Something Else! Reviews on the 2011 Blues Hall of Fame Honorees


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By Something Else! Reviews

Robert Cray tops this year's class of inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame. He's joined by acoustic bluesman John Hammond; soul-blues belter Denise LaSalle, 1950s singing star Big Maybelle, and singer/songwriters Alberta Hunter and J.B. Lenoir.

Also to be recognized: Vivian Carter and Jimmy Bracken (the “Vee" and “Jay" in Vee-Jay Records), noted African-American educator John W. Work III, writer Samuel Charters and producer Bruce Bromberg, who's worked with Cray and Joe Louis Walker, among others. Influential works being celebrated this year include John Broven's “Walking to New Orleans: The Story of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues." The singles, “Ain't Nobody's Business" by Jimmy Witherspoon; “Five Long Years" by Eddie Boyd; “Hard Time Killin' Floor Blues" by Skip James and “Love in Vain" by Robert Johnson will also be recognized, along with the albums Night Beat by Sam Cooke, False Accusations by Cray, and The Real Folk Blues by Howlin' Wolf.

Here's a look back at our thoughts on Cray, Cooke and LaSalle, from the Something Else! Reviews archives. Click through the album titles for more ...

ROBERT CRAY, THIS TIME (2009): Robert Cray's era of peak popularity from the mid-eighties to the early nineties was due to his strong crossover appeal. Back then, he was a blues man at heart, but poured in a lot of soul and just a little bit of rock. His songs were modernized twists on the old themes of love found, love lost and every facet of relationships in-between. Cray had the perfect pipes to fit this style. And let's not overlook his clean, impeccable guitar playing, either. Twenty years and many albums later and Cray stays close to this winning combination. Someone could easily level the criticism that his records don't vary much at all, and it's true, one Robert Cray album sounds like any other Robert Cray album for the most part. But if you dig that Cray sound like we do, then that's quite alright.

DEEP CUTS—ROBERT CRAY, “MIDNIGHT STROLL" (1990): Midnight Stroll sports an impressive cache of well written and well played songs, varying from the rolling bass line of the tough “The Forecast (Calls For Pain)"—which became a moderate hit—to the sassy soul of “Consequences" to the staggered rhythm of “Holdin' Court." Having Al Green's Memphis Horns providing some Stax moods on most of the tracks makes it all the mo' better. And while I can listen to this CD all the way through without skipping any songs, it's that last track I eagerly anticipate. The song of the same name as the album, “Midnight Stroll" is blues strut the underscores the confidence of the narrator about “all the love we're gonna make" tonight as he arrives in his “long black Caddy." Jimmy Pugh's greasy organ provides a solid slab of soul upon which Cray emotes and howls over. And when it's cuttin' time, Cray delivers.

ROBERT CRAY, STRONG PERSUADER (1986): Cray was very obviously influenced by Albert Collins—who burned a Telecaster legend into place at Cray's high school graduation. But, he later became a kind of new-wave Moses, the guy who made it OK for most folks to admit to liking the blues again. Call him yuppie if you want, but at least he doesn't play rock and pass it off as blues, as do so many of the new so-called crossover artists. Singing something like O.V. Wright (the great 1960s singer on Memphis' Hi Records), Cray also plays in the crisp, crying fashion of B.B. King. One well-placed guitar note might be all he hits, while others would play three or four.

FEATURED ARTIST: DENISE LaSALLE: From the outset, Denise LaSalle has had both hands firmly around the neck of some rascal. Whether belting in the genres of gospel, blues, R&B, even a funky blues-hip hop hybrid, no-goods are put on notice: You don't mess with Denise. That flat-footed, go-hither stance—call her a modern-day Bessie Smith—is no copped attitude. LaSalle was one of the first African-American women to produce her own records. She writes nearly every cut on her own sessions, too. She's as tough as she is prolific.

SAM COOKE, SAM COOKE'S NIGHT BEAT (1963): Sam Cooke, for all his power and grace as a singer, established this strikingly brief legacy during the time of the Hit Single. Which meant Cooke's most well-known albums of the early 1960s were often dotted with dated filler, tunes in the Broadway style of the day or so-called standards that didn't properly showcase his direct, emotional range. Not this one. Sam Cooke's Night Beat sounds like its title, and was made in that kind of moment—late, and with a small combo, when shadows gather and emotions run deep. This is a recording that holds up from beginning to end, settling into a bluesy atmosphere but moving from balladry to the gospel-rooted originals that were always the fertile soil of Cooke's too-short career.

This stellar group joins the Blues Foundation's 2010 Blues Hall of Fame inductees: Chicago blues guitar great Lonnie Brooks, harmonica master Charlie Musselwhite and blues-rocker Bonnie Raitt. Also honored last year were W.C. Handy, called “The Father of the Blues"; Gus Cannon and Cannon's Jug Stompers, and boogie-woogie blues piano great Amos Wilburn, among others.

The 2011 induction ceremony will be held on Wednesday, May 4, at the Marriott Downtown in Memphis, Tenn., the night before the 32nd Blues Music Awards.

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