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Blind Willie’s - “Live at Blind Willie’s, Volume 1” (Big Bender Records)

One of America’s finest blues venues, Blind Willie’s in Atlanta, has decided to release its first volume in a series of live CD recordings of their most frequent artists. In an era where too much of our musical experience gets decompressed into MP3 audio quality; edited to death in Pro-Tools systems, and presented by singers on one coast recording to tracks created on another coast, this album shows what music is all about: real emotion and interplay between human beings.

Doing a fine job in capturing the subtleties of a live show on record, “Live at Blind Willie’s, Volume 1” lets us in on the interactions of three outstanding female blues singers, a backup band in top form, and an audience giving the energy back with all of their collective enthusiasm. The Atlanta-native vocalists Sweet Betty, Sandra Hall, and Chicago-based Francine Reed treat us to four songs each, mostly backed up in a good old, heavy riffin’ blues style with trusty old standard blues forms. But so much life is injected into these songs, it almost feels like you’re hearing the blues for the first time, and that’s a rare sensation.

The 4-piece band features stellar performances especially by drummer Mark Yarbrough and guitarist Kenny Kilgore, who is expectedly able to play your down and dirty slide guitar at times, but really surprises you with beautifully tasty jazz blues fills in standards like “All Of Me” (with Sweet Betty) and “Since I Fell For You” (Francine Reed.) The latter song is my personal favorite of the album, as Reed’s vocal phrasing, sheer emotion, and captivating bluesy grit molded with a true command of jazz melody really hit a soft spot. But all three of these singers possess serious chops and a gift for emoting through their deep altos that’ll send most wanna-be blues singers home to keep practicing. Highly recommended.

Reviewer Nikki O’Neill is a singer, songwriter and guitar player in Los Angeles. She fronts the Nikki O’Neill Band – a soul, r&b and rock band.  She's included in Sue Foley’s upcoming book “Guitar Woman,” featuring a who’s-who list of great players like Bonnie Raitt, Ana Popovic, Me’shell Ndegeocello, Jennifer Batten, and more.

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