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Little Joe McLerran – Believe I’ll Make a Change

Roots Blues Reborn

10 tracks; 39.12 minutes

Little Joe McLerran was the winner of the IBC Solo/Duo category in 2009 and this latest CD is his fourth since his debut in 2004. He plays Piedmont style guitar and sings, with bass and drums accompaniment throughout and keys/harp/saxophone on some songs. However, the most interesting thing is that Little Joe is only 25, yet may be the successor to the late John Cephas. Normally players in this type of music are considerably older, but Joe seems to have mastered his craft already.

The CD is bookmarked by two short worksong/field hollers. The opening “Ratty Section” is just 16 seconds and is a railroad work gang piece which takes us into the first full song, the title track. Clear vocals, an old fashioned feel but entirely modern recording standards set the tone for the CD. The following track is another one credited as ‘Traditional’ but harks back to Big Bill Broonzy. “Down at the Village Store” is a catchy tune, embellished by organ and background sax underpinning the rhythm. “Cocktails for two” is an original song, written for pianist Eden Brent (another IBC winner) who Joe met at the IBCs. They clearly enjoy each others’ company as the song attests to a real party atmosphere when the two players’ paths cross!

If you know “Blues before sunrise” from Eric Clapton’s “From the cradle” you will be in for a surprise when you hear Joe’s cover of the Leroy Carr song. However, there is little doubt that Leroy would recognize it OK as it is absolutely authentic, just guitar, bass and drums. “Blue railroad train” is a song by the Delmore Brothers who Joe informs us were early white pioneers of blues. This song has some very nice harp work on it.

Next up is comic song “Ducks Yas” which has been recorded in blues, jazz and folk versions over the years. The baritone sax underpins the song and the amusing and risqué lyrics are great fun. Joe picks a nice solo mid-tune and a clarinet solo at the end is also a pleasant feature. Track 8 is a spiritual with strong harmonica work backing up the slide guitar. Lyrically “Jesus make up my dyin’ bed” is not far removed from Led Zeppelin’s “In my time of dying” but the presentation could not be further apart.

A cover of Blind Willie McTell’s “B&O Blues” follows, another train song in which the singer’s girl has caught the train of the title and left him. For those who are not railway buffs, B&O stands for Baltimore and Ohio railroad! As befits a sad tale the tune is mournful, whereas the following one is a real upbeat toe-tapper, a Homesick James tune called “Baby please set a date”. This one really moves along in an Elmore James 12 bar style, lots of slide guitar.

Two original precede the final field holler. First up is “Sargent Sunday” written by Joe and bass player Robbie Mack, “a blues ballad for the man in blue”. Sounds like a tough beat that this cop has, as we are given details of the hard life on these particular mean streets. On a lighter note “She’s got somethin’” and is another catchy and sweet tribute to Joe’s wife Casey. The closing holler is entitled “Mother’s callin” and closes the CD with a call home for those in the fields.

Acoustic blues is not my particular enthusiasm, but this is a good, well recorded CD, with variety and changes of pace. Recommended, especially for those who enjoy the acoustic and Piedmont styles. I suspect we will continue to hear from Little Joe for many years to come.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music. He has just returned from his first Legendary Blues Cruise.

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