THE CHROME BROWSER
The hard-copy of Blues In The South (BITS) carries regular reviews of CDs and other media. The following is a sample of reviews we have published.
THE HITMAN BLUES BAND
The World Moves On
Singer, guitarist and bandleader Russell “Hitman” Alexander and his group have become frequent visitors to these shores over the last few years – in fact he has twelve UK dates coming up in June, including some in the BITS area (eg., Blues On The Farm. Ed). He’ll be worth seeing – he always is – but this time he’s also bring The New York City Horns (Mikey Vitale on tenor sax, Nick Clifford on baritone). If you want some idea of what they sound like together, do check out this CD. This is high energy, good timin’ blues, with the Hitman’s strong singing way out front on a programme of fine modern blues, matched by his excellent, controlled guitar work. Take a listen to ‘Moving On’ for a Howlin’ Wolf derived (big) arrangement that is both modern and traditional – as are a lot of the tracks here. Mind you, ‘Hammer Down’ does sound like it should have come off a 60s blues 45! Five of the numbers on this CD have been previously issued, but even if you already have them, you’ll want this anyway as they have been remixed, re-mastered and have horns added. And those horns really do add a lot to the sound. There is just the one cover, the surprisingly successful seven and a half minutes long version of ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ that closes out this excellent album in full tilt boogie fashion. Check it out, and look out for those gigs.
Live - The River City Sessions
Given that this was recorded in Ardent Studios in Memphis (though in front of an audience) in December last year, it is no great surprise that ‘Make It Through’ is a fine soul number, well-sung and played. But then, maybe it is rather unexpected given that Jeff looks like he should be a dyed-in-the-wool blues-rocker - and he does talk later in the set about “getting a lot of credit for playing crazy guitar stuff”. He has however worked as music director for Memphis blues harpist Brandon Santini and also been running his own band, a trio with bassist Bill Ruffino and drummer Robinson Bridgeforth, now on their third album. A good one it is too, far more varied than you might think – there’s more than a tinge of rockabilly about the instrumental ‘JJ Boogie’, a hint of jazz on ‘Elephant Blue’ – but then Tom Waits’ ‘Heart Attack & Vine’ (you may know it from Screamin’ Jay Hawkins) gets a tough rock treatment, and Jeff closes out the proceedings with a nearly ten minutes long cover of ‘All Along The Watchtower;’ that will definitely satisfy all those looking for their guitar fix. If what you’ve read interests you, do check it out. Note too, that as you’re reading this, Jeff and his band are on tour in Europe – as seems to happen too often, no UK dates?
Sounds Like The Blues To Me
JCP JCPX 1062
‘Hitchhiking In The Rain’ is a slow blues which allows singer and guitarist Chaz to show off his considerable singing talents. It follows on from a couple of fine funky blues numbers which I would guess Jeff uses to get the crowds up and dancing at his gigs in New Orleans, in his home state of Louisiana (he is known as “The Bourbon Street Bluesman”) – they’ll certainly get you tapping your feet even if you’re at home sitting in your favourite armchair. The album continues pretty much in this vein, funky blues or slower blues and soulful ballads, some with a distinctive Crescent City approach, and all with some very fine musicians in support. Jeff’s lyrics are always interesting – how about a song called ‘I’m Going After Moby Dick In A Rowboat’? – and his guitar sound can be either very clean, as per Little Milton, one of his major influences, or low-down, dirty and funky, as on ‘Four In The Morning’. Whatever, he is always worth a listen, and overall, this set is worth far more than that.
IN LAYMAN TERMS
Out of Williamsburg, Virginia, Cole and Logan Layman are blues loving teenage brother and sister multi- instrumentalists, though on this CD Logan handles the bass and vocals and Cole plays guitar and “cigar box”. They are happy working as an acoustic duo or a trio with their mother on drums and washboard, or as on the frantic opener (also the title track) with a full band including horns. Here they work mainly in small combo mode. What is apparent right from the off is that this outfit has a youthful approach to the music, Logan’s vocals sound very enthusiastic – but don’t read that as implying that they are not convincing – and the material reflects this, generally staying concise and tight and perhaps tending to be made for the dancers (or stompers, as on ‘Don’t Even Try’). Cole’s guitar licks show his roots in Stevie Ray Vaughan and Buddy Guy but again, his instrumental breaks tend not to veer off too wildly, though the band can and do play blues-rock too. Holly Montgomery’s ‘I’m Not Ready’ is an extremely mature performance, if not exactly a blues (though close enough for many, I suspect), a sparse cover of Howling Wolf’s ‘Smokestack Lightnin’’ works well – I admit I was not expecting to write that! – and the final cover version, the storming rendition of Janis Joplin’s ‘Move Over’, reveals one of Logan’s vocal influences. Not bad for a debut album, not bad at all! An outfit to watch out for.
Yardbirds – Roger The Engineer
Repertoire REPUK 1292)
The Yardbirds should need no introduction to “those of a certain age”. They came to the fore during the early 60s blues boom and this album – actually entitled just “Yardbirds” but having been known by fans as “Roger The Engineer” since it was first released in 1966, and this double CD issue marks its 50th anniversary. Eric Clapton, having replaced Top Topham, had in turn been replaced by Jeff Beck at the time of this recording, and Jimmy Page eventually took over from Beck. By 1966 the band was moving on from the blues, but there is still plenty of evidence of their roots. Singer Keith Relf plays blues harmonica on several tracks and there are several relatively straightforward blues numbers such as, among others, 'The Nazz Are Blue' which is based around Elmore James’ ‘Dust My Broom’ riff, and ‘What Do You Want’ which is Bo Diddley influenced. ‘Over Under Sideways Down’, inspired by ‘Rock Around The Clock’, though you’ll have to dig deep to hear that, was a hit from this set. There are hints of the psychedelic music which came to the fore the following year, but many modern blues listeners should find plenty to enjoy on this ground-breaking album. Over the two CDs, Repertoire have reissued both the mono and slightly different stereo mixes of the original album, and then fleshed this out with relevant bonus tracks – Keith Relf has one fine blues track, though his others are more of an acquired taste. The CD booklet is excellent with reminiscences from both drummer Jim McCarty and sometime bassist Paul Samwell-Smith. Recommended.
ERIC BIBB & NORTH COUNTRY FAR WITH DANNY THOMPSON
The Happiest Man In The World
Dixie Frog Records
Eric Bibb may have good reason to be the Happiest Man in the World, with top quality music seemingly pouring from the guy on a regular basis. This is his second release inside twelve months, following hot on the heels of the highly acclaimed Lead Belly's Gold which featured French harp-man Jean Jacques Milteau and was released on the same label (Stony Plain in USA).
This time round, Bibb is joined by one of the finest double-bass players on the planet with England's Danny Thompson thumping along rhythmically throughout. Thompson has played with almost everyone of note in the modern roots/folk music world from his days with Pentangle, through Richard Thompson (no relation) to Scotland's late John Martyn.
The result, is pretty much as might be expected. An album of simply wonderful blues-tinged acoustic music featuring Bibb's distinctive and mellow vocals alongside his fine fretwork on both guitar and banjo. All fourteen tracks are penned by Bibb himself here, and as usual with the man he sticks to tradition at its core while always moving the music forward with thoughtful lyrics and plangent melodies that linger.
An absolute gem and a must-have album for lovers of Bibb and his refreshing style of acoustic roots/blues music.
MBM Music: MBM0416
'Heartsick' marks the second album released by UK singer-songwriter Malaya Blue. Following the widespread success of the initial release, 'Bourbon Street' in 2015, this sophomore album was widely anticipated to open up her talent to great effect internationally.
This is a lady who can write, sing and wrench the blues with absolute power and a voice that can slip from mellow, jazzy currents to raucous, full-boogie gut-wrenching blues without a trace of uncertainty or difficulty.
I loved her last offering, and said so widely. With this new, eleven-track offering, she has positively moved up more than a few gears, into overdrive and beyond, to deliver a simply superb album that rips along from start to finish. Joined by many of the UK's current cream of the blues-musical crop, including veteran bluesman Paul Jones - ex-Manfreds and The Blues Band - who also adds his weight to the mix with some tasty harp-playing support, while producer Paul Long also tips his hat with backing vocals and keys.
This is quite simply a superb album of soulfully delivered blues from a lady who is clearly going places fast. A true delight, 'Heartsick' is one to grab and savour.
Live The River City Sessions
This is a cracking live album from an outfit that could be considered a power-trio but, in truth, step successfully out of that limiting box with style, subtlety and enormous hi-octane chutzpa.
Recorded live in Memphis, the band's home-base, Jensen has followed up his previous studio release, "Morose Elephant," (a damn fine album) with a riotous, raucous, good-humored, gut-wrenching bellyful of biting blues that is full of passion and fire.
Eight of the thirteen tracks here are self-penned with added covers of T-Bone Walker's "Shuffle"; Tom Waits' "Heart Attack and Vine" and Dylan's "All Along The Watchtower." Jensen's own writing is solid, strong stuff with a keen eye on tradition and a fierce emotional core at its very heart. His fretwork is equally arresting with some light touches and BB King-like flourishes. Robinson Bridgeforth on drums and Bill Ruffino kicking up a fine bass backbeat, add overall power to this live set propelling the whole package along with clear intent and success.
MORELAND AND ARBUCKLE
Promised Land Or Bust’
Alligator ASIN: B01CJ54M5C
“Promised Land Or Bust” is Moreland and Arbuckle’s new record that like its predecessor ‘7 Cities’ was produced by Matt Bayles and also like ‘7 Cities’ it continues the former duo’s move away from acoustic blues to a Black Keys-style “nu blues” on this their first release on the Alligator label. Guitarist Aaron Moreland and vocalist/harmonica player Dustin Arbuckle are again augmented by drummer Kendall Newby, as well as Scott Williams on keyboards and Mark Foley on bass.
The first couple of songs are very rocky (although blues-based) with loud electric guitar and pounding drums, as well as occasional harp from Dustin, although the loping blues “Woman Down in Arkansas” is more to my taste. “Mount Comfort” is a nice, more melodic song and “Long Did I Hide It” is a driving blues featuring great slide guitar from Aaron alongside Dustin’s harp. “Waco Avenue” is a laid-back melodic acoustic song, while “I’m a King Bee” is a nice revved-up version of the Slim Harpo classic blues. “Long Way Home” with more slide guitar and “Why she Have to Go (and let me down)?” rounds off the album nicely.
was impressed with Matt Bayles’ production on ‘7 Cities’ and he does a good job again here, I wasn’t too impressed with the first couple of tracks but I did like all the later songs which I think showcase Aaron’s versatile guitar playing and Dustin’s great-sounding harp and vocals as well as the duo’s modern approach to the blues.
The Happiest Man in the World’
Dixiefrog ASIN: B01CIIDEHW
Eric seems to have a record out every other week, this one follows on from his last CD with French harp player J.J. Milteau and is again a collaborative effort with both the legendary jazz/folk double bass player Danny Thompson and Finnish band North Country Far (and you don't get much further North than Finland.) The title track gets us off to a great start and sets the tone for the rest of the record, with Eric's wonderful voice and guitar out front, Danny's bass laying the foundation and Olli Haavisto, Janne Haavisto and Petri Hawala from North Country Far supplying the twiddly bits with extra guitars, slide, mandolin, fiddle, percussion etc. In truth the overall sound is very much like Eric's other records but on songs like the dust bowl ballad "Tossin' and Turnin'" the band sound really works, with beautifully played atmospheric dobro, fiddle and percussion.
As usual I find that Eric's own songs walk a fine line between romantic beauty and mawkish sentimentality, some songs are fine others just slip over the line but the playing from Danny and the NCF boys provides perfect support and is beautifully judged, and also as usual I'm a sucker for Eric's voice which has such a lovely tone. On my first few listens I didn't think that there were any really outstanding songs here, Eric reworks "Tell Ol' Bill" again and there is also a surprising version of the Kinks' "You Really Got Me" - and I can't decide if it works or not, its certainly different.
Eric could sing the telephone book and make it sound good but at this early stage I don't think that this is one of his better releases, although I was really impressed with the backing and everything does sound really good and very tasteful.
Mc Records/Koch ASIN: B01C93GCNO
After playing with the Rolling Stones in the 1970s, most notably on the single “Miss You”, harmonica player Sugar Blue appeared to have catapulted himself from the obscurity of session work to international stardom. However, he never really seems to have broken through to the next level, despite being a wonderful harp player, working in both Europe and the States and having records issued on JSP and Alligator amongst other labels.
This is his first release on M.C. Records and his first release in five years and from the first track “On My Way” you are aware that his harmonica playing is still excellent, sinuous and agile, also this a very jazzy song indicating that Sugar isn’t just content to trot out the same old blues clichés. “New York City” is a beautiful acoustic country blues telling the story of how Sugar started playing in the 1960s(?) and the people he’s played with since - fantastic acoustic harp playing! “12 Steps” and “Mercedes Blues” are both funky blues and “Sunshine” is a romantic ballad with nice chromatic harmonica in the background showing his versatility. “Mary Ann” is a version of the old Ray Charles song and songs like “Life is on the Run” and “Love is in the Air” show his efforts to leave the blues behind and do something different, and he definitely has the chops to do this.
However, while I applaud this commitment to try something different, for me the acoustic blues “New York City” is by far the best track here. Although his harp playing is very good throughout I wasn’t too keen on the recorded sound, which sounded a bit thin to me on numbers like the instrumental “Sugar Blue Boogie”, and on many tracks his fast playing just made him sound like John Popper. I also think that his voice isn’t the best and this has probably held his career back but I did think that it worked quite well on the jazzy numbers like “On My Way” and “Love Is in the Air”.
HONEY SWAMP ISLAND
Ruf ASIN: B01C9PIEOW
The Honey Island Swamp Band apparently formed in San Francisco ten years ago after the members had been displaced from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. There is still definitely that ‘Norleans’ element to their sound that blends blues, rock, country and soul in a similar way to Little Feat or The Allman Brothers, with guitarist Chris Mule’s slide guitar soaring over the top. Apart from Chris, the band is Aaron Wilkinson on vocals, mandolin, guitar and harmonica; Sam Price on bass and vocals; Garland Paul on drums and Trevor Brooks on keyboards. The album (their fourth record) was recorded at Parlor Studio in New Orleans with the North Mississippi Allstars’ Luther Dickinson in the producer’s chair and it features many other New Orleans musicians, including guest appearances by Ivan Neville on keyboards and Tab Benoit on pedal steel.
We get off to great start with a Rolling Stones-style rocker “How Do You Feel”, followed by the funky ”Head High Water Blues” sounding very much like Little Feat. I really liked the up-tempo soul of “Medicated” and “Katie” a bucolic acoustic number featuring acoustic guitar and harmonica. “She Goes Crazy” was another catchy acoustic-ish number with restrained brass, while “Through Another Day”, featuring more slide guitar and also mandolin, was a very bluesy and moody. “Devil’s Den” rounds off the album featuring more mandolin and slide, as well as Benoit’s haunting pedal steel. I liked The Honey Island Swamp Band’s style that is original but also has echoes of older acts like The Band and Little Feat and the album really benefits from having a sympathetic producer in Luther Dickinson who knows this kind of music backwards.
Love Wins Again
Fathead/Blue Elan ASIN: B01B9HA976
Janiva Magness is a fine singer who has been working professionally for over 20 years and after spells on NorthernBlues and Alligator Records her last two releases have been on her own Fathead Records. The change of labels has also brought a change in material, with Janiva writing or co-writing more of the songs and moving away from straight blues, although most of the material is still very blues-inflected, indeed this record is similar in approach to Bonnie Raitt’s recent releases, with soulful ballads and bluesy rock. The record is produced by guitarist David Darling (Glen Campbell, Stray Cats etc.) and it sounds really good, with fine playing and Janiva’s effortless vocals soaring out front.
The title track and “Real Slow” are similar rocky songs that get us off to a great start, while “When You Hold Me” is a soulful blues ballad with nice guitar and subtle brass. “Say You Will” is powerful modern R&B, where she swaps vocals with the male backup singers and “Doorway” is a restrained poignant ballad. Then bang - “Your House is Burnin’” is up-tempo brass-led funk with Janiva really digging in to drive the song along. In contrast “Just Another Lesson” is a beautiful acoustic ballad followed by “Rain Down”, an emotional soul ballad with restrained strings. Rounding off the album is a great version of the old Creedence Clearwater Revival song “Long As I Can See the Light”, with Janiva really cutting loose before she finishes on the bluesy ballad “Who Will Come For Me”. This is a classy, well-made record from a classy singer who has paid her dues and is right up there with Bonnie Raitt as an exceptional vocalist but (like Bonnie these days) don’t expect down home blues.
Even Redheads Get The Blues
Sometimes a record comes through the letter box that grabs you by the ears and won’t let go. This is one of those, It may be Debra’s debut album but it easy to see why she represented Canada in International Blues Challenge and was a Semi-Finalist in 2016, and is a Western Canada Music Association (WCMA) Nominee for Blues Artist of the Year 2016. A two fisted pianist with a fine contralto voice to die for, Debra is I suspect bound for great things.
She is supported here by a stellar band, Mike F. Little (Hammond B3), Russell Broom (guitar), Chris Byrne (bass), Kelly Kruse (drums), and Mike Clark (saxophone) who do an outstanding job.
All the songs are written by Debra and a good job she has done with them too None are traditional 12 bar blues and some are more like gospel music but Debra manages to imbue them all with that ’feeling’ that only comes if the singer has a deep knowledge and love of the genre.
The music reminded me a lot of the late, great Anne Rabson of the ‘Sapphire: Uppity Blues Women’ for it has that sort of infectious uplifting quality that comes from music made by folks who really love what they are doing. Check out the title track ‘Eve Readheads Get The Blues@ on iTunes and you will be hooked! Want a slow blues? Try ‘Temptation’ “Temptation that’s what you mean to me” Gospel? With some delightful churchy keys work, check out ‘Jesus Is Crying’.. This one comes with some fabulous soaring B3 work from Mike Little and a lovely sax solo from Mike Clark
This is as good a debut album as you will ever hear. My advice is simple. Go and get it now!
Enjoy the Ride
Blue Root Productions
Often likened to Bonnie Raitt, Alabama blues-lady Debbie Bond’s latest release, ‘Enjoy The Ride’, kicks off strongly with an upbeat, optimistic surge of soul and passion on the title track before shifting a few gears with introspective inner searching reaching out in tracks ‘Start With Love’, the dizzying despair and combative edge of ‘Left Me In The Dark’, and the reflective beauty of ‘Remedy’. Throughout, Bond’s fine fretwork is confident and compelling, carrying the whole mix along with power and purpose. Recorded in Muscle Shoals, with full-on horns and Shoals-sounding quality, ‘Enjoy The Ride’ is easily Bond’s finest effort to date, bursting with sensitivity and a soulful delivery that show heartache and hurt, love and loss will always be winning combinations.
Bond’s previous album, ‘That Thing Called Love’, featured her partner Radiator Rick Asherson on harp and keys, and he again figures strongly here. Her love and affection for the late Alabama bluesman Willie King, whom she played with for many years, is also evident with an excellent cover of one of his anthems, ‘I Am The Blues’ included in the mix. Add some quality support guitar flourished from Will McFarlane, (ex-Bonnie Raitt), Spooner Odham on organ, one of the US’s finest sidemen, and you have an album of considerable class, style and quality.
On the Chicken Sandwich Train Live
Mark Harrison is an English acoustic guitarist with his heart and soul in the Deep South of Mississippi, The Delta and the blues in general. The title of this, his latest release, comes from the vittles many old black musicians and share-cropping migrants carried on the long rail journey North to the anticipated riches of Chicago and other northern cities where developing industry offered a possible income and escape from the grinding poverty of the southern states of the USA in the pre-war years.
Harrison is an al-round entertainer, a troubadour who has wit and an evidently astute understanding of his favourite music and its extraordinary history. With twenty-two tracks here, mostly self-penned, he displays a rare talent and enjoyably quirky squint at themes and topics often ignored by his acoustic picking peers.
For me, at least, three tracks positively stand out as gems of the genre, all his own compositions and clear illustrations of his style and ability – ‘Big Mary’s House’; Crematorium Blues’ and the wonderful, funereal ‘Your Second Line.’
Harrison is genuinely remarkable in many ways. He doesn’t just play blues with a traditional touch but instead moves it on, always thoughtful and complex with, at times, hints of musical trickery. He shakes the music by the scruff of the neck and with Chicken Sandwich Train succeeds in delivering an excellent, sparkling album of striking originality. Highly recommended.
