Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Feelin' low down: women singin' the blues

In the early days of the blues, women were the stars. Ma Rainey, Sippie Wallace, Big Mama Thornton, and, of course, the Empress herself, Bessie Smith -- these are the names we remember. Somehow, though, women gradually faded from the blues picture, and were largely absent even during the "discoveries" of the blues and roots revival of the 1960s.

In the past few decades, however, blueswomen have been making the scene again. Marcia Ball and Susan Tedeschi regularly find their way to the top of the charts, but there are some lesser known artists worthy of attention as well. Joanna Connor, for example, is a Chicago blues singer who plays electric, slide, and acoustic guitars with equal virtuosity. Debbie Davies is another fine guitarist who honed her skills working with Albert Collins and Maggie Mayall before striking out on her own. Deborah Coleman claims her first musical inspiration came from the Monkees, but she, thankfully, has moved well beyond that! With a deep and sultry voice, perfect for the music, she's also a mean guitarist and her work is innovative while remaining firmly grounded in the blues tradition.

All of these women can sing, but are most notable for their instrumental performance. My favorite, though, after a blues blitz week-end of listening, was vocalist Angela Strehli. I admit I lived in Austin, Texas for several years, and Texas Roadhouse Blues have a special place in my heart. But, wow! Fire up this CD and there's nothing left to do - just kick back, settle in, and reach for a cold one. This is Texas, y'all, and this woman is singin' the blues!

No comments: