Interview with Glenn William for (Rochester, New York) Midtown Athletic Club's Spirit Magazine in March 2013

Blues CDs New Releases - September 2013

By , Guide

September brings one of the longest lists of new releases that we've had a long time as labels prepare for those "make or break" fourth quarter sales. Plenty of great music this month too, all killer and no filler with new albums from folks like Bryan Lee, Cyril Neville, Jonny Lang, Lightnin Malcolm and many more as well as vital reissues of discs from Bumble Bee Slim, Mississippi Fred McDowell, and Roosevelt Sykes. No matter your taste in blues, here's what you'll be listening to in September...

For better than 20 years now, veteran New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee has released his music through Canada's Justin Time Records, and considering the man's immense six-string talents, I'm really surprised that no stateside label has poached Lee before now. Play One For Me is the blind bluesman's debut for Severn Records, a red-hot poker that hopefully will introduce Lee to a wider audience outside of The Big Easy, where he's a musical institution on par with the Neville family, Dr. John, or Allen Toussaint. Play One For Me is a mix of original tunes and choice covers from folks like Freddie King, Bobby Womack, and Howlin' Wolf, among others, and features a guest appearance by Fabulous Thunderbirds frontman Kim Wilson. If you haven't heard Lee, you need to because, aside from his apparent guitar skills, the guy's a strong songwriter and singer as well. The Rev says "check it out!"

Written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
by Mark S. Tucker

Dang! First glance at Bryan Lee on his Play One for Me CD cover, and I thought it was a shtonkered Col. Sanders playing the lead role in a demented version of The Phantom of the Opera! Scary…and hilarious, both at once. That, however, couldn't be further from the case, as Lee is a dyed in the wool soul man with a lot of the good ol' B.B. King on 'im, vocally and in that spare but lyrical guitar. Like B.B., he goes for the single notes and lead lines, no chords, thank you very much. Funny how such an uncluttered milieu can be so searing, though. He's also got a bit of Leon Russell down deep in his pipes and that never hurts neither nohow, nossir.

I was rocked back by his cover of Aaron Willis' When Love Begins, my favorite track on the disc—even above the funky cover of Evil is Going On—a song with strings and a resonant cello surrounding his deep growly singing. Blind since the age of eight, Lee has become a New Orleans institution all on his own, and Eric Clapton calls him one of the best bluesmen he's ever heard…and you know Eric: no-bullshit blues is his first love, no matter what you may hear on the radio (lay down, Sally, and then move the hell over 'cause we're serious tonight). And, damn, the more I listen to Lee's axe, the more it gets under my skin, burrowing straight toward the innards.

Half way through this album, if you ain't sneaking out the back door, heading for the juke joint, then you'd better just stay inside and wait for Sunday and the preacher man 'cause Play One is not for children, y'all. Doing a little research, I can't find where he's ever played with Duke Robillard, but those two definitely need to get together, no jive. This music is the old days, 30s to 60s, done up right. Lee's such an infamous hit at the famed Jump Street Five nightclub bar in the French Quarter that he and his band have played it five nights a week for a solid 14 years. Damn! And don't be too surprised if you drop in right alongside Kenny Wayne Shepherd; he and Lee have been tight as two peas in a pod for ages now…and, hell, I'm undecided as to whether I should tell you to grab the CD or buy a plane ticket to N'awleans. If you go for the latter, lemme know, so's I can break open my piggy bank 'n join ya.

Bman's Blues Report (August 15, 2013)

