The Sirens Records


SR5013: Rock This House Live   -- Katherine Davis and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble (John Brumbach, John Whitfield, Erwin Helfer, and more)


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"Sometimes all a person really wants is some good old-fashioned Chicago-style blues, with just a bit of boogie-woogie and a whole lot off gospel seasoning. If that's what you favor, Katherine Davis' extremely tasty Rock This House – Live! should be on your menu. … Appearing with her core ensemble and a fine selection of guests (Lurrie Bell, Willie Henderson, and Kenny Smith feature prominently), she leads the way through a smoking-hot set recorded in Jan 2006 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music. … her rich, full voice, fine delivery, and killer band make Rock This House an unmitigated pleasure. Turn it up loud and imagine being there."

Larry Hollis, Cadence, June 2006

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Press / Music CD Reviews

“With a voice as large as Chicago's big shoulders, Katherine Davis debuts on The Sirens label with a live performance from January of 2006 recorded at Chicago's Old Town School of Music backed by a respected cast including Erwin Helfer on piano, Lurrie Bell handling guitar, sax from John Brumbach and Willie Henderson, with John Whitfield's bass and Kenny Smith's drums comprising the rhythm section. Bell's guitar work is nicely restrained and it's great to hear him sounding this good while Helfer's piano commands as much attention as Davis' belting voice. "Romance In The Dark/ Going Fishing/ Rock This House/ Make Me A Pallet/ You Got To Know How", and more. ”

Craig Ruskey, Roots & Rhythm
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“Recorded at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music in January 2006, this finds song-thrush Katherine backed by the Chicago Boogie Ensemble, a multi-racial and multi-generational outfit comprising Erwin Helfer on piano, jazz bassist John Whitfield and tenor saxophonist John Brumbach, augmented by Lurrie Bell on guitar, drummer Kenny Smith, and baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson. Katherine grew up in the Windy City as part of a musical family. She made her recording debut in 1986 – with Erwin Helfer for Red Beans Records – and has gone on to record gospel, jazz and 'classic' and Chicago blues (the latter with Mississippi Heat) for a variety of labels, including her own imprint.

This admirable recording demonstrates the breadth of her talent, with even just the slightest hint of her youthful opera aspirations on the introduction to 'Sweet Lotus Blossum', a song that was also a favourite of Jimmy Witherspoon. Due perhaps to the nature of the venue, there is a slight reluctance to really cut loose, but Katherine handles all the material – from Bessie Smith and Lil Green to Jimmy Rogers and latter day B.B. King – with aplomb and enthusiasm, and her rapport with the audience is easy to hear; she even seems to have succeeded in getting some dancers up on the floor. The musicians all acquit themselves well, the two saxmen getting a nicely low-down tone when required, whilst Lurrie Bell's playing is clean, sharp and to the point. Erwin Helfer turns in a fine performance in a band setting and the rhythm section are spot-on throughout. The opener and the wistful Crusaders tune 'Way Back Home' are both instrumental showcases.

This is not a CD to set the blues world alight, but one which presents a fine and talented artist working well with some long-time acquaintances on a stone blues set of material not frequently heard these days. And albums like that don't come along too often in the current climate …”

Norman Darwen, Blues & Rhythm November 2006
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“Katherine Davis grew up in Chicago, began performing in the late 70's and is a fine big voiced singer in the tradition of great Chicago ladies like Koko Taylor, Bonnie Lee and Big Time Sarah. Backing Davis is formidable piano man Erwin Helfer, tenor John Brumbach and bassist John Whitfield plus guest baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson, and second generation Chicago blues artists, guitarist Lurrie Bell and drummer Kenny Smith. "Rock This House Live" captures this impressive group live at Chicago's Old Town School of Music earlier this year. The group digs into an eclectic mix of blues and jazz, warming up with the deep groove of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" with everyone getting plenty of room to stretch out before Davis hits the stage. Davis and the band tear into "Rock This House" as the band cuts loose with some particularly tasty guitar from Lurrie, great boogie piano from Helfer as Davis gets the crowd singing along. Davis is a versatile singer as she proves on a torchy cover of Julia Lee's "Lotus Blossom", a sultry version of Bessie Smith's "Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl" and delivers soulful renditions of the classics "Make Me A Pallet On The Floor" and Lil Green's sexy "Romance In The Dark." Davis is a master blues and jazz singer who really knows how to work the audience and for their part, the band responds beautifully, with a special nod to Helfer who's boogie piano work is always a joy to hear.

