The Sirens Records mission is to preserve authentic Chicago blues,
boogie woogie, gospel, and jazz piano music.
Erwin Helfer and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble
"Celebrate the Journey”"
In early March 2020, The Sirens Records gathered some of Erwin Helfer’s closest friends and musical collaborators to record a jam session. Through the years, the band members, John Brumbach, Davide Ilardi, Lou Marini, and Skinny Williams, developed and honed a magical musical comraderie with Erwin. All of them, accomplished musicians in their own right, shine even brighter when working with Erwin. They groove, they swing, and they show their love and admiration for this piano master. On this disc, Erwin will charm you with his distinctive blues and jazz piano style: creative, crafty, dexterous, and fun. This recording celebrates Erwin’s lifetime achievements in Chicago boogie-woogie and blues piano as well as his upcoming 85th birthday in January 2021. This session captures the good time party atmosphere and, as you listen, you share in the celebration. -- Steven B. Dolins
BLUES/ UPC: 820718502821
Paster Donald Gay
"On A Glorious Day"
Pastor Donald Gay is one of the last living links to Chicago’s golden age of gospel music, and his music are some of its last vestiges. He has a unique deep, warm, smooth, and bluesy voice. But, when expressing the agonies, struggles, and ecstasies of everyday life, he explodes with an intense piercing power. While singing praises to the lord with unshakable conviction, he extends syllables with growls and shouts out exclamations of joy. Pastor Gay is accompanied by some of Chicago’s best gospel musicians: Cliff Dubose, Richard Gibbs, and Curtis Fondren. They create a captivating, soulful, and traditional sanctified groove that can only be heard in an old-fashioned church service.
GOSPEL/ UPC: 820718502722
"I Thank God"
Elsa Harris is one of the most talented and respected gospel keyboard musicians in Chicago today. She has a huge heart and it is clearly reflected in her music. Elsa plays with force or grace, depending upon the piece she is performing. Her piano playing is precise like a classically trained pianist but with rich gospel chords and a heavy dose of the blues. On this disc, Elsa Harris plays traditional gospel songs and adds soul and funk on several tracks. Elsa sings on one track which reminds us that earlier in her career she was a renowned vocalist.
In the past Elsa has toured the world performing with Paul Simon, Andrae Crouch and Pat Boone and has appeared in such diverse events as the Newport Jazz Festival, the 700 club and BBC's Songs Of Praise.
She is accompanied by two of the best gospel musicians in Chicago, Richard Gibbs on organ and Curtis Fondren on drums. They create music that swings with heaps of spiritual energy.
GOSPEL/ UPC: 820718502623
"Remembering The Masters"
Forty years ago, Barrelhouse Chuck was a student of Chicago blues piano. But today Barrelhouse Chuck is a master in his own right, and he is carrying on the tradition that he learned directly from Little Brother Montgomery, Pinetop Perkins, Sunnyland Slim, Detroit Junior, and others. Barrelhouse Chuck melds these disparate styles into his own and no other Chicago piano player has been able to do this and have the same pedigree. On this disc Barrelhouse Chuck is joined by his long-time collaborator Billy Flynn, who is one of the best blues guitarists practicing his craft today, Lluis Coloma, who is Europe’s leading exponent of blues and boogie woogie piano, and Scott Grube, who plays traditional pre-war blues piano in Chicago.
BLUES/ UPC: 820718502524
As these new recordings prove, Helfer's octogenarian status has not slowed him down a bit; he's still tickling the ivories with the same verve that he's done so throughout his career. On one track, Helfer is joined by his two longtime collaborators, tenor sax player John Brumbach and vocalist Katherine Davis. This disc also marks the debut of vocalist Ardella Williams. We have included three historical, never released before, recordings by Erwin: two 1957 recordings by Estelle "Mama" Yancey with Erwin's accompaniment and a 1979 live recording with Mama, Erwin, Odie Payne Jr., and Truck Parham. Like all of the great Chicago pianists before him, Erwin learned directly from the masters but developed his own, distinctive, lyrical style; on this disc you can hear his evolution from the 1950's through the 1970?s to today.
