Alabama singer Jamell Richardson demands to have his way with the blues
On the semi-autobiographical title track to his upcoming album "Blues How I Wanna Blues", Jamell Richardson has a point to prove.
That point isn't that he's capable. The Butler, Alabama native has done well beyond the amount of work it'd take to become a lauded name in his field. Richardson, raised as a child in a gospel tradition playing behind the likes of Rance Allen and Marvin Sapp, is well-regarded in his adulthood as a smokey Southern blues traditionalist. His reputation on the live music circuit precedes him, as he's far from timid in front of crowds. He's the type to get right up next to you, taking the fourth wall and smashing it to bits. Each show is a sensual scene that places you right in the middle of a forbidden down-home backwoods sock hop. Richardson is known to pull a blushing woman or two or three up on stage to get swept up in the excitement. If he and his band booked a gig in a meat-locker, it still would probably get steamy.
But, none of that detracts from his chops. And even a brush with Hollywood, with a minor role in James Brown biopic "Get on Up!" hasn't robbed Richardson of the qualities that make him such an authentic local gem.
His statement on "Blues How I Wanna Blues" is a manifesto of not giving a damn about convention. The expectations of a bluesman encompass different things to different people. Some identify with Muddy Waters' major label Chicago polish with little regard for the deep Delta sounds of Son House. Others hear "blues" and think of the throaty, romantic practicality of Bobby "Blue" Bland, ignoring his Hill Country Blues brethren just across the Mississippi state line like Leo Bud Welch, Junior Kimbrough, R.L. Burnside and Jessie Mae Hemphill. Contemporary fans of the genre point to artists such as Willie Clayton and Sir Charles.
Richardson, unlike many blues fans, doesn't meddle with the distinctions. He wants to check every box. Somehow, he finds a way to throw each experience into three-and-a-half minutes without making things too messy.
Just about halfway through, the song kicks into high gear, stepping it up a notch from its stomping rock-n-roll groove. "Well, I'm going back to Memphis, this time I'ma act a fool," Richardson sings as Beale Street-esque horns jump in to support him. Seconds later, a full band backs him, with his groans and shouts splashing out atop an electrifying guitar solo. As things simmer down, stomps and claps return, leaving the listener feeling as though he or she had just been taken to church, blessed and laid lifeless across the altar.
Richardson allowed me to preview the track, along with the delicate bedroom tune "Hero", in advance of his hometown album release party for "Blues How I Wanna Blues." The party will be held at the Soul Kitchen in Downtown Mobile at 219 Dauphin Street, Friday, September 8. Doors open at 8 p.m. The party starts at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $12 at the door. Skate Mountain Records recording artist The Red Clay Strays will also be performing.
Jamell has several tour dates ahead. Catch him coming through your neighborhood, bringing his own brand of blues.