Barbara Blue

Sweet, Strong, &Tight

2016 (Big Blue Records)

13 songs, 51 minutes

by Michael Rampa

Any songstress would love to draw comparisons to Etta James, Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. Make no mistake, Pittsburgh native Barbara Blue can channel them all, but she is more than a blues singer. Her latest, “Memphis Blue; Sweet, Strong & Tight” is an amalgam of blues, rock, jazz and gospel that walks the line between finesse and power both vocally and instrumentally. With a 10 album discography including three live CDs and three backed by Taj Mahal’s legendary Phantom Blues Band, she is an indie tour de force with serious street cred. She rocks like Joplin and scats like Ella throughout this 51 minute, 10-song effort. The arrangements are tight and juiced up by the very capable Royal Horns section.

The sassy opener, “Hands Off” features a vintage B.B. King riff, electric keys and harp. Elsewhere, the stylings range from the Brian Setzer Orchestra vibe on “No Time To Cry” and the jazzy trumpet on “Rudy’s Blues”

Traditional themes run throughout from the gospel revival feel on “Me & Jesus” to the lack of time, money and patience on the supercharged “SuperBlues.”

Ironically, on an album chock full of tried and true covers written by some Memphis heavy hitters, the standouts are the numbers Blue had a hand in writing. The sexy, atmospheric “Rollin’ Up On Me.”  is given a Zydeco feel thanks to Sonny Barbato on accordion and Cody Dickinson’s washboard. “Voodoo Woman” has a Muscle Shoals vibe and invokes a seductive temptress. Whether she is singing in powerful full voice or in a sexy whisper, you get the feel that she can cover Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf with ease. That said, some blues artists have issues performing out of the genre but Blue successfully tackles multiple genres with befitting nuance making her a legitimate vocal stylist with blues (from Delta to Memphis)as her exceptional core competency.

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