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Diunna Greenleaf – Trying To Hold On

Blue Mercy Records

14 tracks; 58.04 minutes

Diunna Greenleaf won the IBC in 2005 with her band Blue Mercy. Since then she has continued to operate out of her home base in Houston and has made a lot of good friends in the blues community, not least Bob Margolin who often sits in with Diunna’s band and Bob Corritore who produced some of the tracks here.

This CD is made up of three distinct recording sessions: six tracks were produced by Bob Corritore in Tempe, Arizona; three tracks were produced by Anson Funderburgh in Austin, Texas; three tracks were recorded and produced by Diunna herself in Houston. The two other tracks are one from a 2009 session in Salina, Kansas and a home recording of Diunna’s 102 year old grandmother singing acappella. However, whatever the session, Diunna’s gospel-soaked voice is the dominant force here and the variety of contexts all work for her.

The six Bob Corritore-produced tracks are at the core of the CD, so let’s start with those. Four are Diunna’s compositions. Drums are played on all those tracks by Chuck Cotton; Mookie Brill plays upright bass on two, Patrick Rynn electric bass on three; Chris James plays guitar on two tracks, Bob Margolin on five; John Rapp adds slide guitar to one track and Bob Corritore harp on four tracks.

“Be For Me” opens the CD at a gentle pace, Diunna’s voice clear as a bell over the warm double bass, guitar and harp. “Growing Up And Growing Old” is one of the longer tracks on the disc and is a gentle poem about the aging process, about how that process is one to be welcomed, not feared. Diunna’s lyrics on the great stomper “I Can’t Wait” are about the joy of playing and listening to the blues and the accompaniment certainly backs that up, with Bob Corritore’s harp to the fore, ably supported by some of Bob Margolin’s Muddy-styled slide playing.

Title track “Tryin’ To Hold On”, with its catchy chorus, is also from the Bob C sessions though Bob sits this one out, leaving the featured playing to the twin guitars of Bob M and Chris James. “I’m A Little Mixed Up”, from the pen of Betty James, is another upbeat track with Bob C wailing on harp and the twin guitars both featuring well behind Diunna’s Koko Taylor inspired vocal. The final track from the Bob C sessions is an acappella version of the traditional song “He Is Everything To Me” sung by Diunna. This follows a homespun recording of Diunna’s 102 year old grandmother singing the same tune which Diunna wanted to include to demonstrate the strong family links in her singing.

The three tracks produced by Anson Funderburgh are all terrific. Diunna wrote all three and Anson plays guitar on two of them, with Smokin’ Joe Kubek replacing him on the third. The rest of the Austin band is Wes Starr on drums, Johnny Bradley on bass, “Gentleman” John Street on keys and Ron Jones on sax. “Sunny Day Friends” takes its title from a remark made by the late Sam Myers that you need to watch out for those who only want to be your friends when things are going well. It’s a typical piece of Texas blues and it is always a joy to hear Anson’s clean guitar lines. “I Got A Notion To Leave” is not dissimilar, an upbeat shuffle with busy piano underpinning Anson’s guitar. “Taking Chances” is a slower, more intense piece, with Joe Kubek’s strong guitar ably supported by Ron Jones’ baritone sax.

The three self-produced tracks all feature Vernon Daniels on drums and Joshua Preslar on bass (doubling up on guitar on two tracks). Jonn Del Toro Richardson on guitar, Billy Branch on harp and Rich Del Grosso on mandolin each play on one track. “Beautiful Hat” is led by Del Grosso’s mandolin, a jaunty gospel song about what to wear when reaching heaven – a large, beautiful hat for Diunna! “You Don’t Feel That Way About Me” is more secular, a catchy tune with lyrics expressing how all powerful love can be – unfortunately Diunna’s lover is not similarly devoted and the relationship must end. “’Cause I’m A Soldier” is a co-write between Diunna and John Del Toro Richardson, a serious song and the longest cut on the CD. The song is slow-paced and talks tellingly about the sacrifices needed to ensure peace and freedom. Jonn Richardson’s guitar is beautifully counterpoised against Billy Branch’s mournful harp and marching drums. The 2009 track is a cover of Jimmy McCracklin’s “Double Dealing”, an opportunity to hear more of Jonn Richardson’s fine playing in a tougher style, ably supported by the rhythm section of Preslar and Daniels.

This is a fine CD with a lot to enjoy, with great playing and, above all, plenty of Diunna Greenleaf’s great voice. Recommended!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music and is currently planning his trip to the Blues Blast Awards in October.

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