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Steve Gerard & The National Debonaires w/ James “Rock” Gray – Voodoo Workin’

Blue Edge Records

10 tracks; 30.52 minutes

This is the third CD from Steve Gerard and his band The National Debonaires, but this one has something special about it. Steve had relocated to Jackson MS in search of the roots of the real blues and there heard a local blues singer, James “Rock” Gray. Now in his seventies and a former friend of Sam Myers and Elmore James, James had never been recorded. In addition to that discovery, Steve managed to get Doug “Mr. Low” James to produce the horn parts in between his touring commitments with Jimmie Vaughan, so this recording has two former members of Roomful Of Blues on it, as Preston Hubbard is on bass. The rest of the band is Dwight Ross Jr. on drums, Mike “Shinetop Jr.” Sedovic on keys (recently with Trampled Under Foot on the LRBC), James on vocals and Steve on guitar. Greg Demchuk adds harmonica to one track.

The CD features three songs written by James and the remaining seven cuts were selected to suit his voice and style. The three originals are all soulful ballads. “One Of These Days” has swirling organ and plucked guitar underpinning James’ vocal. “Please Stay With Me”, a love song pleading for the girl to stay, adds saxes to the mix, a beautifully balanced tenor solo gracing the break. “Sweet Little Woman” opens with slow piano before the whole band joins in under James’ warm vocal extolling how wonderful his woman is. The horns are again spot on in support and another sax solo, this time on baritone, is the main solo feature.

The other seven tracks come from seven different authors. “Voodoo Workin’” comes from the pen of Charles Sheffield and is a lively opening track with strong organ and guitar accompaniment. “Michelle” is perhaps not the most frequently heard song by Willie Mabon and here comes across with more than a touch of New Orleans rhythm. In similar vein Fats Domino and Dave Bartholomew’s “My Girl Josephine” mines that NO groove, both tracks featuring Doug James’ excellent horn arrangements. Big Joe Turner is the source for “TV Mama” and is an opportunity for Steve to offer us his version of the Elmore James 12 bar riff as well as some fine piano playing from Mike Sedovic; plus, of course, that wonderful lyric about “my TV Mama, the one with the big wide screen”!

Ain’t Gonna Let Her Go” comes from the pen of Jimmy Anderson and features the harp playing of Greg Demchuk and the piano and organ, the horns sitting this one out. Big Jay McNeeley’s “There Is Something On Your Mind” particularly suits James’ voice, the horn arrangement acting like a comforting warm blanket wrapped around his vocals as he pleads with his girl to think of him. Steve Gerard also offers us a fine solo on guitar here. Nappy Brown’s “My Baby”, with its refrain of “Is you is, is you still my baby?” has something of a somber arrangement to close the CD.

James has an excellent voice, with a ‘lived-in’ quality that reflects his advanced age, but he remains clear and communicates all the material superbly. The CD is therefore essentially about James’ vocals, but the accompaniment is excellent and supportive, notably the horn arrangements from Doug James. My only complaint was that the CD was not longer – I can listen to this sort of music all day and night!

Reviewer John Mitchell is a blues enthusiast based in the UK. He also travels to the States most years to see live blues music.

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