Her all-star backing unit on Travelin' Light includes Pinetop Perkins, Jerry Portnoy and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith (Muddy Waters Band alumni), Michael "Mudcat" Ward and the contemporary roots guitar of Colin Linden. Zora is also joined by label-mate Little Anthony Geraci on three songs.
The critically acclaimed Travelin' Light proves that Zora Young is poised to grab one of the top spots in blues.
Produced by Randy Labbe
Associate Producer: Jerry Portnoy
Executive Producers: Randy Labbe and Steve Bloch
Photography by John Ferris, Portland, ME
Design by Philippe Huart, Paris, France
Special thanks: Melvin Smith, Charles Taylor, Jr., John Hill, Kermon Frazer, Jerry Soto, Bruce Kaplan, Philippe LeBras and Jim West.
Jerry Portnoy appears courtesy of Modern Blues Recordings
Willie Smith appears courtesy of Ichiban Records
Michael Ward appears courtesy of Rounder Records
Looking out on the pouring rain from a motel room in Kitchener, Ontario...dressing for a club gig somewhere in Nova Scotia...knocking the socks off a singles crowd in Worcester, Mass.
"I figure if I stick to it, then maybe one day the world will realize that I'm around," Young told me two years ago. "I'm sincere, in other words. You know, there's very few women come out here to stay. You usually can count 'em on one hand, usually they go back home to have babies or some man will marry them and take them off."
But after 20 years and more than a dozen European tours, Zora Young is still on the road, still singing the blues, still writing top-notch songs with incisive lyrics and wry humor...and still waiting for the world to wake up to her.
This, the first full-length record of her career, should open eyes and ears. With a backing band comprised of some of the finest musicians on the planet, Young embarks on a recorded journey through South Side blues and West Side soul and down a country road or two for some Juke Joint Jamming with piano and guitar.
Young's own roots wind back to West Point, Miss., where she was born in 1948, a third cousin of Chester Burnett, aka Howling Wolf. Fiercely independent, she downplays the connection in interviews. But Burnett was of her grandmother's generation and she recalls that even the dedicated church-goers in her family were excited when the Howling Wolf came to visit.
Young moved to Chicago with her family when she was 8. She graduated from high school and started singing Top 40 and R&B before finding her home in the blues. Her mother, remarried to a Baptist minister, would have preferred a gospel career for young Zora.
"The first record my mother heard of me, she said, 'Is that you? Oh, that's a voice that could really be singing for Jesus."
But Young was born to be a blues singer. She can take a simple phrase and invest it with sultriness sufficient to melt the coldest of hearts. Her husky voice is a powerhouse eually adept at the coy come-on and the scornful putdown. Her phrasing has the deceptive simplicity that separates the blues artists from the blues apprentices. Perched on the sharpest of spike heels and poured into the tightest of red dresses, she can leave her microphone behind and walk the aisles of a blues club, belting out the lyrics so clearly that not a word goes unheard.
And Zora Young was born to be a songwriter. She remembers her father making up poems and rhymes in Mississippi. She started writing her own little poems as a kid. Today, her strongest lyrics reveal the sassy, self-respecting, determined woman who has paid two decades of dues in a man's world.
"Heard you were gonna leave, well honey let me help you pack your bags. Since I've been loving you baby, I've gone from riches to rags," she sings on "Brain Damage." Then she threatens to violate his privacy by willing her brain to science.
"I know they all would be amused to find so many cells that have never been used," Young sings, "That must be the only reason I let a fool like you give me the blues."
In "Football Widow," a blues novelty song, Young threatens to wear pink rollers in her hair and put on "fluffy house-shoes with a dog on the toe, too" if her couch-potatoe husband doesn't turn off the TV and take her out.
The musicians on this record include three alumni of Muddy Water' band - Willie Smith on drums, Jerry Portnoy on harmonica and Pinetop Perkins on piano. Michael "Mudcat" Ward, on bass, is a highly respected veteran of Sugar Ray and The Bluetones and Ronnie Earl and The Broadcasters. Colin Linden, on lead guitar is a talented country-blues and slide guitar player who has recorded and gigged with many of the top artists in his native Canada. Anthony Geraci, featured on three cuts, is a former Bluetone who now leads Little Anthony & The Loco-Motives. Rhythm guitarist Charles Baum toured with Jerry Portnoy and The Streamliners before founding The Diamondbacks.
From Portnoy's pungent harp riff that kicks off "Stumbling Blocks and Stepping Stones," through Linden's fat country thirds on "Travelin' Light" and Pinetop's masterful slow blues work on "Country Girl Returns," it is clear that Zora Young is finally keeping the kind of company she merits.
When she's not at home, Young lives in an apartment on Lakeshore Drive in Chicago. She sees herself as something of an amateur psychologist...watching people, finding out what makes them tick and using the material for her songs. But she didn't have to look far from home to get the inspiration for this line from the record's title cut: "If you won't fly baby, please don't clip my wings. this little bluebird, Lord she loves to sing." Sing on, little bluebird, sing on.
Walter Crockett is entertainment columnist for the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram and Gazette.
Mississippi-born, Chicago-bred blues singer is an associate of Koko Tayler, and she boast the vocal power and interpretive ability associated with the Windy City's Queen of the Blues. Young, who is a fine writer, gets lots of help on the instrumental side from a band the includes former Muddy Waters sideman Jerry Portnoy, Pinetop Perkins, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Magnificently sung combination of standards and sturdy originals should give this under-recorded artist the boost she deserves.
Billboard (March 6, 1993)
Zora Young - Travelin' Light
Like John Primer, Zora Young is a 40-something Chicago blues artist who's just starting to get some long overdue recognition. Young was born in West-Point, Mississippi (home town of Howling Wolf - in fact, she's Wolf's third cousin). She moved to Chicago with her family when she was eight. For the last 20 years, she's been singing in blues clubs in Chicago, and she's toured Europe a dozen times. Travelin' Light is her first full-length album, although she recorded a minialbum (as Zorah Young) a few years back. For this album, she's helped out by three ubiquities Muddy Waters Band alumni: Pinetop Perkins at piano, Jerry Pornoy on harmonica, and Willie Smith on drums, plus Mudcat Ward on bass, Charles Baum on rhythm guitar, and an amazing, up-and-coming Canadian named Colin Linden on lead and slide guitars.
While there's a lot to like here, the best thing about Young is her song writing. She wrote seven of the 10 songs on this disc, and they're all winners. Things start off with a bang, with the piano-propelled blues rocker "Daughter of a Son-of-a Gun." Elsewhere, she successfully visits acoustic blues for a fine reading of Big Bill Broonzy's "Key to the Highway," and Portnoy sets the harmonica on fire for the stomping version of Slim Harpo's "Queen Bee" (originally "I'm a King Bee"). Her own songs include the humorous "Football Widow," the sassy "Girlfriend," and the wistful title song. Her voice is strong, sweet, and at times sultry; the band is always right with her. Since this is better than 90 percent of what gets released by such major Chicago blues labels as Alligator, I have to wonder how it ended up on a little label in Maine.
The City Paper (March 26, 1993)
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