Waggy Murphy’s Records WMCD 102
12 songs – 37 minutes
A blues traditionalist, Kanto, Japan-based keyboard player and vocalist Rie “Lee” Kanehira follows up on her well-received 2014 debut album, Union Meetin’, with this interesting collection of music that weaves originals into a mix that includes covers spanning the entire history of Chicago-style piano from its founding in the ‘20s to modern times.
Despite the four-year gap between albums, Lee has been making a name for herself in the U.S., contributing work on the 88s for The Cash Box Kings’ sensational Royal Mint album on Alligator last year as well as longtime Eddy Clearwater band guitarist/harp player Shoji Naito’s 2016 Blues Blast Awards-nominated New Cool Old School and another release from Chicago-based guitarist Billy Flynn.
Kanehira discovered the blues in 2004 after graduating from a Japanese music college with a degree in classical piano, and she’s worked with several top Tokyo bluesmen, including Shun Kikuta, Hitoshi Koide and Takashi “Hotoke” Nagai. She ventured to the Windy City for the first time in 2008, returns annually and has worked locally with Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and all of the artists mentioned above.
Most of the songs on this album are solo efforts, and it’s easy to recognize that, as she freely admits, her main influence was Barrelhouse Chuck Goering, a fixture in Chicago from the ‘70s to his untimely death in 2016. He schooled her in the Chicago blues piano sound and introduced her to the works of Leroy Carr, the man credited with inventing it, as well as Big Maceo Merriweather, Memphis Slim, Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins. And he instilled in her a strong desire to keep the music alive after his passing.
Kanehira recorded Lee’s Boogie in Japan shortly after attending a memorial service for him in the Windy City. She dedicated the CD to his memory and enlisted the aid of one of his closest friends, pianist Erwin Helfer, for two duets and Naito contributes harmonica and ukulele as she covers a Barrelhouse Chuck original.
From the opening measures of the self-penned instrumental “Lee’s Boogie,” it’s instantly apparent that Lee’s learned her lessons well. Her rapid-fire, two-handed technique includes a left hand so powerful, it must draw envy from lesser players as she runs the bass lines. And her right hand is swift and precise. Her voice is strong and in unaccented English as she delivers takes of Tampa Red’s “Let’s Try It Again” and Carr’s “Longing For My Sugar,” both of which must have the masters smiling from above.
The original instrumental, “Walkin’ With Murphy,” which follows, fits so well into the action that it could have been written in the ‘40s instead of the 21st Century. Three more covers — Tampa Red’s “Keep Jumping,” Irving Berlin’s “How About Me” and Jimmy Reed’s “I Want To Be Loved” – cross the musical spectrum.
Helfer, an 82-year-old Chicago piano institution, joins the action and shares writing credit for four hands on the 88s for “Spaghetti” before Kanehira breathes life into “The Way I Feel,” a tune penned by Leothus “Pork Chops” Green, the Mississippi-born pianist who mentored Roosevelt Sykes. Up next, the sprightly “Pumpkin’s Boogie” honors a cat that resides in the home Kanehira inhabits when in Chicago.
The final two numbers pay tribute to Barrelhouse Chuck. Skip James’ “4 O’Clock Blues” features a duet with Helfer. It’s a tune the two men often shared when sitting side-by-side on the piano bench. Naito, who produced Lee’s first CD, joins her to finish the set with Chuck’s original instrumental, “Iza Mae.”
Available through Amazon and other online retailers, Lee’s Boogie is a treasure for anyone with a love for old-school Chicago blues piano. A word of warning however: If you’re looking for modern sounds, you’ll be disappointed. But from where this reviewer sits, that’s good!