Mr. Suchensuch Records MS 14007
2 CD set – 25 songs – 2 hours 4 minutes
Originally from West Virginia, but living in the San Francisco Bay area, multi-instrumentalist S.E. Willis breaks new ground in a career that’s spanned the better part of 50 years with the release of this interesting double CD set, which offers solo piano blues on one disc and a live set with an all-star band on the other.
Willis plays keyboards, harmonica and accordion. He contributed the squeeze box work on Elvin Bishop’s most recent album, the award-winning Can’t Even Do Wrong Right. A roots musician of the first order whose influences range from country to zydeco, from rockabilly to blues, he’s worked with Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Albert King, Roy Gaines and Jimmy Rogers, among others. He started this project in 2011, but serious medical issues kept him housebound for about two years.
Turtle Dove displays Willis in an acoustic format, accompanying himself on piano and harmonica for a collection of seven blues and boogie-woogie covers dating to 1920s and packaged with four originals.
A faithful instrumental version of Cow Cow Davenport’s “Cow Cow Blues” demonstrates his prowess on the 88s and his strong left hand. The Leroy Carr standard “How Long Blues” follows with S.E. adding solid vocals and crisp harp atop a deliberately paced piano line. He successfully delivers three more blues classics — Little Brother Montgomery’s “Vicksburg Blues,” Big Maceo Merriweather’s “Worried Life” and Pinetop Smith’s “Pinetop’s Boogie,” adding a personal touch to each of them — before a set of three originals — “Hard Times Coming,” “Turtle Dove Bounce” and “Drinking Blues.” The first number predicts problems ahead despite happiness now, delivered over a couple of simple, yet interesting, piano riffs and a companion harp line. The second is a love song that features an extended harmonica and piano intro. The third is a fresh, but familiar, take on having to give up booze.
Two more covers – Jimmy Yancey’s “The Fives” and Carr’s “Baby Don’t You Leave Me No More” – precede the original “Good To Go Boogie,” which concludes the disc.
Recorded at a legendary San Francisco bar in November 2011, Live At The Poor House features Willis backed by hard-working guitarist Mike Welsh and a rhythm section of Ruth Davies (bass) and Bobby Cochran (drums). Special guest guitarists Bishop and Takezo Takeda, sax player/vocalist Nancy Wright and trombonist Ed Earley add to the mix in a set that includes tastes of Memphis, the Delta and New Orleans.
Willis pairs “Rockhouse” and the original “Milk Cow Blues” to open the session, giving the band a chance to make their own statement before adding vocals on the second number. The band swings with Wright and Welsh featured here and in a blazing, uptempo cover of Junior Parker’s “Mystery Train.” The original burner “Luckiest Man Alive” features some sweet keyboard work and precedes three blues/R&B warhorses — “Tipitina,”“C.C. Rider” and “Let The Good Times Roll” – before a bluesy version of the Ray Price country classic, “Please Release Me” and a reprise of the Meters’ “Hey Pocky Way.
The Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown standard “Boogie Rambler” leads into Curtis Mayfield’s “River’s Invitation” and another Willis original, “Cold Hand In Mine,” before Little Walter Jacobs’“Last Night,” Fats Domino’s “Don’t Lie To Me” (with Bishop on vocals) and “32 20 Boogie,” a red-hot version of the Robert Johnson standard, conclude the action.
Available through all the major online retailers, this package offers a full heaping of great music for a small price, although I had issues with both the packaging and metadata. The double-folded CD sleeve features a cover for one disc on the front and one for the other on the back, and neither hints at there being two distinct albums contained within. And if you’re plugging the music into iTunes or a similar devise, beware that both discs are electronically coded Turtle Dove Bounce. Unless you change the name of the second disc manually, your entries will mix alternately from one album to the other. Nevertheless, the music makes up for the problems.