Fortune Cookie Live at Sculler’s Jazz Club
Michelle “Evil Gal” Willson had four great albums on the Bullseye Blues Record label distributed by Rounder Records. In 1994 she released “Evil Gal Blues”. Her “Evil Gal” nickname comes from her appreciation for Dinah Washington and she included songs from Washington and her other heroes Ruth Brown and Etta James. What really hooked me at the time was a duet with Sugar Ray Norcia on “You Got What It Takes”. Her band included Norcia, Ron Levy, Sax Gordon Beadle, Scott Shelter, and trumpeter Porky Cohen from Roomful of Blues. It was produced by Ron Levy, recorded at the Tone Cool Studios in Newton Centre, Ma. and engineered by Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt. On her 1996 follow up recording, “So Emotional”, she continued to educate the listener with little known gems from some of the great female singers of our time. It was produced by Levy, included Ronnie Earl on guitar and another fabulous duet with Norcia. In 1999 Willson took herself to New Orleans’ Ultrasonic Studios to record “Tryin To Make A Little Love” produced by Scott Billington. Her fourth and last studio recording was 2001’s “Wake Up Call” also produced by Billington. On this robust album she was backed by a band that included Mike Mele, Scott Shelter, and Zac Casher.
If her fans had one wish it would have been to hear Willson again. It happened on May 2nd, 2013 and it is documented on this extraordinary live recording from Scullers Jazz Club in Boston, Ma. Taking the stage Willson is backed by a band, appropriately nick-named the Evil Gal Festival Orchestra, including Mele, guitar; Shelter, reeds; Casher, drums; Ahinichi Otsu, piano; and Sven Larson, bass.
Willson opens with “Relax Max” originally recorded by Washington in 1957. Also included from Washington’s songbook are “Fat Daddy”, the “New New Blowtop Blues” and “Stranger On The Earth”.
Willson covers “I Would If I Could” originally sung by Ruth Brown and released as a single on Atlantic Records in 1952. Other highlights are Etta James’ “Nobody Loves You Like Me”; Abby Lincoln’s “The Music is The Magic” with a great bass solo from Larson; and Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah, I Love Him So”.
Willson is a female blues historian and she continues to educate us. “Weed Smoker’s Dream” was written by Joseph “Kansas City McCoy”; it was re-titled “Why Don’t You Do Right” and recorded by Lillian “Lil” Green in 1941. It is a classic female blues tune. In the song the woman admonishes her man “why don’t you do right, like some other men do?” Here it turns into a traditional jazz romp and gives the band a chance to workout. Willson closes out her set with “Racehorse”. It was written and first performed by “Tiny Davis and her Orchestra Race Horse” in 1949.
The title track “Fortune Cookie” was written by Willson and co-producer Shelter. I know what I’m wishing for; more from Willson. This is one of the best live recordings of jazz infused Blues I’ve heard in a long time. This is highly recommended listening.