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The Blues Broads

Delta Groove

CD 10 tracks; 44.21 minutes: DVD 11 tracks; 51.38 minutes.

Originating in occasional concerts when Tracy Nelson was on the West Coast, the ‘Blues Broads’ developed into the current project. On November 11 2011 Tracy Nelson, Angela Strehli, Dorothy Morrison and Annie Sampson took to the stage at the Throckmorton Theatre in Mill Valley, California with a band including ‘honorary broad’ Deanna Bogart on piano, sax and vocals (apparently Deanna was deemed too young to be a real ‘broad’), Steve Ehrmann on bass, Paul Revelli on drums, Gary Vogensen on guitar and Mike Emerson on keys. The results are now available on this CD/DVD package. The CD contains ten tracks which also appear, in a slightly different running order, on the DVD, which also has an extended version of Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”.

For anyone who is not familiar with all these vocalists, Tracy Nelson started out with Charlie Musselwhite in Chicago and then moved west to found Mother Earth. Since then she has recorded in blues and country fields. Angela Strehli started out booking acts at Antone’s in Texas and ended up performing herself. Based in the Bay area since the start of the 1990’s, Angela has released several solo albums. Dorothy Morrison is a renowned gospel singer and was the lead vocalist on the Edwin Hawkins Singers’ worldwide smash “Oh Happy Day”. Annie Sampson was in the original production of “Hair” and a founder member of Stoneground and has been an active performer on music and theatre stages.

For the purposes of this review I shall use the DVD running order. “Livin’ The Blues” is Tracy Nelson’s song and she shares the lead with Angela Strehli. However, as soon as the four vocalists combine on the chorus you appreciate the value of the Broads’ collaboration. Next up is Annie Sampson’s “Bring Me Your Love”, a great piece of soul on which Deanna Bogart straps on her sax to add to the Memphis feel of the song – definitely a stand-out track for this reviewer! Dorothy Morrison then reprises Ike and Tina’s “River Deep, Mountain High” which is a daring thing to do, given the spectacular Phil Spector production of the original. However, this band acquits itself magnificently and Dorothy brings a special flavor to the lead vocal. Oliver Sain’s “Walk Away” is a slow blues with superb guitar and organ accompaniment to Tracy’s vocals.

There is then a double feature for Angela Strehli on her own compositions. “Two Bit Texas Town” is autobiographical, an upbeat account of a young person looking for fun in a small place and discovering the blues, a song which Angela performs solo with more superb accompaniment from the band. In contrast Angela’s “Blue Highway” provides a great opportunity for Angela, Tracy and Dorothy to harmonize. Deanna then sings lead on “It Won’t Be Long” (McFarland/Leslie), a song once performed by Britain’s Dusty Springfield. Here it’s a vehicle for some fast-paced gospel shouting from the Broads and some fine singing and boogie piano playing by Deanna, who adds at the end that “next time we’ll do it twice as fast”! Annie Sampson is solo on the Dylan song and it’s a great version too, with Gary Vogensen plucking lovely chords beneath Mike Emerson’s beautiful organ before Deanna solos magnificently on saxophone at the heart of the song. Annie then steps forward to sing the final verse without microphone, accompanied just by bass drum. The song is a tour de force all round and I find it odd that it was omitted from the CD version.

Everyone is back on stage for the final three songs. The Spinners’ “Mighty Love” is a fine slab of catchy Philly soul before the four singers are joined by Deanna on the accappella “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget”. The full band returns for the finale, inevitably “Oh Happy Day” which includes a short opportunity for audience participation: “I think they know this one”, smiles Dorothy who is clearly loving the moment.

Generally I am not a huge fan of music DVDs, feeling that the music can make its own case for attention without the visuals. However, this is an exception as the DVD does bring an additional element to the appreciation of the performance, as well as allowing us to hear (and see) the great version of “Baby Blue”. If any of this music has touched you over the years, do not hesitate, just go out and buy it!

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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