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CD REVIEW -- Lil' Ed & the Blues Imperials

LIL’ ED AND THE BLUES IMPERIALS

Jump Start

Alligator Records

Lil Ed CD art

by Stella Ponce

Lil’ Ed is jumping higher than ever on his newest album, with his Blues Imperials spotting him dead on, lick for lick, shout for shout, and weep for weep.  Chicago’s favorite blues party band has been together, raucously delivering old school fashioned  blues to its fans, for a span of 24 years -- longer than the duration of some of its fans’ marriages!  The group’s longevity speaks as much to the quality of their music as to the familial bond now shared by its members: master bluesman Lil’ Ed Williams (slide guitar, vocals, songwriter); bassist James “Pookie” Young; guitarist Mike Garrett; and, drummer Kelly Littleton. This powerful, slam-dunk team has garnered numerous music awards including the prestigious Blues Music Award for Band of the Year in both 2007 and 2009; the 2011 Living Blues Critics’ Poll award for Best Live Band; and, have recently received a Readers’ Award nomination for Best Live Performer again in the 2012 Living Blues Awards.

Chicago native Lil’ Ed Williams and his half-brother, Pookie, had a solid, blues head start in the form of their uncle and mentor -- the late, great Chicago slide guitarist, songwriter and recording artist -- J.B. Hutto, who provided lessons and inspiration.  By age 12, Williams could play guitar, drums and bass. He and Pookie teamed up and went on to gig non-stop, forming the first edition of the Blues Imperials in 1975. Needing day jobs, Williams worked at a car wash and Pookie drove a school bus. The gigging continued.  Enter Alligator’s Bruce Iglauer who was looking for music from local, young talent to incorporate into a blues collection.  He reached out to the young hot slide player, Lil’ Ed Williams.  “…I had no idea what he and the band were really capable of.  I just knew that their music reminded me of Hound Dog Taylor and J.B. Hutto, two of my favorite musicians…I never expected what happened.”  Iglauer offered them a full album contract at their initial recording session.  This initial session also resulted in 30 songs cut in three hours – twelve of those songs became the band’s highly acclaimed, debut album, Roughhousin’ (September, 1986).

Guitarist Mike Garrett joined the band in 1987; a year later, Detroit’s Kelly Littleton came on board as drummer and there’s been no looking back.  In fact, the “Jump Start” title could well imply the beginning of another quarter-of-a-century of boogie-woogying!

Their latest album features 13 original songs, all either written or co-written by Williams, along with a terrific rendition of Hutto’s “If You Change Your Mind.”  The album is rock solid strong and features Marty Sammon on organ and piano on five of its 14 tracks. One can almost see Williams’ red sneakers  keeping beat before shooting airborne in the opening track’s feel good rocker, “If You Were Mine” (I’d treat you so kind). Williams’ playful and frolicking electric slide cameos in the fast paced, “Musical, Mechanical, Electrical Man;” and the guitar screaming fun continues with a solo by Garrett that backs up double entendre lyrics in “Jump Right In” (“I wanted to get in her swimming pool”). Ditto for the song “No Fast Food” (“why go out for hamburger, when at home I eat prime steak”).  

The party continues to groove with medium-paced favorites including the-what- goes- around-comes-around themed shuffle, “Kick Me to the Curb,” and the reflective, straight blues ballad, “You Burnt Me” (“I just can’t forget you…tell me why I want you back”). The mid-tempo “House of Cards” (“you dealt me a bad hand, your house of cards is coming down”) features a wicked guitar solo that will get you swaying while “World of Love” (“love to share, love to give”) is upbeat, groove-driven with the slide guitar punctuating Williams’ excellent vocals

Lower the party lights just a bit more and dance to the melodic, “Life is a Journey” (“and if we go through it together, well, how happy we could be”).  Its sweet, slow bluesy guitar intro immediately hooks the listener right in for the longest (5:35) -- but also one of the most enjoyable -- tracks on the album.  “If You Change Your Mind” (“I want you to come on back home with me”), with Sammon’s precise keyboarding, is another ‘let’s keep slow dancing’ favorite that again showcases Williams’ voice perfectly.

One more slow blues dance before it’s lights out to “My Chains are Gone” (“I am leaving here tomorrow, can’t believe what you have done to me”) is highly recommended.  With emotional undertones ever so slightly reminiscent of “House of the Rising Sun,” this soulful song, this whole album, will have you a smiling and a’wailin’.

If you weren’t a Lil’ Ed fan before, this CD will blues you right into the fold. For you veteran Ed Heads, what are you waiting for? Get your blues-bash jump started; grab your dancin’ shoes and get your fez on!

Momo Mama Blue Chicago
Blue Chicago
536 N. Clark
Chicago, IL
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