August 10, 2013 6:35:22 PM
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
The music-loving public is invited to a CD release Friday, Aug. 16 for Big Joe Shelton and the Black Prairie Blues Ambassadors' new recording, "I'd Never Let Her Down," at the Rosenzweig Arts Center at 501 Main St. in downtown Columbus.
Doors open at 6 p.m., and live music starts at 6:30 p.m. when Shelton -- with Bob Damm on percussion, Ben Ferrell on guitar, Ed Swan on bass and Bobby Shannon joining in on keyboard -- entertain with selections from the album that has edged into the Top Ten on Mississippi Roots Radio airplay charts, keeping company there with artists including Grady Champion, Paul Thorn and Bobby Rush.
In Shelton's third release on the independent Alt 45 Records label, the Columbus native, now living in Macon, delivers perceptive and often witty original tracks with his trademark gritty vocals and adroit harmonica work.
Shelton and the Ambassadors recorded the album in Starkville with Mike Yeager. A honed group of additional guest musicians from the Golden Triangle contributed their talents: Susan Alcorn Lobato on pedal steel guitar, David Reese on keys, Bobby Shannon on keys and Doug Thomas on saxophone.
"This mix of 11 songs was kind of inspired by the roller coaster of emotional highs and lows and everything we experience in our interaction with others," Shelton said. Some are tongue-in-cheek -- like the catchy title track -- some are tales of unconditional love. Others pay tribute.
"The track 'Little Willie' is kind of my little short story of Willie King when he was a boy discovering the blues, from the things he'd tell me," explained Shelton, talking about the late bluesman he admired and frequently performed with.
Another track, "Catfish Ed," honors a man that impacted a young Shelton's musical passion.
"Ed Reed in Columbus was a singer-songwriter kind of a guy, but he could do Jimmie Rodgers or Hank Williams ... he'd just make your hair stand up," recounted the artist, reminiscing about hearing the late singer (and commercial fisherman) for the first time at a Fourth of July picnic in the early 1970s. Being around Reed, he said, was probably when it first dawned on him that he could try to write original music.
One song titled "Laugh Out Loud" is a humorous ode to an Internet relationship, "kinda like that football player that had the 'girlfriend' ..." laughed Shelton, noting that he never knows what will spark an idea for new lyrics.
The song mix is rooted in the blues, of course, but also gives a nod to jazz, reggae and rumba.
"It's a nice texture and something a little different," Shelton said. "The guys in the band -- Bob, Ed and Ben -- they had a good bit of input. We bounced some ideas around: they were very influential in the creative process. I'm a fortunate man, to have these three guys working with me."
Percussionist Bob Damm shared, "I'm especially excited about the new album because of the variety of styles represented. We experimented with styles, tempos and arrangements on the songs, and everyone was committed to helping Joe with the project. There was an incredible amount of synergy in the studio for this, and I felt blessed to be a part of it."
How to go
Admission at the door Friday is $5. Light snacks will be provided; a cash beverage bar will be open. CDs will be available for purchase and signing. The Rosenzweig Arts Center is located at 501 Main St. The album is also available online at sites including cdbaby, amazon and itunes.
"I'm really, really pleased with the way it turned out," said Shelton of the release. "It feels good."
Arts Council Program Manager Beverly Norris remarked, "Big Joe and all the band have been wonderful supporters of the Columbus Arts Council over many years, and we're honored they chose the arts center for the new CD launch."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.