Mitch Woods – Friends Along The Way | Album Review

Mitch Woods – Friends Along The Way

Entertainment One Ltd.

16 Tracks/68:55

Since his move to San Francisco in 1970, Mitch Woods has been playing boogie-woogie and jump blues, featuring his dynamic piano playing, for a number of years supported by his Rocket 88s band. In recent years, Woods made a detour to New Orleans, immersing himself in that city’s R&B history while also becoming a regular at the Piano bar on the Legendary Rhythm & Blues cruises. This release is the twelfth over his three decade recording career.

The roster of “friends” joining Woods on these tracks is full of well-known blues artists. When your project starts off with two performances featuring Van Morrison and Taj Mahal, it is cause for rejoicing. Woods plays some lovely gospel piano while Taj Mahal adds guitar accompaniment behind Morrison’s distinctive vocal on “Take This Hammer”. Then the two singers trade verses on an animated rendition of “C.C. Rider”. Ruthie Foster’s luxurious voice commands your attention on her original, “Singin’ The Blues,” as Woods’ understated piano providing the perfect backdrop. Another highlight is John Hammond’s gritty vocal and slashing National steel slide guitar on “Mother-In-Law Blues”. Equally fine is Maria Muldaur’s sultry run-through of “Empty Bed Blues,” as Woods continues to impress with his rolling piano lines.

It is wonderful to hear John Lee Hooker doing his thing on “Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive,” his his vocal personifying what blues is all about. Elvin Bishop guests on two cuts, pitching a boogie on “Keep A Dollar In Your Pocket,” then contributing slashing guitar licks to the high-energy “Saturday Night Boogie Woogie Man,” which provides Woods an opportunity to share his notable vocal talent. Both tracks have Larry Vann on drums. Harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite takes the lead on “Blues Gave Me A Ride,” laced with mournful harp blowing. Woods handles the vocals on the minor key slow blues, “Cryin’ For My Baby,” an original in the Charles Brown style with fine blowing from Musselwhite. “Chicago Express” is another dynamic original memorable for James Cotton blowing hearty train-like licks on his harp as Woods’ hands roll across the keyboard.

Other artists making appearances include guitarist Joe Louis Walker on the lively “Nasty Boogie” and Kenny Neal on vocal, guitar and harp on his original,”Blues Mobile”. “The Blues” finds Cyril Garrett Neville expounding on the blues, stating that “…..Blues is the root of the American musical gumbo”. Morrison and Taj Mahal return on “Midnight Hour Blues,” with Morrison aptly conveying the late night woes running through the Leroy Carr tune. The disc closes with Professor Longhair’s “In The Night,” featuring a vocal and piano duet with Woods and Marcia Ball.

The guest list alone is sure to garner attention for this project. The collective music-making is first-rate with top notch performances from beginning to end, consistently anchored by Mitch Woods and his piano. If you love the music, you don’t want to miss that one!

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