Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley – Blues Country
10 songs/44:08 Running Time
Blues duo Diana Braithwaite and Chris Whiteley have collaborated on a total of 6 Cd releases since 2006. Born in Canada, vocalist Diana Braithwaite has an interesting history, steeped in the essence of the Blues. Four generations ago, her family escaped from slavery in Florida via the Underground Railroad and settled in the first African-Canadian enclave in Wellington County, Ontario. Prior to her association with Chris Whitey, Braithwaite has shared platforms with John Lee Hooker, Albert Collins, Mel Brown, Model T Ford and Jeff Healey. Her career took off after opening the 1999 Lilith Fair Festival in front of a crowd that was 18,000 strong.
Kansas born Chris Whitely has been a working musician for more than 30 years. He plays guitar, cornet and harmonica. Greatly influenced by Lonnie Johnson as a teenager, Whitely has worked with Taj Mahal, Sunnyland Slim, John Lee Hooker, Chuck Berry,John Hammond and Leon Redbone.
Both singularly and in tandem, the duo has amassed many awards, including Canada’s Maple Blues Award. Whiteley has won the Maple Leaf Award 7 times for best horn player.
Blues Country is a deft mix of that rural Country Blues sound and urbanized, horn driven ensemble playing. The opening track, “Sleepy Little Village,” develops an engaging story line after slowly starting with a slide guitar intro, followed by a lonely sax, segueing into a rollicking lament about returning home. When the piano, pounded by Electric Flagg alum Michael Fonfara jumps in, the band is hitting on all cylinders and the tone is set.
The band also consists of bassist Gary Kendall, drummer Mike Fitzpatrick and tenor & bari player Pat Carey (all of whom along with Fonfara, have been members of the Downchild Blues Band of Canada).
Standout tracks include “It Doesn’t Matter,” set apart by Whiteley’s clever cornet phrasing and “Motorcycle,” whose adroit lyrics tackle the proclivity that women’s hearts may have for Louis L’Amour type cowboy paperbacks, whose heroes sometimes leave cowgirls lacking. A mouthful to be sure, but when the female protagonist decides to mount a motorcycle and roam the countryside, against a simmering, down in the alley Blues backdrop, it definitely works.
The heartfelt “Sunday In Savannah” elicits traces of Nina Simone from whom Ms. Braithwaite admittedly culls inspiration. It is the only track on Blues Country not written by Braithwaite & Whiteley.
“Jumby Bash” though, might be questionable with its quirky, lyrical content. Is it Blues, or a type of stylized Bobby “Boris” Pickett Popish Top 40 effort? You be the judge.
Overall this production has formidable traction. The band cooks and Diana Braithwaite swings. Definitely worth adding to your collection.