THE LEGENDARY BLUES BAND comes by its name honestly enough. Four members of this quintet formerly backed Muddy Waters during his invigorating tours and recordings of the late '70s. Harmonica ace Jerry Portnoy has labored hard to keep the seasoned rhythm section intact -- pianist Pinetop Perkins, bassist Calvin Jones and drummer Willie Smith are all Chicago pros. And guitarist Peter Ward, who recently replaced veteran Louis Meyers, has a convincing touch that belies his youth.
The entire band has come up a winner on "Red Hot 'n' Blues." Portnoy has assembled a collection of tunes that emphasizes Perkins' boogie-woogie persona, and updates some classic blues and R&B sounds as well.
Smoky on the ballads and downright infectious on the boogie tunes, Perkins' singing has always been one of the band's greatest assets. Here he retrieves a couple of worthy oldies -- Leroy Carr's "Come Back Baby" and Arthur Crudup's "How Long" -- and hammers them home with great force but a minimum of fuss. Portnoy also delivers several fine solos, and his chordal rendition of "Blues for Big Nate" is striking, but his biggest contribution comes as a producer and songwriter. Three of his tunes -- "Streamlined Baby," "Do the Get Down" and "Loverboy" -- honor the styles of Jimmy Reed, Louis Jordan and Chuck Berry without ever sounding the least bit tired or dated.
Johnny Copeland, on the other hand, has forged a distinctly Southern blend of brassy blues and jazz styles, and thrown in a lot of soul to boot. On previous albums, the brass section gave his performances a nice boost, but on his latest, "Texas Twister," the horn parts often seem perfunctory. In fact, Archie Shepp's tenor solo on "North Carolina" is worse than that; it's lifeless and deflates an otherwise fine performance.
However, when the eight-piece ensemble is allowed to swing freely, and the horns aren't merely used for embellishment, tunes such as Copeland's "Excuses" gather an irresistible momentum.
Mostly, though, the attractions of any Copeland album are his raspy, soulful voice; his emotional, impeccably phrased guitar style; and his considerable talent as a songwriter. Those strengths haven't abandoned him on this album, and Stevie Ray Vaughan's biting guitar solos on two tunes further compensate for the recording's weaker moments. LEGENDARY BLUES BAND -- "Red Hot 'n' Blue" (Rounder 2035); appearing at the Psychedelly on Saturday. JOHNNY COPELAND -- "Texas Twister" (Rounder 2040); appearing at the Gentry on Sunday.