Zora Young
" Sunnyland "
Airway Records

Blueswax 8
Rating 8

Top Shelf Musicians and Production Equals Excellent Results, (09/23/09)

The legendary pianist Sunnyland Slim, aka Albert Luandrew, worked with several female vocalists: Bonnie Lee, Big Time Sarah and Zora Young. Zora pays Slim back big time on this exceptional outing Sunnyland. There are several reasons why this extraordinary disc succeeds: The musicians' chops are of the highest magnitude; Hubert Sumlin (whose in rare form,) Barrelhouse Chuck, Steve Freund, Bob Stroger, and others put their very best feet forward. Producer/sax man Sam Burckhardt extracts the utmost from every player and vocalists involved, adding additional integrity with his powerful, clear/concise sax solos, and creative arrangements. Things start off on the right foot with Zora's "Bad Track Record" where it's obvious this disc will be special. Check out Burckhardt's full and clear tone substantiated by Barrelhouse Chuck's outstanding keyboard work, Steve Freund's ultra hip tone and solo, and solid backbeat by Stroger and drummer Kenny Smith. Barrelhouse Chuck's piano dances on Sunnyland's "Going Back To Memphis" where there's more exuberant fret-board work coming from the axe of Freund. Mr. Hubert Sumlin makes his first appearance on Zora's "Travlin' Light," and his tone, clarity and tenacity are dead on, as are Young's sultry vocals. Chuck moves to the B3 on Sumlin's "Hubert's Groove" which is slick instrumental where Sumlin is the centerpiece, and note the inventive horn arrangements and full-bodied tenor work by Burckhardt.

More strong charts and solid guitar work from Hubert prevails on Young's humorous "Football Widow." Hubert grabs the microphone on his "You Said You Were Leaving Me," where once again Hubert's guitar is so clear and creative as Burckhardt counters Hubert with a fine sax solo. Barrelhouse Chuck kicks off Burckhardt's apparent instrumental tribute to his mentor "Sunnyland" where the horn charts are once again sharp. The band swings smoothly. Sumlin's solos are also sweet, and Stroger gets his chance to bass solo over the vamp. Zora's "Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stone" is a solid shuffle where Burchhardt gets two stunning choruses.

Things get Windy City funky ala Bobby Rush's "Chicken Heads" on Young's "Til the Fat Lady Sings" where the horns prevail, and Hubert rips like a buzz saw. Burckhardt's jazzy instrumental '"Blues for Hubert" is superlative, even though Sumlin is not on board, where the band sets a solid foundation for Burckhardt to take center-stage, as well as Barrelhouse Chuck's tasty keys, and, man, is this perfect spot for Freund's ear-candy/jazzy guitar chops. "Daughter of a Son-of-a-Gun" is a rollicking workout for the band that's also authored by Zora and allows Chuck, Burckhardt, and Freund to show off their wares. The co-authored Young and Sumlin "Looka Here Baby" closes out this excellent recording where Zora and Hubert share the vocal chores in downhome, old school fashion.

Kudos to producer Sam Burckhardt for his outstanding production work, his careful attention to detail, as well as for his well thought out selection of each and every musician involved. And for having the sensitive skills for getting the most out of the players and making them effectively gel. These days rarely do we get to hear such a marvelous body of work where everything flows so well, where none of the players get in eachother's way. Can you see Sunnyland 2 with a similar cast of characters? I say encore Mr. Burckhardt, and you, too, Zora Young!

Bob Putignano a senior contributing editor at BluesWax. He is also the heart of Sounds of Blues at www.SoundsofBlue.com. Bob may be contacted at: Bob8003@yahoo.com

Bob Putignano: www.SoundsofBlue.com