Elvin Bishop 

The Blues Rolls On

The Blues Rolls On is the rawest, rockin'est blues album of 2008, the crowning achievement of Elvin Bishop's 44-year recording career. The North Bay-based musician remains one of the genre's most distinctive guitar stylists, melding a slashing attack with a keen ear for melody. His cracking voice is an acquired taste, however, best suited to numbers on which he adopts his down-home Pigboy Crabshaw persona. Bishop wisely turns the mike over to John Nemeth, Angela Strehli, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and other more accomplished singers for half the dozen tracks. He also gets plenty of instrumental help from guitarists Brooks, B.B. King, Warren Hayes, Tommy Castro, Derek Trucks, and George Thorogood; harmonica blowers Nemeth, James Cotton, and Kim Wilson; and accordionist Andre Thierry. Homemade Jamz, a trio of siblings age nine to sixteen, accompanies Bishop on one selection.

The sessions could have turned into unfocused jams, yet each song was well planned. On the classic "Yonder's Wall," Bishop, Castro, and Brooks limit their solos to one quick chorus apiece. And familiar songs are given fresh twists. David "Fathead" Newman's famous four-bar alto sax intro to Ray Charles' "Night Time Is the Right Time" is rendered by Bishop on guitar, and on "Honest I Do," Jimmy Reed's vocal parts are replaced by Bishop's sweetly stinging slide guitar.

The autobiographical "Oklahoma," a talking blues by Bishop with only his fiercely distorted guitar and stomping foot for support, traces his journey from Tulsa to Chicago, then to the Summer of Love in San Francisco and later fame in the Southern rock realm. Rife with self-deprecating humor, the song is to Bishop's generation what "Boogie Chillen" was to John Lee Hooker and other earlier refugees from the rural South. (Delta Groove)

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