A Night in Woodstock

From the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's "Blue Notes" November 4, 2008

Paul Rishell and Annie Raines are two of my favorite country blues artists, and they don't release new albums often enough to satisfy my Rishell-Raines jones. And they don't show up locally often enough either, the last time being in February of ought six.

But they have one now, out a couple of weeks ago. "A Night in Woodstock" is their first live album, recorded at a little club in Woodstock, N.Y. (yes, that Woodstock), in 2005 as part of a documentary being filmed on jug band music. They work with a fine and funky little band, featuring guests John Sebastian on harp and Bruce Katz on keyboards. This is the first album on the label they formed to release it, Mojo Rodeo Records. They work out of Boston.

I should back up, I guess. Rishell is one of the best country-style acoustic guitar players around, and Raines plays harp. They've been working together for about 16 years, and they've got this country, old-timey blues thing down cold. To say that Rishell plays guitar and Raines plays harp is a serious understatement. They've inhaled these old blues styles, let them fill their heads, then exhale them with considerable style and enthusiasm.

They can turn in a stunning acoustic gem like Tommy Johnson's gritty "Canned Heat Blues" or a slow-burning rocker with crackling keyboards like "Blue Shadows." In between are lyrical efforts like the original "Blues on a Holiday," a softly elegant interplay between guitar and harp behind Rishell's warm vocals.

Yes, I Iike these guys. They are poilshed, but with just enough rough edges. They're down and dirty and smooth as silk. They're very good. They'd sound just right in an intimate setting like the Club Cafe on the South Side. Is anybody listening?

By the way, read Annie's blog. It's almosty as much fun as her music. Maybe she'd like to be BlueNotes' summer replacement.


From the Boston Blues Society website

"The high-energy, fast moving set of acoustic and electric mostly blues tunes, was recorded, and filmed, in 2005 in Woodstock, N.Y. The 13-song disc features Rishell sounding his usual fantastic self on acoustic, electric and National Steel guitars, and Raines retaining her queen of the harp crown. " --BOSTONBLUES.COM

Press Quotes & Reviews

"There must be some physical explanation for the sheer joy they bring to the blues...lots of heat but also plenty of subtle variation under the theme."

“I have an album called Moving to the Country by Paul Rishell & Annie Raines. Lyle Lovett recommended it to me and it‘s just sensational.”
-- Comedian/Director DAVID STEINBERG (quoted in the National Post, Canada)

"Their new Goin’ Home (Tone-Cool) is the finest release in their 11-year collaboration, with a breadth of styles and sounds focused on graceful playing and singing — the kind of beatific performances that transcend style to reach a place in the human heart."
-- Ted Drozdowski, BOSTON PHOENIX

"Here's a little piece of rootsy paradise."

"Paul Rishell's second album features expertly ordered and nuanced updates of acoustic blues songs - he makes the masters like Son House and Robert Johnson speak to us across time." (***1/2)
---Frank-John Hadley, DOWNBEAT

"Last night I had the pleasure of seeing Paul Rishell and Annie Raines at Johnny D's in Somerville, MA (outside Boston). All I can say is WOW!! I believe Annie might be the best harmonica player I've ever seen. She was like Little Walter and Big Walter and Sonny Terry and Sonny Boy Williamsons I and II all rolled into one. Her control, her versatility, everything was just perfect. I've seen many of the greats -- e.g., James Cotton, Charlie Musselwhite, Rod Piazza, Jerry Portnoy, Carey Bell -- but I believe last night Annie was better than any of them."

-- [weblog of Steve Vinoski]

"She plays so good it hurts!”
-- Blues legend PINETOP PERKINS

“W.C. Handy Award-winners Rishell & Raines are rousing interpreters of country blues, the original acoustic style that gave birth to electric blues, R&B, and rock. While their guitar, harmonica, and vocals are roiling, muscular, and masterful, their shows are down home-friendly and fun-loving.”
--Scott Alarik, BOSTON GLOBE

“The Boston-based duo covers the spectrum in ``Goin' Home,'' its first studio release in five years, and adds a full band and even some amplification on a few songs. In classic covers of Charley Patton, Blind Lemon Jefferson and Ma Rainey, Rishell is masterful as usual on guitar. On songs such as Patton's ``Some of These Days,'' he astounds with what has be one of the most underrated voices in blues today.”
-- Dan Gewertz, BOSTON HERALD

“…Paul Rishell and Annie Raines in stratospheric form, which means that some of the most satisfying blues around these days are wafting down on your head and into your being, courtesy of a partnership the theologically inclined may suspect to have been conceived in heaven…”
-- Jerome Clark,

“Rishell’s song writing is top notch, and Annie’s harmonica oozes the blues with every note.”


