Lurrie Bell The Devil Ain’t Got No Music CD Review
The Devil Ain’t Got No Music
Aria BG Records
By Grant Britt
Lurrie Bell is best known for his rough and tumble Chicago blues. Son of legendary Chicago harpman Carey Bell,his decades-long battle with mental illness and alcohol and substance abuse kept him from being the blues powerhouse he could have been. A blistering guitarist with the power and presence of Son Seals, with a raspy growl sounding like he’d been gargling with gravel, Bell’s talent was only hinted at with Sons Of Blues, the band he co-founded with harpist Billy Branch and bassist Freddie Dixon in the late ’70s. Fortunately, Bell began to turn his life around in mid-2000, and has just put out a magnificent gospel album.
Like many great gospel lead singers including Clarence Fountain of the Five Blind Boys, Bell’s rough-hewn vocals, the sound of a pain-wracked sinner celebrating being forgiven, makes his message even more powerful.
The singer chose an interesting mix of gospel tunes for this project from Muddy’s “Why Don’t You Live So God Can Use You,” to the old gospel chestnut, “Swing Low,(Sweet Chariot”.) Bell sounds like Brownie McGhee on the Waters tune, pounding out rhythm with his hands on his acoustic guitar body. Bell deconstructs “Swing Low” into a foot stomping blues with just his guitar and handclaps, and a chorus of “Lawd- Lawdy-Lawd-Lawd-Lawd.”
“Don’t Let The Devil Ride” has been popularized by sacred steel purveyors The Campbell Brothers and features swooping glissandos by brother Chuck on pedal and his brother Daric on lap steel. Bell’s version is stripped down and calmer, with only Bell’s acoustic guitar and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smiths minimal timekeeping backing him. Bell’s vocals fall just short of spiraling of into a wolf howl at the end of every stanza., with the singer sounding like he’s been taking better care of himself in recent years but still has the wear and tear of old sins tugging at his vocal chords.
Tom Waits’ “Way Down In the Hole” has been covered by The Neville Brothers, Steve Earle, and the Blind Boys of Alabama, whose version is closer to bluesy rock than gospel, barreling along with a Samba beat, augmented by a harp solo that sounds like it was recorded off a Delta back porch. But Bell’s version sounds like outtakes from Dr John’s Gris Gris sessions, with witchy voices wailing behind Bell moaning like the 4 Tops’ Levi Stubbs.
Gospel godfather Thomas Dorsey’s “Search Me Lord” is the highlight of this outing, with background vocalists Avery and James Teague’s gorgeous harmony sounding like Ry Cooder’s back up singers,Bobby King and Terry Evans. Bell’s immaculate acoustic fingerpicking is the perfect counterpoint to his impassioned, crusty vocal.
Avery and Teague do it again on “Trouble In My Way,” gliding smoothly behind Bell’s bluesy world-weary moan, accompanied by old bandmate Billy Branch on harp.
This is the record Bell was born to make, the best of his career. It’s true redemption for a wayward bluesman, an inspiration and a blessing for Bell’s fans who have been praying for him for years.