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CD REVIEW -- Jim Liban & Joel Paterson Trio
GLT blues radio

JIM LIBAN with the JOEL PATERSON TRIO

 

I Say What I Mean

 

Ventrella Records

 

14 tracks/48:57

 

Jim Liban, Joel Paterson CD art

 

By Mark Thompson

Jim Liban is a legend among harp players around the world. His band, Short Stuff, played blues with a vengeance and undoubtedly turned on many of their Midwest fans to the music during their fifteen year run. After a stint as a Nashville songwriter didn’t pan out, Liban returned to Milwaukee where he led a band under his own name. As time went on, he grew tired of the grind that always left the brass ring just out of reach. The retreat from music continued when life hit him with several heavy blows.

 

But music has always had the power to heal. In Jim’s case, the process started several years ago as he gradually started playing gigs again. Soon the confidence and fire was back. At the 2013 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Liban was part of the Alex Wilson Band. Their rousing performances earned them a spot in the finals and Liban was the recipient of the Lee Oskar Best Harmonica Player award.

 

Around the same time, guitarist Joel Paterson played a Milwaukee gig with the man who had helped him start his career as a working musician. In his in-depth liner notes, Paterson describes his surprise at discovering that the magic was back in Liban’s playing and singing. That was the genesis for this project. Paterson combed through hours of tapes of Liban’s original material to make the final track selections. The duo spent even more time on fine-tuning the songs, in some cases updating the arrangements, before they headed for the recording studio.

 

One listen to this disc makes it clear that Liban is the consummate musician. On tracks like “Stop On By”, the singer’s relaxed vocal glides along with the swinging rhythm. He adopts a tougher approach on “Right Hand Blues,” preaching the gospel to a mercurial woman; Liban’s son Matt on drums helps deliver the message. The instrumental “Cottonweed” is a delightful romp with Liban blowing some serious licks from all angles. Beau Sample’s slapping beat on his upright bass drives “ Tell Me Everything” as Liban’s playing shifts to a country blues mode.

 

“No More Alcohol” comes from a darker corner of life as Liban describes the battle to break away from the chains of the demon rum. He punctuates his tale with some hearty blowing , employing a full, fat tone that seems to be calling you out of the darkness. The slow rolling feel of “Sad, Tired and Worried” manages to lighten the pain in Liban’s lyrics, as Paterson’s taut guitar licks echo the singer’s down-hearted exhortations.  “Must’ve Been Dreaming” is jaunty tune with a Memphis feel that features some James Cotton-inspired harp.

 

The band storms through the title track with a barely-contained fury spurred on by Paterson’s biting slide guitar.  Scott Ligon contributes some sparkling runs on the piano over the steady beat from drummer Mark Haines who, like Paterson, is a member of the Cash Box Kings. The drum chair is shared with Alex Hall, part of the Modern Sounds with Paterson and Sample. Hall’s deft touch is featured on “Quick Draw”, another instrumental that finds Paterson burning through a brief slide solo before trading licks with Liban, who plays with a graceful flow that can mask the depth of technical skill he utilizes throughout the disc. The harp master electronically alters his tone on “Cold Stuff” and displays amazing control of his breathing while holding a note for what seems like an eternity.

 

“Thank You for the Dance” is Liban’s loving tribute to his late wife with the singer calmly expressing his gratitude for the time they shared together.  The closing number, “Selfish Man,” has a late-night feel as Liban declares in no uncertain terms that he is willing to change his ways for a woman’s love. The track slowly fades away behind the subtle interplay between Liban and Paterson. It is a fitting finale to a project that offers an in-depth survey of the career and artistry of Jim Liban. Blues fans around the world owe Mr. Paterson a debt of gratitude for putting this project together, making it clear that Mr. Liban is indeed one of the living legends, his music as vital as when he started five decades ago.

 

I Say What I Mean comes highly recommended!

 

The track "No More Alcohol" will inspire anyone with a drinking problem to seek help. Sometimes music has a way of getting through to people when all else fails. Any San Antonio DWI lawyer would agree that seeking help is the first step, whether it's inspired by a song or advice received from friends and family.

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