Monday, November 19, 2012

Ron Tanski Dragged You Down


I bet I’m not the only night person listening to the blues. Or reading this blog. We love the night for various reasons; I am energized by the twilight and sail through the night, but it takes several cups of coffee to get me through the typical day. I have to get up early to take care of things around the house, and then lock myself in my office to get the day’s writing and research done.

It takes a lot to keep up with things for Time For The Blues. And even when the Professor isn’t spending time in front of a classroom, I’m always looking at new things and searching for new artists. I found gravel voiced piano virtuoso Ron Tanski when he sent us a copy of his CD Dragged You Down a while back.

I liked it and we played a few sides on a show dedicated to piano blues and then tucked it on the shelf intending to get back to it, and finding ourselves swamped in work and various other projects. Sorry Ron, and I am looking forward to CD number two. (That’s a big hint, in case you’re wondering…)

Anyway, the other night, I was closing up the Juke Joint by myself, and I was looking for something a little different for background music. Sometimes, I just like the quiet, and on this early frost night, Tanski seemed to be just the right fit.

The 12-track CD (all songs were written by Tanski), is a stripped down affair, with Tanski’s piano being the dominant instrument. He sometimes veers into jazz territory, but mostly stays rooted in the blues. His voice is reminiscent of a breathy Tom Waits and the combination just proved to be a great match for this particular lonely night.

The bouncy swinging boogie woogie of the opening track Marvelous Night for the Blues is fun, but don’t get snookered into thinking this is just another fun jump CD. The album will veer off into darker territory, but this opener wakes you up and makes you take notice. Henry and I even discussed using this as a theme song for a couple of other projects we’ve worked on.

Immediately we move into the darker ballad, Never Have Another Chance With You, which features Karl Grossman on guitar. The plaintive picking adds a feeling of distance to this sad emotional song. It’s one of my favorites on the CD, and anytime I play it, I stop whatever else I’m doing and listen.

Don’t Leave continues the sad searching feeling. Lost love is one of the most powerful ingredients that make up a true artist. Sacrifices are made for art, and that often includes friends and family. It’s what drives us to go further and deeper with the art. Sounds like somebody cut Tanski deeply and the results are these songs.

Tanksi moves into a more poetic mode with Corner Booth, this is close to Waits territory, the tune takes second place to story, and the music just accentuates the darkness. This should be called Blues Noir for the images it conjures.

By now, I’ve completely abandoned trying to run the night’s figures and I pull up a stool and just listen, letting the sounds wrap around me. I’ve completely surrendered to the night, and it’s like I’m hearing the album for the first time.

Then comes one of the greatest titles in either blues or country music, Where Were You When I Was Still Cheatin’? and once again, I’m wrapped up in the story and the images. “I see you looking at me/Through the bottom of the glass.” There’s some guitar work that adds to the mood, but I can’t identify the player.

The title track, Dragged You Down, features some guitar work from Andrew Hiestand and drums by Noah Tanksi. It’s a loud raucous number that adds a little bounce to the dark lyrics. A very solid side.

The piano is back in a big way on Broken, and we’re back to his theme of lost love. Hiestand’s guitar is soft in the beginning, but builds in intensity with some nice fireworks throughout. It adds a nice counterpoint to the song.

Down To The River is another wonderful evocative song. He’s used lots of water imagery up to now (Holy water, washed in tears, and now a river) and this song is kind of frightening with the depths of pain he’s bringing to the surface. It’s fascinating to listen to, and I must confess I missed a lot of this the first time I listened to the CD.

So soon after Hurricane Sandy, I wasn’t in much of a mood to listen to any songs named after natural disasters, but I’m glad I made an exception for Hurricane Boogie. This side is an excellent hard driving honky tonking boogie woogie instrumental that shows off his talent for rhythm and invention.

Cookieman is a fun ballad. “They call me the Cookieman/Cause Cookie is what I love to eat.” No kids, we’re not talking about that big blue Muppet here, but a guy describing what he loves. It’s a little over the top, but somehow sweet.

