Sunday, August 31, 2014
Jim Brewer - Same
By the mid-1950’s, after roaming around for a bit, he was back in Chicago where he married his wife Fannie. Brewer’s new mother-in-law bought him an electric guitar and amplifier. Returning to Maxwell Street, where he began performing in the early 1940's, he devoted himself exclusively to religious music. In 1962, however, he was offered an opportunity to play blues at a concert at Northwestern University and also began a regular gig at the No Exit Cafe which lasted for two decades. He went on to play major festivals and clubs in the United States, Canada and Europe. He was recorded by Swedish Radio in 1964, cut sides for the Heritage label, was recoded by Pete Welding who issued the sides on his Testament label was well as Milestone and Storyville, plus cut the full-length albums Jim Brewer (Philo, 1974) and Tough Luck (Earwig, 1983). Brewer was also captured on film performing with his wife on Maxwell Street in 1964 for the documentary And This Is Free.
Recorded less than a decade apart, Brewer's two full-length albums are marvelous examples of his artistry showcasing him playing solo acoustic on a program of mostly standards. Jim Brewer was recorded live at Kirkland College to an appreciative audience and Brewer seems at his best when working a crowd. Four cuts on Tough Luck were recorded live at the 9th annual Gambier Folk Festival in 1980 while the other numbers were cut in the studio in 1978 and 1982. I think the first album is the stronger of the two and really benefits from the fact that it captures a complete live performance complete with plenty of charming asides to the audience who seem captivated by Brewer's lively singing and guitar playing. Clas Ahlstrand summed up Brewer's guitar style succinctly in a 1967 Blues Unlimited article: "As a blues guitarist Jim Brewer must be considered one of the best in Chicago. His style is complex and filled with an easy, fluent rhythm. It is is definitely not 'Chicago styled, but softer and more 'Country.'" Indeed like his repertoire, which seems frozen in the 1940's and in the traditional songs he heard as a youngster, his guitar playing too seems firmly rooted in a Mississippi country style he learned as a youth. But as Ahlstrand points out, its appeal lies in Brewer's deep sense of rhythm which effortlessly rolls from his fingertips belying the complexity of his playing. This driving complexity is heard to fine effect in the good time numbers "She Wants To Boogie" and "Shak-a-You-Boogie" as well as a gorgeous version of the chestnut "St. Louis Blues" delivered with a seductive drive and sense of humor that invests this well worn tune with brand new sheen. The same can be said on a warmly sung version of "Corrina" and a powerful cover of "Crawlin' King Snake." Brewer plays only one gospel number on these albums, opening up his self titled album with a rousing, sanctified version of "I'll Fly Away" that lasts just over a minute before segueing into "Liberty Bill" which he announces by saying "Now I'm going to play some, some old, you know them way back down home blues." In addition to his guitar skills, Brewer possesses a powerful yet easygoing voice, often drawing out his lines for dramatic effect.
Brewer's four live cuts from Tough Luck, are every bit as good as the previous album; Brewer is in commanding form on the stark, powerfully sung "Goin' Away Baby", a driving version of Tommy Johnson's timeless "Big Road" and employs a gentle voice and deft fingerpicking to "Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad." There's a reason certain songs have become standards and even though you may have heard "kansas City Blues" umpteen times, artists like Brewer are able to find the very essence of what makes this song so timeless, giving this classic a vivacious reading a feat he also performs on Arthur Crudup's "Mean Old 'Frisco." Brewer is a fine interpreter as he shows on terrific versions of Big Maceo's "Poor Kelley" and "Tough Luck Blues" and Walter Davis' "Come Back Baby", ably translated from piano to guitar. "Oak Top Boogie", a mostly instrumental with spoken asides, is a fine guitar boogie while "Hair Like A Horse's Mane" is a beautiful version of this standard and a song he clearly had an affection for, cutting it originally back in 1964.
Unfortunately Brewer's two LP's are long out of print and only a few of his songs appear on CD; a pair of songs on a couple of Earwig anthologies, his songs for Swedish Radio can be found on the CD I Blueskvarter Chicago 1964, Volume One and a few gospel numbers appear on And This Is Maxwell Street. Brewer remained an in demand musician until the end, and as long time supporter Andy Cohen wrote: "He died with gigs on his calendar."
Thanks to Sundayblues/org for the review.