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Grady Champion – Back In Mississippi  - Live At The 930 Blues Café

Earwig Records

14 tracks, 71.20 minutes.


Grady Champion won the IBC in 2010 and as a consequence has since appeared at the Chicago Blues Festival and will be on the Pacific LRBC in October. This CD was recorded live on the very memorable date of 07/07/07 and has since been sold at gigs. Earwig Records picked up the distribution of the CD following Grady’s IBC win, making the CD available far more widely.

As you would expect from a live disc, the atmosphere of the live experience is there and Grady has given us a value for money CD here. The material covers his own material from earlier releases on Shanachie as well as a dip into the catalogues of the greats of the Blues. Grady wrote or co-wrote 8 of the 14 tracks, the remainder coming from Howling Wolf, BB King, Jimmy Reed, Willie Dixon and Curtis Jones (the final credit is for the Intro spoken by guitarist Eddie Cotton).

The band is a five piece, with Grady’s son Marquise on bass, Frank White on drums, Calvin Wilson on keys, Eddie Cotton on guitar and Grady on lead vocals and harp. Everyone covers backing vocals and there is a short rap on one track by the splendidly named Jacktown Swiff! On one track there is a substitute drummer, Xavres Good.

After the intro Grady sets off into Willie Dixon’s “I’m Ready” and we are immediately in Muddy Waters territory. Grady’s harp and Eddie Cotton’s guitar take us back to Chicago in the 60s, immediately followed by a medley of Jimmy Reed’s classics “Baby What Do You Want Me To Do/Bright Lights, Big City”. Grady has a strong voice with just a touch of ‘growl’ and the versions of these classic tunes are well done.

There is then a run of three self composed tunes. “You Got Some Explaining To Do” and “Policeman Blues” are co-writes with Dennis Walker who used to write with and produce Robert Cray and did the same for Grady’s first Shanachie release, “Payin’ For My Sins”. “You Got Some Explaining To Do” moves along really well with a hook chorus of the title and a nice guitar solo. “Policeman Blues” recounts an incident when Grady was pulled over by the cops and handled rather roughly. Lovely piano and understated guitar underpin the vocal and we are definitely in soul territory here until the short rap vocal appears but does not overstay its welcome. Between those two songs is “1-800 Blu Love”, a funky little number with solid harp and guitar breaks in the middle.

Extended versions of Wolf’s “Spoonful” and Curtis Jones’ “Lonesome Bedroom Blues” follow, both done well. Again, Grady’s voice is ideally suited to a song like “Spoonful” which we all know so well. The song is taken at a slightly brisker pace than in many versions and the bouncy beat on the chorus sets up the solos well (harp and guitar). “Lonesome Bedroom Blues” is a slow blues and a feature for Eddie Cotton’s plaintive guitar, backed by piano and organ. The introductory section is as good an example of the slow blues as you will find and we should remember John Mayall saying that the true test of any guitarist is when he is asked to play a slow blues.

From here to the end of the album it’s all original material apart from a version of BB King’s “Why I Sing The Blues” which is sympathetically done in a funky upbeat style with solos for everyone. The originals start with “Love And Memories”, a ballad rather than a slow blues, telling the story of Grady’s late Mother, with fine harmony vocals and an emotive guitar solo adding to the real sense of loss in the lyrics. Oddly the tune is faded out at the end of the guitar solo, so there may have been a technical problem.

“Wine And Women” is a cautionary tale of the pitfalls that a young man may fall into and the recommendation is not to mix them! “Brother, Brother” is a highlight, with a strong organ background and vocal. Not really blues, but very effective, with a strong guitar solo more in a rock vein than elsewhere on the CD. I liked this one a lot!

“I’m Yours” is another ballad and another one that is edited short during the guitar solo. We then close with “Blues On Christmas” which makes a rather strange ending to the CD as it was clearly not seasonal for July! It’s a straight blues tune based on the traditional motifs of Christmas trees, etc, complete with a touch of “Jingle Bells” at the end.

Overall this is a good CD with many highlights. It should get Grady wider attention through the wider distribution and I am sure that we will see him on lots of festival bills in the future.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He is looking forward to attending the Blues Blast Awards in Chicago in October.

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