Together in Las Vegas
Cephas, Mann, and Johnson are living masters of the country blues and get a rare opportunity to share their gifts with you on this CD. John Cephas is a Piedmont-style guitarist and singer, Woody Mann is a master guitarist, author, teacher, and Orville Johnson is just about the best blues dobro player you ever heard plus one heck of a singer. Their joy of playing together shines through in this one-off CD. Essential for country blues fans and fingerstyle guitar and dobro enthusiasts. Blues in Britain says: Take three hot guitarists, put them in a recording studio together and you will most likely get one of two extremes-either a dog's dinner or, as is the case here, a hot contender for acoustic album of the year. The opening track, 'Flip, Flop, and Fly' with solid picking from John, hot lead from Woody and some stunning Dobro playing from Orville is a fine indicator of what's to come on the rest of the album. In fact it would be pointless trying to pick out tracks, as every one is a winner, with sources including Rev. Gary Davis, Tampa Red, and Skip James. I was familiar with the Piedmont-style fingerpicking of John Cephas from his work with his harmonica playing partner Phil Wiggins, as well as the playing of Woody Mann, who has to be one of the finest guitarists around. Orville Johnson is a bit more obscure to me, and he really shines as a slide guitarist, effortlessly incorporating blues and country influences with the occasional Hawaiian flourish. As I have already said, there is no point in going on about this one. Suffice it to say, this album comes highly recommended to all fans of acoustic guitar music. Rating 10 B&R England says: Back in the early 1970s I went down to London and was looking for some live music-preferably blues. I ended up downstairs at Bunjie's, an atmospheric little coffee bar where Stefan Grossman was holding court and I can recall being mightily impressed with his guitar skills- but although he was referencing the likes of Gary Davis and John Hurt and I enjoyed the evening's proceedings very much, to me it was not the kind of blues I was looking for. I had actually more or less forgotten about that gig until this CD came along, making me realise that my tastes have expanded somewhat, for this is very much the 'guitar's the thing, vocals incidental' type of blues. Of course, John Cephas is a dyed-in-the-wool East Coast blues man even if these days his role is far removed from his predecessors' original functions. Listen to the first couple of minutes of his beautiful Richmond Blues for an aural definition of Piedmont blues. Woody Mann is probably nearer to Grossman meteir, a guitar teacher in New York who learned from the masters-particularly Gary Davis- and whose picking is sans pareil; he also has a good ear for a strong song. Orville Johnson is, on this evidence, more of a maverick akin to Bob Brozman, and he has played blues, bluegrass, Cajun, gospel and rock in his time. Here he supplies some amazing Hawaiian and other slide licks- and, let's face it, he and Brozman are probably the only people I can think of who are likely to cover Tampa Red's appalling 'Girl of Seven'. To be fair though, it may be a homage to the supposed surroundings (or what Orville thinks the surroundings deserve) as Johnson hams it up with a vocal a la Elvis! Then there are such moving items as the Bahaman lilt of 'Jesus is Mine' and the powerful 'I Will Do My Last Singing', Rev. Gary Davis number making a very emotive closer. Much of this is undeniably beautiful music; the three men work almost telepathically together as the opener shows immediately, and the musicianship is of course phenomenal. The trio played just one professional engagement together, bringing a rare element of taste to the gambler's paradise, and then maybe then were eager to leave, as the CD was not recorded in Las Vegas, but in New Jersey and Washington and is probably all the better for it. All of makes this an indispensable release for lovers of country blues guitar.