The Tulsa Blues Project
12 songs/40 minutes
Jimmy Markham’s Get Ya’ Head Right is a concise statement about Blues eclecticism. The band works through Wolf style romps, Cajun two-steps, one chord boogies, Bo Diddley styled shakedowns, T-Bone swing and old school Chicago blues. This diversity in style is all the more impressive because all 12 songs on this record are original compositions collaboratively written by Markham with producer and “spiritual guide” Walt Richmond and/or producer/guitarist Charles Tuberville, with some help from bassist Jim Byfield on the final number. The writers have created compositions that sound timeless, fitting effortlessly into the cannons of each Blues style.
What is doubly impressive about Get Ya’ Head Right is that in spite of the head spinning changes in Blues styles from song to song, this record has a unified sound that is all Markham. Jimmy Markham is a Tulsa, OK singer and harmonica regional legend. With a muscular harp style reminiscent of Junior Wells and a lived in voice with a touch of gravel, Markham delivers his Blues with conviction and easy confidence. The other reason this record hangs together so well is that this band is tight and consistent. Bassist Jim Byfield and an un-credited drummer create a taut economical rhythm landscape throughout. Guitarists Tuberville and Chebon Markham play with such class and restraint there are no wasted notes. The guest musicians legendary saxophonist and Rolling Stone Bobby Keys (may he rest in peace), saxophonist Johnny Williams, singer Marcy Levy and accordion squeezer Johnny Sansone all fall in line with the tasteful aesthetic.
The overall effect of maturity and restraint is best illustrated by the track “After The Sun Goes Down.” An unremittingly hollow blues lifted directly from early Muddy Waters Chess sides, Jimmy is the mischievous star-crossed lover sneaking around with his girl behind her daddy’s back. A single kick drum pulsating a heartbeat throughout, a solo electric slide guitar and Markham’s voice and harp are all that’s needed to tell this 3 minute testament to “sneaking kisses.” Homage is also given explicitly to Howlin’ Wolf in “Judgment Day.” An “I Asked Her For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline)” styled boogie, “Judgment Day” is an “I told you so” Blues about when Jimmy’s girl “put him down” and the hell she has to pay as a result. Markham is all menace and sneer and the steady open cymbal drumming, never deviating from the stomping momentum, drives this song into a frenzy.
Other magnificently executed styles of Blues include: Two New Orleans raves in “Please Justine” and “Desiree.” A Texas shuffle in “Cold Hands Cold Heart,” that would make the Vaughan Brothers proud. Another moaning Wolf boogie “Love Gone Wrong,” and a Muddy mid tempo life lesson in “Wrong Side of the Bed.” A Bo Diddley shaker “Like It or Not.” And, swinging urbane blues in “Done Did It” and “Hard Time with It.”
The thoroughly modern stompers, title track “Get Ya Head Right” and “That Don’t Make it Right,” don’t fit into a specific genre and although good songs and great performances, they seem a little out of place with the other material. The title track is a quick modern blues-rock boogie about partying and trouble. A simplistic ZZ Top-esq riff and incessant beat don’t create a basis for Markham to shine the way he does on the rest of this record. The final track of the album is a feel good sacred steel styled bouncer. The lyrics are about heartbreak and separation but the music is pure Sunday morning. On a record of such strong real deal blues these two anomalous songs don’t seem to be in the same family.
Jimmy Markham’s music is like a 50’s-60’s Miles Davis solo; restrained, economical and seemingly effortless while also being packed full of emotion and intensity. Markham deserves the accolades he gets in his native Oklahoma. He is an excellent Bluesman and he and his collaborators have a unique ability to write and perform the hell out of thoroughly original, classic sounding songs. This is a feat and a marvel which Get Ya’ Head Right shows off nicely.