Joyann Parker & Sweet Tea
On The Rocks
Label: Self Produced
Although Sweet Tea have been together as a four piece band playing in and around the Minneapolis area for a good deal of time, they like their soon to be lead singer never quite made the leap to the musical first division, where reviewers, critics and promoters all want to be your new best friend. Now, with the musical fusing of Joyann Parker; Lead vocals, guitar and piano together with Sweet Tea, who are; Mark Lamoine; guitar, David Harris; bass, Mick Zampogna; keyboards and accordion with Nick Zwack on drums, we can hear and feel the musical fizz and sparking of ideas within these eleven original compositions. Joyann has the same vocal strength and versatility that has been heard on artists such as; Annie Lennox and right on through to the late great Etta James. Her strong, confident phrasing is matched with concise diction and a heartfelt emotional delivery that when paired with a band that so effortlessly merges the essences of blues, soul and rock, the music is so much sweeter to the ears. A very fine example is “You”, where the pulsating funky organ duels with a richly, rising rocking guitar and Joyann wades in with a riveting and steamrollering vocal demolishing all in sight and sound. “What’s Good For You”, continues to blow away the cobwebs with a Southern influenced rolling surging organ that battles with punching percussion work while a wailing guitar demands attention. The very pleasant indeed Cajun, Tango influenced accordion on “Ain’t Got Time To Cry”, leads the way with a loping, tripping piano and a percussion that is more than happy to follow. “Jigsaw Heart”, is a thought provoking melancholic organ led slowburn dedicated to the love we still have for someone and sometimes continue to feel, even when we are left behind, deserted and spurned, Joyann’s emotional vocal frailty painfully passes on the hurt. On “Hit Me Like A Train”, Joyann is in full-tilt boogie (Tina Turner’s Nutbush City Limits, to mind) mode, the rising, rocking and weaving guitar is fuelled by the surging and bubbling organ while the skins are nearly beaten to destruction. The delicate swaying brushwork and low bubbling organ on the almost mournful “Evil Hearted”, gives the number a definite hazy Jazz feel with the crisp and rich solo guitar work underpinning Joyann’s delicately delivered apologies
Hurricane Ruth LaMaster
Winds Of Change
Hurricane Ruth Publishing LLC
Two years have passed since Ruth released her astounding second album ‘Born On The River’ which, without doubt firmly established her place in the contemporary Blues world. Now, she has changed direction slightly by recording a four track E.P. that focuses upon the music of her treasured childhood memories when her parents owned The Glendale tavern along the Illinois River in the town of Beardstown, throughout her early life Ruth was constantly surrounded by the uplifting sounds of every kind of music that was played there, from The Big Band sound, to the horn-heavy soul-infused R & B, that was being recorded by artists ranging from Ella Fitzgerald to Ray Charles and she also embraced the more openly pain filled Blues-era of Janis Joplin. As her father was also the drummer of the resident band Ruth spent many a happy hour keeping time on the cymbals while he drummed away. These four numbers seem to encompass this period, as Ruth herself states; “This change of musical direction for me means a return to my roots. It’s a homecoming to the sound and style of Blues and Soul that I grew up listening to and have always loved”. The first up is Pat Benatar’s foray into the blues “I Feel Lucky”, this is a rousing mixture of forties wild-and-loose, bouncing, foot-tapping boogie piano and raw, blasting fifties trumpet, underpinned with swaying saxophones. Dominating all though is Ruth with her sensuously primal raucous vocals. On Willie Dixon’s “Built For Comfort”, Ruth gives it the full blown big band sound rather than a slower cruising groove no, here the whole band who are; Dick Garretson; trumpet, Mike Gillette; tenor saxophone, Sande Hackel; baritone saxophone, Doug Wilcox; trombone, Brian Curtis; keyboards, Frank Huston; guitar, Gary Davis; bass and John Sluzalis; drums gives it their all to produce a towering brassy swaggering tune that is entwined with an engaging Chicago inspired richly ringing guitar lead while above Ruth is loud, proud and dominates every word and emotion she obviously feels. Percy Sledge’s “When A Man Loves A Woman”, becomes, in Ruth’s hands even more of a homage to love as the aching, slow burning purring guitar and organ entwine together with the ever rising and gently surging horns that float underneath Ruth’s delicate and tender vocals as she slowly reveals the true depth and colour of her emotions. She finishes with Delbert McLinton’s “Going Back To Louisiana”, Here we have a high kicking, loose-limbed, late night, rollicking, dance-groover that enables the horn section to blow off some steam, while guitar and piano go along for the ride as Ruth sweetly informs us of her travel plans.
Walkin’ Cane Mark
Tryin’ To Make You Understand: Re- Mastered
Enable Records 1001
Walkin’ Cane Mark (Brehm) was born on the 26th of August, 1967 and is now based in Phoenix, Arizona. In his youth he began to learn the harmonica and to develop his now trademark rasping baritone skills as part of his passion for the music of Howlin’ Wolf. Whilst recovering from an injury in nineteen eighty-eight he required the use of a walking cane and he was using it when he first met with Willie Dixon. From Willies’ first impressions he dubbed him Walkin’ Cane Mark. As Mark continued to develop and refine his vocal and harmonica skills he benefited from guidance and mentoring from such luminaries as; Chico Chisum (Howlin’ Wolf’s drummer), Snooky Prior and Junior Wells. He was already fronting various bands in the Phoenix area at the age of nineteen when in nineteen eighty-nine he came to the attention of Ted Kowal, bass player and band leader of ‘Cold Shott & The Hurricane Horns’. Ted invited the extrovert Mark to front his band because of his rumbustious similarity to legendary blue-eyed shouter Wayne Cochran; Marks’ exuberant stage performances impressed everybody including Wayne to such an extent that Mark was invited to play with Wayne and his C.C. Riders at their reunions. Mark released his debut album (Walkin’ Cane Mark) on the Jaen label in nineteen ninety-five with his band A Shot In The Dark. He frequently toured across Europe with the legendary blues shouter Nappy Brown. Sadly, Mark needed to take time off for a period to re-charge his batteries and reflect upon his future path. Now though he is back with this, his newly re-mastered album of twelve numbers, joining him here are; Kirk Hawley; guitar and mandolin, Brenden McBride and Gordon Lynde Jr.; bass and John Rumbaugh on drums. The heavy and foreboding atmosphere that Howlin’ Wolf was famous for is splendidly re-created on this version of his “Somebody’s Walking/Somebody’s In My Home”, the sloping and loping percussive beat, the starkness and air of menace pervades throughout as the mournful, haunting harmonica is paired with a low level ringing guitar and Mark cautiously whispers his fearful vocals. The upbeat tribute to his wife “Ellada, Ellada” is more of a Rockabilly shuffle that combines an alluring chugging percussion with a wistful goodtime rolling harmonica. Tom T. Halls’ “How I Got To Memphis”, is a marvellous mellow acoustic guitar and sombre drawling harmonica that lays down a carpet for Mark’s delicate, soft and emotion filled vocals. “Let Me In While You Can”, is the tale of a backdoor man from his side, the enjoyably inviting Chicago inspired guitar and harmonica led shuffle tells of hope, lust, optimism and fear of getting caught, splendid! “(I’m A) Freight Train”, is quite simply a great, goodtime sparkling harmonica led, shuffling Sun label inspired footapping mover. “Tryin’ To Make You Understand”, is co-written by Mark and Junior Wells and tells the story of a man in love with his girlfriends sister. Well, while the tale might have complications the music doesn’t for, here we have a hugely entertaining classic Chicago harmonica sound combined with a funk filled guitar that delivers rip roaring runs.
Angels Sing The Blues
This album is an intriguing mixture of live performances and studio numbers; the live performances were recorded in two thousand and seven at Chicago’s Taste Entertainment Centre that focused on three Windy City Blues Divas Liz Mandeville, Mary Lane, and Shirley Johnson, who are eloquently backed by Johnny Drummer and his band the Starliters. This was part of a regular event in Chicago that is produced for the American Society on Ageing (a sort of American Derby and Joan club event for serious lovers of the blues). Sadly, at the time it was deemed that there was insufficient material for a live album, so six years later the artists reconvened to a studio to add more numbers for a release. Now, we have a blues revue album that is part live, part studio; strangely the two sections actually gel together rather well. In all there are fifteen numbers for our delectation, first of the angels to grab our attention is Mary Lane with a funky shuffler entitled “Just As Grown As You”, the rolling organ is happy to follow Mary’s cool and mellowed vocals as she tells the tale and calmly moves into Jimmy Reed’s “Kansas City”, she and the band then move up a gear as they launch into “Ride In Your Automobile”, her smoking and burning vocals simply purr sweetly along. “Run A Red Light”, is a very nice funkily rolling groover with a rich and tasteful guitar underpinning Mary’s ever alluring vocals.
Next there is Shirley Johnson with a seriously foot-tapping rendition of “Get Your Lovin’ Where You Spend Your Time”, she excels on “Unchain My Heart”, which is splendidly suited to her deep, husky and emotion filled voice, she certainly gives the band a run for their money as she gets into a groove that simply sweeps you along, whereas on “You Can Have My Husband But Please Don’t Mess With My Man”, is a serious slow burning blues pleader and Shirley definitely feels the pain as she inhabits the number while the band twistingly entwines to emphasise her every emotion. The lively and feisty Liz Mandeville makes up the trio of divas with her version of “Use What you Got”. A slow burning and positively glowing, organ fuelled romp that is firmly aimed at the men in the audience where she explicitly and frankly explains what women want and how they want it used. She follows with a slinkily slow and sensuous “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, the rich guitar and organ, boldly stride along with her forceful and convincing lead vocals. The three divas return to the stage for a very moving call and response version of “Angel From Montgomery”, the eloquent saxophone and rich guitar wonderfully entwine the three divas voices into one.
One for the collection!
Sing Your Own Song
The driving forces behind Blue Largo are Eric Lieberman; guitar and Lead vocalist; Alicia Aragon. They formed the band in nineteen ninety-nine and between the years two thousand and two thousand and two they recorded two well accepted albums (What A Day! and Still In Love With You).. Sadly, that was the last anybody would hear of them (on vinyl anyway) for the next nine years for in two thousand and six, Eric developed a neurological condition known as Focal Dystonia which affected his ability to hold a plectrum or strum his guitar to such an extent that he could no longer play the guitar at all. But, with a new approach and years of manual dexterity therapy he has managed to overcome his disability and been able to continue where he left off. Since that time the band line-up has evolved to become; Jonny Viau; tenor and baritone saxophones, Marcus P. Bashore; drums, Taryn Donath; piano and Art Kraatz; bass. On the previous albums the band primarily focused on classic blues covers of the forties and fifties period but, with Eric’s enforced period of convalescence came his new found ability to write suitably affected numbers for future performances and thus there are seven original compositions among the fourteen numbers here. First of which is “Walkin’ On A Tightrope”, this is a rolling strolling mixture of smooth and bubbling jazz saxophone and very relaxed honky, tonky piano interspersed with a very restrained twirlin’n’twangin’ fifties guitar. Alicia’s sweetly slow and enticingly searing almost torched vocals add lustre to the funky shuffler that is “Kindness, Love And Understanding”, her gently pleading entwines pleasingly with the sinuously twisting organ and richly undulating horns, interjecting alongside is a sparse affecting guitar and gently wafting saxophone. “Sing Your Own Song”, has at its centre an urging train racing, rockabilly double bass coupled with gospel inspired horns and of course rolling and tumbling piano, over top of all this is Alicia’s sweet urging voice. The relaxed and gentle paced “Tears Of Joy”, has a wonderfully affecting Latin / Calypso feel that beautifully showcases the fragile qualities of Alicia’s endearing vocals. Earl Hooker’s “Guitar Rhumba”, continues the laid-back Latin feel with a rich toned guitar twisting the night away with stark and highly enjoyable thwocking percussion, Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown’s “Okie Dokie Stomp” and the Country influenced “Remington Ride”, splendidly allows Eric to fully display his regained guitar picking skills. While “Prisoner Of Love” and “Evening”, are wonderfully relaxing as they remind us all of the juicy, Jazz rich, Swinging Blues period of the Forties and Fifties. “Sitting On Top Of The World”, merges a gentle swinging resonator with Alicia’s sweetly satisfying mellow vocals.
The Next Place I Leave
Yako Records YAKO 701
Chris can found either at home in Dayton Ohio or teaching acoustic guitar in workshops at many a festival. Writing and playing in and out of the studio or, where he prefers to be, on the road playing to people with an open mind and open ears, who want to hear him play and share his love and continuing fascination with the blues, not just the classics, or the old and forgotten but, the new ever evolving blues of the ever widening world of today. He is a man who is focused on life of the lonesome travelling troubadour with his trusty acoustic in one hand and his other hand on the door of the world. His particular passion is a combination of the classic pre-war Delta and Piedmont Picking style and slide guitar. This is his second album, recorded at the Ardent studios in Memphis. The eleven numbers here are a mixture of the old and the new seven are original compositions. One of the covers is Robert Johnsons “Preachin’ Blues”, a lively and crisp rendition that begins with a mournful and dour resonator lead that swiftly changes into an engaging and splendidly joyful footapper that carries the listener along and then seems to be gone in an instant. Chris is backed where necessary by the fluid and talented duo of Leo Smith; bass and Brian Hoeflich; drums. “Smallman Street”, sees the almost dour vocals of Chris fuse extremely well with his fiery, urging and very powerful slide that seems to shake the speakers. In contrast is the tender “Sweet Time Blues”, his relaxed and confident picking meshes succulently with the delicately stroked bass and swaying brush work. Robert Johnson’s “Phonograph Blues”, possesses a cosy, homely feel to it courtesy of Chris’s jolly and enticing picking, while the rhythm section carves out a comforting and enticing groove. The fast paced and highly enjoyable melodious picking on “The Next Place I Leave” effortlessly fuses and entwines seamlessly with an infectious footstomping backbeat courtesy of Brian and Leo. Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “Write Me A Few Lines”, is a lively and romping picked acoustic that allows Chris to entertainingly alternate between smooth fast tasty picking and even faster footapping and roaring slidework and Leonard Cohen’s “Tower Of Song”, becomes a thigh slapping goodtime rolling picker of a song.
Jason Vivone and the Billy Bats
Like most artists do at some point in their career, Jason has decided to go back to his roots for inspiration although, in this instance it was one memorable period that most people would like to forget, for in the nineties he and his (soon to be former) wife bought an old Victorian house on Independence Avenue, a peaceful area in one of the more older established Italian communities of Kansas City. It was to be a home to renovate and reside in. this they happily did but, they later discovered that the reason for the area being so quiet was in fact because it was where retired members of the Mafia resided and as time passed all manner of other miscreants also happily began to inhabit the area. “The Vivone Song. (Pronounced Viv O Nee)” delights in the fact that people of this neighbourhood would pronounce his name correctly, because a particular promoter didn’t. Also, the song describes how at this time people such as Bruce Iglauer (Alligator Records) and Bob Koester (Delmark Records) would rather have signed his cigarbox guitar named ‘Nicotina’, than him. All this is joyfully relayed in a bouncing and deeply infectious rolling vocal that is backed by a gripping, sparse jungle drum-and-bass Bo Diddley led beat,. Over the top the crisp, rolling diction is highly infectious as is the fifties girly chorus. “Kansas City”, is a ripping, roaring almost Hawaiian sounding slide tribute to Kansas City resident and slide guitar genius Casey Weldon, it also, has to be said that this is a seriously delirious slide, and piano toe-tapper! “The Avenue”, comes with a solemn and funereal guitar-and-drum motif that gives it an enticing and alluring atmosphere, while the lyrics describe all the working girls and home-use drug searchers that began to visit the area on a daily basis, making it such an interesting neighbourhood. The irresistible, shuffling, swinging, jungle sounding drums are once again put to good use being paired with that wonderful electrifying slide on “Hello Mrs, Radzinsky”, which is a sad tale of some poor soul who chatted away on the phone, in a public phone box for hours, except that the phone never did work. “Calendar”, is a humorously sultry, solemn, slow,burning slide and bass ode to the days of risqué calendars and top shelf material for the discerning gentleman.
Whenever I listen to Jason and the B.B.’s I am fondly reminded of the kind hearted, surreal world of the Addams family. Long may he the Billy Bats, and the feeling, continue.
BOO BOO DAVIS
One Chord Blues
Black & Tan B&T332)
Long-time St. Louis resident James “Boo Boo” Davis is one of the last of the bluesmen to have emerged from the harsh life of picking cotton in Mississippi (he was born in Drew), and his style is similarly old school - or ‘Old Skool’ as the track of that name reveals - and authentic. Although Black & Tan have tried, more successfully than you might think (take a listen to the closing ‘Who Stole The Booty’), to bring him up to date with electronics and have had him singing soul music, his default position is that of the down-home blues singer. These songs, drawn from his previous releases for the Dutch label Black & Tan between 1999 and 2015, are indeed one chord numbers, with Howling Wolf’s droning style and ferocious vocal stylings an obvious influence on numbers like ‘Blues On My Mind’, ‘Hard Times’, ‘Ice Storm’, and ‘The Snake’. ‘I’m Comin’ Home’ sounds like it should have been on a 78 issued by a small label out of Jackson, Mississippi in the early 50s, and ‘Can Man’ refers to his early musical experiences before he could afford a drum-kit. ‘Keep On Lovin’ Me Baby’ has a full band accompaniment, with some fierce blues-rock guitar over a boogie backing that owes something to Slim Harpo’s well-known ‘Shake Your Hips’, and it also features Boo Boo’s harmonica playing – not heard often enough, though it does feature on several other tracks here. I guess it probably depends on how much of this material you already have, but if you like your blues down(-home) and dirty, do investigate this.
Time Has Come
Manhaton HATMAN 2042
Ben is touring as co-headliner with Stevie Nimmo as I write, and Stevie contributes backing vocals to eight songs here. Sandwiched between the loud blues-rock of the opening ‘Lying To Me’ (with guitarist Todd Sharpville guesting) and the mellow modern blues shuffle of the closing ‘The Question Why’, complete with Bob Fridzema’s moody pedal steel guitar playing, are a further eight very varied tracks. ‘I Think I Love You Too Much’ is a strutting blues with a rock tinge and some Albert King guitar licks behind Ben’s cool vocals - Aynsley Lister also guests on guitar on this one - before the Mark Knopfler penned ballad ‘Longing For A Woman’, and the slightly 60s sounding ‘If You Want To Play With My Heart’. ‘Time Might Never Come’ is a lengthy (8 and a half minutes) big rock ballad, contrasting well with the pumping soul beat that drives ‘Stay At Mine’ and the slower, mellow, slightly gospel inflected ‘You’ve Changed’. ‘Just When You Thought It Was Safe’ has a fine rock ‘n’ soul tinge, whilst ‘Whoever Invented Love’ is an Americana tinged ballad. This is perhaps a more mellow album than I expected, though there is plenty of fine guitar playing to satisfy those looking for that – but I do get the impression Ben is more concerned about the song that the pyrotechnics, and there is nothing at all wrong with that, is there?
Live In Europe
Black & Tan B&T 954
Singer and guitarist Doug is one of those rare artists, a blues revivalist who also appeals to the purists. If that seems rather unusual, all is explained within the first few seconds of the opening track, as Doug conjures up the spirit of the great John Lee Hooker with both his guitar work and vocals – later on, on ‘Home Cookin’’, he shows off his Lightnin’ Hopkins licks, though there is no sense that Doug is doing this by rote. He has an authentic approach, one that seems true to the spirit of the deep blues. He learned directly from many of the greats – and some of the great unknowns. Wikipedia categorises him as “the storytelling bluesman”, which certainly fits well, as this performance reveals, Doug successfully integrating his stories of his early influences and experiences into his songs. His guitar sound is loud, driving, down-home and rough, his voice strong and expressive, and his songs seemingly personal and always fascinating – Doug does his own songs, though here he also performs a fourteen minutes long, heavily reworked version of Bukka White’s ‘New Panama Limited’. The material on this CD originally saw light of day on a long unavailable limited edition DVD release of a 2006 concert, and this audio only release presents eleven songs from two shows. This one is indeed for all the blues lovers in the house. A real treat!
Power Blues Guitar Live
Cali Bee Music
These days blues-rock can often be difficult to define – maybe it is just down to who the artist actually is rather than the style, as some of the big names simply play rock to my ears. There’s no such difficulty with this set from Californian guitarist, singer and bandleader Brad Wilson though. The bonus track ‘I’m Still Breathing’ has a slightly smooth inflection in the accompaniment, but I am being relative here – the remaining dozen tracks are out-and-out blues-rock, there’s no doubt that the album title is very, very appropriate. A few minutes into the opening version of ‘Got My Mojo Working’, the thought struck me – “he sounds just like Eric Clapton at his best when playing with Cream”, and hardly had that thought popped into my head when Brad began to play the riff old Slowhand used on Cream’s cover of Robert Johnson’s ‘Crossroads’. It doesn’t seem to be coincidental, as Brad does this in a few other places as well, displaying an easy familiarity with the UK blues-rock sound of the late 60s coupled with the ability to play it impressively. Mention of ‘Mojo’ though reminds me to mention that many of the songs on this CD are standards – ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’, ‘I’m Tore Down’, ‘Sweet Home Chicago’, ‘Stormy Monday’ and others – but Brad’s energy gives them new leases of life. This is blues-rock – loud, riffing and above all blue!
Honey For The Biscuit
RUF Records ASIN: B01ASLEU6U (Previously published on Amazon.com)
The cover showing Tasha playing an electric guitar gave me the impression that she was following a similar path to Valerie June in doing updated guitar-based modern blues but this is very much sweet southern soul, very similar to the music of her father Johnnie Taylor, the so-called "Philosopher of Soul". Like her father there are echoes of the blues here, which surface on songs like the funky "Little Miss Suzie" powered by Robert Randolph's steel guitar and the moody soul blues "Same Old Thing", with Tommy Castro on vocals and guitar, But the majority of tracks are old fashioned soul. "Leave that Dog Alone", one of three songs written by Tasha along with producer Tom Hambridge and Richard Flemming, is an up-tempo soul stomper featuring Samantha Fish on vocals and guitar, while "Family Tree" is a nice melodic soul song with Keb' Mo' joining Tasha on vocals.
However, she doesn't need guest artists, I did also like "Wedding Bells" with its nice sax breaks and "That Man" where her voice sounded really strong and blended well with the backing singers. However, although this record sounds good and Tasha obviously has the musical heritage, I'm afraid that I thought that there weren't enough really good songs here, I thought that "Leave that Dog Alone" and "Little Miss Suzie" were head and shoulders above any of the other songs.
Steady Rolling Records ASIN: B017WUWW4M (Previously published on Amazon.com)
Guitarist 'Steady Rollin' Bob Margolin is a Chicago blues legend having spent seven years in Muddy Waters' band this record features him on vocals as well as lead and rhythm guitar, assisted by Chuck Cotton on drums and backing vocals and Tad Walters on guitar and harp. Although the record starts out very much in the Muddy Waters-style with Walter's wailing harp on "My Whole Life", the very next song "More and More" is in the sweet soul groove, with Bob's vocals sounding surprisingly good, while "Goodnight" is a lovely tender, melodic semi-acoustic country blues. "Understanding Heart" is a restrained blues featuring harp and slide guitar and "Low Life Blues" is a swinging jump blues with Little Walter-style amplified harp and there is more harp on Nappy Brown's "Bye-Bye Baby", indeed it features just harp backing up Margolin and Cotton's doo-wop vocals! I also really liked "Ask Me No Questions" a mash-up between a blues and a cowboy song!?! - with Walters superb harp and Bob's best Roy Rogers' campfire crooning.
I thought that I knew beforehand what this record would be - Bob running through standard Muddy-style Chicago blues, and although there is some of that, there is also lots of unexpected stuff as well, including quite a country influence. I thought that the limited band produced a stunning sound and gave a whole new slant to the blues, which I found very enjoyable.
The Imperial Singles Collection
NOT NOW MUSIC NOT3CD199
"What you call rock 'n' roll now, is rhythm and blues. I been playin' it for fifteen years" This is pretty much what Fats Domino had to say in a 1950's interview.... to me and thousands of others at the time, it didn't really matter what you called it, it was just great sounding music - and guess what - it still is!
Here on this triple cd set are all those wonderful 'hits' and more, around three hours of the original recordings - just as you remember them. Sound quality is superb, so you can keep your old London 45s on the shelf and save any more wear on the grooves. My Domino records will now receive a well deserved rest although they'll not be leaving the building!
