Music » Record Reviews

Short Cuts

Local Record Roundup: Two generations of Memphis blueswomen.



3rd & Beale

Barbara Blue

(Big Blue Records)

Recorded in Los Angeles with members of Taj Mahal's Phantom Blues Band (and with locals Nancy Apple and Susan Marshall), Barbara Blue's 3rd & Beale is, at its best, a classic soul record that even one of Blue's professed heroes, Etta James, would be proud to have made.

Blue, as her moniker suggests, is known as a blues singer, and deservedly so. On 3rd & Beale she dabbles successfully in several blues styles, from the relatively light bar-band blues of "Red Cadillac & The Blues" to the depths of Charlie Rich's "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave." And she tips her hat to New Orleans with, of all things, "Rainy Night in Memphis" and the piano-driven parlor tune "You Can't Stop My Love."

But despite her blues bona fides, 3rd & Beale makes the case that Blue -- whose regular gig is as the human jukebox at Silky O'Sullivan's -- may really be a deep soul singer in an era without many. Blue shows her affinity for Stax/Hi-style soul, her gravelly vocals riding these classic-sounding grooves over a very Memphis bed of punchy horn charts, funky yet elegant Steve Cropper-style guitar licks (guitarist Johnny Lee Schell is the prime co-star here), and gospel-bred background vocals on standout tracks like "24-7-365, "Don't Need No Man Like That," and the more intense slow-burn of "If I Had You."--Chris Herrington

Grade: A-

Barbara Blue will celebrate the release of 3rd & Beale with a CD-release party Friday, February 13th, at the Lounge.

Get Right Blues

Jessie Mae Hemphill

(Inside Sounds)

It's difficult to imagine today, but just 25 years ago, Como, Mississippi, blueswoman Jessie Mae Hemphill was playing for tips on Beale Street. In the late '70s, Hemphill, granddaughter of famed hill-country musician "Blind" Sid Hemphill, was in her prime, performing on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood with Othar Turner's Rising Star Fife & Drum Band and recording at the University of Memphis with David Evans. But last year, when the Martin Scorsese-produced PBS series The Blues premiered, Hemphill appeared as a shadow of her former self, ill after a stroke that occurred a decade ago.

Hemphill is nevertheless revered by such stars as Lucinda Williams, and, closer to home, players like Lorette Velvette, Richard Johnston, and Mr. Airplane Man's Margaret Garrett. Her albums -- culled from those U of M sessions -- fetch big money today, while CD reissues on the HMG label seem impossible to find. It's high time that Evans mined his vault for these 15 tracks. Although many cuts sound like outtakes or alternate versions of songs previously included on She Wolf and Feelin' Good, the scarcity of available material makes Get Right Blues a godsend.

Hemphill plays unaccompanied on more than half of these tracks, tapping a tambourine with her foot on "Go Back to Your Used to Be," or, on "Shake Your Booty (Shake It, Baby)," rhythmically jingling Choctaw ankle bells. She's joined by Como musicians Glen Faulkner and Compton Jones on traditional hill-country songs such as "Get Right Church" and "Little Rooster Reel" and plays the diddley bow on "Take Me Home with You, Baby." Fieldstones bassist Lois Brown and drummer Joe Hicks join her for a pair of songs, as does Evans himself, an accomplished guitarist in his own right.

While her percussive guitar style finds its roots in the hill country, Hemphill's brand of blues ultimately belongs to no one else. Endlessly creative, alternately brooding and joyful, and always unconventional, Hemphill deserves to be celebrated. Hopefully, Get Right Blues will help shine a light on this local blues great. --Andria Lisle

Grade: A

The End of an Error

David Brookings

(Byar Records)

Richmond, Virginia, transplant David Brookings has been living and playing in Memphis the past few years. This is his first full-length record, engineered and produced by Rob Crockett and Christopher Swenson at Millington's Puddin' Truck Studio. It's one of those gorgeous-sounding retro pop records and, though lots of those have been released in recent times, this one is a nice local addition.

Brookings wears his influences on his sleeve -- lots of Beatles licks and Matthew Sweet-style harmonies here. Nothing shockingly original, but the whole record sounds good from start to finish. If you can write and sing like this without straining or sounding slavishly imitative, you've got something in my little book. My only complaint is with the lyrics. There are a few clichÇs (especially "Girlfriend on Drugs"), but I'm not going to quibble when the songwriting, performing, and production are this strong. -- Ross Johnson

Grade: B+


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