Down In The Alley Records
12 songs – 47 minutes
Reacting to fears that the blues is dying art form, co-producers Mike Suttle and Screamin’ John Hawkins came up with an interesting idea: They wanted to honor and introduce Muddy Waters’ catalog to a new, younger audience and do it by recruiting a dozen bands based in Louisville, Ky., to do it. But their concept didn’t stop there.
Sure, they called upon six artists from the local blues scene to help out, but also reached out to ensembles from other disciplines – bluegrass, rock, jazz, Americana and Latin – to attract a broader listener-ship. Their hope was that, once they’d heard the Chicago blues master’s works in this form, fans would do their own research about Muddy and the music in general – and create a new group of blues record buyers.
The disc – which features Waters’ biggest hits and some obscure covers — is dedicated to the memory of Lamont Gillespie and Byron Davies, longtime members of the 100 Proof Blues band, one of the mainstays of the Louisville scene. Led by vocalist Bruce Lively with Rich Cain on harmonica, the surviving members start the proceedings with of “Forty Days And Forty Nights,” followed by Buttermilk Jackson his band, The Tunesmiths, with “Mannish Boy.” Both tunes are delivered with charts that are faithful to what Muddy conceived decades ago.
“Rollin’ And Tumblin’” gets a fresh treatment from Appalatin, a six-piece acoustic group that features a combination of home-grown musicians with artists from Ecuador, Nicaragua and Guatamala who call upon Latin instrumentation to give the song a decidedly new feel, aided by Yani Vozos’ strong vocals in both English and Spanish. The 10th Street Blues Band is up next, featuring Billy Bird on harp and vocals for a solid cover of “Got My Mojo Working (But It Just Won’t Work On You).”
Sultry jazz vocalist Carly Johnson, backed by acoustic finger-picker Craig Wagner, is a delight as she delivers a decidedly bluesy take on “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had” before soulful rockers Laurie Jane And The 45s attack “You Need Love” atop a military drumbeat. Harp player/vocalist Jim Rosen and guitarist Rob Pickett, two more veterans of the Derby City blues scene, follow with a deep-throated acoustic cover of “Same Thing.”
Next up are Da Mudcats, a band started by Rosen in the ‘80s. Not to be confused with the group fronted by Atlanta-based Daniel “Mudcat” Dudeck, this ensemble now features Hawkins and Susan O’Neil on vocals and Doug Lamb on piano as it delivers a sprightly take on “She’s Into Something.” The Bibelhauser Brothers, a five-piece bluegrass group, provide a swinging, fiddle-fueled version of “Diamonds At Your Feet” before Mississippi Adam Riggle takes on “Long Distance Call” in a style that would make Muddy smile.
The Ass Haulers, rockers who try to fuse ZZ Top with Hound Dog Taylor, deliver an uptempo version of “Trouble No More” before bluesman Tyrone Cotton delivers a tasty version of “Can’t Be Satisfied” to conclude the set.
Available through iTunes, CDBaby, Amazon and Google Music, The Blues Had A Baby is a well-conceived and well-executed project that should serve its purpose well. Despite the diverse nature of the performers, their attack is firmly in the pocket throughout while clearly demonstrating that the Louisville blues scene is much stronger than some folks believe. Pick it up. You won’t be disappointed.