Notes by Michael Heatley are brief but informative, but I'd already played two of the discs before I'd started reading.... couldn't wait. I strongly suggest you snap this set up as soon as possible and listen once more to The Fat Man.
Did you know that Not Now Music also have cd sets available by Larry Williams, Big Joe Turner, Clarence 'Frogman' Henry, Big Maybelle, Earl King and others.... plus, as with the Fats Domino reviewed above, all at extremely reasonable prices.
THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS
The good reverend is not only a sharp suited native New Yorker but his parents just happen to be Wally Amos
and singer Shirl-ee May Ellis who own the Famous Amos Chocolate Chip
Cookie Company. The money and advantages that were readily available
to him have not though soiled his soul, for he is not only a fully ordained
minister in the Universal Life Church but, he is also the C.E.O. of The Amos
Content Group, a digital and traditional media company. When he is not
working in the business world he devotes his time to spreading the word
and delivering good music. Joining him on the twelve numbers here are:
Chris ‘Doctor Roberts; guitar, Brady Blade; drums Chris Thomas; electric
and upright bass, Anthony Marinelli, Keyboards and organs horns; Mindi
Abair; tenor and baritone saxophones and Lewis Smith; trumpet. The
solemn pre-war gospel inspired hand clap led “Days Of Depression”, is a
fine starter, the added depth of spiritual emotion within the number is magnificently supplied by the Blind Boys of Alabama. A stark change of
mood is brusquely ushered in with “Brand New Man”, which is a great
sixties soul punching horn led strutter that contains an almost psychedelic sinuous squirming and weaving
guitar theme. “Boogie”, has echoes of John Lee Hookers’ trademark strut mixed with a sixties ‘blue-eyed soulsway, adding a good deal of sensuousness to the mix are the sultry vocals of Missy Anderson. A less than
complimentary comment on the self centred indifferences of tinsel town are displayed on “Hollywood Blues”,
a brooding burning B3 and drum shuffle along together with sombre swaying surging horns that evolve into
an arresting, strident stark burning saxophone solo from Mindi Abair. “Outlaw”, is a laconic guitar driven tale
of serious naughtiness, the low level swaggering horns and parping, strutting trumpet lends an air of menace
as the surging music reaches is sudden crescendo. To bring us all back to earth there is a splendid version
of Jimmy Reeds’ “Bright Lights, Big City”, The Rev shares vocals with Mindi and together their voices melt
ninto the beautifully lazy shuffle together with the sweet saxophone and harmonica.
One At A Time
DeChamp Records DC100315
During the early days of Grady Champion’s career Eddie was an integral member of Grady’s band Now, this
actual son of a preacher man from Clinton Mississippi, who not only followed his father in the ministry at his athers’ church but, he also studied music theory at Jackson state university.
With this, his second solo album he is fully ensconced into the blues world
gaining richly deserved plaudits for his understated and rivetingperformances. Taking lead vocals and guitar he calmly and confidently
straddles the full spectrum of the blues from mellow and slowburn to sweaty
groover. Backing Eddie on the fourteen self penned numbers here are;
Myron Bennett; bass, Samuel Scott Jr. drums, and James “Hotdog” Lewis;
Keyboards, the horns provided by Kimble Fuchess; trumpet, Jessie Primer
III, tenor saxophone, Mike Weidick; trombone, with JJ Thames providing
succulent backing vocals. The over arching enticing and entrancing
atmosphere is one of a heady mixture of the legendary studios of Malaco,Hi and Fame, A fine example is “Dead End Street”, where the story of a
lovers’ encounter on the backseat of a car is recounted in a Memphis style
slow-burn sultry groove symphony, here, his sweetly soft, low vocals are
highly reminiscent of Curtis Mayfield. “Filling Me With Pleasure”, contains wonderful echoes of Al Green where
the vocals slip and slide in amongst the burning organ, rising horns and understated picking guitar, the mood
and groove continues with the very moreish “Ego At My Door”. The delightfully rich ringing and sticky string
bending “War Is Over”, is a slow-burning entreaty for a new beginning to a wounded lover. The funky
“Mississippi”, is a splendid little toe-tapping, rolling, string bending groover in the crowd pleasing style of B.B.
King. “My Money”, is a straightforward blues shuffling roller led by an insistent rasping harmonica courtesy of
Grady Champion with the piano giving it that pleasingly alcoholic feeling. “One At A Time”, sees shuffling
keyboards join gently soaring horns and guitar funkily strut together as Eddie tells tales of his past conquests.
Classic menacing blues guitar and harmonica punches are put to great use and effect on “Be Careful”, a
number concerning the unpleasant and deadly use of knives.
This is Southern Soul at its finest.
25 Year Retrospect
Earwig Music CD 4971
The stalwart blues guitarist Tommy McCoy started playing the guitar at the tender age of eight in his home
town of Warren Ohio in nineteen-sixty two. During his youth the family moved to Florida but, over the years he still maintained musical connections
with Ohio, for in the seventies he and his brother regularly played the clubs
in a band called M.F Rattlesnake, his tenure ended when disco began its
sprawling dominance and his brother indicated they should go in that
direction but, Tommy thought otherwise and moved back to Florida, opened up a second-hand record shop and began playing in various bands suchas The Backdoor Blues Band and The Screamin’ Bluejays in local blues clubs. As a consequence of his increasing popularity in the various clubs in which he played he encountered a young Stevie Ray Vaughan and they went on to become friends, further chance encounters in his career have led Tommy to meet fellow musicians and collaborators such as; Lucky Peterson and Levon Helm. Since nineteen ninety-two Tommy has recorded seven albums for Michael Franks’ Earwig record label and from those albums twenty-seven numbers have been thoughtfully selected to make up this highly informative and splendidly foot-tapping double CD, to round the number up to thirty there are three newly recorded numbers; one being the charged acoustic “Sugar Cane”, it is most certainly vibrant and engaging but, I’m not certain if he is singing its praises or chastising us for our addiction. The moving tribute to the late B.B. King “The King is Gone”, is a richly layered heartfelt re-working of “The Thrill is Gone”, for added attraction and resonance he incorporates a number of B.B.’s other titles into the sad lyrics. While, “I Got A Reason”, sways and swings in true R’n’B fashion the sweet horns meld with enticing vocals and richly played guitar. All but six of the numbers are Tommy originals; one cover in particular is a rather enticing aggressive shuffler,
that being Pink Floyds’ “Money”, Tommy maintains the dreamy swinging quality with a striking tenor saxophone backbone courtesy of Charlie De Chant but, also Tommy’s rich and crisp guitar work infuses the piece with
manic greed. Three numbers recorded with legendary Band members; Levon Helm (drums) and Garth Hudson
(keyboards) are “Ace In The Hole”, “Angels Serenade” and “Spanish Moon”, from the album Angels Serenade,
the first is a mellowing goodtime honky tonk with rolling mandolin and classic captivating drumwork from Levon
over a comforting warm B3 the second is a tumbleweed keyboard tale invoking memories of a choir girl who
cannot sing but, who would dearly love to. While the third is Lowell Georges’ funky horn led mover where
brass, drums and keyboards entwine into a low, tight satisfying groove. The number “The Change Is In”, from the album ‘Love ‘n’ Money is a highly satisfying rolling ballad with crisp tinkling, tumbling guitar, piano and
surging B3 backing Tommy’s enticing and almost mellow vocals. “Black Eldorado Red”, from the album
‘Kickin’ The Blues’ sees Commander Cody nimbly tickle the ivories in this superb swinging rockabilly toe-tapper
while Tommy thoroughly enjoys himself singing about his favourite mode of transport. On the more solemn
church like, slow-burning title track “Lay My Demons Down,” Lucky Peterson holds the surging B3 at bay while
Tommy burns the air with his twisting and churning guitar work, together they hold the line.
This is an excellent introduction to Tommy’s very fine body of work and a testament to his skills.
One for the collection
Blind Lemon Records BLR CD 1503
Adam Franklin is one of Britain’s best kept secrets. Why he is not an acoustic super-star like Doug MacLeod
or Catfish Keith is a mystery to me.
Here recorded ‘in concert’ in Germany, Adam unleashes a set that reminds
me at times of the virtuosity of the late Bob Brozman without the side journeys
into ‘world’ music.
Adam is a self confessed admirer of the old music once made by the likes of
Tampa Red, Sam Chatmon, Bo Carter, Son House and others, but writes a lot
of stuff himself, always keeping it in the rich tradition of his influences. Adam
is at home on both resonator guitars (National) and regular acoustic guitars,(here on the former) and is something of a virtuoso performer on the ukulele,
giving the instrument a work-out on Bo Carter’s ‘I Want You To Know.
Incidentally, although the days of tab booklets accompanying records are long
gone, Adam has seen fit (helpfully) to indicate, in in the booklet, the tuning of
each instrument played and the key the tune is played in, saving, for some people, a lengthy search process.
Tracks include ‘Never Drive a Stranger From Your Door’ (Vestapol - Key E), the Willie Harris tune, and a
frenetic and masterful version of ‘Dr Jazz’ (Standard - Key E) originally written by Ferdinand ‘Jelly Roll Morton,
who claimed to be the inventor of jazz! There is a delightful ‘train’ instrumental ‘Steve’s Train’ a tribute to Steve
James (Vestapol - Key D) and couple of tracks where Adam’s vocals are supported by some tasty harp work
from Thomas Freund. Outstanding stuff. Get it NOW!
Sweet & Mean
Blind Lemon Records BLR CD 1510
Another live recording from the Blind Lemon Records stable, this is Tom Shaka’s first live album for more
than twenty years. Tom has a clear record of ‘speaking out; and proudly
says ‘This is my first record released [for] over 20 years which does not
include at least one song of protest or social/political issues.’ Shaka, like
Adam Franklin, is hooked into pre-war picking styles and despite (or perhaps
because) the blues, in its foundations, IS a protest genre, presents gentle
but still forceful commentary, exposing and opposing hypocrisy, doubledealing
and amorality. Why? Because a Tom says, ‘Blues Is about life’. Or
as Brownie McGhee put it, ‘Blues Is Truth’.
Tom sometimes accompanies his singing and axe work with harmonica fills
(the harp played in a neck rack) and the over all effect is exciting and filled
The set is nice mix of Tome’s own songs: Come Over Baby; They Don’t
Understand These Blues and a visit to Louisiana with Cajun Stomp with
Tom’s harmonica taking the part of the accordion in a standard Cajun band. From others, Tom covers John
Lee Hooker (In The Mood); Tarheel Slim (Walkin’ My Blues Away) and as an acoustic piece SRV;s Pride and
Joy. In ballad mood, Tom gives us a delightful version I Can’t Stop Loving You written by country singer Don
Gibson and famously sung by Ray Charles in a classic version his 1962 album, Modern Sounds in Country
and Western Music, and by Elvis in many of his live shows from 1969 until his final tours in 1977. Perhaps
the most surprising inclusion in this live set is a close to five minutes long instrumental work-out on the Spanish
tinged (from Cuba according to Tom) Malaguena. This (although the playing is still excellent) could do with
some of the licks incorporated into the tune when it was recorded in 1971 by New Orleans maestro Snooks
Eaglin, and which he called Funky Malaguena. The set finishes with a ten minutes plus presentation of Alan
Wilson’s (Canned Heat) setting of the Floyd Jones song On The Road Again.
Tom Shaka is an accomplished singer and musician who enthusiastically presents a varied and at the
same time thought provoking set .
Power Blues Guitar Live
Cali Bee Music Inc
Power Blues Guitar LIVE is a follow up to the critically acclaimed 2015 studio release Blues Thunder by
California axe man Brad Wilson. It is a raw, visceral attack on (mostly) blues
standards written by the likes of Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and Robert
Johnson. The thirteen tracks include: I Got My Mojo Workin' made famous by
Muddy, I'm Tore Down by Sonny Thompson. Sweet Home Chicago by Robert
Johnson, I Can't Quit You Babe by Willie Dixon, T Bone Walker’s, Stormy
Monday and four songs by Brad himself, I'm Still Breathin', Slide On Over
And Black Coffee At Sunrise, All Kinds Of A Fool and a super version of my
fave blues song ever Albert King’s Born Under A Bad Sign (Richard Willis
Hawley / Booker T. Jones / William Bell). The band is as tight as a drumhead Brad on vocals and guitar of course, the band anchored by Oscar Huguet on
bass and Thaxter Daggs and Kofi Baker on drums. The band is filled out by Kirk Nelson on keys, and Joe
Robb on sax.
The tracks were laid down in concert on the Rolling Blues Thunder tour in 2015, Brad sings with passion
and is capable of some seriously fiery guitar. Although it is hard to judge from a CD, Brad seems t deliver an
audience pleasing show and is often referred to as an exciting entertainer.
Brad and Blues Thunder are starting to reach a worldwide audience and some enterprising UK promoter would be well advised to lock him/ them in to either a tour or if not that, some festivals.
Let me make it clear, This is terrific music that demands a big(ger) audience. ‘Nuff said?
The CD is officially released on February 15, 2016
WENDY DEWITT WITH KIRK HARWOOD
Wette Music 5809)
Wendy DeWitt was formerly the pianist for rhythm and blues star Hank Ballard, whilst drummer Kirk Harwood
was previously with the late California harmonica player Norton Buffalo.
Together they know how to whip up a veritable boogie-woogie storm but
further adding their not inconsiderable talents to this very enjoyable album
are a three man horn section (including the excellent sax player Keith
Crossan), bassist Steve Evans, and Chicago blues guitarist Steve Freund
(a long-time associate of pianist Sunnyland Slim), who supplies some very
nicely under-stated solos when required. Wendy wrote much of the
material herself with Freund contributing ‘Folks Like You’, and she also
covers Chuck Willis’ ‘Feel So Bad’ – unusually slow and very soulful – and
Willie Dixon’s jaunty ’29 Ways’ (on which Freund excels; not quite sure
why it is credited to Big Joe Turner, though Joe did actually record it).
Some of the tracks have a New Orleans feel, others have hints of Amos
Milburn, Little Willie Littlefield or Jimmy McCracklin. Wendy and Kirk were
apparently over on this side of the pond last Summer but I missed them; I’ll have to make sure I don’t next
It is hard to believe that this outfit only came together less than a year ago! Mississippi Bigfoot is one of those
outfits a little like Omar & The Howlers and others, playing blues-rock, blues
and southern rock. Singer Christina Vierra handles the bulk of the vocals
– sounding a little like Tina Turner in places, though Tina never played
ukulele as Christina does on ‘Mighty River’. Johnny Holiday and Ashley
Bishop play guitars and also help out with the singing, with Johnny taking
the lead on his own composition, the very bluesy and Robert Johnson tinged
‘Clarksdale’, and Ashley gets out the cigar box for the raucous ‘Wag The
Dog’, Gary Dale plays bass and the veteran Doug McMinn pounds the
drums and also blows blues harmonica. As befits a band named after a
mythical creature, the music is big, powerful, and sometimes a little spooky,
despite the crunching power chords, sassy vocals and driving rhythms.
Albert King’s ‘The Hunter’ – maybe some readers might recall it from Free’s
1969 cover – is given a radical boogie-blues overhaul here, not least with a female singing the lyrics, but it
works well. As in fact does the whole album…
BERDON KIRKSAETHER & THE TWANG BAR KINGS
The Voodoo Sessions Live At Down Under
A moody set this from this Norwegian four piece outfit. It is not really a blues set, though neither is it an
out-and-out rock release either. Four tracks and a total running time of twenty minutes mean that this is what, in the old days, we would have
described as an “EP” (longer than a single, shorter than an LP album). It
is bluesy in the manner of some of the late 60s and early 70s bands, and
this release features three of the four original members of the blues and
soul band CIA – guitarist Erik Gabrielsen is the odd man out, a lot younger
than the others, though he slots right in with them. ‘Some Kind Of Voodoo’captures the sound of early 70s blues-rock to a tee, and there are strong tinges of Jimi Hendrix on the playing and arrangement of ‘Mad House’ so if your interest is piqued, do try to check this CD out.
This is a twelve-track album stuffed with tasteful, acoustic and slide guitar picking from an Englishman now resident in rural France - hence the title.Cowley, originally from the Birmingham area, includes strong covers of
many standard traditional acoustic classics including a couple from theever-popular, melodic Mississippi John Hurt - 'Monday Morning Blues'
and 'Pay Day'; another couple from Mississippi Fred McDowell - 'Write
Me A Few Of Your Lines' and 'You Gotta Move' together with some
Muddy Waters, Son House, Bukka White and Rev. Gary Davis. All are
played with punch and talent supported by his gritty, quality vocal
delivery. These tracks are interspersed with four self-penned titles in the
tradition that sit well seamlessly within the overall mix, If there's a flaw
here, for me, it's Cowley's take on Gary Davis's oft-overcooked
'Candyman', a tricky track to reinvent or bring with a fresh flourish. But this is a minor blemish in an
otherwise cracking album.
'Rural' is a release that will appeal to most lovers of traditional acoustic blues and should ensure that
Cowley himself reaches a wider audience with his ability fully to the fore. Rural blues it may be but this is no sluggish or stagnant backwater offering. In reality this is a very good, balanced and varied album of good
old Country Blues with fretwork and slidework of quality aplenty. A rewarding release well worth catching.
LowdenProud Records: LOWD20132
This is an all-Canadian release from a true master, an acoustic bluesman of some significance. Williams, from Calgary, Alberta, picked up best Solo and best Duo performer at this year's International Blues Challenge
awards in Memphis, a remarkable feat; recognition by a jury of his blues music peers that this guy can sure pick that ole guitar.From the opening title track, 'The Blues Highway', this album positively rips along.
Around half the compositions come from Williams himself with others including 'Nobody's Fault But Mine' and other traditional blues standards like 'I'd Rather Be The Devil.' There's even a cracking take on Stephen Foster's sensitive, seemingly everpertinent 'Hard Times.' Williams also includes an interesting diversion with the Hawaiian-sounding, slack-key 'The Lei Vendor's Song.' Recorded at the Broom Closet studios in Calgary, Williams, who majors in Guitar, Mandolin and Washboard, is joined on second-guitar by Kay Bass, Steve Marriner on Harp, Howard Chapman on Accordion, Allistair Elliott, Trumpet and Kevin Belzner, Snare. It's a blend that works wonderfully, capturing the essence of a live performance in-house while finding sufficient space to allow all the musicians to breathe and show their skill. This album is a true delight.
MICHAEL MESSER'S MITRA
Call Of The Blues
Knife Edge Records: KER CD001
Now, here we have that genuinely rare thing - a total original of wondrous cross-continental music that makes you pinch yourself
and ask why it hasn't been done before.
Messer is a UK resonator/blues/slide guitar master with a positive pedigree in acoustic blues. For Michael Messer's Mitra, he has teamed up with two young Indian musicians,industani, Manish Pingle on Mohan Veena (a new instrument to me) otherwise known as Indian slide guitar, and Gurdain Rayatt an English Tabla player of some distinction.
Messer says he has long been interested in the possibility of bringing this Indian subcontinent musical tradition into the studio to merge with his own love for traditional US blues music. With this extraordinary release, he has successfully done just that.Astonishingly, perhaps, the whole project was completed in a matter of a few days with virtually no overdubs and the result is little short of jaw-dropping. Not since the Beatles teamed up with Ravi Shankar back in the day has there been such an experimental and inspired meeting of musical cultures. I've no doubt this album is going to be internationally lauded for both its musicianship and Messer's stunning vision. This is an album of pure, sparkling, sublime originality. Anyone with an interest in traditional acoustic blues will be inevitably bowled over by the seamless fusion of what could easily have been two clashing musical cultures. Tracks covered include a couple from Mississippi Fred McDowell ('You Go to Move' and 'You Gonna Be Sorry'), another few from Muddy Waters ('Rollin' & Tumblin' ' and 'I Can't Be Satisfied'); add a traditional Indian Raga, 'Bhupali Blues' and old country standard 'Rolling In My Sweet Baby's Arms', and you have a fair idea of what to expect here. Even then, you'll be amazed by the soulful sound. 'Mitra' itself means 'Friends' - an apt title for such a wonderful musical meeting.
Jensen is a Memphis-based rock-blues guitarist/singer/songwriter. Morose Elephant is a hi-energy, rocking release featuring some
excellent fretwork from Jensen himself and fine percussion from Robinson Bridgeforth, and Wurlitzer from band-member Victor Wainwright. This is the core of Jensen's band and a few other musicians also guest here on this eleven-track album.'Morose Elephant' is an album that pounds along for the most part, with catchy riffs and licks galore pouring from Jensen's guitar. Tracks move effortlessly from hard-rocking, guitar-led numbers to slower, soulful songs often Wurlitzer-fuelled (frequently building nicely to a fast-moving, upbeat middle eight) that allow everyone to do their thing and add to the whole mix.
Jensen is clearly a talented guitarist and his skill is nicely showcased here with touches of jazzy, chord-strewn, octave-driven picking and spare, clean, simpering blues flourishes that always excite and are full of interest. His voice is more than capable at carrying off everything he aims for in this release, including a neat take from the early 1950s with
Amos Milburn's , classic hit, 'Bad, Bad Whiskey' closely followed by another old classic, originally from the late twenties and made famous and her own by Brenda Lee in the fifties, ' I'll Always Be In Love With You.' Jensen closes the album with a strong self-written number, 'Empty Bottles' that merely hints at his knowledge of the blues tradition and slips along tightly, leaving you looking for more. A rewarding album worth catching.
