BMF // 2005 // 84 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Neal Solon (Retired) // November 29th, 2005
All caught up in a landslide, bad luck
pressing in from all sides
Just got knocked off of my easy ride,
Buried alive in the blues
-- from "Buried Alive in the Blues"
In the 1960s, Chicago's post-war electric blues scene was still alive and well. Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Chess Records were firmly entrenched in the music scene on the South Side of Chicago. On the north side of town, a handful of white kids were discovering the music of the South Side at the end of their radio dials. A few of the more adventurous ones made their way south into the clubs and gin mills of the South Side to experience the music first hand. A few eventually made their way onto the stage in these clubs. A novelty in the black clubs at first, they soon became the founders of the North Side blues scene. This whiter, "safer" blues scene became the foundation of much of the blues-rock of the '60s and '70s. Buried Alive in the Blues reunites the still-living big players from this "scene," and records a reunion concert and interviews on CD and DVD.
The pedigree of each member of the reunion band, Chicago Blues Reunion, is impressive. Even if you don't know the names Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Harvey Mandel, Tracey Nelson, Sam Lay, and Corky Siegel, you've surely heard a record on which each of them has played. They've played with the Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, Bob Dylan, Big Brother and the Holding Company, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and John Mayall, among others. The question, then, is how do these players fare without all of the deceased legends that they backed? The answer, not surprisingly, is that they manage.
Buried Alive in the Blues is marketed primarily as a CD release, with a "bonus" DVD. There is some overlap between the CD and DVD, but each has sufficient unique content to merit individual attention. The package starts out with a live, CD recording of the following tracks:
1) Born in Chicago
2) Buried Alive in the Blues
3) Walk Away
4) Drinkin' Wine
5) GM Boogie
6) Left Handed Soul
7) Miss You Like the Devil
8) I Need All the Help I Can Get
9) Death of Muddy Waters
10) I've Gotta Find My Baby
11) New Truck
12) I'm a King Bee
14) Hound Dog/Roll Over Beethoven
While the musicianship is consistent throughout the album, the vocal delivery is varied, as it comes from four different singers. Nick Gravenites sings the lead on five of the 13 tracks. He is, in a way, the headliner; but he is, consistently, the least engaging of the vocalists. His delivery is cheeky and feels inauthentic. His sound has evolved since he was a young man. The most integral component that he's lost is the sound of someone who actually has the blues. On the other hand, the vocal tracks that come from Tracy Nelson and Sam Lay feel real and reel the listener in. Lay spent much of his youth playing with the legends of the South Side scene, and you'd never guess that Nelson is a fifty year-old white woman from Madison, Wisconsin. Behind the singers, the instrumentalists are undeniably talented. They never fail to dig into the music, but they feel most at home on the more rock-oriented tunes.
The CD is decent music for a car ride or for background music, but is not something that calls for active listening. A couple of the Gravenites-penned tunes are catchy enough to get stuck in your head. The Sam Lay- and Tracy Nelson-led tracks are satisfying, and the band's work is well showcased on a few of the more instrumental tracks. However, there's little to recommend this album above the authentic Chicago, South Side blues of the mid-century, or the North Side blues and blues-rock of the '60s.
Where this release distinguishes itself is on the bonus DVD. In addition to performances of some of the songs from the album, and interviews with the participants, there are interviews with greats such as B.B. King and Buddy Guy. They tell stories about their experiences in Chicago and their reactions upon first meeting a bunch of young, white kids who wanted to be bluesmen. There's clearly a lot of mutual respect here, despite any initial reactions the musicians may have had. The history of the Chicago blues scene is intriguing, and these bluesmen, as natural storytellers, capture the viewer's attention with ease. As an added bonus, King gets a little off track at one point and tells the story about how his guitar, Lucille, got her name.
That said, there are a few moments in the video that make one wonder. Gravenites gets a lot of time on camera, and occasionally comes off as a bit self-righteous and self-absorbed. The biggest shock, though, was seeing drummer and vocalist Sam Lay, who is best known for his work drumming with Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf, walk on stage to sing "I've Gotta Find My Baby" wearing a bright, black and red Darth Maul t-shirt. This is definitely not 1960.
Still, fans of the blues-rock scene of the '60s and '70s, and those with an interest in the history and development of the music of that era, will find a lot here to interest them. It's mostly on the DVD and in the accompanying booklet, which contains small reprints of '60s posters and photos of the musicians in their younger, hairier days. The album itself isn't bad; it just feels a little removed from the roots it claims to be preserving.
Review content copyright © 2005 Neal Solon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 1.78:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English)
Running Time: 84 Minutes
Release Year: 2005
MPAA Rating: Not Rated