Chicago Blues Reunion | DVD Review

Chicago Blues Reunion DVD

Liberation Hall – 2008

14 tracks; 57.21 minutes

Here is an interesting release, a 2008 charity gig for homeless people that is finally seeing the light of day on DVD. The Chicago Blues Reunion is a loose ensemble of some surviving members of groups that were at the forefront of the blues boom of the 60’s – Paul Butterfield Band, Electric Flag, Siegel-Schwall, Steve Miller Band, plus guests from Traffic, Eric Clapton and Bob Seger. For this concert the band was Nick Gravenites and Marcy Levy on vocals and guitar, Barry Goldberg on keys, Harvey Mandel on guitar, Corky Siegel on harp, Rick Reed on bass and Gary Mallaber on drums; the guests are Jimmy Vivino on guitar and Dave Mason on guitar and vocals. This DVD is not the same as one issued in 2005, although a couple of the songs are reprised and some of the musicians involved are the same: Gary Mallaber replaces the late Sam Lay and Marcy Levy replaces Tracey Nelson.

After some brief introductions Nick Gravenites recounts how he wrote “Buried Alive In The Blues” for Janis Joplin, but she died the day before she was supposed to record the vocals! This version is superior to the one on the 2005 release, everyone’s contribution spot-on and Marcy Levy’s vocals the perfect complement to Nick’s. Next up is Nick’s “Born In Chicago”, a song that was first recorded by The Paul Butterfield Blues Band on their debut album back in 1965, then Marcy explains how “Lay Down Sally” came to pass and plays what she says was the originally intended song, rather more Bo Diddley and less country than the Clapton version. Harvey Mandel is featured on the instrumental “Freak Of Dawn”, the band expanded with Jimmy Vivino on rhythm guitar, a string trio (Jill Kaeding, Doyle Armbrust, Chihsuan Yang) and percussionist Frankie Donaldson giving an Eastern flavor to the tune. Marcy then does a fine job on “Use My Imagination” which Barry Goldberg wrote for Gladys Knight, Mandel pulling out a solo that is far less ‘freaky’ than is his stock-in-trade. The strings return for “I Want You”, sung by Corky but driven by Gary Mallaber’s powerhouse drumming before Marcy tackles “Wang Dang Doodle”, quite a daunting prospect when Koko Taylor herself was apparently in the audience!

Dave Mason joins the band for three songs: “Dust My Blues” (Jimmy Vivino playing the Elmore James slide part), “All Along The Watchtower”, a Dylan tune that he has covered for many years in exciting style, and a lightly funky take on his own Traffic classic “Feeling Alright”. Nick then returns to lead the core band on “Fantasy World”, a song that dates back to his 1980’s collaboration with former Quicksilver Messenger Service guitarist John Cippolina before Marcy hits a deep soul vein with “Cry To Me”, a ballad once recorded by Solomon Burke, getting down from the stage to get up close and personal with the audience. “Killing Floor” was a hit for Howling Wolf and then reprised by The Electric Flag and it is no surprise when the familiar riff begins and Nick sings the familiar lyrics. Perhaps less expected is the final tune, “Drinkin’ Wine (Spo-Dee-O-Dee)”, until a clip of The Electric Flag playing it is transposed into the film, giving us a sighting of Nick and Barry in younger days with Mike Bloomfield blazing away on guitar.

Unfortunately the DVD packaging is minimal and the list of songs inaccurate as an additional four songs are listed that are not on the DVD! There are no credits either, though the DVD does at least list all the musicians, if not the writing credits for the songs. Nevertheless, the DVD is great, with everyone on top form, so, despite the packaging, this is well worth seeing.

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