Reba Russell Band - Bleeding Heart
“I hate to say that I’m a bleeding heart liberal or anything, but I am a child of the 1960s. ...I just don’t like war, you know. ‘What we do to each other IS what we do to ourselves’ – everybody I admire has said that: Jesus, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, a lot of people, and I just believe that. ...I want everybody to get along and love each other!
...it’s just a confusing world to live in. So, the only thing I know to do is just to make my music and say what I can say trying not to hurt anybody – at all. I’m just trying to make a few people feel better ...or be happier, you know. That’s all I can do!” Reba Russell, August 30, 2006.
These quotes come from an extensive interview my radio show co-host D’Arcy “Shuffle Shoes” Ballinger and I did with Memphis music maven Reba Russell. The interview revealed Reba to be sincere with straight forward honesty. She was less pretentious than any artist I have ever interviewed or met!
Two years later, that sincerity and honesty have manifested as the album title to the Reba Russell Band’s powerful new CD, “Bleeding Heart.” Uniquely, there is no song track with that title, nor will one find those two words in any song. Track 4, “Love Is The Cure” does contain her heartfelt beliefs: “I love Muslims, I love Jews, I love Christians and Hindus ... I want to love everybody like I love you. ... Love is the cure for everything. (guitar solo) I hate war, I hate pain, I hate greed and murder the same ... Love is the cure for everything. ... Well, call me a hippie – a socialist Dawes; say my mind is melted, my intellect dust. I’ll still quote Jesus and like Martin Luther King ‘cause Love is the Cure for everything!” The chorus has amazing harmony backup vocals by Reba herself and The Masqueraders (Jackie Johnson, Susan Marshall, Harold Thomas, and Sam Hutchin).
People should not get the wrong idea here about Reba notes Ballinger, “She’s not a push over. You won’t fool her with [temporary] kindness. For proof, check out track 7, ‘Some People.’
What a contrast, and it’s realistic to sing, ‘Some people need to be remembered; some people need to be forgot.’ That catchy line has been stuck in my head for weeks.”
Indeed, beyond that fourth track, the album contains a variety of interesting songs. For long time fans, this is not the same CD as last time. The album portrays the person and the band and the different sides of both. The band consists of Reba’s long time mentor turned lover turned husband Wayne Russell – bass, Robert “Nighthawk” Tooms – keyboard and harp, Josh Roberts – guitars, and Doug McMinn (son of Memphis’ Don McMinn) – drums. It was recorded at Jim Dickinson’s Zebra Ranch in Independence MS and co-produced by “BEB” partner Dawn Hopkins and Reba.
“I like to call the album ‘nasty,’ and I mean that in a good way,” said Shuffle Shoes. “Robert ‘Nighthawk’ Tooms has always had a gritty sound that translates on to the band. There’s a complete variety of songs. They took a long hiatus to write, and it’s paid off. Each record gets stronger and stronger. When they come out of the gate strong, that means this one is nasty!”
“Red Mississippi Clay” is that “strong” opener. Starting with Josh Roberts’ Delta electric slide and Nighthawk’s harp, the story reveals the harsh share-croppers failure at trying to grow enough cotton in Mississippi.
Even more powerful is a shiver-sending number, “Levee Prayer,” written by guest guitarist and frequent blues fest partner Jimmy Thackery. The Delta flood plain resident protagonist has “one foot on the levee and one in the grave” as flood waters have taken away absolutely everything he valued. In one hand he has a Bible, the other a gun. Will desperation lead to his perceived sin of suicide?
For love songs, there are “Memphis Moon Tonight,” “Miss Me,” “To Know You,” and set closer “Sleepless Nights Alone.” For a lost-love song, there’s “High Price” written by Delta Joe Sanders.
For fun there is the double meaning of “12 Bar Blues.” Done musically as a 12 bar blues, here is the headachy, hangover story of a night of drinking in 12 different bars. Our heroine recounts from fuzzy memory just what happened. She can not remember the 12th bar at all, but there’s proof she “was there” because “the owner just called me up – said he found my monogrammed _?_!” So as not to spoil the surprise, you’ll have to get the album to find out exactly what he found.
For real-deal blues, try the CD’s only cover, Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days” and “Blues Is Mine” which begins, “I’m not privileged; I’m not rich, but I am one hell of a best bitch....”
Simply, for exceptional quality music, long time fans and newcomers alike should allow Reba’s “Bleeding Heart” into your heart. You’ll feel rewarded – guaranteed!
Reviewer James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL