Review: Everybody’s got the blues … even Ozzy!
A whole truckload of new releases are out just in time for summer, and it seems like everybody’s got the blues. Last week we took a listen to the newsy bluesy Mojo by Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, this week a number of veteran artists seem to be following his lead into the blues.
It’s taken Steve Miller about 17 years to release a new album, and here we have Bingo!, a collection of blues and R&B covers. It seems kind of weird that Miller would stage a comeback with an album of covers, but maybe he’s burned out as a songwriter. Bingo! is a party record, full of hot guitar playing and feel-good blues rock. Joe Satriani shows up for a guitar duel on the B.B. King warhorse “Rock Me Baby” and a handful of songs are highlighted by the harmonica work of the late Norton Buffalo, who died shortly after this album was recorded. Another highlight is “Hey Yeah,” one of three songs penned by Austin’s Jimmie Vaughan. Singer Sonny Charles, apparently now a permanent part of the Steve Miller Band, lends some raw soul that Miller’s own white-boy singing can’t provide. Bingo! reminds me of that sanitized blues stuff Eric Clapton produced in the 1990s (From The Cradle, etc.) – not bad, not great but nowhere near the original stuff. So I guess Bingo! works for most everyone except the old-timers.
True to its title, Memphis Blues provides the setting for former pop princess Cyndi Lauper‘s excursion into the blues. Happily, Cyndi’s remarkable voice provides enough grit and character and variety to make Memphis Blues a worthwhile listen. Guest performers like B.B. King, Allen Toussaint, Ann Peebles and Charlie Musselwhite lend some muscle to the proceedings, and for the most part Lauper chooses more obscure songs which can help give a fresher feel to a project like this. Lauper’s voice cracks and gets a little shrill in places, but overall she manages to convey a genuine feeling for the music. The highlights include her duet with Ann Peebles on Muddy Waters’ “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” and “Early In The Mornin’,” with Allen Toussaint giving it a Crescent City swagger. I approached Cyndi’s cover of the Robert Johnson classic “Crossroads” (with guitarist Jonny Lang) with a little apprehension, but they manage to do something interesting instead of turning it into a joke. Not bad, Cyndi.
Rick Derringer shoots flames out of his guitar on The Three Kings of the Blues, where he covers songs by the three Kings – B.B., Freddie and Albert. Much of this territory has been covered before by other rockers, namely Eric Clapton, but Derringer gives fresh fire to classics like “Key To The Highway” and “Blues Power.” Derringer’s more of a shouter than a singer, and some his rough vocalizing resembles that of Rick’s old guitar saddlemate Johnny Winter. However, you are here for the guitar – and there’s plenty of it. If you are throwing a barbecue this July 4, The Three Kings of the Blues should definitely be on your playlist.
When Ozzy Osbourne and Black Sabbath emerged in the early 1970s, they used the blues as an anvil and guitar-heavy rock as the hammer. When those two forces collided, the sound it made was heavy metal. Ozzy’s still keeping the faith (or lack of faith, if you prefer) on Scream, his 10th studio album. And he still has the blues, it’s just so heavy … you know? The quality of Ozzy’s material took a bit of a nosedive when Zakk Wylde became the permanent replacement for fallen Randy Rhoads in 1988; now Wylde’s replacement is shredder Gus G. The new guitarist may yet be too green to offer more than generic riffing but his playing behind songs like the single “Let Me Hear You Scream” and the moody “Diggin’ Me Down” sounds all right to me. By this point, all of Ozzy’s albums sound pretty interchangeable; Scream does have a few radio-friendly tunes and it does fill the requirement of being something “new” to tour behind. I would suggest you pick up Scream only if you’re going to see Ozzy play live this year – otherwise, stick with his classics.