LARA & THE BLUZ DAWGZ
Lock Alley Music
Nashville based Lara & TBD are, with this second album, grooving their way into your heart and soul with this wide ranging selection of twelve original blues compositions that mix funky saxophone and percussion excursions with traditional slinky late night urban or even urbane slow-burners. The make-up of this very fine outfit are Lara Germony; lead vocals, (her husband) Gregg Germony; bass, Al Rowe; guitar, Dan Nadasdi; keyboards, Ray Gonzales; drums and certainly by no means least Reggie Murray; saxophone. Together, they combine the
laconic moods of late night smooching as in the sweetly mellow and burning saxophone led “Don’t Mess With My Baby”, where a cool rich Jazz fuelled guitar dances with a seventies styled floating and bubbling organ, to a fine foot-tapping Rockabilly styled mover that is “You’re Wearing Me Out”, in which classy saxophone solos entwine smoothly with a rocking guitar and rolling piano. Lara confidently commands your
attention with a vocal that is not bawling or raucous but, strong, sweet and mellifluous. The soulfully tearful ballad “Say Goodbye” has an understated emotional saxophone and piano that splendidly supports the evident sadness in Lara’s voice as she ruefully bids farewell to a failed love affair. “Love Of Mine”, is little more optimistic with an uplifting
rolling piano and mellow swinging saxophone that helps to spread the message of love. The Jazz influences and themes found in these numbers allow Lara to relax and vocally spread and flex her obviously talented vocal muscles. The very relaxed preening and second line strutting feel of “Howlin’”, is marinated in the rich textures and influences of classic New Orleans sights and sounds, which are the very essence and soul of the town on a Friday or any other night. “Uh Huh”, is a splendid mixture of swinging saxophone and rolling piano that tumbles and spills under a solid back-beat and an urging scratching guitar that possesses an alluring fifties groove. Don’t be deceived by the title, this album is a very sophisticated and solidly classy little collection
CLARENCE ‘THE BLUES MAN’ TURNEr
The Caster Blaster
Uniqek Sound Records
After spending many a happy hour in his youth listening to his father’s music collection it emerged through the many sounds he was hearing that the overwhelming influences were artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf; it was these bluesmen that Clarence was inspired by at the age of eight to learn to play the blues. Although he played in various bands in his youth it was during his early twenties he considered
that a period of self exile, reflection and solitary practice was in order. In due course the lure of the blues was too great and he returned to the scene older, wiser and certainly more experienced and began to play in various bands in the local area of his hometown in Washington, D.C. To mark his return he released a live album entitled “Live at Blues Alley" in two thousand and eleven, He followed that release a year later with his official debut album “Payday”.
Clarence has not only earned his place on the American blues stage but, now he has also become a firm favourite in the Netherlands. He is a talented multi-instrumentalist excelling on; guitar, bass and drums. Now, here on this his second album he takes lead vocals and guitar and enlists the help of; Sean Graves; drums, Charles Pearson; keyboards, David Satterwhite; bass, with Gene Meros on saxophones and Gary Henderickson; trumpet. On the eleven numbers here a relaxed groove is firmly established, for, on the opener “Fame And Fortune”, we are treated to a soothing mixture of funky strutting brass and cool, cool guitar stroking ‘n’ bending in the very striking style of B.B. and Albert King. “Mojo Hand”, very pleasantly continues this theme of relaxed
listening. While Chuck Willis’s “C.C. Rider”, is very firmly planted in the territory of the Jump master Louis Jordan, the gleefully swinging horns and laid back guitar sway you nicely into the very sweet trumpet and
saxophone solos. A distinct change of mood is apparent on the almost fusion instrumental “Sabrena”, a slow, brooding and swaying almost fuzz-bass guitar is matched with a strangely satisfying low droning horn section that also moodily uplifts as it sways its way forward, a rich guitar weaves in and out sewing it all together. The fast paced and intricate “Fender Bender”, is a very accomplished and highly toe-tapping nod to Albert Collins with its drawing and clawing, almost Jazz inspired, tightly packed and exhausting string picking.
Blues Harp Women’
Ruf Records B0169H1GAA
For years the only woman blues harmonica player that anyone had ever heard of was Big Mama Thornton and she was primarily a singer who played a bit of harp on the side. Then in the 90s two younger players emerged who could hold their own with any man, Annie Raines in the US and ‘Little Jenny’ Bohman in Sweden. I was therefore very interested to hear this record featuring thirty one, mainly American, “Blues Harp Women” - including Big Mama and Annie Raines but
sadly not the late Jenny Bohman. This is a varied collection of tracks, which features both electric Chicago-style harp and also acoustic country blues - and all points in between. The standard is also variable and although there is some excellent playing there are also some distinctly average tracks, so I’ll focus on the tracks that impressed me most. Lynn Ann Hyde plays lovely acoustic harp and also sings on a nice version of Robert Johnson’s “32-20 Blues”, Teresa Lynne
plays impressive blow-bends on her song “One More Lie” and Beth Kohnen does a very authentic nod to Walter Horton’s “Easy’ with her instrumental track “Ain’t Easy”. Jane Gillman’s “Stuck on You” was an unusual slightly Cajun-influenced song and Australian Dorothy Jane Gosper plays a nice minor key jazzy blues “Sadder than Sad”. Annie Raines’ track is a live instrumental with her partner Paul Rishell, a riff on Elmore James’ tune “ShakeYour Moneymaker” with Annie playing great electric harp, although of course she is also a master of acoustic
harp as well. Multi-instrumentalist and singer Terry Leonino plays very tasteful jazzy harp on “Meet Me Where They Play the Blues” with lots of fluttering hand vibrato, while Beata Kossowska from Germany plays in a very individual style that mixes blues with a distinctly Eastern European edge, while Jill Fromewick is pure Chicago, although again she can also play in a more country style. French woman Christelle Berthon plays wonderful chromatic harmonica on her version of “Summertime”, which is followed by “Hit the Road” featuring Judy ‘Mama J’ Rudin’s down-home, rasping electric harp. It’s great to see that there are so many “blues harp women” around, many like Judy Rudin who have been playing for 40 years or more, and that they are finally getting some wider recognition. I hadn’t heard of hardly any of these players but this record is a good, varied collection of blues that stands up on its own and many of the players deserve to be much better known – I’ll certainly look out for them touring in the UK.
G. E.. Harrison
NORMAN BEAKER BLUES TRIO
Live In Belgrade
I’ve seen Norman many times over the years both with his own band and backing artists like Chris Farlowe and Larry Garner and I’ve always been impressed by his guitar playing, his singing and his song writing, honed to perfection after over forty years in the business. As the title suggests this album was recorded live in Belgrade during a 2015 European tour featuring Norman with his bassist of twenty years John Price, together with drummer Steve Gibson.
We get off to a rocking start with “Only I Got What the Other Guys Want” where it’s hard to believe that you are only hearing one guitar as Norman keeps the rhythm going as he adds bits of lead in between. Next is the atmospheric “When the Fat Lady Sings” followed by another couple of original songs, including the seven and a half minute “Talk to Me”. Then we get a version of John Mayall’s “It’s Over” from his ‘Hard Road’ LP, followed by the Peter Green song “Love Her Like the Sky”. The rest of the record features a similar mix of originals and well-known covers – “Born Under a Bad Sign” with its long bass solo, “I Can't Be Satisfied” complete with wah-wah guitar and Eddie Boyd’s “Five Long Years” with its biting lead guitar. I really wanted to like this record but I’m afraid that I thought that the stripped-down trio format didn’t really suit Norman and I missed the keyboards that round out the sound of his regular band and allow Norman himself to lay back and take a subtler approach. Also, I wasn’t keen on the production which has a strange ‘deadness’ to the sound and Norman’s vocals seemed a bit strained at times. However, the record does have its moments, I thought that Norman and the boys seemed most at home on the slow blues like “Break it Down” and the aforementioned “Five Long Years”, where his guitar really soars in the solo over the rock-solid rhythm section and his impassioned vocals light up the verses. The audience seem very appreciative but I thought that the excitement of the performance didn’t really come across in the recording – I guess you just had to be there.
G. E. Harrison
Sing Your Own Song
(Coffeegrinds – no issue number)
Blue Largo is a Californian band under the joint leadership of vocalist Alicia Aragon and guitarist Eric Lieberman, with members such as saxman Johnny Viau (who first worked with Eric in 1982) and guests like guitarist Nathan James in several roles on six tracks (as well as mixing and co-producing), and Missy Anderson on backing vocals on four. The band has been active since 1999, and they certainly sound like it, in the nicest possible way. You may have heard of them before as pianist Carl Sonny Leyland was a member many years back.
This is their third album and there is a fine early 60s feel to much of the
material, from the time when the blues boundary was becoming blurred
with R&B and the upcoming sound of soul – think Ray Charles, Rufus
Thomas, Sam Cooke, or BB King maybe - with horns driving the tracks along, up tempo or strutting items, sounding a lot like they should be on a vintage juke-box. ‘Prisoner Of The Night’ and ‘Evening’ hark back to T-Bone Walker’s golden age, whilst Otis Rush’s ‘You Know My Love’ and Magic Sam’s ‘I Need You So Bad’ evoke classic West side Chicago blues, and ‘Elevator To The Gallows’ is a smoky, jazzy, bluesy tune, with echoes of Billie Holiday, and the standard ‘Sittin’ on Top Of The World’ makes for a lovely closer.
Alicia’s excellent vocals are way out front throughout the CD, the seven original songs are thoughtful and enjoyable – try ‘Tears Of Joy’ - and Eric has overcome some serious health problems that affected his playing to present himself as an economical and very effective guitarist. He takes some very fine instrumental breaks here, and there are three guitar instrumentals, with Earl Hooker’s ‘Guitar Rhumba’ an accomplished version of this little heard showcase; ditto ‘Okie Dokie Stomp’ from “Gatemouth” Brown and the country styled ‘Remington Ride’. In short, this CD is a solid and varied blues set, well worth the effort involved in tracking it down.
JIMMY AND THE MUSTANGS
Independent Release – available on CD Baby, etc)
This five piece outfit, under the leadership of big voiced singer and guitarist Jimmy Haddox (plus sax, guitar, slap bass and drums), originally emerged out of the California punk scene of the 80s, but you would never guess that from this set, unless you make the connection with the energetic approach. Now based in Austin, Texas, they have a fine rocking ten track set, mainly rockabilly based, making it easy to understand just why they have worked with the likes of The Blasters,
Los Lobos and other “new wave” Americana outfits from the 80s and 90s. ‘Rock My World’ is a suitably powerful rocker in a Bo Diddley vein and has some excellent blues harp playing by local favourite Greg Forsyth, who also crops up to good effect on the Louisiana flavoured rocker ‘I Won’t Cry For You’. New Orleans is the inspiration for the Fats Domino-ish ‘Hotel San Jose’, which precedes the hillbilly bop of ‘Bourbon Street’, though again there are some Crescent City tinges, appropriately enough. ‘Love Is Just Pretend’ is one of those big 50s ballads, and contrasts strongly with ‘Long Black Train’, excellent rockabilly but sporting some lovely slide guitar work. Apparently
Jimmy has been out of the music business for a good few years, but on this evidence (and hence the reason for the CD title, I guess), he and his group are certainly extremely welcome back on the scene!
Gristle To Gold
Some may recall Randy from his stint with JSP Records beginning in 1997, but anyone who has ever heard this Texas singer and harmonica player will surely remember his rather original compositions. This set continues that tradition – how about ‘Crappy Food, No Sleep, A Van And A Bunch Of Songs’, which is pretty descriptive of life on the road. Then there’s the opener, ‘The Kid With The Really Old Soul’, which is indeed Randy’s take on classic soul music, whose influence can also be heard on many of the other tracks, as for example the blues and soul mash-up of ‘Something That Don’t Cost A Dime’, or ‘I’m Like A Boomerang’, with Randy’s best singing of the set. He has a fine, roughhewn, soulful voice that suits his approach and he is backed by “The Scrappiest Band In The Motherland” as the sleeve informs us, though they can be pretty tight, and guitarist Rob Dewan provides some fine licks, whilst backing vocalist Andrea Wallace also makes a noteworthy contribution.
Texas blues bandleader Mike Morgan also crops up, playing guitar on two tracks and bass on one other, surely a good indicator of the esteem in which Randy is held in the Lone Star State. If you don’t already know the guy, this is as good a place as any to check him out, and if you’ve previously made the man’s acquaintance, you probably don’t need my recommendation – though I’m giving it anyway!
THE KNICKERBOCKER ALL-STARS
Go Back Home To The Blues
‘Brand New Fool’ is playing, a romping, 60s styled blues with slight soul touches, and I’m racking my brains – who was it first recorded this? Bobby Bland on Duke, was it? It certainly sounds like it. So I check the sleeve and find that it is an original from the pen of cornettist/ singer Al Basile, sometime member of Roomful Of Blues – as are many of the musicians on this set. The Knickerbocker Café in Westerley, Rhode Island, was the birth-place of Roomful, the big, brassy band that revolutionised the blues revival in the 70s, and to some degree can claim responsibility for the jump-blues boom of the following decade… and that is the style of this wonderful CD. This release is the follow-up to 2014’s equally excellent “Open Mic At The Knick” and features musicians of the calibre of Al Copley (piano) , Doug James, Rich Lataille and Sax Gordon (saxes), Carl Querfurth on trombone, and the former child prodigy Monster Mike Welch – listen to his guitar work on Guitar Slim’s ‘Something To Remember You By’, ‘He Was A Friend Of Mine’, and ‘Annie Get Your Thing On’, taking off Albert King to a “t” on the latter track. Guest vocalists include Al Basile himself,
Sugar Ray Norcia, Brian Templeton and Willie J. Laws (“The Last
Prophet Of The Funky Texas Blues”, as he bills himself), each adding
significantly to the quality count. If you like your music quiet, thoughtful,
and reflective, this certainly isn’t for you! On the other hand, if you’re looking for blasting, good-timin’ sounds – and the opening number ain’t exactly subtle, a bunch of guys chanting the chorus of Bobby Bland’s ‘36-22-36’ – then you’ve definitely come to the right place.
The Next Place I Leave
This is an absolutely stunning surprise, packed with great material, picking and music of the highest order.
Yakopcic is a clearly talented acoustic/resonator guitar picker with a
complete mastery over the instrument and the acoustic blues/roots US
tradition. Based in Ohio, he was a finalist at this year's International
Blues Challenge in Memphis and though not an award winner, it's easy
to see from this recording why he made the final cut.
Most tracks are self-written, in the style, and mix well with his confident
covers of Fred McDowell's 'Write Me A Few Lines', together with both 'Preachin' Blues' and 'Phonograph Blues' from Robert Johnson.
Yakopcic slides seamlessly from thumping Piedmont-style picking to
Delta-inspired slidework and also includes a surprisingly refreshing,
original Appalachian-Americana-ish sounding take on Leonard Cohen's
wonderful 'Tower of Song', a genuinely inspired choice that jumps
sonically from nowhere and works amazingly well here.
On this release, Yakopcic is partnered by a powerful rhythm section with Brian Hoeflich on Drums and Leo Smith on Bass, while he takes centre stage with top-dollar fretwork and vocals. The overall result is an eleven-track album of enormous power, purpose and quality. His second release, this is little short of a hidden treasure for lovers of acoustic, steel/resonator guitar work and hienergy,
Box and Dice
Reference Recordings/Fresh: FR-717
Fiona Boyes is that rare thing, a female blues guitarist/singer/songwriter and an Australian. 'Box and Dice' is her first release under the US Bay-area Reference Recordings label where she's in good company alongside the likes of Doug MacLeod, Lloyd Jones and others. And, like most Reference recordings, the studio quality is high with a splendid warm, empathic sound and glow.
Almost all of the eleven tracks featured here are written by Boyes who
clearly knows her stuff and pitches well in the traditional blues field.
There's no doubt, and no missing, the inspired cigar-box and resonator
input in this mix and Boyes's picking is strong and full of purpose and
power while her growling vocals deliver a steady punch and display a
real depth, strength and direction. No purist, Boyes mixes and matches
blues styles, moving smoothly from slide to swampy down South sounds, Piedmont to Texas shuffle, and rock-influenced riffs to Chicago licks with complete ease.
Pace is varied and Boyes has a confident, calm control over the material
that shows a remarkable maturity and highlights her guitar-work to full effect. So much so, that she has in the past been referred to as 'Bonnie Raitt's Evil Twin', a strikingly original accolade that she appears to
relish. Anyone unsure about her blues credentials should take note that Boyes was the first non-American lady to pick up an award at the annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis. A truly excellent release from a guitar master of pure class.
BAD NEWS BARNES & THE BRETHERN OF BLUES BAND
90 Proof Truth
Flaming Saddles Records
A dozen tracks of complete hokum, as it clearly says on the album cover, from one of the USA's finest hoaxers and hoary frontmen. This guy is not just a comic with a challenging sense of humour, he's also one helluva singer/songwriter with an at times decidedly jaundiced eye on the skewed social and political world of modern America. I have to declare an interest from the very off with this offering: I absolutely love it. It makes me laugh out loud and the sheer inescapable mastery of the full-tilt, Stax-like horny (pun intended, as Barnes would expect) musical backing makes for totally irresistible stuff.
Barnes crosses genres as easily as he reaches out to cross-dressers,
straights and gays with a full-hand of delicious songs. From the opening
track, "America Needs A Queen", with its sublimely comic lyrics
demanding a gay leader on top, you know where this collection is likely to take you - a rolling ride of excellent music packed to bursting with wit and wisdom, sure-fired soul and super sounds. Religion also comes into the firing line with a marvellous number, "Westboro Baptist Blues," that should carry a health warning along the lines of 'Do Not Listen While Eating or Drinking' - for fear of spraying your near neighbours with half-chomped, slurped debris.
A wonderful fun album with a backing band that includes the likes of the late, Lew Soloff on trumpet and around half of the surviving members of Blood, Sweat & Tears, among others. And as a bonus - if such
was needed - this is a double CD/DVD release, so you can also watch the mayhem as it unfolds.
Meet Me In The Bottom
Snappy Turtle Records
'Meet Me In The Bottom' is the first release for some years from New Jersey acoustic picker Fotusky. With echoes of his first album, 'Teasin' The Frets', Fotusky positively rips along here with simply stunning guitar mastery and an eclectic mix of material opening with Bo Carter's 'Who's Been Here', moving through Jelly Roll's classic 'Winin' Boy Blues', some Robert Johnson, Leroy Carr, Willie McTell, Gary Davis, among others, and the album title track from Bumble Bee Slim. Fotusky also includes a handful of self-written originals to good effect.
This is without doubt a top-dollar album, bursting at the 13-track seams
with superb old-style acoustic ragtime-blues fretwork on both six and
twelve-string guitars, and fine vocal accompaniment. Make no mistake,
this guy is one helluva guitar picker and this is an album that works really
well in every way and at every level.
Fotusky, sadly, seldom if ever appears to range outside of the USA. Hopefully, this offering will bring him and his music to a wider audience and maybe push him into taking to the European road some time soon.
This is a guy well worth catching and this release is a rewarding bit of traditional acoustic blues picking of absolutely the highest order. Highly recommended, for sure.
New Millennium Blues
Right Track Distribution
Lenny ‘Sir Len of Dudley’ Henry has always included music in his comedy acts, he has a big sonorous voice
and has always been able to successfully pull off musical pastiches of soul, gospel, reggae, jazz etc. by dint of his great musicality. I believe that in recent years he has begun to listen to classic blues and he has also sat in with a couple of blues bands in pubs and clubs and so this record was the next logical step.Can West Midlands’ men sing the blues? Er, yes - bostin! Lenny deploys his wonderful voice on a selection of blues classics - Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man”, Jimmy Reed’s “Shame, Shame, Shame” etc. – as well as on
five songs that he has co-written with Jakko Jakszyk for the project and he is backed by a band of very professional-sounding session men. In general I preferred the new songs, and the newer songs like Free’s “The Stealer and Bill Withers’ “Who Is He (and What Is He to You)” rather than the classic blues (do we really need another version of “Hoochie Coochie Man”?) although I did really enjoy the soulful version of “Shame, Shame, Shame” and “Down In The Bottom” with its funky blues fiddle!
I’ve seen some scathing reviews of this record and you can understand some peoples’ resentment when this album has received so much publicity, TV coverage etc. when compared to the minimal coverage given to most blues releases. However, Lenny is a very good singer and in truth is a lot better than many people who have made whole careers of being ‘blues singers’ and the band is also good (if a bit generic) and very versatile, with Lenny handling all the different styles of blues on display here. I must admit that I was a bit doubtful about this record but it is a really entertaining album with Lenny’s love of the music shining through and he really excels on vocals, especially on Little Walter’s “She’s So Fine” which he transforms into a swinging jump blues.
G. E. Harrison
RON SAYER JR. & CHARLOTTE JOYCE
Live At The Little Theatre
These British blues performers offer the listener some fine and funky blues on this live set, recorded in Sheringham in their native Norfolk, with singer/ guitarist Ron Sayer Jr. given plenty of opportunity to show off his skill and expertise, and songstress/ keyboards player Charlotte Joyce showing off her soulful vocals to maximum effect. The songs include some relatively well-known blues (and related) numbers – J.B. Lenore’s ‘Mojo Boogie’, Freddy King’s ‘I’m Tore Down’, a
“bonus track” of Muddy Waters’ ‘I Wonder Who’ recorded at the Colne Festival, and Ike & Tina Turner’s ‘Nutbush City Limits’, alongside Sean Costello’s less familiar ‘Anytime You Want’ and fine original compositions such as the opening ‘Little White Lies’ and Charlotte’s own ‘Mr. Weatherman’ and the impassioned ‘Time For Goodbye’. ‘Fire’ brings together both Willie Dixon’s and Jimi Hendrix’s songs of that name, and my only real criticism of this set is the inclusion of the audience participation on the Sean Costello number - a minor point given that the running time is 72 minutes.
I must mention the ace rhythm section of Will Overton on bass (who also handles a couple of lead vocals) and Paul Wooden on drums, who both make significant contributions to this recommended set of modern
DAVE WELD & THE IMPERIAL FLAMES:
Slip Into A Dream
Delmark DE 842
I was certainly impressed with Dave’s debut set for Chicago’s Delmark label, “Burnin’ Love” – his follow-up set strikes me even more favourably. As the group name suggests, Dave was a member of Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials (for ten years) before striking out on his own in the late 80s. Now, there’s plenty of wild slide guitar on this set (as I type this, I’m listening to the instrumental break on the insanely
grooving ‘May Be Right, May Be Wrong’, so I’ll just mention that), but this is not Lil’ Ed #2, unless you count the album’s only cover number, a rocking and rather straightforward version of Ed’s uncle J.B. Hutto’s ‘20% Alcohol’. Dave is forging his own style within the Chi-Town blues scene, and one in which singer Monica Myhre plays a large part, either singing in harmony with Dave or taking the lead vocals herself. She is a powerful singer,well-suited to this versatile outfit, able to handle the smooth soul-blues of ‘Sweet Love (Dulce Amor)’ as capably as the rather rawer ‘Too Bad, So Sad’ and the rock and roll stylings of ‘Louise… speaking of whom, many of these tracks have a huge sound, but even that didn’t prepare me for guest Sax Gordon’s truly amazing and dirty-sounding solo on that same track ‘Louise’. Bobby Rush guests on harmonica on two tracks, and guitarist Greg Guy – Buddy’s son – makes a telling contribution to one track. It’s fun to spot the influences on this album - besides those already mentioned, you may pick out Little Richard, Hound Dog Taylor, Slim Harpo, Magic Sam and no doubt others, but Dave’s approach is fresh and original. All in all, one of those sets which gives (a lot of) hope for the future
of the blues.
