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Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials - Jump Start - Alligator, 2012
East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Lil Ed

Lil' Ed Williams and his Blues Imperials are back with their 9th Alligator-released album, and this one is as good, if not better than, the best of the previous eight. Their grooves are still deep and genuinely houserockin', and the songs and performances are stronger than ever.

The core unit of Ed, half-brother Pookie (James), Mike and Kelly has been together for approximately 20 years now (there were a couple of different members in the early days, including guitarist/singer Dave Weld, who still uses the band name Imperial Flames), and to say the band has a psychic bond at this point might be an understatement.

Ed and Pookie put the band together back in the 1970s, under the mentoring eye of uncle, and longtime slide-powered house-rocker, J.B. Hutto. After playing around Chicago for several years, the band gained a regional following before being tapped to record tracks for Alligator Records’ "The New Bluebloods – The Next Generation of Chicago Blues" project. The sessions went so well in fact that Bruce Iglauer kept the tapes rolling, and before the night was over the band's 1st full album, Roughhousin', was in the can.

The Blues Imperials recorded and released two additional albums through 1992, at which point the band was put on hiatus in order to deal with personal issues. After reconvening in the late 1990s, the guys have been hitting on all cylinders, released five additional albums, touring the world over, and creating "Ed-heads" at every stop they make; a finer live performance band you'll be unlikely to find, as this aggregations thrives off the energy of a great audience.

The Songs: (songs by Ed and Pam Williams unless otherwise specified)

1. If You Were Mine
--Wow – what a great tune to kick the album off with. If anyone ever asks you "what do The Blues Imperials sounds like?" just point them in the direction of this cut. Driving rhythm, deep in the pocket bass, hot slide, impassioned singing…all is right with the World (at least for most of 3 minutes!)

2. Musical Mechanical Electrical Man – (Ed Williams)
--This double-shufflin' burner features fun word play from Lil Ed, along with a little talking slide (mimicking his baby's voice.) Ed extols the virtues he is possessed with, and how he can be of service to his girl – in all aspects of life!

3. Kick Me To The Curb
--Ed and band take things back to old school of blues, in the manner of his Uncle J.B. Hutto. This is a mid-tempo, shuffling slide-fest, with Ed letting that slide get angry – it's the story of a mean mistreating woman not treating her man right. That's bad, you know…

4. You Burnt Me – (Ed Williams and Harrison Sumner)
--This is another heartbreak song, but performed in a much different manner. It's a heavy, slow blues built on a swirling organ bed, with a little "You Put a Spell On Me" vibe present. Ed asks the question: you treated me wrong, WHY would I want you back?

5. House Of Cards – (Ed Williams and Harrison Sumner)
--This hot tune is something of a new flavor the Ed and the fellas, and I think it's destined to be a classic Blues Imperials song. Ed sings (almost croons) the vocals in a laid back manner, all the while the band is DRIVING hard (like a jackhammer into diamond-hard concrete), all working to create a fantastic amount of tension. Mike Garrett's rhythm guitar work on this tune is outstanding, and deserves a special mention (and there it is.)

6. Born Loser
--Blues Imperials…rhumba kings! This one is a good-time burner with an incessant Latin beat. The protagonist sings "I wash with gasoline, then I play with fire – making sparks fly is my only desire…" born loser, indeed, and walking/talking trouble, too.

7. Jump Right In – (Ed Williams and Harrison Sumner)
--This joyous swing-styled tune might be one of the funniest (and most clever) double-entendre songs you'll hear all year. It all sounds relatively innocent (for the most part), so no fear of playing it in the presence of the kiddoes. Ed's telling us all about learning to swim…jump right in…and remember, you gotta put on a swimming suit!

8. Life Is A Journey
--Ed (and wife Pam) have put together a slow blues love song here, with Ed singing about just how deeply he cares for his girl. Listening to the lyrics, it's pretty obvious that he thinks the world of Miss Pam. Ed sticks to single note slide for the most part, and the use of swirling organ accents adds nice depth to the tune. Also, Pookie works a simple, but heavy, bass line throughout, which also adds to the depth of the track.

