Dr. Helander & Third Ward – Meat Grindin’ Business
10 tracks | 36 minutes
The doctor is in! On his latest release, follow up to critically acclaimed acoustic-based Country Boy, he is accompanied by an outstanding outfit of seasoned bluesmen from his home country Finland. Esa Kuloniemi (guitar, slide guitar, bass, backing vocals) and Leevi Leppänen (drums, Wurlitzer electric piano, backing vocals) co-produced this gem at Studio Stadi in Helsinki but it sounds straight outta the Third Ward of Houston where the band derives its name. Houston may not be universally known as the birth place of the blues but it has as much right to the claim as anywhere. The Third Ward is where blues legends like Lightnin’ Hopkins, Johnny Copeland, Albert Collins, Johnny “Guitar” Watson and many others lived and cut their teeth in the beginning of their long illustrious careers. This CD is one hard hitting set of mostly original yet purely traditional electric blues. The seven self-penned tunes here are so well-crafted, delicately shaped and sharply delivered they could be covered without anyone knowing it’s not a blues classic.
The opener “Hawaiian Boogie”, an Elmore James instrumental, creates a swampy vibe with fellow countryman Little Willie Mehto contributing realistic Martin Denny worthy tropical jungle sounds and formidable harmonica licks. He splits the harp duties on this CD with none other than THE Charlie Musselwhite 5-3. Little Willie’s style leans toward Sonny Boy Williamson II (Rice Miller) and he’s well known in France and Italy playing solo acoustic with dobros, guitars, harp rack, vocals and with combos in festivals getting a nice write-up in French Blues Magazine for playing with the Yokatta Brothers on their Live Session #1 CD. Ilkka (“The Dr.”) begins his strong vocal performance on the tremolo washed original “My Magic Wand”. Little Willie’s harp shows how instrumental the little instrument is to true blue blues. It simply sets the stage for what music is going on around it. Ilkka is the master of the setting. He knows where everything goes and then sits on top directing traffic with his smooth gravel road vocal delivery and biting guitar chops. The groove is dancehall style blues and the breakdown takes the Sonny Boy “Help Me” riff, reframing it as stop-action lead-in clearly punctuating the raw hokum lyrics.
“Third Ward Boogie” introduces us to Charlie’s contribution. He laid down his tracks via the internet at Route 44 Studio in Sebastopol, California. The difference between the harp players is style. Charlie’s style as exemplified on Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Death Bells” is the one he created, and is much copied but harks all the way back to his seminal Vanguard Records release Stand Back! Mr. Musselwhite continues his dominance today as amply proven here. His thick and lazy Louisiana mud style seduces all the while accurately articulating the gamut of possibilities from low notes to the highest, with his signature warbles and trills generously sprinkled around. Little Willie shines on the next track, another original steeped in traditional boogie, “It’s Not for me But for My Friend”.
On “Gene Girls” the Dr. gives the hint to his secret: He is a scientist with two Phd.’s. One is in Bacterial Microbiology dealing with inflammatory effects of inhaled endotoxins (a toxin present in a bacterial cell and is released when the cell disintegrates). The other is in Agriculture & Forestry regarding surface carbohydrates of beer spoilage bacteria. So there it is, blues and beer, it’s all connected. As Ilkka says “Making music and scientific research possesses a highly similar nature. One must be technically skillful, be open to ideas, innovative and able to learn from mistakes. This will create good results in science and special music.” Oh so he’s singing about laboratory gals! It’s a finely realized acoustic number reminiscent of his previous Country Boy CD that contains a version of Muddy Water’s “My Home is in the Delta” from Folk Singer (Chess 1964). Bass player Esa does the slide guitar chores but the Dr.’s acoustic picking and soulful vocals are country blues solid gold. Radio ready.
The final track “Don’t Be Messin’ with My Bread” is written by Eddie “Guitar” Burns, the second most famous Detroit blues legend next to John Lee Hooker. The hot drummer, Leevi, has the sound and swing of the old timers as he handles the solo intro handily as he does all the drums throughout the CD.
Dr. Helander takes his research seriously and comes up with his own quality additions to the blues cannon. These are the pioneers of Finnish Blues Music.