Trudy Lynn: U Don't Know What Time It Is
by George Graham
(Ruf Records 51416 1457 As broadcast on WVIA-FM 11/17/99)
For many years, the stereotype was that the blues was a man's work, despite a long history of blues women from Bessie Smith to Koko Taylor. The current blues revival has opened the doors for national releases by a lot of unsung heroes of the genre, including outstanding regional performers who were previously not well known outside their home territories. It has also paved the way for more female artists to be heard, such as the group called Saffire the Uppity Blueswomen, along with up-and-coming performers like E.C. Scott, and Sheila Wilcoxson, and even veterans like Etta James and Lavelle White. This week we have a first-rate release by another performer who has been on the scene for quite a few years but without getting the kind of wide name-recognition she deserves: Trudy Lynn, whose new release is called U Don't Know What Time It Is.
Lee Audrey Nelms was born in Houston, and unlike many blues performers who cut their musical teeth singing in church, began her musical education in school. In 1965, as the story goes, she was spending the holidays at her aunt's house in Lufkin, Texas. She was in a local club, where a blues band was to have played. The lead singer got too drunk to perform, so Ms. Nelms stepped onto the stage and gave what would be her first show. She worked for quite a few years after that touring venues large and small, opening for better-known blues and R&B singers, and eventually began to make a name for herself as Trudy Lynn along the Gulf Coast. Eventually, she developed a wider territory, and like many American blues performers who may not be that well known in their home country, Ms. Lynn has developed a following in Europe. In fact, her new album was originally recorded in 1997 for a European label.
Ms. Lynn is a strong-voiced singer who can belt out a song in the Koko Taylor tradition, but is also equally at home doing soul and R&B material. Indeed, her record company's publicity calls her the "divine diva of blues and soul," and her new album reflects that dual direction. Setting her apart from many other women blues singers is the fact that she is also a talented and prolific songwriter. Her original songs comprise the best material on U Don't Know What Time It Is. Like the finest blues singers, she combines power and sincerity, and also can add a touch of humor or mocking irony.
For this album, recorded in Dallas, Texas, she is joined by some well-known backing musicians, including Lucky Peterson on keyboards, and Bernard Allison on guitar, along with Butch Bonner also on guitar and serving Ms. Lynn's occasional songwriting partner, James Robertson on bass, and drummer Dywane Thomas. With the exception of two tracks, all the material is either written by Ms. Lynn or by the late Robert A. "Bob" Johnson, who was a friend and colleague of hers.
The opening piece is perhaps the most surprising on the album: the early rock & roll classic Shake, Rattle n' Roll, done as an energetic funky blues. Ms. Lynn gives it her all, and the result is hardly recognizable as the original, but a great interpretation nonetheless. <<>>
The title song U Don't Know What Time It Is is one of the CD's strongest. It's an original by Ms. Lynn written with guitarist Butch Bonner, with great lyrics full of barbs aimed at an unfaithful lover, delivered with the appropriate level of righteous indignation. <<>>
Another standout of the album is Ms. Lynn's version of Leon Russell's song Help Me Though the Day, which is done as a slow blues. Despite the laid-back nature of the tune, Ms. Lynn comes on strong, and it works well. <<>>
Despite Ms. Lynn's respect for the late Bob Johnson, to whom she dedicates the album, none of the three songs by Johnson are among the best material. They reflect the CD's more soul-oriented side, and despite the best efforts of Ms. Lynn and the band, the songs tend to be full of clichés. Typical is Time Gone By, which is given a good performance by the band, but does not have a lot to offer. <<>>
Despite Trudy Lynn's penchant for energetic blues songs, her facet as a soul singer is well-represented on the album. Her original composition Time Is Running Out runs toward Motown style, but she really belts it out. The result is another strong track. <<>>
She also does some Philly-style soul on another of her originals, Nothing But Love. While it's not the best piece of songwriting the album has to offer, Ms. Lynn's strong vocal raises the level of the song considerably. <<>>
The sassy side of Ms. Lynn returns on I Should Have Known, with the band back in the full-tilt blues mode. <<>> Bernard Allison gets a chance for a hot guitar solo. <<>>
The album ends with another energetic original Trudy Lynn song called Baby Come on Back, which epitomizes this CD's blues and R&B mixture and Ms. Lynn's high-octane but classy vocals. <<>>
Veteran Texas blues and soul singer Trudy Lynn's new album U Don't Know What Time It Is provides a great way to get to know this memorable performer who can bring the house down with her vocal power, while also doing a nice job on soul ballads. She's got a rare blend of power, control and spunk. And she's also a fine songwriter. She performs on the session with a tight band including a couple of well-known bluesmen in their own right who are happen to be fans of hers. While some of the tracks are weaker than others, that's mainly a function of the songs, and not the performances. Ms. Lynn's own compositions are among the album's highlights.
Our sound quality grade for this CD is about a "B," bordering on "B-minus." The rhythm section sounds great, with lots of punch, but Ms. Lynn's vocals are not particularly well-recorded -- they have a bit of distortion from time to time, and Lucky Peterson's keyboards are worse with some breakup especially apparent on the organ. The dynamic range is about average for an electric blues album -- not really great. Still, it's better than those recordings which try to emulate all the sonic inadequacies of the old, historic blues recordings made on primitive equipment.
Trudy Lynn has been singing blues and soul for about 30 years now. Although she has had some albums out in the US over the years, most have gone out of print. U Don't Know What Time It Is gives blues fans a chance to hear this impressive singer and songwriter, who will hopefully win some of the wider recognition she richly deserves.
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