When thinking of historic hometowns of the blues, cities like St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago quickly come to mind, but Oakland California, historically a focal point of the West Coast blues and jazz scenes, is often overlooked. The city has a significant art scene and claims the highest concentration of artists per capita in the United States. Drummer, songwriter, producer and certified blues man, Twist Turner, spent several years living and working in the Oakland area where he began this album project in 2013 to “produce a recording of the unknown and under-appreciated blues men and women of the Bay Area.”
When Twist returned to Chicago, after his 6-year stint in California, he found several artists in need of the same boost. Thus, he created the album Battle Of The Blues: Chicago Vs Oakland, a collection of 11 original tracks and two covers that features over 30 of the best musicians each city has to offer including Mz. SuMac, Aldwin London, Freddie Roulette, Country Pete McGill and Nat Bolden from the San Francisco Bay area and the late Emery Williams Jr., former Magic Sam bass man, James Newman, from Chicago and “Mr. Excitement” himself Del Brown. The all-star cast delivers old school and new school blues, with the common denominator being Twist himself, who wrote all the originals and plays drums on the entire project, as well as mixing and producing for his own label, Delta Roots Records. Quite a Herculean task.
The saucy chanteuse of the Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta area, Mz. SuMac, opens the album delivering a rebuke of a deadbeat “Broke Ass Man.” Aldwin London then leads on bass and vocals through a gentle reading of the Willie Nelson composition “Funny How Time Slips Away” that features sultry saxophone from John “Boom” Brumbach. The instrumentals, “Take It Easy” and “Red Tide,” are fine vehicles to showcase the soaring playing of lap steel player, Freddie Roulette, and Nat Bolden’s “Good Morning Mr. Blues,” is recast over the Stormy Monday changes and augmented with a full horn section. Mississippi born blues man, James Newman, delivers the lead vocals on the smooth R&B groove “Hit And Run Lover,” and the working man’s tribute to the six string “Me And My Guitar.” Turner captures the vocal talents of the late great Emery Williams Jr. on two outstanding tracks, the scorching R&B “Hurtin’ On You,” and the gospel blues “Mama Don’t Weep,” as a final gift from the powerful and passionate Chicago artist taken too soon.
The mind blowing tenor of “Mr. Excitement” Del Brown is presented for the first time as the lead on the stirring soul blues “Now That I’ve Gone,” and introspective R&B “Time Slippin’ Away,” something that has been long overdue for the veteran, who began his career in the record business in 1959. The smoky vocals of Gerald McClendon, who is known as the “Soul Keeper” in Chicago, are perfectly suited for the slow burning “Cold In The Streets.” A fixture of the Bay Area scene until his untimely death in 2018, Country Pete McGill leads the charge on the classic bump and grind “Hoochie Coochie Mama,” with Aldwin London on bass, Roulette on steel joining in on the blues party.
As a sign of respect, Twist Turner did not include his name in the list of artists on the cover art, preferring to keep the focus on the talents and inspired contributions by his fellow believers and friends from Chicago and Oakland in a timeless collection of blues treasures.