Airway Records AR-4769
13 songs — 47 minutes
Vocalist Oscar Wilson and Airway Records owner/tenor saxophonist Sam Burckhardt couldn’t have picked a better name for this release, which gathered four of the top musicians in Chicago in one room for two days and captured all 13 cuts together without benefit of overdubs, something totally inconceivable in the music world today.
Burckhardt co-produced One Room Blues with Joel Paterson, the virtuoso guitarist who partners with Wilson in The Cash Box Kings, the tastefully talented Alligator Records artists who’ve been a Windy City favorite for more than a decade. They’re joined by keyboard player Pete Benson, upright bassist Beau Sample and drummer Alex Hall, who captured the CD at his Reliable Recorders studio in Chicago.
The album is quite a departure for Wilson, who grew up on the city’s South Side in the company of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Junior Wells, Elmore James and others who often attended Friday night fish fries and jams at his family home. Now in his mid-60s, he’s a burly, affable man who possesses stage presence that’s just as powerful as his voice, Oscar’s well-versed in the blues songbook — as his work with the Kings clearly shows, but this release enables him to spread his wings in jazz and R&B stylings, too.
A native of Switzerland who emigrated to the U.S. in the ’70s and played behind Sunnyland Slim — the founder of the Airway imprint — for 20 years, Burckhardt took over the label as a tribute to his close friend and former boss. A popular musician himself, he regularly delivers a fusion of jazz, blues and jump at A-list Chicago clubs and appears annually in his hometown at the world-famous Basel Music Festival, often in the company of Paterson.
This intimate album debuted in the U.S. in June, just prior to this year’s event, at which Wilson and most of the other musicians here were also in attendance. It gives Oscar a chance to channel some of the artists who influenced him most, including Percy Mayfield, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ray Charles, Jimmy Reed and B.B. King. While all but two of the cuts are covers, the musicianship breathes new life into everything.
Benson’s piano riffs echo Sunnyland to open Slim’s original, “When I Was Young.” But the song reaches different heights, propelled by a jump blues beat that’s powered by Sam’s horn and Joel’s classy guitar lines. And Oscar’s powerful tenor delivers lyrics often obscured by Sunnyland’s own voice. Burckhardt’s smooth horn opens Mayfield’s “Lost Mind” — on which Wilson’s delivery is smooth as silk.
A propulsive, funky beat drives Reed’s familiar “Found Love” before a winning take on Charles’ 1958 hit, “Blackjack.” A suave cover of Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby” is up next before the Paterson original, “Texas Turnaround,” puts the band’s talents on display and gives Wilson a chance to rest his pipes. His version of “River’s Invitation,” another Mayfield classic, powerfully builds tension as it flows deliberately, aided by sweet solos.
Memphis Slim’s “I’m Lost Without You” picks up the pace and fits perfectly into Bland’s “Farther Up The Road,” which follows. Written by the Bihari brothers of Modern Records fame, “Your Letter” is delivered as a slow blues with Paterson’s crisp, single-note runs supporting Oscar’s soulful delivery before “Every Day I Have The Blues,” the standard penned by Memphis Slim and a hit for B.B. Mercy Dee Walton’s “One Room Country Shack” is up next before the Burckhardt instrumental original, “Happy Reunion,” brings the set to a close.
Available through Amazon and other online retailers, One Room Blues hits on all cylinders for anyone with a love for music that’s polished and sophisticated throughout. Strongly recommended.