Lonnie Shields – Portrait (1992)

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NICK DERISO: With a tip of the hat to Z.Z. Hill, one of his clearer influences, young bluesman Lonnie Shields debuted 15 years ago with a record that kept its eye out for the head-wagging flourish.

Recorded over the preceeding four-year period in Memphis and Clarksdale, Miss., “Portrait” was filled with the kind of heat-lightning that makes a blues record — like, say, the snaky sax on “My Baby Left Me”; or those fine, gurgling organ fills on “Hard Times.” I loved the full-band dynamics of “I Can’t Let You Hurt Me” — including a cache of saxes, trump and trombone — too.

Even the stripped-down four-man shuffle of “Knock in Our Love” found space for the late north Mississippi legend Frank Frost to do this thing on the keys.

Too, it was packed with Mississippi cats then making some serious blues (primarily on the now-defunct Rooster Blues imprint): Arthneice Jones, Sam Carr and the great Big Jack Johnson, along with producer Jim O’Neal, founder of “Living Blues” Magazine.

After the swinging instrumental “L.S. Blues,” Shields stepped up to the microphone one last time: “I know y’all thought I had left y’all, but I am back again,” he sings.

What follows was a cautionary tale:

I ain’t gonna tell no lie
Yes, I was cheatin’ first;
I guess you knew that;
But see, that don’t give
her the reason to
go out and start cheatin’;
She should’ve tried
to stop me.

If that’s part of what built this modern blues gem, than I must say I’m glad she didn’t. The record has held up well as a party album.

Just that quickly, Shields had situated himself in the same place as the touring favorite Artie “Blues Boy” White, another open-hearted singer with a playful manner that kept the proceedings simple and loose.

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