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Lurrie Bell - The Devil Ain’t Got No Music

Aria B.G. Records

12 songs; 47:36 minutes; Splendid

Styles: Spiritual Lyrics set to Traditional Blues music; Gospel

Lurrie Bell: a book chapter has already been written about him. Next, an entire book could be written which would probably be followed by the movie. It’s about a tortured artist. It is a character study rich and real, gritty, sometimes incredibly sad yet ultimately uplifting, a survivor story – Lurrie’s story.

On the surface, his new CD is propelled by Bell’s legendary guitar work – equal parts emotion and creativity. A deeper understanding of Lurrie’s history will allow the listener to begin to understand the depth of from where he is coming. For those interested, start with David Whiteis’ “Chicago Blues: Portraits and Stories.” Son of famed Chicago harp master Carey Bell, Lurrie was born December 13, 1958 into both Blues music and chaos. A natural prodigy, Bell took up guitar at an early age. But, from the time he was seven years old until his early teens, he lived in Mississippi and Alabama with his grandparents. Bell’s Chicago music was married to their church music, which gave him a chance to learn Gospel beside his Blues. Upon returning to Chicago, he played with industry tops, like Koko Taylor, and was in the Sons of Blues with Billy Branch. His life and career have seen the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. For example, most of the 1980s were a lost decade of mental instability and drug abuse. Since 1989, he has released ten critically acclaimed solo CDs while dealing with the death of twin babies, his life partner, and his father, Carey. A lesser person would have succumbed, but it is Lurrie’s inner faith and music, both Gospel and Blues, that maintained him. Today, Bell is a steadily employed, highly in demand bluesman, playing several festivals this summer, touring the world, and touring with the “Chicago Blues: A Living History” band. Bell really had no choice; this CD had to come out.

Most of the CD consists of traditional Gospel songs and spirituals, and there are songs by Muddy Waters, Joe Louis Walker, Tom Waits, James Taylor, and producer Matthew Skoller, the title track. The album is neither pure Gospel nor is it a pure Blues record. It is a bare bones set which mainly features the amazing Bell on both vocals and acoustic guitar. Featured guests include Billy Branch, Kenny Smith, Bill Sims, Jr., Matthew Skoller, and Joe Louis Walker. “It’s blues, but it’s more gospel. I’m singing about the Lord,” Bell said in a recent Blues Blast Magazine cover story interview. “I’m singing some of the spirituals that I learned when I was living in the south with my grandparents down in Alabama. I wanted to revisit that whole scene on this new CD. ... to be able to do something for the Lord after all these years of playing the blues and going to all those countries and recording all this music … I just wanted to spend a little time and thank God for what he gave me.”

Album opener “Swing Low” may be a traditional song, but, typical of the entire CD, it doesn’t sound that way in Bell’s hands. With accompaniment from only Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith’s percussion and handclaps by Bill Sims Jr., Bell’s vocals are simultaneously ragged and confident. Joe Louis Walker appears on three songs with sweet acoustic slide licks, solos, and support behind Bell’s finger picking on “It’s A Blessing,” “Peace In The Valley,” and Walker’s original, “I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own.”

Muddy Waters’ Gospelized “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You” features Bell on forcefully convincing solo vocal and guitar – both strumming and tapping on the wooden body. There is a Chicago Blues feel to “Trouble In My Way” with a full band: Smith on drums, Billy Branch on harp, Josef Ben Israel on upright bass, and Mike Avery and James Teague on backing vocals.

To end the record, Bell recorded “Death Don’t Have No Mercy (A Meditation)” written by the legendary Reverend Gary Davis, both a Bluesman and a believer himself. This number is performed with just Bell on vocals and guitar. Here we find the essence of the entire album: this sad expression of inevitable demise is transformed by Bell into hearts for hope for our temporary days of living. His wrenched and wrought notes from his guitar are themselves a simply wonderful testimonial to the soul and creativity of this faithful survivor.

The Devil Ain’t Got No Music is a formidable achievement. Bell has been redeemed, and he may just bring a few close listeners with him.

Reviewer James "Skyy Dobro" Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ, Master of Ceremonies, and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show "Friends of the Blues" can be heard Saturdays 8 pm - Midnight on WKCC 91.1 FM and at in Kankakee, IL.

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