Wednesday, September 4, 2013

"Blues Piano Perfection"

The Cascade Blues Association's review of East Meets Vest:
David Vest continues to carry on the tradition of boogie piano with style and flair that has few equals. Born and raised in Alabama, he learned and played with the absolute best of Gulf Coast and Southern musicians, including the likes of Big Joe Turner, Floyd Dixon, Lavelle White and Jimmy "T-99" Nelson. Later on he spent time in Portland working with the Paul deLay Band and eventually made the move across the border into Canada where he is turning even more heads with his craft, including receiving a Maple Blues Award.
This past February [2012], Vest found himself in Toronto on Mardi Gras Day working with some of the finest blues artists in Canada. Guitarist Teddy Leonard from Fathead and the Downchild Blues Band's rhythm section of Gary Kendall on bass and Mike Fitzpatrick on drums is a mighty force to have at your disposal. (If you are unfamiliar with these bands, make a point to check out their outstanding material.) Vest runs them through an impressive selection of originals and a working history of piano blues. 
Vest offers songs from his mentors. Two from Big Joe Turner and another by T-99 Nelson, not to mention his own reworking of Nelson's classic "Meet Me With Your Black Dress On," which he simply titles "Black Dress." That last number has become a signature song of Vest's in itself with its bouncy rolling riff that makes you want to dance. There are also a handful of numbers from W.C. Handy, Memphis Slim's "Wish Me Well" and a beautiful take on Avery Parish's "After Hours" that closes the disc.
The piano playing is fresh and exceptionally crisp on this recording. I cannot get over how brilliantly the sound of Vest on the keys comes across on the song "Come Clean With Me." It gives the feeling that I'm sitting right next to him as he plays. It is just one stellar song on an album that breathes blues piano perfection.
David Vest has been caressing those keys since the 1950s. He has made plenty of sensational recordings over time, but this one is a master work. It must be heard. Though there are many people today offering piano boogie blues, nobody does it with the authenticity and smooth delivery of David Vest. Outstanding!  
 -- Greg Johnson

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

It's All Their Fault

CURL has been one of my favorite local (Victoria) bands since I first saw them perform about three years ago. They are funny, sharp, and lots of fun. I don't think of them as an "all girl band" or any kind of novelty act, just a band that plays great music to go dancing to.

The first thing I noticed about them is that this is a real band, not just four people playing music together. By that I mean that they really listen to each other when they perform. Nobody tries to stand out at the expense of the group dynamic. Miles Davis called it "playing attention," and this quality is captured brilliantly on their recently released debut CD, "All My Fault." It has hardly been out of my car stereo since I first got my hands on a copy.

Produced Wynn Gogol did a fine job recording and mixing this album. Just listen to the way bassist Susan Johnson and drummer Christa Rossner lock together in the groove and you'll know what I mean. Johnson's bass tone and perfect intonation are outstanding, and Rossner goes straight to the heart of the beat every time. Dee Cooper's keyboard playing and her arrangements bring out the best in her band mates. Lead vocalist Helen Davies has the pipes to sing anything from Bessie Smith to Axl Rose, but she makes her powerful voice serve the song, not the singer's ego. And she plays guitar like a member of a band, not like someone trying to drown a band out.

In other words, these musicians have got each other's back, and you can't help but feel it.

I would put some of these tracks in heavy rotation if I were a radio deejay. Keyboard player Dee Cooper's "What's His Name" is a song I would kill to have written, and I suspect lots of other songwriters will feel the same way about it. The Davies original "Heavy Stuff" is top-notch writing; the song wouldn't be out of place on a Janiva Magness or a Shemekia Copeland album. The title track (written by the whole band) demonstrates conclusively that wit is one of the sexiest human qualities. (In my book, well-placed wit trumps pole dancing, provocative poses, and flouncing around the stage half-naked, every time.)

But as good as Curl's own songs are, the centerpiece of the album is their astonishingly original take on "St. James Infirmary." There's a reason they call these old songs "standards," because there's a lot to live up to when you perform them. Not to worry: Curl's version can stand beside anyone's. I suspect Louis Armstrong would have loved this track, and I'll be amazed if it doesn't get a ton of air play.

For the time being, as far as I know, you'll have to catch CURL live to get your hands on a copy. Check out their website for gig dates and much more. 

In the meantime, take a look-see.