Tornado strikes in Flanders: GOORBLUES + REBA RUSSELL at the Duvelblues festival in Puurs (Saturday May 31st), at Goorblues in Gooreind/Wuustwezel (Saturday June 7th) and at the Banana Peel in Ruiselede (Monday June 9th 2008)
It’s always nice when an established organiser of concerts with a flawless past and a great heart for music, in this instance the blues, receives a lot of people e for his first real festival. Anyway that’s what you wish for. Then it’s bad luck and trouble when that particular festival day coincides with the European Soccer Championship and the whole continent crowds together behind the TV, craving for goals, goals, gooooooooals! When at the same time a number of ye olde rock mastodonts play at near by Werchter (with young Milow as the notable exception), including The Police, performing for the very last time in Belgium, and the ever popular and reunited Scabs, then it is possible that a mighty fine line up scarcely attracts any blues fans. Goorblues in Gooreind/Wuustwezel alas had to experience this. It’s a good thing that on Sunday the same festival continued with a country line up (or should we say line dance?), guarnateed to make up at least partly for the losses on Saturday. But it’s obviously a pity that courage, vision and (affordable) quality aren’t always properly rewarded.
The Dutch Rhythm Chiefs made a senseational appearance in Belgium some four years ago. We missed them once again, but we heard that this still extremely young band is in full progress. Especially the singing has become ,,adult’’, those present claim. An ideal opener.
In this program Khalif ‘Wailin’ Walter was a blind spot, which he isn’t anymore after this first. Walter is a young black guitarist from Chicago who plays classical…Chicago blues. His line of approach might not be called original and some people could have some problems with the long soloing, but Walter brings his stuff (originals alongside well known tunes from the biggies in the style) with a lot of dexterity and enthousiasm, backed by an excellent rhythm tandem. A likeable guy, whose importance is not to be underestimated, as he is one of the very few blacks who doesn’t throw himself into R&B or hip hop, but opted for the blues. Moreover the man gives courses in the history of the blues and the input of the pioneers. He has already two CD’s of which we know the second one, Let Me Say That Again, a record that fits in neatly with his live work. If you ask us, a pleasant how do you do.
In between the bigger acts the Moonshine Playboys played short stes in the back of the tent. They’re as funny as their name implies. The trio takes on all and everything in what they have called cajungrass themselves, the missing link between cajun and bluegrass. Relentlessly they coboy-ize claasi tunes of literally all styles and era’s, to boldly go where no band has gone before. Bronson (guitar, accordion), Mitchum (double bass) and Marvin (banjo, mandoline, guitar) Cuvelier (presumably not real names) throw themselves with the same ease and poise on Stairway To Heaven, Every Breath You Take, Voodoo Chile as on The Beatles’ Help! These songs may not have been written by them (as far as we know they recorded only one proper song in between the material by Nirvana, the Ramones, Free, Canned Heat, Woody Guthrie and the Sex Pistols!), but once these bootleggers from Sproqueville (actually it’s Anderlecht near Brussels…) have laid their hands upon them, they have moulded them into ,,originals’’. Always in for a laugh!
At Goorblues Howlin’ Bill brought a set that was identical to the one at the Rootsnight in Borgerhout (Antwerp) with Johnny Winter, May 11th. For one reason or other, Bill cannot punish us with that. Listening to the gentle giant with the Big Voice and the supple harp playing, with the regular guitar outbursts by Little Chris has always been our idea of a party! And party we did: very direct sons somewhere in between blues, rockabilly, rock ‘n roll and swamp, songs the likes of Strongest Man Alive, Bimbo, Midnight Hero, Gone Too Soon, I Remember The Day, Don’t You Know That I Love You (with a part sung without microphone!), Mississippi Hoodoo Man, When Hell Freezes Over and I Confess, brought with guts and, not to be forgotten, loads of humour. No, it doesn’t have to be more for us.
But it got to be more! Reba Russell, exactly one week after Duvelblues. On that festival in Puurs, one of the very best in its style, the great singer from Memphis, Tennessee had once more given a memorable concert, remarkably strong amidst the gigs Bass Papa, Crivellaro-Wressnig, Rudi Rotta, Ralph De Jong and Mike Sanchez. The new material from Bleeding Heart fits neatly into the string of songs, with which she won over the then unsuspecting bluesfans one year ago in the Antwerp Crossroads, the Banana Peel Jazz & Blues Club in Ruiselede and in Cultural Center De Steiger (in Menen) At Duvelblues it once again got cooking like a hot, spicy stew, courtesy amongst many others of the covers of Spoonful and When The Lights Go Out, two songs by Willie Dixon, she craves a lot…and quite rightfully so. But we had some fears about the gig in Gooreind, coming at the end of a stressful week. Did we see and hear some cautiousness in the start of the concert? Anyhouw, after a few songs the kryptonite began to glow and crackle again and the magical Memphis blues overran the audience.