“Goin’ Home is as complete a CD as you’ll find – don’t be surprised if you see it nominated for a Handy or a Grammy – it IS that good!”

“Rishell's ability to convey the essence of acoustic Delta Blues is shocking. His guitar playing is tremendous. His vocals are exceptional...”

"...they have a musicianly rapport and a wide embrace of styles, from Delta heartache to Chicago drive, that make for world-class blues. Their new I Want You To Know (Tone-Cool,* * * * *) has some of the best recorded performances of the year."
--Ted Drozdowski, PULSE!

"Raines is the perfect foil for Rishell. Both are sincere lovers of the older masters, and though they have chops to spare, they keep their playing straight and simple, going to the heart of the material...atmospheric late-night music, played with real grit and soul.”
--Elijah Wald, BOSTON GLOBE

"...both are strong vocalists, Rishell's guitar work is first-rate, and Raines's harmonica is note-perfect."

Goin' Home Reviews

Boston Globe:

Listen to the simmering joy these two bring to the blues and you can almost see the mystical line that separates the timeless from the merely old. They clearly adore the vintage charms of early blues masters like Charley Patton, Ma Rainey, and Blind Lemon Jefferson, but there is nothing archival about the sweet muscle and urban sass they bring to their arrangements. Rishell is a wonderfully convincing singer - and such a hot guitarist that he taught both Susan Tedeschi and Michael Tarbox. Raines plays the harmonica like she was born with one in her mouth. On their undulating whoop of a new album, "Goin' Home," they wear classic blues tunes like a second skin, and their own songs feel right at home beside them.

-- Scott Alarik, October 4, 2007

These two are so good that any release from them serves to remind us humans that while, true, life tends to suck, it does, on the other hand, have its moments. Goin' Home -- OK, so you might think the title is only blandly generic, but you would be wrong -- is Paul Rishell and Annie Raines in stratospheric form, which means that some of the most satisfying blues around these days are wafting down on your head and into your being, courtesy of a partnership the theologically inclined may suspect to have been conceived in heaven -- or, short of that, in some profoundly desirable terrestrial state accessible only by proximity to their voices and instruments.

I like everything they've recorded so far (this is their third as a duo), but this one somehow, however improbably, manages to surpass the previous two.

What strikes one about their approach is that while it's all based in blues (about which they know as much as any two humans' brains can contain without exploding), Rishell and Raines remind us that "blues" is not a single thing but multiple things: a variety of sounds and approaches, starting with a bewildering assortment of elemental Southern African-American folk wails, laments, jokes, accusations and threats, moving into big-city but country-based jug bands to the downhome uptown post-war roars of the Muddy Waters/Howlin' Wolf post-war generation to the bluesy jumps and jitters to the rock 'n' rolled and rhythm 'n' blued and smoothly souled.

Remarkably, these are all blues languages in whose accents Rishell and Raines sing, play and perform, albeit in varying degrees of allusion and echo. Always in harmony, virtual and literal, that seems so perfect as to feel almost, for want of a better word, preordained, the two speak fluently in those tongues. Even so, the music they borrow, reinvent and coax out of American memory comes, first and last, from and to a single place.

No matter where their muse takes them, ultimately Rishell and Raines -- he with acoustic and electric guitars, she with (mostly) harmonica, sometimes backed by a precision-tooled, steady-rockin' band -- are about pushing the country blues of decades ago into the present century without betraying either the artists' or the music's integrity in the slightest. They are who they are -- white, middle-class New Englanders -- and the music is both eternally what it was and exactly what they have made of it. There is no audible distinction. The fit amounts at once to perfection in art and miracle of nature. Wherever they roam, they are always goin' home.

-- Jerome Clark, for, published 2 July 2005

Living Blues:

Singing guitarist Paul Rishell and his harmonica-blowing partner Annie Raines have fashioned a mighty fine career for themselves through their refreshing rearrangements of vintage blues, mostly of the rural sort. Goin' Home, the Boston duo's latest release, is typically rife with variety and virtuosity.