BLUES/ UPC: 820718502425
Chicago Gospel Keyboard Masters
"Lift Me Up"
On August 20, 2015, The Sirens Records gathered six keyboard masters and stewards of the Chicago gospel keyboard tradition: Richard Gibbs, Elsa Harris, Bryant Jones, Lavelle Lacy, Terry Moore, and Eric Thomas. Curtis Fondren handled all of the percussion duties. Donald Gay, Bryant Jones, DeAndre Patterson, and Dorothy Robertson added vocals on this disc. “Lift Me Up” engenders a spirited Sunday church service in the studio and moves each musician to play with fervor, so that their music reaches new, unprecedented heights. At times, songs on this disc will have the listener feeling spiritual and at other times the listener will be finger snapping, hand clapping, and foot tapping.
Gospel / UPC: 820718502326
"Now is the Time"
Chris Foreman is considered by his peers to be the most exciting jazz and blues organist playing today. Critics have dubbed hime "heir to the throne" held by past organ masters Charles Earland, Richard "Groove" Holmes, "Brother" Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, and Jimmy Smith. "Now is the Time" is Chris' first disc as a leader, and it includes plenty of blues and grooves. All tracks showcase Chris' prodigious talent and versatility on keyboards, an on some of the tracks his playing is inspired by friends Andy Brown on guitar or Diane "Lil Sax" Ellis on alto.
BLUES/ UPC: 820718502227
"Driftin' From Town To Town"
In 2006, esteemed jazz critic Nat Hentoff featured Barrelhouse Chuck in the Wall Street Journal, where he reviewed “Got My Eyes On You” and praised Chuck’s commitment to the Chicago blues piano tradition. On this disc, Barrelhouse Chuck and Kim Wilson continue building their strong musical bond with one another and show why they are the premier Chicago blues artists. With the help of veterans, and stars in their own right, Larry Taylor, Richard Inness, Billy Flynn, Jeremy Johnson, and Sax Gordon, this disc is absolutely must listening for experienced and new listeners of Chicago blues.
BLUES/ UPC: 820718502128
Barrelhouse Chuck nominated for the 35th Blues Music
Pinetop Perkins Blues Piano Player of the Year
Barrelhouse Chuck and the Kim Wilson Blues All-Stars
“Driftin’ from town to town” nominated for the 35th Blues Music
Traditional Blues Album of the Year
"Erwin Helfer Way"
In the Chicago blues piano tradition, each player developed his own personal style, from Jimmy Yancey to Albert Ammons. Erwin Helfer’s style and his compositions are his own. His playing and personality are honest, straightforward, and committed to strong personal connections, on the bandstand and off. On “Erwin Helfer Way”, Helfer plays solo, and he is also joined by some of his closest collaborators including Barrelhouse Chuck, John Brumbach, William “Bugs” Cochran, Lou Marini, and Skinny Williams. This disc is another masterpiece by Helfer, who is the last living link to the Yancey’s.
BLUES / UPC: 820718502029
Kimberly Gordon Organ Trio
Kimberly Gordon’s vocals are rich, warm, and enchant the soul. Her style meshes well with Chris Foreman’s jazz and gospel-influenced organ playing and Andy Brown’s natural, easy-going guitar riffs. Kimberly is a musician’s singer, a singer’s singer, and a jazz lover’s singer. This disc captures the high energy, magic of the Kimberly Gordon Organ Trio. Listening to “Sunday” is the next best thing to actually being at their weekly Sunday night Green Mill Jazz Club performance.
JAZZ / UPC: 820718501824
"This Is My Story"
For the past sixty years, Eddie Robinson has performed gospel music in Chicago and around the world. He accompanied, toured, and recorded on Columbia Records with Mahalia Jackson. “This is my story” marks his first recording as a leader, and he plays with the same vitality that he did during the golden era of gospel music. He is joined by three soulful and passionate vocalists, Milas Armour III, Uletta Jackson, and Phinus Alexander Jr., as well as premier organists Aaron Cockerham and Cliff Dubose, and experienced drummer Ron Robertson.
