Saturday, February 11, 2017

Mississippi Heat - Cab Driving Man

One of my favorite groups working today is Mississippi Heat. They have a hard driving take no prisoners approach to the blues and manage to channel the sounds of great Chicago, New Orleans, and Memphis styles into their fresh approach. Every one of their albums has been a cause for celebration and Cab Driving Man is certainly no exception.
While it hit the streets in 2016, garnering great reviews and a place on my honor roll as one of the Best Of 2016, for some reason, I just never found the time or inclination to writing about the album. Now that I have the luxury of correcting a few of these mistakes, I plan on taking full advantage of it in order to bring you my thoughts on this very cool album.
If you’re not familiar with their backstory, it’s not your average history. Bandleader and harmonica player extraordinaire Pierre Lacocque was born in Israel to Belgian parents. His father was a minster and the family settled in the blues capital of the world, Alsace, France. Lacocque and his brother and sister later attended an Orthodox Jewish school in Brussels, becoming the only Christians to do so. Their parents thought it was important to learn about the Holocaust from the inside.
Early on Lacocque became fascinated by music. Despite his family’s best efforts to steer him towards a classical upbringing, he developed a taste for American popular music, and that led him eventually to the blues. By now the family was living in Chicago and Lacocque was surrounded by the blues and after hearing Big Walter Horton playing the harp, Lacocque found his destiny.
Now, all these years later, Lacocque has been at the forefront of Mississippi Heat for all of their 25-years and counting history. Like another long-running group, Roomful Of Blues, the lineups have changed over the years as band members come and go – but there lingers a comradery as each member brings his or her own strengths and the band – like the Mississippi heat for which they are named, endures and continues to grow.
The lineup for this album include Pierre Lacocque on harp; Inetta Visor on vocals for most songs and shaking the tambourine on one; Michael Dotson takes on the vocals for three songs and guitar, with solos on seven; Giles Cory handles the vocals for one song and plays guitar, with solos on three; Brian Quinn plays electric and acoustic bass on most songs, with Ricky Nelson taking over on one; Terence Williams plays drums on all but three songs with Kenny Smith taking over on three; Chris “Hambone” Cameron plays piano, organ and clavinet on all but two songs and those are played by Sumito Arito; Dave Specter adds his guitar to one song; Reuben Alvarez adds percussion to four; and Sax Gordon plays tenor and baritone sax on five numbers.
The 16-song album starts off with the fun swing number, Cupid Bound. Visor is in great voice as she growls through the number and Lacocque’s harp cuts through the song giving it a definite up-tempo drive. Great start.
The title track, Cab Driving Man, is next. Lacocque’s harp is in overdrive adding a sense of urgency to the proceedings. The percussion is very interesting and the rhythms aren’t the stuff of your typical blues song, but this is hardly your typical blues group. Nice piano break by Cameron.
Michael Dotson takes the vocals on That Late Night Stuff and the band gets a little funky to start. With the fat horns punctuating the number and Lacocque’s harp slicking in and out, it sounds like a completely different band. Great dance number, and for those of us who work the late shift, a nice little tribute.
Visor is back for Flowers On My Tombstone. It’s a slower number, one that unveils itself at a leisurely pace. The rhythm section provides a tight canvas, especially Quinn’s bass, and Ariyo’s piano is particularly crisp and adds that special touch of honkytonk to the song.
The band gets funky on Icy Blue, and the guitar work is stellar. This is one of those songs that will get the audience up out of their seats. It’s got a real STAX vibe going, with a strong Isaac Hayes backbeat. And the addition of a Resonator guitar gives it a little swamp flavor to boot.
Dotson again handles the vocals for The Last Go Round. This one swings right out of the gate and doesn’t let up. Williams’ drums drive it and the band sounds tight. Again, this is a different sound that most of the album and keeps things fresh. Mississippi Heat has that ability to change their styles and offer just about every blues lover something on which to hang their hat.
On Life Is Too Short, Visor sashays into the song purring her way into our heart. It’s a gentle blues song and the upright bass adds a good touch. Love the piano work and of course, Lacocque’s harp does a great job on the breaks. It’s definitely old-school and one that makes you listen to make sure you don’t miss a note.
Giles Corey takes his one turn on the vocals, joining Visor for a duet on Don’t Mess Up A Good Thing. There’s a lot of energy on the song and a good back and forth. The band gets into a few jams on the breaks and I think this one has to rock when they do it live.
Rosalie starts off the second half of the album with some nice funk. Alvarez adds some very interesting sounds on congas and it gives the song a very different feel. It shows how the band likes to play with different genres to create their own unique sound. Very cool.
The dark edged Luck Of The Draw is next. Visor’s vocals aren’t exactly a growl, but close, and there is a genuine edge to them. Cameron’s keyboards add a sense of menace to the proceedings when he holds down chords. Dave Specter brings his unique guitar sounds to the song as well.
It’s old-school time on Mama Kaila, with the orchestration stripped down to the barest essentials. It’s a slightly longer intro before Visor steps up to the microphone. This is a very traditional sounding number and the band proves they can play this genre of blues with the best of them.
More old-school fun is next with the Chicago style Music Is My Life. This one should resonate not only with every professional musician, but all of us who love it but who lack the talent or persistence to make a living from it. Still, we listen to it, and try to spread its message to our friends. Some of us even write about it or program radio shows because we love it so much…
Lonely Eyes is an energetic number and Lacocque’s harp is fierce and blends beautifully with Visor’s vocals. They follow up with Smooth Operator a fun swing number with good horn work spicing the song up nicely.
Can’t Get Me No Traction features Dotson one more time behind the mic. The Resonator guitar is back to give the song that deep south feeling and Dotson growls his way through the song.
The album concludes with Hey Pipo!, an unusual song to say the least. Can’t really call it traditional blues, but it is an energetic instrumental that gives the members of the band a chance to shine in this free form jam. Rock on, guys and gal, and thanks for one helluva album!
If Mississippi Heat isn’t on your radar, you need to get a new radar. This is one of the most energetic proponents of the blues and their albums just keep getting better and better. And considering they’ve been working for 25 plus years, that makes them damn good!

They are often out on the road somewhere, not only here in the United States, but they are very much in demand in Europe. So, European readers, if you catch them somewhere near you, please send me a report. In the meantime, everybody should check them out at http://mississippiheat.net/ to see where they are going to be and to pick up merchandise.

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