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CD REVIEW -- Tail Dragger & Bob Corritore

Tail Dragger & Bob Corritore

Longtime Friends in The Blues

Delta Groove Music

Tail Dragger & Bob Corritore CD

by Liz Mandeville

If any one of you would dare to say that the blues is dead then you haven’t heard this latest disc from the folks at Delta Groove. This record is the natural child of Chicago’s great Chess Recording artists, being that Tail Dragger is a protégé of the late great Howlin’ Wolf, one of the Chess label’s most influential stars. Tail Dragger is joined by Henry Gray at the piano, adding his flavor to the mix. Henry also played with the Wolf for twelve years and his addition to the recording really adds to the Chess era sound. Long Time Friends is a celebration of that classic Chicago blues style, yet it sounds fresh and energized while remaining perfectly authentic and true to style throughout.

No one fans the flames of love for Chicago’s post war electric blues harder than ex-Chicagoan and musical impresario, Bob Corritore, who goes way back with Tail Dragger to the seediest clubs on Chicago’s blues scene.  An accomplished blues harp player, Bob is also a club owner, DJ and record producer with several fine award winning recordings to his credit. At his Phoenix nightclub, the Rhythm Room, Bob has hosted a “who’s who” of blues artists, usually backing them on harp along with his hand-crafted band, the Rhythm Room All-Stars: Chris James (guitar), Kirk Fletcher (guitar), Patrick Rynn (bass) and Brian Fahey (drums).  All of them appear on Long Time Friends. This tight little unit of traditional blues professionals shows its familiarity by casting an airtight groove and riding it throughout the disc, thereby imparting a unity of feel that is as satisfying as a great meal.  Guitarists James and Fletcher play so seamlessly together it was impossible for me to tell who was playing what and when.

On Longtime Friends in the Blues, Bob joins forces with his old friend, the notorious West Side Blues singer/songwriter and Delmark recording artist, James Yancy Jones better known as Tail Dragger.  The CD starts when Tail Dragger says “Baby I’m worried about you.”  “I’m Worried” blends the voice of Corritore’s moaning harp with Jones’ wailing growl as the band comes in swinging; you’re suddenly transported back to some West Side dive on a Saturday night in the long ago; smoke is thick and the dance floor is packed. You almost smell the ripe, fecund alcohol sweat, smoke and perfume scents of a steamy juke. A hypnotic one-chord groove with its raw, insistent rhythm grabs you by the hips. Tail Dragger’s growling, guttural, emotive voice comes from some tortured place deep in his soul, wailing out over a thick layer of blues, guitars, keys and harp -- all laying down a fat groove that goes on and on to form a blues siren song.

“Sugar Mama” is a medium tempo lump-de-lump that gives the two guitarists a chance to show off their considerable skills, trading fills with perfectly timed harp licks. Henry Gray and Tail Dragger share vocal duties on this tune by trading choruses. Here, Henry Gray’s delivery (more in a Muddy Waters vocal style) makes a nice counterpoint to Tail Dragger’s Wolf-like crooning, adding a new dimension to the Chess style mix.

“Birthday Blues” is a pleasant up-tempo shuffle. It has a nice relaxed feel and Tail Dragger shows off his sense of humor with lyrics that gently chide, “How old, how old are you? You tell me you’re sixteen; they told me you were thirty-two.” Bob delivers a nice rhythmic solo on blues harp.

“She’s Worryin’ Me” is a slow blues filled with barrelhouse drama: “Fell on ma knees and I couldn’t even pray! She’d hurt me so bad she drove my spirit away.” This song is so heartfelt you can’t help but be moved by the raw emotion in Tail Dragger’s voice. This song is definitely getting played on my personal playlist (and on my next few radio shows; I can’t wait to share this!)

“Cold Outdoors” is a Jimmy Reed style shuffle, one of my favorite grooves, and Bob has that wonderful first position, lazy, drunk-sounding harp to go with it. Tail Dragger is spot-on with his vocal delivery as Henry Gray fairly channels the spirit of Sunnyland Slim, or possibly Otis Spann, on his piano break. I absolutely love this track.

“So Ezee” starts with an admonishment by Tail Dragger: “This is a message to the world! Wake up and stop crackin’ jokes, cause it’s easy to be misled!” The band jumps off into a swinging little shuffle with a great groove. “Everybody got to use their head. You got to use it in court, use it when you vote, use your head before you crack a joke,” warns Tail Dragger.  Bob Corritore shows his versatility, compared to the previous Jimmy Reed style approach, to throwing down some Carey Bell style harp attack, just before someone (either Chris James or Kirk Fletcher) rocks the house with perfect guitar solos on two choruses.

Great swaths of dirty guitar kick off “Through With You,” a slow drag that continues the troublesome woman theme, (Tail Dragger should try a different method of finding mates, his luck with women is terrible, if you are to believe his songs!). The music is dense and heavy with layers of guitars, keys and harp all wailing in response to Tail Dragger’s lament:  “bought you a ring and I bought you a wedding dress, too. You got to settle down baby please! Tell me what you going to do...You know you can’t have me and have some other man too.” Henry Gray pounds out his pain on the piano like a jackhammer.

“Done Got Old,” is a great up tempo shuffle with a really interesting interplay of guitar and piano going on; at the same time, Tail Dragger’s vocal line is braided through the top layer like a rhythm instrument in the same way that Louis Armstrong used his vocal like a rhythm instrument. It’s almost too much great stuff, crammed together with no space left unfilled. By the time you get to the end of this song, you need a complete change of pace, which they neatly deliver.

A swampy feeling, boogie piano-led romp, “Boogie Woogie Ball,” features Henry Gray’s infallible sense of rhythm, rockin’ and rolling all over that piano, with fine swinging support from the rhythm section. Tail Dragger improvises some jive talking with Henry over the rhythm that adds to the party feel. A tip of the hat must be given to drummer Brian Fahey, whose loose pocket swings effortlessly, creating a spirited, airy groove. The harp, here played acoustic and without distortion, is dancing around, adding simple train rhythms to counterpoint Fahey’s snappy snare. This is a great tune to spin at your next fete to laissez les bon temps rouler!

The record wraps with a slow blues, “Please Mr. Jailer,” which is a pretty juicy story in the great blues tradition that involves murder, judges and alibis. This, like the majority of songs on this disc, was written by Tail Dragger who is a fascinating story teller with a gift of timing, pathos and sincerity that is compelling enough to hold your attention through the whole disc as he spins these barroom vignettes; each song is a slice of life, revealing raw emotion drenched in layers of blues.

If you love real blues, then you’ll want to own Longtime Friends in the Blues.

A true renaissance woman, Liz Mandeville is a singer, award-winning songwriter, guitarist, journalist, painter, educator, radio host and all around bon vivant. She has performed all over the world and has four CDs on the Earwig Music label to her credit. She just started her own indie label, Blue Kitty Music.

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