New Releases From Eden Brent and Joe Louis Walker

Posted on 9/16/2010 by Silver Michaels

By Silver Michaels

The Blues Music Awards have been embraced by the blues music community, artists and fans alike, as "our Grammys," and rightfully so. All you have to do as a fan is attend one of the ceremonies to see exactly how much a nomination and (of course) a win means to the artists involved. My reviews this time around focus on two "reigning champions;" Eden Brent took home this year's "Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year" award, and Joe Louis Walker was honored with this year's "Blues Album of the Year" nod. These are two excellent follow-up discs, worthy of the status of either artist.

Eden Brent

Ain't Got No Troubles

Yellow Dog

No sense even hinting or beating around the bush here... plain and simple, "Ain't Got No Troubles" is on my short list of the very best blues releases of 2010. Recorded in New Orleans, this disc is chock full of heart, heartbreak, cautious optimism, deep blues, serious funk and soul and writing and playing that cement Eden Brent's status as among the elite of the blues world. Brent's playing is every bit as good as you'd expect from the reigning Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year, her vocal work just keeps getting better and her songwriting (eight of the album's twelve tracks are originals) is just about off the charts here. Even the graphic presentation adds to the album's effectiveness; the superb cover photo shows Brent caught somewhere between longing and reminiscence, one of those photos so good that you find yourself thinking, "I wish I had taken that shot." It's just one of many excellent photos presented; kudos to photographer Julia Bailey.

With the opening track Someone To Love, it's obvious right from the start that this was recorded in New Orleans. The sound and feel are pure Big Easy, and Brent's voice wraps itself around a lyric that's part pleading, part matter-of-fact; "If you can't commit I will understand / I will find myself another man."

The album's title track is an absolute gem, not just within the context of this album but within the realm of contemporary piano blues. The vocal is deceptively light-hearted and playful; essentially, she sings that, since she has no job, no man, no social status and even no real plans... well, then, she's got no troubles at all! The melody is immediately infectious, the production carries the New Orleans theme of the album with light horn and funky touches and Brent's playing and vocals are an absolute joy. I won't be surprised if this track garners a "song of the year" nomination at the next BMAs.

Blues All Over is a nice midtempo piano-and-vocal blues, lamenting some of the problems to be found in a romantic relationship. Her man is sorely missed; he didn't come home again; he's passed out on the bed and cannot hold her tight... this one could have come off as trite and shopworn, but the smokey vocal treatment nicely compliments some well written lyrics and keeps this well out of the realm of the ordinary.

She follows with a couple of covers; Later Than You Think (written by producer Colin Linden) and Delbert McClinton's Right To Be Wrong are embraced as though they were Brent's own material. When interpreting the material of another writer, performance is of course the benchmark, and these tracks both shine in that regard.

Leave Me Alone is a fine slow, aching blues. Brent's voice is tailor-made for lines like "I can't remember the last time you smiled / We haven't made love in such a long, long while / If it's over, we better move on / But when you leave me, leave me alone." Some sweet and subtle horn flourishes add a lot to the overall feel of the track and again, the vocal work here ranks among the finest of Brent's young career. Let's Boogie-Woogie is pretty straightforward; while this could have easily fit on her last album, the feel is still gently New Orleans and it fits well here. No doubt this one will be a concert fave.

My Man is the most upbeat track on the release, both in sound and attitude. Here, Brent shows that she's equally as skilled at singing the praises of a good relationship as she is at singing the blues. You can hear the excitement and joy in her voice, and the lyrics are enough to make an even-tempered woman smile or a sad woman jealous. Beyond My Broken Dreams is another cover (written by Carol Ann Brown Jones); it's a moderately slow blues with very touching lyrics and yet another heartfelt vocal, another strong candidate for "best of show" on this release.

