Blues bothers

It ain't necessarily all good

Write "blues" on your butt, bare it, and blues critics will surpass the speed of light to kiss it. Slag old-guard critics for being hidebound and reactionary if you choose, but they served the idiom and its fans better than the present crop of cheerleaders, who seem likely to shake their pompons for any bilge-peddling hack who jumps on Da Blooze bandwagon.

Since Sue Foley seems to have backed off her frontline presence, her replacement niblet is pert singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi, whose Just Won't Burn (ToneCool) is terrible. Her voice is a flat, strident caw abrasive enough to negate good material--of which she has none--and make poor material sound atrocious. "Found Someone New" and "Looking For Answers" play like bad Bob Seger songs (blame Tedeschi's pen for both), and though "Little By Little" and "Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean" are closer to the mark blues-wise, her grackle-shrill singing renders both unlistenable. If someone is telling this poor lady her present vocal tack is Joplin-esque, she needs to change her advisors.

Money Road (Bullseye) is better, but not to the extent that it makes the Radio Kings worthy of your attention. Singer-harmonicist Brian Templeton sounds like he's had his mouth grafted shut and is singing through his nostrils. Instrumentally he and his trio are competent, but still fail to excite or inspire with "Virginia" (nice drumming, bad singing) or "Leave a Light On" (which has a horn section and backup singing that sounds stitched-on, as though it's an afterthought). Most damning, though, is the band's lack of focus. While it's OK to borrow from a diversity of musical bygones to get your composite sound, the RKs do it with the gracelessness of a bulimic at Luby's, and their regurgitation is similarly appealing.

As for Paul DeLay's Nice and Strong (Evidence)--it comes with the inevitable press-kit/line-copy prattle about DeLay's dope use, booze use, and prison term. Do the writers think touting this will make us forget that this singer and harmonica player's specialty is clumsy, ill-wrought pop music that's as blues-based as the Fabulous T-Birds' "Don't Mess With Texas" jingle? DeLay does blow good harp and has able sidemen, but can't carry a tune. He delivers his lyrics so woodenly that it sounds as if he's reading them off Post-it notes.

David "Honeyboy" Edwards is old and knew Robert Johnson. Such is high coin of the realm in blues, but your coin shouldn't be squandered on his dull, listless The World Don't Owe Me Nothin' (Earwig). Edwards snores his way through "Catfish Blues," "Sweet Home Chicago," "Crossroads," and "Hideaway," establishing a new bottom for these shopworn standards to scrape. He does "Walking Blues" so lethargically it could've been re-named "Coma Blues." The upside of this CD is that it was a paycheck for the venerable Honeyboy, but don't buy it unless you're interested in bluesmen as souvenirs instead of artists.

Public radio DJs who take leaks during long songs will want to know that Mark May's Telephone Road (Icehouse) has cuts long enough for bowel movements. There's no way you could slight May's guitar talent, his sincerity, or the fact that his tasteful playing is truer to its roots than that of bozos like Jimmy Thackery or Walter Trout. Trouble is, he's yet another guitar with a human only nominally attached to it, and has little to offer in terms of singing or material. His main influence is Albert Collins, which he proves for nine minutes on "Lights Are on but Nobody's Home," one of those yawn-inducing drip-feed slow blues that are of interest only to guitar dweebs. "Icehouse Special" is too unabashedly in Collins' shadow to have legs of its own, while "Joann" is a run-of-the-mill shuffle perked up only slightly by May's use of one of those 6-string basses Texans (Jimmie Vaughan, Denny Freeman, Robin Syler) find so fascinating. Energy levels aren't helped by the layer-cake guitar tracks, either. May's press is good (he's a darling of the Guitar Player set), and likely he's good live, but it's just as likely you have everything he offers on a few dozen albums you already own.

Susan Tedeschi, by the way, is slated as March's cover girl for Blues Revue magazine. She and the others aforementioned are likely nominees for this year's W.C. Handy, but for no good reason.

 
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