Andy Cohen – Tryin’ to Get Home/Small but Mighty: Songs for Growing People | Album Review

Andy Cohen – Tryin’ to Get Home

Andy Cohen with Moira Meltzer-Cohen – Small but Mighty: Songs for Growing People

Earwig Music CD 4976 and 4977

17 songs – 57 minutes/13 songs – 31 minutes

Looking for a little aural relief from all of the songs focusing on the misery of modern times? Give these two understated treasures a listen as virtuoso fingerpicking guitarist Andy Cohen delivers a pleasant, 17-song mix of intimate, first-generation Delta, Piedmont and original blues on Tryin’ to Get Home as well as a companion 13-tune CD targeted for the young and young-at-heart joined by daughter Moira on vocals.

A product of the ‘60s, Cohen grew up listening to Dixieland jazz as a child and initially studied cornet, but became hooked on the blues after hearing the music of Big Bill Broonzy and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band for the first time in the folk music era. He’s been a devoted scholar and practitioner of the artform ever since, influenced greatly by Davis, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Skip James, Brownie McGhee and several of their contemporaries.

He served his apprenticeship as lead boy for Jim Brewer, Brother Daniel Womack, Reverend Dan Smith and Davis, too, and supported himself by washing dishes, working on the railroad and as an archeologist. As a performer, he’s toured with the legendary string band Martin, Bogan and Armstrong, Honeyboy Edwards and John Jackson and worked extensively with blues artists Big Joe Jackson, Son Thomas, Etta Baker, Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Boy Henry.

A self-described “walking, talking folk-blues-roots music encyclopedia” and now based out of Memphis, Cohen’s released about two dozen previous albums. He accompanies himself on six-string, 12-string and steel guitars and piano throughout assisted only by Randy Seppala on bones for a single cut.

Andy’s attack on the strings will grab you from the jump of Blind Boy Fuller’s “Step It Up and Go.” His rapid-fire touch is light and precise – complimented by his understated, behind-the beat vocals. He shifts to lower register for Charlie Patton’s “Pea Vine Blues” before shifting to the 88s for his original “Louis Jay Meyers Memorial Stomp,” which sounds as if it were written in the 1920s. His steel guitar rings like a bell for the traditional “Riley and Spencer,” a complaint about broken love and life in the dry world of Prohibition.

Cohen dips into the catalog of ‘50s star Dave Van Ronk for “Bad Dream Blues” before ripping and running with “Puffin’ That Stuff,” an unabashed tribute to marijuana with a ‘30s feel that never calls it by name. Sonny Terry’s “One Monkey Don’t Stop the Show” and Mississippi John Hurt’s “Talkin’ Casey” follow before Andy delivers a tip of the hat to Davis in the self-penned instrumental “Reverend Gary Rag.” First recorded by the title artist in 1963, “Bob Dylan’s Dream” leads in to a pair of Davis covers, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” and “Tryin’ to Get Home.”

“Earwig Stomp,” another dazzling original instrument, follows before Lawrence J. Penn’s “Time to Go,” Clarence Williams’ vaudeville classic “I Ain’t Gonna Give You None of My Jelly Roll,” Blake’s “West Coast Blues” and the original, “Planxty: Miss Joanna Swan,” bring Tryin’ to Get Home home.

If you’re a fan of Two and a Half Men and remember Charlie Sheen’s Charlie Waffles character who sang to children, you’ll enjoy Andy and Moira’s Small but Mighty, too, because a couple of the tunes have the same light, humorous appeal. Tommy Collins’ delightful “Boob-i-Lak” opens with Moira joining in on the chorus before Cohen shifts to banjo for the instrumental, “The Brand New Baby,” a number penned for his daughter and dedicated to a grandson.

Delivered in French and with Cohen on accordion, “Mon Petit Chien” is an original written about Andy’s favorite dog, while “Uncle Stinky” – about personal hygiene – will have you chuckling. Paul Arnoldi’s “Happy-Go-Lucky” – delivered with gypsy flair – describes a car that’s 40-feet long. “Chicken” – about the bird and more – comes across with adult themes before former Moira’s at the mic for former Tonight Show host Steve Allen’s “Gravy Waltz.” Two more fresh tunes — Joe LaRose’s “Mighty in the Kingdom” and the self-penned “Funnel Cakes” – follow to conclude the set, joined by four numbers from the first disc.

Available through most major online retailers. If you’re a fan of first-generation blues, you’ll enjoy both of these efforts. Andy Cohen’s personality, his warmth and his attack shine like diamonds on the material both old and new.

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