- Old School Blues
- Bernie Pearl
- Bee Bump Music
Ostensibly an album commemorating Bernie Pearl’s 50 years in the blues, “Old School Blues” is also a tribute to many of the great figures of 20th. Century blues. A double delight, the album features an acoustic CD of tasty treats, followed by an electric CD of uptempo trio and quartet cuts.
Pearl is an adept guitarist and competent vocalist with a deep reverence for the blues genre and for the many great artists he grew up with as he assisted his brother Ed at his Ash Grove club in Los Angeles. The list of performers with whom Pearl played is jaw-dropping: Fred McDowell, Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin’ Hopkins, and Big Mama Thornton are just the tip of the iceberg. Pearl’s 15 year partnership with Louisiana’s Harmonica Fats produced several lauded albums and many revelatory performances.
The 12 acoustic tracks of this album comprise a truncated history of 20th. Century blues, while displaying Pearl’s virtuousity and versatility. Pearl effortlessly segues from a Mance Lipscomb country classic, “Blues in the Bottle,” to the insistent slide guitar of Muddy Waters’s “I Be’s Troubled,” to a delicate instrumental arrangement of “I’ll Fly Away.” Still to come are the mesmerizing hill country rhythmicity of McDowell’s “Shake ‘em Down,” Blind Willie Johnson’s devotional “God Moves on the Water,” and the salacious standard “Rock Me Mama.” Few performers would even attempt such a broad range of styles, but Pearl pulls it off with indisputable success and panache. He is accompanied on 2 tunes by his long-time bass player Michael Barry.
The second disc features Pearl on electric guitar, abetted by Barry on bass, Albert Trepagnier on drums, and Dwayne Smith on piano. The songs are by Lipscomb, Hopkins, Albert King, Otis Rush, and other luminaries, but Pearl doesn’t hesitate to put his own signature on them; as he says in the liner notes about the Rush song, “I love this song, but I just had to mess with it.” “Crosscut Saw,” a Tommy McClennan composition made famous by Albert King, is given a fresh workout. “If You Lose Your Money,” penned by Brownie McGhee, is updated with an infectious Bo Diddley beat. “Baby, You Don’t Have to Go” by Jimmy Reed is completely transformed from the original with the addition of driving keyboard and sounds fine.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery, and from inspiration arises innovation. “Old School Blues” demonstrates imitation, inspiration, and innovation and is an apt tribute both to seminal blues of the last century and to Bernie Pearl himself. Let’s wish him another 50 years of helping to keep the blues alive.