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Jumpin’ Jack Benny – I’ll Be Alright

Boppin Records 2011    &

11 tracks; 52.37 minutes

Jumpin’ Jack Benny is a band from Los Angeles and this is their first CD although all members are veteran blues players having between them played with Little Milton, WAR, James Cotton and Bo Diddley. Interesting name for a band – I assume that the ‘Jumpin’ epithet is intended to distinguish them from the late comedian... Anyway, what we have here is a quintet: Benny Cortez on vocals and harp, Tony Fingers on guitar, Eric Tice on drums, Mike Stover on bass and Kirk Nelson on keys. A number of other musicians play on some tracks, presumably as deps for the usual players. Benny and Tony are the main songwriters with five songs and another original which includes a credit for the rhythm section. Nine of the tracks are studio recordings and there are two ‘bonus’ live tracks at the end of the CD.

The CD opens with a strong cover of “I Don’t Believe” which is erroneously credited to Ronnie Earl and Darrell Nulisch. Whilst Ronnie and the Broadcasters may well have covered the song it is definitely the Don Robey/M Charles song made famous by Bobby Bland in the 1950s. The band’s version is a fine start to the CD with guitar and harp to the fore before Benny sings the familiar lyric in a strong, clear voice. Three originals follow: “Tell Me Please” starts with an insistent drum beat before guitar, harp and organ enter the fray, the harp/organ combo giving the impression of a horn section. Guest backing vocalist Betsy Villasenor adds a touch of soul and the whole track is impressive. “Let Your Love Go” keeps up the pace as Benny’s harp is featured over a Stones-type riff. Guitarist Tony Fingers takes a solo which is double-tracked over his rhythm riff. CD title track “I’ll Be Alright” is the one on which four of the band are credited and it’s another up-tempo rocker with a catchy chorus and another short but tasty guitar solo.

The pace is reduced a little for the beginning of “Mean Woman Blues” from the pen of Brother Red (James Achor). Starting as a slow blues with the guitar prominent, the tune hots up and swings along with lots of organ and an impassioned vocal about the traditional ‘guy loses love of his life’ theme. A funky riff on guitar is at the heart of “Find A Fool”, a Denise LaSalle tune which the band have found from Koko Taylor. “Big Woman Blues” has plenty of harp and slide guitar and is the longest cut on the album. Benny is on the lookout for a lady of ample proportions: “I need a big woman to make love to. I don’t want no skinny woman, a little thing, I’d break her right in two”. Oprah is name-checked as one of those that might work for Benny! “Take Time Out To Hear Some Blues” sounds like a slogan we should all adopt in these difficult times for live music but is in fact a George Jackson song once recorded by Little Milton. The band takes a funky approach to the tune and does a good job on it. The final studio track is another original entitled “Party’s On”, another funky tune with strong organ accompaniment.

The two live tracks were both recorded in California. The first, “One More Song”, is a track from the Smokin’ Joe Kubek/Bnois King 1995 album “Cryin’ For The Moon”. Introduced as a funky blues, it lives up to that statement well. The live sound is good and, apart from a little audience noise/applause at the end of the track, it is difficult to separate the live from the studio tracks in terms of quality. Album closer “You Got Yours I Got Mine” is another original and a real swinging end to the album. Indeed, from the name and West coast base of the band I had expected the album to be more like this track than the rockier approach that is generally adopted, good though that approach is.

I would imagine that Jumpin’ Jack Benny is a great live band. This CD should introduce them to a wider audience and deserves to do well.

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK.  He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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