BY TOM CALLAHAN
This is the first release in almost 15 year by Chicago blues harp master, Billy Branch and his band, Sons of Blues. And if you think this is just going to be another Chicago Blues album with a million Little Walter harp classics, you would miss the point entirely. This is Chicago blues as a vibrant, evolving art form. And Branch is such a harmonica master Blues Shock is a must listen to for blues fans.
Proof that this is not just a blues retread comes on the first song “Sons of Blues” which blast out with a heavy funk blast of horns. This is an album that swings the blues, most often led by Branch’s amazing harp work.
The sons of blues are now the elder statesmen of the blues, which proves the truth of the old Rolling Stones song, “Time Waits For No One.” Branch was a protégé of one of the true Chicago blues giants, Willie Dixon. Way back in 1977 Branch was among a group of young “next generation” blues musicians including Dixon’s son, Freddy, and Carrie Bell’s son, Lurrie, who were chosen to travel to the Berlin Jazz Festival. The Sons of Blues were born and often toured with Willie Dixon’s All Stars. Branch is the only original member in the current Sons of Blues lineup. In 1984, Branch performed on what is still one of the greatest harp blues albums of all times, Alligator’s Harp Attack with the legendary harp masters James Cotton, Junior Wells and Carey Bell. Anybody who loves the blues must have that classic CD.
Branch was the kid of that bunch still in 1984. But that is no longer the case. Over the years he has appeared on something like 200 albums and, like his mentor Dixon, has served as a nonstop ambassador of the Chicago blues and blues in general. He has also tried to give back by being involved in the “Blues in Schools” programs.
Blues Shock is not a comeback CD because he never went anyplace in the first place. Songs like “Blues Shock” and “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time” pay tribute to the glory bars and clubs on Chicago blues past and their proud place in that city’s African-American culture. But a true treat is the remake of John Lee Hooker’s classic “Boom Boom” with Branch’s fat harp substituting for Hooker’s classic blues guitar.
Billy Branch is too great a bluesman in his own right for the world to have to wait another 15 year for a new release.
DOWNLOAD: “Dog House” “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time” and “Boom, Boom.”