Billy Branch review…February 2, 2014…

BILLY BRANCH AND THE SONS OF BLUES

BLUES SHOCK

BLIND PIG RECORDS  BPCD  5158

SONS OF BLUES–CRAZY MIXED UP WORLD–BLUES SHOCK–DOG HOUSE–FUNCTION AT THE JUNCTION–GOING TO SEE MISS GERRI ONE MORE TIME–BACK ALLEY CAT (INST.)–BOOM BOOM–SLOW MOE–BABY LET ME BUTTER YOUR CORN–SONG FOR MY MOTHER (INST.)

Altho he has appeared on some 200 albums for other artists, it has been nearly fifteen years since harp ace Billy Branch has released a project on his own.  He explained that his wait was dictated by his desire to bring something different to the table with some sparkling new material dotted with a few covers that are favorites at his live shows.  And so, Blind Pig Records is proud to release “Blues Shock,” his debut for that label.  The eleven cuts herein explain why he is one of the most respected writers and players on the contemporary scene today.

Another thing Billy is extremely proud of was his long-time relationship with Willie Dixon, writer of many classic blues tunes and a tremendous mentor to Billy during his formative years.  You can feel Willie’s influence throughout this album on Billy’s originals that all have that storyteller’s feel that Willie had.

Billy attended the University of Illinois at Chicago, and one of his professors, Sterling Plumpp, co-wrote the leadoff “Sons Of Blues,” where Billy raps over a boisterous horn section and recalls the birth of the modern bluesman.  Ronnie Baker Brooks joins the fun on guitar and vocals as he and Billy bemoan the fact that their women have put them “back in the Dog House again!” Bbilly revisits some of his favorite cuts from others, with a rompin’ read of “Crazy Mixed Up World,” andd “Boom Boom,” where Billy uses his harp to recreate John Lee Hooker’s guitar lines on this classic.  Billy and piano man Ariyo Ariyoshi pair up for a jazzy instrumental entitled “Back Alley Cat,” and Billy closes the set with a warm, ethereal instrumental “Song For My Mother.”

The album’s highlight, tho, served as our favorite.  Long a student of black history, Billy’s ode to a great lady of Chicago’s entertainment district is “Going To See Miss Gerri One More Time.”  It is the poignant story of Gerri Oliver, whose 47TH Street Palm Tavern served as the meeting place of entertainers as diverse as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and, even “Ol’ Blue Eyes.’  Sadly, the “city of big shoulders”  ordered its destruction and razed this memory-filled building.  Using cello and violin as embellishments over Billy’s vocal, this is a powerful piece, indeed.

Playing at the demolition of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Billy Branch has gone from one of Chicago’s young guns to one of its elder statesmen of the blues.  But, he shows no signs of slowing down, with the excellent “Blues Shock.”  It’s another set that is definitely “keepin’ the faith!”  Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

 

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