CD Reviews: A New York State of Mind

I’m not sure why people tend to dismiss NY State when it comes to being a breeding ground for Blues Music. Maybe cos it has a reputation of being ‘hi-brow’ or too intellectual for the Blues – Woodie Allen has been a force for Jazz here – but the Blues are alive and well here is this big old state of New York. From the Lafayette Tap Room in Buffalo, a string of Dinosaur BBQ’s thru western NY, Chenango Blues Festival, Town Crier in Pawling NY, down to the big apple itself with Kenny’s Castaways, Iridium and B.B. King’s dead in the heart of NYC in Times Square.

So with that in mind let’s give a minute or ten to some NY artists that cover the range from local to national and are as good as they get. Their releases here are just a smattering of the fine artists that are out there for us to enjoy.

Michael Packer:
Live at the Turning Point
self released
A New Yorker with a definite Chicago feel for the Blues, Mr. Packer offers up a live recording that gives us a glimpse of what he does almost every night of the year. Straight ahead Blues, no set list, no low down and dirty and with a fell that reaches down to the soul.

Opening with “Mr. Packer” he introduces himself to us. Featuring Rob Paparozzi on harp, this steady rollin’ groove has the feel of all that is available in NYC street music. A mix of Latin, Blues and all other forms which makes it a great opening track.

An interesting cover of the late Toy Caldwells’ “Can’t You See” featuring piano master David Maxwell filling in between the spaces with thoughtful sweet sounding notes and adding a rich fullness to the track. It is somewhat slowed down from the original version, but in doing so he has given it a bluesier feel and makes it more relative to the genre.

Michael was Honeyboy Edwards sideman for many years, and the recently departed Honeyboy, along with Michael Franks on harp joined the band for the Fred McDowell classic “61 Highway” that night. Honeyboy taking the vocal lead and Michael adding his flawless harp playing gives us a taste of the old style, timeless Blues that he was known for. Here is a quote that I find just so cool and insightful about Mr. Packer from Honeyboy “He plays like he drank” – and Mr. Edwards nailed it square on. Mr. Packer is many years into sobriety and we are thankful for that fact, but the raw passion and lust for life has not disappeared.

The disc wraps up with Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killin’ Floor’ featuring Mr. Eddie Jackson on bongos. Eddie also has the knack to recall Mr. Sam Cooke on some of his vocals (Back At The Bar) and is always a thrill to hear whether vocally or in severe percussion mode.
A great representative release of Mr. Packers’ music and just shows you what you can find nightly in NYC. 

Murali Coryell:
Sugar Lips
Murali’s Music
Just up the river (literally) and a slight jag to the left from NYC is Woodstock NY. Yeh we know all about that famous festival, but Woodstock is also a hot bed of artists, free-thinkers and Mr. Murali Coryell. When not playing with Joe Louis Walker (amazing pairing) or with his dad, legendary Larry Coryell, Murali finds time to create his own brand of music that is both inspiring, insightful and varied.

On Sugar Lips we visit the different realms of Mr. Coryells’ world. Kicking it off with horns charted for outer space we hear him acquiescing to the accusers in “Blame It On Me’. Behind the rolling sound there are some great lyrics that certainly put things in perspective of why some cat would write this song.

Moving into a different, but still horn driven, form is “What You Gonna Do About Me?” At it’s core it confronts the eternal question that is all so obvious to us when involved a relationship going south, but it succinctly captures the passion and pain thru scorching guitar licks and hoarse emotional vocals. Mr. Coryells’ song writing is at it’s pinnacle on this release. Smart, witty, and double-edged sharp his words cut through and reveals to us what is going on in his world is also pertinent in our world also.

There is a certain undercurrent of pure sweet funk that shines through much of his music. It’s sophisticated but contains more than enough grit to reach out and grab you by the throat. Whether he is recalling her ‘…sugar lips and honey hips’ (from the title track) or getting down low on “Minor Funk’ working with Joe Louis Walker simply stating that ‘…he’s in a minor funk, can’t get a chunk of my baby’s love’. It’s there and I found my head rolling from side to side and up and down and those tasty grooves filled the room.

Legendary drummer, producer and man about town, Tom Hambridge produced this release and co-wrote many of the songs (as well as playing and singing on many of the tracks). Also featured are the aforementioned Joe Louis Walker, Reese Wynans, and his dad Larry Coryell. The senior Mr. Coryell is featured on the last two tracks “Music Sets You Free” and “Where Is The Spirit?’
Check out this release – I know you will dig it as much as I do. Murali is a giant talent, a triple threat to be sure, guitar, vocals and songwriting. 

Petey ‘Hop’ Hopkinson:
The Levee
self released
Someone recently said to me that with most releases all ya want to know about an artist is contained in the first four tracks, those are the best of the bunch and after that ….. well I must say if that’s a true statement I woulda missed a whole lot of good music from Petey and his band.

Now the first track is a rallying call to cure your negative blues by doing one simple thing “Stay Out All Night”, a jumpy rock & roll styled dance number that gets the message across and heck if the band is playing this I surely will stay out all night as long as they are playing.

Second up is ‘My God‘ a Mississippi hill country styled stomper that gets to the root of many of our belief questions and offers a possibility to coming to terms with them. I always love it when artists can put a dead on serious message into a toe tapping song – blows me away. The lyrical images that Mr. Hopkinson paints for us within this song are priceless and poignant and worth the price of purchase.

A sweet drum roll intro by Nick Longo, opens up ‘Why Should I Complain‘ that leads into jazz flavored piano by Jeremy Baum that sets off the sax work by Chris DeFrancesco and we are off and running on the answer to this rhetorical question. I coughed from the smoke and had to throw down another shot of Jameson to clear my throat, as Petey and band just painted a very dark but enjoyable song that captures the dark side of life and ensuing feel of madness that is often the light at the end of that tunnel.

I could go on to track four, but then I’d want to keep going – and that’s not what I am here to do. My purpose is to hip y’all to some serious music and this release is definitely that. The Band lovingly known as the ‘Jackrabbits’ are a top notch band. Capable of playing just about any style of music or combination thereof with aplomb and a virtuosity that is staggering. A big shout out to Mr. Duke Robillard who produced this gem and also contributed some significant guitar tracks to several cuts on this release.

There is not a soft cut on this album, and they all will hit you hard like the morning after a bout of binge drinking and the realization that you are just gonna do it again. A deep look at life and it’s pitfalls, and dark corners presented in a wonderful array of musical offerings. Check it out and you won’t be sorry. 

So there is a sampling of NY State of Mind Blues, hell there are so many more out there that we could have hit on. Guitar man Dave Fields, classic old styled blues man Steve Grills, power axe player Michael Hill, exceptionally talented piano man Dave Keyes, award winning singer-songwriters Rory Block, and Guy Davis, Tas Cru of Central NY state  – man I could go on but you get the picture. New York state is a deep and varied hot bed of the Blues that has the ‘nads to stand up to any region.

PS: Just couldn’t leave without giving a shout out to Brad Vickers & His Vestopolitans and the release celebrating the centennial of  the first published blues song “Dallas Blues”. Besides being cool historically all proceeds from the sale goes to the Blues Foundation HART Fund which provides medical assistance to musicians and those related to the industry financial assistance, You can do your part by heading here to download it:

Until next time,
Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2012
photos: courtesy of artists



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