Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
COREY DENNISON BAND
Corey Dennison Band
by Greg Easterling
It's hard to say what a typical bluesman looks like these days but it is safe to say Corey Dennison doesn't fit any neat stereotype. On the cover of his new Delmark Records release, Corey Dennison Band, Dennison sports a Mohawk, bleached goatee, a dangling earring and tattoos. It's really no big deal, just a sign that the blues keeps evolving from one generation to another with changing visuals and fashions. If Dennison's strong new album is any indication, he'll be a leading figure on the Chicago blues scene for years to come because it's such an appealing brew of intoxicating blues styles.
The opening track is a rousing invitation to enter in and “Getcha' Pull!” of grandma's moonshine liquor. “Not too sweet, it's not too sour/just a little shot from a Mason jar”. Dennison and his band concoct a music stew of Creedence influenced swamp rock blues with a touch of Elvin Bishop. “Aw Snap” is another irresistible groove thing that rolls off Dennison's fingers, quoting from blues legend Albert King and Dennison's former employer Carl Weathersby. With its tongue-in-cheek references to car trouble, band problems, workplace woes and the police, Dennison confesses he “can't win for losing, but at least I still got my guitar!”
On “Tugboat Blues”, transportation is the inspiration as Dennison taps into Chicago style blues. There's a bit of “Key To The Highway” here musically as Dennison encourages the object of his affection to “blow your whistle”.
Guitarist/keyboardist Gerry Hundt is Dennison's invaluable partner, co-writing ten original songs together. Formerly with Nick Moss, Hundt also contributes two of his own including “The Deacon” which is notable for its driving beat, powered by the rhythm section of drummer Joel Baer and bassist Nik Skilnik, plus the funky groove guitar that punctuates the track.
Next, Dennison downshifts into some sweet soul music with “Room To Breathe”. At times a bit reminiscent of “Rainy Night In Georgia”, this song is a great match for Dennison's soulful vocal delivery and boasts one of the album's tastiest guitar solos. Lyrically it's a plea for deliverance. “Can't get the blues off of my shoulders/just won't let me be.” The confession continues, “It's getting harder as I get older/and I need some room to breathe.” It's hard to hear that kind of sentiment without being somehow moved.
“Don't Say You're Sorry” is another shot of soul, featuring sweet melody, finger snappin’ rhythm and nice backup harmonies. “A Fool's Goodbye” is slow blues with a familiar theme; a woman has Dennison confused about the nature of their relationship. “Do you want me for your lover/or do you want me for a friend.” Dennison’s emotional guitar solos and vocals echo the sentiment.
The instrumental “Jasper's Hop” is a speedy walkin' blues giving the band a bit over five minutes to stretch out and is another showcase for Dennison's very appealing sounding guitar skills. “Strange Things Happenin'” is a Chicago blues from the pen of Gerry Hundt while “Good Enuff” closes the CD with a lingering query lyrically: “Every day I ask the same question/Am I ever good enough?”
But there's no question at the end of this album that you have just been treated to a versatile sounding blues release to which you'll want to come back again and again.
Corey Dennison had an almost classic early exposure to music. Born down in Chattanooga, he moved between Tennessee and Georgia, listening to late night regional radio with its mix of blues, country, soul and gospel. It's been a source of inspiration for many and Dennison is no exception, with a definite Southern sensibility about his sound.
In his Delmark bio, Dennison enthuses, “I just loved the way soul music made me feel from my head to my toes....songs from Wilson Pickett, Curtis Mayfield and Sam Cooke.” It's probably no coincidence that two of those three, Mayfield and Cooke, are inextricably linked to Chicago's R&B and gospel heritage in so many ways.
An uncle who was a musician was also an important early influence on Dennison. He recalls sneaking into clubs when he was underage alongside his kin where he witnessed legendary blues figures Albert King, Albert Collins and Junior Wells. They left a lasting impression as Dennison recalls, “This is where it became clear to me. I wanted to be a bluesman.”
He connected with one of Chicago's most respected blues club performers, Carl Weathersby, spending twelve years in his band and sharing local stages with the legendary Buddy Guy as well as with mainstays Jimmy Johnson and The Kinsey Report. He also rubbed elbows with Derek Trucks, John Mayer and Robert Randolph.
Eventually Dennison pushed out on his own in early 2013 with regular appearances at respected local clubs such as Buddy Guy's Legends, Rosa's and Harlem Avenue Lounge. A live album followed later the same year and then he toured internationally with Sugar Blue. The Corey Dennison Band CD is his Delmark Records debut, an affirmation of arrival from one of our most historic blues and jazz record labels. Dennison now holds down a weekly residency at Kingston Mines, replacing his former boss Carl Weathersby, who has moved to Austin, TX.
Dennison's new disc is an album that doesn't disappoint, constantly renewed by his versatile approach and the varied nature of this homegrown American musical style called the blues. The Corey Dennison Band disc is already one of 2016's top releases, destined to wind up on many “best of” lists later on this year.
Greg Easterling holds down the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM) Thursdays at 9 p.m.