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Macy Blackman and the Mighty Fines - Don’t You Just Know It

Mamaru Records

16 tracks Total time: 52:56

Veteran pianist/working musician, music coach, piano tuner, musicologist and music teacher Macy Blackman has been intimately involved with New Orleans R&B ever since his teenage years playing in bands in Delaware and Philly, due, of course, to the ubiquitous influence of New Orleans R&B on the rock he played. This relationship only deepened after moving to New York City in 1966, where he befriended Charles “Hungry” Williams, a New Orleans drummer who’d played not only on every hit of Huey Lewis and the Clowns, but had also backed Fats Domino, Professor Longhair, Earl King, “Clarence “Frogman” Henry, and many other Crescent City greats. Through Williams, Macy Blackman had even gotten a chance to play with Dr. John. So it’s only natural that Blackman and his band, the Mighty Fines, would want to do a CD that would be a tribute to this music, and would also honor his now-dead friend and teacher. Blackman and the Mighty Fines do just that, and do it with aplomb and pizzazz.

Macy Blackman and the Mighty Fines are a five-person piano-and-horn-driven ensemble, with nary a guitar among them. Pianist/vocalist Blackman also plays cornet, both solo and simultaneously with piano on four cuts. Ken “Snakebite” Jacobs plays baritone sax, and Nancy Wright plays tenor sax, and also does lead vocals on three cuts. Horn interplay is excellent throughout, with the of two-sax combination, and the combo of saxes with cornet, creating a wall of sound that complements the piano well. Piano, baritone sax, and tenor sax solos abound, played consistently with true R&B grit. Especially interesting for me was the extensive use by “Snakebite” Jacobs of the baritone sax as a solo instrument able to move far beyond mere accompaniment. Rounding out the Mighty Fines are Jack Dorsey, drums, and Bing Nathan, bass.

Naturally, then, this release is a showcase for songs by the great New Orleans vocalists, from contemporaries who recorded from the mid-1960s to now, as well as the classic vocalists of the 1950s and early Sixties. Representing the former are the late Chuck Carbo on track 1, the rowdy “Black Drawers;” Dr. John, track 10, “Cold, Cold, Cold,” which, like “Black Drawers,” are later compositions that benefitted from the freeing up of musical conventions by late-1960s rock. Rounding out the contemporaries, of course, is Johnny Adams, here represented by two tracks—track 9, “Roadblock,” and track 13, “Imitation of Love.”

The classic vocalists, in roughly chronological order, are represented by neighboring Texas pianist Amos Milburn and his 1949 hit, “Chicken Shack Boogie,” track 3, which he later re-recorded in New Orleans. Fats Domino, naturally, with two obscure, but good, songs, track 4’s “Detroit City” and track 12’s “Ain’t It Good;” Smiley Lewis on track 7, “Someday You’ll Want Me;” and Huey Smith and the Clowns, track 5’s “Don’t You Just Know It” and track 8’s “Little Chickie Wah-Wah.” Rounding out the roster of classic vocalists is, of course, the inimitable Ernie K-Doe, represented here with two of his early 1960s hits: “Hello My Lover,” track 2, and “Certain Girl,” track 15.

But such a showcase for great singers is also a showcase for great songwriters, with several of New Orleans’s best represented here. Some were songwriters who wrote material for themselves, some wrote for others to perform. Among the former are Amos Milburn with “Chicken Shack Boogie,” Fats Domino with “Detroit City,” a paean to the Motor City that was the B side of “The Fat Man,” contender for first rock ‘n’ roll recording; and the rhumba-beat “Ain’t It Good,” recorded in 1953 but not released until 1959. And Dr. John with “Cold, Cold, Cold.” Songwriters writing for others include Percy Mayfield with “Roadblock,” a vocal for Wright; Dave Bartholomew with “Someday You’ll Want Me;” Ike Turner writing for the Ikettes, track 14’s “I’m Blue,” another Wright vocal; Allen Toussaint with “Certain Girl;” and the two doctors in the house, Dr. John and Doc Pomus with “Imitation of Love.”

This release also digs into the archives of jazz ballads, and comes up with two gems: “I’ll Never Be Free,” track 11, a vocal duet with Blackman and Wright that was a 1950 hit for Tennessee Ernie Ford and Kay Starr; Blackman took the version here from the cover version by Paul Gayten and Annie Laurie. Even earlier is “I’ll Never Be The Same,” track 16, a 1932 hit for Guy Lombardo’s and Paul Whiteman’s big bands that Blackman takes from a 1937 recording by Billie Holliday with jazz notables Teddy Wilson and Lester Young, and which features Nancy Wright departing from her usual R&B playing to give a sax solo that is mellow and lyrical. Blackman and Wright infuse R&B emotive projection into their jazz vocals here, giving to these ballads an insistent, bluesy edge.

Bassist Bing Nathan switches to piano, and Ken Jacobs to clarinet, on track 6, “Papa’s Cool Blues,” the CD’s only original, and the only instrumental. Although Nathan wrote it as a tribute to Oakland, California bluesman Haskell “Cool Papa” Sadler, “Papa’s Cool Blues” is actually ragtime-infused old-timey New Orleans jazz that harkens back to the days of Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver. It features horn work that combines cornet, clarinet and tenor sax, as well as giving each instrument solo space. On this number, Kit Robertson fills in on bass.

Both Macy Blackman and Nancy Wright have naturally bluesy voices—Blackman’s a hoarse, gravelly tenor, Wright’s a semi-shouting mezzo soprano that’s reminiscent in its approach to Ruth Brown and Dinah Washington. Their vocals don’t just sing the blues, they feel them as well. So does the instrumentation throughout, and it’s hard to beat the playlist. Rounding out the many high points of the CD is the four pages of thorough notes and annotation by music writer Lee Hildebrand.

Reviewer George "Blues Fin Tuna" Fish hails from Indianapolis, Indiana, home of blues legends Yank Rachell and Leroy Carr. He has written a regular music column for several years. He wrote the liner notes for Yank Rachell’s Delmark album, Chicago Style. He has been a blues and pop music contributor for the left-wing press as well, and has appeared in Against the Current and Socialism and Democracy.

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