Elvin Bishop – Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio | Album Review

Elvin Bishop – Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio

Alligator Records ALCD 4973

12 songs – 43 minutes


Elvin Bishop follows up on his 2016 induction into both the Blues and Rock And Roll Halls Of Fame with this collection of seven originals and five covers — a charming package that blends great music and lighthearted, downhome insights, a combination that have pleased critics and fans alike for more than 50 years.

Don’t let Elvin’s bib overalls and Southern drawl fool you. Like Woody Guthrie before him, he’s an Oklahoma native with an extremely sharp mind and witty outlook that he delivers through song. A founding member of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, he was a student at the University Of Chicago but quickly decided to a scholar of the blues and do his learning on the streets rather than in the classroom.

This release, the seventh in his Alligator catalog after being a mainstay with the late, lamented Capricorn label, came about almost by accident when Bishop was jamming in his San Francisco Bay area studio one day with Bob Welsh, his regular keyboard player and second guitarist — who’s toured with a who’s who of bluesmen, including Billy Boy Arnold, Snooky Pryor and James Cotton, and Willy Jordan, the first-call West Coast percussionist and vocalist who’s worked with Elvin, John Lee Hooker, Joe Louis Walker, Earl Thomas and others in addition to fronting his own band, A Case Of The Willys.

Instead of bringing a kit that day, Jordan showed up with a cajon, a large, box-shaped drum constructed of wood that you sit on in order to play. Invented in Peru, it’s now a popular instrument throughout Latin America and can produce a range of sounds that mimic bass and snare drums, among others, when played by a master like Jordan.

The jam went so well, that this album is the result. Recorded and mixed by Steve Savage at Hog Heaven Studio in Lagunitas, Calif., it features a warm, stripped-down sound. The only other musicians aiding the project are three of the foremost harmonica players in the world – Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin and Charlie Musselwhite – each of whom make guest appearances on a single cut.
A rapid, regimented four-four beat kicks off “Keep On Rollin’,” a Bishop original that stresses the need to keep yourself together during these trying times in politics. Regardless of your affiliation, you’ll agree with his insight: “You know damn well the system isn’t workin’/When you can’t tell the difference between your Congress and a circus/Just a bunch of clowns” with the chorus instructing: “Don’t let the mess get you down/Keep on rollin’.” The music keeps the serious theme upbeat.

Fear not, however, there’s a lot of fun ahead, beginning with a magical reworking of Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Honey Bee” and a sprightly cover of the Sunnyland Slim classic, “It’s You, Babe,” featuring Willy’s powerful vocals, Bob on keys and Wilson delivering harp lines faithful to licks laid down by Big Walter Horton years ago. Elvin takes the lead on the bare-bones “Ace In The Hole,” which advises: “If you have a good woman/Treat her like gold” and includes some mighty fine picking.

Two more originals follow. In “Let’s Go,” the band is “making noise” in a fun-filled bar on Saturday night, noticing all the pretty ladies and knowing that they won’t be so choosy come closing time, while “Delta Lowdown” is a rock-solid instrumental shuffle that features Estrin.

A traditional take on Bobby Womack’s classic, “It’s All Over Now,” first recorded when he was a member of the Valentinos, is up next with Jordan on the mike before Bishop and Musselwhite double-team their original, “100 Years Of Blues,” which details their friendship that goes back to the mid-‘60s, when they were working in rival bands in the Windy City. Elvin handles most of the vocals atop Charlie’s lilting harp runs in a new song with a timeless feel. Their conversation mid-tune is sure to put a smile on your face, especially when Bishop states: “We’ve been around since the Dead Sea was sick.”

The trio delivers a little Big Easy feel with a cover of Dave Bartholomew and Fats Domino’s “Let The Four Winds Blow” before touring the country on their stomachs in “That’s What I’m Talkin’ About,” a food tour that begins with gumbo after playing at the New Orleans Jazz Fest with a stop in Seattle for soul food before winding up in Willy’s kitchen in Oakland for turkey, gravy and the best cornbread in town. A cover of soul legend Ted Taylor’s “Can’t Take No More” and another instrumental, “Southside Slide,” bring the album to a close.

Simply stated, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is a sensational CD, certain to be in consideration for major awards later in the year. Pick it up today. I guarantee that you won’t be disappointed.

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