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From the Inside Out

Survey with the Strings On Top

By Published: June 20, 2007

Carter just takes the hell off and runs with "Bag's Groove," as his walking solo quickly breaks from a walk, into a trot, into a gallop, and then a sprint. He then downshifts into the accompanying background and allows Scott's piano to swing through "Someday My Prince Will Come," which swings fat and funky as a classic Wynton Kelly performance. In "Bye Bye Blackbird," Scott first plays the chords and melody one tone darker, just like Miles would mute to temper his trumpet notes; but as his unfettered lead lines dart and flutter, Scott seems to shine as brightly as Red Garland.

It took several passes through, before beginning to understand, that Carter and company are not doing Miles Davis' versions of these songs; they're doing their own versions "in honor of" Miles Davis' versions of these songs. So it's okay that there's no horn player on Dear Miles. Miles broke a rule or two in his day, too.

JJ Grey & MOFRO
Country Ghetto
Alligator
2006

It's rather promising for a band's debut to remind you of the Faces on the fast numbers and of Otis Redding on the slow ones, but these legends provide solid points of reference for JJ Grey & Mofro's Country Ghetto.

Country Ghetto is swampy, funky, bluesy, and above all genuine, straight from JJ Grey's backwoods home in the swamps outside Jacksonville, Florida. Grey composed and arranged every tune, sings lead, and plays keyboards as well as acoustic, electric and twelve-string guitars. Daryl Hance on guitar and slide guitar, Adam Scone on organ and keyboard bass, and George Sluppick on drums help Grey cook, stir, and boil up this scalding pot of country boogie as MOFRO, named in honor of a lumber company for whom Grey once worked.

Here's where Grey comes from: "I was brought up to earn it and not waste it, to respect and protect womanhood and promote manhood, and to be thankful for what you got. By today's standard, we ourselves and most of the folks we knew, lived below the so-called 'poverty line.' We were land and culture rich and dollar poor but I wouldn't trade my upbringing for any other," Grey reflects in the liner notes. "My culture, my life, my love is here in this country ghetto."

Country Ghetto's title track thumps up from under that poverty line to chase the ghost of Tony Joe White's classic "Polk Salad Annie," slide guitar and harmonica howling in the background like an approaching twister. Grey's vocal in the deliberate two-step stomp "Tragic" is gnarled and strong and deep, like the roots of a hundreds-year-old cypress tree. "Mississippi" pulls in the sound of southern Stax Records soul, with its organ groove and horn blasts shining like Booker T. & The MGs and the Memphis Horns, and the dual guitars channeling the legendary Steve Cropper. "Good things are going on, here in Mississippi," indeed.

"Circles" is a slow-burning blues about how what comes around goes around, though not always in the way that you might think. Grey delivers lines like, "Please forgive me for what some other man did to you before I came along," with resignation and power that sounds authentically full of hurt.

Finally, "Footsteps" busting into "Turpentine" is not only the best thing on this record, which is really saying something, it's probably the best combined five minutes of southern rock boogie that I've heard since...well, probably ever. Drums slam out its fat 4/4 beat straight and true as organ and harmonica howl and moan and slide guitar screams out the electric agony and ecstasy, the rough-hewn and sweating-booze sound, of the blues.

Put it all together, and it's how Creedence Clearwater Revival might have sounded had they come along after grunge instead of before: Hand-stitched, unpretentious, honest blues. It's as simple—and simply awesome—as the beauty in Grey's opening lines to "Mississippi": "Well, I dearly love my home/But it's never looked so good to me/Blue skies and dragon flies/Muddy creek, Lord, set me free..."

Kenny Wayne Shepherd
Ten Days Out: Blues from the Backroads
Warner Bros. / Reprise
2007

When blues guitarist Shepherd does a blues tour of the American musical south, he sure does it right: Ten days with friends Tommy Shannon and Chris Layton (Stevie Ray Vaughan's longtime rhythm section Double Trouble), plus a mobile studio and documentary film crew; starting from the mouth of the Mississippi River in New Orleans, to Shreveport, up to Alabama, up into the Carolinas, then west to Kansas; visiting and performing with guitarists B.B. King, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and Hubert Sumlin, pianist Pinetop Perkins, harmonica player Jerry "Boogie" McCain and others, in their homes, backyards and favorite local dives; all culminating in Shepherd's performance with surviving members of the Muddy Waters Blues Band and Howlin' Wolf's band at the magically named Church at Blue Heaven Studio in Salina, Kansas.



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