East Side Slim
Arena – Blues Got Me – artist released,
Arena is a singer/songwriter/harp player who grew
up in the Boston, Massachusetts area. She has been
playing harp since 1987. By 1989 she had started
(as well as hosted) her own blues jam, and by 1994
she was touring the East Coast and portions of the
Mid-South. Cheryl has a love of musical variety,
which displays itself on the CD. It also displayed
itself in the long-running Downtown Blues Review
she started in 1995. This weekly jam featured players
from New England’s tough regional blues scene.
Ms. Arena has released 2 self-produced CD prior
to the release of Blues Got Me. She has also had
the wonderful opportunity to share stages with a
who’s who list of elite blues singers and
musicians over the years.
In 2005 Cheryl decided to move to Dallas, Texas
on the recommendation of Dallas-based bluesman Andrew
Jr. Boy Jones. She managed to escape the difficult
Northeast winters and to find more work in the D/FW
Metroplex area. Since arriving in Dallas, Cheryl
has worked with several bands (including a 4-piece
unit featuring Dallas’ legendary Hashbrown
on guitar), has become a member of the church band
at The Exciting Ervay Cedar Baptist Church, has
taught harmonica lessons through Jon Gindick’s
Harmonica Jam Camps, and has been performing country
blues as ½ of a duo with guitarist Aaron
Burton. Without a doubt, Cheryl has been keeping
herself very busy.
(Thanks to Cheryl Arena’s
website for the biographical information.)
The Songs: (songs composed by Cheryl Arena
except as noted)
1. Blow My Blues Away – (C. Arena,
M. Woodburn. J. Rawls)
--This 1st number on the CD is a contemporary pop-blues
number. It isn’t too far from some of Susan
Tedeschi’s material. It’s got a sing-song
gentle quality, with the lyrics recounting Cheryl’s
desires of why, when and where she wants to play
her music – which is down in the South.
2. Love Gone Wrong
--Ah, this is more my speed. Tough Texas-style guitar,
in the school of Jimmie Vaughan, with nice piano
work supplied by Matt McCabe (who has played with
Roomful, Anson Funderburgh, Sugar Ray Norcia, Duke
Robillard and others). Cheryl doesn’t have
a large vocal range, but she understands her range
and sounds great within the confines of what she
is able to do. The short version – she doesn’t
try to over sing. This tune would not sound out
of place on Jimmie Vaughan’s “Strange
Pleasure” album. Cheryl also supplies a nice,
tight harp solo, very tasty and made to fit the
3. Shave It
--This song has an old-timey feel, especially with
the clarinet supplied by Scott Shetler. The song
is a cease-and-desist order to those men who think
whisker rubs are fun. Shave the skin-scrappin’
stubble off your mugs boys, if you want to get closer
to those pretty ladies.
4. Listen To What I Say
--This track has a New Orleans vibe working, and
contains some nice horn charts; dig the muted trumpet
parts! Also, it’s the 1st tune on the CD where
Cheryl really cuts loose on harp. She is a very
good harp player, with good tone and great taste
and economy of notes – she is from the less-is-more
school of blues musicians. That’s my kind
5. Blues Got Me – (C. Arena, D. Haley)
--Here we have a mid-tempo shuffler, built on a
rearranged “Spoonful” riff, full of
Texas roadhouse grit. At times Cheryl’s voice
reminds me a bit of Sue Foley – as far as
I’m concerned that’s very good thing.
It’s a mix of naughty and nice. Huh, that
sure sounds like the blues to me.
6. It Ain’t Right – (Little
--Cheryl tackles an old Little Walter tune here.
“It Ain’t Right” is basically
a remake of “Tell Me Mama”. Needless
to say, this is where she finally lets it all hang
out as far as her harp playing is concerned. As
stated previously, Cheryl’s style isn’t
flashy (not a 1000 notes per measure), but is instead
always tasteful and always fits the song. This is
a vastly underrated talent for harp players - and
for guitar players.
7. About To Break My Heart –
(Woodrow Wilson “Buddy” Johnson, originally
titled “It’s About to Break My Heart
--This tune is so cool! It’s in the mode of
the Buddy Johnson Orchestra, slinky, full of great
horns riffs, with a seductive, very sexy vocal.
I absolutely love this song – Cheryl’s
nice/naughty vocal sound fits this type of material
incredibly well. Let’s hope we hear more tunes
in this vein on Cheryl’s next album.
8. Living In The Moment
--Hey, here’s a swingin’ little number.
Well, if you play blues or jazz in Texas you can’t
stay too far away from the influences of Texas Swing
music. There’s some jazzy guitar chording
and picking going on; kudos to Matt Woodburn’s
guitar playing throughout this CD. Cheryl takes
a short harp solo, which sounds very nice, but would
have fit into this song even better if it had been
played on chromatic harmonica. That said this is
a good tune!
9. Baby – (Little Walter Jacobs)
--Cheryl’s 2nd Little Walter cover, although
cover might be a bit strong, as the tune is arranged
quite a bit differently than Walter’s original.
Her version is all Texas. I think she’s found
a spiritual/musical home in Texas, as she seems
to have a great affinity for playing Texas-style
Any Day Now – (Woodrow Wilson “Buddy”
--Here is the 2nd Buddy Johnson-styled number on
the CD. The older I get the more I enjoy great sounding
horns. The horns here give us a mournful/crying
sound during the choruses, kicking up several notches
during the song’s bridge.
He Ain’t No Prince
--This tune pursues a late-night, after-hours feel.
It’s laid-back, with some beautiful piano
playing from Matt McCabe. Cheryl is using the “kiss
a frog, turn into a prince” metaphor for the
lyric, with some twists along the path to that pond.
Also, Matt Woodburn plays some pretty T-Bone Walker
(or Duke Robillard?) inspired electric guitar throughout
You Better Change – (C. Grossley)
--This tune brings us solidly back to harp-driven
blues, with much more of a Chicago influence than
a Texas influence. Of course, that means Cheryl
gets to play some mean harp. I definitely enjoy
how she plays only what fits the tune – sweet!
Grazing In The Grass – (Philemon Hou)
--How about this 1968 Hugh Masekela hit for an unusual
cover choice and set ender? A bit unexpected for
sure and it allows Cheryl to play in a little freer,
jazzier style – more of a Lee Oskar thing
going on here. Many of you might be surprised to
find out just how large an influence Lee Oskar’s
work has been on the blues harp players working
today. Oskar’s influence is huge! Start asking
harp players you know; they will fill you in.
I have no trouble at all
recommending Blues Got Me to readers of Stlblues.net;
in fact, it’s my pleasure to introduce you
to this fine album. The CD was released in 2003,
so it’s been quite awhile since Cheryl last
released an electric band-based CD. She did release
a country blues CD (with Aaron Burton) in 2006.
It would be great to see something new from her,
building upon the fine work displayed on Blues Got
Me. The CD was produced by Duke Robillard, so it
sounds wonderful. Several Boston-area players show
up here and there on the CD, but the core band used
here is comprised of Texas-based players (including
guitarist Matt Woodburn, whose playing I like a
lot.) Frankly, everyone sounds fantastic, and the
mix of players adds to the musical variety found
on the CD. It’s time to rate this bad boy
- STLBluesometer rating of 3.50. East Side Slim
enjoyed this CD very much and is anxiously awaiting
Cheryl’s next album.
For more information on Cheryl
Arena, see the following websites:
- aka "East