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CD REVIEW -- Benny Turner
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Nola Blue

Benny Turner Journey CD

By Bill Dahl

          Until relatively recently, Benny Turner was better known for the many luminaries that he so solidly backed on electric bass than his own skills as a front man. The Texas native first surfaced in Chicago beside his brother, guitar powerhouse Freddie King, though he took an early ‘60s sabbatical from Freddie’s employ to accompany R&B singer Dee Clark and then the Soul Stirrers (Turner helped introduce electric bass to the gospel arena). After Freddie’s untimely passing, Benny joined the band of another Windy City blues guitar great, Mighty Joe Young. Later on, he accompanied singer Marva Wright in New Orleans.

Turner’s vocal abilities are no secret. He made a handful of fine Windy City soul singles for the Leaner brothers’ One-derful! and M-Pac! Imprints during the early ‘60s, and, more recently he issued a pair of well-received blues CDs from his adopted New Orleans homebase that let the world-at-large know he was alive and well. Nonetheless, Journey is sure to open a lot of eyes, expertly capturing both of Benny’s chief talents. His bass locks into a seamless rhythmic undertow with drummer Jeffery “Jellybean” Alexander from the outset, and his vocals remain strong and uncommonly soulful. What’s more, he wrote and arranged everything on the set (there’s no producer officially listed, but there’s a strong probability he handled that as well). 

Recorded in Slidell, La., Journey follows a stylistically varied route. The opening “Breakin’ News” and the slightly salacious “I Wanna Give It To You Baby” are bright, stinging shuffles, pushed by punchy horns (saxist Jason Mingledorff co-arranged them with Turner), and the more relaxed “How I Wish” is downright elegant in its laidback, enveloping ambiance. Benny draws lyrically from the mysterious Crescent City tradition on the sly mid-tempo “Voodoo Lady,” his sturdy bass line doubled by guitarist Marc Stone, while “Don’t You Ride My Mule” takes things in a considerably funkier direction, Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes’ harmonica winding deftly through the danceable backdrop.

Benny finds room on this collection to explore his enduring Texas blues roots, switching over to guitar for the considerably more rural (and wonderfully catchy) instrumental “My Mother’s Blues” (dedicated to Ella Mae [King] Turner, one of his earliest musical influences), his country blues-styled licks expertly seconded by pianist Keiko Komaki. “My Uncle’s Blues (Fannie Mae),” a lowdown grinder, pays tribute to the gent who taught both Benny and Freddie some of their first licks on guitar, Leon King.

12-bar material has never been Turner’s lone musical interest. “I Wanna Make It Right” simmers over a sinuous ‘70s soul groove, while his vocal on “Worn Out Woman” is riveting in its worldliness, laid over a mellow tempo and buttressed by Turner’s overdubbed backing vocals and Komaki’s synth strings. 

The climactic track on the set, “What’s Wrong With The World Today,” is a moving minor-key message song, Benny passionately delivering its plea for non-violence over a small choir and a swirling, relentless drive. It’s a splendidly effective closer for one of 2014’s best contemporary blues releases.

This is one Journey you’ll want to make.





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