Thursday, August 18, 2016

Mary Jo Curry Releases Strong Debut Album

All I can say about Mary Jo Curry is, “Damn! Where did she come from?”
I love it when someone turns me on to talented performers, and let me assure you this is one heckuva talented performer. Curry, who is based out of Central Illinois (unfortunately for me not my usual stomping grounds) and is not only the owner of a fantastic voice, but you can tell that she has unusual poise and uses her theatrical training to infuse great life into her songs and wring every piece of emotion from them.
Curry’s first album, titled MARY JO CURRY, is available from Guitar Angels Records and from Curry’s website. You’ll want to check all the usual outlets to make sure you find a copy and put it in your player immediately. I think you will be captured by her talent the way I was and may want to keep it playing for a good while.
Vocals are provided by Mary Jo Curry and she is joined by bandleader and husband Michael Rapier on guitar; producer James Armstrong also on guitar; Darryl Wright and Lawrence Baulden on bass; Andrew “Blaze” Thomas drums; Brett Donovan on piano and organ; backing vocals by L. A. Davison; and a horn section comprised of Dick Garretson on trumpet, Mike Gillette on sax, and Larry Niehaus on trombone.
One of Curry’s two compositions, Ooooo Weeee starts the album. It’s a nice reverse of the “I’m so down because he left me” song, turning it instead into a “I’m so glad he’s gone.” The melody is tight and the horn section punctuates the number.
Next up is one of two songs by Rapier, Husband #2. It’s a flashy, saucy tune that has some clever lyrics with a warning not to cross this lady. I have to wonder if this song started as a conversation between Curry and Rapier. Regardless it’s bouncy and would most likely be a fun live song.
Curry and company start to swing a little with Little By Little, another fast moving song by Amos Blackmore. It’s got a different feel as the keyboards take over and drive the music. It sounds like a small combo riffing in a nightclub.
Wrapped Around My Heart is her first torch song and it comes at a great time, allowing her to show her versatility after three up-tempo numbers. You can hear the ache in her voice and the emotion is very strong. The guitar break pulls you deeper into the world of the song. I’ll be playing this one very soon on Time For The Blues.
Steppin’ starts out swampy and powerful. Curry shows she can reach back to the country roots of the blues and use their power. Her voice is strong and evocative and so impressive. I have to see her perform this one live as I think it could be a showstopper.  
Koko Taylor’s classic Voodoo Woman is a great follow up to Steppin’. She’s still got the power and the attitude from the last song and you get the feeling that this is one woman you do NOT want to cross. It also shows that she has great respect for the classics but is not afraid to tackle them and put her own imprint on them.
She keeps the power coming with When A Woman’s Had Enough, a great woman walking song. Her voice is sweet but that’s just hiding the bite in the lyrics. Her band is especially tight mixing keys, drums, and bass to create a very dark mood. Highly recommended.
Curry’s second self-penned song is Homewrecker, and you can tell right away what kind of song this is going to be. But true to form there are some twists in the lyrics. This song punches its way into your brain thanks to a very strong bass and Curry’s staccato delivery.
Rapier’s second tune, Smellin’, finishes up the album. Another cheating song that pushes a few envelopes and Curry delivers a strong vocal that is augmented by a good guitar lead.
Curry’s album progresses from happy bouncy tunes to the darkest parts of a woman’s soul and the journey is intoxicating. Her vocals are so very strong and she conveys emotions so well that it’s almost like we become possessed by her. She manages to find that line between old school blues and modern songwriting. She uses words that have become part of common parlance that previous writers might not have used.
That’s part of what is necessary for the blues to stay alive and relevant to more people. Too often we get hung up on doing things the way they’ve been done for a hundred years without taking into account that things have changed and we need to change with them. There will always be a place for tradition and I love traditional blues, but I’m also a realist and there are times we need to find new ways to express ourselves.
Anyway, I think Mary Jo Curry is an amazing artist, and I hope that her debut album will soon be accompanied by more. In the meantime, please check out her website: http://www.maryjocurry.com/ for more information about where she’s playing and to pick up her album. And I truly hope that she will be out on tour at the major festivals and blues clubs soon.
In the meantime, if you go see her, tell her The Professor sent you!


