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Liz Mandeville – Clarksdale

Blue Kitty Music 2012

11 tracks; 35.31 minutes

Liz Mandeville has been around on the Chicago scene for a number of years and has previously issued several CDs on Earwig records. This CD marks Liz’s return to recording. This released on Liz’s own label, an idea spawned from a conversation with Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith who offered to help Liz if she ‘did her own thing’ and set up her own label. In fact these are Willie’s final recordings before his untimely death last year. Willie plays harp on two tracks and drums on five. Darryl Wright plays bass on the same tracks as Willie, with piano added on two of those by Leandro Lopez-Varady. Eddie Shaw brings his roadhouse sax style to one track, Donna Herula (with whom Liz competed at this year’s IBC in the duo category) plays slide on three tracks. On one track Nick Moss plays guitar alongside Jim Godsey on bass and drums.

The opening track “Roadside Produce Stand” moves along nicely as Liz tells us about her ‘produce’ and invites anyone passing by to take a taste. It’s a good start to the album and the second track carries on well with the Jimmy Reed feel of “Mama And Daddy Blues”. Third track “No Fear/Everything” is done acappella which is a brave move but one that does not really work for me. Willie’s harp is featured on “Walking & Talking With You” which was one of the strongest tracks for me. Liz has the ability to change her voice for different songs and here she adopts a deeper voice which fits well with the music here. I was less convinced by “A Soldier’s Wife” which is just Liz and Donna Herula on guitars, a tale of the girl left behind when the soldier goes away to fight the war. I have no doubt that this is a well-intentioned song, possibly written with the US soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq in mind but the maudlin tone of the guitars does not work for me. I preferred “Bye Bye Blues”, another duo performance with Donna Herula with a lyric which was less ‘preachy’. The third duo tune is “Sand Baggin’”, one of those blues that discusses the problems of flooding in the Delta and works OK.

Clarksdale/Riverside Hotel Blues” reflects Liz’s visit to Clarksdale and her stay at that famous hotel during her recuperation from illness. It’s a blues with excellent rolling piano and Liz adopts a real blues singer sound to her vocals, a rough edge to her voice that fits the song well. “Sweet Potato Pie” is the most uptempo song in this collection, a risqué double entendre lyric which sits well alongside Eddie Shaw’s tough tenor work. “4:20 Blues” is a solo piece for Liz in which she explores some problematic contemporary, including corruption, medicare and government finances, none of which she sees as a good use of her taxes! The final track on the CD is “My Mama Wears Combat Boots”, something of a tribute to the women in the US Army. Nick Moss adds his distinctive guitar to this one and it is definitely one of the strongest tracks on the album.

I have fond memories of seeing Liz Mandeville playing the blues in The Hurricane bar at Marathon in the Florida Keys for a small but enthusiastic audience . I have continued to enjoy the CDs I bought that night.  I was looking forward to hearing this new CD. The CD clearly reflects several different recording sessions and styles. More of Liz singing her smart and sassy lyrics in a full band situation on the next recording please!

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 enjoyed the Tampa Bay Blues Festival in April.

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