Bee Bump Records
Bernie Pearl is a long time West Coast performer, radio host, promoter and self-proclaimed blues “evangelist.” He was schooled by the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Mance Lipscomb, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and many other greats, but his music is certainly not retro or old school. There is a fresh and edgy side to his approach to the blues, whether he is playing acoustic guitar or electric. His baritone voice is sublimely superb and smooth, making all of his recordings quite easy to digest.
This album features Bernie doing tunes that have recently grabbed his attention and he has challenged himself to play or interpret them by expending whatever effort that was necessary to master them. Working with the jazz and blues legend Barbara Morrison on this project, the two perform some great duets. Her base is also in Los Angeles, and the two hit it off well. Both are fans of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, whom Pearl dedicates this effort to.
The CD starts off with “Worried Life Blues” where Pearl takes off from Fred McDowell’s “Done Tol’ Everybody,” a Big Maceo original. Pearls’ dobro starts us off and the band then joins in. Pearl starts the first verse and Barbara comes in on the chorus and then takes the second verse. They alternate the verse throughout and do the choruses jointly and it’s just a cool old school with a West Coast twist opener. Pearl picks out some mean guitar as Albert Trepagnier, Jr., stomps and beats out a nice drum/percussion accompaniment. Lightnin’ Hopkins “Katie Mae” follows, a soulful and solemn piece. It really hearkens to what Fred McDowell told Bernie about the blues; “Take your time, buddy.” Slow, easy, pensive and the complete opposite of today’ life. Blues delivered slow and easy, where deadlines and work do not matter. Barbara moans and groans and adds some very nice layers to the end of this one. He dedicates the next original to his Kickstarter angels on this sweet instrumental with just Pearl on guitar and some drums to make you want to dance. “Rock Me Mama” follows, Big Boy Crudup’s classic and Pearl brings out his classic electric guitar to make this one even cooler. Mike Barry on bass appears for the first time along with more simplistic drumming by Trepagnier. Pearl takes his time and shows restraint, giving us a very interesting interpretation here. Mance Lipscomb’s “Mama Don’t Dog Me” is next and Pearl goes solo on this cut, relying on his acoustic guitar and smooth vocals to sell this one.
Bernie and Barbara offer up another duet on the religious favorite “Jesus on the Main Line.” Fred McDowell and his wife taught Bernie this one and he seems to have taken well to his lesson. Pearl singing and plucking his dobro while Morrison testifies with even more emotion; by the time it’s over you’d be happy to fill the old collection plate. Pearl then improvises on MacDowell’s “Como” and gives us his “Mississippi Raga.” Sliding electrically like we were in South Asia, Pearl gives quite an emotive performance on his guitar, slow and easy. “One Room Country Shack” is one of three tunes Pearl learned from Dr. Daniel Smith-Christopher from his lecture, “The Bible and the Blues.” Mercy Dee Walton penned this one and it is a soft and sublime, solo, slow and testifying blues. One of my personal all-time favorite songs is Big Joe Williams “Sloppy Drunk,” a take-off on a Sonny Boy I song. Another solo performance, Pearl hits this with a medium or so tempo and finger picks his way coolly through this one. “Tough Times” comes next, a John Brim cover. Lap steel is used here, showing Pearl fluency over every stringed version of the guitar. Morrison sings with him here again and the introduction of Bobby “Hurricane” Spencer on sax makes it even suave-er. More suave. Whatever; it’s cool. The two sing their asses off as the guitar and sax wail and the drums and cymbals tap out a thoughtful beat.
“10:00 am Blues” is named for the start time of their first recording session an their warm-up improvisation became the 11th cut on the disc. Pearl and Barry finger pick up and down the necks of the guitar and bass and it is a great little instrumental to enjoy. Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues” follows. Everyone and their brother have covered this one, but Pearl gives us his take on Johnson’s riffing and I’m sure you’ll like it just as I did. Eddie Boyd’s “Third Degree” has some acoustic guitar layered over his lap steel and Spencer returns to moan on his sax. Slower than normal and dirtier, this is a very interesting cover! Spencer does an outstanding job here. “Old Fool” is a song Pearl wrote a while back but updated with accompaniment. He says that it helped “An old fool tell his story,” by adding the bass and drums. Pearl almost raps out the vocal line and it is a biographical ending to this album built to be taken and listened to while taking your time.
I really enjoyed this one. Nothing is overdone, the sound is minimalistic, yet solid and evocative. Pearl plays the string instruments with abandon and sings with a beautiful tone. The addition of Morrison makes for some very excellent duets and the two horn cuts really stand out with the addition of Spencer to the mix. There is nothing here not to like; take a little over an hour, get a glass of wine or some sipping liquor and your best woman and curl up for some very nice blues done right. You won’t be sorry to have invested the time!