conveys the familiar lyrics very well. The final cover is Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s All Right”, a rolling blues on which Benny not only plays bass but also guitar (presumably not simultaneously!) to good effect. It sounds as if there is a harp on this one also but it is not credited.
Overall this is a very enjoyable album. I suspect that very few fans will have a copy of the 1997 album so the fact that most of this album is a reissue will not put off people who like well-played blues, soul and gospel.