GOSPEL / UPC: 820718501923
"I'm Not Hungry But I Like to Eat - Blues"
"The esteemed boogie woogie and blues veteran, who hasn't been captured on record nearly enough, delivers a glowing collection of solo performances and duets with saxophonist John Brumbach. Ranging far and wide - the classics include Percy Mayfield's Please Send Me Someone To Love and Duke Ellington's In A Sentimental Mood, the Helfer originals Homage to Pete Johnson and the memorably titled Pooch Piddle - the album luxuriates in tradition without giving an inch to it."
- Lloyd Sachs, Chicago Suntimes
BLUES / UPC: 820718500124
"Chicago Boogie Piano"
"In 1976, Chicago piano blues aficionados Steven Dolins, Barry Dolins, and David Golberg produced this session on three acknowledged keyboard masters (Mabon, Sunnyland, and Davis), a veteran who deserved to be better known (Walker), and an already-seasoned but still-youthful prodigy (Helfer). Its reissue is both an important historial document and a listeners' delight ... Rollicking fun, soulful intimacy, celebration of life - it doesn't get any more real than this."
- Living Blues May/June 2002
BLUES / UPC: 820718500223
8 Hands on 88 Keys
"Chicago Blues Piano Masters"
"It isn't often that four Chicago piano virtuosos convene for a marathon recording session, but this one must have been a riot, judging by the sheer fervor of the performances. Each artist sounds utterly unlike the rest, with Barrelhouse Chuck laying down relentless boogie rhythms, Detroit Junior accompanying his fat chords with moans and cries, Pinetop Perkins luxuriating in the unbelievably slow and sultry tempos and Erwin Helfer ripping through blues boogie, and jazz numbers at a breakneck pace. Together, these great Chicago originals play down-home music that's about as unvarnished as it gets."
- Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune March 3, 2002
BLUES / UPC: 820718500322
"Prescription for the Blues"
"Classic jazz, blues and boogie from the South Side of Chicago will flourish so long as Barrelhouse Chuck is at work. In his newest release, a welcome solo outing, the singer-pianist asserts himself as a veritable one-man-band. Listen to his exquisitely ornamented piano lines on Leroy Carr's My Own Lonesome Blues, rolling boogie rhythms on Carr's Mean Mistreater Mama and all-over-the-keys virtuosity on Sunnyland Slim's Johnson Machine Gun, and it's clear that Barrelhouse Chuck has become an importatnt advocate for historic repertoire. At the same time, he builds on theachievements of giants with the beauty of his keyboard touch and melancholy tone of his voice."
- Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune August 4, 2002
BLUES / UPC: 820718500421
Billie Pierce, Speckled Red
James Robinson, Doug Suggs
"Primitive Piano "
"… one of the most exhililarating discs of 50s blues piano you’ll ever hear.”
- Blues Revue November 2003
“First released in 1957 on Tone Records, this small trove of St. Louis and Chicago boogie-woogie and blues piano stomped by house rent party favorites Speckled Red, James “The Bat” Robinson and Doug Suggs is now supplemented with rescued-from-cold storage performances highlighting the gifted 10 fingers of New Orleans eclectic Billie Pierce and Suggs again. Suggs also talks about comrades Jimmy Yancey and Albert Ammons on the interview track.”
- DownBeat January 2004
BLUES / UPC: 820718500520
Skinny Williams & Erwin Helfer
"St. James Infirmary"
This disc introduces Skinny Williams, a brilliant Chicago tenor saxophonist. Helfer is following his 2003 Handy Award nomination for "I'm Not Hungry But I Like To Eat _ Blues!." with a tasteful accompaniment on this CD. Together, Skinny and Erwin play slow tempo blues, standards, and stride classics.
This release will delight both blues and jazz fans.
BLUES / UPC: 820718500629
Reverend Dwayne R. Mason
with Sydne Evans and Kendrick M. Jackson
“This 42-year-old pastor of Body Soul and Spirit Ministries, on the South Side of Chicago, has a great piano sound: heavy, even and exact, everything grounded in blues and boogie-woogie. "Glory! Glory!," an album just released on The Sirens, a small Chicago label, presents gospel standards in a low-pressure atmosphere, most of them with only the drummer Kendrick Jackson and, here and there, the singer Sydne Evans. You don't find many gospel albums like this; it's like a contemplative recital, with funk rhythm.”
