Mia Vermillion – Alone Together With The Blues (2009)

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by Pico

This site had its beginnings, believe or not, as a blues-oriented site. These days we’re ten times more likely to cover jazz than we are the Blues, but there’s nonetheless twenty-three entries in the Blues category so far this year. We’ve covered everything from soul-blues and blues-rock new releases to glances back at vintage older Delta blues records. But both of those trends suggests that the vintage type blues is some museum piece and today’s blues is all electric and diluted with other forms of music. That isn’t really true at all, as the acoustic or mainly acoustic primal blues is still alive and well, and there’s still a lot of practitioners young and old from all over watering the roots. Take, for example, Mia Vermillion.

Mia Vermillion isn’t from the Mississippi Delta or even African-American but your ears would never tell you otherwise. This lady from Washington State immersed herself from a young age in the music of Ray Charles, Bonnie Raitt, Billie Holliday and Sarah Vaughan, Lil Green and Ann Wilson (of Heart). She has a vocal style that incorporates these and other influences, but her sweetly sassy expression is her own. As she became a blues singer, she also became a blues songwriter, too.

In addition to performing in venues around the Pacific Northwest, Vermillion established her own studio, which produced background and theme music for radio, TV, and other businesses, music that Mia wrote and produced herself. But the Blues is a labor of love, and so she also used her studio to produce her first album, Alone Together With The Blues, which went on sale this past June.

For her first record, Vermillion recognized that many of the blues stars have had valuable sidekicks that brought out the best in their music. Muddy Waters had Little Walter and later, James Cotton. Howlin’ Wolf had his Hubert Sumlin. Mia Vermillion’s own secret weapon is Orville Johnson. Johnson is an acoustic guitar and dobro specialist from Illinois who has put out seven records of his own. His accompaniment on the guitar, dobro and mandolin keeps the music grounded and proficiently played, a perfect fit for Vermillion’s soulful pipes. Usually accompanied by a standup bass and drums, the strategy for this record is to keep it simple and let these two talents–Vermillion’s vocal and Johnson’s playing—carry the music.

Vermillion’s brand of blues on Alone Together With The Blues is the gentle, lazy sultry kind of blues that’s personified by the opening lines of the first track, her original “Little Bit Of Love”:

Swingin’, swingin’ on a porch on a hot day
I’m singin, singin’ about a little love that got away

The only other Vermillion-penned tune present is “Love’s Lost And Found,” a straightforward, country-flavored twelve-bar blues. Johnson’s slide work is as rueful and unhurried as the song itself, one of many instances where he finds ways to make the song better without putting the singer out of the spotlight.

The remaining seven selections are covers of old tunes, but none of these are overdone. There’s Lil Green’s elegant and jazzy “In The Dark,” Leroy Carr’s “In The Evening,” which features some fine rapport between Vermillion and Johnson, and Bill Bill Broonzy’s saucy “When I’ve Been Drinkin’,” featuring some of Johnson’s skilled dobro work. Better still is Broonzy’s “I’m Going to Copyright Your Kisses,” with a stripped down, mandolin-led arrangement. With her seasoned vocal phrasing, Vermillion makes this song uniquely hers.

After Leveen & Gant’s “I Wonder” and Mary Lou Williams’ “Walkin'” (not the Miles Davis song), the album wraps up with Lew Pollack and Paul Webster’s “Two Cigarettes In The Dark,” a song popularized by Bing Crosby. A clarinet fluttering around the lyrics give the song an old-time jazz feel. Vermillion changes her vocal approach appropriately for this selection, showing that she could pull off a career as a torch singer if she wanted to.

Luckily for blues fans, though, Mia Vermillion chose to stick with this rootsier music style for this CD, and her down-home approach is easy to digest and soothes the soul. Alone Together With The Blues might be her first album, but Vermillion definitely already knows what the heck she’s doing. With Johnson at her side, and being an experienced musician and studio hand herself, she makes this a solid debut.

Visit Mia’s website here.

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 jazz.com, AllAboutJazz.com, 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 https://twitter.com/SVictorAaron
S. Victor Aaron
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