Wednesday, October 20, 2010
Album Review: Mitch Woods, Gumbo Blues
Artist: Mitch Woods
Title: Gumbo Blues
On his tribute album to “Smiley Lewis and the pioneers of New Orleans Rhythm & Blues” piano player Mitch Woods employs the formidable talents of a terrific band to highlight a wonderful niche of American music. When we look at the many greats that emerged from the New Orleans market, the line of R n’ B piano players is long including; Professor Longhair, James Booker, Art Neville, Dr. John, Fats Domino and Allen Toussaint. It is an area of music that seems to define pure delight by immediately getting fingers and toes tapping. Much like Chuck Berry’s form of blues, the New Orleans R&B piano sound is easily digested and continues to lend its vibrancy to many contemporary players including; Bob Malone, Jon Cleary and Mitch Woods. When it comes down to technical definitions, this sound is firmly rooted in the blues BUT defies the form by being inherently danceable and overwhelmingly joyous.
The latest outing by Mitch Woods is clearly focused on this genre. Titled ‘Gumbo Blues’ Woods and band wheel through some of the genres finest covers including; ‘Lil’ Liza Jane’, ‘Blue Monday,’ ‘I Hear You Knockin’ and ‘Shame, Shame, Shame: ’ a veritable songbook of the legendary Dave Bartholomew. This is a terrific album albeit it all covers.
Throughout his career Woods has looked backwards for inspiration. His interpretations and arrangements are delightful but solidly retrospective. Like all of us, Woods and his band needs to eat – so his efforts to pull the artform forward may have earned less overt reward than this caliber of talent deserves. With a deep catalogue of albums out, Woods, like Taj Mahal, has defined himself as a credible progenitor and musicological preservationist of the first caliber. Unfortunately it is a choice that presents a set of challenges including lower levels of recognition and commercial reward. Radio programmers can virtually “drop the needle” on any track and elevate energy levels with sounds and textures that harkens to the very dawn of rock n’ roll while remaining true to the blues. If there is a god of music, than surely Mitch Woods will receive radio support if for no other reason than the music does the talking and it speaks well.