The Mannish Boys seem to be in command of virtually every classic, neo-classic, obscure, and almost –unknown riff and lick in the postwar cannon, and they approach it all with unfettered enthusiasm and commitment.” – Living Blues Magazine
“…no finer collection of blues talent exists today in one band.” – Blues Revue Magazine
“An all-star blues band with an authentic spirit, The Mannish Boys have what it takes to preserve the music that deserves to be called our national treasure.” – Southland Blues Magazine
“Lowdown Feelin’” is the fourth installment by The Mannish Boys, which looks to capture all the success and forward momentum stirred by last year’s universally praised release “Big Plans.” Evoking the spirit of such legendary Rhythm & Blues revues of the past as the Johnny Otis Show, Ike Turner & The Kings Of Rhythm, or even the highly regarded American Folk Blues Festival, The Mannish Boys look to single handedly restore this grand tradition and carry it forward into the 21st century. This unrivaled convergence of world class talent combines the very best of both the older and younger generations representing the blues.
Returning to the spotlight on this endeavor is Chicago Blues veteran Bobby Jones, now a permanent fixture in the group, who turns out many of the album’s stunning highlights along with revered vocalists Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer. The core unit of the band is once again comprised of guitarists Kid Ramos, Kirk “Eli” Fletcher, and Frank “Paris Slim” Goldwasser; band ringleader and master of ceremonies Randy Chortkoff on harmonica; bassists Ronnie James Weber and Tom Leavey holding down the bottom end; and drummer Richard “Big Foot” Innes supplying the fundamental rhythmic pulse that ties it all together.
As is customary on any Mannish Boys studio release, the program is enhanced by an array of special guests. This time out we find the boys joined by legendary vocalist and harmonica player Little Sammy Davis, whose recorded legacy dates back to the early ‘50s in Chicago appearing on notable recordings with guitarist Earl Hooker. Davis is accompanied here by his own guitarist and longtime musical collaborator Fred Scribner, who together, contribute two solid examples of Davis displaying his complete mastery and undying enthusiasm for the art form. Additional guests include West Coast guitar wizard Junior Watson, along with label mates Al Blake and Fred Kaplan of the Hollywood Blue Flames, and Lynwood Slim.
For a band that started as a one-off studio project, who could have predicted that four CDs later, The Mannish Boys would be at the top of the blues world, and almost unbelievably, still gaining momentum? Incredible, but true: this band keeps setting the bar higher, and then surpassing themselves with each project. The Mannish Boys “Lowdown Feelin’” is not only one of the best they’ve done, it may be the best blues record released this year.
As with their earlier projects, they’ve avoided ruts by creating one of the strongest blues revues you’ll find this side of any major blues festival, adding new and interesting twists to the band’s lineup each time out. This time the focus is on singer Bobby Jones, a new member of the Mannish Boys, but a veteran of the Chicago blues scene of the ‘50s and ‘60s with blues roots as deep as they come, who at the same time is still young and vibrant enough to rock the house with the best of them. Jones has the versatility to move from gritty Howlin’ Wolf-style rockers to subtle, gospel-inflected moaners with equal amounts of conviction and full-throated soul. Mannish Boys veteran front men Finis Tasby and Johnny Dyer are also back on board, each reminding us why they’re in the top echelon of blues artists active today.
And it wouldn’t be a Mannish Boys CD without a few special guests to keep things interesting. Chief among them is singer/harp man Little Sammy Davis, a legend among knowledgeable blues fans, who first recorded in the early 1950s with guitar ace Earl Hooker, and is still going strong over a half century later. Davis has been garnering attention recently as a regular member of rock legend Levon Helm (drummer and vocalist with The Band)’s current ensemble, but his history with Mannish Boys leader and producer Randy Chortkoff goes back even further. For over a decade Chortkoff organized the annual Blues Hall of Fame / Little Walter Tribute concerts in Los Angeles, and for one of these shows in the early 1990s he brought Davis in from his long-time base in upstate New York as a featured artist. Davis was the hit of the show, a non-stop ball of blues energy whose sheer joy of performing and love of the music dominated his performances, and left a lasting impression on Chortkoff. And the feeling was mutual – when the news of Davis’s re-emergence on the scene culminated in his first new recordings in years (for Chicago’s prestigious Delmark Records), Davis commemorated his California experience with a beautiful autobiographical song called “When I Leave.” So it’s only fitting that Davis reprises the song on his first appearance on Chortkoff’s Delta Groove label.
Also making special guest appearances this time out are guitarist Junior Watson, recognized these days as the godfather of West Coast blues guitar; blues harp aces Al Blake (leader of The Hollywood Blue Flames) and Lynwood Slim, both respected Delta Groove recording artists in their own right; Blake’s HBF cohort Fred Kaplan on piano and Hammond B3; and Sammy Davis’s long-time musical partner (and Earl Hooker disciple) Fred Scribner on guitar. It’s all anchored by the stellar line-up of Mannish Boys long-time core band: Richard “Big Foot” Innes on drums, Ronnie James Weber or Tom Leavey handling the bass, and three world-class blues guitarists – Kid Ramos, Frank “Paris Slim” Goldwasser and Kirk “Eli” Fletcher - divvying up the six-string duties. And as always, at the center of it all is harp player/singer/emcee/ringmaster Randy Chortkoff, the driving force behind the whole operation, who also contributes two new original songs to this set.
Of course the best line-up in the world – and this one may just qualify – is only as good as the material they’re performing, and once again the Mannish Boys present an amazingly deep and varied program, well-chosen to highlight their strengths not only as musicians, but also their collective depth of knowledge of the many styles, shades and moods of the blues. It’s very unlikely that even the most jaded blues connoisseur is familiar with more than a handful of the songs Chortkoff and co-producer Jeff Scott Fleenor have mined from the annals of blues history for this project. As Chortkoff points out, “There are just so many great blues songs out there that almost no one has ever heard before, that no one ever plays…I feel part of keeping the blues alive is keeping some of those great songs alive, too. And if we can put a few dollars in the pocket of the original artist or their family, well, that’s a good thing too.” To that end, they cast the net far and wide, covering blues from both coasts, from Chicago to Texas, and plenty of points in between, including two fine songs by the often overlooked Floridian Billy “The Kid” Emerson.
It sounds like a recipe for a great blues record, and it is: start with nothing but first-class ingredients, toss them into a recording studio with three great producers, Randy Chortkoff, Jeff Scott Fleenor and the incomparable David Z, let percolate for a few days, just long enough to allow the cream to rise to the top, and the result is one of the tastiest blues records you’re likely to encounter this year. Only one problem: how are they ever going to be able to top it next time out?