Zora Young

The French Connection

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Zora Young is likely the most internationally traveled female blues singer over three decades. So it is logical for her to hook up with a band of musicians from France, where she has toured extensively. This recording is a combination of studio dates and live performances done over a 16-month period while Young made separate tour dates, all in conjunction with multi-instrumentalist Bobby Dirninger, his various handpicked band ates, and the Paris-based Natural Blues Band, all who are very competent in playing authentic Chicago-style electric blues. The material ranges from some classic tunes everybody knows, to pop, gospel, country songs, and a lone original apiece from Young and Dirninger. Remaining one of the premier female blues vocalists, right up there in league with the late Koko Taylor, Young's got her thing goin' on, carrying in her pipes the soul-sending tradition of her predecessors, while always adding her own somewhat elegant, sly, bawdy, only slightly nasty personal style to the proceedings. Dirninger is impressive as a band leader, and he plays everything -- acoustic or electric guitar, slide guitar, organ, piano, percussion -- while singing just a little bit. He seems to always know what Young needs as inspiration, whether unplugged or amped up. Of the concert performances live at the Caf' Conc' D'Ensisheim in Alsace, the horn-fired, slide guitar-incited shuffle "Wang Dang Doodle," or a slow and sighing "Honey Bee" would certainly do respective progenitors Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters proud. A version of Hank Snow's "I'm Movin' On" is done spot-on and rocking, while the steady rollin' "Rock Me Baby" might sound typical to some, but Young is truly in the zone, and hitting on all cylinders. Young's own "Toxic" is a slow, low-down and dirty blues where Dirninger's talent on the piano shines through. Studio sessions done in Limoges, which many of these French musicians call home, comprise the bulk of the recording, and the results are mixed depending on the material. "Better Be Ready" is surprising in that it has a much more contemporary, organ groove-blues feel, despite the overt wah-wah psychedelic guitar and vocoder underpinnings. The upper-end tracks include two versions of Sunnyland Slim's "Goin' Back to Memphis," one with a modified, modern blues style featuring a shaker and Dirninger's slide guitar in a cool attitude, the other in acoustic trim, done faster. "Mystery Train" rambles the boogie with conviction, while "See See Rider" again features the shaker in shuffle mode. Unfortunately, "Just a Closer Walk with Thee" is played out of tune, "In the Ghetto" is a poor choice though Young's spoken tales of her travails begins to qualify the selection, and Bob Dylan's "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here with You" in vocal duet with Dirninger is kinda corny. Zora Young is an accomplished singer, one that any blues fan can appreciate, and she is well-represented on this date, just not to her maximum effect.

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