"Monday Morning Blues"

Big L

"Monday Morning Blues," the latest release by the Blue Rhythm Boys, is named after a Mississippi John Hurt tune well known to finger-picking blues guitarists. Hurt's contribution serves here as the album's opening track and casually points the way to other pieces that have been passed down from one generation of acoustic guitar players to another. Blind Blake's "That'll Never Happen No More" and the classic jazz dirge "St. James Infirmary," for example, were staples in Dave Van Ronk's colorful repertoire.

But the Boys -- guitarist Jim Stephanson, guitarist-mandolinist Tom Mitchell and bassist Ralph Gordon -- view these tunes, along with "Frankie & Johnny" and Hurt's "Richlands Women Blues," as ensemble pieces that alternately evoke string and swing band traditions. So they've recruited harmonica ace Phil Wiggins, trumpeter Vince McCool, drummer Brooks Tegler and violinist Kevin Wimmer to flesh out the arrangements in ways that are tried, true and still genuinely entertaining.

The same can be said for the pieces that are more commonly performed by jazz musicians. Fats Waller's corkscrew melody "Jitterbug Waltz," Irving Berlin's engaging novelty "Russian Lullaby," and the evergreen "Indiana" feature nimbly executed guitar solos and rhythmic pulses that, whether swaying or swinging, are just plain hard to resist. Like the pre-war musicians they clearly admire, the Boys and their guests collaborate all the while in deceptively effortless fashion. In fact, if they've learned one thing from listening to old discs, it's how to have fun without ever making a fuss.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Monday at Unitarian Universalist Church, Silver Spring. * To hear a free Sound Bite from the Blue Rhythm Boys, call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 and press 8120. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)

Tom Mitchell, Ralph Gordon and Jim Stephanson are the Blue Rhythm Boys.