Chicago Blues All-Stars – Red, Hot & Blue
Azure Music 2013
11 tracks; 55 minutes
This group of experienced Chicago sidemen came together originally in 2009 to enjoy some fun jam sessions, liked what was emerging and decided to record their endeavours, resulting in this album. The initial idea came from Dan ‘Chicago Slim’ Ivankovich who plays guitar and sings, as does ‘Killer’ Ray Allison; Scott Dirks plays harp and sings, Roosevelt ‘Mad Hatter’ Purifoy is on keys and the rhythm section is Johnny B Gayden on bass and Jerry Porter on drums. A horn section of Johnny Cotton on trombone, Garrick Patten on sax and Kenny Anderson on trumpet boost the sound on most tracks and Anji Brooks sings lead on three tracks. If some of those names look familiar it’s because they have backed some of the greatest bluesmen, including Muddy Waters, Albert Collins, Otis Rush, Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Koko Taylor. This album takes ten well known blues tunes and gives them a funked-up reading, with some mixed results.
Dan sings lead on a version of Little Walter’s “Everything’s Gonna Be Alright” which Walter would certainly have had some difficulty in recognising. Dan’s vocals sound almost as if sung into a harp mike and his guitar sound is laden with fuzz distortion. Phil Guy is the source for “Feeling Sexy” which Ray sings quite well though the harp sounds really distant, as if it was recorded in another room. As they do on most tracks here, the horns definitely add polish and power. Things look up on BB King’s “Wonder Why” as Anji takes the lead after some initial ‘debate’ with Ray. The harp is far livelier here and this one is sonically far better balanced than the two opening tracks. The horns kick the song along with Roosevelt in sparkling form on the piano. Junior Wells’ “Snatch It Back And Hold It” and “Hoodoo Man Blues” both appear with Scott on lead vocal, using the harp mike on both cuts. As Dan’s vocals have similar distortion the album suffers from a surfeit of this technique/style of singing. Nothing wrong with Scott’s harp playing on these two cuts, however, and some stinging guitar on “Snatch It Back” is an attractive feature. “Hoodoo” gives the horns a feature with both trombone and trumpet getting solo sections to good effect.
An album of classic Chicago songs would not be complete without Willie Dixon and he is represented here by “Wang Dang Doodle” filtered through James Brown as the horns riff frantically behind Anji doing her best Koko Taylor impression, as well as by a heavy rock version of “Let Me Love You Baby” with lashings of Dan’s signature guitar sound and distorted vocals. Rufus Thomas’ “Walking The Dog” is another oft-covered tune and has its origins in a funky Memphis stew, so suits this band’s approach well. Several tracks here suffer from the inclusion of some initial ‘chat’ before the band starts, as occurs at the start of Jay Owens’ “Why You Treat Me This Way?”, a relative obscurity amongst such well-known songs but very well sung by Ray. The harp is again relegated to the background but the horns are strong enough to match some more of Dan’s wild guitar. Another of ‘the usual suspects’ completes the covers as “Rock Me Baby” again features Anji on a really funked-up version of this venerable warhorse. The album concludes with a lengthy instrumental “Mad Hatter’s Blues”, a co-write between Roosevelt and Dan which is clearly intended as a feature for the keys but has some spoken voice over parts that detract from what turns out to be a pleasant late night piece with the horns in close company with the keys and some fine picking by Ray!
To take on the classics you either have to bring something new or deliver them in an exemplary fashion. This band is clearly trying to put funk into everything and it works part of the time.