If I Can't is very much in keeping with the spirit of the title track; it's a little whimsical, but under the surface, one can't help but wonder if Eden is singing about the goodness or the sadness of the chronicled relationship. The song is full of clever lines like "if I can't kiss you, honey, don't want to keep these idle lips," or my favorite, "if I can't hold you, lover, I'll have to give my arms away." This one is unusual on the album in that it's strictly an acoustic guitar blues; the focus, then, is more on Brent's vocal, which is easy and convincing. The track ends with a sweet little laugh, and it lends a lot of feel to the overall effect.

In Love With Your Wallet is as New Orleans as it gets. Brent's piano has that rollicking roll to it, the backing musicians lend the necessary dose of funk, and I haven't yet decided whether I like Brent's singing or playing better on this track. After the title track runs its course on the radio, this would be my next choice for a radio friendly pick; "she's in love with you wallet, not your personality" is the type of line that can easily catch the ear of the world and hit "endless repeat" status.

Brent closes the disc with Will Kimbrough's Goodnight Moon and she knocks it out of the park. The piano lends a tender, soft accompaniment to Brent's convincing vocal. In keeping with much of the album, the theme is one of longing for love that passed, and the arrangement (hinting at a funereal sounding sadness) is quietly perfect here.

We already knew (and have known for a long time by now) that Eden Brent was a good pianist and singer; with "Ain't Got No Troubles," she makes the transition to great artist.

* * * * *

A little hint of things to come... I had the pleasure and honor of interviewing Eden recently. She's every bit as fun and emotional and whimsical and sweet as you'd expect her to be. Be watching this space for an article based on that interview soon!

Joe Louis Walker's Blues Conspiracy

Live On The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise

Stony Plain

The title of this one pretty much says it all... it's the already legendary Joe Louis Walker, it's a live album, and it was recorded over two nights on the January, 2010 Blues Cruise. The Cruises have become something of a landmark event for many blues fans, and why not? A healthy batch of superb blues musicians and a whole bunch of rabid blues fans all stuck on a boat together with nothing more to do than party and share blues music... what's not to like?

Being a live album, you don't really judge this release on the material presented; most of these tracks have either appeared on earlier Walker releases or are bonafide blues staples, the sort of tunes you pretty much expect to find in any blues repertoire. What you look for in a live release, then, is the excitement and memorability of the performances captured. Walker has been doing this for a long time, but gratefully, he never sounds bored on this release. Part of that is due to the excellent band he travels with; Walker, of course, on guitar, slide guitar and vocals, Linwood Taylor on guitar, Kevin Burton on piano and organ, Henry Oden on bass and Jeff Minnieweather on drums. The other (and probably primary) reason this one doesn't sound like a rehash of past successes is the parade of guest musicians who contribute to the recording. Once again - it's a bunch of great musicians stuck on a boat with nothing to do but play music, and Walker takes full advantage of the situation and his own status to gift us with some solid combinations.

Among the album's highlights - Johnny WInter guests on Ain't That Cold, and as you'd easily expect, the chemistry and riffing are all first class. Curtis Salgado and Mike Finigan add guest vocals to You're Gonna Make Me Cry, and the result is a prime example of how well three excellent, soulful singers can work together. Eyes Like A Cat features appearances from Tommy Castro on guitar and Deanna Bogart on tenor sax, and the track provides us with some of the best interplay on the entire release. Duke Robillard and Todd Sharpville both add guitars on Tell Me Why, and it's very easy to tell that there's a lot of history between these folks; the music flows with easy and comfortable precision. The disc closes with 747, featuring Tab Benoit and Mitch Woods and it's truly a killer closing track. Contributions are also heard from the likes of Kenny Neal, Watermelon Slim, Kirk Fletcher, Nick Moss, and Jason Ricci, among others; you'd be hard-pressed to fin a more all-star cast than that assembled here. Nice to have friends, huh?

"Live On The Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise" is a nifty little chronicle of what sounds like a real good time. Besides the music being well-performed, the mix and sound are both very good. This probably won't go down as one of the benchmarks of Walker's illustrious career, but at the very least, it's a helluva lot of fun.

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