Graná Louise: Knockin’ out all bums

The Female Imperative

By David McGee

Graná Louise

Muhammad Ali used to say he was “knockin’ out all bums.” That pretty much sums up Chicago blues belter Graná Louise’s philosophy on Gettin’ Kinda Rough! And like Ali, the bums Ms. Louise is knockin’ out are all men. As she makes clear in her liner note comments, the artist is less interested in the battle of the sexes than in advancing a female point of view about women’s experiences vis-a-vis men. This being understood helps clarify the opening swagger through “Stagger Lee,” presumably part of the repertoire because it shows how irresponsible men can be with their senseless gambling and gunplay (in this version Billy has “500 children”). After which she makes no excuses for her own behavior, whether she’s crowing triumphantly about being a “Lead Foot Mama” in her own stomping revelation of having inherited a family fondness for fast driving; offering a steamy rebuttal to the man who wanted to imprison her as a housewife--in her deliciously slinky take on Denise LaSalle’s “Learning How to Cheat On You” she exults in picking up some tricks of the slipping-around trade from all the soap operas she was forced to watch in her solitary confinement, a pronouncement that gets some extra juice from Tom Holland’s woozy slide guitar protestations; or--parental discretion advised--frankly stating her lustful ambitions in another celebratory original titled, yes, “Big Dick, M’isipi” ( (“where the trees grow strong/you may not know where I’m coming from/but I know where to go when I want to get me some…”), in which she not only shouts in fairly blunt terms her preference for the men of Southern heritage but takes a shot at their less-gifted (in more ways than one) northern brethren, which in turn is followed by her funky fable of sexual ecstasy with a philandering mate, “Bang Bang Ba-Bang Bang Bang Bang!,” also an occasion for guitarist Holland to fashion a tart, economical, upper strings solo for a little extra atmosphere.

Graná Louise and the Troublemakers, ‘Hey Joe,’ at the Paramount Blues Festival in Grafton, WI, Sept. 18, 2010

Beyond this, someone at Delmark appears to have a sadistic sense of humor for rounding out the album with five live cuts from an appearance at Chi-town’s Blue Chicago nightclub, simply to rub it in that some listeners were not present for the actual performance. Featuring exceedingly fierce guitar work by Carlos Showers (Tom Holland is on hand, too), the live tracks include a pounding, relentless march through “Queen Bee,” Koko Taylor’s answer to Slim Harpo’s “King Bee”; a lowdown, grinding treatment of Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson’s “Back Door Blues,” introduced by Ms. Louise with a warning: “We got some folks in here that embarrass easily. You better leave right now!” as the guitar sputters and moans restlessly behind her, exhibiting some Buddy Guy flair along the way as our gal recounts a close call when she was almost caught in the wrong bed with the wrong man (“I took the front door in. but I took the back door out/I was laying there so comfortable, until I heard somebody shout--they called me by my first name! You know it was time to go!”); a roaring, thundering but also delicately nuanced investigation of Ann Peebles’s marvel of remorse and regret, "I Can't Stand the Rain," in which she both laments the end of an affair and rages at its demise at the same time, while the guitarist cuts loose with some James Gurley-style pyrotechnics to lend the whole exercise a Big Brother feel that only intensifies in the last minute when Ms. Louise gets into some Janis-like improvisational fireworks, repeating the title sentiment multiple times as the music builds to an explosive climax. Needless to say, the near-seven-minute version of “Hey Joe” at album's end not only brings us back to where we began in “Stagger Lee,” with senseless gunplay in a homicidal classic, but also provides a stirring evocation of the Hendrix legacy while being a statement unto itself, thanks to Ms. Louise’s dramatic, fiery reading and the guitarist’s complementary voice variously probing and rampaging through the track. Men, you have been forewarned; ladies, welcome. Make yourselves at home.

Graná Louise’s Gettin’ Kinda Rough! Is available at www.amazon.com

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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