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Barry Big B Brenner - Old School Blues


If you dig acoustic blues and folk music and if you like songs that tell a story, you’ll dig Barry Big B Brenner. His deep blues roots are revealed in his guitar technique, and he’s adept at finger picking, flat picking and slide. His new album, “Old School Blues” is a trip back in time, and like the picture on the album cover of a school room history class, a lesson in old acoustic blues.

Unlike Dave Van Ronk, who is clearly a folk musician, Barry Big B is a blues guy who knows folk music. Blues is folk music, after all, but there’s always been a line of distinction between ‘folk-blues’ and say the down home variety of Mississippi delta blues. From my perspective a ‘folk’ interpretation of an old Muddy Waters tune might seem a bit tame when compared to a version offered by someone who knows the real blues and even perhaps has the blues. An interesting example of this is track 10, ‘Hard Pushin’ Papa’ (Blind Blake), which features a pretty standard folk style finger-picking but is contrasted with Barry Big B’s vocal phrasing, which is definitely delivered in the manner of a veteran bluesman.

The first track of the album, ‘You Don’t Know My Mind’ (Leadbelly), displays many of the little things that make this album such a pleasure. Things like the way the artist accompanies himself with little guitar bits that mirror the song melody behind his voice. He throws in a little guitar harmonic, he adds little flourishes here and there and drives the song forward with his strong finger-pickin’. As he sings the line, “baby, you don’t know, you don’t know my mind…” the listener can feel the anguish and irony and is convinced the story is real, especially with the guitar helping to emphasize the notes. This sincere and passionate vocal style coupled with Barry Bib B’s interesting guitar arrangements make this entire album a great listen.

I find myself humming track#3 lately, ‘Bye Bye Baby Blues’ (Little Hat Jones), a catchy little number about a guy saying goodbye for good to his woman. ‘Cat Pause’ (a Barry Big B original), is a cool instrumental different from all the other songs and acts as a sorbet at a gourmet meal, cleansing the palate for the next course. ‘Mister Ticket Agent’ (Lil’ Son Jackson), is another of the songs that show off his blues upbringing and is thoroughly enjoyable. ‘Step It Up And Go’ (Blind Boy Fuller) has that infectious bluegrass timing on the turnaround and is a real energetic romp! ‘Silver Street Blues’ (Benjamin Brenner) makes me think that maybe Barry Big B and Taj Mahal went to the same blues school somewhere in time. If you keep the title in mind as you listen to the instrumental, ‘Grand Canyon Mules’ (another great original by Barry Big B), it’s easy to picture a pack train traversing the canyons in a scenic wonderland. The album closes with ‘I’m Worried’ (Elmore James) , and is a fitting ending to Barry Big B’s history lesson.

Barry Big B uses several acoustic guitars on this album, including two different Nationals, a 12 string and a six string. I also discovered that he names his guitars, which tells you something about the man. My favorite is ‘Stella Blue’, his name for his Dell’Arte 12 string.

I enjoyed every track on this album, no exception, and I’m already looking forward to listening to it again. If you love folk music I know you’ll dig this album, but if you’re a blues lover it’s a ‘must have’. I guess Barry Big B isn’t a ‘folk-blues’ guy, but a ‘blues-folk’ guy!

Reviewer Bruce Williams is seasoned Blues musician (Junior Wells, Lefty Dizz and The Chicago Fire, Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Mark Hannon Blues Band). He  learned the blues from some of Chicago’s masters and has shared the stage with legends such as Willie Dixon, Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn, Hound Dog Taylor and Jimmy Johnson. His band appears at clubs and festivals throughout the Midwest. He hosts a weekly radio program on WRLR FM Public Radio and produces music out of his home based Highland Lake Records Studio.

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