Sun Don’t Shine starts out with a lovely opening and the song develops nicely. Again there is some nice guitar work that sounds like Grossman, but I’m not sure if it’s him. Even though this isn’t a hearts and flower song, you know that the guy who has been hurt so badly is starting to come back. Maybe it’s a song of quiet resignation, or moving on. Either way, it’s a notable shift in direction.

Finally the sentiments of Thank You show a man grateful for those who have helped him through the darkness of the soul. His voice is perfectly suited for this number; ragged, soft and humble, he knows that he has been helped and he is thankful for that. A great ending to a very underrated album.

After the last chord had echoed off the juke box, I quickly fixed up the paperwork and locked up the Juke Joint. A full moon hung low over the trees and I watched a couple of shooting starts that pointed me home and the place where Mrs. Professor was waiting for me.

Sometimes it takes darkness to make us appreciate the light. If you don’t have this CD, go looking for it. It’s a great addition to anyone’s collection and we’re putting it into the juke box for future play. Next time you’re in, ask for it.

Ron Tanski’s music is available on iTunes and Amazon. To find out more about him, his music, and his tour dates, please visit http://www.rontanskimusic.com/Site/Ron_Tanski_Music.html.  And if you catch him at a show, tell him the Professor is waiting for the next one.

(Photo pilfered from the web. If you’re the copyright holder and want us to take it down, please let us know. But if you do, we’re telling mom, and she won’t like it at all.)

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Safe House - Great Compilation for a Stormy Night


Well, I guess by now you’ve heard all the news about the goings on on the East Coast. We were visited by Hurricane Sandy, a force of nature even stronger than Koko Taylor and those of us in the mountains of Virginia were very lucky to have only dealt with seriously torrential rain and snow.

It wasn’t fun, but compared to what our friends up north faced, it was a picnic with sweet tea.

I hope you and your families were able to ride things out. The Professor has a ton of friends in the New York and New Jersey areas, a few more in New England. I’ve heard from most of them and are praying for the rest.

I’ve been out on the road for a while working on a couple of side projects and had just gotten back home to Jordan’s Branch when the weather started picking up. Since the whole town knows I’ve got a couple a gigantic generators attached to the Juke Joint, plenty of food, some cold drinks, and of course the means of great entertainment, well, they just naturally headed up here.

Our Sherriff also wanted to keep everyone in one place so he wouldn’t have to be checking on folks spread out all over the place.

So we had a full house. People and dogs were all in the big room sitting around tables or milling about like it was some kind of giant cocktail party, which I guess it was. We didn’t charge anyone, just put out some buckets for donations. Once we realized we were going to be okay, we just sent the money on to the Red Cross.

I would like to urge you to do whatever you can. As a member in good standing of the human species, it’s up to us to look out for anyone who faces misfortune and to give them a hand to get back up. Send money, donate blood, or do whatever you are capable of in order to leave the world a better place.

Enough soapbox. I didn’t tell you that Henry Cook drove all the way in from Richmond to help out. That’s just the kind of guy he is. He was going to take a few days vacation and instead drove out to the Juke Joint and jumped behind the bar and started pouring drinks and swapping stories with our guests.

We watched the news for awhile and figured out we were   going to be okay, so we cut that down and put on the Juke Box.  We’ve gotten in a lot of nice new titles recently and I’ll get back to them soon. Sometimes though, you just want an old friend to comfort you when things look bad, so I dove back through the stacks and found one of my favorite slightly obscure titles and put that on.

Andrew Vachss is one of my favorite authors, a great advocate, and a champion of the blues. I’m also lucky enough to call him my friend. If you’ve never read any of his books, I suggest you get on the stick. I will warn you, his novels are not for the faint of heart, and if you can’t bear to hear the truth, there are plenty of others out there who will entertain you without showing you reality.

And you thought I was off my soapbox.

Anyway, to commemorate the release of his novel Safe House, Vachss put together a compilation CD called Andrew Vachss Safe House: A Collection of the Blues.

If you can find it, get it. Keep it handy at all times, it’s a killer collection and the kind of music that dives into your soul and never comes out.

