Bentley’s Bandstand: Long John Hunter, Frank Fairfield, Ben Miller

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billbentley110BY BILL BENTLEY

Long John Hunter, Looking For A Party, Blues Express Records

long_john_hunterBest blues album of the year, hands down. Long John Hunter has honed his music over tens of thousands of nights starting in the early ‘50s, and taken a serpentine route to success for almost six decades without ever giving up. There is no shortcut to learn this kind of soul, and be able to share it so strongly. The first time the young Louisiana man heard B.B. King, Hunter knew he’d found his future. He bought an electric guitar the next day and never looked back. Years playing in Juarez, Mexico at the Lobby nightclub might have made him an underground legend, but it also taught the musician what works and doesn’t work in a place where there isn’t much room for error. Small record labels, one-off singles here and there and some close calls came and went. It brought a determination to find his way to a solid future, things you learn in the middle of long stretches of wondering when things are going to happen. In 1993 Long John Hunter recorded Ride With Me, and blues fans around the world were asking where he’d been all these years. Several more releases followed on Alligator Records, each capturing a blues guitar style that had equal parts sweetness and sting, qualities learned in the heat of the battle on bandstands around the country. Teaming now with noted producer Dennis Walker, widely known for his work on Robert Cray’s groundbreaking albums like Strong Persuader, they capture a sophisticated style with sharp horn work and a band that isn’t kidding. Best of all, of course, is Hunter himself. That guitar has a personality all its own, and swings like crazy. Add a voice that speaks of the unbeatable beauty of the blues and new songs that let the man reflect on a life well-spent and lessons hard-learned, and Looking For A Party is fine cause to roll back the rug and turn down the lights, because the real deal is back and there’s no denying that.

Frank Fairfield, Tompkins Square Records

frank_fairfieldIt doesn’t matter that we’re in the 21st century to Frank Fairfield. It doesn’t matter that the Earth is still a planet, either, because this musician is so far into his own world they probably have to pipe in air for him to breath. He has found his Shangri La with songs a hundred years old, and will not be deterred. His voice sounds like he rode a horse to the recording studio, and made the album on old wire recorders that capture instruments and the voice as if by magic. Whether he is playing banjo, guitar or fiddle for accompaniment, they are each there to push the lyrics into the brain like an ice pick, so there is no room for error. The words go directly to the matter at hand, and tell a story that hits like burning lead. “Call Me a Dog When I’m Gone,” “The Dying Cowboy,” “The Train that Took My Girl from Town” and all the other traditional songs here have the sound of roughness built in, and are not the type to be listened to for fun. Rather, they teach us what life was like all those years ago, and give an idea of what our country heard as settlers continued to push across the continent and had to build almost everything they needed. In some ways, they also built the recording industry out of thin air, and while it can be argued now what did and didn’t go wrong, Frank Fairfield obviously believes there is still plenty of truth and inspiration to be found in this aging artistry. He sings with a conviction that comes from a place he’s found deep inside, and there is never a sense he is trying to imitate anyone. The young man has found himself.

Ben Miller, Alakazam, BMR

ben_miller“It’s a hard world to get a break in/all the good things have been taken.” Those lines from the Animals’ ‘60s hit “We Gotta Get Out of this Place” are even truer today for rock & rollers who try to grab a piece of the sunshine for their moment in the spotlight. Even when they’re as talented as Ben Miller, it’s still a constant struggle to find an audience for your music. Illinoisan Miller, like so many others like him, does it the only way he can: by making his own recordings and releasing them himself, and then doing everything he’s able short of grand larceny to build an audience. Luckily for him, he’s got the kind of talent that will someday take him to higher ground. His guitar playing holds the key. It’s razor-sharp and full of a peculiar twists that not many others have been able to master. Mark Knopfler comes to mind, but Ben Miller is no copycat. He uses that style as a jumping off point, and then builds his own vocabulary of licks and lyricism to make an original stand. Vocally, it’s the same way. There may be similarities to others, but on songs like “Angel in My Dreams” and “Elevation,” there is a serious musician here, and you can feel all the passion that fuels a likely lonesome run for recognition. But, really, it’s always been that way, and in the end the making of the music has to be the final reward, because it’s the only one the artist has any control over. From the sound of Alakazam, this is a man who has no intention of going anywhere but straight ahead.

Bill Bentley is a writer, musician, publicist, record producer and A&R director. He once played drums with Lightnin’ Hopkins. For more reviews and music news, go to

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Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.

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