Laurie Jane & The 45s – Late Last Night – Elixir Of Sara Martin
Down In The Alley Records – 2018
12 tracks; 42 minutes
Sara Martin was from Louisville, Kentucky, a blues singer who was extensively recorded in the 1920’s (including for the Okeh label) and wrote many of her own songs. Sadly, her name seems to have been consigned to the sidelines of history (this reviewer had never heard of her) but fellow Louisville musicians Laurie Jane & The 45s decided to put things right by recording a whole album of songs that Sara would have sung back in the day. Included are five of Sara’s originals and songs by some of the great writers of the era: WC Handy, Clarence Williams, Everett Robbins and Porter Granger.
The band has not tried to reproduce the sounds of the 1920’s but has blended 21st century sounds with the jazz-inflected rhythms of the period. The core band is Laurie Jane Duggins on vocals, Cort Duggins on guitar/piano, Jason Embry on bass and Scott Dugdale on drums, aided by Screamin’ John Hawkins on guitar, Brian ‘Boss’ Hogg on sax and Eric Snyder on trumpet, the horns playing on most tracks.
The album kicks off in style with the title track, Sara’s tale of a wild night of loving working brilliantly with the nagging rhythm guitar, a fine horn arrangement and some intense lead guitar on the outro. It’s a striking opener which shows just how well these vintage songs can be translated to the modern idiom. Laurie Jane has a good, clear voice with plenty of range and she sings “Achin’ Hearted Blues” (Clarence Williams, Spencer Williams, Clarence Johnson) very well, the song clearly betraying its original period behind a full horn arrangement. The band also tackles a second Clarence Williams song in “Sugar Blues” which sounds great with slashing guitars giving a Stones gloss to the tune while Sylvester Weaver’s “Can’t Find Nobody To Do Like My Daddy Do” is given something of a rockabilly feel from the guitar as it builds into a full band production with the horns making their presence felt as the song develops.
The band can also play at a slower pace and “Blind Man Blues” (Eddie Green/Billie McLauren) is very well done with the trumpet adding an aching heartbreak feel to the interpretation. WC Handy’s “Joe Turner Blues” is another slower tune, this time with guitar and slide working well in tandem. Sara and Clifford Hayes’ “I’m Gonna Be A Lovin’ Old Soul” is given an upbeat, slide-driven interpretation and the band’s take on the classic “Ain’t Nobody’s Business” is a wild ride to close the album with great exuberance after a first verse which attempts to sound like a vintage recording.
Indeed, the band clearly decided to offer a few tracks in ‘vintage’ style, the three examples all being recognizable by initial 78 rpm scratching noises. For these three stripped-back tracks, separately recorded, Laurie Jane’s vocals are distorted a little and she is accompanied just by Cort who plays resonator on “Strange Lovin’ Blues”, guitar on “Pleadin’ Blues” (two more of Sara Martin’s songs) and piano on WC Handy’s “Atlanta Blues”.
While it is interesting to hear how songs might have sounded with 20’s recording techniques, three of them may be a little too much. The band’s contemporary stylings work so well that the three ‘vintage’ tunes sound like interludes.
A very interesting album with some excellent playing. Kudos to the band for bringing Sara Martin back to the attention of today’s blues fans.