Terry Garland & Li’l Ronnie – ‘Live At The Canal Club’ – EllerSoul Records ER 20101, 48:38 ****:
(Terry Garland – guitar, foot mic, vocals; Ronnie Owens – harmonica, vocals)
Tennessee native Terry Garland has made the rounds as an acoustic blues musician. He has become a master of the slide guitar, bringing a Delta sensibility to his work. A regular on the festival circuit, his brand of foot stomping, finger picking blues has earned a reputation as a unique performer and songwriter. Career highlights included opening for Leon Russell, and performing at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage.
Ronnie Owens (aka Li’l Ron) has been fronting his own bands for over twenty-five years. Owens, a fierce harp player has played with and opened for a variety of blues legends including John Lee Hooker, Taj Mahal, Gatemouth Brown, and James Cotton to name a few. An affinity for rhythm ‘n blues, fifties rock and jazz has created a buzz for his live shows. His touring band The Grand Dukes have played all venues from bars and festivals to Lincoln Center.
Live At The Canal Club is a straightforward duo performance that features original compositions and covers. As the CD opens, the chemistry is on full display. “Hard Weather” combines Garland’s slide guitar, foot mic stomping and gritty vocals with the wailing harp of Owens. Those who remember the fifties’ hit, “Stagger Lee” will appreciate this reincarnation. The infamous gambling tale is now a country blues tune with a back porch feel. Owens’ harp play is crisp and plays well off the acoustic guitar licks of Garland. The incomparable Jimmy Reed is treated faithfully on “Upside Your Head” (one of two tunes). Reed’s unmistakable rhythm patterns (one of the greatest influences on guitar-based rock and roll) are preserved in fitting tribute. Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Be Satisfied” is simple heartfelt blues with growling vocals. Owens and Garland play in symmetrical lines. Owens is proficient in blending rawness with fluidity.
When Ronnie Owens assumes the lead on vocals, the sound is decidedly soulful and rough. “Crazy Mixed Up World” (Willie Dixon) is a snarling toe-tapping groove. The raucous harp is anchored by Garland’s rhythm guitar chords, ending in a soft fade. Gambling (a blues prerogative) is revisited as simile on Owens’ original “Bettin’ On My Baby”. Another Owens song (“Thing Big”) is a rollicking instrumental that heats up the performance. Garland gets in on the up tempo party with the closing track “Dude Boy Boogie” (his own tune). Three minutes of revved up honky tonk provide a rousing finish to a no frills set of good blues.
Live At The Canal Club is solid, intuitive and will undoubtedly raise the question…will there be more from this duo?
TrackList: Hard Weather; Stagger Lee; Upside Your Head; Trouble On The Way: Can’t Be Satisfied; Bettin’ On My Baby; It’s A Sin; Think Big; Life’s Changes; Crazy Mixed Up World; Dude Boy Boogie
— Robbie Gerson