Blues On Stage
Barbara puts her heart and soul into every song on the new CD and the strong bac
I recently heard Memphis blues singer Barbara Blue referred to as the “Human Jukebox” because of her standing gig at Silky O’Sullivan’s on Beale Street in Memphis. On my first trip to Memphis back in 2003, Barbara was the first Memphis singer I got to see perform live, where she covered any and all types of songs that anyone could imagine. However, before labeling the talented Ms. Blue as a lounge singer, you really need to listen to her latest release Memphis 3rd & Beale on her own label, Big Blue Records.
As was the case on her last release, Sell My Jewelry, Barbara is once again backed by a great band, including members of Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band, John “Juke” Logan and the Texicali Horns (Joe Sublett & Darrell Leonard). On Memphis 3rd & Beale, Blue takes her turn through thirteen fine songs including covers of songs by Charlie Rich, Janis Joplin and Lucinda Williams, along with her own compositions and those with writing credit shared with Nancy Apple. As with her effort on Sell My Jewelry, Barbara puts her heart and soul into every song on the new CD and the strong backing band, makes her sound fantastic.
Memphis 3rd & Beale opens with the classic soul tune, “24-7-365", featuring the Texicali Horns and Barbara’s soulful vocals. The fine opener is followed by the J.D. Garrison original “Rainy Night In Memphis,” a song that features a lot of John “Juke” Logan harp and Barbara singing what is an obviously personalized tune that references her regular gig at Silky O’Sullivan’s. Two more Memphis style soul tunes are up next, penned by Bobby Boyd; “I Don’t Need No Man Like That” discusses the problem of dealing with a man that is obviously taking what he can get, while giving as little in return as possible. “If I Had You” goes the opposite direction with Barbara pining away for the man of her dreams and the one that everyone else would covet as their dream man as well. After a nice blues shuffle entitled “Red Cadillac & The Blues” featuring some nice guitar by Johnny Lee Schell, Barbara opens up her soul on the Charlie Rich classic, “Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave.” On this classic tune, Barbara proves that she can burn a torch as well as any female singer out there.
As Memphis 3rd & Beale crosses the halfway point, the first of three Blue-penned or co-penned songs, “The Road Comes To Me” makes its appearance. Blue admittedly doesn’t care much for the road, preferring her “home base” on Beale Street. The song, an apt follow-up to her previous “I hate the road” song on Sell My Jewelry, “Road Blues,” seems to suggest that despite her resistance of working the road, sometimes the call of the road cannot be ignored and touring is a necessary evil. The following song “(Shuffle) All Night Long” was co-written by Blue and Nancy Apple and features a distinct ZZ Top feel with its Texas boogie beat and Johnny Lee Schell’s guitarwork. The Barbara Blue trilogy is completed with the slow, burning blues entitled “Careful Blues” a song that includes great harp by John “Juke” Logan and piano work by Mike Finnigan, with some serious burning guitar by Schell thrown in for good measure.
Memphis 3rd & Beale heads down the home stretch with three classic tunes; “Lie No Better” a Gary Nicholson/Delbert McClinton classic; Lucinda William’s country-soul masterpiece, “Lake Charles”; and peaking with a cover of the Janis Joplin tune “One Good Man”. Blue does justice to covering Joplin tunes (she did “Turtle Blues” on her previous recording), simply because she has a very Joplinesque voice and can exude the same type of emotional outrage in her voice. The CD concludes with another Nancy Apple tune, “You Can’t Stop My Love,” a honky tonk blues duet with Mike Finnigan, featuring Finnigan’s piano and a sound not unlike that of by Dr. John.
Memphis 3rd & Beale is another excellent self-produced recording by Ms. Barbara Blue and another presentation that should make it increasingly hard for the talented singer to remain “hidden” on Beale Street. In my opinion, she deserves much more recognition, its just a matter of how much “fame” she actually wants. Anyone interested in learning more about Barbara Blue can visit her website at www.barbarablue.com where you can check out her biography, review her tour schedule and pick up any of her CD’s including her latest, Memphis 3rd & Beale.
Dave "Doc" Piltz
Memphis Blues delivery simply doesn't get much closer to perfect than this.
Memphis 3rd & Beale
THIS Is How You Do Memphis Blues, (08/25/04)
The songwriting, the singing, the style, the music, the everything ... it's all executed just so perfectly on this album from Barbara Blue that, ironically for being in the "sad" genre of the Blues, this CD is nothing but pure joy from start to finish.
The only miniscule blemish is in the mix. While most of the time said mix is really wonderful, at times Barbara's incredible vocals threaten to overwhelm the texture too much in places by perhaps being too in front of the sound of the wonderful music. But this is an extreme (and virtually the only) nitpickety nitpick of this baker's dozen collection of gems.
