Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Murali Coryell Live CD and DVD Review


This review was originally published in the April 4, 2013 edition of Blues Blast Magazine. Be sure to check out the rest of the magazine at thebluesblast.com

Murali Coryell – Live

Shake-It-Sugar Records


Disc 1 (CD): 11 tracks / 1:12:40

Disc 2 (DVD): 10 tracks / 51:28

When I opened up Murali Coryells’ Live CD set last week, I did not know that I was in for a few surprises. For starters, I have not heard of anybody else with the Coryell surname, with the exception of the astounding fusion guitarist, Larry Coryell. Well, it turns out that Murali is his son. The second surprise was what that this two disc set includes both a CD with 72 minutes of music AND a live performance DVD from another show – what a bonus!

As I said, Murali Coryell was born into a musical family, and he grew up in the Northeast surrounded by great musicians such as Carlos Santana and Miles Davis. He started on the drums, but switched to blues guitar after being exposed to B.B. King’s Live at the Regal, which should be in any blues fan’s collection. Mostly self-taught, he has played both as a sideman and with his own bands since the late 1980s. Over the years he has released at least seven of his own albums (by my count), as well as a neat collaboration with his father and his brother, Julian.

The first disc in his Live collection is the CD, Live at Club Helsinki, which was recorded on July 30, 2012 at the fabulous club in Hudson, New York. Murali takes care of the guitars and vocals, with Dorian Randolph on drums, Vince Leggiere on bass, Bill Foster on guitar, and Stacey Waterous on the sax. Cameron Melville (the owner of Club Helsinki) sits in on a few tracks on the B-3 organ, too. This disc is mostly original songs, with a couple neat covers, including Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On.”

After a quick intro, the set kicks off with “In the Room with Jimi,” which is a neat way to find out what Murali is all about. He has a smoky voice that doesn’t sound the least bit like Connecticut, and his guitar skills are formidable. As he cut loose with powerful riffs over Randolph’s machine gun drums, it is apparent that he is not a carbon copy of his dad, but rather has become his own man.

Despite the Hendrix-inspired first track, Coryell is not a flashy player and there is a nice mixture of genres on this disc. The solidly-written original songs are firmly rooted in the traditions of the blues. For example, “I Can’t Give You Up” is an upbeat tune in the 70’s R&B tradition that borrows a refrain from Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” that turns into a sing-along with the audience. From there they segue into “I Could’ve Had You,” and this Smokey Robinson-style ballad manages to put into words the feelings that any man with a lost love has felt.

The sleeping giant of Live at Club Helsinki is Freddie King’s “Love Her with a Feeling” a 10-minute slow-grinding blues jam. The band is totally in the pocket on this one with Randolph and Leggiere holding down the bottom line under an onslaught of guitars, horns, distortion and 60-cycle hum. Listening to Waterous soar on the sax and Coryell howl on the guitar, I am reminded of why I got into music in the first place.

The music is great throughout, and I like the banter that Murali throws out to introduce songs, but find the way the CD was edited to be a bit off. The fade-ins and cutoffs of some of the tracks are very abrupt, and this is quite a distraction when trying to get into the live performance vibe. Despite this small criticism, it is a very good disc, and it is certainly worth making the time to listen to it.

The second disc is the DVD, Live at Roots & Blues, which was taped on August 14, 2010 at the festival in Salmon Arm, British Columbia. This one features a more bare bones set-up, with Coryell on vocals and guitar, Randolph on drums, Henry Oden on the bass and Dave Fleschner sitting in on the keys. All of the songs in this set are originals with the exception of his finale of Sam Cooke’s “Bring it on Home to me.”

This late afternoon / early evening set is captured by at least five cameras, and everybody gets some screen time. This performance has plenty of guitar and popping bass and maybe not quite enough drums for me, but overall it is still super listenable, and it is certainly enjoyable to watch. The band is tight, and it was a good move getting Fleishner to join in as he adds a whole new element to their sound.

The set list is a bit different than the Club Helsinki show, but the level of professionalism is the same. Their festival show starts out with “Sugar Lips,” which was a good choice as it is a really strong song and provides the viewer with the opportunity to compare it to the version on the other disc, and find out that Murali Coryell’s live show is consistently good. As I have already gassed on too long here I will not give a track-by-track account, but will simply say that this was a fun show and I would love to get the chance to see Murali perform in person some day.

After playing both discs I was struck with how unique Murali Coryell’s guitar tone and voice are. I can play any track and know just by the sound that it is him, which is a great compliment. Live is over two hours of great music for the money, and both the CD and DVD are worth the money. By becoming familiar with these discs, you will gain an appreciation of his formidable live performance skills, so you should give them a try!


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