Teeny Tucker,
Keep the Blues Alive
(TeBo, 2010)

Teeny Tucker arrives with a superior set of blues genes, courtesy of her father Tommy Tucker, whom some may recall from the terrific "Hi-Heel Sneakers." Twelve-bar blues are rarely mainstream pop hits, but Tucker, who both performed and wrote the song, managed to do it in 1964. Teeny is his daughter, who -- as the title and content of Keep the Blues Alive attest -- has become something of a blues evangelist. One song bears the oddly defensive title "Respect Me & the Blues." You might be tempted to suspect that Teeny Tucker has personalized the blues in a way that defies the usual definition of the phrase.

Her gifts, which are considerable, are on display in this collection, as is her taste for the sounds of 1960s Chicago, a rich and often overlooked period of blues history. She's a tough, punchy singer who manages a rare vocal restraint; she's not shouting, and she's certainly not shrieking. Perhaps that's one way of saying she sounds as if she learned to sing the blues by listening to blues artists and records, not by singing high-decibel gospel in church. She also knows something about country blues. Not itself a blues, her heartfelt tribute to the late folk-bluesman John Cephas (1930-2009) also name-checks Skip James, Mississippi John Hurt, Tampa Red, Blind Boy Fuller, Rev. Gary Davis, Blind Blake and Blind Lemon Jefferson.

Elsewhere, she evinces a winning sense of humor. "Old Man Magnet," which she wrote with her guitarist Robert Hughes, is a witty, rueful reversal of the sexual boasting so much in the vocabulary of male bluesmen. On the other hand, the opening cut, the narrative "Ain't That the Blues," is about as bleak as a song can get. Fortunately, it's not a taste of what is to come, though not every cut evokes laughs and celebrates good times. She gets the Muddy Waters warhorse "Got My Mojo Working," which I could have sworn I never wanted to hear again, riding in fine fettle. Perhaps she chose it as an opportunity to declare that she's ready to race with the greats.

A warm and enjoyable CD, this one will please listeners who take soul and sincerity over technique and bombast any time. My one complaint is Tucker's tendency to draw attention to herself as a blues singer. That's the subject of no fewer than four of the 11 cuts, where Tucker sings of the blues as opposed to simply singing the blues. At a certain point, some degree of consumer exhaustion may set in. That's not reason, if you love blues, to let Keep the Blues Alive get past you. Teeny Tucker has much going for her, and I suspect we will be -- happily for us -- hearing more of her in the future.

music review by
Jerome Clark

7 August 2010

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