Bryan Lee – Katrina Was Her Name (2007)

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Guys like Tab Benoit and Kenny Neal are testament that the blues are still alive and kickin’ in South Louisiana. But when it comes to making the blues come alive in the bayou country, those guys have their match in a sixty-two year old blind white guy from Wisconsin. That guy with the tall black hat, Wayfarers and gray chin beard is Bryan Lee.

The man known as “The Braille Blues Daddy” started out playing for Midwest crowds at an early age (he opened for Bill Haley & The Comets at fifteen), but fell in love with New Orleans and moved to there in the early eighties. He’s been a fixture of the French Quarter ever since. While Lee can’t see, he can sing the blues soulfully and earnestly. His guitar brings the Chicago styled blues of Luther Allison, as well as Albert King and Albert Collins, down to the Crescent City.

I was introduced to the joyful music of Lee via his definitive live records Live at the Old Absinthe House Bar, both the Friday and Saturday night versions. It’s easy to tell from this record that he has a fantastic rapport with his audience and his no-nonsense brand of blues is aimed squarely at giving his listeners the opposite of the blues. Indeed, even his studio records sound like as if he is performing for a crowd and intending to give them more than their money’s worth, and openly encouraging his band along the way. And his latest one, Katrina Was Her Name, is no exception.

Virtually all the prominent Louisiana musicians have literally put their reaction to the tragic hurricane devastation of August 29, 2005 on record. Lee was not about to ignore it, either. The CD sleeve contains some poignant photographs of the aftermath and Lee was moved to write a song about it (more on this later).

Just as he did for the last go around, 2002’s Six String Therapy, Lee employed Duke Robillard to produce it. Robillard, the versatile blues guitarist of Roomful Of Blues and The Fabulous Thunderbirds fame, allows Lee’s various sides to come to fore on this record. Whether it’s Delta acoustic blues, jump blues, dirty electric blues, or creole-styled r&b, Lee gives it all the same dedication and mastery.

For this release, Lee’s band consists of Bruce Katz on keyboards, Brent Johnson on second guitar, John Packer on acoustic bass (or Jim Mitchell on electric bass) and John Perkins on drums. In particular, Katz, on alum of Ronnie Earl’s band, is a real treat to have on this record. He’s a master at both the blues and jazz forms on piano and organ and easily adapts to Lee’s stylistic change-ups.

Bryan gets the show rolling with a rockabilly-styled rendering of Willie Dixon’s “29 Ways.” Led by Lee’s biting axe, saxman Gordon Beadle and Katz follows with some equally hot solos. Kim Wilson’s “Don’t Bite The Hand That Feeds You” provides both Lee and Katz to stretch out to some shuffle blues. The pace picks up again to the old Bobby Parker tune “Barefootin’,” and just like the original, you can twist the night away to it.

“My Baby Done Quit Me” is a nice, early r&b flavored number. On the Lee-penned “Blues Singer”, Bryan sings about the first time he heard Freddie King then proceeds to whip out a solo that’s a dead ringer for Freddie.

“Her Name Was Katrina,” is a sparse, acoustic guitar/dobro ode to the despair that the storm left behind to the Crescent City. In it, he sings of the devastation in plain terms so that no one listening to this song many years from now will forget what happened and when it happened.

“Take It Like A Man” is another jump blues nugget, this time from the fifties r&b singer Chuck Willis, and Lee gives it both a great vocal and guitar rendering. “Lowdown And Dirty” couldn’t be described any better. Lee shows off a hard rockin’ blues style slide that calls Allison to mind.

“Ain’t Nobody’s Business” showcases Lee’s and his band’s ability to cover a slow blues jam number, featuring some impassioned blues wailing by Gordon Beadle. “Why Did You Lie To Me” is another blues shuffle, but in more of an r&b style. A remake of TV Slim’s 1957 hit “Flat Foot Sam” sports a funky, New Orleans-style rhythm common out of that region in the late fifties and early sixties.

Lee’s own “Bethany Jane” is another lean, acoustic number, this time a tribute to his bride-to-be. The closer “Don’t Joke With The Stroke” works Marvin Gaye’s “Inner City Blues” bass riff into a fun time by each band member, who get their turn to strut their stuff.

With Katrina Was Her Name, Lee delivers another solid effort, even as it sounds effortless coming from an old pro like him. As Robillard plainly states at the beginning of the liner notes he provided for this record, “if you’re not familiar with Bryan Lee by now, you should be.”

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron

S. Victor Aaron is an SQL demon for a Fortune 100 company by day, music opinion-maker at night. His musings are strewn out across the interwebs on,, a football discussion board and some inchoate customer reviews of records from the late 1990s on Amazon under a pseudonym that will never be revealed. E-mail him at svaaron@somethingelsereviews .com or follow him on Twitter at
S. Victor Aaron
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