I just received the newest release (September 17, 2013), Play One For Me, from Bryan Lee and it's a soul stirred blues stew.
Opening with Aretha (Play One For Me) has a real nice R&B flow featuring Kevin Anker on keys and Lee on vocals. Freddie King's It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough) has a real nice blues sway and features some real sweet guitar riffs from Lee. A strong soul track written by Bobby Womack, When Love Begins (Friendship Ends) has a great lyrical line and melody. With just the right touch of blues guitar, Lee leads Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums into the mist surrounded by a solid string and horn section. Tasty guitar riffs really highlight what is likely my favorite track on the release. Chester Burnett's Evil Is Going On produces a nice treat with Kim Wilson joining on harp. Anker plays really nice key work underneath the melody providing a nice balance and Lee on vocal and guitar punctuation makes this another hot track. Straight To Your Heart is a nice New Orleans style blues funk track. I've always loved this style of blues playing and Lee has his finger on the pulse. Poison, an interesting slower blues track. Johnny Moeller on guitars and Wilson on harp add a lot to the overdriven vocals and guitar work of Lee who does a nice job on this track. Why has a real nice walking bass line and blues lope with Ankers on organ and Moeller on guitar pushing Lee to the boiling point on his guitar solo on this particular track. Really nice cut. The release ends with high steppin Sixty-Eight Years Young, a funky rhythm track having only the essence of instrumentation under vocal except for a pretty hot guitar solo.
This is a great conclusion to a really cool release!


Bryan Lee – Play One For Me - Severn CD 0059

New Orleans’ based blues veteran Bryan Lee makes his Severn Records debut with a hard-hitting and soulful set that highlights the anguished soulfulness of his vocals and his stinging blues guitar licks on a set of fine originals and well-chosen covers.

Backed by the Severn houseband of Johnny Moeller, Kevin Anker, Steve Gomes and Robb Stupka augmented by the great Kim Wilson, a seven-piece horn and four piece string section, Lee pays tribute to his Crescent City roots with the funky original ‘Sixty-Eight Years Young’ and the blues drenched ‘Let Me Love You Tonight’ which with it’s hard-riffing horns and strings brings to mind the great Wolfman Washington – as does a shimmering rendition of Dennis Geyer’s ‘Straight To The Heart’.

Wolf’s ‘Evil Is Going On’ is powered by Lee’s menacing vocals and superb harp and piano from Wilson and Anker respectively – Wilson’s harp again to the fore on a brooding Muddy inspired ‘Poison’.

The more soulful side of Lee’s repertoire is shown on a fine rendition of George Jackson’s ‘Aretha (Sing One For Me)’ replete with baying horns and clear, concise fretwork – his agonising vocals, accentuated by moaning blues guitar, on a superb version of Bobby Womack’s ‘When Love Begins (Friendship Ends)’ – and a brooding workout on Freddie King’s ‘It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough)’ with it’s rolling piano and succinct brooding guitar.

Lee has deserved greater exposure for many years and this set proves why.  (

Mick Rainsford

Don & Sheryl’s Blues Blog – September 7, 2013



Growing up in Wisconsin, Bryan Lee got exposed to the blues in much the same way we did–from the late-night R & B sounds that emanated from the 50, 000 watts of WLAC in Nashville.  He moved to New Orleans in 1982, and has become a musical institution there, holding down a five-nights-a-week gig at the Olde Absinthe House on Bourbon Street for many years.  He’s also called “The Braille Blues Daddy,” as he’s been blind since the age of eight.

For his latest album, Bryan combines his love for traditional blues with some of the R & B sounds from those WLAC days of his youth with some smooth soul-blues arrangements that comprise the cuts found in “Play One For Me.”  It’s on the Severn label, and pairs Bryan’s guitar and vocals with that label’s “house band,” featuring Kevin Anker on keys, Steve Gomes on bass, Robb Stupka on drums, and special guests Kim Wilson on harp and Johnny Moeller on rhythm guitar.

The set starts with the slick groove of “Aretha (Sing One For Me), which finds Bryan shoutin’ out to the Queen of Soul to try and bring his lover back thru her music.  Bryan’s guitar cries over a sweet horn-and-strings arrangement on “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends), and resurfaces later on the breezy swing of “Let Me Love You Tonight.”

Bryan has always had a keen ear for traditional blues, and those cuts served as our personal favorites.  The echo effect vocal and Kim’s big-toned harp on “Poison” gives this cut some serious New Orleans mojo, while Bryan gets in some swingin’ “uptown” guitar licks over Kevin’s acoustic piano on Freddie King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough).  And, Kim’s harp indeed sounds like “that next thing smokin” in a fine cover of “Evil Is Going On.”

