Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty – Tribute To Carey Bell
Delmark Records – 2018
12 tracks; 58 minutes
Carey Bell was a mainstay of the Chicago blues scene from his recording debut in 1969 until his death in 2007. Initially a protégé of Big Walter Horton, Carey went on to play with many of the Chicago greats, including a spell with Muddy Waters. Carey also left behind a family of Bell musicians of whom guitarist/vocalist Lurrie is probably the best known, but here he is joined by his three brothers: Steve on harp, Tyson on bass and James on drums (plus vocals on three songs). Steve is currently playing with John Primer, Tyson has worked with Shawn Holt and James played with Magic Slim when barely old enough to be seen behind his drum kit! Eddie Taylor Jr is on guitar throughout (apart from three tracks where Sumito ‘Ariyo’ Ariyoshi’s piano appears) and guest harmonica players Billy Branch and Charlie Musselwhite also sit in. The music features several songs that Carey would have played regularly, including three of his own songs, two Little Walter classics, two from Junior Wells, one each from Muddy Waters, Big Walter Horton and Eddie ‘Cleanhead’ Vinson, plus two originals contributed by Billy Branch and James Bell.
Lurrie takes the lead on the opening trio of songs: Muddy’s “Gone To Main Street” barrels along, a classic Chi-Town shuffle with Steve’s harp sounding great as Lurrie and Eddie’s guitars play off each other; Big Walter’s ‘Hard Hearted Woman’ is a slower blues with fine vocals from Lurrie; Little Walter’s ‘I Got To Go’ was a staple of Carey’s live sets for many years and the band does it justice in a fast-paced version with Charlie Musselwhite adding his distinctive harp attack to the mix and Lurrie playing a stinging solo. James then sings his own “Keep Your Eyes On The Prize”, bringing a soulful note to proceedings
The two Junior Wells tunes bookend the core track of the album, of which more in a moment. Both are uptempo and rocking examples of Junior’s style: “Tomorrow Night” gets the toes tapping and James handles the vocals on “What My Momma Told Me” which rocks along very well. Between the two Junior songs is Carey’s slow blues “So Hard To Leave You Alone”. Billy Branch’s echoey harp starts it off, Ariyo’s delicate piano and Lurrie’s carefully chosen notes on guitar underpinning Billy’s vocal superbly. This extended version appears at the mid-point of the album and clocks in at close to nine minutes so there is ample solo space for Lurrie, Billy and Ariyo to weave their magic – a definite highlight. A second Carey slow blues
“Woman In Trouble” has a strong Lurrie vocal before Billy returns to make his own tribute to Carey on “Carey Bell Was A Friend Of Mine”, duetting on harp with Steve.
The CD closes with three tunes which neatly sum up the album. The second Little Walter tune is “Break It Up” which the band plays in a funky version and James sings well. “Heartaches And Pain” is the final Carey tune, another slower tune with more outstanding guitar work from Lurrie and references to drinking one’s sorrows away, very fitting as the album ends with a rousing version of “When I Get Drunk” with Ariyo back on piano.
In the very full and informative sleeve notes there is a photo of Carey and his four sons which looks as if it was taken when Lurrie and Steve were in their teens, James and Tyson both looking under ten. We also gather that the album was recorded in a single day session – very old school! That fact alone shows how well attuned these guys are to each other and to the music they are honouring here, not only their Dad but also several pioneers of the classic electric Chicago sound. Delmark released Carey and Lurrie Bell’s debuts so it is fitting that they should now release this fine tribute to Carey by his sons. Carey would surely be immensely proud of his boys’ work here.