Monday, August 8, 2016

Diana Rein Takes Us On A Long Road - And It's A Good One

Now based in sunny Southern California, blues chanteuse Diana Rein has released her second album, LONG ROAD and by a circuitous route, a copy has landed on my desk where it did it’s damndest to disappear before I could open it. It was one of those screwball comedy moments that wasn’t anyone’s fault (okay, in reality it was mine) but it kept escalating until it seemed like this molehill had somehow taken on the size of Everest.
Not that Rein’s people were anything but polite. Her publicist, the often overworked plate spinner extraordinaire Doug Deutsch, had his hands full reminding me that he had sent the CD out way back when and he hoped that I would find time to review it.
I was ready to review it but couldn’t put my hands on it. Finally, while moving some things from one room to another (my preferred method of cleaning) a small package slipped out of my hands and landed at my feet.
Want to take a guess as to what was in it?
But then things escalated again as I had to go in and have some surgery on one of my legs. (Nothing horribly serious – it’s kind of like a Carpal Tunnel Syndrome surgery on your legs, so I can’t even complain that I was under too much anesthesia.) So, I was not in too good of shape to do any reviewing despite being confined to my favorite chair.
Finally, I was ready to review and I was not finding it in my “To Be Reviewed” box that sits on my desk.
Not again…
But a thorough search found it in the “To Be Processed” box which also sits on my desk. I need to get a new system.
Fortunately, the album was so worth the wait.
Rein has a beautiful country blues voice that carries so much strength and her guitar playing is pretty damn good. It better be, because this entire album is a labor of love for Rein as she wrote all the 12 songs on the album and provided not only the vocals, but the guitar, bass and EZ Drummer herself.
There have been a few changes in her approach since this album came out and we’ll talk about those in a minute but right now, let’s sample LONG ROAD.
The album starts off with the title track, Long Road, a gospel flavored song that almost perfectly melds her voice and guitar to create a melancholy yet hopeful mood. Music is at its best when it manages to perfectly capture that feeling – that moment in life – whatever it is. This song captures it beautifully and clues the listener in that she is in for a remarkable journey.
She gets to rocking with Wild One, and that is often not an easy task to pull off. She’s got a couple of nice guitar riffs that help drive the song but I wish her vocal was a little more prominent as I think this would be one of those numbers that really gets an audience moving.
Next up, Rein gets a little grungy with Livin’ Loud, blues by way of garage rock. This is the kind of late night blues that gets the audience swaying under the singer’s spell. The only drawback is again the vocals almost get swallowed by the guitar work.
She keeps rocking with Green Light, a song that has some strong lyrics and good guitar riffs. Rein is in full confidence on this number as she knows she has complete control. Very good song. She follows up with another rocker, Rebel With A Cause, which keeps the album moving at a crisp pace.
She’s back to an alt-country vibe with The Real Thing. It’s a good song with a number of good guitar runs. Done Me Dirty continues the feeling and here her voice is powerful and throaty. You know this is a woman who has been done wrong and she isn’t going to take it.
Rein slows things down nicely with Don’t Walk Away, a haunting song of longing. Her voice practically cries and her guitar work is at its best on this song. Beautiful.
She picks up the tempo with Come Back Home, another song that explores the boundaries between rock and blues. Rein is one of those artists who keeps one foot in each camp and manages to bring the two together into a satisfying new sound.
The song Wicked is another great number with deep guitar runs setting the mood before giving way to plaintive vocals. While I appreciate her rocking numbers, sometimes the songs that showcase her voice are the most memorable. This one, along with Don’t Walk Away and the title track stand out the most to me.
Down Down Down starts out with some slower, more controlled power – the kind of song that amplifies a state of mind – then gives way to a faster tempo that drives the song. Finally, the instrumental Peace closes out the album with a beautiful contemplative number. Her guitar work has been stellar throughout the album and here it is finally given a chance to shine without any competing forces.
When the artist assumes every position on an album, you get a complete vision – but that also comes with certain drawbacks. Sometimes an artist may be great at a number of tasks but be deficient in others. I think Rein is a good guitarist and a terrific vocalist, but I think she showed promise as a producer, but think she might have been better off with someone else behind the controls.
I believe that in most cases a project is improved with collaboration between like-minded artists. Rein has done an admirable job with LONG ROAD and I have learned from her website, http://www.dianarein.com/, that she has recently teamed up with Papermoon Gypsys, a Southern California based group that should combine nicely with her to give her a rich full sound. I don’t know if they have any plans to record at this time, but I would welcome that news wholeheartedly.

In the meantime, be sure to check out this latest album and you can order her first album, 2007’s THE BACK ROOM from her website. Be sure to catch her live if you can – she is playing in a number of festivals and when you do, tell her The Professor sent you.