Billy Branch & the Sons of Blues

Blues Shock

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Harp master Billy Branch has been a figure of the note on the Chicago blues scene since he was discovered by Willie Dixon in 1969, and after more than four decades, he's grown from a young buck bringing new blood to the blues scene to an elder statesman who stands tall for the music's traditions. Blues Shock arrives ten years after Billy Branch last released an album, but it sounds like he and his latest edition of the Sons of Blues are still in fighting shape, playing tight, straight-ahead blues with force, imagination and wit. Branch's muscular harmonica work is still the heart of this band, and his soloing is fine indeed, but Branch has made this an ensemble set, with his musicians -- Dan Carelli on guitar, Sumito "Ariyo" Ariyoshi on keyboards, Nick Charles on bass, and Moses Rutues on drums -- getting plenty of room to shine and show off their impressive instrumental skills. Branch's first loyalty is to Chicago blues, but Blues Shock is a stylistically diverse set, finding room for funky grooves ("Sons of Blues"), vintage soul ("Function at the Junction"), upbeat dance numbers ("Baby Let Me Butter Your Corn"), jazz-influenced instrumentals ("Song for my Mother") and string-laden ballads ("Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time") along with traditional-sounding numbers like "Crazy Mixed-Up World," "Back Alley Cat," and "Dog House." And along with typical tales of hitting the clubs (the title tune) and dealing with the opposite sex ("Dog House" and "Slow Moe"), Branch delivers a moving tribute to Chicago's musical past, "Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time," inspired by the story of Gerri Oliver, who ran the Palm Tavern, Chicago's premiere African-American nightclub of the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Billy Branch is a man who strives to keep traditions alive, but he isn't about to let his music grow stagnant, and Blues Shock shows there's plenty of fun and fresh ideas to be found in a form as time-tested as Chicago blues. It's a great set.

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