While at Duvelblues dived into the heavy riffs from the very beginning, with the opener of the new record, Red Mississippi Clay, a painful but brilliantly picturised youth memory by bass player and also…husband Wayne Russell, the started out with a jazzy intro in Gooreind, just teh way Robert ‘Nighthawk II’ Tooms, harpist and keyboard player, likes them. Nighthawk turns out to be exactly the right singer for this material, but of course as soon as Reba took the microphone this was all reduced to the right proportions. She opened up with Miss Me and Some People, written by Papa ‘Don’ McMinn, father of Reba’s drummer Doug Mc Minn (together with the other brother the trio forms the band of the great blues legend Mojo Buford) This time the set went gradually to a clear cut climax: halfway through we got Reba’s Love Is The Cure (ode to her optimistic life’s vision) and Delta Joe Sanders’ One Track Mind, but then the band switched to another tune of Delta Joe, which never fails to adorn the set list, Chinaberry Tree.
Hard to say which execution was the best, as three times this masterly song made an overwhelming impression. It doesn’t matter, but what matters is that Sanders is one of these ,,undiscovered’’ talents that should cross the ocean as soon as possible. For a taste of his song writing abilities, just listen to Always Go With Your Heart (CD with the ironical and at the same time moving Never Did Like This Place) and to the recordings of his band The Mescal Sheiks (which he started up with Nighthawk but has a few members more) Then Up To No Good, Again of the Sheiks seems a good choice. Too few people got to hear marvellous executions of Love Is All You Got, written by Nighthawk and Wayne, and Before Love Came To Town, the song which brought Reba almost accidentally to the fore, when Bono and BB King asked her to sing the backing on that gem (CD Rattle And Hum)
Amazing is the progress Josh Roberts, still not twenty years at the time of writing, but steadily evolving into a guitar icon. Last year he already stood out, now he simply excelled and takes matters in his own hands. Reba took a rsik, although calculated, by opting for a guitarist still ,,in training’’. Now it seems all involved are cashing in on that. Roberts has the stamina to become a giant…Successor of Sean Costello we lost way too soon?
Two days later the company emerged at the Banana Peel for the very last concert of this short but intense tour. As someone said: ,,Last year she gave her best concert here…and now once more.’’ That probably has to do with the intimate atosphere of the club where you practically sit on the artist’s lap. But there’s also the fact that the thunderous gig of last year, when she blew off the roof, attracted a lot of curious blues fans this year. Moreover, organiser Franky Van de Ginste got the opportunity to adapt the set list to the taste of his audience and himself, by adding songs that became great with Janis Joplin (Mercedes Benz and also the evergreen Summertime from Porgy And Bess by George en Ira Gerschwin, the kind of song you recognise the very great performers by) And lastly, she could bring two complete sets, with no less than, four encores, only to be stopped by the Abominable Neighbour, who doesn’t fail to get the police if he hears one note after eleven o’clock. So Blue Bird Song got to be the early nightcap.
Nighthawk again opened up the concert, this time with the ubiquitous Everyday I Have The Blues and Who Will The Next Fool Be (by Charlie Rich), and after the intermission, Caledonia. Long ago Robert asked Memphis Slim if he was allowed to cover this song, which probably is the acme of respect. At BP Reba omitted the glowing Levee Prayer, soaked in helpless rage, that Reba’s dear colleague Jimmy Thackery wrote in the sad aftermath of Katrina (alas, she played that one only at Duvelblues) but she made room for Need A Healing, Tool Box Blues, the wondrous Heaven Came To Helena, all part of her standard repertoire. Of the highlights of Bleeding Heart is doubtlessly 12 Bar Blues, written by…Doug’s mother. This song, playing on the double sense of ,,bar’’, has a great closing stanza.
This is one of the things that separates Reba Russell from so many others, apart of her vocal qualities, that is. She prefers well written songs, rather than blues tunes that merely repeat the clichés, with boring riffs, their never ending solo’s and lyrics you heard a thousand times before. And those who doubt she is much more than just a formidable voice, should listen to her rendering of Electric Chair, teh 1928 tune by Bessie Smith: the hatred, the irony, the biting satire come to the fore in every vocal inflection and mimicry. To spare this golden voice she never sings more than a few evenings in a row. As the Wampus Cats the band fills up the other evenings with occasional gigs here and there, not seldom a friendly turn. But it’s all done quietly. They’re glad to be able to play! Great band, great songs, fantastic singer..but also people with a big heart. That’s the way, aha aha, we like’m!
Antoine Légat (Dutch original June 22nd; this translation July 1st 2008)
PS From now on the village is called RUSSELLEDE!