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Jimmy Dawkins presents The Leric Story
Think of Chicago Blues, and it's quite obvious who springs to mind. Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, take your pick from many. However, the mainstay of any blues scene are the bars and clubs featuring the many artists who never managed to break out of their local circuit, nor have attained the recognition they deserve.
So when I received this CD, it came as quite a shock to hear some wonderful singers and some fine musicians who I'd never heard of before. Credit must be given to Jimmy Dawkins who launched Leric records with the prime intention of recording these artists enabling them to attain some airplay, the possibility of getting reviewed in the music press and having some product to sell. Some 25-30 years later, these recordings are at last being made available again, but sadly any recognition will come to late to be of benefit to the artists.
The first two tracks are taken up by Little Johnny Christian. The first track, "New Life" is an up tempo blues number featuring some terrific soulful singing, but with guitar, saxophone, keyboards and harmonica all featuring, the instrumentation becomes very cluttered. In fact it could have done with less and allowed one or possibly two instruments to take the lead. Saying that, I would have liked to have seen this performed live. It was probably an awesome sight.
"Luv Sumbody" leans very much to the soul side of the blues. In fact, Johnny's vocals shift fr.om blues to soul and back with the greatest of ease. The highlight of this track is the Sax solo from Kreen .
Tail dragger is next with two numbers. A man with a distinct and authentic Chicago blues voice, Tail Dragger was reputedly the natural successor to Howlin Wolf. So ezee is a standard Chicago blues work out. It features plenty of tasteful harmonica and piano. "My Head Is Bald" has a distinctive lyric over another standard blues number and although both tracks are basic they seem to be perfect for Tail Draggers excellent vocals.
Queen Sylvia Embry makes an appearance with two tracks. A bass player with a gospel influenced voice, Sylvia at least recorded for the Razor and Alligator labels, but sadly joins the ranks of those who didn't quite make it. "I Know I Ain't Number One" is a number which shows the power of her vocal range and again is a number which would have been sounded great live. "Too Bad Baby" is a 12 bar blues number which again would have been in it's element in a live setting.
Vance Kelly weighs in with three numbers. "Use What You Got" is very reminiscent of Hoochie Coochie Man. "The Jam" is a very funky instrumental which once again features some fine sax playing from Kreen. "Why You Hurt Me So Bad" is a mid tempo number underpinned once again by some fine sax and guitar playing. Vance's vocals are superb . All three numbers are previously unreleased and if there are any more Vance Kelly numbers in Leric's vaults we could be in for a fine album.
Nora Jean Bruso provides two tracks. "Untrue Love" is probably the best track on the album. A fabulous vocal with some fine piano, again this is number that would really stand out in a live environment. Unfortunately, "Oh My Love" really doesn't belong on this album. Whilst the vocals are superb, the track is a ballad probably more suited to the late night soul programme format.
Big Mojo Elem is next up with "Special Kind Of Love". The one time bassist with Freddie King with a voice similar to that of J B Lenoir shows why he was very popular on the Chicago blues scene. This track is previously unreleased and like Vance Kelly, it will be interesting to see how much material is still about.
Little Johnny Christian is back with another two numbers, "Ain't Gonna Worry About Tomorrow" starts with a lovely organ intro which blends very well with the brass section. Unlike the opening cut the soloing is better structured allowing the song to breathe. "I Gotta Sad Feeling" really swings with the brass instruments really prominent.
I know absolutely nothing about Sister Margo and Healing Center Choir, except to say that "My God Is Real" and "Peace Be Still" show what a fine gospel singer she is.
This has been a fascinating CD to review. A mini-documentary of a local music scene some 25-30 years ago and the possibility of more to come. For those bands who never got beyond the local club circuit, getting the chance to record an album must have been a fantastic opportunity. With advancements in digital technology, for many bands who perform at club level and don't get beyond the local circuit, recording an album has become a lot easier and a lot cheaper. Artists like these rarely got that chance. As Dave Whiteis succinctly wrote in the sleeve notes. It reminds us, yet again, that the best music is often found off the beaten track, away from the spotlights, on what the late Johnnie Taylor so memorably called "the soul side of town".
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