THE TAKING OF BLACK HEART
Five Horse Johnson (Small Stone Records)
Toledo-based blues boogie band Five Horse Johnson peel some paint on their seventh release, serving up a blistering concept album that features at least one outlaw and a horse named Mexico.
What's not to like?
The four-member band augmented by a a few other musicians -- most notably Cheap Trick lead singer Robin Zander on the Rod Stewart/Faces cover "You're My Girl" -- echoes early Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith and ZZ Top along with the Black Keys on the 11-song set that features straight-forward blues rock that packs a serious wallop.
The loose theme of the album follows a man on a somewhat nebulous mission, but more important is the instrumental mix with lead vocalist Eric Oblander's gloriously slurry harmonica work front and center along with blistering guitar work from Brad Coffin and Phil Durr.
Kicking off with the crunching "The Job," the disc is a primer on how to meld the blues into hard rock while keeping the arrangements fresh and non-cliched. The secret seems to be to slam the band into gear and never let up. The perfect example is the tune in which Zander handles lead vocals. Coffin and Durr lock into a well-oiled rhythm guitar thrashing that draws heavily from rhythm and blues roots, while bassist Steve Smith and Jean Paul Gaster slam on the accelerator, resulting in a breathless jam.
The band, which is about to embark on a European tour, will have a CD release show Saturday night at Mainstreet in East Toledo. Look for a feature story on Five Horse Johnson in Friday's Blade.
— ROD LOCKWOOD
AVALON: A TRIBUTE TO MISSISSIPPI JOHN HURT
Rory Block. (Stony Plain Records)
This is the fourth CD Rory Block has released in her "Mentor Series" - a salute to blues masters who helped shape her musical vision after she met them in person.
It is as distinctive as previous ones paying tribute to the music of Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and the Rev. Gary Davis - even with a little bit of whimsy showing how Mississippi John Hurt was a gentle man rooted in gospel who seamlessly sang about sex, murder, mystery and violence.
But more importantly, it solidifies Block's project as an intriguing one from an artist who genuinely wants people to know more about these largely overlooked giants. Block met Mississippi John Hurt in December, 1963, when she was 13 - so it's been 50 years and a lot of professional development of her own since then.
But her heart and dedication come through, not only in her reinterpretations of Hurt's music but also the disc's sole original song, Block's personal love letter entitled "Everybody Loves John."
— TOM HENRY
ONE TRUE VINE
Mavis Stapes (Anti)
At 73, Mavis Staples remains a nonpareil vocalist who sounds able to blow a building down by simply exhaling. What’s nice about “One True Vine,” the second Staples solo album produced by fellow Chicagoan Jeff Tweedy, is that it resists the temptation to put all that industrial-strength power to nonessential use.
Instead, the 10-track set, which includes three songs by Tweedy, as well as songs by Low, Nick Lowe, and George Clinton, takes a deeply relaxed, richly comforting approach in which the singer says as much with a whisper as a shout, and the band — which consists of Tweedy and his son Spencer — moves forward in an understated saunter.
“I reached the point in time where I want to be real,” the gospel great sings, sounding utterly at ease on “I Like the Things About Me,” a song cowritten decades ago by her father Roebuck “Pops” Staples. Wonderful stuff.
— DAN DELUCA, Philadelphia Inquirer