There are 15 tracks on the CD by some of the all-time greats and include more than a few selections that one does not normally hear on “Best Of’ CDs.

The album kicks off with one of my favorite bands, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band playing I’ve Got A Mind To Give Up Living. Long time listeners to Time For The Blues know that Henry and I love the band and look for any reason to play them. Great way to start the night.

Katie Webster is next with the classic Pussycat Moan, a little honkytonk longing to take you through the night. Oh, the pains of love and lust. Oh, the joy of Webster’s voice.

Buddy Guy is another favorite and he provides One Room Country Shack from his Vanguard release, A Man And The Blues. Required listening from every blues juke box in the world.

Sweet Irma Thomas contributes a blistering live version of Time Is On My Side. This is a great recording and we featured it on one of our earliest shows. Time to pull it back out – that’s heavy rotation Time For The Blues style.

The late Son Seals is one of my favorite guitarists. His playing and growling voice are great counterpoints to the horn section and underscored organ on Going Back Home. Recorded in 1976 on the Alligator release Midnight Son, this one tears you apart. Time for us to revisit Mr. Seals on Time For The Blues.

Howlin’ Wolf contributes that great song, I Asked For Water (She Gave Me Gasoline). Wolf is one of those archetypal figures in blues and if you need me to tell you how great he is, better pull up a chair and order lunch, because we’re going to be here a spell.

Next up was a song that was apropos for the evening, Rain, by Little Charlie and the Nightcats.  We’ve played of few of their sides lately and I don’t know how we missed this one. Be sure to listen for the harp break about halfway through the song.

Sonny Boy Williamson is next up with Early In The Morning, another song from one of the all time greats. Simple arrangement, deep emotions.

Otis Spann is a great pianist and he checks in with Some Day. The man is a master and when you listen to his playing and vocals, you know you are in the presence of greatness. I can’t imagine anyone is hearing Spann for the first time, but if you are unfamiliar with his work, you’ve got a great journey ahead of you my friend.

The wonderful, amazing Judy Henske is one of my favorite singers in the entire world, bar none. Her lovely deep voice is transcendent and she was the first musician I ever interviewed on my talk show. The fact that she’s not all over the airwaves once again shows how we’re driven by so-called “art” that panders rather than the quality acts that are out there. ’Til The Real Thing Comes Along is a three minute masterpiece. Love you, Judy!

How can you have a blues compilation without Muddy Waters? Don’t think you can. It’s like us playing an entire show without a song written by Willie Dixon, it just shouldn’t happen. Well, Muddy is here with She’s Nineteen Years Old. You know you can’t go wrong.

Then comes the legendary Lead Belly with The Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet singing Midnight Special. The story of an incarcerated man watching his jail cell at night waiting for the train known as the Midnight Special to shine its light on him and grant him release but turning every time just before the light shines on him is one of my favorites and still gives me goose bumps whenever I hear it.

Speaking of great harp players – I know we weren’t, but if you stick around long enough you know I will – the legendary Charlie Musselwhite contributes Baby, Will You Please Help Me from his first album, Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band. Yes, one of us misspelled Charlie’s name and it wasn’t the Professor. Musslewhite’s label used a different spelling, but according to Musselwhite in an interview Henry Cook and I conducted with him, he “didn’t care as long as the checks cashed.”

Wise man.

Long tall Marcia Ball is next with her take on Another Man’s Woman which was originally released on her 1986 Rounder release Hot Tamale Baby. Trust me, you just don’t go wrong with a Marcia Ball side.

The final selection is attributed to "Bazza" and it is entitled Ghost and is based on Vachss’ novel Shella. Great book, wild ride of a song.

You can learn more about Andrew Vachss, his novels, his mission, and the blues at his website here (www.vachss.com). Finding a copy of the CD may be tricky as it has been out of print for a while, but if you find one, grab it, you won’t be sorry. For more information, you might want to check out Vachss’ website about the CD here (http://www.vachss.com/media/safe_house_cd/index.html).

A CD called Safe House took us through the storm, it just might do the same for you.