Ben Ratliff, Jazz Critic, The New York Times, Nov. 23, 2003
GOSPEL / UPC: 820718500728
"Just in Time"
with John Whitfield & John Brumbach
For over fifty years Earma Thompson has played jazz piano in Chicago. She is a modest woman who is recognized by fellow jazz musicians as the reigning Queen of Chicago Jazz. With bassist John Whitfield, she swings on the standards Just in Time, Softly As In The Morning Sunrise, and Witchcraft. Her blues playing on After Hours and Back at the Chicken Shack is low down and evokes memories of what it was like to listen to music on the south side in a bygone era. Saxophonist John Brumbach joins Earma on "hot and spicy" versions of Ger-ru and Vierd Blues.
JAZZ / UPC: 820718500827
Kimberly Gordon Trio
with John Whitfield & John Brumbach
Chicago native Kimberly Gordon makes a huge impression with her debut recording as a leader. It's not just the singer's rich alto voice that wins over the listener, but her ability to communicate. Joined by pianist Chris Foreman and bassist Joe Policastro, Gordon's selection of songs is adventurous, mixing standards, classic jazz compositions, and even pop of the 1950s and '60s. … She makes her voice sound like it has the wear and tear of a jazz veteran in her swinging treatment of "As Long as I Live," while playfully switching to a childlike chant for effect, then scatting to Foreman's Erroll Garner-like piano. … Rarely does an artist sound so seasoned on a debut recording, this is yet another laudable CD issued by the tiny Chicago-based label The Sirens.”
- Ken Dryden, All Music Guide
JAZZ / UPC: 820718500926
Chicago Gospel Keyboard Pioneers
"In The Right Hands"
with Jessy Dixon, Geraldine Gay
& Nash Shaffer Jr.
“… a lovingly assembled disc that comes from The Sirens Records, a small, Chicago-based label renowned for issuing gems of jazz and blues. On this release, the label brings together some of the finest Gospel piano players that the Windy City has to offer, throws in some legendary vocalists, and comes out with gold. Fronting the project is the legendary Jessy Dixon, who brings his decades of prominence to the fore with his strident, victory-filled solo piano on "The Wicked Shall Cease From Their Troubling". … Geraldine Gay tears the album apart with her fantastically jazzed piano styling on "God Shall Wipe All Tears Away” … this cut is worth the price of admission. … Both ["I've Done My Work" and "I Have A Friend"] continue the Geraldine Gay and Pastor Donald Gay showcase, providing further evidence of the value of the hidden treasure that Chicago holds.” - Stan North, gospelflava
GOSPEL / UPC: 820718501022
Erwin Helfer Trio
with John Whitfield & Avreeayl Ra
“The Crescent City may have Dr. John, but for a considerably longer time, the Windy City has had Erwin Helfer, a blues and boogie master whose obscurity masks the great esteem which he is held by his fans and fellow musicians. With a series of fine albums for suburban Chicago label The Sirens, Helfer is chipping away at his cult status as he approaches his 70th birthday. Careless Love is the best of them in terms of its stylistic breadth and the easy elegance with which he connects those dots; among “two-fisted” pianists, he is the most genial as well as the most crafty. The music is lifted by a large-spirited sense of now, ranging from a reading of Hank Williams’ “Jambalaya” on which second-line rhythm meets Caribbean tinge, to a jaunty, staggering “Just A Closer Walk With Thee”, to a languorous, time-lagging treatment of Thelonious Monk’s “Blue Monk”…”
- No Depression March-April 2006
BLUES / UPC: 820718501121
"Rock This House – Live! "
Katherine Davis and the Chicago Boogie Ensemble will rock your house with this high-voltage captivating performance recorded live in Chicago on January 29th, 2006. Blues diva Katherine Davis is joined by legendary musicians Erwin Helfer, John Brumbach and John Whitfield and three special guest artists: soul master and baritone saxophonist Willie Henderson, and two second generation Chicago blues artists - guitarist Lurrie Bell and drummer Kenny Smith. You’ll get up and dance while listening to this energetic and magical performance!