A new album from Bryan Lee is always a welcomed event, because you know you’ll get top-notch musicianship from a man who’s been playing these blues for some fifty years.  “Play One For Me” serves as his debut for an American label, and proudly brings “The Braille Blues Daddy” to the forefront of contemporary blues once again! 
Until next time…Sheryl and Don Crow.

Bryan Lee

Play One For Me - Severn Records 0059
A seasoned performer, Bryan Lee has 13 CDs and a DVD all released on Montreal’s Justin Time Records. Play One for Me, slated for release on September 17th on Severn Records is his debut release on the label, and it is a beauty. At the age of 68 he has been playing the blues for the past 50 years and is considered a New Orleans institution, having lived in the Crescent City since 1982 and having played the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for over 25 years. All that said, Lee’s newest release features him backed by the Severn Records house band with Kim Wilson featured on harmonica. An artist does not make it this long in this tough business by cutting corners. Bryan Lee gives his all on the newest release which features five originals and five well-chosen cover tunes. A superb guitarist whose playing is second to none Lee delivers a soulful sound that has a definite New Orleans flavor while maintaining his own unique style that is soulful, dripping with passion and emotional power. Bryan Lee, while such a great player, takes the time to mentor young players in whom he hears potential. Two such players would be Kenny Wayne Shepherd and Matthew Curry. Perhaps an experience with Blues Legend Muddy Waters in 1981 would have something to do with that. After the show he spoke with Muddy who told him “Bryan, stay with this, one day you will be a living legend.” He has shared the stage with everyone imaginable, toured the world, blowing the roof off every venue he has performed in and at 68 years young, shows no signs of slowing down, let alone giving up the music that is so much a part of who he is. Play One For Me is one more in a long string of incredibly wonderful albums. You will not be disappointed should you choose to buy this album. – Bill Wilson
FaceBook -

Bryan Lee - Play One For Me

Severn Records

This album is a real departure from the norm for Bryan. Completely funky and soulful with the Severn Records house band and a huge horn and string section arranged and conducted by Willie Henderson, Lee gives us a very interesting and thoroughly enjoyable addition to his repertoire that I am sure will garner him great notice and some accolades to boot! It is a super little album for this now 70 year old super star of the blues.

The opener is an old Memphis soul tune written by George Jackson and Willie Mithcell, “Aretha (Sing One for Me).” It is a tune where Bryan pleads soulfully that if Aretha sings a song for his girl that maybe she’ll come back to him. He then moves into some Freddie King with “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough For Me)” when he wails on his axe and Kevin Anker tickles the keys sweetly in support. A Bobby Womack cover follows, “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends).” Lee is more sweetly soulful than the edgier Womack and it comes off nicely done. His guitar also helps to sell this as he picks out a very cool solo; the strings and horns are supremely cool here, as is the organ in the background. Up next is the classic Howlin’ Wolf/Willie Dixon tune “Evil Is Going On” that Bryan growls and grunts with Kim Wilson blowing some mean harp. The keyboard here is also special; Lee, Wilson and Anker have given this cut some dirty and cool freshness. “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” is the first of the original cuts and Bryan lets his unfaithful woman have it both vocally and with his guitar.

“Straight to Your Heart” continues in the funky and soulful vein and Lee continues to deliver the goods. A Dennis Geyer song, Lee gives it a great effort. “Poison” is next up, straight up Chicago blues. Kim Wilson plays some hot harp and Bryan’s vocal are distorted as if he sings through a harp mike. It’s very well done and very hot and dirty sounding. Wilson solos fist and then Lee comes in with his guitar and just makes this one complete. “Let Me Love You Tonight” has the Memphis sound all over it with a bouncy and swinging groove and a beautiful rounded out guitar sound. This may be THE song of the album that will have a greta life of it’s own! “Why” is a slow and thoughtful piece with a deliberate beat and guitar work that Lee excels at. He completes the recording with “Sixty Eight Years Young,” which could be an answer to the many blues men’s songs where they sing of getting old. Here Lee regales that at 68 he’s happy to still be getting it done. Very funky and neat– hand claps, percussion, organ, bass, drums and rhythm guitar set this up for Lee who then hits a home run with his vocals and lead guitar.