The Sirens label made it's initial recordings back in 1976 but lay dormant for some 25 years. Thankfully Dolins has seen fit to reactivate the label and fans of traditional blues and jazz are the better for it.”

Jeff Harris, Bad Dog Blues Radio Program
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“Katherine Davis is a big voiced blues chanteuse who is backed on this set by Erwin Helfer's Chicago Boogie Ensemble supplemented by Lurrie Bell, Willie Henderson (baritone sax) and Kenny Smith (drums). The Boogie Ensemble is fronted by Helfer on piano, John Brumbach (tenor sax) and JohnWhitfield (double bass), and they provide the perfect foil for Davis' vocals … swinging irresistibly on Jimmy Rogers' 'Rock This House' where smoking sax, hot cascading piano and strident guitar underpin her raunchy vocals – whilst weeping guitar, baying horns and deep rolling piano allied to Davis's melancholy vocals give a 'Summertime' feel to Julia Lee's 'Sweet Lotus Blossom'. This set was recorded live at Chicago's The Old Town School Of Music', and demonstrates Davis' ability to work an audience – her lascivious reading of 'Need A Little Sugar In My Bowl' finding her encouraging Helfer to tickle his piano and Smith to spank his drums, much to the delight of the audience. There is a beautiful rendition of Mama Yancey's 'Make Me A Pallet On The Floor', baying horns underpinning vocals and piano that are unequivocally steeped in blues tradition – Sippie Wallace's 'You Got To Know How' is a wickedly raunchy performance fired by rollicking piano – 'Romance In The Dark' is a torchy blues replete with smokey sax and wistful vocals and piano – whilst the lowdown and lasciviously funky 'Never Make A Move Too Soon' features a Lurrie Bell master-class in deep blues guitar. Add in a mellow jazz inflected instrumental in Wilton Felder's 'Way Back Home' and a storming rendition of 'Watermelon Man' – and you have a set that should put Katherine Davis's name firmly in the blues spotlight. ”

Mick Rainsford, Blues in Britain, August 2006
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“Out in front, Davis is her usual strong lunged self. The fare is heavy on the naughty-but-nice 'classic blues' era standards such as Sippie Wallace's You Got To Know How, Bessie Smith's Need a Little Sugar In My Bowl, and a deep-blue, emotionally resonant reading of the evergreen Make Me A Pallet On The Floor. As a vocalist Davis prefers short, explosive phrases and house-rocking ebullience...

Davis comports herself admirably in this setting – her voice is sure, her energy is unflagging, and her ebullient, larger-than-life personality comes through.”

David Whiteis, Living Blues, November/December 2006
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“Returning to the distaff side of singing we come to “Rock This House – Live!”, an in-concert recording at The Old Town of Folk Music in Chicago featuring Katherine Davis fronting a sextet of seasoned musicians for a winter one-nighter. Although probably typecast as a leather-lunged Blues mama , (Ms. Davis can shout like Big Time Sarah, Zora Young, or Koko Taylor), she has quite a bit of range vocalistically as shown by 'Sweet Lotus Blossum,' for example, and her rapport with the audience is almost uncanny. The leadoff tune is the classic a young Herbie Hancock wrote that later became a blockbuster for Mongo Santamaria, and there's another instrumental on down the line, 'Way back Home,' from the Crusaders. A neat change of pace comes with 'Make Me A Pallet On The Floor' which heavily showcases the piano stylings of the great Erwin Helfer. It was a little of a cultural shock to hear him boogie up what would have been Joe sample's piano ride on 'Way Back Home' and hear a drum solo from Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith's son Kenny on 'Never Make Your Move Too Soon.' Davis summons up memories of the immortal Dinah Washington on the closer, Lil Green's 'In The Dark.' It seemed to me Chicago mainstay Lurrie Bell was pretty much kept under wraps throughout the entire show but it may just be me. If you enjoy live samplings of Blues & Boogie Woogie, snatch this one. ”

Larry Hollis, Cadence, January 2007
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“Sometimes all a person really wants is some good old-fashioned Chicago-style blues, with just a bit of boogie-woogie and a whole lot off gospel seasoning. If that's what you favor, Katherine Davis' extremely tasty Rock This House – Live! should be on your menu. Though Davis' recording career as a lead artist has been short – this is her second release – she has plenty of experience as a live performer and backing artist. Appearing with her core ensemble and a fine selection of guests (Lurrie Bell, Willie Henderson, and Kenny Smith feature prominently), she leads the way through a smoking-hot set recorded in January 2006 at Chicago's Old Town School of Folk Music.

