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MISSISSIPPI HEAT

Cab Driving Man

Delmark Records

Mississippi Heat CD

By Jeff Johnson

Sam Phillips used to say that he wasn’t interested in recording anyone at his Sun Studios who didn’t sound original and unique. But what if your sound draws so heavily from an earlier classic style that your distinctiveness lies in its uncanny knack for capturing the essence of its earlier inventors? Maybe it’s a chicken-and-egg question that doesn’t even apply to Mississippi Heat, the Chicago-based band that painstakingly re-creates the first-generation Delta-to-Chicago electric blues sound.

Mississippi Heat, described as a “dynamic blues collective” in Greg Easterling’s liner notes, would be one more workmanlike blues group if not for the contributions of Pierre Lacoque. The Heat’s founder, bandleader and harmonica virtuoso penned 11 of the 16 tunes that make up Cab Driving Man, the band’s 12th album and sixth on Chicago’s venerable Delmark label. Recorded at Delmark’s Riverside Studio under the helmsmanship of the always-capable co-producer Steve Wagner, Cab Driving Man is a showcase for Lacoque’s eloquent lyrical turns of phrase as well as his skillful instrumental phrasing. Not a power blower, the cosmopolitan Lacoque infuses his harp playing with elements of jazz, calypso and Cajun, all of which complement his overriding commitment to traditional Chicago blues. His solos range from atmospheric on “Flowers on My Tombstone” to bouncy and ethereal on “Lonely Eyes.” The title track, by Lacoque, was inspired by showman extraordinaire Cab Calloway.

The long-tenured members of Mississippi Heat, including vocalist Inetta Visor, guitarist-vocalist Michael Dotson and bassist Brian Quinn, have put the dazzling early 1990s lineup that featured Deitra Farr, Billy Flynn and Bob Stroger in their rearview mirror. Cab Driving Man picks up some other impressive passengers along the way, including the band’s part-time drummer, Kenny Smith; keyboardist Chris “Hambone” Cameron; and Sax Gordon, who supplies horns on five tracks.

Along with the 11 Lacoque originals and three more from Dotson, the Heat delivers a rollicking cover of Oliver Sain’s “Don’t Mess Up a Good Thing,” sung as a duet by Visor and second guitarist Giles Corey, and a Visor star turn on “Smooth Operator,” recorded in 1959 by Sarah Vaughan. Lacoque is generous throughout with solo time for his bandmates, but he grabs the wheel back for the finale, “Hey Pipo!,” giving listeners one final joy ride. Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

 

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