Mississippi Heat – Madeleine
Van der Linden Recordings VDL710
12 songs – 56 minutes
Mississippi Heat has been delivering what they call “traditional blues with a unique sound” out of Chicago for the past 30-plus years and celebrate their anniversary with this star-studded album, proving once again why they’re at the forefront of the music in the Windy City.
A launching pad for blues talent since 1991, the band came together one night after harp Pierre Lacocque and guitarist Jon McDonald – a longtime fixture in Magic Slim & the Teardrops — jammed at Café Lura, a small lounge on the city’s Northwest Side. Soon after, they recruited bassist Bob Stroger and drummer Robert Covington – who regularly worked with piano legend Sunnyland Slim – to join them. The roster has changed multiple times since, but the dozen previous albums they’ve released have been a bellwether of the Chicago sound.
The standard bearer for Heat since its founding has been Lacocque. The son of Belgian parents – his father is a Protestant minister and Old Testament scholar, Pierre was born in Israel and lived in three countries in Europe prior to the family relocating to the Windy City in 1969 when he was 16. Influenced by Little Walter, he’s been hooked on the harmonica since shortly after his arrival after seeing Big Walter Horton perform at the University of Chicago.
Through the years, Lacocque has teamed with the cream of the crop of the city’s blues artists, including guitarists Lurrie Bell, Billy Flynn, James Wheeler and Carl Weathersby, vocalist Dietra Farr, keyboard player Barrelhouse Chuck, former Muddy Waters bassist Calvin “Fuzz” Jones and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and others. Bell, Weathersby and Smith all make guest appearances on this one.
The current lineup features the powerful Inetta Visor and Daneshia Hamilton on vocals along with guitarists Michael Dotson and Giles Corey and keyboard player Chris “Hambone” Cameron. Bassist Brian Quinn and drummer Terrence Williams hold down the bottom with Mark Franklin on trumpet and Kirk Smothers on sax. They joined by Nanette Frank, Diane Madison and Mae Kohn – aka Nadima – on backing vocals along with Johnny Iguana and Ruben Alvarez who guest on keys and percussion.
Produced by Lacocque and Grammy-winner Michael Freeman, this set was captured at V.S.O.P. Studios in Chicago in November 2019 and mastered in Nashville by Paul Blakemore, another Grammy honoree. Pierre penned nine of the tunes in this all-original set with Visor contributing one and Dotson two others.
“Silent Too Long” fires out of the gate to open the action and features Corey with Weathersby on the mic, delivering a complaint about a woman who whines so much that he’s losing sleep and drowning in all of her demands. Lacocque shines on a mid-tune solo as does Cameron on the outro. Pierre rips and runs before Daneshia takes over for “Batty Crazy,” a medium-paced shuffle about a lover who’s reverted back to his old habits and headed to jail if he doesn’t change his ways.
The band delivers “Havana En Mi Alma” with Latin flair with Inetta handling vocals and Carl guitar lead before Lurrie and Kenny join the action for the straight-ahead pleaser “Uninvited Guest,” a deeply personal number that describes looking happy on the outside but being haunted by unimaginable blues from within. The personal torment continues in the blazing “Nothin’ I Can Do,” which finds Daneshia unable to express her affection for the man she loves because she knows he’s got another woman on the side.
The horn- and harp-fueled shuffle, “Empty Nest Blues,” features Inetta and delivers an interesting view of parenthood. The house is empty, but instead of yearning for company, she wants to be left alone. Up next, “Ridin’ on a Hit” features Iguana as Daneshia celebrates the band’s travels from Chicago to Tokyo and back before Dotson takes command for the unspecified call-to-action, “Everybody Do Somethin’.”
Lacocque pays tribute to Emma Magdalena Van der Linden with the unhurried instrumental, “Madeleine,” and the action heats up again with “At the Lucky Star” before the slow blues, “Truth Like Rain,” confronts a crying lover about an unspoken affront. The album closes “Trouble,” the realization that the singer’s the only person who’ll be able to dig herself out from the pile of bills that have piled up.
Madeleine should bring Mississippi Heat major awards when all’s said and done. It’s an outstanding collection of contemporary blues.