Little Boys Blue – Tennissippi
Jaxon Records/VizzTone Label Group
12 tracks/53:29 minutes
Jackson, Tennessee, the home turf of Little Boys Blue, stands smack between Memphis and Nashville, and just a long stone’s throw from one of Southern soul’s home places, Muscle Shoals, Alabama. Twenty years ago, vocalist and harmonica player JD Taylor and slide guitarist Steve Patterson founded Little Boys Blue in this nexus of blues and soul. The current band features Taylor, Alex Taylor (JD’s son) on rhythm guitar, Dave Mallard on bass and washboard, Tyler Goodson on slide and lead guitars, and Dave Thomas on B3 and piano; additional players include Jeremy Powell on B3 and piano, Brad Webb on guitar and slide guitar (and bass on “Tennissippi”), and Alabama Horns, with Ken Waters on trumpet and Bad Brad Guin on sax and flute. Nine of the twelve tracks were recorded at Fame Studios in Muscle Shoals; the album’s title track, as well as “Wanna Be Your Loving Man” and “Jackson” were recorded at Webb Studios in Memphis.
The album kicks off with a greasy, funky blend of slide and harp that lead into Taylor’s gruff vocals on “Tennissippi.” Taylor’s and Brad Webb’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics play devilishly on the ways that physical boundaries erase and then converge with some Mississippi lightnin’ and Tennessee corn whiskey. The singer goes down to the crossroads where “things stated getting hot and the devil sure came out/well, we kissed on highway 61.” The chorus prances playfully around the nicknames for each state as the singer names this new convergence between lovers: “Tennissippi/that’s when two states of mind collide/she’s in a volunteer mood with some rebel pride/You know I love that girl till the day I die/You know what happens when I cross that line.”
The Muscle Shoals influence shines brightly on “35 Years,” a soulful ballad that opens with the haunting strains of a B3 and features bright piano chords on the bridge that echo Spooner Oldham’s piano work and that lead to some tasty slide that echo some of Duane Allman’s early studio licks. Taylor’s gritty vocals channel the husky voice of Donnie Fritts.
The album’s first instrumental, “Chitlins Con Carne,” delivers not only dazzling keyboard runs and Santana-like guitar riffs (there’s even a “Black Magic Woman” phrase in the lead run at about 3:30 in the song) but some bright harp and horns; the tune sounds as if the early Fleetwood Mac of Bare Trees collided with early Santana, with a final flute trill from Ian Anderson thrown in for good measure. Coming halfway through the album, the song cleanses the palate for the straight ahead blues funk of “Do No Wrong,” the song that follows immediately, and the raspy acoustic blues of “Health Insurance Blues.”
Tennissippi fittingly closes with the jump blues, “Jackson,” a can’t-sit-still, down-to-the-bones rockin’ tune that pays tribute to the band’s home place but also likely to that other Jackson in Mississippi.
On Tennissippi Little Boys Blue flat out delivers a cookin’ musical stew filled with liberal pinches of blues, heaping dashes of soul, and a handful of Cajun-inflected Tejano thrown in to spice up the flavor.