Nora Jean Wallace
Elnora Jean Wallace was born in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenwood. Her father was a sharecropper and a professional blues singer; her mother, a gospel singer. Her grandmother owned a Juke Joint and on the weekends Nora Jean would listen to relatives sing the blues. To this day she calls Howlin’ Wolf her primary influence.
After moving to Chicago Nora Jean began sitting in with Scottie and the Oasis. She spent several years with them before Scottie’s passing but was encouraged to continue by Mary Lane. In 1985 Nora Jean was asked to join Jimmy Dawkins’ band and spent seven years touring and recording with him. She released her debut album “Nora Jean Bruso Sings the Blues” in 2002 on Red Hurricane Records. Nora Jean’s follow up album 2004’s “Going Back To Mississippi” on Severn Records garnered her a 2005 Blues Music Award nomination in the category “Best New Artist Debut”. Nora Jean also received five consecutive BMA nominations as “Traditional Blues Female Artist”, from 2005 through 2009.
Nora Jean states “I left the blues scene to take care of my mom who was sick at the time and has since passed. From the cotton fields of Mississippi to the bright and steamy windows of Chicago blues, she always supported me…although she’s gone, she’s still with me. I thank God for all she instilled in me…Here I am in 2020 embarking on a renewed career in blues…I believe God had a hand in it all and has placed people in my life to make me better, stronger and more determined to do what I love best…sing the blues.”
“Blues Woman” marks Nora Jean’s return to Severn. The album features the vocalist backed by the Severn All-stars. Included are Johnny Moeller, guitar; Kevin Anker, organ; Steve Gomes, bass; and Robb Stupka, drums. Special guests include Producer/guitarist David Earl; harmonica players Steve Guyger and Kim Wilson; and keyboardist Stanley Banks.
Eight of the ten songs included are originals, four written by Banks. On the lead track Nora Jean declares she’s “gonna’ drink some Martell”; featured are guitarist Moeller laying down the rhythm, Anker on piano, and Guyger dancing about on harp. On the Koko Taylor inspired, Howlin’ Wolf styled “I’m A Blues Woman”, Nora Jean lets out a growl as she sings “from my wig, down to my shoes, just like a wolf was born to howl, I was born to sing the blues” as Moeller’s guitar playing reminds me of Wolf sidekick Hubert Sumlin. “I got my Rag and Bucket, I’m gonna’ clean my house today…gonna wash you away” is another fabulous vocal from Nora Jean, this time featuring Wilson on harmonica, and the fabulous rhythm of Gomes and Stupka. The arduous Nora sings the soulful “I Don’t Have To Beg You to Love Me, I know someone who will…you don’t have to console me” featuring both guitarists, Moeller and Earl.
The Nora Jean originals include my favorite, the slow blues of “Victim”, as she sings “I’m a victim baby, I’m a victim of your love, and I will do anything to please you, I’m just a victim of your love” as guitarist Earl plays lead. “Look Over Yonder, there goes my no good man” with Guyger on harp, features the uncontrollable Nora, as she sings “he been gone so long…he came back home and found me with someone else”. Nora continues the “where you been” theme on “I’ve Been Watching You”. These are well written, soulfully sung, “hurtin’” songs. “Dance With Me” is an uptempo number that will make you want to get up and dance with Nora.
Nora Jean also includes two well selected covers. “I Can’t Stop” originally written and recorded by Syl Johnson With Hi Rhythm in 1994; and George Jackson’s “Evidence” first recorded by Candi Staton in 1970. These songs fit Nora Jean like a glove, so much so, you would think they were written especially for her.
I still own an autographed copy of Nora Jean’s 2002 debut, and attended the BMA’s during the years she was nominated. This album is a strong, wonderfully produced, comeback from an artist who was truly missed. Welcome home Nora Jean.