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CD REVIEW -- Toronzo Cannon & The Chicago Way
WGLT Highway 309

TORONZO CANNON and THE CHICAGO WAY

The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp

Alligator Records 

Toronzo Cannon Preacher, Politician or Pimp CD

By Robin Zimmerman

Toronzo Cannon, the Chicago bus driver and world-traveling blues man is back with his second Alligator record release. On The Preacher, the Politician or The Pimp, Cannon takes listeners on a rollicking ride that encompasses everything from insightful social commentary and bitingly witty lyrics to Hendrix-inspired guitar licks and guest appearances by Chicago blues luminaries.

As the de facto ambassador of the next generation of Chicago blues, Cannon has seemingly been everywhere the last few years. After signing on with Alligator in 2016, he toured relentlessly in support of his highly-acclaimed Chicago Way release. There were Cannon sightings on WTTW’s Chicago Tonight followed by a star turn on CNN where he led viewers on a guided tour of local blues clubs. The South Side southpaw even tossed out the first pitch during the Chicago Cubs championship season.

 

But, Cannon isn’t one to rest on his laurels for long. He continues to work for the CTA by day and tour the world on weekends. He’s got that lunch bucket Chicago mentality down pat and it shows in the maturation of his sound, songwriting and stylings on The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp.

 

Cannon, who served as a side man before forming his own band in 2003, has surrounded himself with a heavy artillery of talented artists on this release. The main cast consists of Roosevelt Purifoy on piano and organ, Marvin Little on bass and Melvyn “Pookie Styx” Carlisle on drums. There’s also a galaxy of guest stars including Billy Branch, Joanna Connor, Nora Jean and Lynne Jordan.

 

With over 25 years of CTA tenure under his belt, Cannon is literally in the driver’s seat when it comes to soaking up musical material. He penned all twelve songs on the The Preacher, The Politician or the Pimp and covers everything from the high cost of insurance and Martin Luther King’s message to his own distinct Chicago way of describing disintegrating relationships.

 

This theme is prevalent in the opening number, “Get Together or Get Apart,” where Cannon pours out the pain of a partnership on the brink. Despite the serious material, he still manages to work in a reference to Paul Simon’s “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover” along with some smoking hot guitar lyrics.

 

He segues into a jazzier intro on “The Preacher, the Politician or the Pimp.” On this title track, Cannon’s observational skills are on overdrive as he lays out the many similarities between this unholy trio who spew out “pretty words” and can “manipulate your hopes and dreams.”

 

Longtime Cannon fans will recognize the opening riff on “The Chicago Way” as it’s reminiscent of “Sweet Sweet Sweet” on his 2013 Delmark release John the Conquer Root. In this 2019 incarnation, Cannon comes out swinging with plenty of swagger. It’s obvious that he takes his role as a Chi-town standard bearer very seriously!

 

Cannon tackles the national headache of health coverage on the next track, the aptly titled “Insurance.”  Here, he checks off a laundry list of high-priced medical procedures with some musical help from Billy Branch on harmonica. Alligator head honcho Bruce Iglauer even has a cameo as the doctor on this tune.

 

The New Orleans-flavored “Stop Me When I’m Lying” features a star-studded horn section fronted by Joe Clark on trumpet, Mark Hiebert on baritone saxophone and Chris Shuttleworth on trombone. Cannon’s sense of humor on this tune will get you grinning.

 

The lies come full circle on the next track as Cannon reprises “She Loved Me” from his 2011 Leaving Mood CD.  On “She Loved Me (Again),” he goes for a slower, more nuanced version on this tale of a woman fessing up to his murder rap.

 

But Cannon isn’t all about lies and Chi-town references. On “The Silence of My Friends,” he channels the messages of Martin Luther King with references to the costs of remaining mum in the face of injustice. This is followed by “The First 24” with a Delta inflection and deep reflections on what it’s like in the afterlife.

 

Cannon finds his perfect musical foil on the next track, “That’s What I Like About You.” Nora Jean joins him on this fast-paced, pull-no-punches look at relationships. It’s a treat to listen to them trading vocal barbs about each one’s shortcomings but realizing they’re in it for the long haul.

 

The tune “Fine Seasoned Woman” from Cannon’s Chicago Way is always a crowd favorite at his live shows. On The Preacher, The Politician or The Pimp, he tells us about his penchant for an “Ordinary Woman.”  This track features premier piano work by Purifoy that pairs well with Cannon’s humorous observations and inspired harmonies from the entire crew.

 

After lamenting about the logistics of a long-distance relationship on ‘Let Me Lay My Love on You,” it’s back to an ethereal ensemble cast on “I’m Not Scared.” On this final track, Lynne Jordan, Cedric Cheney and Maria Luz Carball come out with a powerful message on overcoming the many forms of abuse. Joanna Connor contributes some stellar slide guitar to close things out.

 

The Preacher, The Politician or the Pimp proves to be the ideal vehicle for Cannon to continue staking out his route as a bluesman for the new millennium.  It also showcases the considerable talents of the many artists who are riding shotgun on the production on this one. The Preacher, The Politician or the Pimp was produced by Cannon and Bruce Iglauer. 

 

Kudos are also in order for going the “Chicago Way” in the post-production of this CD. It was recorded and mixed by Blaise Barton at Chicago’s Joyride Studios and mastered by Collin Jordan, Cannon and Iglauer at the local Boiler Room.

 

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