Rishell plays all the guitar parts himself, often overdubbing acoustic and electric, slide, fingerpicked, and flat-picked parts. The material ranges from bare-boned country blues numbers such as Blind Lemon Jefferson's Black Horse Blues and Charley Patton's Some of These Days (I'll Be Gone) to It Ain't Right, an original Rishell soul-flavored blues that sports full rhythm and horn sections. Among the disc's other outstanding tracks are reinventions of Patton's I'm Goin' Home, Charlie Jordan's Hunkie Tunkie Blues, Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell's Memphis Town, Ma Rainey's Black Eye Blues, Blind Boy Fuller's Custard Pie, and Magic Sam's Lookin' Good. The latter instrumental is rendered, unexpectedly, not in a band arrangement but as an unrelenting downhome romp with just Rishell's cranked-up guitar and Raines' amplified Sonny Terry- inspired harmonica.

The biggest surprise of the bunch is the duo's rendition of the pop ballad Candy, with which Big Maybelle scored a hit in 1959. Here it becomes an instrumental showcase for Raines' prowess on chromatic harmonica, and her sweet, graceful reading of the melody suggests she's been checking out Toots Thielemans.

The ringer of the set, however, is a haunting rendition of I Had a Good Mother and Father, a religious tune originally recorded in the late 1920s by Washington Phillips. The itinerant Texas preacher played it on a strange stringed instrument known alternately as a Dulceola or a Celestaphone, the construction of which is a complete mystery. Rishell and Raines manage to capture the ethereal ringing quality of that instrument by layering their parts, Rishell on a Koa wood acoustic guitar and Raines on a Hawaiian Mandolin Harp (not a harmonica). Rishell's heartfelt vocals further drive home the song's simple sincerity.
-Lee Hildebrand

Boston Phoenix:

"When the Blues Foundation's members convene to nominate the best albums and artists of the genre next year, the Cambridge-based duo Paul Rishell and Annie Raines are a shoo-in. Their new Goin' Home (Tone-Cool) is the finest release in their 11-year collaboration, with a breadth of styles and sounds focused on graceful playing and singing - the kind of beatific performances that transcend style to reach a place in the human heart.

They've already won one of the foundation's W.C. Handy Awards, the Acoustic Blues Album of the Year prize for 2000's Moving to the Country (Tone-Cool). But with songs as poignantly played and sung as their performances of Washington Phillips's "I Had a Good Mother and Father" and Charley Patton's "Some of These Days (I'll Be Gone)," they're due again. That was apparent from their October 12 CD-release concert at Scullers. They opened as a duo, with Raines pulling full, rich tones from both standard and chromatic harmonicas and Rishell hunched over his resonator guitar plucking out angelic chords and melodies. "Some of These Days" was an especially wistful expression of heartache that stilled the room as Rishell's voice deftly and sweetly negotiated the melody he'd created for this arrangement. And Raines doubled on mandolin for the Phillips number, adding her own bright, ringing lines.

Both artists have both grown as vocalists since 2000's Moving to the Country. For Raines, it's a matter of development. As she's sung more and more of their repertoire, she's honed her vibrato and pitch; you could hear the difference on Ma Rainey's "Black Eye Blues," a highlight of both the new disc and their Scullers show. As for Rishell, prosthetic surgery in one of his ears has restored to him his full range as a singer, and he's now superbly emotive.

For the finale of their first set, Rishell and Raines brought out their full electric band with guest pianist David Maxwell. "Kansas City Blues" and "It Ain't Right," the latter a romping funk-blues from their new CD, pumped up the volume and the energy, but by then Rishell and Raines had displayed a winning mix of charisma and virtuosity all their own." ---Ted Drozdowski

Discriminating fans of roots music in southern New England have known it for years. At long last, the rest of the world is catching on to the fact that guitarist Paul Rishell and harmonica player Annie Raines are among the most earnest and entertaining blues artists active today. Ending a two-year hiatus from the studio with this fourth collaborative album, the pair gives ample proof of their gift for granting new life to old neglected blues and gospel numbers--with a band or without. Deep feeling combines with stellar musicianship on pre-World War II classics like Sonny Terry's risque "Custard Pie" and Leroy Carr's "Memphis Town," while the two tradition-bound originals hold up as well. There's a new depth to Rishell's vocals here and Raines adds creditable singing and mandolin playing as this talented duo continues to surprise.---Frank-John Hadley