April 20, 2024

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CD review: Mary Lane and Her West Side Blues Band – Leave Me Alone – 2024: Video, CD cover

Once lost to the winds of time, the Blues Gods have resurrected Leave Me Alone by Mary Lane and Her West Side Blues Band (also known as “The No Static Blues Band”) for our listening pleasure.

Lane boasts a powerful voice and commanding presence that deserves more recognition and praise. Growing up in the Arkansas Delta, Lane started to perform with Howlin’ Wolf, with whom she followed up North to Chicago, playing in clubs on the South and West sides.

Leave Me Alone was first recorded by Kirk Whiting in 1996 after years of performing in the Chicago blues scene. Wolf Records, the Austrian label dedicated to the blues pushed the re-release of the album that features Johnny B. Moore and Robert Mell on guitar, Jeffery Labon on bass, Detroit Jr. on piano, Michael Jackson on saxophone, Erskine Johnson on organ, and Annette Allen and Anette Love on supporting vocals.

Yet, throughout her long career as a belter and crooner of the blues, Lane struggled to break through to the type of popularity and monetary success enjoyed by musicians who played with her and respected her, like Magic Sam, Elmore James, and Buddy Guy. As Katie Prout wrote in 2020: “the 84-year-old Chicago blueswoman should be a legend. She can barely pay her bills.”

The consistently solid album starts strong. Persistent, sharp guitar notes ring out as Lane’s voice comes out strong, yet composed on “Leave Me Alone”. The guitar plays a shuffle beat as Lane sings “If you don’t want me daddy, I’m going to find somebody else… Ain’t nothing in the world I wouldn’t do for you.” The rhythm and feel of the song resemble Bo Diddley’s “Before You Accuse Me.”

Throughout the record, Lane and the West Side Blues Band deliver a classic Chicago blues sound, but also venture into a soul and R&B space. Relationships occupy much of the lyric content and the band shows their chops without overplaying.

“My Friends Always Ask Me” stands out as a stellar recording, with a Freddie King type slow burning guitar sound and emotion that is palpable. The listener can almost feel the internal battle as Lane cries out “All of my life, I’ve been trying to do what’s right.. You know I’m mistreated and there’s just something I want to do.” The guitar slips in and out as the pianist hammers on the keys, giving the track an almost eerie quality.

“Ride in Your Automobile” features powerful guitar in an energetic blues-rock tune that sounds a lot like Ry Cooder’s “Speedo”, and would rock the house in a live performance.

Southern culinary culture comes out on “Candy Yams”, while a spicy, simmering guitar moves up and down the neck. The virtues of chitlins, cornbread, and yams are extolled in contrast to love, the eternal gamble.

On “Baby”, Lane’s voice is smoother and softer, a nice juxtaposition with funky grooves in a song clearly about a girl singing about being in love. The sparse, simple style is refreshing.

“Make Love to Me One More Time” and “Strong Love” carry a tinge of soul. In Lane, one can hear the voice of Sharon Jones, the more contemporary soul singer.

Lane’s lyrics come across powerful and evocative. The silky smooth “Make Love to Me One More Time” draws at the heartstrings. Even through recordings, Lane’s commanding presence shines through and a surge of energy flows through the album.

If Lane can be criticized, it should be for lingering on a tune too long, losing steam, as is the case on “My Friends Always Ask Me” and “Candy Yams”.

A strength lies in a cohesive sound, even as she explores different genres, like the bluesy, psychedelic drone in Peter Green fashion on “I Always Want You Near.” And above all, Lane’s voice does the heavy lifting, a clearly arresting and beautiful force.

On the whole, this is an album of feeling and passion that is alternately funky and smooth. This is a top notch blues album. It deserved attention in 1996. Mary deserves your ears and wallets even more so today.

Lane, Mary - Leave Me Alone - Amazon.com Music

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