Al Blake – Doctor Blake’s Magic Soul Elixir No.2
Soul Sanctuary – 2022
18 tracks: 61 minutes
Al Blake was the singer/harmonica player/main songwriter for The Hollywood Fats Band and The Hollywood Blue Flames, as well as contributing to a host of West Coast blues recordings. However, recordings under his own name have been few and far between, this disc being a sequel to an earlier Dr Blake’s Magic Soul Elixir in 2002. I have not heard the earlier disc, but I believe that it was a band disc, whereas this one is definitely an acoustic effort, mainly Al solo on acoustic guitar and a little harp, eight cuts being solo; long-time collaborator Fred Kaplan adds piano to ten tracks and Kirk Fletcher appears on just a single track. Writing credits include eleven of Al’s originals and seven covers of blues from masters such as Big Bill Broonzy and Tampa Red.
The album opens with a run of seven solo performances, a short harp instrumental take on Charles Davenport’s “Cow Cow Blues” before “Rocky Mountain Blues”, a Clarence Williams tune, sung convincingly over a mournful rhythm on the guitar before the third track, about which there is some confusion. On the CD artwork the song is credited as “Satisfy My Soul”, but in fact it is “Sweet Pea”, a traditional sounding blues about which I could not discover any information (though it is clearly not the same tune as that by Tommy Roe of “Dizzy” fame, as Google suggested). Joe Willie Wilkins of Memphis is the source for “It’s Too Bad”, a loping blues played well on guitar, as is Al’s own “Precious Time” which has all the characteristics of a classic country blues. “Greasy Greens” is a Peg Leg Sam tune which Al plays on harp and foot stomp before ending the solo section with the traditional-sounding blues of “The Land Of Calio”.
Fred Kaplan appears on the next ten tracks, starting with some fine piano on an instrumental entitled “Garber Street”. Kirk Fletcher adds guitar to the cover of Big Bill’s “Too Many Drivers”, allowing Al to blow some great harp and deliver the lyrics convincingly. “Music Man” is the longest cut on the album and is labelled as ‘Alternate Take’ on the CD data, a slow blues that seems to be about Al’s former bandmate Hollywood Fats who, of course, passed away far too soon at just 32 years of age. The pace picks up for “Black Chilli Pepper”, a song that also lists “champagne and cocaine” as potential ingredients! We then go back to the 1920’s for a cover of Arthur Petties’ “Out On Santa Fe Blues” before two songs with very traditional blues titles, “Lulu” and “Red Beans And Rice”; however, both are Al’s originals, “Lulu” clearly based on traditional themes and “Red Beans And Rice” a fine instrumental featuring Fred’s piano playing. Tampa Red’s “Things About Coming My Way” is a familiar song and is followed by “Santa Fe Whistle Blues”, Al’s take on those blues that use trains as a theme. The final tune with piano is “You Don’t Know My Mind”, another slow blues, before Al closes with “Old Time Boogie”, bookending the album with another instrumental feature for his harp.
Al is a multi-talented guy and his lived-in vocals are particularly well complemented by the piano work on the ten cuts on which Fred Kaplan appears. This album will delight all lovers of traditional acoustic blues.