Survey with the Strings On Top
Ten Days Out documents this tour on CD and DVD, and the results comprise an amazing blues document that constantly transcends geography and generations. Guitarists Honeyboy Edwards and Henry Townsend, who moan the "Tears Came Rolling Down" blues hard and heavy, both personally knew the legendary Robert Johnson. Sadly, no fewer than six of its featured artists have passed away since filming Ten Days Out completed: Townsend, Etta Baker, Wild Child Butler, Neal Pattman, Cootie Stark and Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown.
Jerry "Boogie" McCain's "Potato Patch" turns one of those classic blues double-entendres where you can tell it ain't McCain's potatoes that somebody's been diggin'. Shepherd and company pound out the slow backbeat deep and mighty while McCain's harmonica wails over their churning chords to serve blues straight-up and hard as electric forged steel.
Despite its title, performing his trademark "The Thrill is Gone" with B.B. King has to be a thrill that Shepherd wants to hold onto forever. King's vocal rides the beat hard, roaring and agonizing in its blues grip, then his guitar swaps wallops with Shepherd's, wringing hot drops of blood and sweat from their respective necks. Close your eyes while listening and wonder if you're hearing the sound of some torch being passed.
The last four cuts feature Shepherd playing with a literal "Who's Who" of post-WWII blues: The Howlin' Wolf Band with Sumlin, Wolf's pianist Henry Gray and bassist Calvin "Fuzz" Jones; then the Muddy Waters Band with Muddy's longtime drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Chicago guitar ace Bob Margolin, Lazy Lester on harmonica and Pinetop Perkins on piano. Grey horsewhips everyone through the Willie Dixon classic "Red Rooster," with Butler rampaging through the barnyard. Later, Butler steps out front on Dixon's tugging, insistent "Spoonful"; Sumlin steps out to front Wolf's "Sitting on Top of the World" in between.
Perkins closes the celebration by leading through the low-down, hard-driving "Grindin' Man," which is what Shepherd, Perkins and the Waters band do with this blues - they grind it down into fine powder then blow it away.
Liner notes include Shepherd's hand-sketched journal entries each day of the journey. These entries are as entertaining and musically worthwhile as the performances they detail: Their second recording location with Buddy Flett was Ledbelly's gravesite; Shepherd's June 11 performance with B.B. King began after midnight, so it was really June 12, which is Shepherd's birthday ("This was one of the coolest moments of my professional career").
A portion of proceeds from Ten Days Out: Blues from the Backroads is being donated to the Music Maker Relief Foundation.
Trio7: Joe Beck, Santi Dibriano, Thierry Arpino
Whaling City Sound
Tri07 is a different type of release for Joe Beck. Which is a powerful statement, since this guitarists' guitarist has won the Most Valuable Player Award from the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences (NARAS) five different times, and his career, which spans five decades, includes working with Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Antonio Carlos Jobim and other geniuses.
Tri07 delivers two distinct Beck flavors: Adventurous improvisational explorations that deconstruct and reassemble pieces such as "You and the Night and the Music" and John Coltrane's "Impressions," and reverential yet energetic reviews of numerous hallowed standards ("But Beautiful," "Laura," "My Romance," "Cry Me A River" and "(I Don't Stand) a Ghost of a Chance with You").
Beck can move so freely between these styles thanks to the energy and dexterity of his rhythm section: bassist Santi Dibriano, who has played with Larry Coryell, Pharoah Sanders, Sam Rivers, Sonny Fortune and Archie Shepp; and drummer Thierry Arpino, who most often plays with Jean-Luc Ponty. "We traveled together musically for two solid days of experimental sessions," wrote Dibriano in his notes; "This rhythm section is almost too good to be true," wrote Beck in reply.
This trio's opening "Impressions" of the Coltrane classic provides a clear path for the extrapolations and interpretations which follow. Arpino's firm beat grounds the ensemble, but Beck's guitar doesn't stay shackled to any uniform cadence for very long. Their ten-minute exploration takes "Alone Together" even farther out, and they wrestle new riffs and colors from the concluding "You and the Night and the Music," an abstract spacewalk through which Dibriano's fingers fly so quickly that his bass notes blur together into a continuous harmonic rumble, and Arpino's unaccompanied breaks fracture the brittle sound of Elvin Jones into brilliant marble pieces.