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Robson Fernandes Blues Band – Cool (Live Music, Brazil)

12 tracks - Time: 44:44

I was intrigued by this CD, Cool by the Robson Fernandes Blues Band, from the time I first received it for review from Blues Blast—because it came in the original mailing wrapper from São Paulo, Brazil. I knew Brazilian musicians were well established for excellence and innovation, as so amply demonstrated by bossa nova; and so I wondered, “What can Brazilians do also with the blues, this now universally admired and played, this now truly international, musical art form?”

What these particular four Brazilian musicians do is perform very compelling and convincing late 1950s Chicago blues in a way that is not only idiomatically correct enough to satisfy any critic, but also play them vibrantly and with soul. The Robson Fernandes Blues Band—Fernandes on vocals and amplified chromatic and Marine Band harp, Danilo Simi, guitar, Renato Limão, bass, and Victor Busquets, drums—are all accomplished musicians steeped in the music and knowledgeable of its playing. They form the solid musical core at the center of Cool, and are joined by three equally masterful guests: Marcos Ottaviano, guitar solos on tracks 2, 5 and 6; Troy Jennings, alto, tenor and baritone saxes on tracks 1, 2 and 6; and Ari Borger, piano on tracks 7 and 9.

Ottaviano and Simi dish up some truly tasty and accomplished guitar solos, with Jennings doing the same on tracks 1, 2 and 6, where the advantages of multi-tracking are fully utilized on the latter two tracks for a full multi-sax sound and use of multiple saxes for solos. Borger’s piano adds a positive emphasis to track 9, and on track 7, a rocking New Orleans-style cover of the Smiley Lewis/Dave Bartholomew tune, “Down The Road,” does a masterful job of incorporating Jerry Lewis glissandos, multiply-hit single high notes and piano exuberance into his solid blues playing. This, to me, is at the top of compliments I can give for piano playing, for I truly consider The Killer to be one of the greatest piano players ever in popular music, and once complimented Deanna Bogart by saying she sounded like Jerry Lee himself. “Is there any other?” she beamed back.

And certainly worthy of note is the driving, enthusiastic drumming of Victor Busquets, who embellishes his rhythmic pounding of the skins several times with a percussive clapping of the drumsticks together.

Of the 12 tracks on Cool, only three are covers—track 8, Little Walter’s “It Ain’t Right,” and two Smiley Lewis numbers: the above mentioned “Down The Road,” and the opening live track, “Big Mamou,” which Lewis co-wrote with Link Davis. The other nine are Robson Fernandes originals, with the five vocal numbers jointly written by him and his co-producer and engineer, Carlos Sander. Robson’s solo songwriting efforts are all instrumentals: the rhumba-beat second track, “Cool;” the fast sixth track, “Outside Out Rhumba;” the slow and ruminative track 9, “She’s Gone;” and the final track, “Low Stomp,” with Fernandes playing Sonny Boy Williamson II-style acoustic harp, complete with Williamson’s signature low-note guttural chords, accompanied only by Danilo Simi on acoustic guitar.

All the song lyrics are in English, which are articulated crisply and precisely, and thus easily understood. Moreover, Robson Fernandes’s singing of the English lyrics in his Portuguese accent adds an interesting timbre to his vocal sound. The five English-language vocal originals demonstrate a mastery of the Chicago blues lyrical content as well as an approach that is distinctive and not simply derivative. That does indeed hold for all five—track 2, “The Time That I Loved;” track 3, “Mean Old Girl;” track 5, “I Love You So,” which I discuss further below; “So Far Away,” a lament not of yearning but of indignation that his lover lives so far away; and “I Ain’t No Good.” These are excellent songs that any blues band would be proud to cover. I especially like the originality of the good bad boy portrayed in “I Ain’t No Good”:

You know, I ain’t no good, no
Till I get it done
You know, I ain’t no good, no
Till I get it done
I’m your good lovin’ baby
Let me show you some

I love to live my life, baby
Any way I can
I love to live my life, baby
Any way I can
Yes, need a good lookin’ woman
Who leaves me like I am

Fernandes plays excellent amplified harp solos on both chromatic and Marine Band throughout. While his basic harp style has been strongly influenced by the playing of Little Walter (but what modern harp player hasn’t been influenced by Little Walter’s definitive style?), he is his own original harpman as well, and frequently, with great effect, augments his basic playing with trills and runs, a technique that’s also notably used by Australian blues harp player Harper.

All of the songs are done as electric combo blues, with two exceptions—the above-mentioned instrumental, “Low Stomp,” and the vocal, “I Love You So.” “I Love You So” takes as its melody a slow-rhumba version of “Snatch It Back And Hold It,” the opening track on Junior Wells’s first album for Delmark, Hoodoo Man Blues. But the musical arrangement incorporates into it the classical string playing of Heitor Fujinami and Mauríco Takeda, violins, Abrahão Saraiva, viola, and Vitor Visoná, cello, making it reminiscent of B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone” as well.

In “Pontiac Blues” Sonny Boy Williamson II sang of driving his baby in that straight-eight Pontiac and turning on the radio to “dig the boys from the North,” who represented the epitome of good blues. Well, now we have some boys from the far, far, far South whose blues we can dig that way as well. So if you’re ever in São Paulo, Brazil and have a yearning for some Chicago blues, just look up the Robson Fernandes Blues Band. You’ll get an earful!

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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