East Side Slim
Little Joe McLerran – Believe I'll Make A Change
Little Joe McLerran – Believe I'll Make A Change
Little Joe McLerran & Roots Blues Reborn Records, 2009
If you haven't yet heard of Little Joe McLerran, I predict you soon will be – especially if you are a fan of acoustic blues guitar, more specifically Piedmont styled blues. Joe is a wunderkind of sorts, having won the 2009 International Blues Challenge (IBC) Solo/Duo competition in 2009 at only 25 years of age. It's autumn of 2011 now, and while Joe is a "haggard" 28 years old, his stock continues to rise. He has played from coast to coast in America, as well as throughout the World, including Europe, South America and a month long Middle Eastern tour that was sponsored by Jazz at Lincoln Center and the U.S. State Department. Older musicians have been drawn to Joe since his very early days, recognizing the talent and old-soul that young Mr. McLerran is in possession of (he also possesses a warm and expressive vocal style.)
Little Joe (given his moniker by a hero of his, Homesick James, along with $100 and instructions to "go buy a new pair of shoes") is originally from Boulder, Colorado, where he showed an early affinity to music, blues styles in particular. In fact, he was playing in front of people at 9 years of age (born in 1983) – and tackling artists like Leadbelly and Reverend Gary Davis (I know middle-aged singer/guitarists who won't tackle that sort of material…) Joe, along with his younger brother Jesse, busked very successfully in Boulder during their early teens. The family packed up and moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma when Joe was 15, where he continued his musical education and continued to impress musicians significantly older than himself, still playing with Jesse. Tragically, Jesse was killed in an accident in 2003, which devastated Joe for a period of time, pushing the public side of music to the background for awhile.
Joe eventually moved back into the public eye after a period of healing, playing regular gigs, jams and festivals, making contacts in the music industry, and continuing to perfect his craft. He eventually decided to make a run at winning the IBC (a long time goal), entering his 1st contest in 2006. His 4th try did the trick, bringing home the coveted win in 2009, as stated previously. Joe continues to travel the World, sharing his musical gifts with all who take the time to listen. My advice is to take that time, because Little Joe McLerran is a special talent indeed. If you are need a further reference, Little Joe is a kindred soul to the West Coast's Nathan James, another young "old soul" bluesman.
The Songs: (songwriter in parenthesis)
1. Ratty Section – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--this is a short railroad work chant used to imbue a mood for what's to come….
2. Believe I'll Make A Change – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--While predominately known as a Piedmont stylist, Joe is by no means constricted by that title. This one has a slower, tougher, more delta feel, not possessing the ragtime signatures most Piedmont blues have.
3. Down At The Village Store – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--This is about a catchy a blues tune as you're likely to hear, jaunty almost. It's an acoustic-based band treatment, and it will elicit smiles from ear to ear! This is jug band music, sans jugs and fiddles, which have been replaced by upright bass and keys.
4. Cocktails For Two – (J. McLerran)
--This is the 1st of Little Joe's own tunes, and is a mid-tempo duet consisting of his Dobro and Dexter Payne's acoustic harmonica. You'd never know that this song wasn't written 70 years ago, and you won't care because it sounds entirely fresh.
5. Blues Before Sunrise – (Leroy Carr)
--It's nice to hear a version of this classic blues played in a manner faithful to the original. Joe nails the melancholy feel inherent to this song, showing off a few of his instrumental chops along the way – you've got to keep things interesting, as well as entertaining!
6. Blue Railroad Train – (Anton Delmore)
--The rendition of this Delmore Brother's song is beautiful, just beautiful. Absorbing the music, listening to the lyric, brings on chills. Just sit back and feel the train slowly gaining in speed and power… It's easy to understand why Little Joe won the IBC.
7. Ducks Yas – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--The inclusion of clarinet on this song was a stroke of genius, and the boys take things nice and slow. This thing oozes with a sense of funky sexiness, as did the tune did originally.
8. Jesus Make Up My Dyin Bed – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--David Bernston supplies some very nice chugging harp work here, helping to make the locomotive-based rhythm come alive. There weren't a lot of "jaunty" spiritual blues back in the day, as most tended to be fairly harrowing. This one is of the jaunty type, with the man of the song looking forward to a trip to Heaven, as it's got to be a whole lot better than the life he's leavin'.
9. B&O Blues – (Willie McTell)
--Blind Willie McTell…a master guitar playing bluesman from Georgia (Statesboro Blues wasn't an Allman Brothers original, although they did rearrange it pretty nicely.) This is a deep, slow blues 'bout "woman troubles". It was bad when she left, but it's worse with her wanting to come back.
10. Baby Please Set A Date – (James Williamson, aka Homesick James)
--A Little Joe album would seem incomplete without at least one ode to his hero Homesick James. It's as much fun hearing "Please Set a Date" in this sparse, low-fi electric arrangement as it is hearing the original Kokomo Blues (which eventually morphed into the semi-obscene Sweet Home Chicago.) This sounds like Trumpet-era Sonny Boy II and Elmore James, circa 1951. Set that date baby!
11. Sargent (sic) Sunday – (J. & R. McLerran)
--This original tune has a tin pan alley, late night feel, and might be my favorite cut on CD full of fine cuts. The song has a sort of Tom Waits feel, due to the poetic, descriptive lyrics and the melancholy feeling of the music, helped along by soulful sax work from Dexter Payne.
12. She's Got Somethin' – (J. McLerran)
--We have another Little Joe original here, although with a debt owed to old Hank Williams and Muddy Waters. Then again, if you think everything Hank and Muddy called their own really was, I have some lakefront property to talk to you about… Anyway, this is really nice mid-tempo blues, another of those songs that make you feel good when listening. And there's not much better to make you feel good than when you've got a girl that's "got somethin' special".
13. Mother's Callin' – (Traditional Arrangement – Little Joe McLerran)
--this one bookends "Ratty Section", continue that song snippet's acappella work song vibe, with the volume of the track very slowly fading out – Mother's callin' you home, you know?
I feel like I just stepped out of a time warp of sorts after listening to Little Joe McLerran's CD. This young man has a rare gift for music, and it's lucky for us that he is choosing to pursue it. There's a nice little movement afoot across the country of younger artists playing real, organic, older styles of music with faithfulness to the originators but also with feet firmly planted in the "now". Joe has put together an exceptional album here together with a few musician friends of his, to include Dexter Payne, Robbie Mack, Ron McRorey, Jack Wolfe, David Bernston and Jimmy Junior Markham. Thanks go out to the entire bunch for putting together one of my favorite CDs from the last couple of years. Ok, let's rate this bad boy. This CD, Believe I'll Make a Change, is strongly recommended with rating of 4.00 on the STLBluesometer scale.
For more information concerning Little Joe McLerran, see the following websites:
Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim