Set lists? For wimps. Song titles? Nah, knowing what key it’s in enough. Saying Lil’ Jimmy Reed has a back to basics approach is putting it mildly. But you know what? This show was a classic example of the elemental power of Mississippi blues - a tour de force of less is more that had this observer grinning from ear to ear.
Lil’ Jimmy, if you didn’t know, is a vintage Louisiana bluesman, real name Leon Atkins. He got his stage monicker because his breakthrough arrived when he stepped in for the real Jimmy Reed at a gig back in the fifties, his hero being overly tired and emotional. His chief partner in touring crime is London boogie woogie pianist Bob Hall, a founding member of The Groundhogs and in his time sideman to John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and a list of others the length of your arm.
|Lil Jimmy Reed and pals - not your average young gunslingers|
They get the show on the road here with a cranked up ‘TV Mama’, from new album Blues In Paradise, with biting slide guitar from Reed, and great interplay with Hall’s keys, played out over a chugging rhythm. It’s the start of a set that features originals and a smattering of blues classics. On the slow groove of ‘Tell Me Baby’ Reed adds the proverbial wailing harp to the mix, before shifting into ‘Big Boss Man’ from Jimmy Reed the Elder.
There’s a lengthy debate about the next song, which seems to establish nothing more than that “it’s in G”. How this helps drummer Simon Pooley is anyone’s guess, but it’s a belter of
a track nevertheless. Reed kicks off
with sparse, skidding licks, before Bob Hall demonstrates that he knows
precisely what’s what, intuitively complementing Reed’s guitar fills as the
song resolves into ‘When You Leave Don’t Take Nothin’’, also from the new
album. Playing without a pick
throughout, Reed’s long, spindly fingers work their magic on something that
might or might not be titled ‘Down In The Jungle’, as a prelude to a blistering
solo from Hall.
|"It's in G!"|
On (big) Jimmy Reed’s ‘Can’t Stand To See You Go’ the combo conjure up a simple groove and plunder it to the hilt. The drive and swing in that groove is remarkable, produced by just guitar, drums, piano and Hilary Blythe’s short-scale acoustic U-Bass. ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ features ringing guitar, before Reed goes down dome different roads with his licks on a slowish blues, showing the value that can be extracted from what might be regarded as bum notes. (I seem to remember reading about Captain Beefheart telling someone that he tried to find every wrong note he could.)
The set closes with a stonking version of ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’, concluding when Reed “retires hurt”, as Bob Hall puts it, with a cramp in his left hand. Such are the challenges for a veteran bluesman, who can still show younger generations a thing or nine.
Support act the Al Brown Band are a mite too jazzy for these ears, but that’s just personal taste. They’re an accomplished outfit, and turn out a good version of Louis Jordan’s ‘Early In The Mornin’’, working around a jungle-like rhythm. On the slow blues of ‘Jelly Roll’ Brown
on guitar and Matthew Bell on keyboards combine
naturally, and Brown’s solo never lets the melody get entirely out of
earshot. But mellow is very much the
name of the game.
|Brian Carpy and Al Brown - jammin'|
When Glasgow chum Brian Carpy, now emigrated to Chicago, gets up to jam on Freddie King’s ‘Sidetracked’, it provides a welcome shot of electricity. Brown immediately raises his game, Carpy fires a solo in from unexpected angles, and even Bell gets off his stool, presumably to follow more easily what the two guitar players are up to. ‘T-Bone Shuffle’ similarly demonstrates how the challenge of jamming can charge a set with additional energy.