Cleveland Fats

Cleveland Fats
The Way Things Go

Honeybee Entertainment HB 3302

By Karen Nugent
January 2007

Cleveland Fats, AKA Mark Hahn, has put together a tremendously refreshing disc of just straight electric blues. There’s no rock, no jazz, no funk – nothin’ but the blues, baby, with a great line-up of guests, including the late Robert Lockwood Jr. in one of his last recordings. Lockwood was Fats’ mentor on guitar, and he played for years in Lockwood’s band.

It shows.

The record has a dozen tunes, with just Fats and Lockwood playing guitar, and Fats doing all of the singing. Many are danceable shuffles and nine are originals, although they could be right out of Chess Records circa 1950.

Fats’ vocals are rough – some might say too rough and somewhat odd – but they work with the simplicity of these songs. His years with Lockwood’s band gave him the opportunity to jam with legends such as Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker and Magic Sam, who have all influenced Fats.

Besides Lockwood, guests on this disc include Chicago great Billy Branch on harmonica, who has backed Koko Taylor, Tail Dragger, Eddie Burns and others. The one problem with the album may be that there isn’t enough of Branch here.

Aaron Moore and Ariyo share piano duty. Moore has backed everyone from Howlin’ Wolf to Muddy to Little Walter. Need I say more? Ariyo, who currently works with Branch, has toured with Lockwood and Otis Rush.

Doc Thomas, who played on Fats’ two previous records, is on saxophone; and Vince Willis, a Delmark session man, plays organ. The rhythm section is made up of bassist Aron Burton, a charter member of Albert Collins’ Ice Breakers who has played sessions for James Cotton; and drummer Dave Jefferson, who spent more than 12 years with Albert King

The third cut, “Invisible Man” is a wailing classic Chicago club blues, with Fats giving us some fabulous slide guitar woven into lyrics lamenting lost love. (He’s so out of her life, she literally doesn’t see him.)

Lockwood takes over on the instrumental “Long Gone” with his famous 12-string.

“It Ain’t Right” a Little Walter favorite, gives us a chance to hear Branch shine on harp.

“Blues Time” is a wonderful slow blues featuring both guitarists nicely complimenting one another. “Dead or Alive” a song written by Lockwood for Fats, also showcases both guitarists. “Bakin’ Fats” is a fast instrumental shuffle with Willis jamming on organ.

“Cell Phone Blues” is an amusing lament about the travails of modern technology, with the line: “I don’t want no cell phone hanging around with me/Cause I might go places I ain’t supposed to be.” A topless bar, for example, as is mentioned in the next line.

Fats dispenses romantic advice to a younger friend on “You’ll Love Again,” and amusingly warns his ex not to bother him anymore on “Don’t Call Me.” He brings B.B. King to mind on “Cheaters Never Win” and on the title cut, which is the last track.

The entire disc was recorded in two days, and that’s OK. There are no gimmicks, just the real thing.

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