BLUES, BLUES, CHRISTMAS VOLUME 4 1925 – 1962
“Volume 4” means that many of the early festive blues sides have already been reissued in the preceding three sets, but it does mean that what we get is a very likeable, wide ranging and totally enjoyable double CD set that includes 40 numbers “in the Blues, Jazz, Doo-Wop, Rockabilly, Old Timey, Calypso and Gospel Spirit”, as the sleeve puts it. Blueswise, this stretches from Peetie Wheatstraw’s ‘Santa Claus Blues’ to Freddy King’s wonderful ‘I Hear Jingle Bells’; many of the vocal group performances are cool and very hip – try The Drifters’ cover of ‘White Christmas’ or The Cadillacs ‘Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer’ (honest, I’m not kidding). Then there is the western swing of Bob Wills and The Prairie Ramblers; Sam Manning, The Mighty Spoiler and others add a Caribbean feel, gospel runs from The Golden Gate Quartet through to The Ward Singers, and there are a few tracks that can be called rock and roll. It is always nice to get something unexpected for Christmas and this time around it comes in the shape of Saturn-born jazzman Sun Ra turning up on barely audible harmonium on The Qualities’ 1956 Chicago recording of ‘Happy New Year To You!’. Which is of course what I wish you, along with a Merry Christmas.
This May Be My Last Time Singing: Raw African American Gospel On 45rpm 1957 - 1982
Tomkins Square TSQ 2639
This is a fabulous three CD package containing some of the most powerful gospel singing and playing ever commited to disc - you're extremely unlikely to hear any of these offerings on the usual Christian radio stations that's for sure! If you do, send me the station details.
O.K. from the top. This was originally released in 2011 and I wish I'd
purchased it sooner, never mind, I have it now and here's the review.....
fasten your seat belts.....!!! All the tracks here are from the private collection of Mike McGonigal, they're from small label 45rpm discs, selfreleased, paid for by a church congregation or the artists themselves.
To quote some of the notes... 'nearly four hours of music... fiery sanctified soul, heavy Pentecostal jams.... slow burning moaners, glorified guitar sermons....' Interested yet???
The packaging, the discs and booklet all contain some interesting label
shots, artists photos and - images of Sunday school pin badges (!) - all
from Mike's collection. The music is sometimes rough and ready,
sometimes slightly out of tune, sometimes recorded with the needle constantly in the red - but always with soul - this stuff is the real deal, believe me.
As you might deduct from what's written so far, this will not appeal to everyone, however, if you want your church meetings to liven up a bit - and let's face it - some need to, you could ask your pastor if he'll allow
you to play a track on the cd system, but be prepared to find another fellowship once the complaints flood in. Not for the faint hearted, but recommended if you like rough and raw gospel music.
'Dynamite! The Unsung King Of The Blues'
Ace CDTOP2 1440
I've been a fan of Tampa Red since the day I purchased an E.P.* on Jazz Collector way back when! (The Male Blues Vol:2 / JEL 3). One of my all time favourite albums is the RCA Bluebird double-set "Guitar Wizard".... and the Ace Records double cd set on review here make a perfect companion.
Let's begin with the booklet - incredible and informative notes from Jim
O'Neal, splattered with fabulous label shots, vintage adverts for latest
record releases and club appearances by Red (real name Hudson
Whittaker).... if this wan't enough, there's an in depth discography of the
fifty tracks featured on this CD set compiled by John Broven. In fact,
everybody involved in the release of this gem are well respected
authorities within the field of blues/rhythm & blues - what they don't know probably ain't worth knowing anyway!
Disc one kicks off with the previously unissued "Evalena" featuring the
fantastic harmonica playing of Walter Horton and, if that's not enough to
make you want to hear more - check out "Ramblers Blues", one of the few duplications from the RCA set, but hey... I could play this particular track over and over! Turn it up loud an' play it again.
As a guitarist he wasn't known as the wizard for nothing, although many associate Tampa with the slide style of playing, he was no slouch when it came to picking lead guitar either. Songwriting was yet another
strength of his.... "Love Her With A Feeling", "When Things Go Wrong (It Hurts Me Too)", "Let Me Play With Your Poodle", "It's Good Like That".... the list of 'hits' - and the hundreds who've covered his songs is
testiment to the talent of Tampa Red. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
(*E.P. an extended play 45rpm disc usually containg four songs/tunes)
D’MAR & GILL
Take It Like That
This duo’s debut set “Real Good Friend” came out in 2011 and impressed me a lot. So too does this followup.
Drummer Derrick “D’Mar” Martin and singer/ guitarist Chris Gill have
a lovely down-home approach and they are joined here at various times
by bassist Jerry Jemmott (check your King Curtis records – or many
Atlantic Records soul tracks from the late 60s and early 70s), the great
Kid Andersen on guitar and bass, Bob Welsh on keyboards, Aki Kumar on harp, Frankie Ramos on sax and Lisa Andersen backing vocals. The songs are all originals, mainly grooving along very nicely indeed, with Chris’s vocals tough or tender as required (usually the former), with a track like ‘Dancin’ Girl’ evocative of early Muddy Waters with its declamatory vocal, incessant beat, and whining slide guitar. The opener brought to mind Juke Boy Bonner, ‘You Never Know’ is a little akin to Paul Simon playing Mississippi John Hurt with a rhythm section, and the laconic ‘Three Way Inn’ very vaguely reminiscent of Doctor John. A nicely unassuming and varied set of blues with other related styles such as jazz and reggae creeping in from time to time.
EDDIE MARTIN’S BIG RED RADIO
Live In Tuscany
On September 27th 2015, Eddie Martin ( who really should by now have been awarded the accolade of‘national treasure’) marked a new milestone in his career by recording a Live DVD and album with an 18-piece band of top international musicians in a beautiful theatre in Tuscany Italy. The album features songs from his 25 year back catalogue and new material written specially for this new line-up. Eddie is joined by top Nigerian percussionist Alolekan Babalola, who contributed to 2 Grammy award winning albums with Cassandra Wilson and has worked with a stellar cast of musicians including David Byrne and Prince. The top Italian rhythm section includes Hammond jazz maestro Alberto Gurisi and the band also features the Jubilation Gospel choir with guest soloist Michela Lombardi.
The CD opens with a stunning revisiting of Eddie’s song “Blues Took
Me By The Hand!, complete with an acappella opening, some outstanding resonator and harp work, and a full gospel choir. Check out
too, the fabuloso instrumental, Steam Train which comes with a Sonny Terry style harp part and a driving rhythm section, Want something laid back? Then have a listen to Month of Mondays, with some delightful
keys work from Signore Gurisi. Eddie says in publicity stuff that this is his best ever work. He got that right!
The Complete Singles As & Bs 1951-62
There are few individual blues men or women who have had the impact on contemporary blues music than did Elmore James. Born Elmore Brooks in Richland, Holmes County, Mississippi, he later took the name of his supposed biological father. When he took up the guitar as a teenager, he was strongly influenced by the work of Robert Johnson, Kokomo Arnold and Tampa Red. Elmore would have been about 18 when RJ recorded “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom”, Elmore did not record it until 1951. The opening riff (described by R&B musician Jesse Stone, as "Changety changety changety changety chang chang!" Is one of the most famous (and most copied) riffs in blues. By some standards, Elmore was not a very prolific recorder. Nevertheless, this CD brings together 52-tracks consisting of the A and B sides of every single he released from his debut on the small Trumpet label to a few months before his death from a heart attack in 1963, including side he recorded for the Meteor, Flair, Modern, Chief, Fire and Chess labels. Elmore shared one other thing with RJ, apart from the song and the riff, that is; His singing was extraordinary. Elmore had the capacity to push emotion though his voice. As George Adins put it “…his voice reached a climax and created a tension that was unmistakably the down and out blues. Notwith-standing that raw voice, Elmore sang his blues with a particular feeling, [with] an emotion and depth that showed his country background.” All assisted by that hair-raising guitar work on his personally modified hollow-bodied acoustic guitar fitted with custom pick-ups. In short this is a fabulous collection that needs your attention, if only so that your know more of Elmore than Changety changety changety changety chang chang!
PS: Good price on Amazon UK at the moment
BAD NEWS BARNES
90 Proof Truth
Flaming Saddles Records
Here’s the good news, ‘Bad News’ IS good news! You may not have heard of Chris ‘Bad News’ Barnes but you really should rectify that at once. Mr Barnes describes himself as an actor and a blues singer. A quick examination of his resume reveals that he has appeared in a Broadway show, has been a guest actor on a number of hit shows: 30 Rock, One Life To Live, Curb Your Enthusiasm, According to Jim, Seinfeld, Who’s The Boss and as a series regular on Life with Bonnie and the Carol Burnett Show. He is has been a character actor in six movies and has played blues at the Mystic Blues Festival in Connecticut, the Stafford Blues Festival also in in Connecticut and the 4th Annual Beale Street Mess Around, in Memphis, TN Chris’ preferred niche in the blues is the style called Hokum: humorous lyrics, filled with irony and double entendre and often making a political point or drawing attention to injustice or downright (often) political stupidity. America Needs A Queen; Salt Sugar and Fat, a parody of Shake Rattle and Roll; Hungry And Horny, a parody of Earl King’s Come On, to say nothing of the wonderful Westboro Baptist Church (to the tune of Ode To Billy Joe). WBC, as it is known, has as its home page www.godhatesfags.com and reviles almost anything not specifically approved by god, to whom the church seems to have a direct line. The list of H8S as they term it even includes Stevie Wonder, Don’t miss this
HALF DEAF CLATCH
The Life & Death of AJ Rail
First thing to say about this release is it's a truly remarkable overall package, full to bursting with spare, slippery acoustic fretwork on both guitar and banjo. The dozen tracks are all self-written with an evident understanding of the old-time, blues tradition and a touch of modernity that never swamps the originality. Back in the day, of course, banjo was often the only instrument of choice available to share-cropping, blistered and bruised old bluesmen in the Deep South. Nowadays it tends to be overplayed, full of sparkling notes without a heartbeat or, seemingly on occasion, any real subtlety, feeling or passion. Clatch to his credit avoids this perilous pitfall with a notably spare, deceptively basic picking style reminiscent of the old claw-hammer pioneers from the turn of the twentieth century. The result is an album that has an unusually effective added ingredient mostly lacking in blues releases these days. The songs themselves chart the story of a life lived with more than a touch of sin and scandal, debauchery, and defiance of the only certainty in life - old man Death itself. If anything, this really is the Devil's Music, writ large. The Grim Reaper seems to be more than welcome here. In addition, Clatch is always sure-footed with his fretwork and slide mastery. Pace and tempo both vary alongside lyrics that grab the attention to produce a near-effortless triumph. In many ways, 'The Life & Death of AJ Rail' could well prove to be the most original blues release of the year. www.halfdeafclatch.com
I Ain’t Lyin
Henrietta Records/ CD Baby
Charlie Musslewhite now lives on the West coast of the USA but his place of birth was in Mississippi, He moved north to Chicago when he was a young man having spent his teenage years in Memphis. He has, to use an awful cliché, ‘paid his dues, including a successful battle with alcohol, but also including dozens of awards for his outstanding harmonica playing. In 2012, Musselwhite teamed up with Ben Harper to record the album Get Up!, which was released in January 2013. In January 2014, the album won a Grammy Award for Best Blues Album. In 2014 and 2015, he won a Blues Music Award in the 'Best Instrumentalist – Harmonica' category. This album is his 30th and was (mostly) recorded live at a gig at the Moon Vintage Festival in Sonoma, CA in Sept. 2014. The harmonica parts were, unfortunately, poorly recorded so Charlie went to a studio in Clarksdale, MS, and re-recorded the harp parts. The result is simply outstanding. The band consists of Matt Stubbs on guitar, Steve Froberg on bass and on drums, Ms June Core. Expect a set of straight forward blues including of course, Charlie’s sig-tune Christo Redentor and some new tunes like Blues Why Do You Worry Me and a New Orlins rhumba style, Good Blues Tonight with some nice traps work by Ms Core. Check out too, Long Leg Woman, which is just on the edge of serious funkiness and Done Somebody Wrong, which reminds me of some of Muddy’s work. Strongly recommended
WILY BO WALKER
Moon Over Indigo
Mescal Canyon Records: MCREX021
This ten-track wonder marks the finale of a trio of top-quality, rocky-blues releases from London-based Scot, Wily Bo Walker. And it's an absolute beauty, full of pace, variety, gritty blues and bountiful, explosive material. Walker is a guy who not only can produce the goods, but who consistently does produce the goods and more. 'Moon Over Indigo' positively roars along from start to finish, featuring Walker's mostly self-penned songs, rasping vocal delivery and strong fretwork. In truth, Walker's voice is an essential ingredient in the mix, a roaring, rattling load of grit and guts that propel the entire package along. Walker is well-known for his gripping stage presence and live performance. With this latest album, he clearly demonstrates his ability to take listeners on a roiling blues ride that simply never slows, slips or falters. Walker includes a great take on Willie Dixon's old number 'Same Thing' here, and a cover of 'Who Do You Love' from Elias McDaniel. Apart from these intruders, all of the tracks featured were written by the guy himself. Walker is to be congratulated for this work. He's a guy that deserves a greater following and general recognition internationally in the blues world. 'Moon Over Indigo' is an album that really is worth catching and showcases his evident talent to great effect. Wily Bo is that rare thing - a true original. Get your hands on a copy of this if you can. www.wilybo.com
THE REVEREND SHAWN AMOS
The Reverend Shawn Amos Loves You
Put Together Records
This is a guy who sure knows how to rock; a blues-sailor riding the storm, switching from gospel through R&B rocky-torrents to pretty straight, full-on modern blues, with both eyes wide open and anchored in tradition. His gospel creds are clear given his moniker, and the opener in this twelve-track release, "Days of Depression", features pure-gold support from one of the best - the Blind Boys of Alabama, a flavour that hints at what's packaged and lying in store. Amos positively rips along at times with some barrelling boogie-woogie, here coupled with the scorching, soul voice of Missy Andersen on one track and double-Grammy nominee saxman Mindi Abair on yet another, Jimmy Reed's "Bright Lights, Big City", a number that rocks and rushes along with confident ease. Amos either wrote or co-wrote almost everything in this fine mix and his harp playing is subtle and poised, a welcome feature successfully avoiding the often prevalent, commanding, demanding wail of many bluesmen. Modern Americana - R&B - cum - country is also represented with a fine, drum-driven take on Minnie Lawler's Illinois prison bangle "Joliet Bound", here slipped in to soulful affect, with delicious fretwork from guitarist Chris 'Doctor' Roberts around the half-way mark. This is simply a strikingly strong blues album full of quality flourishes and touches. It should easily please most modern-blues lovers, keeping their interest and attention alive and warm, with variety of material, style - electric, soul, R&B, and acoustic - and pace all guaranteed.
You Don’t Know
Acoustics CDACS 070)
Hilary is best known as a folk singer, and that is certainly evident on this release, although she calls it her “bluesy album”; she did record an earlier album called “Bluesy”. That is certainly apt too – she has a very pure voice, but is unafraid to tackle the likes of Reverend Gary Davis’ ‘Say No To The Devil’, Little Willie John’s ‘Need Your Love So Bad’, the standards ‘Frankie & Johnnie’ and ‘Deep River Blues’ and songwriter Patrick Sky’s ‘Separation Blues’ (Sky produced and recorded with Mississippi John Hurt in the 60s). Additionally she tackles three Hoagy Carmichael numbers (including the bluesy ‘New Orleans’ and Billie Holiday’s ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’. Frequently Hilary’s delivery reminds me of the 60s folk revivalists who used to sing blues, and occasionally her work with the western swing outfit Slim Panatella & The Mellow Virginians also comes to mind. This is a rather different set then from what is usually reviewed in these pages, but it is intriguing and certainly individual.
Live At Chastain Park CD/DVD
James Brown was born in South Carolina in 1933. He started his musical career as a gospel singer in Georgia soon moving on to an R&B group called the Avons, later to become The Famous Flames. Brown is often called the “Godfather Of Soul” and is considered to be the first purveyor of what is called funk music. Brown was also renowned for the energy and flash of his live shows in which he displayed both vocal and terpsichorean skills with energy and panache. Well, on the DVD version of this gig, recorded in Atlanta in 1985, it is clear that he had lost none of those abilities. The music is indeed, and as you might expect it to be; seriously funky. Brown gave his audience what they wanted, It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World, Papa’s Got A Brand New Bag and a searing version of Too Funky In Here, in which he used the expression to cover both the musical funk and the original meaning of the word, a meaning that is all but forgotten, most of us still sticking with the non-odiferous meaning. James Brown was known as the hardest working man in show business and it’s easy to see why. Backed by a band of top musicians (including Maceo Parker on Alto Sax) and an outstanding backing singer (Martha High) the whole band is driven by the funk making (in the other, musical sense of the word) bass work by Jimmy Lee Moore. . Brown does occasionally slow slow things down a bit, as with a stirring version of Hoagy Carmichael’s Georgia On My Mind. But a word of warning. This is not the first time this has been released since its original outing in 1988. So make sure you haven’t got it before you splash out.
Brown Cow Productions
This is a very fine modern blues set, although the first two tracks might lead the unwary listener to expect an album full of 50s and early 60s styled rhythm and blues – opening number ‘Lose That Woman’ has a strong flavour of Ray Charles in his classic Atlantic era and the following ‘You Say You Will’ has a classic R&B feel – and check out the guitar break from Perry Weber (and try ‘What Gives’ for his T-Bone Walker licks). Once past the opening brace though, this settles down to a mix of 50s and 60s sounds, and soul and funk inflected blues, with strong echoes of Albert King, Otis Rush and others of that ilk; ‘Saddest Man’ has a classic 50s West Coast sound, at least partially thanks to the exemplary piano work of leader Jimmy Voegeli and ace drummer Mauro Magellan. The band sports an excellent horn section too; expect to find echoes of Big Joe Turner, Jimmy McCracklin and others, with the Little Richard flavoured rocker (though with a killer guitar break - again!) ‘She’s Wild’ a highlight on an album of a very high standard indeed. “Wisconsin’s blues powerhouse” says the blurb and that’s just about right for this good-timing blues outfit
MARK PONTIN GROUP
Certainly an appropriate title for this CD which ranges across a whole range of sound textures. Swansea-based singer, songwriter and guitarist Mark and his band have received a lot of accolades in the past couple of years and on this, their second album, they prove that they are as adept at a funky, slightly jazz inflected blues like ‘Illusion’ as they are at the nicely straight-forward Freddy King influence on ‘Good Stuff’ (also with a trace of funk); then there is the smooth pop-rock of ‘Change’. Of course they can play blues-rock too – try ‘Three Days’ (a single release too, believe it or not) which has a raw and almost brutal heavy blues sound, or ‘Delirious’ which teeters on the edge of a Hendrix-styled freak-out without ever quite losing control; it is also an excellent example of the leader’s vocal capabilities. It contrasts too with the blues guitar instrumental ‘In The Middle’, which alternates between straight blues and something rather more experimental. The set closes with the reflective solo acoustic instrumental ‘Going Home’, making for a fine wind-down to an excellent set of contrasting emotions follows it with the instrumental ‘In The Middle’ just to demonstrate – and sounds.
Norman Darwen (www.markpontingroup.com)
8 O'CLOCK IN THE AFTERNOON
A genuinely cool ten-track debut from PA-based guitarist Jim Singleton featuring some of his old buddies in support roles and a mighty fine grasp of purpose, pace and variety. Singleton clearly understands the need to move the music along while also retaining a listener's interest by steadily varying both tempo and pitch. Kicking off with the wonderful peaen to self-indulgence, Peter Green's 'Rattlesnake Shake', he rips through two tracks by the late, great Irish blueshound Rory Gallaher - 'What's Going On'; 'A Million Miles Away' - and includes a couple of titles from modern master craftsman Bernie Marsden, (Place In My Heart' & 'Here I Go Again') who also guests with backing guitar and vocals on the album. To give a feel for the surprising quality on this first-release, howling Harp is provided by Grammy-winner and simply superb soul-searcher, Charlie Musselwhite while Australia's Fiona Boyes provides vocals and fine fretwork along the way. Include Gary Clark Jnr's thumping 'Don't Owe You A Thang' to the mix and the overall result is a surprisingly mature debut release positively worth catching.
I'M WALKIN' HERE
Neon Records: CD0017
A wonderful double album from one of Scotland's true treasures and unsung musical heroes. Noakes traces his musical pedigree way back into the heady sixties and as a member of Stealers Wheel in the seventies worked alongside the late Gerry Rafferty (Baker Street, with that fabulous Sax solo) and frequently recorded and played with Rod Clements of Lindisfarne. With his feet firmly rooted in the acoustic folk-roots tradition, he moves effortlessly between genres, never rushing but always tastefully slip-sliding along. 'I'm Walkin' Here' is simply another of his excellently crafted releases, full of pith and purpose. With 26 tracks to choose from over two discs it's hard to single out any one number. Noakes covers unexpected old movie standards like 'Buttons & Bows', moves through 'Bye, Bye Blackbird' and Cliff and the Shadows' old chestnut 'Travelling Light' then also squeezes in some wonderful John Hurt-style fretwork plus a cracking version of Elizabeth Cotton's 'Freight Train', here played with sumptuous sensitivity and style. For me, at least, Disc 2 is the better of the pair, though that's probably because of its slightly more bluesy undertones rather than any genuine qualitative difference. Most of the material is written by Noakes who is amply supported by Barbara Dickson and a host of other Scottish worthies. What comes across most evidently with this release is that Noakes seems to be genuinely enjoying himself; a relaxed, beautiful album that truly captures the spirit of roots music with a modern twist at times and an artist at the very top of his form. Highly recommended. www.rabnoakes.com
TROUBLE IN MIND
A wonderful seven track disc from one of the USA's sadly lesser-known acoustic guitar pickers and singer/songwriters. McCarthy has sure paid his dues as a pro-musician for many decades, gigging and working with countless major figures including Jorma Kaukonen, Pentangle, Tom Paxton, Roy Book Binder and many more. 'Trouble In Mind' is a release featuring his strong fretwork and vocals with some top-notch Harp-work from James Montgomery on the opening four tracks which all originally figured on McCarthy's superb blues release of a few years ago, 'Satisfied Mind' - one of my own personal favourite albums and one I never tire of. The remaining three tracks are instrumentals from his later equally excellent album 'Star Of The Sea'. The title track gives way to Fred McDowell's 'You Gotta Move', slips into WC Handy's old 'Atlanta Blues' before a delicious take on 'Sittin' On Top Of The World' moves the disc onto McCarthy's three instrumentals, all self-written, and echoing slide-work with pace and some light jazzy chording at times. This is an album of positively top-quality acoustic blues from a sure-fired and sure-footed master. Highly recommended without doubt. www.bobmccarthy.net
Fantastic Voyage FVTD224
Now it used to be that with the exception of Luther Allison’s albums and maybe one or two of saxman Junior Walker’s tracks, the Tamla Motown label and its subsidiaries was anathema for the average blues lover – and here’s this three CD set subtitled “The Motown Vocal Group Sound”. Mind you, it does concentrate on the early years (1959 to 1962) , and for me at least, it is something of an eye-opener. You might be familiar with Barrett Strong (of ‘Money (That’s What I Want)’ fame – it was Motown’s first hit, back in 1960, and was often performed by John Lee Hooker) and much of this material is in a similar vein, pounding rhythm and blues, with hints of the previous decade’s doo-wop and rock and roll sounds still evident at times, though the company was savvy enough to keep things modern as the occasional traces of the likes of Sam Cooke and Ben E. King demonstrate. Listen carefully and you can easily imagine the sharp suits and equally sharply choreographed dancing and hand movements that you might expect from names like The Miracles (yes, Smokey Robinson’s group), The Spinners and The Temptations, though if you only know them from their music of the mid-60s onwards, you may not recognise them here! And to Luther Allison and Junior Walker we can now add Alabama’s Singing Sammy Ward, whose ‘Everybody Knew It But Me’ is a fine, raw blues performance.
