Reviews

The Title Tells the Tale

Rob Stone: forward looking energy (Photo: Toby Jacobs)
Rob Stone: forward looking energy (Photo: Toby Jacobs)

rob-stone-rollinGOTTA KEEP ROLLIN’

Rob Stone

VizzTone

Rob Stone’s fourth CD as a bandleader and his VizzTone debut, Gotta Keep Rollin’, is a treasure trove of 12 originals and covers that fans of post-war, electric Chicago blues will want on their CD shelves (or in their iTunes library). While Rob has relocated to Southern California, his newest CD builds on a trio of classic Chicago blues releases: Back Around Here (Earwig, 2010) and two releases with the C-Notes: Just My Luck (Earwig, 2003) and his 1998 debut on Marquis, No Worries.

Leading the C-Notes, Rob’s bandmates were guitarist Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn, who have since grown into artists in their own right, on the Chicago-based Earwig label. The duo’s Stop and Think About It earned a Blues Music Award nomination from The Blues Foundation in Memphis in 2008 and won the 2009 Blues Blast Award for Best New Artist Debut. On Gotta Keep Rollin’, former C-Notes Chris and Patrick rejoin Rob, as does David Maxwell on piano and Bill Dahl on the computer keyboard (for his exceptional liner notes that tell an interesting and compelling story of how Rob and his band mates have matured over time practicing their craft as Chicago bluesmen).

Short video profile of Rob Stone

In addition to C-Note alumni Patrick, David and Chris, Gotta Keep Rollin’ features a core band of all-star Chicago blues talent that includes John Primer on guitar, Henry Gray on piano, Willie “The Touch” Hayes on drums and one of the newest inductees into the Blues Hall of Fame, Eddie Shaw on sax.

My favorite originals–written by Rob, Chris and Patrick–include “Not No Mo,’” which is sure to be a popular late-night call and response blues anthem when Rob returns to Chicago’s Smoke Daddy or the House of Blues. The upbeat “Blues Keep Rollin’ On” reflects the forward-looking energy of the album’s title, while the instrumental “Strollin’ With Sasquatch” gives each band member a chance to show off.

The cover of Cornelius Green’s “It’s Easy When You Know How” reminds me of advice a high school social studies teacher once gave me. Mr. McDaniel often told me that “tests are never hard for those that know the answers.”

On this CD, Rob digs deep into Chicago blues history for two of his cover songs: Jazz Gillum’s “She Belongs to Me” and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s “Wonderful Time.” Gillum, an Indianola, Mississippi, native, relocated to Chicago in the early 1920s and began working with “Big Bill” Broonzy and the Bluebird label in the 1920s and 1930s. He was one of the most popular pre-war harp players and was the first to record “Key to the Highway” with Broonzy. Sadly, he was shot dead in an argument over gambling in the 1960s long after his recording career ended.

SELECTED TRACK: a grinding cover of Willie McTell’s ‘Cold Winter Day,’ from Gotta Keep Rollin’ On. Rob Stone, vocal and harmonica; Chris James and John Primer, guitars; Patrick Rynn, bass; Wilie Hayes drums; David Maxwell, piano.

I’m pleased that Rob has kept John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson’s memory alive as he is often referred to as “Sonny Boy the First” (unlike his contemporary, Rice Miller, who took on the same stage name and made a name for himself in the blues). On Williamson’s “Wonderful Time,” the band has a lot of fun with this jaunty cover infused with West Coast jump blues. Williamson, like Gillum, was also a Bluebird recording artist, and this label captured many early blues artists on the top floor of the Leland Tower in Aurora, Illinois. Today an historical plaque recognizes these recordings, located at the tower’s entrance, not far from the popular Blues on the Fox Festival.

Speaking of Chicago blues history, Gotta Keep Rollin’ reminds me of many Chess label LPs that initially drew me to blues music as a college student. This CD has the fresh, open feel of records produced at 2120 South Michigan Avenue and here’s hoping it helps readers discover Rob Stone’s earlier CDs.

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Eric Steiner is the Editor of Washington Blues Society Bluesletter and the immediate past president of the Washington Blues Society. He served on the Blues Foundation Board of Directors from 2010 to 2013. A former Chicagoan, he is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Blues Guide.

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Reprinted with permission of the author and Chicago Blues Guide, whose founder/editor Linda Cain has also contributed to Deep Roots. Chicago Blues Guide is a complete guide to Chicago’s current blues scene. The Guide section contains listings for Chicagoland’s blues clubs, bands, radio shows, record labels and links. The webzine features plenty of photos, news and features on what’s happening in the home of the blues, including interviews, events, DVD and CD reviews, and live blues

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