Those guests include Keith Richards and John Mayer on guitar, sax from Randall Bramblett (sax), Danny Barnes on banjo, guitar and tuba along with vocal contributions from  Col. Bruce Hampton and Candi Staton. Leavell had been after Susan Tedeschi or Grace Potter to provide the female foil, but Candi Staton lived close by and had a background in R&B and gospel rather than the disco material associated with her name Down Under (if, that is, the name registers anything other than vague recognition.

As far as the music goes, we’re solidly in Leroy Carr territory (Evening Train, Low Down Dirty Dog , Naptown Blues with a Danny Barnes vocal, Mean Mistreater,  a Candi Staton Leavell vocal duet, Memphis Town with Danny Barnes as the vocal foil for Leavell). 

The set opens and closes with covers of Little Brother Montgomery material, No Special Rider kicking off proceedings by showcasing Leavell's skills on the ivories and Vicksburg Blues winding things up with a piano and vocal solo. In between, apart from the Leroy Carr, there’s Memphis Slim’s Wish Me Well, Otis Spann’s Boots and Shoes (guitar work from Keith Richards and John Mayer), Ray Charles’ Losing Hand and a couple of more obscure names in Charlie Spand (Back To The Woods, Keith Richards on guitar), Barrelhouse Buck McFarland (I Got to Go Blues, Col. Bruce Hampton vocal).

Southern Casey Jones rocks along merrily, Skip James might be more often thought of as a guitarist, but If You Haven’t Any Hay has a solid keyboard riff and a fair degree of the old nudge nudge innuendo and the Candi Staton vocal on the penultimate The Blues Is All Wrong is one of the album’s highlights.

At $16.99 on iTunes for just under an hour’s music, there are far worse places to start investigating the blues piano tradition, but, given the benefit of hindsight I should have shelled out the extra $2 for the version that includes the digital version of the sixteen-page booklet with song annotations by Leavell and an essay by blues historian Larry Cohn outlining the backgrounds of the original artists, and the role of the piano in the evolution of the blues.

If you’ve got an interest in blues piano without a whole lot of background knowledge this wouldn’t be a bad place to start, but I’d suggest shelling out the extra $2...

© Ian Hughes 2012