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Monday, November 16, 2009

Kim Wilson Blues Revue at the Livery Oct. 25: Little Walter Rides Again

At the Livery brewery in Benton Harbor on Sunday Oct. 25 Kim Wilson demonstrated once more why remains atop the modern blues harmonica scene with an exceptional late afternoon performance. The second set of the show started with an audience request for Little Walter’s “Juke.” While this oft-requested tune has seen the miles, in the hands of Wilson and company it still breathes real life; they wasted not a single note impressing the small but engaged crowd. This edition of the Kim Wilson Blues Revue turned out to be such a tight collection of first-rate players that they perceptively know just what tune they’ll do next by the time Kim begins to count off. During the course of the show just a nod from Kim or some brief eye contact, and the band was off into the next number. Audiences get their money's worth each night as Wilson wastes no time between the end of a song and the beginning of the next, ala Van Morrison. Only first-rate musicianship allows Wilson to cut a wide swath in order to uncover all the elements of true blues music; songs and styles that may go by the wayside with Wilson’s other band, the guitar forward Fabulous Thunderbirds. Featuring Barrelhouse Chuck allowed Wilson to delve further into the deep history of Chicago piano blues reminiscent of keyboardists like Sunnyland Slim, Lafayette Leake, and Otis Spann. If there was one thing this lineup was assembled for it is Wilson’s overlooked instrumental harp extended jam workouts. These jams, often on the chromatic harmonica and sometimes solo, are a true privilege of seeing Kim and company in such a small place. There is no mistaking the influence of Little Walter on Wilson, as Kim was asked to perform all the Little Walter parts for the 2009 motion picture Cadillac Records. But on the chromatic Wilson conjures up in real time the ghost of William Clarke, who as you know was one of the best ever on this particular harp. Wilson again chose the right band for this short tour as evidenced by Kim letting each of his players shine in their individual light. Early on in the set guitarist Billy Flynn got the nod to get out the slide for authentic sounding renditions of Elmore James (Shake Your Moneymaker) and Leroy Carr (Blues before Sunrise). Proclaiming that they as a band “love Jimmy Rogers,” Kim and friends furnished a modified modern version of “That’s All Right.” Little Frank showed off the subtle style that has landed him work with Hubert Sumlin. Kenny Smith proved once again why he got the call for this gig; he’s soft and creative when Kim solos and hits hard on some of the up-tempo pieces. He is one to watch (Kim said it in a word: “wicked”). Of all the great harp players working today, Musselwhite, Estrin, Hummel, and Piazza, Kim is the one with the most signature sound, style, and presentation. He looks just as comfortable without a harp in hand all while sweating out a soulful vocal number by Little Milton. Wilson is either gracious, yes, or just smart enough to let his band do their work. At times he’d walk over to be near Chuck during one of his keyboard solos as if being three feet closer would garner more vibe; apparently so, because it looked like he was really feeling it. Speaking of a solo solo, that was our encore at the Livery. Just Kim alone: a man, his harp, and an amp. After that Kim got his children up to play, Steven and Hunter (on guitar and bass), for some great Sunday-type of family atmosphere. All the superlatives now applied: exciting showman, star bandleader, authentic bluesman, and Dad.(Photos courtesy of Alan Bartlett)

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