BLUES / UPC: 820718501329
"Got My Eyes On You "
Barrelhouse Chuck leads an all-star blues band which includes premier harp player and Fabulous Thunderbird’s member Kim Wilson; long-time Muddy Waters rhythm section members Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums and Calvin “Fuzz” Jones on bass; and talented guitarists Joel Foy and Eddie Taylor, Jr. This band smokes as Chuck pays tribute to his mentors and heroes Sunnyland Slim, Little Brother Montgomery, Floyd Jones, Detroit Jr., Memphis Slim, Big Moose Walker, Smokey Smothers, Eddie Taylor, and Muddy Waters. Barrelhouse Chuck’s music continues the Chicago blues piano tradition!
BLUES / UPC: 820718501428
"Gospel Keyboard Trio"
"The kickoff tune, written by Leonard Maddox, grabs you from the very start and won’t let go. With it’s one-two punch of sanctified piano and churchy organ, ‘Church House Rock’ will have true believers saying “Yes indeed!” The following track, ‘Pray for Me’ pulls one deeper with the feeling that Brother ray and others brought from the pews, remembering that the church gives but also takes from Blues & Jazz. It has always been a two way street. Selections on this ever engaging program are self-penned by the artists, traditional Gospel material, or writings from greats of the genre like Cleophus Robinson, Brother Joe may, the Clark Sisters and Edwin Hawkins. Not being a regular churchgoer won’t diminish the enjoyment of this “churchifyin” music to any listener with blood in their veins. … An authentic slice of music ministry.” - Larry Hollis, Cadence, June 2006
BLUES / UPC: 820718501220
+ Ari Brown + John Brumbach
Two of Chicago’s best tenor saxophonists, Ari Brown and John Brumbach, team up to honor piano great, Earma Thompson, on this swinging recording. Brown and Brumbach, blow hard, straight-ahead bebop with strong doses of blues. Thompson follows up her solo disc “Just in Time” (featured on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz program) with sensitive and intelligent ensemble playing. They are accompanied by all-star jazz players Yosef Ben Israel (bass) and William “Bugs” Cochran (drums). All of the musicians play with soulful eloquence and swing from start to finish.
BLUES / UPC: 820718501527
Geraldine and Donald Gay
Soulful Sounds presents traditional gospel music by legends Geraldine and Donald Gay. Geraldine, often called the Errol Garner of gospel piano, is a virtuoso who has her own original style. Donald’s vocals are rich, powerful, and bluesy. They recorded for Savoy in the 1950’s, Chess in the 1960’s, and now for The Sirens Records in 2007. Their gospel music will move you to new levels of spirituality!
"While it’s irrefutable that American music can only be fully understood after understanding gospel, it’s just as true that gospel can be fully appreciated only after hearing the Gay family.”
- Aaron Cohen, Associate Editor, DownBeat
GOSPEL / UPC: 820718501626
"In Hymn I Trust"
Shirley Smith makes her debut recording for The Sirens Records. Shirley grew up playing in the churches of Detroit, and subsequently moved her gospel music career to Atlanta and Jacksonville. On this disc, she literally sings every chorus part. Shirley heats up the piano keys on "Learning on the Everlasting Arms" and "Can't Nobody Do Me Like Jesus," and she swings on "He's Sweet I know." Gospel music fans and piano enthusiasts will be shaking their tambourines while listening to "In Hymn I Trust".
GOSPEL / UPC: 820718501725
We have released compact discs by the best pianists in the world. Some of the legendary blues pianists we've recorded include Erwin Helfer, Pinetop Perkins, Detroit Junior,and Barrelhouse Chuck. In gospel music, we've recorded keyboard masters such as Jessy Dixon, Geraldine Gay, Nash Shaffer Jr., and Reverend Dwayne R. Mason. In jazz keyboards, we have recorded Earma Thompson, bebop legend, and Chris Foreman, playing acoustic piano while accompanying Kimberly Gordon. In addition, we've recorded talented Chicago vocalists including Katherine Davis (blue and jazz), Kimberly Gordon (jazz), Sydne Evans (gospel), and Donald Gay (gospel). The Sirens also pays tribute to the master pianists of previous eras including Sunnyland Slim, Blind John Davis, Willie Mabon, Speckled Red, Billie Pierce, and more.