Blues Shock

  • 2014
  • Blues Shock
  • Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues
  • Blind Pig


This review originally appeared in Big City Blues magazine.  Reviewed by Steve Daniels

            Billy Branch's manager allegedly pestered him for 15 years to release a new studio album.  Well, now he has, and it was worth the wait!

            One of Chicago's harmonica luminaries for decades, Branch is a musician's musician who has appeared as sideman on over 100 albums, released over a dozen of his own, partnered with multiple blues greats, and garnered several Grammy nominations.  That he has never achieved the renown of some of his contemporaries is inexplicable, but perhaps this CD will boost his stature.

            Appropriately named, "Blues Shock" is an almost hour-long collection of versatile tunes, ranging from straight Chicago blues to funky Motown to poignant balladic tribute to skillful instrumental.  Backed by his long-time rhythm section of Nick Charles on bass and Moses Rutues Jr. on drums, Branch displays his smooth pipes throughout, and dishes up a variety of both classic and creative harp licks. New band members Dan Carelli on guitar and Sumito Ariyoshi on piano enliven the proceedings adeptly, as do multiple guest artists, among them Chicago keyboard fixture Johnny Iguana; Anne Harris, violinist most frequently associated with Otis Taylor; and axeman Ronnie Baker Brooks.  The latter contributes fiery guitar to amusing "Dog House," the Bobby Bryant-penned lament of a proverbial " 'buked and scorned" lover. 

            Other cover versions are also notable.  Willie Dixon's "Crazy Mixed Up World" is characterized by some dazzling Mississippi saxophone from Branch, with Arisyoshi's piano romping along.  "Function at the Junction," a Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown composition, sports a lilting trio of backup singers, who also ably complement three other cuts.  John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom" is given a terrific work-out by Branch and company; JLH would be proud.

            There's also a moving historical tribute to a patroness of the Chicago musical scene in "Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time," and two double entendre songs, "Slow Moe" and "Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn," to remind us that sex is never far from the blues.  A jazzy blues instrumental with a Latin flavor, "Song for My Mother," ends the set with a dazzling interplay of guitar, harp, and piano.   This is really good stuff!