- Downsville Blues
- Tomcat Courtney
- Blue Witch Records
Of the four major compendia of blues music which I consult regularly, two mention Tomcat Courtney in passing and two omit him entirely. On the strength of this album, expect such lack of recognition to be a thing of the past.
Born in Texas, Courtney cites as his major influences Lightnin’ Hopkins, T-Bone Walker, Smokey Hogg, and John Lee Hooker. Flying under the radar of national notice, he has been a mainstay of the San Diego blues scene for over 35 years. Harmonica ace and Blue Witch Records producer Bob Corritore appreciated Tomcat’s chops and has chauffeured this album into being, and his taste has been vindicated. “Downsville Blues” absolutely smokes!
Nine of the 12 songs on the album are Courtney compositions, and they are all memorable. “Cook My Breakfast” displays sexual innuendo by way of food metaphor, and “Four Wheel Drive” does the same with an automobile conceit, both tactics long in use in the blues idiom. “Shake It Up Baby” and the traditional “Bottle It Up and Go” continue the raunchy theme. Courtney does a great job singing the Mance Lipscomb classic, “Meet Me in the Bottom.” His own song about the Hurricane Katrina disaster in New Orleans, “Disaster Blues,” is poignant, angry, and bitter, a worthy reminder of the cataclysm. There is not one mediocre song of the 12. Throughout, a spirit of infectious high energy prevails; it just feels like Courtney is having a great time singing and playing.
Courtney’s guitar stylings are admirable, recalling the playing of both Hopkins and Hooker, but it’s his vocal prowess which deserves raves. What a voice! Tomcat can growl and moan with the best of contemporary country blues artists; on “I’m So Glad” he even sounds like the great Chicago urban bluesmen Magic Slim and Howlin’ Wolf (high praise intended). On his tunes of erotic desire, he channels Hopkins but trades Lightnin’s almost-spoken suggestive drawl for a boisterous, assertive invitation to boogie. Every vocal is dripping with emotion and conviction.
Tomcat is backed by adept musical colleagues: Corritore on harp, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, and Brian Fahey and Muddy Waters’s sideman “Big Eyes” Smith on drums. Appropriately, each song showcases Courtney’s talent with the stellar but subordinate support of the band.
If this album isn’t nominated for a Blues Music Award, there ain’t no justice in the world. It’s definitely destined to be one of the best blues albums of the year: urbanized Texas country blues at its finest!
[This review initially appeared on the BluesWax Web site.]