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Grady Champion - Shanachie Days

GSM Music Group

www.gradychampion.com

17 Tracks; 68:55

Grady Champion is a former boxer who started out in music as a rapper and gradually discovered the blues. In 2010, Grady won the International Blues Challenge and was nominated  for 3 Blues Music Awards this year. His independently produced 1998 disc Goin' Back Home was noticed by Shanachie, a label known for roots and blues reissues. That resulted in Grady recording two albums for the label. Shanachie Days draws tracks from both 1999's Payin' For My Sins and 2001's Two Days Short Of A Week.

This CD shows all facets of Grady Champion’s talent, from his personal, skillful songwriting to his formidable harmonica playing, to his powerful and emotive vocal delivery. The disc opens with barn-burning rocker “Brother, Brother.” It’s got tough, terse chords and fiery guitars with Grady’s raspy tenor turning up the power of his plea. “Let Me Be” is another scorcher with hot guitars, sparkling piano and a deep shuffle groove. There is something for everyone in this collection which is stacked with Soul, Funk, Roots, Rock and Blues. “You Got Some Explaining To Do” has swirls of B3, funky bass, and punchy horns. “Policeman Blues” features a sweet urban soul sound which belies the racial troubles of the lyrics and mistreatment at the hands of over-zealous and violent police officers. “My Rooster Is King” borrows structurally from “Wang Dang Doodle” but unlike its predecessor’s build up in the verse and release in the chorus, “My Rooster Is King” falls a bit short, maintaining a singular tempo and never really reaching a true crescendo of release.

The release of pain is prevalent in the old-style “Roberta.” Its plaintive wail and plodding shuffle make you feel the despair, desire and desolation while Grady pines for Roberta and urges her to come on home. “Troubled Mind” has percolating drums, and howling vocals crying out the blues with lonesome harmonica layered and intertwined with a grating slide guitar screeching and whistling like a storm of confusion in that troubled mind. Grady Champion has been lauded as a harmonica disciple of Sonny Boy Williamson II and while he doesn’t quite live up to Rice Miller’s standards on these early recordings, his playing is enjoyable and enhances many of the songs and takes the focus on a few too. The oddly named “Children Of The Corn” features Grady’s harp and he plays his heart out for the children. I still can’t figure out why a song about kids and guns is titled that way, but stranger things have happened in the blues, like when Grady starts rapping in the middle of “Policeman Blues.” I like blues without the rapping; I’ve always been that way.

This collection is very enjoyable, but with the range of styles on the disc it can seem somewhat unfocused. It is certainly diverse and runs the gamut of blues and Grady Champion’s voice and lyrics sell every song. I haven’t heard Grady’s original Shanachie recordings but I definitely have to track them down now.

Reviewer Jim Kanavy is the greatest guitar player in his house. He has been reviewing albums in his head for 30 years and in print since 2008, and is deeply committed to keeping the blues alive and thriving. For more information visit http://jimkanavy.com.

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