Well the chaps at Leading Edge Music, Sale, Victoria told me that Memphis Blues was Cyndi’s best album ever! She has certainly changed musically from the time she burst onto the music scene here in Australia in 1984 with the number one hit single Girls Just Want To Have Fun. She followed that up with a further six top 10 hits here, but she was, and still is, the eccentric character that she was 27 years ago. In fact, from the photos on the album Memphis Blues she doesn’t looked like she has aged at all, but she does say that her make-up artists have done wonders. Be that as it may, you must give this album a listen. It is superb.

Being a blues album she had to have the appropriate people on board and she has, people like B B King, Charlie Musselwhite and Jonny Lang to drop a few names. As well she covers a Muddy Waters song Rollin’ and Tumblin’ for good measure. However great those people play, and they play superbly let me assure you, it is the voice of Ms Lauper that steals the show along with her playful almost child like approach to some of the songs. There are at least three songs that I counted quickly that had some of her laughter at the end before it was faded out and her playfulness in the third track Early in the Mornin’ is just delightful. She had fun doing this album. Listening to this album with the AKG headphones on allowed me to be engulfed by this fun and her persona.

Many great albums often have a song or two, that though good just don’t seem to be in the same league as the others on the album. Fortunately this album isn’t one of them, as all the songs are just great. Also Cyndi is comfortable in not having to sing through the entirety of each song to allow some of the fine musicianship to shine through too. (An action that many a new band would do well to consider and not feel obliged to keep repeating a word or phrase to fill in until the end of the song.) Consequently there are many fine instrumental breaks in these songs. We find this in the opening song Just Your Fool where the lyrics are sparse, with the instrumental breaks highlighting her voice, along with the lyrics emphasising the fun aspect with lines like

“…Jackie Chan he gonna come for you”.

This up tempo track has some great piano and harmonica blended in with some impressive percussion, which really sets the scene for the rest of the album. The harmonica is played by Charlie Musselwhite, who appears again with that instrument on Down Don’t Bother Me and in both cases his playing is impressive.

On a blues album you expect most, if not all songs, to deal with love in some form or another and that is the case with ten of the eleven songs on offer. Also there is good variety with the tempos of the songs which is always pleasing to see and this entices the interest. Many of the slower tempo songs are the sadder love songs of the album like Shattered Dreams, How Blue Can You Get?, Down So Low and Crossroads which are all delivered with a great deal of emotion and panache. It seems that these four songs allow her to manipulate your heart strings by her singing/voice alone. In How Blue Can You Get? Cyndi sings

“…gave you a brand new Ford, you just want a Cadillac,

…I let you live in my penthouse, you said it was a shack,

I gave you seven children now you wanna give ‘em back…”

and by the end of the song you do commiserate with her. However in Down So Low now she is doing the crawling and by the end of that song I’d take her back! She has picked the songs to suit her voice, though I think she has done a good deal of rehearsal too, because in some songs I’d swear that she is a black American. In the opening lines of Early in the Mornin’ she says in her best black American tone “Hey Pedro where we going?”. I swear she wasn’t a white woman. Also in this song she duets with B B King and the contrast in the voices and styles really adds a nuance that is difficult to put in words. Listen to it, you’ll know what I mean.

Of course not all the songs are sad. Romance in the Dark shows a very different mood to the songs just mentioned and Cyndi’s voice manipulates that mood accordingly. There is no doubt about it, her voice has become better with age. She hits those notes with great aplomb/emotion while at the same time seducing you. The organ playing by Lester Snell is just the icing on the cake in this track. This song must be listened to in the dark and with the volume up! When it’s finished tell me that you weren’t affected. Despite its name Don’t Cry No More is an up tempo love song that is positive about love. It is very catchy with some great saxophone. While the only song not about love in some form, Mother Earth, deals with a common Blues theme of the tall poppy being brought down. It doesn’t matter how big in business or politics you are, or how much money you have in the end

“… when it all comes up, you got to go back to Mother Earth.”

Again she delivers it with conviction as well as a smattering of cheekiness, and the piano introduction by Allan Toussaint is equally talented. In fact much of the piano played by Allan and Lester Snell is particularly impressive on this album as is the guitar playing by Jonny Lang. As regards the latter check out the songs Crossroads and How Blue Can You Get?. Also check out B B King’s guitar work on Early in the Mornin’. None of these people are becoming worse with age. I could go on, but I don’t want to spoil your exploring the album for yourself. Also if you are looking to preview some new Hifi gear then you couldn’t do better than to take this album along to test out the gear, Memphis Blues has it all.

Will Cyndi climb to the dizzy heights of her albums of the 1980s again? Probably not, which is a pity, though Memphis Blues did debut at #1 on Billboard’s Blues Album Chart and #26 on Billboard’s Top 200 Album Chart which is most impressive, but it deserves to do much better than that! It is adeptly recorded and mastered, it is sung with gusto and played impeccably. What more could you want? The chaps at Leading Edge Music, Sale told me that Memphis Blues was Cyndi’s best album ever. A tall order, but I think their assessment is correct.

Sonics: 4.4/5  Music: 4.7/5

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