Little Joe McLerran
BluesWax Rating: 8
Breathing Live Into Older Styles
Even though he is not yet thirty years old, Little Joe McLerran has been earning money playing music for more than twenty years. He used to busk with his late brother Jessie at a mall near their Boulder, Colorado, home. McClerran went deep into the Piedmont blues style in his late teen years and readily admits that he still listens to 78 rpm records that hark back to the 1920s and ’30s. His persistence paid off when, after four attempts, he won the 2009 International Blues Challenge is the Solo/Duo category. While his previous recording, Believe I’ll Make A Change, had some tracks with McClerran supported by minimal accompaniment, his latest project finds him backed by a rotating cast of eleven musicians on sessions recorded at four different studios.
McLerran’s music recalls the styles of long-gone eras when blues and jazz were kissing cousins, meaning that it was just as common to hear a clarinet or saxophone in an arrangement as it was to hear a harmonica or washboard. On Thomas A. Dorsey‘s “Billy the Grinder,” Little Joe’s laid-back guitar picking is answered by the deep tones of Dexter Payne‘s baritone sax, while Jack Wolf ‘s organ fills the remaining space. Equally fine is the rendition of Tampa Red‘s “Black Hearted Woman,” with McLerran’s easy-going vocal masking his bone-chilling promise to end the ways of a mistreatin’ woman. Andre Bohren lays down a taut rhythm on drums while Brian Lee‘s piano accents bring a lighter touch to the track.
“Frenchman Street” is one of five originals that show that Little Joe has fully immersed himself in the old styles as his tunes all fit perfectly with the rest of the disc. Washboard Chaz sets the pace with Bohren while Payne’s clarinet snakes its way through a song that captures the true essence of a famous New Orleans thoroughfare. Robbie Mack supplies solid bass lines throughout the disc while Ron McRorey handles the drum kit on eight cuts. The band kicks up some dust on “Corrine” as McLerran bemoans his suffering at the hands of unfaithful woman. The title track is Little Joe’s humorous confessional about his adventures with social networking, his woeful vocal cushioned by Wolf’s lush organ chords.
The good times continue on “Friends With a Guy,” which pokes fun at those who seek personal gain by hanging around the edges of fame over a toe-tapping musical chart that would put a smile on T-Bone Walker‘s face. McLerran’s lengthy solo shows off his nimble guitar work while Jason Mingledorff provides a boost with his baritone sax. “Hobo Blues” slows things down as McLerran sings the forlorn tale while David Berntson wails on his harp. Homesick James Williamson‘s “Gotta Move” gets a rocking interpretation, while “My Gal Katy” is sparked by Spencer Bohren‘s lap steel guitar and Junior Jimmy Markham‘s spirited harp licks.
The disc closes with a brief instrumental with Chaz setting up a tap-dancing rhythm on the washboard as McLerran picks a strong melody line on the guitar. If you have a hankering for blues music that honors the tradition with plenty of energy, humor, and fine musicianship, this disc definitely will put a smile on your face. There are few musicians who have managed to breathe life into the older styles instead of sounding like a stale copy. Little Joe McLerran is one of them – and this one comes highly recommended!
Mark Thompson is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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