Nora Jean Wallace – Blues Woman
Nora Jean Wallace returns to singing the blues after a hiatus to care for her ailing mother. Wallace (formerly Bruso) received a BMA nomination in 2004 for her Going Back To Mississippi album. I met her when she was touring in support of that album and was floored by her voice and stage presence. Discovered by Jimmy Dawkins in 1985, Wallace’s career began to take off. She appeared on two of his CDs, released a single on Leric and an LP on Red Hurricane (Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues in 2002) and then her BMA nominated CD in 2004. She appeared at many a major festival before her time off. It is good to see her back and performing again.
Joining her on this new effort are Johnny Moehler on guitar, David Earl on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Kevin Anker on organ, Steve Guyger on harp, Stanley Banks on keys and Rob Stupka on drums. Kim Wison makes a guest appearance on “Rag and Bucket.” Earl is also the label head at Severn and produced the CD.
The album kicks off with “Martell,” a song about going out and drinking some cognac. Wallace unleashes her husky and powerful voice as Guyger blows some mean harp and offers us a great solo, Banks bangs the piano smartly and Moeller plays some slick licks. Banks wrote the song and it’s a great hook to start off her new CD. Syl Johnson’s “I Can’t Stop” follows; Moeller and Earl lay out a nice groove as Wallace attacks this with passion. The organ fills in sweetly and we get a nice guitar solo, but it’s Norma Jean’s vocals that are again the highlight. Banks wrote the next cut and title track. Wallace testifies that she’s, “A blues woman, from her wig down to her shoes.” Moeller picks out some cool stuff behind her, Banks hits the piano key and Guyger blows harp. Up after that is a Susan Tedeschi cut from 2005 entitled “Evidence.” Wallace’s version offers up a heavy dose of Chicago blues influences as the guitar, organ and electric piano weave into the emotions and description of infidelity expressed in the cut. Wallace penned “Victim,” a slow and lamentful blues with a cool guitar intro. Wallace offers another deep and emotional performance, testifying she is a victim of her man’s love. The guitar work offers a nice parallel to the vocals here.
“Rag and Bucket” is another of keyboardist Stanley Banks’ works. Wallace sings of cleaning her house today, which is more of disposing of the memories of her man than removing dirt and grime. Guyger’s harp offers good punctuation and response to Wallace’s vocals here. Wallace wrote the next three cuts, starting with “Look Over Yonder.” It’s a more uptempo cut with harp blazing, piano and a great little groove that moves the song along. Wallace and the harp once again spar and counter each other as both singer and harpist offer up some well done stuff. And here the harp player is Kim Wilson, adding his unique sound and style to the performance. “I’ve Been Watching You” follows, a cut where Wallace confronts her man with his deceptions and lies. Her powerful voice demands the listener’s attention as it does figuratively the the man she is singing to about watching his shenanigans. Soulful and powerful, Wallace again serves up an emotional cut for us to enjoy. Nice guitar work complements the piece throughout. “Dance With Me” is the next track and features organ and guitar in a sweet soul blues where Nora Jean asks her man to get up and dance with her. The final track is “I Don’t Have to Beg You to Love Me,” another one of Banks’ songs. Slow and thoughtful blues introduced by the guitar and keys. Wallace threatens her man that she doesn’t need to beg because there are others waiting for the opportunity to love her. Wallace again delivers the goods forcefully and filled with strong emotion, and there is a solid guitar solo and work to assist, too.
I loved this CD. Sixteen years is a long time to wait for new music, but Wallace makes it worth the wait with these 10 fantastic tracks. I highly recommend this to all blues fans– Wallace is the real deal and her songs are worth repeated listens!