Cali Bee Music
California based singer and guitarist Brad had a fine and well-received album entitled "Hands On The Wheel" a couple of years back for the European label Music Avenue/ Blues Boulevard - so I was certainly looking forward to this release. For this CD he mixes some strong blues - try the fine shuffle of 'Step By Step (which features some very appropriate harp work by Tumbleweed Mooney), the Bo Diddley-styled 'Let's Go Barefootin' It', or 'Sugar Sweet', a very original blues - with the laid-back California rock sound of the 70s (surprisingly successfully – I wasn’t actually expecting it to work at all) or he occasionally adds a hint of an Americana flavour. Then again, sometimes he just goes for a good old vintage rock and roll approach, as on 'Black Coffee At Sunrise'. It all makes for an album that is rather more than a run of the mill blues-rock release, and one that is worth checking out, as long as you’re not a blues purist!
JAZZ ON A SUMMER’S DAY (DVD and CD)
Charly X 686
This film, recorded at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1958, brought jazz out of smoky bars into the light, and in colour too, as Fred Dellar’s very useful notes to this DVD and CD set inform us. It is indeed a historic document and there is some relevant content for this publication too: Chuck Berry’s presence may have been controversial back then, but jazz festivals routinely present blues, R&B and gospel acts these days, and it is good to see Chuck in his prime, even if he is backed by jazzers such as Jack Teagarden and Buck Clayton. It is strange to think that at the time of this performance, ‘Sweet Little Sixteen’ was itself a recent chart hit (and of course, two years later Muddy Waters was to make his ground-breaking appearance at the festival). Dinah Washington, sometimes known as “the Queen Of The Blues” - a title she gave herself, though there is some justification - was known primarily as a jazz artist, and she is in that role here (even briefly playing vibes), unlike the mighty Big Maybelle, whose massive, gritty roar is perfect for the R&B of ‘I Ain’t Mad At You’ leading into Chuck Berry’s performance, which garners rather more than polite applause. After further numbers from the Chico Hamilton Quintet and Louis Armstrong, the film concludes with three items by Mahalia Jackson, the undisputed Queen Of Gospel, making for a stunning final sequence. The film itself runs to 77 minutes and the extras on this DVD include biographies of the artists and a documentary on the Festival and the making of the film itself. The CD contains the music from the film and is worth a listen, particularly if your tastes stretch to all forms of jazz.
EUGENE HIDEAWAY BRIDGES
Hold On A Little Bit Longer
Armadillo ARMD 00036
New Orleans born Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges is always welcome, whether for his frequent UK gigs or his excellent Armadillo CDs – here’s another, maintaining the high standard we have come to expect from this amiable singer and guitarist. It is a fine mixture of straight blues – listen to Eugene’s lovely BB King inflected vocals on the up tempo ‘Love You In Every Way’ or especially the slower ‘Change Your Name’ - and vintage soul. Lend an ear to the opening track ‘One More Time’, where Eugene once again evokes the spirit and sound of the late, great Sam Cooke. Then there is the excellent rocking southern blues of ‘V8 Ford’ or the jumping blues of ‘Yesteryear Today Tomorrow’, virtually an instrumental workout, followed by the Little Johnny Taylor-ish ‘I Can’t Stand It. ‘Hold On A Little Bit Longer’ has UK guitarist Mickey Moody adding some fine slide work to this wonderful rocker. Eugene’s own guitar work is well in evidence throughout the set, even on the 70s soul flavoured ‘Special Lady’ - he is an economical and very effective player. And here’s my own guilty secrets confession, I’ve loved ‘Along The Navajo Trail’ ever since my older brother had it on a HMV 45, way back when, the flip-side of Sam Cooke’s ‘Wonderful World’; yes, I am aware that it wasn’t a critic’s favourite but I don’t care – I was into playing Cowboys and Indians at the time! Eugene treats it as a rollicking big band blues… ‘Lost And Lookin’’ is a virtually a cappella performance and a wonderful showcase for Eugene’s vocal prowess again – think of his work on his album “Roots & Vines”. In fact, there isn’t a poor track on this richly varied album. At one time I was afraid we might fall into the habit of taking Eugene for granted, but as long as he keeps making records like this, that certainly won’t happen.
Alain ‘Leadfoot’ Rivet (pronounced REE Vay) is a French bluesman with many years of experience under his belt. Over the years he has collaborated as a songwriter with Larry Garner, Tom Principato, Neal Black, Fred Chapellier, the Mercy Band and he has had as special guests on some of his past albums the likes of Tommy Castro, Roy Rogers, Amos Garrett, Popa Chubby, Tom Principato, John Mooney, Larry Garner, and many more. On this one the special guest is Anson Funderburg adding some tasty guitar work to “Highly Educated Fool”. Monsieur Leadfoot sings in English without any discernable trace of a French accent and has a voice that constantly reminds me of Waylon Jennings. He is an accomplished harmonica player. He plays some very nice resonator guitar and here has a fabulous band; Slim Batteux : organ / piano, Stan Noubard-Pacha : electric guitar, Jean-Paul Avellaneda : acoustic & electric guitars,Stéphane Avellaneda : drums & percussion Thomas Weirich : bass guitar / acoustic & electric guitars / mandolins / slide guitar/ guitar sitar / mandocaster. Fifteen tracks here, of which the opener “The Bullfrog” is a stomper with a catchy resonator riff (and solo) and a heavy, foot-banging beat. The structure of the song reminds me of the ace songwriting of Gary Nicholson. There is an excellent cover of “He Ain’t Heavy (He’s My Brother)”, “Damned Tourist” is a funky track, while “The Game of Love” is a countrified ballad with a nice vocal backing. This album is strongly recommended!
JOE LOUIS WALKER
Live in Istanbul
MVD Ent. Group MVD 75050 Audio: English PCM Stereo Video: 16×9 color
This live concert DVD captures a legendary live performance (recorded in 1995) by Joe Louis Walker and the Boss Talkers, The band consists of Joe Louis Walker – guitar, vocals; Tom Rose – rhythm guitar; Mike Eppley – organ, electric piano; Tony Saunders – bass; and Chris Nutall – drums. Walker is an excellent guitar player, as all the best do, making some technically difficult licks look simple. The band is seriously funky and quite clearly enjoyed themselves a great deal. The opener “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” sees Walker delivering a vocal that shows his roots in soul and gospel and an comes with an outstanding guitar solo. There follow nine more tunes, with the band taking some occasional vocal duties too. The outstanding track is “Bluesifyin’” which opens with some stunningly good, effect laden, slide work. All in all, the music and the sound is excellent, the problem is with the quality of the DVD image. Remember that this gig was recorded 20 years ago. It is surprising how quickly we have got used to HD quality in our screen displays. This one is about as far away from HD is it is possible to go. The camera work is fine but the image is fuzzy and of very poor quality, which is a shame! ‘Cause the music is great.
Sniper Fire (Single)
(itunes, CD Baby and all major download sites)
This is the first time ever, that BiTS has reviewed a single and the reason for that will become clear as you read on. Clare Free is best known for fronting her own band, featured on three albums including the excellent ‘Dust And Bones’, and for being the power behind her own PR company Outlaw PR. Clare is an accomplished guitar player and songwriter. At the moment she is “working at home” as she is expecting a baby in December. She has not been wasting her time, for she has settled down with some electronic gizmos and, with a bit ‘sampling’ and a lot of clever manipulation, has put together a delightful melange of sounds and music. With clips of audio taken from various NASA launches, samples of bass and rhythm manipulated in loops, with her own vocals and axe work mixed in on top, Clare has produced a piece of contemporary mix of music (a song about ‘putting the ‘other woman’ in her place’) that is IMHO a match for MC Hammer or Dr Dre and many others. Why is this important? Well, for some time now I have been hearing voices complaining that some new direction in blues music is required. Some, only partly successful efforts, like the mixing of blues and rap by Guy Davis and by Chris Thomas King were pretty much ignored by the ‘blues community’. I think the sort of thing that Clare has done here could be the future direction. I am really looking forward to hearing more from, ‘MC Free’. Now that does have a nice ring to it, doesn’t it!
This English group is well-named – Appalachia [Properly pronounced Ap-al-ach-e-a,Ed] itself was the home of old-timey music and bluegrass, the roots of the current Americana movement which shades over into blues territory at times. You may have heard Stompin’ Dave Allen performing this kind of music. This four-piece outfit employs beautiful harmony vocals and utilises such traditional instruments as guitars, mandolin, banjo and upright bass, plus harmonica and jug occasionally. However, unlike many bluegrass outfits, much of their material is generally slower and more reflective than the hundred miles an hour breakdowns most associated with it. In places it can be extremely bluesy – listen to ‘This Train’ (and yes, it is an original, like everything else here) with lead vocal and guitar by Danny Ward (also half of the Bristol blues duo Nobody’s Business), or for an acoustic version of one of those 20s type of pop songs, take a listen to Doug Hamilton’s ‘Lazy Evening’ – and Doug is actually an American, from Nebraska though, not the Appalachians.. Overall though, if you are looking for something rather thoughtful and rooted in the American folk sound, this fits the bill.
Norman Darwen (www.appalachiamusic.co.uk)
SMALL BLUES TRAP
(Anazitisi – vinyl only)
This Greek three-piece outfit have been playing their own take on the blues for around eleven years now, and this is their fifth album. Leader Paul Karapiperis (vocals, guitars, harmonica, and percussion) tends to go for a dark, sometimes unpredictable blues sound, aided by Panagiotis Daras on lead and rhythm guitars, violin, percussion and vocals, and Lefteris Besios on bass guitar. Take a listen to the opening track ‘Gamblin’’ for a good example of the band’s distinctive approach: the gruff, dramatic vocals and harmonica counterpoint ride a slow, riff driven slow- to mid- tempo arrangement – there’s an ever-so slight vintage Fleetwood Mac feel to it. Following up is the brighter 12 bar number ‘This Little Tune’ and the moody title track. ‘I Wish I Could Fly’ is faster and slightly funk inflected with fine instrumental breaks by guitar and harmonica, ‘A Strange Shade Of Red’ is a curious acoustic number with a prominent plucked violin in the backing, in contrast to the churning, almost conventional blues of ‘I’m Leavin’ This Town’, whilst the closing number – ‘Resurrected Jesse James Returns Back Home – From The Land Of The Dead – To Take Care Of Unpaid Matters’ (!) is pretty experimental but does work (and ironically the band also show that they can play a straight country blues when they want to). Do check it out if you are intrigued by what you’ve read.
LOVE RAT EP
(Old Dog Records 015)
Sally Barker’s name rang a vague bell somewhere, but then I don’t watch “The Voice” or I might have known it better. Sally has six solo albums, occasionally fronts the outfit Strange Blues, and works with female folk band The Poozies when not singing to seven million people (plus Tom Jones) on the BBC. This six track CD EP contains a range of material, from a soulful slow piano accompanied live version of ‘Walk On By’, a couple of numbers that are Dire Straits flavoured Americana (try the title track with its very bluesy guitar break), a country tinged ‘Heart & Shell’ (wonderful pedal steel guitar playing by Keith Buck) and a slow, dramatic rendition of ‘Don’t Let Me Be Misunderstood’. Sally can sing – no doubt about that – and she is bringing bluesy sounds to the mainstream, no mean achievement these days!
PLEASE MR. DISC JOCKEY
(Fantastic Voyage FVTD223)
The vocal group sound has long been popular and it adapted over the years from the likes of The Ink Spots and The Mills Brothers, and the “jubilee” style of sacred music purveyed by the well-known Golden Gate Quartet and others before the Second World War. This triple CD collection follows the groups of the New York-based Atlantic label and its subsidiaries between 1951 and 1962, and whilst there are some echoes of those pioneers in the earliest recordings, many of these titles show the influence of jump blues and R&B, rock and roll, and on to the “beat concerto” sound of The Drifters in the early 60s and the proto-soul music of The Falcons and The Isley Brothers. Oddly enough - or maybe not too oddly as he had several rock and roll hits for Atlantic - several numbers here remind me of blues shouter Big Joe Turner; try ‘Love Bug’ by The Clovers, an always bluesy group, and if you only know The Drifters from their hits in the UK charts, lend an ear to ‘Money Honey’, ‘Three Thirty Three’, or ‘Ruby Baby’. There are some of those ballads that are often associated with doo-wop, but overall the sound on this set is quite upbeat, and as such, this mixture of well- known groups (I’ve not yet mentioned The Coasters or The Hollywood Flames) and more obscure outfits like The Top Notes or The Superiors is warmly recommended.
BILLY WALTON BAND
WISH FOR WHAT YOU WANT
No Fret/Vizztone Records: VTNF005
The Billy Walton Band is one of those outfits with an East Coast US pedigree. From Jersey, the home of some wonderful music for sure, Walton leads his five-piece crew with some classic sounding blues-soul and a blend of hot, peppery music including that splendid soulful sound of ripping Sax and Trombone brass. Walton himself plays a mean guitar, with tasteful licks scattered generously throughout this 12-track release. His voice is rich, robust and rolls the whole thing along with an effortless strength and fluidity. This is a well-rehearsed, road-tested band that has successfully toured extensively in UK, Europe and the USA. 'Wish For What You Want' is the band's fifth album and has a well-crafted, seamless maturity that speaks volumes about the quality of the musicianship and the professionalism and experience this band clearly represent. This is an album that roars along at times with a swaggering rock roar that gives way to soulful horns and vibrant vocal threads. Each track slips readily into its place; powerful, pulsing, pushing forward and leading listeners by the ears towards a masterfully produced musical feast. Walton is a guy worth catching and with this offering is bound to reach higher ground sometime soon.
WILY BO WALKER & E D BRAYSHAW
STONE COLD BEAUTIFUL
Mescal Canyon Records:
MCREX 020 www.wilybo.com
This is a six-track EP from a decidedly powerful and strong Scottish singer-songwriter, Wily Bo Walker. Now London-based, Walker is noted for his swaggering stage performance and the diversity of musical styles he covers. With this album he teams up with guitarist Brayshaw, to present the second of a planned three-disc set with all tracks penned by Walker and delivered with enormous purpose and strength. Stone Cold Beautiful is not a release that can be simply pushed into any single genre or musical box; it crosses lines embracing blues, rock, soul, swampy alternative modern styles and should come with a health warning, especially when played full-tilt at high volume - when it's really at its best. Guest vocalist, Karena K brings her usual deft touch and style to the table here, as she did on Walker's previous outing. She is clearly a gal who sings with both heart and pure passion and adds a sure- fired soulful touch to the overall production. Brayshaw's fretwork is always tasteful, torrid and demanding, with riffs and runs pouring from his fingers and driving the tracks along with an element of genuine raw emotion and energy. Walker is currently working on the final part of this planned musical trilogy and expects to have it out on release later this year. On the basis of this EP and his previous release with Karena K, 'A Long Way From Heaven', it should be well worth catching.
BRAD ABSHER & SWAMP ROYALE
With about half a dozen albums under his belt, this guy is no newcomer. Based in Texas, he was raised in LA and carries traces of that sweet West Coast sound with him in the mix. But with one of his greatest acknowledged influences being Ry Cooder and his slide work, Absher gives the West Coast a gritty, swirling slide echo that lifts the music and takes it to a much better place. Half of the twelve tracks included here are self-written by Absher and the remainder include strong, gripping takes from Bill Withers - Same Love - Leon Russell's Rather Be Blind, and Lipstick Traces from veteran southerner Allen Toussaint. A glorious version of the old standard traditional blues- gospel anthem Jesus On The Mainline is also squeezed in to full effect. This is a very good release, full of funky down-dirty blues with more than a hint of old-fashioned simpering soul at its core. Absher is clearly a mighty fine guitarist and his slide work emerges triumphantly from time to time giving the album a real catchy, slippery feel when needed. His band, Swamp Royale, includes the big Hammond sound merged with Sax, Bass, Drums and Pedal Steel. The resulting groove is top notch with each musician and instrument neatly pared down and skilfully slotted into the whole so that Absher's picking and voice can lead from the front without the threat of being overpowered at any time. This is easily a recommended release, worth checking out and full of strikingly good old Devil's music.
Iain Patience www.bradabsher.com
Lately I’ve Let Things Slide
Martin McNeil hails from the east of England near Southend -On-Sea and is a stalwart of the blues scene in that area. The punning title of the album betrays both its content and Martins abiding love of all things ‘slide’. He even has named his band Bottleneck Blues. In short this is a terrific album and an excellent show case for Martin’s outstanding slide talent. There are twelve tracks on the album. Only one of them is an original, but don’t let that put you off. The covers are reworked pieces with an original spin to each. They range from Fred McDowell’sYou Gotta Move a tune which must have dozens if not hundreds of covers, to Keb Mo’sKeep It Simple. Martin manages to make both sound delightfully original. The same is true ofOn The Road Again (Canned Heat) which here is nicely delivered with out that falsetto delivery of the original.Goin’ Down South is an RL Burnside original with a nice bit of reverb added to the guitar part. Worth mentioning here the outstanding production of the CD. Recorded by Jon Webber at JWS Studios the acoustic guitars are given a BIG sound with a lot of depth and the vocals are with out exception nicely balanced. The instrumentalPickin’ The Blues is an excellent workout, for me, because of its Hawaiian sound, coming as a reminder of the outstanding work of the late Bob Brozman. The only original isMad With Me and is a delightful song with a kind of John Lee vibe, wonderful stuff. This one is British blues at its best. Go for it!!
Outskirts Of Love
Alligator Records(Release September 11, 2015)
Shemekia Copeland is the daughter of the late Johnny ‘Clyde’ Copeland who passed away in 1997. Shemekia (pronounced Shemeka) has taken on both his mantle and that of Koko Taylor when she was presented with Taylor’s crown by Koko’s daughter, Cookie, on June 12, 2011 at the Chicago Blues Festival and given the honour of the new “Queen of the Blues” by official proclamation of the City of Chicago and the State of Illinois. Her last album 33¹/3 was at the top of the RMR (radio plays) Chart for 4 consecutive months in 2012/13. Recently Shemekia was selected Blues Artist of the Year (Female) in the Living Blues Magazine 2015 Readers Poll. 33¹?? was a superb record but this one IMHO, is even better. She has expressed a desire to continue her growth as as a performer and this album certainly does that. The gamut runs through straight blues, to country tinged music, through a bit of (nearly) gospel, all done with panache and fire. The title track, sees her in a rocking stadium pleaser mode,Devils Hand is one of her father’s songs.Cardboard Box is a biting examination of homelessness and Drivin' Out Of Nashville (as you might expect) is a country tinged work out .I Feel A Sin Coming On is a cover of a Solomon Burke song and we also get, Jesse Winchester’s,Isn't That So, Brownie McGhee & Sonny Terry’sThe Battle Is Over, as well as ZZ Top’sJesus Just Left Chicago, Guests include including Billy Gibbons, Robert Randolph, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Will Kimbrough and Pete Finney. All In all another award winning outing for Ms Copeland.
Born To Play Guitar
Sony Music Cmg
Buddy Guy is 79 years old and except for a slight change in the tone of his voice, you would never know. It is a strange coincidence that both this album (produced by Tom Hambridge) and that of Shemekia Copeland (above) arrived at the same time, for they are BOTH award winners. Unusually in my experience, the title track is the opener and it is a masterpiece, with the first verse (I was born in Louisiana and my mama told my poppa, “That boy got the blues”) just BG and his guitar sounding like raw country blues, before the band joins in. It is make-your-neck-hairs-stand-up good. Buddy is joined by some ‘friends’. Kim Wilson on two tracks Kiss Me Quick andToo Late, the latter and up-tempo work out with a thudding rhythm section coming on like a 1960s rock ‘n’ roll band. These two tracks remind me a lot of Buddy’s old with with Junior Wells, Wear you out features Buddy trading vocals and guitar licks with Billy Gibbons (another link with Shemekia). Deffo the rocky end of the blues. The weakest track on the album is(Baby) You Got What It Takes (original Dinah Washington and Brook Benton) in which some what creepily, Buddy (79) is joined by Joss Stone (28), (a legend in her own mind) the latter singing lines like, “… it takes two hearts a-cookin' to make a fire grow” and “You know, it takes a lot of kissin' to make a romance sweet.” (uggh!). More on-track is the essentially acoustic,“Come Back Muddy” “My mind s going back to the good old times when me an’ Muddy Waters was playing blues and drinkin’ wine. Come back Muddy, I sure do miss your face. Come back Muddy, lord knows, you can’t never be replaced”. What a fabulous lyric! Very strongly recommended. IMHO, A bunch of awards for this one!
