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CD Review -- Zora Young

 

ZORA YOUNG

Sunnyland

Airway

 Zora Young CD large

By James Porter

Pianist Albert Luandrew, better known as Sunnyland Slim, mentored quite a few female vocalists in his time, including Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah and Zora Young. Remembering the man who put her in the spotlight, Young's newest album is a tribute to the blues legend who gave her a good start, with help from Barrelhouse Chuck playing full ten-fingered keyboards in the Sunnyland style.  And the lineup of musicians is no joke: besides Chuck, there's also Bob Stroger (bass), Kenny Smith (drums), Steve Freund (guitar), Sam Burckhardt (tenor sax), and the killer guitar fills of Hubert Sumlin. And, of course, there's Young herself, belting it out in that updated Bessie Smith style that many of the Chicago female blues singers are fond of.

 

While this album is a rocking good time, there is also a subtle jazz influence running through the set, with three Zora-less instrumentals, including "Blues For Hubert," which features no guitar, but does have Burckhardt's sax playing a minor-key groove straight out of a crime-noir flick. (As for that title...well, it's "Blues FOR Hubert," not "Blues WITH Hubert"...)

 

While Young commands the spotlight, Sumlin manages to get in a couple of vocal licks himself, including "You Said You Were Leaving," as well as "Looka Here Baby," which has Young and Sumlin teaming up alone and acoustic. Well, not entirely acoustic - Sumlin's axe is still plugged in - but you get the drift.  It’s just two voices supported by a lone guitar, almost sounding like a spontaneous jam after the session is over.

 

This is the other side of Chicago blues that unfortunately seems to be ignored -- the piano-led sound that didn't rely as much on heavy amplification. This was once a good town for that genre, and Sunnyland is a nice look back to that time.

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