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Terry Garland & Li’l Ronnie - Live at the Canal Club

EllerSoul Records

11 tracks

Total time: 48:36

When the folk music craze hit young white youth in the late 1950s-early 1960s, the blues interest naturally was in the acoustic country blues. Interest in, and later dominant appeal of, the electric blues didn’t come until the mid-late 1960s, when new approaches to rock had opened up blues fans’ ears. But back during the folk music-craze era, one could hear a lot of great acoustic blues songs and performers in coffeehouses, small clubs, and on college campuses. Terry Garland and Li’l Ronnie’s Live at the Canal Club is a harkening back to that time; but it’s also an update, for the later interest in electric blues brought forth what’s also here, electric blues songs adapted for acoustic playing. There are six such direct entries on this CD: Lloyd Price’s 1959 rock/R&B version of the traditional “Stagger Lee” (track 2); two Jimmy Reed numbers, “Upside Your Head” (track 3) and “It’s A Sin” (track 7); Willie Dixon’s “Crazy Mixed Up World” (track 10); the Terry Garland original, “Dude Boy Boogie” (track 11); and Muddy Waters’s early “Can’t Be Satisfied,” which he played as a country blues on the electric guitar (track 5). All of these are appropriately arranged as acoustic blues, which entails a lot more than simply playing electric licks on an acoustic guitar, and are sung and played masterfully by guitarist Garland, with excellent accompanying second-position acoustic harp by Li’l Ronnie. In this category could also be included “Bettin’ On My Baby” (track 6), and the ruminative, philosophical “Life’s Changes” (track 9), numbers that could be an acoustic adaptations of what were originally original electric blues by Li’l Ronnie (aka Ronnie Owens), with vocal honors on both, as well as the vocal on “Crazy Mixed Up World.” Three vocals in all, which are just as strong and powerful as Garland’s seven—and that’s saying a lot.

Terry Garland’s acoustic slide and regular guitar are masterful, deeply embedded in the traditional country and Delta playing tradition. But L’il Ronnie’s second-position harmonica playing is especially spectacular, drawing on influences from country masters such as Sonny Terry and Hammie Nixon, as well as the more citified acoustic playing of both Sonny Boy Williamsons. His harp playing is always in the groove, whether accompanying or playing solos, and he certainly shows that there are variegated ways of dynamically rendering the train chugging sound and the waving-hand wah-wah effect. Most properly a Hohner endorsee, L’il Ronnie is definitely a master of the acoustic blues harp with his own style of playing, something he demonstrates on each of the nine tracks where he does solos. This positive expertise is also shown on his original country blues instrumental, “Think Big” (track 8), and also in the way he uses the Hohner Super 64 Chromatic acoustically on “Crazy Mixed Up World.” L’il Ronnie also alternates Jimmy Reed-style high notes with lower note playing modeled after the two Sonny Boys on “Life’s Changes.”

Not only does Li’l Ronnie appropriately back Garland’s vocals, Terry Garland does the same on Li’l Ronnie’s. Both these players are thoroughgoing professionals, knowing when to accompany, and when to solo, and also knowing you don’t do both at the same time! Which makes the duo of Terry Garland and Li’l Ronnie properly an ensemble, not a mismatch of two competing egos—an important part of the self-evident chemistry that graces this release’

Terry Garland’s also composed and plays here two traditionally-influenced blues songs of stormy weather, the opening track’s “Hard Weather” and track 4, ‘Trouble On The Way.” As blues fans know, the traditional country blues was quite diverse thematically, and dealt with a considerable amount more than just sex and sexual relations. Garland has also added verses to “Stagger Lee” and ‘”Can’t Be Satisfied,” especially one raucously lascivious verse to “Can’t Be Satisfied” which he sings appropriately matter-of-fact.

All of which sums up this CD as an excellent contemporary acoustic blues CD that harkens back to both the white acoustic blues re-creators of the 1960s and the original black country blues players who recorded in the 1920s and 1930s. The only drawback I found while listening is that Li’l Ronnie’s harp accompaniment is under-miked on tracks 1 and 2. Of special interest for the acoustic harp aficionado will be the brief reference on the bottom of the sleeve notes on what harmonicas Li’l Ronnie used and how he miked his harps for this recording.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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