It was a nondescript package that arrived with a bunch of others that had some big names on the return address. Well-known performers and big name labels looked back at me and they took the focus off the white wrapped package. When I opened it a little while later, I saw there were two CDs in it, and one had a giant Tiki Head on the cover with the words, “Ukulele Music.”
Now, I like ukulele music a lot. I’ve given various instruments to family members that want to learn how to play, and have a couple hanging around the house that I don’t play nearly as much as I would like.
But I wasn’t sure I was ready to write about it.
I’ve run into Willie May a few times before, and always enjoyed his music. However, I must confess that the two CDs he sent my way got shuffled into the large pile on my desk and may have been forgotten for even longer.
Except for three words on Blue Decade, which was the second CD – Featuring James Cotton. These words were written on a piece of blue tape, probably by hand, and those three words made me want to hear the album more than anything. It turns out Cotton is only one song, Off Her Rocker, but that’s enough to make me want to listen to the whole thing.
A quick glance at the line up tells me that May wrote all ten songs on the album, always a plus in my book. Let’s see what he can do.
The album kicks off hard with I Won’t Miss You. There’s a complete horn section, some funky bass and organ. May has got some serious blue soul chops on this song. The lyrics are clever and his singing partner, Barbara St. Clair, is pure sass and brass. If you like that Chicago style, this is definitely for you!
Next up is the jazzy Let It Rain. May’s vocals are strong and once again the organ riffs are sweet. Mike Silver plays some great harp on the number. It’s a gutsy number of numbing loneliness. The song sets a great mood and keeps it up for the entire five minutes of the song.
May follows with Love Treats Me So Unkind, a rocking blues number that gives the rhythm section a hard workout. Three songs in, all of them have been strong efforts and show three different approaches to the music. I am so regretting not listening more closely to his other albums, but that is a regret I hope to erase in the coming week. He’s good. He’s damn good.
The jazz funk of Speak Your Mind rolls through the speakers on the talents of Ken Parker’s saxophone. May’s vocals cut through the music, but Parker takes us on a rollercoaster of sound. I love good funk and don’t find that many artists who incorporate it into their music, so it’s good to hear May doing it on this album.
There’s some wild zydeco on the next number, Tell Me Amigo, thanks to someone playing great accordion. I wish I could give you the artist’s name, but I don’t see it in the credits. I enjoy the song very much – who doesn’t enjoy a trip to Cajun Country now and again? Some of the best dancing music around. I’m definitely adding this one to my playlist and when it comes on while I’m driving, I’m cutting the volume way up!
The next song, Hoedown, starts out with some sly blues. I would have thought with a title like that, the song might be more countrified, but May throws us a curve with some very cool funky blues with some great harp work from Kevin Espinosa.
James Cotton lends his harp to the next number, Off Her Rocker. It’s a slow burn of a blues tune and Cotton is in fine form. May sings with plenty of growling intensity and the bass line keeps everything in check. This is a great song, and I will be adding it to an episode of Time For The Blues shortly. I haven’t talked much about May’s great guitar work, but damn, he stacks up well against just about anyone.
Silver is back on harp for the rocking and rollicking Hey Buddy. This is a great song for a live show – plenty of knock down energy, great licks and trade-offs, and the kind of song that just makes you want to get out on the dance floor and move whatever you’ve got.
He slows things down for Let’s Play House, but ratchets up the intensity. St. Clair is back lending her lovely voice to the song. May is a good singer, but she gives him something more to play against and their duets have been delightful.
May closes out the album with Friend Of The Friendless. It’s a song where the bass hits you right in the gut. The song is pure blues and it slams you from the first note to the last. Silver’s harp screams at just the right moments and fans of rocking blues are going to want to hit the repeat button a few more times.
I know that Willie May did not release Blue Decade this year. I can’t find a copyright on the album, and even one of my favorite musical resources (allmusic.com) doesn’t have years listed for his releases. I will reach out to the artist and see what I can find out.
But you shouldn’t worry about such things. All it has to be is good and available to purchase. Check him out at Ihttp://www.williemaymusic.com/index.htm for more information and the chance to pick up his albums.
I’m going to review that Ukulele Music CD next week. Let’s see if he plays the blues Hawaiian style!