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I got dem old K.C. blues

Midnight Mama
Midnight Mama
By Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham

Concord Records: 1985

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This review first appeared in the April 9, 19986 issue of The Daily Aztec.

Last year's release of Jeannie and Jimmy Cheatham's debut album was one of the musical highlights of the year. "Sweet Baby Blues" showcased the San Diego-based couple's feeling for Kansas City-style blues, and led to even more people showing up for their legendary Sunday night jam sessions at the Bahia on Mission Bay.

"Midnight Mama," the follow-up album, is as strong as the debut. Jeannie's combination of piano and vocals gives the album a sense of the blues that reminds of Count Basie's band. Like Basie's combo, the Cheathams' Sweet Baby Blues Band plays big band blues – with Jeannie leading the way from piano, and the horns and reeds trading solos and combining for rousing choruses.

Eddie "Lockjaw" Harris, who first made his reputation with the Basie band, contributes to four numbers on the new release. His spirited playing contributes to the classic sound heard here. But Jimmy Cheatham is the real creator of that sound. A former arranger for Chico Hamilton, and a one-time member of the Ellington band, that experience helps Jimmy create charts that give the eight-piece combo the same heft as a full big band.

"Piney Brown," a tribute to pianist Pete Johnson, is as warm and rolling a tune as the cover of Johnson's own "Cherry Red" off the first album. Jeannie turns the blues classic "C.C. Rider" inside out here, and the half-dozen originals hold up very well against the standards.

What makes the Cheathams' music so special is the warmth at its heart – the way Jeannie leads the songs, while Jimmy handles the horns and reeds with a casual surety that belies the professionalism of these two music veterans.