11 songs – 43 minutes
Although she has been deeply involved in blues for her entire life, Beware Of My Dog is the debut release from Houston-born Carolyn Gaines. She is the daughter of the great Texas guitarist-singer Roy Gaines (sideman to Bobby Bland, Big Mama Thornton and Billie Holiday, amongst others) and the niece of equally-great saxophonist, Grady Gaines, (ex-Gladys Knight, Little Richard, Sam Cooke, and a multitude of others). In addition to being the founder of the Blues Schools project (teaching children in schools about the history and importance of the blues), she has promoted blues shows, written blues articles and a children’s book about blues and hosted blues radio shows.
Her deep love and knowledge of the music is evident throughout Beware Of My Dog. Even the album artwork is educational, with open acknowledgements of the inspirations behind each track. Gaines wrote the lyrics to eight of the tracks, but also explains, for example, that the original source of “Catch That Train” was John Lee Hooker’s “Boom Boom” or that “Stone Out Your Raggly Mind” borrows its melody from Jimmy Reed’s “Baby, What You Want Me To Do?”. Some of her choices are inspired. Thus, “Mr. Dill Pickle” re-informs Blind Boy Fuller’s 1937 gem, “I Want A Piece Of Your Pie” while “Hoochie Coochie Woman” re-casts the Muddy Waters classic from a female perspective. Some of the explanations, however, whilst clearly well-intentioned, aren’t entirely accurate. For example, stating that the opening title track is “comparable to Big Mama Thornton’s “Hound Dog” (1953) & the 1956 Elvis Presley recording on which the young Buddy Guy played guitar riffs of blues-rock n’ roll” is only half-right, in that while the song harkens back to the early 1950s, Scotty Moore actually played guitar on the Presley version (and Pete Lewis of the Johnny Otis Orchestra provided the thrilling guitar parts to Thornton’s original version). It is always to be applauded however when artists acknowledge their inspirations and the origins of their songs and Gaines deserves great credit for doing so. Many music fans have first found their way to the original blues masters as a result of cover versions by the likes of the Rolling Stones and Canned Heat.
In keeping with its 1950s vibe, the focus of Beware Of My Dog is on Gaines’ powerful, expressive voice, which has hints of the languid swing of Billie Holiday. Backed with assertive confidence by a core band comprising guitarist Fred Clark, Glen Doll on harmonica, bassist Del Atkins and drummer Chad Wright, there are also appearances by Rudy Copeland on organ on the title track, Grady Gaines on saxophone on two songs, and Big Jay McNeely on three songs.
From the one-chord menace of the Howlin’ Wolf-esque “I’m Your Cat, Baby” and the country blues of Jr. Kimbrough’s “Done Got Old”, to the downtown shuffle of “Jerry Rice ‘Busy Man’” (a homage to the great football player) and the gospel blues of Big Jay McNeely’s “Something On Your Mind”, Gaines cleverly mixes up styles and backing instrumentation throughout.
Beware Of My Dog suggests that Gaines is a serious talent and it will be exciting to see what she does next. It is also an entertaining slice of retro-modern blues and well worth picking up.