9. World Of Love
--The band brings the tempo back up with this mid-tempo, heavy slidin', hard shuffle, which is also a love song to his wife, Pam. You don't have to get all slick and mushy in order to get your point across, and I'm not sure if Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials are capable of getting all slick and mushy. But powerful and passionate, yes indeed!

10. Weatherman
--This one falls under the category of "Genuine Houserockin' Music" – the guys are letting it all hang out here. Lil' Ed throws a guitar solo Mr. Garrett's way, and he acquits himself very well indeed. Mr. Littleton is working over his drum kit, and ol' Pookie has his hands all over the neck of that bass of his. Don't worry about Ed being left out, as he uses the last minute or so of the song as his own slidin' solo space.

11. If You Change Your Mind – (J.B. Hutto)
--Ed records at least one of his Uncle Hutto's tunes on each album, and this time around Ed chose a tough, slow blues as his object of affection. This one sounds like J.B. and Sunnyland Slim are in the room with us (courtesy of the outstanding piano playing of Marty Sammon), resurrecting the mournful yet beautiful sounds of mid-'50s Chi-town blues.

12. No Fast Food
--Ed couldn't resist inserting one more clever and fun double-entendre tune into the set list; this up-tempo walking blues does the trick nicely. Guys, if you have a good woman at home, take care of and appreciate her…why go out for hamburgers, when at home you can eat prime steak. And gals, this goes for you, too!

13. My Chains Are Gone – (Ed Williams)
--This one is a deep slow blues, with a haunting melody (shades of House of the Rising Sun…that sort of feel). You can feel the hurt in Ed's singing and through his subdued, cautionary slide guitar solo. An organ bed (courtesy of Marty Sammon) goes a long way to driving the melancholy feeling of the tune home.

14. Moratorium On Hate
--Has anyone else ever heard a blues tune that used the word "moratorium"? I sure can't remember an instance. The band calls on moratoriums, votes, vetoes, lobbies and referendums…all to be used to rid the world of the senseless violence that is seemingly engulfing us all. In case you think the band is going soft, though, think again. This is a hard-driving mid-tempo shuffler, showing that the Blues Imperials mean business in their stand against violence.

Download Bonus Track - Great Love
--This song was originally available only as a bonus downloadable mp3 with purchase of the full CD via Alligator Records. It's really a shame it wasn't included in the CD proper, as it is a classic Blues Imperials tune, and will likely become an audience favorite over the next couple of years. It's a mid-tempo, rhythmically driving love song from Ed to his wife. Michael Garrett's rhythm guitar work here is outstanding, and Kelly Littleton's percussion snaps in all the right places. This song was displayed as track 17 when it was purchased, and there are 14 tunes on the Jump Start CD...so, if my math is correct there may be at least 2 more unreleased tunes recorded during the Jump Start sessions that will hopefully see the light of day (possibly on upcoming Alligator compilation releases?)

The Verdict:

What can you say about Lil' Ed Williams and his Blues Imperials that hasn't already been written? The band has been together as one unit for two decades now, performing nearly constantly to wildly enthusiastic Ed-heads the World over, and keeps on recording one fine album after another. This CD, Jump Start, is one of the finest recordings of Lil' Ed's career. As he's grown older Ed has become more confident in his own song-crafting skills, and his stylistic palette has grown wider and wider. The Blues Imperials are one tough bunch, and are a unit most any bandleader would be proud to have around them. Frankly, it's just hard to go wrong with Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials – this band is an American treasure. OK, it's time to rate this bad boy…Jump Start swaggers, jumps and careens to an STLBluesometer rating of 4.00 – East Side Slim's house has been seriously rocked, and yours will be as well!

For more information concerning Lil' Ed and the Blues Imperials, see the following websites:

Lee Howland - aka East Side Slim

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