The St. Louis Steady Grinders is a duo comprised of Ethan Leinwand’s piano and singer Valerie Kirchhoff. While Ms. Kirchhoff has been performing in the St. Louis jazz/blues scene since 2007, she first started regularly teaming up with the pianist in 2014.
She has a powerful voice and sounds very much like a classic blues singer of the 1920s or a Chicago vocalist of the ’30s. On their self-titled CD, the duo brings back songs sung by the likes of Mary Johnson, Merline Johnson (who was known as “the Yas Yas Girl”), Lucille Bogan, St. Louis Bessie, and Lil Johnson (“Sam The Hot Dog Man”) among others.
None of the songs (other than “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water”) come close to being standards and they range from lowdown blues to goodtime music and a bit of hokum. Although there is a certain sameness to some of the material (it is best to hear just five or six in one setting rather than all 16), the music is enjoyable and sounds quite authentic.
Ethan Leinwand takes solos on each piece and Valerie Kirchhoff shows that, if she had been active in the 1930s, she would have had no trouble finding regular work in clubs. I would love to see this duo perform live someday.
St. Louis Steady Grinders
(Self-Released, 16 selections, TT = 52:44)
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St. Louis has had a uniquely bluesy and sassy revival jazz scene for going on 70 years. I’m happy to say the younger generation, led