Arizona Republic (September 24, 2009)

Blues duo find fun, success

Chat with Phoenix blues-harmonica standout Bob Corritore and his latest partner in crime, Mississippi-born singer-guitarist Dave Riley, and it’s hard to tell who’s having more fun.

Corritore smiles broadly as he talks about the act the pair formed after meeting five years ago at a blues festival in Arkansas and the two well-received albums it has spawned, including “Lucky to be Living,” in stores Tuesday.

“None of these recording sessions were in any way uptight,” Corritore says. “They were pretty loose, and that’s the joy of it.

“Dave is such a fun-loving guy. He almost has a childlike approach to enjoying life with such enthusiasm.”

Riley, who splits his time between homes in Illinois and Arizona, lets out a hearty laugh at the mention of Corritore, calling his pal a name that can’t be printed in a family newspaper.

“The biggest enjoyment is trying to keep it real,” says Riley, who will perform with Corritore at a CD release party Saturday in Phoenix. “People are getting away from the delta blues. There ain’t a whole lot of electronic stuff on this album, just raw blues.”

Both men favor a traditional approach to the genre and have cooked up an intriguing blend of the gritty Chicago variety that Corritore has played in the Valley for more than two decades and the rootsy, down-home flavor that Riley has mastered.

That chemistry has hit a chord with blues fans in North America and Europe. The pair’s first album, 2007’s “Travelin’ the Dirt Road,” brought bookings at festivals and clubs on both continents and nominations at the 2008 Blues Music Awards and the Blues Blast Music Awards. They’ll be back in Europe, where blues festivals draw huge crowds, for four weeks of gigs in November.

“With Dave being an undeniable Southern boy and me being from Chicago, it bridges the gap in a way that a lot of people seem to enjoy,” Corritore says.

He mentions that many of the blues icons whom he listened to growing up in Chicago came by way of the Deep South, so the connection between urban and country blues isn’t difficult to explore.

The “Lucky to be Living” album has a deceptively easygoing feel to it. The toe-tapping tracks make it easy for the listener to imagine Corritore and Riley sitting on a back porch, jamming as the sun goes down.

Riley, 60, a former farmworker and prison guard, injects his life’s experiences into his lusty vocals.

“Bob and I are everyday people,” he says. “He’s gotten his bumps and bruises just like I did. We came up (in the music business) the same way.”

While working at a prison in Illinois, Riley and his wife took vacations to Helena, Ark., where the singer was introduced to local blues legends Frank Frost, Sam Carr and John Weston in the ’90s. Riley became part of the local blues scene, performing there on weekends.

He and Corritore play four songs by the late Frost on “Lucky to be Living,” including the low-down title track.

After meeting Corritore at the Arkansas Blues Heritage Festival, Riley was booked into Phoenix’s Rhythm Room, which the harmonica-playing promoter owns.

As is his habit when acts he enjoys pass through Phoenix, Corritore asked Riley to do some casual recording after his show, and the seeds of the first album were planted.

“We formed a strong friendship with a special bond,” says Corritore, who’s a decade younger than Riley. “There’s a simplicity to what we do. It’s easy to bring out.”

Joined at times by members of Corritore’s other band, the Rhythm Room All Stars, and blues-piano legend Henry Gray, Corritore and Riley can handle everything from smooth shuffles (“Ride With Your Daddy Tonight”) to nasty crawls (“Sharecropper Blues”) to down-home boogie-woogie (“Country Blues”).

It’s all brought home when the pair play live, with Corritore playing straight man to Riley and his salty between-song banter.

“Onstage, Dave is naturally a rabble-rouser,” Corritore says. “It’s a comedy routine that’s even larger offstage than on.”

– Larry Rodgers

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