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Nora Jean – Good Blues

Untouchable Productions

11 tracks; 47:52 minutes

Nora Jean (Wallace, formerly known as Nora Jean Bruso) is being mentioned as the next “Queen of the Blues,” and after listening to her new CD, Good Blues, I can see why. Wallace sings with the power, confidence and soul of a Koko Taylor or Big Mama Thornton. In fact, Taylor has even compared Wallace’s sound to her own, when Taylor was Wallace’s age.

In Good Blues, her 3rd CD, Wallace collaborates with northern Minnesota native, Little Bobby (Houle) in songwriting and production - in effect merging the musical influences of South and North. Little Bobby is also part of Nora Jean’s 5-piece band, which backs her with solid, professional licks that enhance the mood of every song, without stealing the limelight from her lead vocals.

In the title track of this CD, Wallace’s 3rd outing, Nora Jean pays homage to many blues legends, both present and past. She then follows these roll calls with the line “That’s what I was born to do.” It does seem Wallace was destined to sing the blues. Born 7th of the 16 children of a Mississippi sharecropper, she grew up in a music-oriented family. Her father and uncle were blues performers and her grandmother, the proprietor of a juke joint. Even the children of the family would stay up past their bedtimes and sneak over to the juke joint to enjoy the tunes.

Wallace’s mother was a gospel singer, and Nora Jean’s soulful side is evident in the 3rd track, “How Long,” which features heartfelt, ad lib vocalization. The 8th track, “It’s Over,” is a sad monologue about the inevitable end of a relationship. The musical style is similar to some Eric Clapton songs of his mid-80’s “Forever Man” era.

The shortest cut on the CD, at less than 2 ½ minutes, is “Waiting On Your Love.” This saxophone-laced little song is reminiscent of Elmore James’ work in the early 1960s.

In the only track not co-written by Wallace, “Rodeo,” the lyrics seem a throwback to the double entendre songs performed by earlier female blues singers like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey, and Wallace handles it well.

This stands in contrast to the closing track of Good Blues, “You Gotta Pray,” a soulful number backed up by wailing guitar, which explains how vital faith in God is to Wallace’s life and career. Her faith keeps her anchored, and her sense of purpose or calling keeps her coming back, again and again, to singing the blues…a lifestyle that has included its share of heartache. But, ultimately, more heartache just serves to make her a better singer.

By all indications, it does seem that Nora Jean Wallace was born to sing the blues. And if she is, indeed, crowned the next “Queen of the Blues,” she’ll wear that crown with pride and dignity. Hopefully, she’ll find the time to mentor some younger artists to ensure the royal lineage continues. Then, a generation or two from now, maybe they’ll be adding her name to the roll call of blues legends in the song “Good Blues.”

Reviewer Sheila Skilling is a self-professed “blues fan by marriage,” who was hooked by her husband’s musical preferences, but reeled in by the live performances of Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy and others. She lives in the Minneapolis area.

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