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Henry Kaiser & Rome Yamilov and Bernard Allison: Blues Changes


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Is blues music the most mutable of all musical forms? It's a question worth asking when taking into account the expanse of styles within the genre that stretch all the way from the skeletal acoustic likes of Son House and Reverend Gary Davis to the earthshaking electric onslaughts of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan. Henry Kaiser and Rome Yamilov's collaboration, The Lenoir Investigation, and Bernard Allison's Highs & Lows, are both contemporary interpretations of the blues in which consciously creative methods come into play, literally and conceptually. Yet each effort in its own way serves as a reminder of the ample means by which deceptively simple structures so eloquently express not just the agony and the ecstasy of the blues, but also articulate the inimitable sense of humor that is also integral to the form. The dilettantes and the merely curious may be no more surprised or enthralled in hearing these works than the most devoted aficionados of this elemental art.

Henry Kaiser & Rome Yamilov
The Lenoir Investigation
Little Village Foundation

In their homage to J.B. Lenoir, Kaiser and Yamilov are following in the footsteps of John Mayall for whom the late Mississippi-born bluesman was an early hero. Yet the esoteric guitarist, his Russian-born kindred spirit and their like-minded accompanists don't wholly restrict themselves to the slow twelve- bars, boogies and shuffles preferred by 'The Godfather of British Blues.' In fact, this near hour-and-a half-recording begins with a dub-style take on "The Whale Has Swallowed Me," much of its playing time taken up with a spirited improv over the steady comping of drummer June Core and bassist Kid Anderson (who actually recorded all this sumptuous fare in such high quality audio). The ensemble adopts a similar approach to the nine-minute duration of "People Are Meddlin' In Our Own Affairs," where the scorching electric guitars still make room for the sweet wail of Aki Kumar's harmonica. Further variety appears in the form of Lisa Leuschner's winsome vocal on "Round And Round," the playful air of which Jim Pugh further accentuates with his organ playing. This Little Village Foundation production is fittingly topped off with Bo Diddley's "Rollercoaster," an ingenious twist on the blues fully of a piece with its comparably earthy idiosyncratic surroundings.

Bernard Allison
Highs & Lows
Ruf Records

On his twentieth album, Bernard Allison takes a somewhat more conventional but no less deeply-passionate approach to the blues than his peers. In fact, the youngest son of the late Luther Allison gets the forty-five minutes off to an fiery start with the appropriately-titled "So Excited." In his role as producer/recordist/mixer, Jim Gaines vouchsafes his credentials as a collaborator with artists as diverse as Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan; he supplied engineer Todd Fitzgerald had with high-quality sound to master, while also marshaling soulful musicians with the pedigree of long-time Gregg Allman drummer Steve Potts. Like saxophonist Jose Ned James, all the accompanists acquit themselves with the utmost style on tracks such as "Strain On My Heart," then provide Allison's expressive singing and guitar playing with a suitably fervent surrounding on "I Gave It All." With the bulk of the eleven selections originals of Allison's— and two notably composed by his late father—this is the work of an artist who has learned how to circumvent cliché by enlivening traditional structures from the inside out. In doing so, on cuts like "My Way Or The Highway," Bernard Allison manages to remain faithful to his roots as well as his lineage.

Tracks and Personnel

The Lenoir Investigation

Tracks: The Whale Has Swallowed Me; People Are Meddlin' In Our Own Affairs; Round And Round; I Feel So Good; How Long; Play A Little While; Rollercoaster/The Mojo Boogie; God's Word; What About Your Daughter; I'll Die Trying; Alabama March/Down In Mississippi.

Personnel: Rome Yamilove: vocals, guitar; Henry Kaiser: guitar, production; Jim Pugh: organ, piano; Aki Kumar: harmonica, vocals; Lisa Leuschner: vocals; Kid Anderson: bass, vocals; June Core: drums.

Highs & Lows

Tracks: So Excited; Highs & Lows; Strain On My Heart; My Way or the Highway; Side Step; Hustler; Now You Got It; I Gave It All; My Kinda girl; Satisfy Her Needs; Last Night.

Personnel: Bernard Allison: vocals, lead guitar, rhythm guitar, organ guitar; Dylan Solfer: rhythm guitar; Toby Lee Marshall: Hammond B3 organ; Wurlitzer piano; Joes Ned James: saxophone, tambourine; Colin James: vocal, lead guitar, rhythm guitar; bobby Rush: vocals, harmonica; George Moye: bass guitar; Steve Potts: drums.


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