It’s different. It’s new. It’s fresh. It’s soulful. It’s Bryan Lee like we’ve never hear him before. A huge house band along with the folks noted previously, Johnny Moeller supporting on guitar, Steve Gomes on bass, Robb Stupka on drums and Mark Merrella on percussion give Bryan some super backing and allow him to fully express his soulfulness. This is some of Bryan’s best work ever– I was really impressed. If you love Bryan as I do, go get this. If you are new to the Braille Blues Daddy you will see a side of him that we sometimes get to hear in snippets that is expanded and nurtured into a beautiful set of soulful tunes. Well done to both Bryan and Severn for delivering a superb CD for this most deserving artist!

Reviewed by Steve Jones

By Kerry Doole for

As with so many top bluesmen, Bryan Lee keeps getting better with age (he's now 70). The New Orleans-based, Grammy-nominated guitarist/singer delivers one of his best records yet with Play One For Me, his debut for Severn (he was previously on Canadian label Justin Time for 12 albums). He kicks it off with a great slab of Southern soul, "Aretha (Sing One For Me)," maintaining that quality level throughout. Five strong originals share the grooves with five well-selected covers, including Howling Wolf's essential classic "Evil is Going On" and "It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough)," by Freddie King, who's a clear influence on Lee. Guest players such as Kim Wilson (Fabulous Thunderbirds) and Johnny Moeller (also a Thunderbird) contribute, while well-utilized horns and strings (both arranged and conducted by Willie Henderson) beef-up tunes like standout cut "When Love Begins (Friendship Ends)." Lee has never sung better, while his signature stinging guitar sound still hurts so good. This is a consistently winning album from the so-called "braille blues daddy."

Bryan Lee - Play One For Me
Reviewed by Ron Weinstock

I remember discovering Bryan Lee in the late 1980s at the Old Absinthe Bar during my first visit to New Orleans. With the sideshow that marked (and still marks) Bourbon Street, discovering Lee's straight, no chaser blues was a real joy. I picked up his self-produced vinyl lp at the time and it was a solid souvenir of the music I heard that evening.Since discovering Lee, I have been pleased to see him again on several later visits to New Orleans and at some music festivals as well as his body of recordings, mostly for a Canadian label.

David Earl's Severn label has just issued a new CD by the Blind Giant of the Blues, Play One For Me. On it Lee is supported by, amongst others, Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Johnny Moeller on rhythm guitar; Kevin Anker on keyboards; Steve Gomes on bass; Robb Stupka on drums with Kim Wilson adding harmonica to a few tracks. Also the great Willie Henderson has arranged and conducted strings and horns on several tracks with some of the Washington, DC area's finest players including trumpeter Kenny Rittenhouse, baritone saxophonist Leigh Pilzer and trombonist Reginald Cyntje.

As expected with Severn, the production and recording are first-rate, and the result is a fresh take on Bryan lee and his music. There is plenty of his guitar to be heard here, but it is with his vocals that he really shines as he sings so soulfully. The album opens with his take on Aretha (Sing One For Me), a hit for George Jackson and includes wonderful renditions of Freddie King's It's Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough), Little Sonny's When Love Begins (Friendship Ends), that was a hot for Bobby Womack, and Lee's soulful original Let Me Love You Tonight.

Lee's take on the Womack recording undoubtedly will be a surprise for some of Lee's family with his fine soulful singing and Albert King-laced guitar backed by Henderon's uptown strings and horns that musically is on par with some of today's best soul-blues recordings. Lee's "Let Me Love You Tonight is a terrific soul-blues performance that has an infectious groove that should get dancers up and on the floor. For a bit of more of a down-home feel there is a nice rendition of Howling Wolf's recording, Evil Is Going On, and the down home flavored original Poison. Kim Wilson adds his harmonica to both selections.

In its mix of straight blues with southern soul-blues, this recording provides a change from Lee's prior recordings that perhaps focused more him as a solid singer and guitar slinger. While there is plenty of fine guitar here, this particular recording displays just how exceptional a singer Bryan Lee is. He is that good here and Play One For Me is that good a recording.

