Tribute to Carey Bell with Special Guests
Almost fifty years after iconic harpsman Carey Bell released Carey Bell’s Blues Harp, his debut album for Delmark, his four sons pay a recording tribute to their dad for the first time. Lurrie Bell, on vocals and guitar, the elder statesman and best known of the four, leads his brother Steve on harmonica (John Primer Band), Tyson on bass (Shawn Holt), and the youngest, drummer and vocalist James. Together with special guests Charlie Musselwhite, Billy Branch, Eddie Taylor Jr., and pianist Sumito “Ariyo” Ariyoshi, they have dozen tunes, some written by Carey, others being staples in Carey’s live shows.
This is the eighth Delmark album for Grammy-nominated Lurrie Bell. Recalling a conversation I had with Steve Bell last summer, Lurrie and John Primer are the only two Chicago guitarists playing traditional blues today. Expect nothing less here and, naturally, the harp is ever present in each selection too. Keep in mind that Lurrie was old enough to have played on two of his dad’s albums – Carey’s Gettin’ Up and his own Delmark debut from 1977, now available as Heartaches and Pain.
Tunes appear from Carey’s contemporaries: Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Big Walter Horton, Junior Wells, and three of his own. James wrote “Keep Your Eyes on the Prize” and reveals a terrific vocal style, much different than his older brother Lurrie’s raspy style but just as soulful. Some already consider him the best vocalist to emerge from the Bell clan. He also sings on “What My Momma Told Me” and “When I Get Drunk.” Come to think of it, his drumming is usually right in the pocket but often has unconventional patterns too. As you listen to Steve Bell, you’ll note a striking similarity to his dad’s harmonica style. Listen more closely. It’s a little edgier too.
Charlie Musselwhite is more a peer of Carey’s, as both men established themselves in Chicago in the ‘60s. Charlie’s harp is featured on Little Walter’s “I Got to Go,” a staple in Carey’s live shows. Billy Branch takes the harp chair on Carey’s slow simmering “So Hard to Leave You Alone” and later sings and blows on a tune he wrote for the project, “Carey Bell Was a Friend of Mine,” where he and Steve perform intertwining imitations of Carey’s style. Ariyoshi plays the role of Pinetop Perkins on the two Branch tunes and the closer, “When I Get Drunk.”
If you’re missing that traditional blues sound amidst so many blues-rock and other conventional trappings, this is your record. This is REAL DEAL BLUES from certified players. You can tell right away that the Bell genes have blues running through and through.
As a parting note, this is a huge year for Delmark, celebrating its 65th anniversary. Delmark has released on this same day, Tribute, newly recorded tunes by an array of current Delmark artists including the Bell Dynasty. Both Carey and Lurrie made their debuts with Delmark. The concept of the album is having the living artists pay tribute to those originally on the Delmark roster – a veritable who’s who of blues – Junior Wells, Carey Bell, Jimmy Dawkins, Big Time Sarah, Big Joe Williams, Sleepy John Estes, J.B. Hutto, Magic Sam, Otis Rush, Bonnie Lee, and Roosevelt Sykes. The 2018 Chicago Blues Festival will hold three days of special commemoration of the label, its founder Bob Koester, and Lurrie and Steve will be among the featured performers.
- Jim Hynes