If the glorious horn sound by the Texicali Horns doesn't grab you when the first cut starts, the amazing beat will. For this fine cut, entitled "24-7-365," brilliantly penned by John Herron and Greg Sutton, you hear Barbara Blue's oh-my-God-is-she-really-white virtuoso pipes grind and wail epitomizing what the Memphis Blues are all about. (And what a kick-ass solo by Joe Sublett in the last bridge!) J. D. Garrison turned "Rainy Night In Memphis" into a personal song for Ms. B as it refers to a special haunt of hers ... the renowned Silky O'Sullivan's in Memphis. Her phrasing in this tune couldn't be more perfect if she tried, and the keyboard colors are fantastic. More amazing horn sound, kicky guitars, and some of the most amazing chorus builds in any Blues record I have heard in ages make Ms. B's take on Bobby Boyd's "I Don't Need No Man Like That" into an aural drug of heroin-like proportions. I dare you to try to stay still when you hear this tune. And could those chords in the first bridge be any more excitingly gorgeous? I think not. (Kudos to Nancy Apple for her amazing contribution to the background vocals here, as well as for writing some of the killer stuff on this CD.)
A more deeply grooved and, if you will, Bluesier take on an another Boyd tune "If I Had You," thrills in more glorious horn color and shows that even when Ms. Blue's phrasing is a bit more laid-back, it still burns white hot. Barry Shaw's "Red Cadillac And The Blues" — this amazing voice, bass, and piano work to die for (by Larry Fulcher and Mike Finnigan, respectively), lines so perfect like "Lost my job..And that ain't fair"- does Memphis Blues get any more perfectly done that this? Is she actually channeling Janis Joplin on Charlie Rich's "Don't Put No Headstone on My Grave"? Sure as hell sounds like it from the goose bumps her take on this tune causes.
A special treat is the "Heartbreak Hotel"-ish song written by Ms. B herself entitled "The Road Comes to Me." The piano licks, the horn color ... everything, again, is just perfectly in its place except for my desire that maybe the tempo is dragging just a hair ... two or three metronome clicks faster for me would make this cut yet another masterpiece. One of those tunes contributed by Nancy Apple is "Shuffle (All Night Long)." This cut is another tune so scintillatingly screamy that you could indeed listen to it all night long and never tire of it!
"Careful Blues," co-written by Ms. B herself, features some wonderfully wailing harmonica from John Logan, again giving us another cut of Memphis Blues at its finest. "Lie No Better" gets a more of a Rock Blues sort of reading to great effect. The Joplin-penned "One Good Man" has an almost-creepy sounding keyboard sound at the end -- touches like that along with these phenomenal vocals make this tune another sandpapery charmer. Ms. Apple solo wrote the final cut, the honky tonky vaudevillian gem "You Can't Stop My Love" -- a tune full of sassiness, sexiness, and swagger in the gritty color of an old-78. The highlight of the album for me though is Ms. Blue's better-than-the-original take on Lucinda Williams' (whom I worship -- so this is a mighty big compliment) "Lake Charles." The sheer sonic beauty of this song about lies and love along the Texas/Louisiana border has so many lovely piano chords ... so much lush phrasing ... and so many pangs of gorgeousness ... that it's almost too beautiful to listen to. For a lady to be able to caress a song like this and make a masterpiece out of it ... and then alternately to be able to wail her guts out on other cuts - well, I just have to say it again ... Memphis Blues delivery simply doesn't get much closer to perfect than this. Get this CD. NOW
P. Kellach Waddle is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
Blues In Britain
she is known as the city’s ‘Queen of the Blues’
Barbara Blue — Memphis 3rd & Beale
Barbara Blues e-mail address begins memphisqueen, and if that is an indication that she is known as the city’s ‘Queen of the Blues’, then there will be no arguments from me, as this lady has talent in abundance, which no doubt explains the fact that her backing band is none other than Taj Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band featuring the Texicali Horns of Joe Sublett (sax) and Darrell Leonard (trumpet).
The set opens with ‘24-7-365’, BB strutting her stuff over a funky Stax styled horn riff, repeating the formula on ‘Rainy Night In Memphis’, but this time the funky riffs courtesy of Mike Finnigan’s B3 and John ‘luke’ Logan’s harp, giving this track a bluesier feel. The Stax sound rears it’s head again on ‘I Don’t Need No Man Like That’, but this time BB voice mines a soulful R&B groove that is accentuated by Johnny Lee Schell’s funky guitar chording.
‘If I Had You’ veers into deep soul territory, the backing vocals, baying horns and Joe Sublett’s smokey sax solo echoing the poignancy of BB’s vocals, which then take on a gritty arrogance, underpinned by Finnigan’s percolating B3 and Schell’s succinct guitar on ‘Red Cadillac & The Blues’. Charlie Rich’s ‘Don’t Put No Headstone On My Grave’ is transformed into a deeply impassioned late night blues, baying horns and rolling piano swathed by Finnigan’s B3 enhancing the perception of BB as a female Ray Agee.
If the first half of this set highlights BB’s soul and R&B credentials, the second sees her getting “down and dirty” as her overtly sexual vocals ride a Muddy styled guitar riff on ‘The Road Comes to Me’, the “down in the alley” feel accentuated by moaning horns and slow rocking piano, a premise that is repeated on the brooding ‘Careful Blues’ with it’s stomping piano and Junior Wells styled harp (Logan). ‘One Good Man’ continues in the same vein, as BB oozes sexual arrogance on this churning blues that reminds me of Muddy’s ‘You Need Love’, Schell’s guitar chiming as like BB he struts his sexuality proudly.
The Tex-Mex influenced ‘countrified’ soul of ‘Lake Charles’ and the gritty duet with Mike Finnigan on the Dixie influenced 5O's styled R&B of ‘You Can’t Stop My Love’ are further highlights of this impressive set.