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CD REVIEW -- Battle of the Blues
WGLT Highway 309

Battle of The Blues: Chicago vs Oakland

Various Artists

Delta Roots Records

13 songs – 56 minutes

Battle of the Blues: Chicago vs Oakland

By Mark Baier

Longtime blues producer, recording engineer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Twist Turner has spent a lifetime living the blues. Since the 1960s, when he cut his teeth in the hardscrabble clubs of Chicago's West and South Sides, Turner has accompanied countless well known, and many not so well known, blues artists both as a drummer and a record producer. Rooted in Chicago and living for a while in Oakland, he employs his skills as an arranger, composer, engineer and musician to document a deep and under-appreciated catalog of blues music. Battle Of The Blues is Turner’s testament to these lesser known artists, a CD featuring blues in many of its forms, from slow sensual love songs to powerful shuffles, performed by artists that demand introduction. BOTB is intended as a document that showcases local artists from the Oakland and Chicago scenes over a period of close to thirty years, as recorded by Turner. The recordings may have languished forever in obscurity had Turner not had a series of life changing and affirming moments brought on by serious illnesses. He was close to the brink more than once, and the experience served as inspiration for the project. Turns out drummers are hard to knock off!

 

The most familiar performer on BOTB is likely Freddie Roulette, who hails from Evanston, IL and was a part of Chicago’s blues scene before he moved to California in the ‘70s.  A dazzling lap steel player known for his boozy and sexy slide stylings, Roulette contributes three selections -- two instrumentals and a vocal (with Country Pete McGill). Fans of Roulette will certainly want to own this collection based on these three selections alone. The rest of the artists assembled on BOTB are among the best kept secrets in the genre. Names like the Bay Area’s Mz. Sumac, Aldwin Lowden, Nat Bolton, or Country Pete McGill and Chicagoans Del Brown, Gerald McClendon, James Newman are not household names, and their exposure here is a blessing to blues fans everywhere. Of local note, Chicago blues woman Dawn O’Keefe Williams’ late husband Emery Williams, Jr. is featured on two tracks that serve as a reminder of his powerful and commanding talent.

 

Many of the tracks included here are steeped in the soul and R&B sounds that were nurtured in the African American communities but only rarely cross pollinated with the larger market. This is not blues influenced by Eric Clapton or the Rolling Stones. Ever. The guitar playing is understated and sublime with horn arrangements that are smooth, silky and tight. It’s all about serving the singer and the song on BOTB; each selection is a polished and multi-faceted gem. It’s great stuff, and it’s a delight to listen to again and again.

 

Credit is due the skilled players from both Chicago and California that Twist used on the sessions: Rusty Zinn, Maurice John Vaughn, Mark Wydra, Joe Burba, Dave Workman and Hiro Konishi on guitars; on saxes John “Boom” Brumbach, Skinny Williams, Bernard Anderson, Leon Q. Allen and Norman Palm; on keys Chris Burns, Roosevelt Purifoy, Alan Batts, Brian James, Mark Pontin and Max Brumbach; bass players E.G. McDaniel, Art Love, Dave Kaye and Dave Forte.

 

In a different time, these recordings would’ve been issued as 45s and been the staple of jukeboxes across the neighborhood clubs of Oakland and Chicago. Local artists were often known only by their regional recordings on 45 RPM records and with this in mind, BOTB is a nod to a different era. With the demise of the 45, many provincial artists lost this important way to connect with their audience. Through this collection, Twist Turner has reintroduced these artists to their fans from Oakland to Chicago, and all points in between.

 

The accompanying material included with BOTB features biographical information about each artist and lists numerous different sidemen. The one constant is Turner himself, who plays drums on all tracks as well as various synth horn, organ and guitar parts on selected cuts. In addition to his musical expertise, Turner reveals himself to be an excellent producer and recording engineer. BOTB is very pleasant to listen to, the mixes are crisp and enjoyable with a musical soundstage that’s balanced and realistic. BOTB will enhance any serious collection of the blues. Kudos, for a job well done!

For info or to buy the music: www.deltaroots.com

 

About the Author: Mark Baier is the owner and founder of Victoria Amplifier Co. Victoria manufactures vintage vacuum tube amplifiers for professional stage and studio use.  victoriaamp.com

 

 

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