Sunday, February 12, 2017

Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio

I’ve been waiting for this album for a while, ever since I heard a tiny bit about it from Alligator Records. Like many of you, Chicago in the 1960’s holds a special place in my heart because that’s the first blues music I can remember hearing. That sound became one of the major forces in my own musical development and I’ve kept it deep in my soul.
The genesis of the album, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio is very simple. Elvin and two of his friends, Bob Welsh and Willy Jordan got together and just started playing. Welsh on what sounds like an upright piano, and Jordan didn’t even use a drum set, he used a Cajon and was able to get some amazing sounds from it.
There’s a real spirit in this album that rings out with every note. Sometimes a release can sound great, but just doesn’t seem to have that right soul. You know it when you hear it.
This album is different. It has tons of heart and soul and these three great musicians get more from their instruments than most of the players who hide behind so many effects. It’s a true tour de force. They are joined by three world class harp players on three different songs: Kim Wilson, Rick Estrin, and Charlie Musselwhite.
Otherwise, it’s all the Big Fun Trio having fun.
Keep On Rollin’ starts things off on a high note with Welsh’s barrelhouse piano. There’s some lovely back and forth regarding the current state of American politics but offers some solace for what we can do to combat the negative world in which we live. Sounds like the guys are just having some serious fun on this number.
They follow up with Lightnin’ Hopkins’ Honey Babe. The stripped-down sound of the Big Fun Trio is perfect for a song like this with Jordan’s Cajon giving the percussion a soft shuffle and Bishop’s guitar channeling old-school bandstands. This is so much fun, they almost sound like they could be playing in your living room.
Kim Wilson makes his guest appearance on It’s You, Baby. His harp adds another dimension to the fun and between that and Welsh’s pounding piano the song drives at top speed. The group is certainly living up to its name of “Big Fun Trio.”
Ace In The Hole brings the pace down and the intensity up. It’s a quick number timewise and Bishop’s sparing guitar break adds to the song. I have to wonder just how many takes they did on these songs, the energy level is so high, that it almost sounds spontaneous.
It’s hard to believe Jordan isn’t using a full drum set on as he gets more than a few sounds from the Cajon on Let’s Go. It’s an old-fashioned party song with some good back and forth on the bandstand. This is one that will be on Time For The Blues and a whole lot of other blues shows…
Delta Lowdown features Rick Estrin on harp and his wailing gives the song a different feel. This instrumental sits squarely on the side of the absolute blues purists. This one could have come right out of any of the joints in the deep south where the men dropped in for a beer on their way back home. Very cool number.
The classic tune, It’s All Over Now, gets a makeover from Bishop and company. Down to its most essential components, this is a great cover and should be another song that picks up some airplay.
Charlie Musselwhite co-wrote, shares the vocals, and plays harp on 100 Years Of Blues. He and Bishop were two of the major forces in the Chicago scene starting back in the ‘60’s and it’s a real pleasure to hear them working like this. Bishop’s spoken word intro really puts things in perspective while Musselwhite’s plaintive harp evokes all those great memories for them, and dreams of what must have been for the rest of us… Great song guys! Easily my favorite on the album.
The trio is back and sounding swampy on Let The Four Winds Blow. They’ve got a nice swing to the percussion and the piano and guitar combine to give the combo a tight feel. Listen for Bishop’s guitar break, it has kind of a tropical sound to it.
That’s What I’m Talkin’ About is the second song credited to all three members of the Big Fun Trio and you can hear them as they weave in and out of the narrative with each one adding his own special stamp on the vocals. Yeah, this one’s got a lot of energy to it and I have a feeling that the recording process must have been a lot of fun. For some reason, I got really hungry after listening to this one…
Time to add a little soul filled gospel notes to the proceedings with Can’t Take No More. I’m not so sure about the use of the falsetto vocals, but I can still dig the song. And hey, who am I to quibble after the performance these guys have put on?
The album comes to a close with an instrumental, Southside Slide. This gives each of the guys a chance to take one last stand in the spotlight. Bishop’s guitar takes a good turn and it’s a real pleasure to listen to his slide work.
How can you go wrong with a supergroup of talented guys hanging out and having some fun? The mix some covers in with some of Bishop’s originals and toss in a couple of songs that all three wrote just for kicks. When you have performers at this level (and admittedly it’s rare to find artists who are) you can’t help but have a great album.
You can find out more about this project from Bishop’s website: and even check out some of his earlier work if you’re a recent convert to the Church of the Blues. Since the album is available as an Alligator Records release you should be able to find it just about anywhere, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor if you do!

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