Waggy Murphy’s Records, Japan – 2014
13 tracks; 53 minutes
Rie “Lee” Kanehira is a young Japanese pianist who fell in love with the blues after completing a classical music degree. She has been a regular visitor to the Chicago Blues Festival and has made some useful contacts on the Chicago scene. For her debut album she managed to recruit a formidable cast of Chicago musicians who came together in March 2014 to record twelve songs plus a bonus track, of which more later.
The album has a variety of settings for Lee’s piano which is on all tracks. A core band of Lee, Kenny Smith on drums, Brad Ber on bass, Joe Nosek on harp, Gerry Hundt on guitar and mandolin and Joel Paterson on guitar appears on six tracks. One immediately notes that that is most of the Cash Box Kings and that influence is increased when Oscar Wilson adds his vocals to two tracks. Three tracks are duo recordings with Lee and Billy Flynn on guitar and an all Japanese trio of Lee, Shoji Naito on guitar (who also co-produced the album with Lee) and Seiji “WABI” Yuguchi on harp play on three tracks, leaving one solo piano piece from Lee to complete the baker’s dozen of songs here.
The band tracks are everything one might expect from the group of players involved. Joel’s guitar is wonderfully understated yet always fluent; Joe’s harp is right on the money and the rhythm section in the pocket. Lee’s superb piano technique is evident throughout and Gerry Hundt’s mandolin lead on his own tune “The Union Meetin’” (a reprise from his 2008 solo album “Since Way Back”) makes an interesting change from guitar.
Vocally Lee has a clear, bright voice with good range. A slight accent on occasions makes you listen a bit harder to catch the lyrics, but these are mostly well-known songs so that is not really a problem, especially given how good the playing is throughout. Oscar’s vocal contributions on Jimmy Rogers’ “I’m In Love” (where the lead guitar is played by Gerry) and Muddy’s “Standing Round Crying” are superb. Two Memphis Slim tracks early on demonstrate the range of styles here with “Rockin’ The House” driven hard by Kenny’s drums while “Messin’ Around” is a slower tune enhanced by Joel’s improvisations. Otis Spann’s “I Got A Feeling” has possibly Lee’s strongest vocal of the album and plenty of fine foot-tapping piano well supported by Joe’s harp and Joel’s stinging guitar break.
The duo tracks with Billy include the excellent original instrumental “Humboldt Stomp” which bounces along at such a lick that it is hard to realize that there is no rhythm section present, just Lee’s left hand! JB Lenoir’s “How Much More” and Big Maceo’s “I’m So Worried” both find Lee singing with Billy playing some lovely accompanying lines to support her piano work.
The trio pieces include a run through “Black Cat Swing” with WABI’s harp featured and his composition “I’m Not The Only One” on which he sings, Shoji’s guitar adding some nice slide accents. The bonus track was recorded as an afterthought as the date was the third anniversary of the Tohuku earthquake in Japan about which WABI had written “Sunshine On My Knee” which depicts the terrible tsunami which, ironically, occurred on a beautiful sunny day. It’s a slow blues, again sung by WABI with some fine guitar from Shoji and plenty of rolling piano from Lee, the lyrics depicting some of the aftermath of the event.
The solo piano piece is Lee’s composition “Dedicated To Blues Giants”, played on the Steinway that Pinetop Perkins once played, certainly an emotional moment for Lee who cites Pinetop alongside Otis Spann, Memphis Slim, Big Maceo and Leroy Carr as her main influences. It must have been extremely satisfying to cover songs from most of her heroes in this set.
Lovers of classic Chicago blues and piano blues in particular should seek out this fine album which is recommended listening. Released in Japan, it is available through CD Baby, I-Tunes and Google Play.