Saturday, July 28, 2018

Reggie Harris – Ready to Go

Ready to Go
Reggie Harris Music

As I mentioned in a 2012 review of Kim and Reggie Harris' Resurrection Day, I wrote a feature story for Sing Out! magazine (“Kim and Reggie Harris: Building Bridges,” Summer 2007), and said I’ve long been inspired by Kim and Reggie – by their moving work as recording and performing artists, and by the deep commitment they have as activists who use their art to help make ours a better society.

For the past several years, with Kim Harris following an academic career, Reggie Harris has worked as a solo artist and in collaborations with other like-minded artists. Now, Reggie has released Ready to Go, his first and much-anticipated solo album.

Like virtually all of Reggie’s albums with Kim, Ready to Go is an inspired and inspiring set filled with much joy, some sorrow and a whole lot of hope.

The album kicks off with “Ready to Go,” the title track. Fueled by Gina Forsyth’s Cajun fiddling, the song is a call to action to stand one’s ground in the face of the Trumpian challenges now gripping the U.S. (and, by extension, the rest of the world).

One of the most poignant songs is “Love Guides the Wounded Heart,” a sad lament for the lack of meaningful change to American gun culture five years after the mass murder of 20 six- and seven-year-old children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The song was written a few months before the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida but could well serve on the soundtrack to the campaign launched by the brave young activists who survived that horror.

Another poignant song is “Hickory Hill,” a song that explores an aspect of Reggie’s shared family history with a distant white cousin that originated when the Hickory Hill plantation slave master fathered five children with one of the slaves.

Other favorites on Ready to Go include “Harlem Renaissance,” a snappy jazz tune that salutes and namechecks many of the literary and musical giants who rose to prominence in Harlem in the first half of the 20th century; and “Hunt the Whale,” Reggie’s sea chantey inspired by the story of seven African American sailors who served on the 1821 voyage of the Essex. That tragic voyage inspired Herman Melville’s classic novel “Moby Dick.”

The album ends with stirring versions of two songs from the 1960s, each featuring an added verse written by Reggie. Both Bob Zellner’s civil rights anthem “Been Down into the South,” adapted from an African American spiritual, and Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” remind us how far we’ve come over the past-half century – and how far we still have to go.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Rory Block – A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith

A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith
Stony Plain Records

In 2006, after more than three decades as one of the finest contemporary interpreters of traditional country blues, and as an accomplished songwriter in the country blues tradition, Rory Block released an album called The Lady and Mr. Johnson, a magnificent tribute to Robert Johnson, the Delta blues singer, songwriter and guitarist who made a series of what would eventually become highly influential recordings in 1936 and 1937 before his death at age 27 in 1938. Rory followed that album with a series of equally fine tributes to her mentors – blues legends she met and was influenced by while growing up in Greenwich Village – including Son House, Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White and Reverend Gary Davis.

Now, with A Woman’s Soul: A Tribute to Bessie Smith, Rory begins a new series of tributes to legendary women blues singers. Bessie Smith (1894-1937) was a logical artist with whom to begin this series. The 160 recordings Smith made between 1923 and 1933 remain among the most influential of the classic blues era and earned her the title of “The Empress of the Blues.”

While Smith recorded with pianists and other jazz musicians – including Louis Armstrong – Rory has arranged these songs in her own country blues style for vocals and guitar, sometimes overdubbing more guitar parts, bass, homemade percussion and harmony vocals herself. So, while these 10 songs are familiar from Smith’s versions, Rory makes them her own – with her powerful guitar playing and soulful singing.

Among my favorites here are “Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town,” a song that pays tribute to a turn-of-the-20th-century musician from before the recording era; “Gimme a Pigfoot and a Bottle of Beer,” which evokes a Harlem speakeasy during Prohibition; and a very sexy version of “Empty Bed Blues.”

I’m looking forward to more volumes in Rory’s tribute series to legendary blues women with great anticipation.

The photo of Bessie Smith, taken in 1936, is from the Carl Van Vechten Photographs collection at the Library of Congress.

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--Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Saturday Morning with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Saturday July 21, 2018

Saturday Morning is an eclectic roots-oriented program on CKCU in Ottawa heard live on Saturday mornings from 7 until 10 am (Eastern time) and then available for on-demand streaming. I am one of the four rotating hosts of Saturday Morning and base my programming on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches format I developed at CKUT in Montreal.

