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A Great Start To The Year Of The Blues
on April 16, 2005
This memorable concert was filmed at New York's Radio City Music Hall in February 2003. It was the start of the "Year Of the Blues". Martin Scorsese, who gave us the wonderful (but a bit controversial content-wise) series of Blues Films (which took over a year to be screened and available here in Australia) opens the show, after the Blues Year he was also a voice in "Shark's tale"!
There is no denying that this is a memorable and well presented concert. Many of the greatest living Blues players are here as well as those we might refer to as marginal-transitional people with Blues interests. Some we don't get to hear, Robert Jr Lockwood and Jimmie Vaughan are seen, but not heard. the concert itself represents a musical journey through various Blues styles from African songs, to WC Handy, to music hall styles, women singers, the lone Juke Player right up through B.B. King and Hendrix and, yes, Chuck D trying to stop the Iraq Invasion with "Boom Boom" Rap!
This DVD is most enjoyable and a great and reasonably priced addition to one's music library. Highlights for me include B.B. King's story about "Sweet Sixteen" and his performance. Robert Cray's input, as usual is outstanding with his clean understated guitar work. David "Honeyboy" Edwards, who knew Robert Johnson, provides a rare self-penned tune (he mostly did covers during his career), Hubert Sumlin (who has just lost a lung!!; and was smoking in the interview!!!!; and who I got to meet in 1991) plays a great rendition of "Killing Floor" with the riff he made famous for Howlin' Wolf. Natalie Cole (a comeback?) does a great update of Bessie Smith's "Saint Louis Blues"-reminds me a bit of Janis Joplin-remember she started out sounding like Aretha on "This Will Be". The tune with Natalie, the great Mavis Staples (who does a great version of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Make Sure My Grave's Kept Clean") Ruth Brown and Bill Cosby "Men Are Like Street Cars" is a great humourous blues. It was horrible to hear the Ruth had suffered a stroke prior to this concert and was still superb (see more of this delightful lady in the "Blues Story" DVD).
Solomon Burke, who I just saw in Australia, was fabluous as usual. His singing is great and he sure knows how to work the crowd (like all great church inspired soul singers). Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown was an awesome talent. This was probably his last recorded performance. His no pick guitar style was unique and classic. His playing is a highlight of the entire DVD!
Macy Gray does a great version of "Hound Dog" in the style of Big Mamma Thronton. It's interesting to see her at the rehearsal a bit perplexed about the whole thing and then transform on stage. Buddy Guy is Buddy Guy, he's great, out front, out of tune, and, to me, stands for what the Blues is all about. He does a rare acoustic version of "I Can't Be Satisfied" in dedication to his mentor Muddy Waters. He also does a bit of Jimi Hendrix's "Red House"-this was great because if purists ran the show this would not have been done. I agree with the previous reviewers the rap, Aerosmith, John Fogarty and rock in general are farther from the blues than Jimi Hendrix, but in a show like this I can stomach anything, for one thing the band is so great.
Another highlight of this show is Odetta, the hippy Black folk singer from the 1960s. She does a great version of Leadbelly's "Jim Crow Blues" and even phrases like Leadbelly! A wonderful effort. The documentary footage between songs, the lighting and effects and the interviews are great. The bonus tracks are superb as well. Get this if you are a Blues lover!