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Kelly Carmichael - Queen Fareena

Dogstreet Records

11 tracks Total time: 42:18

Kelly Carmichael’s second CD, Queen Fareena, is a rollicking, feel-good romp of traditional blues and rags played old-timey with Carmichael on vocals, guitar and six-string banjo, and accompanied by two assortments of musicians. All tracks are accompanied by the rhythm section of Jean-Paul Gaster, drums, and Johnny “Lawless” Ray Carroll, upright bass, drums and bass having become de rigueur on folk recordings since the mid-1960s, and they add a positive, contemporary touch. The addition of Alexander Mitchell’s fiddle and Brian Simms’s accordion to Carmichael’s guitar and banjo provide an old-timey string band flavor, while the combination of Scott Rich’s trumpet and John McVey’s trombone give their tracks a strong Dixieland-1920s jazz emphasis. This old-timey musical flavor informs the first 10 tracks throughout, while the last track, Blind Boy Fuller’s “Untrue Blues,” is more a traditional guitar blues with trombone and trumpet accompaniment.

Queen Fareena’s 11 tracks are comprised of nine traditional rags and blues, with two Carmichael originals that hew to the lyrical phrasing and musical styles of traditional music. The title track, track 7, Carmichael’s “Queen Fareena,” is a tale of a brothel steamboat filled with “black girls, white girls, high yaller and China girls” that plies the waters “from Chicago to Louisian-ay.” Carmichael plays six-string banjo here, with Brian Simms accompanying him on accordion, and the song is replete with “All aboard!” come-on calls from the ship’s captain, and ends with a calliope fade of Irving Berlin’s “Blues Skies” punctuated by a steamboat whistle. This brothel-steamboat theme is further augmented by Kelly Carmichael’s artwork portrayal of scantily clad women for the inside cover and CD tray of the sleeve jacket.
The other Carmichael original, track 9, “Booker Blues,” is based on a true story of someone he knew, a marijuana dealer named Lightning Booker, who ended up serving ten years in prison. This “old ragweed blues,” played again on banjo, only with horns this time, and with a vocal chorus, begins with a marching-beat drum call and has a few ironic things to say about that ever-popular weed not only having been around for a long time, but also that arresting people for it only overcrowds prisons.

The nine traditional songs are an engaging potpourri of material that feature two songs from Mississippi John Hurt and Rev. Gary Davis. Hurt’s “Richland Women Blues” is the opening track, with Carmichael on banjo accompanied by Alexander Mitchell’s fiddle and Brian Simms’s accordion. Hurt is again featured on track 5, the familiar “Salty Dog,” that begins with the contemporary-jazz interplay of Jean-Paul Gaster’s drums and “Lawless” Carroll’s upright bass, then moves effortlessly into a musical accompaniment featuring guitar with the trumpet of Scott Rich and the trombone of John McVey. Their tandem Dixieland-1920s jazz horns are featured on six of the old-timey tracks, with several trumpet solos throughout, and with McVey adding a deep second-voice accompaniment with his trombone.

One of the two Rev. Gary Davis numbers is the vocal on track 2, “She’s Funny That Way,” also featuring Carmichael on banjo with the horns of Rich and McVey, and is a very jazz-like arrangement, with a shift from medium-tempo in the body of the song to a fast-tempo ending, and scat singing from Carmichael. The other Davis track, track 4, is the instrumental “Cincinnati Flow Rag,” again with horns and banjo, and with Kelly Carmichael augmenting this playing with his first-ever playing of a bell kit, a xylophone-like instrument.

Carmichael plays guitar and percussive bones on Queen Fareena’s other instrumental, the ever-popular “Guitar Rag,” track 8, which he adapts from the version by the tune’s co-author, Sylvester Weaver. This instrumental is done as an old-timey string band rag, with Carmichael on guitar accompanied by Alexander Mitchell’s fiddle and Brian Simms’s accordion. Carmichael plays slide guitar on track 3, Robert Johnson’s “Last Fair Deal Goin’ Down,” accompanied by Mitchell’s fiddle, with both guitar and fiddle solos.

Track 6, “Come On Boys Let’s Do That Messin' Around” is adapted from the version by Blind Arthur Blake, and is done as a jazz rag on banjo with horns, and features Carmichael again singing scat. Track 10, “Terrible Operation Blues,” is a humorous double-entendre number from the 1920s adapted from the version by Big Bill Broonzy and Georgia Tom, and again features Carmichael’s banjo with Rich’s and McVey’s horns, and with Carmichael singing the woman’s asides in a falsetto voice.

All 11 tracks on Queen Fareena sound as though all the players really had fun doing them, and altogether, Queen Fareena is a really fun CD to listen to.

Reviewer George Fish lives in Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr, and writes a regular music column, “Blues and More” for the online Bloomington (IN) Alternative. He’s also published in the regional Indiana blues and alternative presses as well as Living Blues and Blues Access, and wrote the notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has also published on blues and pop music for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy, as well as the online Political Affairs and MRZine.

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