Like all of us, I have certain ideas about what I might, or might not, enjoy. I’m going to write about several recently released albums that were in my “not” category until I gave them a fair shake. Here, then, is the first of these second looks.

Bryan Lee - Play One For Me
Severn Records, 2013

I’ll be candid. I’ve never been a fan of Bryan Lee’s music. His performance at a festival I attended this summer did nothing to change my opinion: I felt that the sound of his Blues Power Band was much too rock oriented, and that Lee’s guitar playing was pushy, garden-variety blues rock, with nothing special to recommend it even to fans of that genre. It all sounded jive to me. Consequently, when I was asked to listen to Play One For Me, I resisted. The fact that Lee recorded his new CD with the great Severn house band–Robb Stupka (drums), Steve Gomes (bass), Johnny Moeller (guitar), and Kevin Anker (keys)–and guest Kim Wilson (harmonica), not to mention the fact that Chicago soul mastermind Willie Henderson sweetened the tracks with his string and horn arrangements, overcame my reluctance.

I am glad I auditioned the album. Play One For Me makes a clean break with what Lee has shown me previously, and is all the better for it. The effective soul-blues punch that opens the album sets the tone for what follows. The one-two combination starts with a close cover of George Jackson’s lilting hit, “Aretha (Sing One For Me),” and segues easily into a fine reading of Freddie King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are Going So Tough),” with lovely piano from Anker and crisp fills and solos by Lee, whose guitar work throughout the set is restrained and tasteful. It can be heard to excellent advantage on a slow, minor key tune from Bobby Womack’s deep catalog “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends),” where it plays starkly against the strings in a quiet storm setting. This and “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” (a Lee original, somewhat like “Cadillac Assembly Line”) work up a real Albert King flavor.

The minor, mid-tempo swinger “Why” features a crafty vocal performance and a jazzily-phrased guitar break. “Let Me Love You Tonight” is a superb, bouncing soul mover in the Chicago style of Tyrone Davis, with intricate guitar figures, an indelible melody, and fine horns and strings straight from the Brunswick school that Henderson developed. Lee’s singing is generally quite good in this soulful setting, although sounds a bit shaky on Dennis Geyer’s slick, contemporary composition, “Straight To Your Heart.” Either “Poison” or “Evil Is Going On” might have been omitted, as the vocal melody lines of the two blues sound much alike; and despite its appealing qualities, like the envelope-filtered lead guitar, the feel of Lee’s funky “68 Years Young” is somehow off. But such minor missteps are rare. While Play One For Me may not present a strictly accurate picture of Bryan Lee’s sound, it is absolutely an enjoyable album of soul blues, and one to which I will surely return.


Jeff Hannusch for Offbeat Magazine

Former Bourbon Street blues journeyman Bryan Lee delivers a very well-thought-out, and very un-Bourbon Street-like CD—i.e. no standards, rather plenty of originals and a sprinkling of mostly informed R&B covers. Granted, there are some straight blues numbers here, but Lee has, in most cases, pleasingly expanded the parameters. A good example is the inspiration for the CD’s title—”Aretha (Sing One For Me)”—a George Jackson obscurity from the early ’70s, where Lee doesn’t stray far from the original Memphis arrangement or the pleading delivery of the original. Another is “When Love Begins (Friendship Ends),” another R&B obscurity (borrowed from Little Sonny) that tellingly chronicles the perils sometimes involved in the pursuit of love and so-called happiness. On the blusier side, the original “Poison” (with Kim Wilson in tow on harp) has a vintage/road house sounding edge that’s most appealing as does the cover of Freddy King’s “It’s Too Bad (Things Are So Tough With Me).” Interestingly King’s brother, Benny Turner, played in Lee’s Bourbon Street band for several years. Another track with a definite blues edge is “You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More)” where Lee lays down the law to his used-to-be old lady. Of the originals, the best might be “Let Me Love You Tonight” which has the Tyrone Davis/Latimore/Syl Johnson groove you used to hear late at night on Southern R&B stations in the early ’70s. Lee’s guitar is prominent throughout, but he doesn’t overplay his hand here. The last (and least) of the songs on the CD is the closer “Sixty-Eight Years Young,” which Lee should have left on the shelf. That aside, this is a very enjoyable CD.

