Sunday, July 24, 2016

Chicago Blues Guide Album Review: Mississippi Heat - Warning Shot

This review was originally published in Chicago Blues Guide on November 5, 2014. Be sure to check out their website at: www.chicagobluesguide.com

Mississippi Heat - Warning Shot

Delmark Records

By Rex Bartholomew

Since 1991, Mississippi Heat has been churning out a unique brand of blues from their home base of Chicago. The band has gone through a few line-up changes over the years, but it is still led by Pierre Lacocque, a masterful harmonica player and first-rate songwriter. They have a big and fun sound, and are not afraid to record original material or bring their show to the stage. They have a heavy gigging schedule and a legion of dedicated fans that come out to see their wonderful high-energy shows.

Mississippi Heat recently released Warning Shot, their 11th album and fifth release from Chicago’s storied Delmark Records. It is a hearty serving of Chicago blues (with a few other flavors added), coming in at over an hour and containing 16 tracks. 14 of these tracks are originals that were written by the band members, with Lacocque getting credit on ten of them. There is a killer line-up of musicians for this disc, with Inetta Visor on vocals, Neal O’Hara on keys, Brian Quinn on bass, Sax Gordon on the saxophone, Kenny Smith and Andrew Thomas on drums, and Michael Dotson and Giles Corey on guitar. A true Windy City legend, Ruben Alvarez, also lends a hand with his tasty percussion work.

All of the songs on Warning Shot are very good, and the band placed one of the best up front! “Sweet Poison” has a frisky bounce right from the intro, with Pierre waging a harmonica battle against the guitar and holding his own. Then, when Inetta starts singing, this track is propelled to the next level with her throaty pipes tearing into her old man for his philandering ways and ruing that his love is still so sweet. There are high production levels to be found here, with crystal clear recording and a spot-on mix that will be found throughout the rest of the album. It is amazing that this disc only took two days to record!

“Alley Cat Boogie” is another peach of a song, a rocking boogie with hammering piano from O’Hara and Sax Gordon trading solos with Pierre. The backing vocals of Mae Koen, Diane Madison and Nanette Frank are a nice touch and make this track complete. You may also know them from their work on guitarist Giles Corey’s Stoned Soul album, which was released by Delmark earlier this year. This track is backed up with the Calypso stylings of “Come to Mama,” which includes some fun percussion work from Alvarez and is also notable change from the pell-mell boogie that came before -- Mississippi Heat never gets stuck in a rut on Warning Shot.

Guitarist Michael Dotson takes the vocals on the three tunes that he penned, and his voice is hearty and could possibly even be described as tortured. “Yeah Now Baby” has driving tempo that is held in check by the masterful backline of Quinn on bass and Thomas on drums, and “Swingy Dingy Baby” brings a little vintage swing fun into the mix. But the standout is “Evaporated Blues,” a funky Delta-tinged blues-rock song that only a guitar player could have written. Kenny Smith also wrote one of the tracks, “What Cha Say,” and we get to hear his lead vocals on this slow grinder as well as his fine work behind the drum kit. This quartet of songs fits in well with the rest of the material on this CD and provides even more variety to what is already a diverse collection of music.

The two covers are quite unexpected. The first is a fairly faithful revision of Ruth Brown’s “I Don’t Know” from 1959. This Brook Benton and Bobby Stevenson jazz song stands the test of time well, with Inetta taking the role of chanteuse and Lacocque’s harp and Corey’s lead guitar edging the tone a little towards the bluesier side of things. The other is completely out of left field: an instrumental take on Hank Williams’ “Your Cheating Heart.” Pierre plays the lead on his harmonica and Gordon blows a gloriously raunchy solo on his sax. This may be the best version of this song out there, besides Hank’s (of course)!

Finishing up the set is “Working Man,” with the entire band back on stage and Visor featured on the soulful lead vocals. This brand of fast-paced Chicago blues is a fine way to bring things to a close, as it is a fun reminder that this is where it all started for this top-shelf band.

Warning Shot is a well written and masterfully played album of new blues tunes that integrates all manner of influences to keep the listener entertained from beginning to end. Mississippi Heat delivered the goods with this record, and their live show is also a treat to see. They are gearing up for the Lucerne Blues Festival in Switzerland right now, but they will soon be heading back for plenty of shows around Chicago, and then on to other points in the US and Canada. Check out their website at www.mississippiheat.net

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