2010 seems to be the year for outstanding new releases by Alligator Records, and the latest efforts from Janiva Magness and Guitar Shorty (The Devil Is An Angel Too and Bare Knuckle, respectively) released on this famous blues record label don’t disappoint!
Magness is known for her powerful vocals and captivating performances; take a look at any picture of her playing live and her stage presence is obvious. The question is, can her recordings capture her in-person charisma accurately? The Devil Is An Angel Too certainly does, without sounding cluttered or over-produced, as some of her previous records tend to. Opening with the raw Delta Blues-inspired riff of the title track, Magness delivers one emotional performance after another on a series of well-chosen covers and a few memorable originals. Highlights include “I’m Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down”, which marries a mid-tempo rock beat to her bluesy vocals and some Buddy Guy-inspired guitar licks; “Weeds Like Us”, a smoky and lonesome slow blues; and “End of Our Road”, a fun and funky workout. A few sleepy ballads near the end threaten to disrupt the pace of the album, but it’s nothing the ‘Shuffle’ or ‘Program’ button on your iPod or CD player can’t fix!
Guitar Shorty is one powerhouse of a guitarist, and that’s putting it mildly. I had the pleasure of seeing him live last year and at 70 years of age, he has more energy than a lot of punk and rock musicians less than half his age! Showboating aside, however, Bare Knuckle is an accurate representation of Guitar Shorty’s breadth of material and depth as a blues artist. From rockin’ blues tunes to heart-wrenching slow ballads, reggae grooves to Santana-inspired passages, Guitar Shorty can do it all and with fire. Standouts include “Too Hard To Love You”, with its steady groove and funky clavinet stabs; “Texas Women”, a Texas blues shuffle that transcends the standard 12-bar blues pattern; and “Bad Memory”, which features Shorty’s characteristic tongue-in-cheek lyrics and some tasty guitar licks. I detect the use of (what sounds like) AutoTune on the vocals in just a few places, but it doesn’t detract from the high quality of the performances. Bare Knuckle is, in my opinion, the most consistent Guitar Shorty album to date.
Overall, these CDs feature some of the finest moments of these two blues musicians captured on record, and are the next best thing to seeing them in concert.