Jerome Clark for

New Orleans' Bryan Lee, singer and guitarist, knows how to deliver a song, and how to choose and write one, too. On Play One for Me his guitar is inflected with jazz as well as blues, always enhancing the song, not showing off the chops, considerable as they are. His richly soulful vocals cast an almost hypnotic aura. Half of the 10 numbers are his own, the other five from the likes of Freddie King, Howlin' Wolf and lesser-known r&b artists. Unless you've heard the originals, you won't know the difference. As a blind man, one might add, he's part of another blues tradition. His local nickname is "Braille Blues Daddy."

Though Lee is nearly 70 and a well-regarded figure in a deeply musical city, this is -- remarkably -- his first album on an American label. Among the best of the current blues-specialty imprints, Severn catches Lee in its new state-of-the-art studio in Annapolis, Md. Severn's expert house band provides the accompaniment. Guest artists include the harmonica powerhouse Kim Wilson, whose authoritative, heartfelt approach is always welcome in discerning ears. All here is joyful sound and blues truth.

Melanie Young for Living Blues Magazine

BRYAN LEE - Play One for Me
Severn Records - CD 0059

Guitarist Bryan Lee’s latest album also marks his first release for the Severn label, and it should please admirers of the New Orleans musician’s biting fretwork and gruffly expressive singing. Play One for Me shows off both to fine advantage, with a cracking cast of backing players that includes the Fabulous Thunderbirds’ Kim Wilson and Johnny Moeller.

The track list is evenly split between Lee’s compositions and covers of soul and blues standards. Play One for Me takes its title from George Jackson’s Aretha (Sing One for Me), which Lee delivers with languid ease. His version of Bobby Womack’s When Love Begins (Friendship Ends) lives in the same lonely place as Bobby Bland’s Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City; both songs are warmly augmented by Willie Henderson’s tasteful string and horn arrangements. Lee turns out a faithfully nasty rendition of Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil Is Going On, thanks in part to Wilson’s shredding harmonica; his own You Was My Baby (But You Ain’t My Baby No More) provides the b-side to Evil’s action. Also potent is Poison, a slow, slithering guitar-and-harp grind that coats his vocals in boxy distortion. Why is a socially conscious shuffle (“I don’t see faces, just heart and soul/Oh man, this hatred is sure getting old”), and Sixty-Eight Years Young, a swaggering ode to music’s ability to invigorate, ends the album on a high note.

With a smooth sound that’s still rough around the edges, Play One for Me should inspire many hits of the replay button.

Canada Online News | Gonzo Online! - Music


PLAY ONE FOR ME Bryan Lee (Severn) ****

Ah- the blues, New Orleans-style.  This isn’t my first encounter with Lee’s music but it is his first outing for a new label and based on what I’ve heard in the last 45 minutes, they should have a long and happy future together.

Lee has a powerful voice, perfect for singing the blues, and his guitar leads sting in the best possible way.  This is a mix of 5 originals, plus some fine covers including Howlin’ Wolf’s Evil and Bobby Womack’s When Love Begins (Friendship Ends).  Guests on Play One include Kim Wilson and Johnny Moeller from The Fabulous Thunderbirds on harp and rhythm guitar respectively.

There’s a lurch and swagger to this batch of tunes that comes straight out the bayou mixed with a primal Delta thing and a touch of funk (particularly on Straight To My Heart), giving this disc virtually appeal.  Though raised on the shores of Lake Michigan, Lee has been a resident of the Crescent City since 1982, is considered a “New Orleans Blues Institution” and sings and plays as though he’s lived there all his life. 

By the time Lee was 15 he was playing guitar in a number of rock and blues/rock bands, and in his late teens he befriended the legendary Luther Allison.  In 1981 Lee and his band opened for Muddy Waters who told the youngster “Bryan, stay with this… one day you’re going to be a living legend.”  If anybody could pass that kind of judgment it would be The Mud, and Play One For Me brings Lee another step closer to realizing exactly that.  Play is one of those records that covers all the bases, from straight up boogie blues to gutbucket stuff like Poison, and this set of songs makes me feel glad to be alive.

COOL CUTS:  Poison, Aretha (Sing One For Me), Evil Is Going On

"New Orleans Blues Institution" Bryan Lee lets loose some funky old soul with Play One for Me

We've heard New Orleans bluesman Bryan Lee a number of times over the years, perhaps most memorably as part of Kenny Wayne Shepherd's 2007 Ten Days Out: Blues from the Backroads project and then again on Shepherd's follow-up Live! in Chicago CD. But somehow we've managed to miss out on hearing much of Lee's solo material, a situation we'll be sure to rectify now that we've had a chance to hear Lee's current album Play One for Me (Severn Records).

Just how exactly Lee (whose nickname is Braille Blues Daddy, having been blind since he was eight years old) has avoided our attention all these years is nothing short of a mystery, considering he was mentored by the likes of Luther Allison and Muddy Waters, with Eric Clapton once even having called Lee "one of the best bluesmen I have ever heard" (not to mention that Lee fronts a band named, you guessed it, the Blues Power Band). In turn, Lee has helped keep the blues alive by serving as a mentor to such younger talents as Shepherd, who began sitting in with Lee's band at only age 13, and Matthew Curry.

As chastened as we are by our oversight of most of Lee's career, we'd be even more so had we missed this latest album from him, which marks the longtime New Orleans transplant's (hailing originally from the Wisconsin shores of Lake Michigan) debut with not only Severn Records but on any American label, having previously recorded only on the Canadian Justin Time label (which could help to explain how it is we've missed him).

With vocals as soulful as Curtis Salgado's and a guitar as bluesy as B.B. King's, along with some Dr. John-style funk thrown in, Lee rolls through ten terrific tracks - an even split of originals and covers - on Play One for Me, starting off with the breezy George Jackson classic "Aretha (Sing One for Me)" from which the album takes its title. From there, he hits on blues-drenched covers of Freddie King's "It's Too Bad (Things are Going So Tough)," Bobby Womack's "When Love Begins (Friendship Ends)," and Howlin' Wolf's "Evil," the latter featuring the Fabulous Thunderbirds' Kim Wilson on harmonica, with Kevin Anker tickling the ivories.

Another Fabulous Thunderbirds member, Johnny Moeller, joins Lee on rhythm guitar, with the album also employing a full range of horns and strings, including violin, viola, and cello, while Steve Gomes, Robb Stupka, and Mark Merrella hold down the bass, drums, and percussion, respectively. Together, they help give the CD a rich, full sound that just could be one of the year's biggest - and best - surprises.

As good as the covers - which also include a fine take on the graceful R&B grooves of Dennis Geyer's "Straight to Your Heart" - may be, it's equally hard not to like such originals as the gritty "Poison" that again features Wilson on harmonica and the Dr. John-sounding "Why," as well as the attitude and funk of tracks like "You Was My Baby (But You Ain't My Baby No More)" and the rapping closer "Sixty-Eight Years Young" with such clever lyrics as "your stuff is in the street, I got a big bolt on my door/ and baby, you should move in with him, cuz' you ain't livin' here no more (and that's a fact)" and "I'm 68 years young, I'm playing the blues all night/ I'm 68 years young, I wanna' make you feel alright/ I can move it, I can groove it, I can hump it, I can bump it, I can hit it, I'm gonna git' it/ whattaya think of that?".

Fortunately for us, the 68-plus-year-young singer and guitarist - who has also been called a "New Orleans Blues Institution" - still very much lives up to all of that hype, proving just as at home belting out such songs as "Evil" as he is delivering such slow, soulful numbers as "Aretha" and the self-composed "Let Me Love You Tonight".

If, like ours, your exposure to the Braille Blues Daddy has been somewhat limited, then we suggest you run - don't walk - to the nearest computer or record store to hear all that you've been missing. And Play One for Me is a great place to start.

Mike Rick - BluesPowR Blog


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