Electric Field Holler
Up to Zero Entertainment
These days blues-rock can move so far away from the blues that the moniker becomes meaningless. Not so for Canadian Anthony Gomes, who made his first album back in 1998 and has lived in the USA for a good few years now. He does seem to remember what the blues sounds like, even if he does turn the amp up toten and beyond. He kicks off proceedings with ‘Turn It Up!’, the dirty riff setting the tone for the album. He name checks BB King and Buddy Guy, but admits “I was raised on the thunder of rock and roll”, and the use of wah wah guitar naturally brings Jimi Hendrix to mind. ’Back Door Scratching’ uses a blues lyric idiom, and recalls vintage Free with Paul Rodgers, as does ‘Red Handed Blues’; ‘Love Crazy’, with its catchy chorus, is maybe a little more Bad Company flavoured. Another UK outfit, Led Zeppelin comes to mind on ’Blueschild’, thanks to a very Robert Plant-ish vocal. ‘Whiskey Train’ is a slow boogie, ‘Junk In The Trunk’ is relentless, and in complete contrast to the rest of the album, ‘The Blues Ain’t The Blues No More’ tells the story of Anthony going down to the crossroads and finding “there’s nothin’ but a gas station and the Delta Donut store”, set to an acoustic slide guitar backing. It probably is not enough to warrant the attentions of blues traditionalists, but if your tastes veer towards the likes of Mr. Bonamassa and company, do investigate, you’ll definitely enjoy it.
THE JC SMITH BAND
Singer, guitarist and bandleader J.C. Smith’s father was a bluesman before turning to the church. JC himself is originally from the San Francisco Bay area and that California approach to the blues is clearly evident in his music. A powerful vocalist, he is also a versatile electric guitarist, and he can be more than a little reminiscent of BB King at times – take a listen to the blues ballad ‘Come On Home To Me’. In other places he is reminiscent of T-Bone Walker, Albert King or Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson (although prior to around the turn of the millennium he worked primarily as a drummer, recording with the Back to Back Blues Band!) He can also turn James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat’ into a fine up tempo blues, but listen to those crisp soul horns on the title track, guaranteed to bring joy to lovers of the Stax sound, the band is indeed excellent throughout. A couple of Elmore James covers (with Chris Cain guesting on lead on ‘Talk To Me Baby’, an excellent re-working of Little Walter’s ‘Last Night’, Eddie Boyd’s classic ‘Five Long Years’ and the closing version of Toronzo Cannon’s ‘Ain’t No Stranger’complete the list of borrowed numbers, though JC himself is a fine songwriter, as is obvious here, from the opening Louis Jordan styled jump-blues of ‘Jump For Joy’ and the rather inventive and different ‘Bad, Bad Feeling’. In short, this is a resolutely old-school blues album, and as such is most certainly recommended.
Save My Soul
RJ Ray Entertainment
I first became aware of young singer and guitarist Ray Goren through his work with the multi-generational Generation Blues Experience, which found a couple of true blues veterans working with Ray, who was born in New York in 2000 and is now based in California. His first release under his own name, the “LA Sessions” EP was released last year, produced by Eddie Kramer (of Jimi Hendrix fame), and this is the follow-up – also an EP, five tracks of out- and-out blues-rock, with Ray’s surprisingly accomplished singing and blistering guitar playing way out in front. Rather varied it is though, from the hard-rock approach of the opening ‘Stop’, with a California sound laced with some Hendrix-styled licks, and a rather more conventional modern blues-rock sound on the title track, to ‘Can’t Live Like This’, an indie-pop flavoured number with an attractive, expansive feel. ‘I Need You Here To Stay’ is a lurching rocker with some strong blues licks again from Ray and a contemporary sound, before the set closes out with the plea for ecological awareness that is ‘Rise Together’, again with some fine and this time rather muted and very effective blues breaks. Ray may
be young, but here he shows he is a name to watch for on the blues-rock scene.
Blues and Other Things
Al Grigg describes himself as a musical vagabond. Since 2000, he has been fortunate to play such diverse
places as Amsterdam, Seoul, and Sydney. He has performed with a variety of regional bands and played extensively on 3 continents. On the way he has become a qualified recording engineer and is the owner of Jovian Records and Red Spot Studios producing and supporting local (NYC and NJ) bands and musicians
This album is an excellent mix of funky sounds and outstanding guitar
work. It comes with a terrific horn section which provides many of the tracks with a fabulous drive, helped along by Al himself who is not only the guitarist but is also the drummer.
As if that is not enough, all of the songs were written by Mr Grigg. The
opener, “All The Way Home” (Long as I’ve got my music, I’m never gonna be alone”) ‘American Dream’ is a rocker with some fabulous lyrics and a nice littleharp break by Greta Tristram . My favourite track is ‘Dead End Boogie’ a walking pace workout with some more nice harp work. The least bluesy piece is ‘In Celia’s Garden’ is a nice tune and a nice story which could have come from the pen of John Lennon or Macca (or both) in the later years of the Beatles. Nothing wrong with that!
All in all an excellent effort that deserves a lot of air play, Al is on tour (with his multi-media presentation “All Roads Lead From Memphis") in the UK at the end of July into August when he will be in France. He is planning a return in 2016. This one is strongly recommended.
STOMPIN’ DAVE (ALLEN)
Live From The Sticks
I really don’t understand why the name of Dave Allen is not known by blues and roots music fans from all over
the United Kingdom. I have said it before and will say it again, he has
the most phenomenal talent and deserves a far bigger share of success,
Need proof? Check out this live album recorded at Evershott Village
Hall, Dorset earlier this year. The gig saw Dave with British Blues Awards
nominee drummer Sam Kelly and bass man Jules Bushell.
The set opens with Dave on piano playing some very nice backing
to Memphis Slim’s “Everyday I Have The Blues”. That opener is followed
by four songs written by Mr Allen. The first “Breaking Down” features
Dave on electric guitar with a riff driven piece, giving Sam Kelly the
opportunity to drum up a storm against Jules’ steady beat. Dave’s solo
in the third chorus is as good as you will hear anywhere. The overall
sound reminds me of early Cream. “ I Love You Baby” sees Dave on
piano and harmonica (on a neck rack) and again is driven by Kelly and
Bushell. Next up is ‘Stomping Guitar Boogie’, an instrumental which
sees Dave playing a breakneck speed boogie piece with a slightly
The last Allen song in this part of the set is “Do A Little Boogie Today” which is certainly one for doing what one of my friends calls “Chair Dancing’. That is followed by the Carl Perkins’ ‘Matchbox,’ taken at a
stunning 180 bpm, The piano sounds more like Jerry Lee Lewis than a Brit from Bridport, The set closes, as it started, with a Peter Chatman (Memphis Slim) song, the evergreen, Mother Earth (piano and harp).
This is is just one of a long string of excellent records by Mr Allen. Go to http://www.stompinstore.com/shop-
-2 and buy it right now!
You may know that Debbie Davies was once upon a time, a working member of the Albert Collins Band. Well as time has gone by that becomes more and more important. Debbie has always had a fine way with her Strat, but never more so than here. The opener, ‘Life Of The Party’ starts with a fiery guitar intro, which, although it could not be mistaken for Mr C, has the same sort of ‘attack’ that Albert had.
Debbie’s last outing was with an album called “After The Fall”, a
recording recounting the adverse effect of falling in her home and
breaking her arm; a life shattering matter if you make your living
playing a guitar. That CD was - in hindsight - a tad reflective with songs
like ‘Done Sold Everything’ contemplating her parlous financial state.
This one is a different cup of tea.
From the fist note to the last there is a kind of joyous shout of “I’m
Back!” Here. .
The opener ‘Life Of The Party” that’s who I am. The title track ‘Love Spin’ opens with a super bit of lap-steel slide work from co-producer Paul Opalach. ‘Let The Heartaches Begin’ Is a joint-harmony vocal with Terry Hanck . That is followed by a funky piece called ‘Don’t Change It Up’, ‘It’s All Blues’is a fabulous slow burner. ‘I Get the Blues So Easy’ comes with a fabulous horn section and a ear popping
(Collins inspired?) solo. Other musicians on the album include Terry Hanck (sax, vocals), Dana Robbins (sax),Dave Keys (piano).
This is a fabulous return to form for a lady who may well find herself on the receiving end of awards for it.
BEN RICE & LUCY HAMMOND
Giddy Minion Records
An excellent bit of mostly acoustic, traditional roots-blues here from a Portland, Oregon-based duo with a
clear understanding of the music and a passionate love of it. All five
tracks on this EP are self-written and Hammond's sultry vocal delivery
matches the sensitive, soulful fretwork of Rice's guitar. IBC finalists this
year at Memphis, Rice and Hammond have been together for less than a handful of years, yet they have wonderful, consistent, tight sound that
clearly belies their relative youth. From start to finish, this release sparkles with a shared chemistry and driving rootsy feel that sucks the listener in with ease. The spaces between Rice's notes also stand out at times, illustrating a confidence and competence that many blues bands with far greater experience together struggle to achieve. This is an album that merits repeat listening, never becoming wearisome or jaded. The ringing gospel tone of the third track, Wants Me Back Again, show a grasp of the importance and driving power of the gospel genre to propel an album along to great effect. Overall, this is a genuine quality bit of work, a little gem with glittering rewards for listeners and lovers of the more- traditional-roots end of the music.
Crazy Chester Records: CCR 001
This is simply an excellent album. Fourteen tracks of perfectly pitched, Muscle Shoals produced blues and Americana mixed to near perfection. From the opening 'Goin' Down The Road Feelin' Bad', an old standard on any Americana musician's set-list with strong blues credentials, through solid, distinct takes on classic blues numbers like "St Louis Blues' to 'Tom Clark' and beyond, this release is a true gem.
Mann is a highly respected singer-songwriter/guitarist in the Alabama
area and with this album he has returned to his acoustic-guitar roots.
The result is a genuinely top-quality bit of work that has more than
enough interesting material to cater for most lovers of roots in a general
sense, and blues and Americana in the more particular. The blend is
seamless and on the button at all times. Sax and trumpet/horns feature
on a few tracks - as might be expected from a Muscle Shoals recording - but that never dominates, detracts or distracts from Mann's own picking and powerful vocals.
Overall Blackwater Creek is a great album, highly recommended and worth searching out.
BERT DEIVERT & COPPERHEAD RUN
Blood In My Eyes For You
A simply cracking release from a sparkling blues-roots band from Sweden. Acoustic, slide, resonator driven jumping stuff here with 12 tracks of generous goodness. Bert Deivert is a personal favourite of mine and with his last offering, Kid Man Blues now a few years old it's encouraging to know he's still producing the Scandinavian goods with this album.
Tracks included range across the spectrum of traditional old-time acoustic blues classics from the ever-popular 'Baby Please Don't Go' by Big Joe Williams - here given a positively modern, attention-grabbing slant - to Sleepy John Estes, 'Mailman Blues' and Milkcow Blues' and Bo Carter's album title track. Sideroads take in tracks from RL Burnside and Deivert's own fine compositions. With Deivert, US-Swede and highly talented resonator guitar and Mandolin picker there's no surprise to find a track from the late blues-mando master Yank Rachell squeezed into the mix.
This is an album that romps along at a fair lick from start to finish, featuring top-quality playing from a band of clearly talented musicians equally at home with acoustic material and electric driven music: Deivert's twelvth release to date, he is joined here by Fredrik Lindholm on percussion; Janne Zander on guitar and Per-Arne Pettersson on Bass. The result is a marvellous melange of quality blues.
DAN LIVINGSTONE & THE GRIFFINTOWN JUG ADDICTS
Dan Livingstone & The Griffintown Jug Addicts
This is a delicious album full of traditional, acoustic blues music from an American picker now based in French Canada, Montreal. The music comes from a bellowing, billowing Jug Band of the old kind, full of whomping sound, style and love for the music.
The nine tracks cover the usual gamut of acoustic blues from Fred Mc Dowell's 'Write Me A Few Of Your Lines' - a seldom heard number from one of blues music's true greats - through Blind Blake's 'Chump Man Blues' and 'Black Dog Blues' to the Rev Gary Davis' classic 'Death Don't Have No Mercy'. There's even a neat take on John Fahey's wonderful 'Last Steam Engine Train' for lovers of slightly more modern material.
Produced as a studio 'live' take, like many these days, this album does indeed sound like a gang of buddies jamming, grooving and getting down and dirty with the blues music they clearly love. The now rare sound of a jug band backing gives the whole thing a delightfully different, captivating feel and sound.
Dan - aka Doc - Livingstone is a mighty fine guitar picker, with a seemingly natural affinity and empathy with that old-time country-blues. A recommended find, for sure.
THE BOOM BAND
(Boom Band BBDECD1105)
Now here's an outfit that likes to do things the old-fashioned way – the opening track of this CD was their first single. Aptly titled it is too – 'We Can Work Together', which certainly suits the approach of a band that includes four singer/ guitarists – Jon Amor, Marcus Bonfanti, Mark Butcher and Matt Taylor – plus keyboards player Paddy Milner. There's lashings of great guitar playing on this Matt Taylor penned, southern rock flavoured number, alongside excellent lead and harmony vocals, gospel styled fills and a driving rhythm built on Paddy's piano work. That's just the opener! Mind you, it is only what we would expect from this star-studded collective. Now, at school I used to play "cricket bat guitar"; if I'd have kept it up, could I have sounded like Mark Butcher? I doubt it as he more than holds his own with the cream (or, as we're talking supergroups, maybe that should be Cream) of the younger British blues scene – blues, blues-rock, southern rock, and tinges of country, soul and funk make up a very fine release. Oh, and don't worry about the four guitars – all these guys are canny enough to know when to lay back and let someone else take the limelight, even Paddy Miler, whose contribution to this set is hugely significant. Then there are the four acoustic bonus tracks. Not bad for a bunch of musicians whose initial idea was to get together, get drunk and have some fun – not bad at all!
STRANGER THAN FICTION
Rockabilly Rules Again
(Fantastic Voyage FVTD219)
Our editor wrote in the last issue of BITS of his feelings that most forms of American roots music are very closely related; a set like this underlines that statement. There are 105 tracks over three CDs, classic rockabilly from the 50s and very early 60s, with artists both well-known and obscure – the latter in the majority - and nearly all American (I suspect there may be one or two Canadians there: Al Oster sings about the Yukon in 'Midnight Sun Rock'). Some readers may recall Charly Records' 1976 hit with a reissue of Hank Mizell's 'Jungle Rock' from 1958, and the sides under review here have a similar history, if not chart success. That decade's rockabilly revival saw labels such as Rollin' Rock, Record Mart, Injun/ Spade, Boogie-Boy, Rockin' Stars and Olympic picking up and licensing the rocking tracks here. There are plenty of blues-inflected tracks here – even the blues bible, Blues Unlimited magazine, used to include occasional rockabilly albums in its review section, and I clearly recall the African-American artist (Big) Al Downing being interviewed on Stuart Colman's Radio London show one Sunday morning way back when – his 'Down On The Farm' is included here. It requires little imagination to transfer many of these numbers into a blues or jumping R&B context, so if you're looking for some insanely rocking and bopping music, do investigate!
BILLY PRICE & OTIS CLAY
This Time For Real
Bonedog Records BDRCD46
Soul music at its best here. As usual, there's nothing to fault with Otis Clay, a genuine voice of southern soul from backwoods Mississippi who learned his craft in the churches, bars and Juke Joints of his native deep south before moving, like many musicians before him, to the northern blues capital, Chicago. Here he refined his craft and became an important and popular soulster.
Price, his partner on this 12-track recording, hails from Pittsburgh on the East Coast. A long-time fan of Clay and his music, he developed his own impressive vocal delivery and skill in the 1970s as singer and front man on the road and in the studio with blues guitarist, Roy Buchanan.
The album itself was recorded in Chicago and produced by the great Duke Robillard who also lends his own band for the excellent backing on this release.
This is music grounded in the Gospel tradition of the South but with a modern, searching soul and secularity at its very heart. Robillard's band gives the whole thing a supremely soulful and gripping edge with bags of glorious feeling, understanding and sheer class.
The result of this quality partnership is a wonderful album of enormous quality and deep soul style.
ALBERT LEE, JAMES BURTON, AMOS GARRETT, DAVID WILCOX
Stoney Plain Records (SPCD 1381)
Every now and then I get hold of a 'recorded live' album which makes me wish that I could have been there to witness the gig. This one of those - with knobs on as we say in the UK. Four of the top axemen in the world, brought together for the Vancouver Island Music Festival on July 12, 2013.
A Brit (Albert Lee), two Americans (James Burton and Amos Garrett) and a Canadian (David Wilcox) here mixing it up in blues, rockabilly, rack 'n' roll, and modern country genres, these four have been at the forefront of musical innovation since the 1950s. Burton, a member of the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame, is the oldest is 75 and has been at it since he was 14, including his famous soloing on Dale Hawkins' "Suzy Q", (a version of which was in the set at this gig) a stint with Emmy Lou Harris (Albert Lee took over from him) and Elvis, to say nothing of work with, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee, Merle Haggard and dozens more.
Albert Lee, always known for his astonishing speed picking worked with Head Hands and Feet, Emmylou Harris's Hot Band, The Crickets and The Everly Brothers. Albert also played with Eric Clapton for 6 years.
Amos Garrett, is less well known (but equally accomplished) and is best known for his solo on Maria Muldaur's hit "Midnight at the Oasis.", as well as work with more than 150 other top artists. David Wilcox, is the least well known (outside Canada) but has a justly held reputation as one of the most unpredictable, powerful, live performers in Canada an accolade he has evidenced for more than 30 years.
The music? Well what do you expect? Eleven tracks of stunning guitar work, infectious enthusiasm from all the participants, mutual respect and that indefinable thing that makes you know that an historic event took place. Fabulous!
MISSISSIPPI MACDONALD AND THE COTTONMOUTH KINGS
If you are not in London or south east England, the work of Oliver MacDonald is probably not well know to you. He has been playing since he was 11 years old but with this, his second studio album with the Cottonmouth Kings, is, IMHO, about to 'break good'.
The Cottonmouth Kings consist of Rosco Blues (which, I suspect, may not be his real name) on harmonica and BC Black on bass (Hofner Bass to be completely accurate).
In his undercover role as Mississippi MacDonald, Oliver is hard to miss, with his big black hat and his shiny red suit, and oh yeah, he stands more than six feet tall too.
This CD, named after the advice Oliver once received that he would never be successful unless he sang with an American Accent, is a terrific mix of blues ballads and a truly outstanding gospel piece, "If I Could Hear My Mother Pray Again" is a popular gospel song written by John Whitfield "Whit" Vaughan (1879–1945) and published in 1922, The song has been recorded by artists as diverse as George Jones and Mahalia Jackson and here comes with some marvellous piano work by Oli's life long friend Adam King. 'The Ballad Of Pat Hare', a MacDonald original, delivered with style and panache I,s the story of Muddy Waters' guitarist who under his own name recorded a Peter Clayton song "I'm Gonna Murder My Baby" and then did just that, later shooting to death a police office who went to arrest him. Hare died in prison
In short this is an excellent CD deserving wide air play and distribution. I expect to hear a lot more of Mr MacDonald in the years to come, The CD was one of the IBBA 'Picks' for June 2015
Whiskey And Demons
Dave Hunt, aka Harmonica Dave is a multi talented artist, here giving us vocals, harmonica, guitar work, and as if that's not enough, bass, mandolin, and drums. He is joined by Andy Littlewood: guitars, keyboards, backing vocals, and bass; Mick Simpson on lead guitar; Pete Nelson: on drums and percussion, and a super horn section, The MEP Collective.
This is a very different album to the last Harmonica Dave outing, "Box Full Of Blues". Here, in this twelve track outing, the sound is BIG and there is a wide variation of blues stylings, from the rambunctious Canned Heat vibe of Roadhouse Rosie to a slide and horn section driven Little Red, and a countrified Alabama Train, which is not the same song as one of the same title recorded by the late Alabama Red.
The band rocks out on Downhill Shuffle which comes with some fabulous resonator slide work (Mick Simpson?) and a driving bass part, DJs be warned - it come to a very sudden halt! The title track Whiskey and Demons, is a funky outing for the musicians with some anguished vocals by Dave. It is a devil at the crossroads song with great lyrics and an eerie harmonica solo, This one is my song of the year (so far),but hard pushed by "Honeysuckle Rose" which is not the same song as the 1929 Fats Waller composition.. This CD is GREAT! Get it now! (Preview at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEAJ_OrXTWM) The CD is one of the IBBA 'Picks' for July 2015
Red House Records: RHR CD 283
Leo Kotkke-esque barrelling twelve-string acoustic guitar picking rips this odd mix of modern Americana-cum-blues release to a rocking start. Parr spent much of his youth in one of the USA's lesser-known rural areas, the home of the great post-war menu filler - Spam - Austin, Minnesota, never a noted musical centre, unlike its big Texan brother. Despite - or perhaps because of - this seemingly inauspicious background, he manages to capture the essence and thriving, driving power of modern country roots music, coupled with striking Americana influences to great effect. Strangely enough, Parr also appears from this offering to have clearly swallowed the music menu from the Lone Star State as right from the off, the eleven tracks wash into each other with a marvellous, rolling rhythmic quality that captures the full range of modern country, Appalachian tradition and roots music. Still based in rural Minnesota, Parr recorded the intriguingly titled Stumpjumper in North Carolina, a state with an overwhelming tradition of producing top quality musicians of legendary stature and quality - Rev Gary Davis; Blind Boy Fuller; Doc Watson etc. With one exception, the old standard blues-roots number Delia, all of the tracks included here are self-penned and resonate loudly with a deeply imbued knowledge of the southern roots tradition and music. Shades of Woody Guthrie, Leadbelly style picking at times, even Charley Patton and Lightnin' Hopkins, jump out and grab the attention, while his banjo-work is also sure-fired and sparkling. Parr is without doubt a wonderfully talented guitar picker and at times the sheer speed of delivery is near breathtaking. Fortunately, he never falls into the trap of simply being yet another too-fast picking monster and succeeds in remaining tasteful and tight throughout. A mighty fine release.
