The Blues Broads (Delta Groove)
By Devon Wendell
In a world where the blues is dominated by male, six stringing show offs, four reigning queens of blues (Dorothy Morrison, Tracy Nelson, Angela Stehli, and Annie Sampson) have joined forces to celebrate the soulful joy and rich harmonies of not only the blues but also gospel, rock n’ roll, and R&B.
Backed by a no-frills, no-nonsense blues band (Steve Ehrmann: bass, Paul Revelli: drums, Gary Vogensen: guitar, and Mike Emerson on keyboards. with special guest Deanna Bogart on vocals and keyboards.), these four legendary ladies perform a live set of originals and covers recorded live at The Throckmorton Theater in Mill Valley California, on November 4th, 2011. The CD also comes with a DVD of the show which includes a few extra highlights.
Former Mother Earth front-woman Tracy Nelson leads the band through the Texas shuffle of “Livin’ The Blues.” Although Nelson is a more than competent vocalist, her voice is often flat throughout this number; but the backing vocals of Strehli, Morrison, and Sampson make up for this distraction. Nelson’s vibrato is rich, even, and totally original.
Forming member of Stoneground and longtime session giant Annie Sampson performs her original composition “Bring Me Your Love.” Sampson’s confidence and vocal control make her one of the standout members of the “Broads” from her very first phrase. Sampson brings her unique blend of rock and gospel to this fiery number.
Angela Strehli’s name has been synonymous with Texas blues for decades. She sings about discovering the blues of Muddy Waters, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed, and Eddie Taylor on the radio and how it transformed her life in her autobiographical song, “Two Bit Texas Town.” The band’s groove here is similar to Koko Taylor’s arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle,” and Strehli’s vocals share some similarities to that of Taylor’s, especially when she growls.
Most of the set consists of covers which are easily the highlights of the album. Nelson’s greatest vocal performance is on the Anne Peebles’ classic slow blues “Walk Away” which is stunning in its intensity, with a tasty Chicago blues lead guitar solo by Gary Vogensen. What’s more powerful even than the lead vocals are the collective gospel background harmonies created by the ladies. It’s true of this song and most of the material such as “Blue Highway” (lead by Dorothy Morrison) and J. Leslie McFarland’s gospel anthem “It Won’t Be Long.” The latter features special guest Deanna Bogart playing some jaw-dropping syncopated boogie-woogie piano and swapping vocals with Nelson.
The finest cover is a slow Memphis, churchified ballad rendition of Bob Dylan’s “It’s All Over Now /Baby Blue” by Annie Sampson alone with the rhythm section. Sampson’s phrasing is perfect and she creates and even darker mood than on the original. This performance is only on the DVD but is easily one of the standout moments of the show.
The wonderful Dorothy Morrison (the legendary lead vocalist for The Edwin Hawkins Singers) sounds younger and stronger than ever on the Spinners’ “Mighty Love.” Though the rhythm arrangement is the same as the original recording, Morrison owns this soul classic with her tough tenor voice and sassy, boundless confidence.
It just wouldn’t be right to feature Dorothy Morrison and not have her perform the song that she made a hit all over the world with the Edwin Hawkins Singers, “Oh Happy Day.”
On this night, it feels as if her electrifying power is challenging the other band members and each of them rise to that challenge, belting out their best gospel chops. This joyful performance is the perfect way to end the set.
The ladies also did an acapella performance of the gospel standard “Jesus, I’ll Never Forget.” Each member gives every drawn out-phrase everything they’ve got as they all share the spotlight.
“The Blues Broads” act isn’t overproduced and doesn’t feature celebrity guests to win over a pop-oriented audience. These are four ladies who don’t need any of that. Throughout this recording, it sounds like these women have been singing together all of their lives, especially in the backing harmonies. Hopefully this is only one of many projects by the “Broads.”
To read an iRoM review of the Blues Broads’ performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival click HERE.
To read more reviews and posts by Devon Wendell click HERE.