The Blues Never End
New York Hall of Fame Inductee (2014) Elly Wininger is socially conscious, highly skilled acoustic guitarist and songwriter based in the Woodstock area. She’s been at her craft for decades now but The Blues Never End is only her fifth album since the end of the ‘90s, the most notable one prior to it being 2018’s Little Red Wagon. While we will eschew the better part of her biography, this little anecdote is worth sharing. She began her career in Greenwich Village and played the first set on the opening night at CBGB. She was offered a record contract at age 16 and relates this story, “I saw an ad in the Village Voice that said ‘Wanted: Blues Singers,’ so I grabbed my guitar and the subway to the Bronx. After wandering around the projects, I finally found the right door. I went in and played for a while – I think it was “Rock Me Baby” and “Key to the Highway.” The woman auditioning me yelled for her partner to come in the room. ‘Listen to this’ she said, nodding at me, in my braces and pointy glasses. I was as surprised as they were when she handed me a contract.”
Given her home base of New York and Greenwich Village beginnings, it might be tempting for some to draw a comparison to the leading female acoustic blues artist Rory Block but just because both play acoustically, and honor tradition doesn’t mean they sound similar. Wininger leans more contemporary and versatile, not only playing blues and gospel but mixing in Cajun, ragtime, old timey, jazz, and country. She prides herself on being a bastion of diversity. She mixes four originals into this set of thirteen. Wininger has done her research too, finding traditional tunes and covering Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Skip James, Blind Lemon Jefferson (2), Lonnie Johnson, Leadbelly (2), Blind Willie Johnson, and Geeshie Wiley. Only three of these tunes are performed solo. She usually has one to three accompanists although on “Black Snake Moan” she enlists a four-piece Dixieland horn section. She plays a variety of guitars, including slide and baritone.
Her sense of humor is palpable in her rendering of this classic material and in her own originals. About her award-winning song “Right Kind of Trouble” she says that she envisions the sex symbol character Jessica Rabbit singing it. She takes a page out of Mickey Newberry in name dropping a whole slew of blues artists in the title track and claims “Range in My Kitchen” (Texas Alexander, Lonnie Johnson), feeling that it’s only right that a female sings it. Other emotions are at play as well. She delivers anger in her original “Alabama Blues,” authors a fitting tribute to Zydeco player Rosie Ledet with “(I Wanna Be Like) Rosie,” and finds contemporary parallels in the opening “Let That Liar Alone.” She puts her own stamp on Tony Joe White’s “As The Crow Flies” and new understanding in some tunes such as Leadbelly’s “Old Riley” – “I didn’t understand this song when I Heard it as a kid. Now I get why it’s up tempo. Riley’s running for his life from Rattler, the dog.”
Dig in. Wininger does a great job of making tradition relevant and embracing diversity by revealing several styles, all with an infectious flair.
- Jim Hynes
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