Spotlight on Evidence label

Chicago’s young blues generation
Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell & Sons of the Blues
Evidence Music

Tell the Truth
Phil Upchurch
Evidence Music

Tired of Being Alone
Rico McFarland
Evidence Music

Over the past 10 years Evidence Music has been releasing blues and jazz CDs, and this recent batch of three is a good indicator of its focus. The company began as a reissue-only label whose first releases were of hard-to-get foreign recordings, both jazz and blues, such as the Billy Branch, Lurrie Bell and the Sons of the Blues CD, recorded in Chicago and originally issued by the German L+R label. Since then, Evidence has begun producing its own CDs, such as the Phil Upchurch and Rico McFarland discs.

The Sons of the Blues disc (1982) spotlights the guitar and vocals of Lurrie Bell (son of famed Chicago harpmeister Carey Bell) and Billy Branch’s harmonica/vocals in a set of tried-and-true favorites that include two knockout numbers by Sonny Boy Williamson (one of the blues’ most original composers), “Help Me” and “Don’t Start Me To Talking,” as well as the stunning slow blues, “Sweet Little Angel,” featuring Bell’s dazzling guitar. Formed in 1979, these young men—in their 20s at the time—brought new sensibilities to the tradition, as did the previous generation. Bell left the group and has been replaced by Carl Weathersby, who has several of his own CDs on the label.

Phil Upchurch may be a new name to many, but during the guitarist’s 35-year career he’s worked and recorded with artists as varied as Jimmy Reed, Woody Herman, Ramsey Lewis, George Benson, Mose Allison, Howlin’ Wolf, Natalie Cole and Michael Jackson, and he is currently touring with Jimmy Smith. Tell the Truth! is the latest of 20 albums as a leader, and, as he exclaims, it’s “the most honest record I’ve ever made.” Accompanied by his working band—which includes bassist Kevin Axt, a vital part of the Charlie Robinson-Kevin Axt-Lew Langworthy Trio here in the ‘80s—Upchurch burns his way through a program that begins with a seductive version of Nat Adderly’s “Jive Samba” (set to a “Sidewinder” beat) that also showcases the marvelous piano of Dave Arnay and closes with a relaxed solo version of “Misty.” While primarily a jazzman, Upchurch is steeped in the blues and brings that sensibility into play throughout, especially on Paul Desmond’s “Take Five” and an a cappella version of W. C. Handy’s classic “St. Louis Blues.”

Rico McFarland has been James Cotton’s guitarist for the past five years, and his background also includes working as a teenager with Little Milton. At home in R&B, blues, soul, funk and gospel, McFarland has invited a pile of friends to appear on his debut CD. Vocalist Otis Clay gets into a gospel bag on the sensational “What If God Were One of Us” ("If God had a name what would it be, and would we call it to his face?"), while Syl Johnson wraps his smooth vocals around “Giving Me the Blues,” a saga of his woman who’s doing him wrong (and giving him the blues) set over a punchy horn-filled arrangement. Label mates Billy Branch and Sugar Blue give their harps a solid workout, especially Blue on Paul de Lay’s mournful “The Other One.” (Look for de Lay’s newest Evidence CD, Heavy Rotation, in stores now.) Also on board are Evidence guitarists Melvin Taylor, whipping it out on the soulful “You Got What You Wanted,” and Carl Weathersby, getting cerulean on “Blues Falling Down Like Rain.” McFarland really shines on the title track, a funky soul/blues with horns and backup singers fleshing it out.

Evidence Music has a free 24-page catalog that is definitely worth checking out and can be ordered at Great selections and very good prices.