Mitch Woods – Friends Along The Way
Club 88 Records – 2023
CD1: 10 tracks; 49 minutes
CD2: 11 tracks; 42 minutes
A stalwart of the Blues Cruise, pianist Mitch Woods clearly has plenty of friends to be able to involve such an amazing list of musicians. This album was originally released in 2017 on a single disc with sixteen tracks, but the label moved its interests away from music and the album was not seriously promoted. Mitch acquired the masters and was determined to re-release it; the reissue includes all the earlier material, plus five additional tracks which did not make it on to the single disc.
The format throughout is either duo or trio performances with Mitch on piano (and occasional vocals), plus guests. The album has three classic numbers featuring Van Morrison and Taj Mahal: Lead Belly’s “Take This Hammer” has a gospel-infused vocal from Van who also sings excellently on Leroy Carr’s “Midnight Hour Blues” while the duo share the vocals on “CC Rider”. Larry Vann adds drums to two tunes recorded with Elvin Bishop, Oliver Perry’s “Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket” and the exciting boogie of Jimmy Liggins’ “Saturday Night Boogie-Woogie Man”; Larry also plays on Kenny Neal’s “Blues Mobile”, with Kenny on vocal, harp and guitar. Other originals include Ruthie Foster’s “Singin’ The Blues” with Mitch’s delicate piano the perfect accompaniment to Ruthie’s emotional vocal and Cyril Neville’s spoken history of the music “The Blues” (a co-write with Taj Mahal). John Hammond’s steel guitar adds a Delta feel to “Mother-In-Law Blues”, Joe Louis Walker’s duet with Mitch on Champion Jack Dupree’s “Nasty Boogie” is a standout and Maria Muldaur does a good impression of Bessie Smith on “Empty Bed Blues”. Charlie Musselwhite appears twice, on harp on Mitch’s “Cryin’ For My Baby” (which bears some resemblance to “Five Long Years”) and on harp, guitar and vocals on the autobiographical “Blues Gave Me A Ride”. Mitch and Marcia Ball have great fun doing duets on both piano and vocals, on Professor Longhair’s “In The Night”.
There are two tracks that must have been recorded some time ago: John Lee Hooker delivers a typical “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive”; Mitch wrote the exciting “Chicago Express”, a train boogie tune that features James Cotton’s explosive harp style.
The five tracks that were previously unreleased offer second features for five artists. Mitch plays superb NO piano on “Blues For New Orleans” as Cyril Neville emotes about his “heart-breaking dreams” and his concerns for his native city. In “Don’t Dip In My Bizness” Kenny Neal warns people not to interfere, Mitch’s piano and Kenny’s guitar delivering some jagged lines over the steady drums (presumably Larry Van, though not credited). Maria Muldaur sings in a different style to her earlier Bessie Smith number on Mitch’s composition “Mojo Mambo” which again references New Orleans. Two artists deliver covers of older material: John Hammond sings “Southbound Blues”, written by WR Calaway and Clarence Williams, his guitar stylings and Mitch’s piano taking us back to the original version, recorded by Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell in the 1930’s; Joe Louis Walker delivers Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Worried Life Blues” very convincingly, playing acoustic guitar alongside Mitch’s piano and sharing the vocals on the familiar tune which makes an ideal end to the expanded album.
Mitch Woods is definitely a piano master and his wide circle of friends makes this a very enjoyable album.