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CD Review -- Dave Riley & Bob Corritore

Dave Riley and Bob Corritore

 

 Lucky to Be Living

 

Blue Witch Records BWR106

 

Lucky to be Living CD art

 

by Steve Pasek

 

Part of the appeal of blues is its folkloric element, which celebrates the heroes and villains of the past in song, and passes history down through generations in an organic and personal fashion.  The entire history of the blues is a legacy of tribute that has evolved from the oral tradition into a modern tradition of homage to past masters, a network of mentors and protégés, a passing of the torch from one generation to another. Harp player Bob Corritore is young to be a bluesman of such experience and talent, and his five-year partnership with guitarist/singer Dave Riley relies upon a traditional framework – both in its duo format and its improvisational attack. Lucky to Be Living is the duo’s sophomore CD, a follow-up to 2007’s Travelin’ The Dirt Road.

 

Dave Riley and Bob Corritore's Lucky to Be Living CD pays tribute to a number of Mississippi musicians, including the recently-deceased Jelly Roll King Sam Carr, John Weston and Fred James. The CD's musicianship is stellar, including some fine guest piano by one of the few remaining elders of ivory, Henry Gray.

 

This collection pays special tribute to Frank Frost, Carr's bandmate in the best Mississippi juke joint band ever, the Jelly Roll Kings, which included guitarist Big Jack Johnson in the trio.  Lucky To Be Living covers four of Frost’s songs and a lot of this CD conveys the spirit of fun and improvisation of the Kings, whose original LP launched the Earwig label. The four Frost tunes that appear here even include "Jelly Roll King", with some adjusted lyrics by Riley. When keyboard/harp player Frost died in 1999, drummer Carr teamed up with Riley to form the Delta Jukes with harp blower John Weston.

 

However, the Frost songs here unfortunately don't have the rhythmic intensity that Frost's records always offered, which means that the tracks can start to sound a little repetitive if you're not a big fan of more traditional sounds.  Corritore's harp playing is impeccable throughout, although those same traditionalists might note that his Chicago style is a little big on the country blues tunes. (This isn’t surprising as Corritore, who produced the CD, cut his blues teeth in Chicago’s roughest blues clubs on the South and West Sides. He’s no country boy).

 

This seems to be the paradox of paying tribute in the blues, which is a pure performance genre.  Any blues artist who is important enough to warrant tribute also likely had some truly unique characteristics that make it difficult if not impossible to replicate the feeling they had.  The reworked Frost tunes here are fine expositions, but they fail to capture the full vibrancy of his work, which was always infused with sparkling humor balanced with rhythmic intensity.

 

Standout tracks here include a loping version of Fred James' "Automobile", as well as two Riley originals which show the promise of this partnership: the spooky gospel-powered anthem "On My Way" and another Riley original, the rollicking "Let's Get Together".  These songs mine the rich blues tradition without digging the same tunnel, which clearly is the best way to pay tribute to the masters who inspired this recording.

 

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