The Michael Packer Band — 35th Anniversary

michaelpackercdMichael Packer Blues Band – 35th Anniversary

Iris Music Group IMG-645

10 songs – 45 minutes

New York Blues Hall Of Famer Michael Packer dips into his catalog of 13 previous releases featuring some of the best musicians in the business to celebrate his lengthy career. And well he should, considering the troubles he’s seen.

As honestly and painfully described previously in the aural history he provided between cuts of his most recent previous release, the two-CD set I Am The Blues – My Story, Packer has lived a bluesman’s life after emerging from Albany, N.Y., as a country rocker with the bands Papa Nebo and Free Beer on the Atlantic and RCA labels in the ‘70s.

Always a fan of Lightnin’ Hopkins, B.B. King and future friend Paul Butterfield, he moved on to the blues and relocated to New York City in the early ‘80s, working with Richie Havens’ drummer brother Lenny, before his troubles began. His life devolved quickly, resulting in homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction and a lengthy stint in jail.

For the better part of the past three decades, however, the guitarist/vocalist has been producing his own brand of country rock-tinged blues. He’s a major player in the Blues For Peace movement, and he’s backed by his regular rhythm section of Ed Jackson on bongos, Guy Powell on drums and John Becton on bass, plus a dazzling cast of old-timers and future stars that include David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Big Bill and Mud Morganfield and pianist David Maxwell.

And Packer’s cast of characters also original Blues Brothers sax player Blue Lou Marini and multi-instrumentalist Tom “Bones” Malone, B.B. King bassist Jerry Jemmott, Foghat drummer Roger Earl, Johnny Winter harp player Jon Paris, Conan O’Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino, Free Beer mandolinist Sandy Allen and Cuban-born, New York-based harp player and composer Felix Cabrera. While specific credits are absent from the packaging, it’s a good bet that most of, if not all, of these musicians listed above make an appearance somewhere in the 35th Anniversary mix.

A sprightly version of Canned Heat’s “Bullfrog Blues” kicks off the proceedings as Packer delivers the vocals in a clear, pleasant tenor interspersed with several harp breaks. “I’m In Love,” a slow shuffle about traveling the country in an attempt to escape heartbreak, but never achieving the goal. Maxwell’s piano and the horns are featured on a version of the Sam Cooke classic “Somebody Have Mercy” before a cover of Butterfield’s “I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Livin’,” which comes across with a jazz/Latin feel because of the use of flute and bongos.

The autobiographical fast shuffle “Born In New York City,” possibly an original based on Butterfield’s “Born In Chicago,” precedes a traditional country blues version of Blind Lemon Jefferson’s “See That My Grave Is Kept Clean” before an uptempo cover of Robert Johnson’s warhorse “Sweet Home Chicago” and a searing version of B.B.’s “Thrill Is Gone.” The horns are back in command for “Gotta Go (Chicago, New Orleans)” before a version of Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “61 Highway,” recorded live and featuring Honeyboy on guitar and vocals.

Available through Amazon, iTunes eMusic and other vendors, 35th Anniversary is rock-solid throughout. While there are some great examples of straight-ahead blues, this one will appeal more to folks with more eclectic tastes because of the pleasant diversity of the musicians involved.

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