Benny Turner – My Brother’s Blues
Nola Blue Records
11 tracks / 51:12
When Benny Turner chose the title for his latest album, My Brother’s Blues, it was not just a clever phrase to him as this disc pays homage to his older brother Freddie King, one of the “Three Kings” of electric blues guitar. Forty years ago Freddie died far too soon, but his music is still with us, and in this set Benny runs through eleven of King’s tunes that are all stone-cold winners.
Though Benny spent a portion of his career in his brother’s band, he has a full resume of top-shelf artists that he has recorded and gigged with, including Memphis Slim, Mighty Joe Young, Otis Clay, and the NOLA legend, Marva Wright, whose band he led for 20 years. After Marva passed on from this world, Turner started cutting his own albums, including the exceptional 2014 release, Journey, and the 2015 Blues Blast Music Award-nominated When She’s Gone. He is an outstanding frontman, and earned his chops and stage presence through countless gigs on at least four continents over the last 60 years.
For My Brother’s Blues, Benny laid down the lead vocals and the bass parts, and pitched in on guitar as needed. He was joined by a slew of fine musicians including some big names and a bunch of A-list New Orleans talent. He was very fortunate to have Grammy and Emmy-winner Jack Miele onboard as the studio engineer, and Miele also contributed some of the guitar parts. Jack knows his way around the studio, and the results are a consistently clean and lively sound with excellent balance.
The set kicks off with “Big Legged Woman,” a bawdy piece of funky blues that can be found on King’s 1972 album, Texas Cannonball. Turner’s vocals are smoky and soulful, and he has a nice feel for the bass as he syncs up with Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander, whose drums are heard on every one of My Brother’s Blues tracks. Making this song complete is the horn section of Jason Mingledorff and Barney Floyd, who slyly punctuate each sexy phrase. This is followed up by one of Benny’s favorite tunes, “It’s Your Move,” a mid-tempo charmer that gives Turner the chance to show off his impressive vocal range, and there is a tasteful dose of Hammond B3 courtesy of Joe Krown (Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band) for good measure.
Freddie King’s musical talents also extended to songwriting, and the track list includes a pair of songs that were written by him: “You’ve Got to Love Her with a Feeling” and “See See Baby.” The former is a slow grinder with honkytonk piano from Krown and understated guitar leads from June Yamagishi. The latter was on King’s 1961 debut album, and the band does a stand-up job of capturing the vibe of the original, though the sound is better on this version (understandably) and the sax is a little less raunchy.
All of the tracks are solid, but there are a few standouts, and one is a sentimental favorite, “I’m Tore Down,” which was written by Sonny Thompson, a frequent collaborator of Freddie’s. This song features a triple threat on vocals, as Benny trades riffs with Marva Wright and the late Otis Clay; it is so cool to hear the three of them together. This is a joyous romp with wonderful instrumentation, including Keiko Kamaki’s B3, Yamagishi’s tight guitar leads, and the horns of Floyd and Mingledorff. The other killer groove is “Mojo Boogie,” which features the slide guitar of Carolyn Wonderland, a super-talented Texan.
My Brother’s Blues is a respectful and loving tribute to Freddie King, and perhaps Benny Turner’s feelings are best described by the back of the CD sleeve, which includes these simple words: “big brother, bandmate, best friend.” On this project, Benny once again proves that he can hold his own with the best of them in the music business, and if you like classic soul blues with horns and righteous keyboards. This album will certainly tickle your blues fancy.
If you would like to see Mr. Turner in person, you are in luck as he still gets around quite a bit, so check out his website for upcoming show dates in New York, Georgia, North Carolina, and Chicago, the home of the blues!