Highlights include the aptly titled 'Sweet Lotus Blossum,' a teasing, pleading 'Make Me A Pallet On the Floor,' and a downright naughty 'Need A Little Sugar in My Bowl,' but the disc is of high quality from beginning to end. Davis isn't quite as earth-shaking a blues belter as say, Koko Taylor, but her rich, full voice, fine delivery, and killer band make Rock This House and unmitigated pleasure. Turn it up loud and imagine being there.”

Genevieve Williams, Blues Revue, February/March 2007
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“An intimate audience applauds, the band kicks off loosely but groovin' instrumentally with the old Herbie Hancock pop thing “Watermelon Man.” Bari sax goes low for a solo and guitar twangs. The band warm-up is customary live, but once eying the cover photo of Katherine Davis' Rock This House – Live (The Sirens Records), one wishes to hear the voice more immediately on record. She quickly introduces the Chicago Boogie Ensemble by track two, then falls in as a perfect foil for this seasoned outfit. In no time she's got the audience in a call-and-response of the title track written by Jimmy Rogers.

Comfortable medium tempos, balanced instrumentation and obvious years of performing experience all conspire to put an immediate glow on this party. We get there fast, stretch comfortably, and never overshoot the mark. “Sweet Lotus Blossom” is wonderfully placed due to delightful structure, both in chords and rhythm. Patter between numbers is genuine, clean audio is matched with dirty lyrics (there's no obvious editing). If not all strict blues by structure, in delivery it is. “Once you drop that sugar in my bowl, let's go fishing,” as she guides the program from a Bessie Smith motif to a shuffle.

Her timbre is sassy, and emotionally well-communicated. She's Chicago all the way, originally interested in Opera and theater. Instrumentalists are given equal solo space. Pianist Erwin Helfer did the arrangements, upright bassist John Whitfield and tenor saxophonist John Brumbach are two other of Katherine Davis' regular ensemble. For this disc, recorded in January '06 at Chicago's Old Town School Of Music, three stalwarts were added, two of them second-generation Chicago blues musicians. Baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson once played with Jackie Wilson, and as guitarist Lurrie Bell is the son of harmonica man Cary Bell, Kenny Smith is a drummer as is father Willie “Big Eyes” Smith.

Tempo slows slightly for the vintage “Make Me A Pallet On the Floor,” two-beat is the feel of “You Got To Know How,” the young drummer belying his age, grooving deeper to match the wisdom of the elder players. The band returns for a churchy instrumental backbeat.

The set concludes with “Never Make A Move Too Soon” (sometimes sung as “your” move) featuring collective spontaneity over a funky foundation, and “Romance In the Dark” by Lil Green, also conjuring up shades of Percy Mayfield down in the alley.

The Sirens Records gets our attention. They promote “Legendary Chicago blues, Boogie Woogie, jazz and gospel piano.” Grade of A.”

Tom Coulson, Blues Bytes
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“Fabulous record of singer Katherine Davis, which becomes a prime masterpiece for its amazing beauty and flavour. For the cd Davis has chosen a band with high level musicians and great instrumentalists "The Chicago Blues Ensemble". Leaded by piano player Erwin Helfer, they include two generations of musicians, John Brumbach, John Whitfield and Willie Henderson among the older ones and Kenny Smith or Lurrie Bell among the second generation. Katherine Davis is a real diva with an immense impressive voice who performs with a charismatic tone twelve powerful convincing songs, including some classic standards like 'Rock This House' or Stella Mama Yancey's "Make Me a Pallet On The Floor” she had so often performed together with Erwin Helfer during her last living years. Great album which becomes essential to good music lovers and specially Katherine Davis' good fans. GREAT.”

Vicente Zumel
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