Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Lurrie Bell – The Devil Ain’t Got No Music – Arai B.G. Records

Gospel and blues unite at the crossroads.

Published on April 13, 2012

Lurrie Bell – The Devil Ain’t Got No Music – Arai B.G. Records

Lurrie Bell – The Devil Ain’t Got No Music – Arai B.G. Records ABG2, 47:38 [4/17/2012] ****½: 

(Lurrie Bell – guitar, vocals; Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith – percussion Bill Sims Jr. – guitar, hand claps, vocals; Joe Louis Walker – slide guitar; Josef Ben Israel – upright bass; Matthew Skoller – harmonica; Billy Branch – harmonica; Mike Avery – vocals; James Teague – vocals; Cynthia Butts – vocals)

Lurrie Bell has succeeded the blues royalty (Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf; Buddy Guy, Magic Sam and Otis Rush) in his hometown of Chicago.  At the age of seven, Bell lived in Mississippi and Alabama for several years. There, he played guitar in the local church, and developed an affinity for gospel music. He would not adopt blues (or “the Devil’s music’ as the southern folks referred to it), until he returned to the Windy City. For years, he wanted to make a “gospel-blues” album, and in late 2011, he seized this opportunity.

Whether it’s gospel blues or bluesy gospel, The Devil Ain’t Got No Music is Delta-influenced   music.  On the opening track (the usually mournful, “Swing Low”), Bell sets up a foot stomping rhythm on acoustic guitar. His growling intense vocals are energized by the drumming of Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith and the signature hand claps of Bill Sims Jr. (both members of Heritage Blues Orchestra). The following track, “It’s A Blessing” flows like a processional, with nifty slide guitar riffs by Joe Louis Walker. There is a connection between the religious content and the raw blues musical context. Walker returns with electric slide on the Reverend Thomas Dorsey hymnal, “Peace In The Valley”. Bell, Walker, and Sims Jr. sparkle on “I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own” in a church service jam, with testimony, handclaps and spirited vocals.

The instrumentation is stripped down, and doesn’t overwhelm the simple guitar/voice anchor. The title cut (taken from an interview quote by Mavis Staples) is pure acoustic blues with help from producer Matthew Skoller on harmonica. Bell’s guitar runs are simple but powerful. Another gem is “Search Me Lord” with soulful backup vocals by Mike Avery and James Teague. The intrinsic rhythm of blues is always present in Bell’s guitar work. With a fuller arrangement, “Trouble In My Way” (one of several traditional pieces), Billy Branch (on harmonica) joins the expanded vocal ensemble.

There are some unexpected covers. “Lo And Behold” (from James Taylor’s Sweet Baby James) is a great duet with Bell and Sims Jr. sharing guitar and vocals. Tom Waits’  “Way Down In The Hole”( Frank’s Wild Years) keeps the moody theatrics with Smith’s austere, propulsive drumming and some ethereal vocalese by Cynthia Butts. Blues enthusiasts will be elated by the rendition of a lesser-known Muddy Waters number “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You”. Creating a joyous feeling (like “Will The Circle Be Unbroken”), the solo performance is as good as it gets. The simple strumming, gruff singing and guitar thumping resonate. The finale, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” (by Reverend Gary Davis) is a slowed down meditation, with an appropriate solo recital by Bell.

Fans of blues, gospel or acoustic guitar will be uplifted by The Devil Ain’t Got No Music.

TrackList:  Swing Low; It’s A Blessing; Search Me Lord; Don’t Let The Devil Ride; Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You; The Devil Ain’t Got No Music; Peace In The Valley; Way Down In The Hole; Lo And Behold; I’ll Get To Heaven On My Own; Trouble In My Way; Death Don’t Have No Mercy

—Robbie Gerson

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