Jim ParisiMusic Review

Blues Masters and Their Students

By Jim Parisi

PutuRythmSince its inception eighteen years ago, Putumayo Music has blazed a reputation for being outside the box. These are the guys who invented the term “World Music”, offering compilation discs of music by musicians from the same country or region or from all over the globe, playing a similar style of music. With more than one hundred albums under their belt, Putumayo has now endeavored into a new genre (for them), entitled simply “Rhythm and Blues”. The album is a collection of classic R&B songs performed alternately by legends and by novices, rising stars of the current R&B revival. And the formula works like a charm.

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The album opens with R&B goddess Lavelle White singing “I’ve Never Found a Man to Love”, a song popularized by Esther Phillips and a great launching pad for this project. Lavelle began her career inHoustonin the late Fifties alongside such luminaries as Bobby “Blue” Bland, Junior Parker, Albert Collins and Big Mama Thornton. The song was co-written by Eddie Floyd and Booker T. Jones and is a wonderful vehicle to showcase Lavelle’s soulful voice.

First up for the novices in this compilation is Londoner James Hunter performing “’Til Your Fool Comes Home”, accompanied on piano by New Orleans renaissance man Allen Toussaint. After playingLondonclubs for years, Hunter got his break when Van Morrison saw him perform, helped him get a recording deal and even performed on James’ first album. This particular song displays Hunter’s adept guitar phrasing. Other impressive cuts by the new wave of R&B artists include “Sweet Feeling” by the sax-driven Cracked Ice, and the Gospel tinged “’Cuz I’m Here” by Ruthie Foster, who really belts the tune out.

I got goosebumps the first time I listened to the trio Sam Moore, Keb’ Mo and Angie Stone doing “Wang Dang Doodle”. I thought it took a lot of guts to record the signature song of two blues legends: Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf. But they definitely pulled it off. But then,Mooreis half of the iconic duo Sam & Dave, Angie is entrenched in the new R&B movement and Keb’ Mo is, well, he’s Keb’ Mo. It’s a nice example of the R&B torch being passed from one generation to the next.

Other standout numbers on the disc include the final two on this compilation: Rockie Charles doing “Before I Find the Right Girl for Me”, and Irma Thomas singing the John Fogerty song “River Is Waiting”. The self-proclaimed “President of Soul”, singer/songwriter/guitarist Rockie Charles has been a mainstay in theNew Orleansmusic scene for more than forty years, backing such luminaries as Earl King as well as leading his own band, The Gauges. His contribution to this CD is from his newest album, “Born for You’. Irma Thomas has been recording for more than a half century and she’s seen it all: dubbed “The Soul Queen ofNew Orleans” in the Sixties, she had a resurgence in the Eighties and received a Grammy in 2006 for her album “After the Rain”. This selection is from her follow-up album, “Simply Grand” and it simply is.

It’s nice to see Putumayo spread its wings and regale its listeners with such a treasure trove of musical gems and new blood. I can’t wait for their “Rhythm and Blues, Vol2” disc!