11 tracks / 51:40
If you were to write a novel about a modern day Chicago bluesman, it would be hard to find a better model than Toronzo Cannon. He grew up on the South Side, and as a child he would idle near Theresa’s Lounge where he could hear legends such as Buddy Guy and Junior Wells through the open door. Cannon got started on the guitar at 22, and after a brief foray into the world of Reggae he gravitated towards the blues music he heard on the street and in his grandfather’s home. His influences of Buddy Guy, Alert King, Freddie King, and Albert King (among others) can still be heard in the music he writes and plays today.
Though Toronzo maintains a day job as a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority, his nights and vacation days are free to pursue the blues, which he has been working hard at since 1992 as both a sideman and a bandleader. His career has included nine appearance at the Chicago Blues Festival, and tours of Europe, the Americas, and South Africa. Cannon’s fourth album (and first with Alligator Records) is The Chicago Way, and he once again demonstrates that he is a modern day blues master.
This disc includes eleven tracks, all self-written, and Toronzo handles the vocals and guitars. He was joined by a fine group of musicians, including Pete Galanis on rhythm guitar, Larry Williams on bass, Melvin Carlisle on drums, and Brother John Kattke on the keys. Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer co-produced this album with Cannon, and the results are solid. Subjects covered within include the blues staples of love and loss (as well as infidelity), and a few tracks about the society we live in and finding hope for the future. Toronzo’s day job must give him a lot of material to work with.
Things get started with a bang with “The Pain Around Me,” a socially relevant tune that provides a glimpse into the Chicago that Toronzo sees on a daily basis, and he takes on religious leaders, politicians, and the general depravity of man. This is a fat chunk of heavy blues-rock that gives Cannon a chance to shine on both the vocals and his guitar. It is also a cool showcase of the incredible bad, with heavy drums, popping bass, and loads of Hammond B3.
There is a lot of blues-rock and rhythm and blues on this disc, but there are a few tracks that have more of the Chicago blues sound that one would expect from Toronzo. One of these is “Walk it Off,” a slow roller with searing guitar, wonderful piano, and aggressive bass from Williams. This is a song of love that has gone truly wrong, and there are more than enough disagreements to be resolved. Another wonderful Chicago track is “Mrs. From Mississippi,” which is a rollicking tune will trick rhythms and phrasing. From his description, this lady sounds like a keeper, and it nice to have one song on this album where there is not any drama (other than Cannon’s smoking guitar, of course).
Cannon calls on the horn section of Doug Corcoran, Steve Eisen, and Robert Collazo for two of the tracks. “Fine Seasoned Woman” is told from the player’s point of view, and extols the virtues of more mature women, with a big band sound behind him. But it is important to keep in minds that this is a two-way street, and the “seasoned woman wants a man, not a fool.” And “Midlife Crisis” features more of well-arranged horns, but this time with a nice dollop of Kattke’s electric piano. A nice twist on this tale is that the narrator allows that his wife is going through the same angst, and for some reason he is surprised when he discovers she is stepping out on him too!
The set finishes up with “I Am,” which brings acoustic guitar in for the introduction then quickly morphs into a serious blues rock song with a modern sound and a serious dose of Cannon’s killer guitar tone. This coda to the album is sung with passion and has a mature message of resisting the temptations of the world. Melon “Honeydew” Lewis, who has a breathtakingly lovely voice, provides amazing punctuation and soul to this final production.
The Chicago Way is a smart album of original contemporary blues songs with just enough of the Windy City charm. Toronzo Cannon has a great band, a unique voice, and a guitar style that ensure that he will be a contributor to the progress of blues in the states for years to come. Check it out for yourself, and be sure to find his website and see if he is playing any shows near you (including the Chicago Blues Festival in June). It will definitely be worth your time!