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Noteworthy reissues of legendary country and blues albums

April 3, 2014

A couple of recent reissues are in the Ear Bliss spotlight this week. One is from the late country legend and hall of famer Waylon Jennings and another from legendary piano bluesman Roosevelt Sykes. Let’s get into it.

Waylon Jennings
“Right for the Time” (resissue)
Black Country Rock Records

Go back to 1996 and Waylon Jennings was on the other side, so to speak, of a pretty illustrious career. Whereas artists oft-times succumb to a whatever-sells approach to their music making when the popularity and sales wane, ol’ Waylon was never one of them. With a body of work that can stand toe-to-toe with any artist, let alone country music artist, Jennings was still a very vital and very rich artist when he retreated to a Houston-based indie label to deliver the highly recommended album “Right for the Time.” Thanks to his Sirius Outlaw Country-popular son Shooter and his start-up concern Black Country Rock Records, Waylon’s “Right for the Time,” originally released on the Houston-based Justice Records, is back in circulation. For someone like myself who dug the heck out of it the first time around, it is a most welcome reissue. For Waylon Jennings, the indie label aspect of the initial offering may likely have resulted in many missing it on the first time around. On an album on which he offers up the classic line “Get your tongue out of my mouth, I’m kissin’ you goodbye,” Waylon is in fine form both vocally and that distinctive chicken pickin’ on his guitar with stellar backing by a mix of his Waymores band members and some hot Texas pickers (guitar slinger Jesse Dayton must be called out). “Right for the Time” remains right for the time.

Roosevelt Sykes
“Music is My Business” (reissue)
Fat Possum Records

He had a booming, barrel-sized voice and hit the keys of the piano with authority while usually chomping on a big stogie cigar. If that is not personality in performance, I don’t know what is. Roosevelt Sykes was his name and whereas not in the ranks of popularity of a Muddy Waters or John Lee Hooker, his contribution to the music we call the blues was no less noteworthy. Born in Helena, Ark., which is a town the stuff of legend when it comes to the blues, Sykes spent his formative years growing up in St. Louis. During those years he’d return to Helena each summer to stay on his grandparents’ farm. His grandfather was a part-time preacher and it was in his church that a young Sykes would learn to play the organ. He’d also fall under the spell of the expressiveness and emotion of the blues after discovering an itinerant Helena bluesman named Jesse Bell. He had found his calling. He’d continue on organ until his mid-teens in St. Louis where he’d switch to piano. He’d also acquire the nickname “The Honeydripper.” At 15, Sykes would leave St. Louis for West Helena, Ark., to play the dive blues bars that filled the city. From hard-driving boogie to deep blues, Sykes would cultivate his piano-playing and singing chops. He’d return to St. Louis in his early 20s and after 11 years there would make the move to Chicago in 1940 where he’d become a mainstay on the Southside blues scene. As the piano blues fell out of style in the Windy City in favor of a more electrified brand, Sykes would make his final move in 1954, this time to New Orleans where he’d remain until his passing in 1983. Sykes’ barrelhouse style would fit the Crescent City to a “T.” It was during those 30 years that he’d establish himself; especially as part of blues revival and burgeoning festival circuit. Originally released in 1990, the newly reissued Music is My Business takes us to a session in September of 1975 at the Sound West Studios in Calgary, Alberta. Featuring 16 tracks, The Honeydripper is in absolute fine form on the ivories and in voice. Perhaps most noteworthy is the trio of guests enlisted for the session, stalwarts such as Johnny Shines and Louisiana Red on guitar and harmonica ace Sugar Blue. Down home, bluesy and soulful, when Sykes played and sang he commanded attention. Find out for yourself with this recommended collection of barrelhouse piano blues from a certified master. Visit www.fatpossum.com.

LIVE SHOTS:

Formerly of the progressive string band Crooked Still, the singer and songwriter Aoife O’Donovan struck out on her own last year releasing her debut solo album Fossils which garnered her terrific reviews. The good press has led to invites to two of the most prestigious festivals this summer, the Telluride Bluegrass Festival and just recently the Newport Folk Festival. Before that, she lands right here in South County with a show as part of the Music at Lilypads series in Peace Dale (Unitarian Universalist Church, 27 North Road) on Saturday night. Doors open at 7 and music starts at 7:30 p.m.

Hailing from central Texas, the three gals comprising The Carper Family blend stunning three part harmonies into some of the finest old school country, bluegrass and swing tunes you are likely to lay ears on. The trio brings its traditional and homey blend to Portsmouth on Saturday night as part of the Common Fence Music Series (Common Fence Community Hall, 935 Anthony Road, Portsmouth). Doors at 7, music at 8 p.m.

Dan Ferguson is a freelance music writer and host of The Boudin Barndance, broadcast Thursday nights from 6 to 9 p.m. on WRIU-FM 90.3.

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