CKCU can be heard at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and on the web.

This episode of Saturday Morning can be streamed on-demand at …

Extended feature: Songs of The Band.

Steve Howell & The Might Men featuring Katy Hobgood Ray- Easy Rider
Good as I Been to You (Out of the Past)

Brooks Williams- Gambling Man
Lucky Star (Red Guitar Blue Music)
Rory Block- Jazzbo Brown from Memphis Town
David Davis & The Warrior River Boys- Ramblin’ Blues
Didn’t He Ramble: Songs of Charlie Poole (Rounder)

Judy Collins- Dreamers
Dreamers – single (Wildflower)
Joe Jencks- I’m a Stranger in This Land
The Forgotten: Recovered Treasures from the Pen of Si Kahn (Turtle Bear Music)
Ry Cooder- Everybody Ought to Treat a Stranger Right
The Prodigal Son (Fantasy)
Fink, Marxer, Gleaves- If the Poor Don’t Matter
Shout and Shine (Community Music)
Reggie Harris- Love Guides the Wounded Heart
Ready to Go (Reggie Harris Music)

Shemekia Copeland- Smoked Ham and Peaches
America’s Child (Alligator)
Rod MacDonald- I’d Love to be Wrong
Beginning Again (Blue Flute Music)
Tret Fure- #45
Roses in November (Tomboy Girl)
Noel Paul Stookey- Impeachable
Summerfallwinterspring (Neworld)

Tom Russell- Throwing Horseshoes at the Moon
Madeleine Peyroux- Lonesome Road
Careless Love (Rounder)
Eliza Gilkyson & Jimmy LaFave- Down by the Riverside
Secularia (Red House)

Serena Ryder- This Wheel’s on Fire
If Your Memory Serves You Well (EMI)
Karen Dalton- In a Station
In My Own Time (Light in the Attic)
The Band- Caledonia Mission
Music from Big Pink (Capitol)
The Staple Singers- The Weight
Stax Profiles (Stax)

Jakob Dylan w/Lizz Wright- Whispering Pines
Endless Highway: The Music of The Band (429)
The Band- Up on Cripple Creek
The Band (Capitol)
Rosanne Cash- The Unfaithful Servant
Endless Highway: The Music of The Band (429)
Jack Williams- The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Four Good Days (Wind River)

Barrence Whitfield & Tom Russell- Daniel and the Sacred Harp
Cowboy Mambo (Stony Plain)
Jim Byrnes- The Shape I’m In
Long Hot Summer Nights (Black Hen)
The Band- The W.S. Walcott Medicine Show
Stage Fright (Capitol)
Colleen Rennison- Stage Fright
See the Sky About to Rain (Black Hen)

Happy & Artie Traum- Bessie Smith
Live Recordings 1970s-1980s (Slice of Life)
The Band- Katie’s Been Gone
The Basement Tapes (Columbia/Legacy)
David Clayton-Thomas- Ophelia
Canadiana (Antoinette/ILS)
The Roches- Acadian Driftwood
Endless Highway: The Music of The Band (429)

Orit Shimoni- When You Are a Wanderer
Lost and Found on the Road to Nowhere (Orit Shimoni)
Jory Nash- Dark Matter
Wilderness Years (Thin Man Records)
Ben Bullington- Born in ‘55
White Sulphur Springs (Ben Bullington)
David Francey- Lonely Road
The Broken Heart of Everything (Laker)

Geoff & Maria Muldaur- Brazil
Pottery Pie (Omnivore)
Jesse Winchester- Whispering Bells

Cosy Sheridan & Charlie Koch- My Fence & My Neighbor
My Fence & My Neighbor (Cosy Sheridan, Charlie Koch)
Claudia Russell & Bruce Kaplan- Lovers Tree
Lover’s Tree (Radio Rhythm)
Nefesh Mountain- Halleluyah
Beneath the Open Sky (Eric Lindberg & Doni Zasloff)

Andrew Collins Trio- Famous Last Words
Groove (Andrew Collins Trio)

I’ll be hosting Saturday Morning next on August 18.

Find me on Twitter. @MikeRegenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif