Carey & Lurrie Bell – Gettin’ Up (CD/DVD Review)
This review is a positive one, but it’s also sad because Carey Bell passed away shortly after Getting’ Up was recorded (it was released in 2007). He was 70.
Carey Bell Harrington was a giant among Chicago blues harp players and is often considered the transitional link between the first generation – having learned blues harp from Little Walter Jacobs and Walter “Shakey” Horton – and contemporaries like James Cotton and Junior Wells.
Bell played in an idiosyncratically staccato “chop” style, and shone as a performer in various incarnations of the Muddy Waters and Willie Dixon bands. Carey was regarded as a no-nonsense and highly reliable performer as well as a mentor to younger players.
Lurrie Bell, born in 1958, is a virtuoso blues guitarist with an unfortunate lifelong history of mental health problems leading to alcohol abuse, erratic behavior, hospitalization, and homelessness. Rescued from his demons by marriage to blues photographer Susan Greenberg and fatherhood, in the span of several years the couple’s twins died and Susan passed away at age 44 in January. A third child survives.
The Bells should have recorded a lot more together, but estrangement — created by Carey’s messy divorce from Lurrie’s mother as well as Lurrie’s erratic behavior — had often kept them apart. However, the three albums they did record – Dynasty (1996), Second Nature (2004) and the current CD — are stomping, old-style electric Chicago blues with nuances brought to the genre by the team’s creative, intricate playing.
Frequently throughout Gettin’ Up, which was recorded at Chicago’s Rosa’s Lounge, Buddy Guy’s Legends, and Lurrie’s home in Chicago, father and son trade licks in a call-and-response fashion that suggests ties to Carey’s Mississippi Delta roots. The tunes – over an hour’s worth of music – were written by Carey (three songs), “Sleepy” John Estes, Little Walter Jacobs, Big Joe Williams and J.T. Brown, with a traditional gospel tune, “Stand by Me” (not the Ben E. King song), added to the mix.
Props to the band for superb taste in backing up but never trying to overshadow the lead performers, with special kudos to Howlin’ Wolf Band alumnus Bob Stroger and Jimmy Lunceford’s former sax player Joe Thomas ( both playing bass), whose work complements the performers’ sometimes offbeat timing and adds a rhythmic force of its own.
If you listen to the CD and decide to buy the DVD as well, you will not be disappointed. Both feature excellent sound quality and the DVD offers nice camera angles courtesy of a two-camera setup, allowing us to marvel at Lurrie’s incendiary guitar work up close. The DVD also features a full discography and a poignant, but too short interview with the performers. MC