16 tracks / 61:25
House parties with live entertainment usually end up with a loud bands that give a valiant effort at recreating favorite hits from classic rock bands such as Led Zeppelin, The Doors, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and the Allman Brothers. Often there is more enthusiasm than talent, and sometimes it is a relief when the band takes a break. Party at Big Jon’s, the new album from Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore is nothing like this, and it is an hour-long set of vintage blues sounds that are served up with enormous talent.
As he was born in the late 1980s Big Jon Atkinson is a relative newcomer on the blues landscape, but he has somehow escaped his generation’s fascination with the shiny allure of videogames and social media, instead focusing his energy on the genre that he loves. Big Jon’s 2014 debut album, Boogie With You Baby, is an amazing piece of work and it was an avenue for his music to reach beyond the fans that were lucky enough to see his live shows. For a fellow that has not even hit 30 yet, Atkinson has earned the respect of fellow bluesmen and his voice has an aged timbre that is beyond his years (in good ways). You would be hard put to find a modern blues singer that has his talent or his unmistakable feel for the music. He is pretty good on the guitar, too!
His partner on this project, Bob Corritore, should need no introduction, as he is one of the premier harp men in the business today. Bob learned from and played with Chicago blues masters, and he brought this knowledge and skill with him to the Sonoran Desert in the early 1980s. Corritore opened the famed Rhythm Room in Phoenix in 1991, and if you are ever in this part of Arizona this is the premier joint to hear quality live music. This man also spreads the good news of the blues gospel though his website and his radio show, and he collaborates, produces, and promotes other blues artists. Bob Corritore is a righteous dude, to be sure.
Party at Big Jon’s was produced by Atkinson and Corritore, and it was recorded last year at Jon’s Big Tone Studio in his hometown of San Diego, California. The tracks were laid down using vintage equipment and techniques, giving the whole project a satisfyingly raw electric blues sound. They got top-shelf help in the studio from guitarist Danny Michel and bassist Troy Sandow, as well as a trio of fine drummers: Malachi Johnson, Brian Fahey, and Marty Dodson. Some very special guests also joined in, as you will soon see. The content is divided between classic blues tunes and originals that were written by this duo and their friends.
The hour-long set is bookended by two songs that Atkinson wrote and sang, and they both have the feel of yesteryear with Jon’s slightly muffled vocals and thumpy double bass from Sandow. “Goin’ Back to Tennessee” kicks things off with a conventional blues lyrical style accompanied by instrumentation that provides space for the guitar leads and Corritore’s tasteful harp work. Bob does not need to wow the listener with crazy harmonica antics, as his phrasing and musicality are spot on for this and every other track on the album. The closer, “My Feelings Won’t Be Hurt” places more emphasis on the vocals, and Big Jon has the ability to howl them out without losing his edge and sounding too rough. It is hard to believe that he has developed this much talent and restraint at such a young age.
Big Jon only provides the vocals for half of the songs on this disc, and there is prime talent that takes care of the rest. A fellow San Diego denizen, Tomcat Courtney, performs his original “Mojo in My Bread” and there is no sign that this octogenarian is slowing down; his delivery of the clever lyrics is beautiful. Sticking with the mojo theme, Alabama Mike tears up Lightning Hopkins’ “Mojo Hand,” and almost outdoes B.B. King on “Somebody Done Changed the Lock on My Door.”
Chicago bluesman Willie Buck also sings one the originals that he wrote (“You Want Me to Trust You”), and takes a run at Slim Harpo’s “I’m a King Bee.” His voice is as smooth as silk on these tunes, and it is a cool counterpoint to Corritore’s grittier harmonica parts. Another Windy City fellow, Dave Riley, does his original “Mississippi Plow”(he was born in the Magnolia State, you know) and Charles Johnson’s “At the Meeting,” a slow gospel blues song that is one of the standout tracks on the disc.
Big Jon Atkinson and Bob Corritore did a wonderful job with Party at Big Jon’s. There is a consistent feel to the songs from track to track, despite the mix of older covers and new material, and the different frontmen that participated. The vintage sound is contagious, and this is one of the best traditional blues albums of the year; it will certainly be a contender for next year’s awards season. Check it out for yourself, and enjoy some excellent blues in one of its most enduring forms!