CD Review – Michael Packer “My Time to Cry”
Michael Packer has had a long history as a solid blues sender. Born in New York City in 1950, he began playing guitar in the early 1960s. His first “real” gig was at Greenwich Village’s Bitter End when he was a youngster of 15, after which he fronted his band, Papa Nebo, in all the “happening” places just as the folk and blues booms exploded in New York City.
Five years later, in 1970, Packer and the band won a recording contract with Atlantic Records and toured in support of the album. The band opened for acts like Johnny Rivers and the Atlanta Rhythm Section. Unfortunately, Papa Nebo imploded and Packer relocated to San Francisco, where pal George Thorogood turned him on to the blues. “From that day on, man,” he says, ‘it was the blues and nothin’ but for me.” After releasing 11 albums, Packer has been backing 94-year old Delta Blues legend David “Honeyboy” Edwards on club and festival dates.
Listening to My Time to Cry, consisting of outtakes from the Atlantic sessions, is like being offered a ride on a time machine. It is the sonic post-adolescence of a durable performer on whom time and a hard-luck past – including a spell at Rikers — have conferred the coveted blues mantle.
Packer’s mature voice and nuanced phrasing now command attention, and the music is considerably darker than that of the kid whom Ahmet Ertergun signed in 1970. Gone are the high, nasal tenor and the frequent use of melisma — a vocal style of syllable-stretching long blamed on Stevie Wonder or Whitney Houston –on My Time to Cry.
This isn’t to say that listening to this freshman work won’t provide an entertaining contrast to a superb recent Packer CD like Live at Lucille’s. Playing both in sequence makes a strong aural case for evolution.
The songs on this album are all written by Packer except for “Bullfrog Blues.” While the originals are certainly competently written, the performances are outtakes from a freshman LP by young guys at a musically hybridized time in American pop music.
In 1970, the Stones, Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, and Cream shared Top 100 Album honors with Neil Diamond, Iron Butterfly, Engelbert Humperdink, Dylan, Rufus Thomas, and Joni Mitchell.
Packer sounds like a cranked up Davy Jones (the Monkees) on the title track, while the excellent “Bad Time Jackson” recalls vintage Jorma Kaukonen and Hot Tuna. “Bullfrog Blues” offers nice single string work and blues harp by Packer.
“My Woman Tonight” and “She Left This Morning” hint at both blues and folk-rock, and are credible representatives of both. Fans of melisma: “Wicked Feeling” is for you.
This album is by no means great, and the sound and documentation could be better, but it is fun. Older listeners will recall days when the Grassroots, Free, Bread, and three-minute tracks from Cream and the Beatles were playing on AM radio — and Disco was just around the corner.
For fans of Michael Packer and his current band, the CD is a good opportunity to listen to the first stirrings of a blues soul rising.
Originally published in Blues Revue
Written by Michael Cala
July 11, 2011
My Time to Cry
Iris Music Group IMG-627 (2011)