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CD REVIEW -- Lurrie Bell & The Bell Dynasty
GLT blues radio

Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty

Tribute to Carey Bell

Delmark Records

Bell Family Dynasty CD

By Terry Abrahamson

You probably never thought of Lurrie Bell as the “Liza Minelli of the Blues.” I get it. But, like Lurrie, Liza rolled into the spotlight with a blue ribbon pedigree from a music legend parent, and made it work. Does that mean Carey Bell was the “Judy Garland of the Blues?” Of course not. But he sure did take us over the rainbow.


In the world of “The Great American Songbook,” (a title I have trouble accepting until those Great American Song Mavens can wake up and show “Grits Ain’t Groceries” some love) it’s a big deal when a star begets a star. But lately, that begettin’ be gettin’ rarer and rarer. Bonnie Raitt carried that Great White Way DNA deep down into the Delta.  Dean Martin’s kid, Dean Paul Martin teamed with Desi Arnaz, Jr. for the 1965 hit, “I’m a Fool,” a would-be musical offspring in its own right. Ol’ Blue Eyes’ baby, who actually was Nancy Sinatra, Jr., wore the boots but never donned the mantle.  And, so far, no sightings yet of Sammy Davis Jr., Jr., or - dare we imagine - Wayne Newton, Jr.


The Blues, on the other hand, is nothing if not a celebration of “passin’ it down.” Freddie Dixon keeps his old man’s Original Chicago Blues All-Stars alive and kickin’, while Freddie’s niece and Willie’s granddaughter Tomiko Dixon, has been revvin’ it up on her own. J.B. Hutto’s nephew Li’l Ed, is doin’ that psychedelic fez proud with his rockin’ Blues Imperials. The Baker Brooks Brothers are not only carrying on the Lonnie Brooks legend, but building legends of their own. Drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith continues to personify his dad Willie’s big chops and big smile all over the world, as if Muddy’s longtime drummer was still right there in the room witcha. And the Mannish Boy’s three mannish boys, Big Bill, Mud and Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield couldn’t do more to keep his memory alive unless they built a time machine to carry us back to one of those nights at Alice’s….with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums and Carey Bell on harp.


Nearly half a century after those early ‘70’s nights, Carey Bell has gone “all in” at the Chicago Blues Progenitors Poker Game in the sky; and Muddy and Willie can only watch in envious disbelief as Carey turns over four-of-a-kind:  Lurrie Bell & the Bell Dynasty - Tyson, James and Stephen Bell - with a Charlie Musselwhite/Billy Branch kicker.  And, true to our Trumpian age of hyperbolic everything, this CD cum poker hand carries the most redundant Blues album title in the history of the universe: Tribute to Carey Bell. Like we didn’t know!


Hell yeah, Carey Bell should have his tributes.  Sure, we all bow down to Little Walter and Big Walter and Sonny Boy and Cotton; but on this CD, Carey Bell’s thumbprint on the Blues is deep, wide and thundering into the future in ways we need to stay alive to discover and relish.


Tribute to Carey Bell includes no accompanying DVD with home movies of Carey teaching a young Steve Bell how to play the harmonica - a feat I personally imagine to be beyond impossible without seeing what’s going on (“Now son, put your fingers inside my mouth and feel how my tongue is….” Yech!!!). Maybe, long ago, Papa Carey and Musselwhite and Billy Branch just sat Steve down and told him “What you need to do is just kinda crawl inside the harp and chew your way out.” That’s sure what I’m getting.  And then, just to throw in a little refresher course, Billy takes the reins on “So Hard to Leave You Alone,” and gives us that “Imagine you’re in the coffin and you can hear ‘em nailing the lid shut” thing so we never lose sight of how what Carey Bell really did was drench everything with emotion.


Tyson Bell, clearly born too soon to take advantage of an era of ubiquitous hand sanitizers and disposable latex gloves, assumed the role of the germaphobic child, opting to study Papa Carey’s chops on the bass (a far less saliva-soaked exercise), and rocks us steady and with lots of snap. Bass is seldom the glam axe in these projects, but in seas with a lotta chop, Tyson gives us the depth and the anchor.


Drummer James Bell wrote one of the three tracks he sings on, “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize,” and if you think this is the Civil Rights anthem, you’re not hearing him quiver through “You tell me you’re over 18.” His lyrics demand all the drama and emotion that must’ve been percolating in these Bell kids since their respective eggs started cookin’ in the shells. And James’ vocals deliver the goods with that “proud to be a victim” authenticity that’s helped build the Blues for a century.       


Carey Bell took us really deep into his soul, a journey that must be daunting and exhausting for those hoping to follow in his footsteps. Lurrie Bell helms this project with an incredibly fortuitous physical gift that leaves no need to retrace his dad’s vocal odyssey; he has a uvula reconstructed from the charred remains of Thich Quang Duc, the Vietnamese monk who burned himself to death in Saigon in 1963 to protest the Diem regime persecution of Buddhists. Well, not really, but it sure sounds like it. It’s like that uvula had multiple lifetimes of living the Blues before it landed in Lurrie’s throat. Listen to “Heartaches and Pain,” and you’ll wonder how a guy can feel that much pain and not kill himself in the middle of the song.  Yes, it’s a voice that could inject agony into James Brown’s “I Feel Good.” So what! That’s a Bell family tradition: feelin’ it deep. Lurrie Bell will never sing a song you don’t feel. That’s a helluva legacy and definitely worth a tribute album.


 Throw in Billy Branch’s blistering boogie “Carey Bell was a Friend of Mine,” Charlie Musselwhite’s Gatling gun harp on “I Got to Go,” and serious guest star turns by Eddie Taylor, Jr. on guitar and Sumito Ariyoshi on piano, and, producers Steve Wagner and Dick Shurman deliver a stirring and well-deserved tribute to a guy who could teach Judy, Frank and Dino more about passing the torch than they could learn from 2500 years of Olympic runners. As Chaz Bono might tell Liza, “You’re damn right The Beat Goes On!”

Terry Abrahamson won a Grammy by writing songs for Muddy Waters. He helped launch George Thorogood’s career and created John Lee Hooker’s first radio commercial, which are just a few of his accomplishments. Terry also is a playwright. He and partner Derrick Procell wrote songs recorded by Shemekia Copeland, Long Tall Deb and Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield. Terry authored the acclaimed photography book, In The Belly of The Blues – Chicago to Boston to L.A. 1969 to 1983 -- A Memoir.


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