Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Blues In My Soul
By Mark Baier
Lurrie Bell’s latest CD is named Blues in My Soul. It’s an apt title, given Lurrie Bell’s pedigree. Simply being Carey Bell’s son would've been enough, truth be told. Bloodlines are important, and Lurrie’s technical competence with the guitar alone would be sufficient to secure him a place at the table of musical icons and their kin. But Lurrie Bell’s blues are rare, an uncommonly authentic commodity. There’s a depth to them doesn’t reveal itself upon first listen. Certainly it’s blues; the structure, the beat, the familiarity of the sound; but there’s a soul, an inspiration, that lingers. Unquestionably, there are other blues artists that play excellent guitar and those that sing with conviction and style. Some even do both. Listen closely to Blues in my Soul, and the differences between Lurrie Bell and the rest of the pack become less than subtle.
Blues in my Soul is made up for the most part, of Lurrie’s interpretations of classic blues numbers. The 14 songs included here were culled by Lurrie from a list of over 200 songs that had been suggested by Lurrie’s camp or submitted for his consideration by producer Dick Shurman. Though covering well-worn chestnuts that almost defy fresh examination, Bell makes every one his own, each selection able to stand as archetypes to modern ears. The material is so comfortable that it’s hard to imagine anyone else performing it.
The tormented single note bends that typify Bell’s guitar work kick off Blues in my Soul with a spirited reading of T-Bone Walker’s “Hey Hey Baby”. His stinging guitar lines are pure emotion, long on melody and lyrical rhythms; the playing is vocal and intensely personal. It seems as if not one note is out of place, and everything is as it is divined to be. On Blues in my Soul, Bell finds himself leading his first class working band which features Matthew Skoller, harmonica; Roosevelt Purifoy, keyboards; Melvin Smith, bass; and Willie Hayes, drums. The horn section of Marques Carroll, Chris Neal and Mark Hiebert accompany the band on two tracks. This ensemble complements Bell’s six string virtuosity intuitively, never dominating and always enhancing the feel and pace of the song. Like a velvet shadow, the horns are silky and smooth, without a hint of sibilance or brashness while Purifoy’s organ work fills the space with rich textured B3 tones that are sweet as honey.
Next, the title track “Blues in My Soul” finds Bell working a minor blues to perfection. The economy of his playing is very refreshing, devoid of technical tricks or over practiced scales, it’s pure transcendence. Bell and Purifoy take turns at soloing over the changes, but it’s Bell’s guitar that is the star.
Which is not to say that the vocals are for want. Lurrie is known primarily as a guitarist, but nowhere are his vocal abilities more on display than Blues in my Soul. The sound and texture of his voice is sanctified for the blues. Blessed with a deep and resonant baritone, its impact is rich, full bodied and deeply sonorous. When Bell sings of loss, as in “Bout the Break of Day” or “24 Hour Blues” (in memory of Magic Slim) it’s gut wrenching, as if he were confiding his pain to the listener personally, wiping away tears in the process. It’s a powerful experience. Not that all is pain and heartache on Blues in my Soul! Broonzy’s “Feel So Good”, Otis Rush’s “She’s a Good un” and Walker’s “T-Bone Blues Special” are joyful excursions, optimistic and full of life.
Bell’s Chicago bona fides are on full display with the classic harmonica driven styles of Muddy Waters and Little Walter. With the help of Chicago harp master Matthew Skoller, Bell and company explore the aforementioned “Feel So Good”, Jimmy Rogers’ “Going Away Baby” and “My Little Machine” along with Little Walter’s “I Just Keep Loving Her”. Skoller’s playing is the essence of golden-era harp; he never noodles purposelessly on his instrument, instead playing tight melodic lines in support of the song. Skoller carefully budgets his harp flourishes and the effect is very pleasing, he is on the short list of guys who play it right.
Lurrie Bell is on a blues journey that started early, divined by fate, fueled by spiritual and secular forces, beaten and scarred by unfathomable tragedy and heartbreaking illness, finally finding redemption in the music that defines him. It’s the blues that is in Lurrie Bell’s soul, that’s for certain. After experiencing Blues In My Soul it will be equally clear that the Soul of the Blues is Lurrie Bell. There’s not a human emotion that Lurrie Bell hasn’t faced down. Whether it be penury, excess, love, loss, madness, death or life. These are the realities and textures of Lurrie Bell’s blues. If Lurrie Bell didn’t exist, the Blues would have to invent him.
Delmark label boss Bob Koester and producer Dick Shurman have enabled Lurrie Bell the freedom to create a recording that will affirm the blues genre for years to come. That Blues in My Soul is a Delmark recording, perhaps the world’s most respected Jazz and Blues imprint that is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year, will assure the notice of more than just the traditional Blues audience. Blues in My Soul is a recording that, with Delmark’s imprimatur, could be a dark horse for Grammy consideration. Let the Recording Academy know; Blues in My Soul is the immortal soul of the blues. Make the call! Call your friends in NARAS!
5+ stars, an iconic recording