No Milk No Sugar
Rhythm Bomb Records: 5805
This is an excellent 12 tracker from a quality German duo. Oddly enough, Germany seems to be producing some truly interesting pre-war blues acts these days. Anyone familiar with the work of The Delta Boys, another German duo with a genuine feel and engagement with the music, will have a fair idea of what to expect here. With Mando and acoustic guitar picking and slide work, together with fine Harp in the mix, No Milk No Sugar has a powerful, driving sound that easily belies the fact there are but two guys pouring out the mix onto analog equipment with ribbon mikes and period instruments. Material ranges from old-style ragtimey pieces and instrumentals to spirituals/gospel numbers and deep South, delta blues. All of it delivered with a sparkling, comfortable ease and style. This is an album that pulses with deep blues emotion and grit. The vocals of the pair, Peter Crow C and Ferdinand Kraemer - aka Mr Jelly Roll, in Germany - combine well and the fretwork of both is always pretty-well spot-on. Overall, this album is a great discovery for lovers of traditional acoustic pre-war US blues in general and modern-edge acoustic blues of gripping traditional quality coupled with more than a dash of originality. I reckon and hope to hear much more of this pair in the near future. A highly recommended bit of cool blues.
Live In London (CD and DVD)
BLUESLAND / TUOHI RECORDS
Erja Lyytinen (pronounced Errya Lightinen) is a young woman on a mission. That mission is to bring to the public as much of the work of the slide greats (particularly Elmore James) as she can. In October 2014, the Finnish blues artist was at London's 100 Club for an evening of live music (See video on page 21) . At her side was her standard band of Davide Floreno on keys, bassist Roger Inniss and drummer Miri Miettinen, .who had just completed a period of three years touring together. That shows for this is an outstanding album
The band has a compactness and almost supernatural connection that is simply sensational. Erja's slide work is precise, fiery and inventive and she is pushed on by the band,and in particular (as is so often the case) the incendiary work of Roger Innes who has held the bass chair with the likes of the Climax Blues Band, Sherman Robinson, Joanne Shaw-Taylor, and Johnny Mars
The set opens with Fred McDowell's It's A Blessing with some skillful slide work and the band then moves through a mix of Elmore's work and that if Ms Lyytinen herself (sometimes with writing partner Davide Floreno). Throughout, Erja shows considerable vocal control as well as axe-skills. The video (which has tracks in the same order as the CD) also shows clearly that she and the band were enjoying the gig immensely. The set ends with three tunes strongly associated with Elmore: The Sky Is Crying, It Hurts Me Too, and (surprise, surprise) Dust My Broom.. There is little that is derivative in any of these outings. Ms Lyytinen can justly claim to be one of the top slide players in the world; no argument here!. This one is strongly recommended
ZOE SCHWARZ' BLUE COMMOTION
I'll Be Yours Tonight
33 Records. 33WM151
What a fabulous band this is. Over the last three or so years (as confidence builds) the band has got better and better. The album before this, 2014s "Exposed" was a greeted with much enthusiasm, one reviewer saying, "Zoe and her band have reached the point where they cannot be ignored and are poised to make the international breakthrough they deserve".
Zoe was a runner up in last years' Female Vocalist category in the British Blues Awards, and if there is any justice will top the poll this year. The band, Rob Koral, guitar; Pete Whittaker, Hammond organ; Si Genaro, harmonica; Paul Robinson, drums and percussion are water-tight tight, and blend together in way that is almost supernatural.
On this album though, they have taken the plunge and have recorded the whole thing live. The band is here enhanced by Ian Ellis - tenor sax, Andy Urquhart - trumpet and it is important to realise that the recording was done, almost on the spur of the moment. In November 2014, the band was playing a gig at Richard Dunning's 'Tuesday Night Music Club' when the suggestion was made to record it. Too often, bands going live after a number of studio albums, produce a wishy-washy mix of lazy musicianship and over-inflated ego . None of that here.
Eleven tracks, all but one penned by Rob and Zoe ( the only exception is one by Billie Holiday) are performed in an exemplary manner. The recording is spot on and some of the tunes (eg The Beatitudes a vocal and band exposition of some of the words of Christ) are better than the studio recordings, with fiery power and a BIG sound.
Neck on the block time. This one will be an award winner and not before time. It is already a June "Pick" by the IBBA. Get it NOW!!
Back To Basics
A new release from ex-Stones bassist, Wyman, is inevitably going to be of interest to a vast army of music fans. For Wyman, it must be difficult at times to ditch some of the overhanging burden of having been an original member of the world's greatest rock 'n' roll and rootsy R&B band, but with this 12 track album, he seems to have shrugged off the hound of history. And it's not for the first time in his career. Over the course of a remarkable 50+ year lifelong career as a music top-feeder, this guy has moved away from the old, raucous roar of Keef and Mick to produce a steady stream of quality stuff that includes many albums and steady annual, international tours with his wonderful eponymous band, Bill Wyman's Rhythm Kings, an ad-hoc, ever changing group of absolutely top-dollar UK and US musicians with a huge following worldwide.
With this album, Back To Basics, Wyman gives us his first solo offering in over thirty years. Wyman says some of the material here comes from an overlooked back-catalogue of songs he wrote and squirreled away some years ago. They only came to light when he was doing a tidying job, cataloguing and stashing old tapes away for a rainy day. Listening to some of this material, he decided to revisit it, re-record some and write a few new tracks and put together a fresh solo album. As you'd expect from someone with his stature and musical maturity, there are some fine tracks of a mostly lightish rock style and yet others with a cool, rhythmic groove bordering on classic pop. It's clear from the lyricism that Wyman is more of a wordsmith than many might give him credit for; he seems to relish rhythm and rap-like rhyming couplets, which positively suit his faux East London accented voice. At times, you can hear the same, growling background vocals and music that gave the world the classic post-punk anthem Je Suis Un Rock Star back in the 1980s. Wyman is a guy who has no need to prove anything and the relaxed feel of this release echoes that sentiment.
KENTUCKY HEADHUNTERS WITH JOHNNIE JOHNSON (P) -
Meet Me In Blues Land
I am firmly of the opinion that blues, jazz. classic rock and roll, gospel and modern country music are a bundle of related styles. This CD is more proof of that. The Kentucky Headhunters sell themselves as a country rock and Southern rock band. But they have been the winners of a large number of accolades related directly to 'new' country music (which is not the same as Country and Western).
In 1989, the band won the Top New Vocal Duo or Group in the Academy of Country Music; in 1990, it was a double whammy with the Country Music Association's Album of the Year and Vocal Group of the Year and in the same year a Grammy for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal; in 1991 that band won the CMA's Vocal group of the year. In 2003, the band had a big hit with a CD named 'Soul' which featured Johnnie Johnson (formerly pianist with Chuck Berry and sideman for Muddy Waters, Little Walter and many others).
One night in 2003 when the band were finishing up "Soul", they sat down with Johnson and laid-down this album which has not seen the light of day 'til now.
What a shame. This is a stunningly good CD filled with spontaneous, organic magical music. Check out Chuck's "Little Queenie" and "Stumblin'" (which reminds me of early Stones). Don't miss too "Walking With The Wolf" (Elmore James meets Chester Burnett) and more. This is a fabulous CD which will win more awards for the Kentucky Headhunters. Get it!!
I Saw The Blues
Blue Dot BDR CD 107
Jackie Payne is a straight-ahead, no frills stand-up blues singer, who makes excellent modern blues albums. His 15 years as a vocalist with The Johnny Otis Orchestra testify to his abilities, and subsequent albums (credited either to himself or to The Jackie Payne - Steve Edmonson Band) have only underlined this – "I Saw The Blues" does the same. It is a modern blues album, no doubt about that, with Jackie savvy enough to throw in references from popular culture such as "How Stella Got Her Groove Back" despite a very traditional sound at times, with his vocals rich and soulful. Guitarists Anthony Paule and Kid Andersen switch lead and rhythm guitar duties around between them – and both are wonderful players who understand what a song needs without being flashy – the horns add depth, the keyboards sparkle and the rhythm section is right in the pocket. Jackie writes intelligent and relevant songs – and the Albert King flavoured 'Kicking Back With the Blues' will no doubt raise a few cheers when performed live - and he knows a good song to cover when he hears one; listen to his versions of Little Johnny Taylor's fine blues 'Somewhere Down The Line'' and Ollie Nightingale's 'I'll Drink Your Bathwater Baby' that close out the album. Most certainly recommended then…
Over Your Head
Cross Cut Records: CD CCD 11109
To some, Josh Smith will need little or no introduction. Another of those seemingly prodigious young US electric blues guitar guys who has already toured extensively with Joe Bonamassa and regularly trades licks back home on the Florida blues circuit with his good ole buddy, Kirk Fletcher, he clearly comes from the loud, wailing guitar school of playing where everybody seems to think they are Jimmy Page roaring aloud on-stage with Led Zep. That said, this release from German label Cross Cut, has some mighty fine tracks of original music and a driving backbeat led by US sidemen Lemar Carter on drums and Calvin Turner pulsatingly powerful on Bass. There's little, however, to surprise in this 12 track offering albeit every track is packed with gutsy, throbbing power and skill. There are occasional flights where the material slows down, and more reflective moods surface, but generally it seems like they have to struggle for their survival against a soaring wall of sound that pushes everything before in its wake like a Led Zep-fuelled, musical tsunami. Both Kirk Fletcher and Bonamassa guest onboard, where they are also joined by the wonderful Harp of the legendary Charlie Musselwhite.
Reaching For The Light
Manhaton HATMAN 2038
Four piece British band King King marked their climb to somewhere very near the top of the UK blues-rock tree with a pile of trophies at the British Blues Awards ceremony; they consolidate that position with this latest CD, following on from 2011's "Take My Hand" and 2013's "Standing In The Shadows". Of course, any band seeking to establish such a formidable reputation has to be aware of what has gone before, and particularly noticeable here are the influences from late 60s blues and rock band Free. Take a listen to 'Waking Up', which has a Free type of beat and vocals with the swagger and soul of vintage Paul Rodgers, and the closing 'Stranger To Love' again has tinges of Paul Rodgers in leader Alan Nimmo's vocal. Free were always one of the most interesting bands of the time, and that has transferred itself to King King – though I have to stress these guys are originals, certainly not copyists. Although they excel at thoughtful, moody blues-rock, they can convincingly throw in a bit of funk and soul – try 'Just A Little Lie' – and they also have up tempo rockers here, as on the opening, aptly-titled 'Hurricane'. King King – so good they named them twice, and here to rock and rule.
Hard Times Blues 1927 – 1960
(Frémeaux FA 5480)
This double CD set is subtitled "Political and Social Blues against Racism at the Origin Of The Civil Rights Movement" and contains plenty of relatively hard-hitting numbers, mainly from commercially released 78s, by many of the major figures in the blues scene during those years: Big Bill Broonzy, Josh White, Brownie McGhee, Tampa Red, Lonnie Johnson, Bessie Smith, Big Joe Williams, Lowell Fulson, Champion Jack Dupree, John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson, John Lee Hooker, Charles Brown, Memphis Slim and others. Some – though for obvious reasons not many - deal with racism overtly, others with the pernicious effects of discrimination and poverty. All have something to say, and for those who wonder about the inclusion of songs on natural disasters, just think about how New Orleans was treated in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. The booklet too outlines the route from supposed "separate but equal facilities" to Barack Obama in The White House, focussing on topical events and relating them to the lyrics of these songs. As I write this, Baltimore is burning, a reminder that although it may seem that a lot has been achieved, there is still a lot more to be done.
Bachman is the name for a blues rock trio fronted by Randy Bachman the former front man of The Guess Who and the iconic Bachman-Turner Overdrive (BTO). Canadian by birth, he is a bluesman in his soul and here he has gathered a stellar group of musicians to assist ham in the realisation of his desire to produce a heavy blues album. Guests are Neil Young, Joe Bonamassa, Robert Randolph, Peter Frampton and, by s bit of electronic magic, the late Jeff Healey.
Let me confess that I was a 'Gearhead' (Fan of BTO) and still have a vinyl copy of Not Fragile! It is a delight to hear that the in-your-face bass root to the BTO music laid down by C.F. "Fred" Turner is still present in much of this. This album has already been called an 11-song detour down thunder road. Bachman had help with all the heavy lifting from expert backup: Ladies of the Canyon bassist Anna Ruddick and drummer Dale Anne Brendon.
Most of the collaborations were recorded by the artists and added as dubs. But Neil young who contributes some searing guitar work to Little Girl Lost, was unable to do that and told Bachman that he could take the guitar part from one of his very early albums. Confessing To The Devil features posthumous licks from Healey from a long-ago unreleased session with Bachman. The early publicity for the album suggested that Billy Gibbons might be on the album too. There is a track called Wild Texas Ride on the album (it is a real rocker) but no mention of Rev Billy G. Huh?
To sum up. This is a terrific album, especially if you like your blues on the rocky side. The production qualities are great and there is not a duff track on the CD.
Feel These Blues
American Showplace Music
Slam Allen 'came up' in Alabama. His father was an accomplished bass player and Slam quickly absorbed the music around him. He started his musical career as a drummer in a band called The Allen Brothers which consisted of his daddy and an uncle or two. The principal sources of music for that band were Otis Redding, Albert King, B.B. King, James Brown and Wilson Pickett. The soul influence is clear from the start.
Pretty soon slam started on the guitar and got good fast. Before long, he had his own band and went off on the chitlin' circuit to learn his craft.
He learned well and most recently has been the singer and guitarist with James Cotton, who although playing harp - still - to a very high standard does not sing. If you are wondering where you have heard him before, he was the guitar man - and co-writer - on on the 2011 Blues Music Awards nominated James Cotton album, Giant
Now it is his turn, although there have been other CDs by Slam this must be considered the breakout album for him and his band. Allen's band includes long time associate Jeff Anderson, bass guitar; Dan Fadel, drums and percussion; and John Ginty, Hammond B-3 organ and piano. The album is produced, recorded, mixed, and mastered by Ben Elliot at his American Showplace Music Studios in Dover, N.J.
The album is a fine mix of blues and Memphis style soul ranging from the funky 35 Miles Outside of Memphis through the stompin' The Blues Is Back with kind of Freddie King/ Little Milton feel, to the surprise of the CD and the only cover Prince's Purple Rain, taken at a sedate pace with a soulful vocal. One of the many things to commend that, is that you can hear the lyrics clear as a bell, something that for me Mr Prince was never able to do..
The World Outside
Harrison is one of the new current crop of English bluesmen, busy carving a reputation as a leading-edge writer and guitarist in the bars, clubs and music festivals of Europe and the UK. All twelve tracks that make up this release were written by Harrison and more than adequately illustrate his mastery of style and subject.
What makes this guy stand out from most of the rest is the simple key element that underpins everything he does: he plays acoustic, generally slide guitar in a traditional style but with his own material which is bang up to date. An interesting mélange that few can pull off with success, Harrison, not only succeeds he positively triumphs.
On this release he is joined by his old buddy Ed Hopwood on drums and vocals, plus a number of other fine backing musicians; the Harp work of Will Greener is particularly strong and the vocal support from Josienne Clarke, who also doubles up on Tenor Sax, Flute and Piano, is a positively welcome addition.
The twelve tracks here are fine examples of modern blues in the UK today from a guy with his ear to the musical ground coupled with humour and a deft turn of phrase and pacing. Many themes are modern while others reflect an interest in social issues with lively thought.
At times introspective, 'The World Outside' represents a very fine slice of British acoustic blues music from a clearly talented singer-songwriter with a finely balanced sense of self-deprecating wit.
BENNY 'GUITAR' CARR
First let me declare an interest. I have known Ben Carr for many years and have even at times been on the same bill as him. Ben is one of a band of blues brothers who operate in and around south Devon and are based in in the famous old port-city of Plymouth. Ben has been fronting his band the Hot Rats or in a duo as Ben & Sy's Stompin' Blues or working solo with a heavy calendar of gigs.
A short while ago, Ben took a trip to New Orleans and while there played with Ian Smith and The Frenchman Street Horns. That spurred Ben and soon he was in the studio with members of his own bands and other outstanding musicians. The Frenchman Street Horns., Were added with a seamless overdubbing. The result? A simply outstanding album which mixes leading edge song writing (all written by Ben, with the exception of When I Get Low I Get High, which was written by Marion Sunshine, Saturday Night Special, which was written by Lee Clayton and She Don't Sing No More, which was written by Jim Carr, Ben's bro) with exemplary arrangements. There is funky stuff (I Got Wise) and stuff on the edge of jazz (When I Get Low, I Get High, which reminds me of Cab Calloway)) and some outstanding guitar work from Ben himself (Try You Ain't Good Looking Enough To Be That Bossy), The recoding production is flawless.
Ben delivers outstanding axe work, songwriting and arrangements as well as being co producer. And as if that is not enough he did all the artwork too! Get it now!
Trodden Black Records: TB4828
Razor Wire is just that. Slicing, sharp lyrics and production from a very fine young, US modern Country-Americana singer-songwriter. Aldridge has a fabulous, crisp and clear voice with bags of strength and soul at its heart. Most of the ten tracks here are self-written and she is generously backed by a storming studio-crew with all the push and power of the Nashville sound behind her.
At times there's a strident melancholy in some of the compositions, reflections of a darker side of life and a visceral eye for life's tragedies and pain. On others, the rallying cry of redemption and release sparkle brightly, like Aldridge's vital and vibrant voice.
The daughter of a seasoned Muscle Shoals and Nashville veteran songwriter/producer - the late Walt Aldridge, she was virtually born to be a musician. Any other métier would have been unthinkable really. Initially a classically-trained pianist, she took up guitar and studied sound-engineering at university in Tennessee, before turning her attention to the art of writing songs and performance.
Razor Wire is her debut offering and within its bounds, she delivers a characterful and carnal collection of memorable melodies and lusty lyrics. Clearly a Nashville newcomer to watch out for, Aldridge has the power to surprise and satisfy.
Ain't In No Hurry
Red House Records: RHRCD282
A new release from Jorma is always welcome and eagerly anticipated by his legion of fans worldwide. 'Ain't In No Hurry' is a typically laid-back bit of work with Kaukonen's trademark, spicy guitar-work and gripping gritty vocals both working full tilt.
As usual these days, he's joined by his old buddy from Jefferson Airplane rock-star days, and Hot Tuna bass man the incomparable Jack Casady together with Tuna Mando-man, Barry Mitterhoff. As a result, there is a clear Tunaesque feel and aim to the album. Larry Campbell and Teresa Williams also feature in the stew to good effect.
Eleven tracks include standards like 'Nobody Knows You When You're Down And Out'; Thomas Dorsey's (as Georgia Tom) wisecracker, 'The Terrible Operation' and a splendid take on Yip Harburg's classic old perennial, 'Brother Can You Spare A Dime'. Woody Guthrie's seldom heard/recorded 'Suffer The Little Children To Come Unto Me' also earns its place. Most of the remainder come from Kaukonen himself.
The theme of the album, explains Kaukonen in the sleeve notes, is his thanks for a relatively peaceful, eventful and affluent musical lifestyle that now spans some fifty-plus years. Nowadays, he feels relaxed and content, with no need or pressure to rush around or experiment. Like a jigsaw, his life and music merge as one with tangential support from his oldest and most trusted musical buddies. This is very much an album of the kind that we've come to admire and expect from a genuine acoustic blues master.
Pepper Cake PEC 2094-2
With a title like that it is pretty obvious that this album was recorded in New Orleans of course, and Austrian Hammond organ player Raphael has enlisted the help of some of the Crescent City's finest musicians to help him out. The result is a lovely varied set that mixes straight blues – take a listen to Tad Robinson's excellent vocals on Lowell Fulson and Billy Vera's excellent composition "Room With A View" – with the bluesy 60s organ groover 'Soul Jazz Shuffle', the jazz-tinged 'Slivovitz For Joe' and the irresistible funk of The Meters' styled 'Soulful Strut'. Then there are several other numbers like the funky opener 'Chasing Rainbows' (excellent vocal from New York born Tad Robinson again), the early 70s "Blaxploitation movie" sound of 'Mustard Greens', and the slow, sophisticated blues of 'I Want To Know' featuring Walter "Wolfman" Washington on supremely soulful vocals and concise guitar work. A little closer to home maybe, UK born but long-time New Orleans resident Jon Cleary sings and plays piano and guitar on the mellow ballad 'Sometimes I Wonder' and the closing, soul flavoured blues of 'Nobody Special' has vocals by none other than one of Raphael's earliest employers, Baton Rouge bluesman Larry Garner. Others involved in this impressive album are guitarist Alex Schultz, Sax Gordon (guess what he plays?), renowned bass player George Porter, and sax player Craig Handy – proof of the regard in which Raphael is justifiably held.
What's It Gonna Be
Ruf Records: Ruf 1216 (52 mins)
The latest, third, release from young, hot-shot British rock-bluesman, Laurence Jones is a true cracker. A wonderful album of searing guitar work coupled with some deft lyrics that have a stamp of confidence and maturity about them that simply belie his relatively tender years and must speak volumes of what might yet lie tantalisingly in store for the years ahead.
All eleven tracks are solid, full of positively pounding guitar riffs and runs and licks that echo many of his personal early influences - Walter Trout (whose band he has already played with); old Slowhand Clapton; Albert Collins and Rory Gallaher. There are also shades of Stevie Ray Vaughan there, I'm sure.
Jones featured heavily in last year's blues charts with both his own album, 'Temptation' gathering accolades worldwide and his participation on German record company Ruf's talent showcase album ' Blues Caravan 2014'. There's no doubt this guy has a warm, wonderful musical future ahead of him, with praise coming from his musical peers, the media and a growing army of global fans.
When you take Jones' lyrics, great fretwork and add a powerful, mature voice to the mix, you end up, as here, with a genuine bit of quality. On one track he is joined on support vocals by Scot, Sandi Thom, and on another by New York siren, Dana Fuchs. Both lend a strength and purpose to the project. A highly recommended release.
Exactly Like This
Reference Recordings: RR135
MacLeod may have a Scottish Islanders name but he's actually American. Long resident in West Coast USA, Dubbs, as he's affectionately known, is easily one of the most accomplished and admired acoustic bluesmen of his generation with countless international awards to his name.
'Exactly Like This' is his latest release, an eleven track masterpiece, choc full of recognisable and nimble fretwork on resonator guitar and careening slippery slide sounds that are his hallmark. His voice seems to improve with age, like a fine Malt whiskey or an expensive vintage wine.
All tracks on this release were written by the man himself and range across the usual subject matter of love, life, hope and despair. From the 1950s Louis Jordan inspired boogie sound of the opening track, 'Rock It Till The Cows Come Home' to the echoes of Duke Ellington on the closer, 'You Got It Good (And That Ain't Bad)', this is an album that showcases MacLeod's captivating, talented artistry to the full.
Backed by Mike Thompson (for many years and currently The Eagles keys-man) on piano, the wonderful Jimi Bott on Drums and equally splendid Denny Croy on Bass, this is nothing less than a marvellous album from a marvellous musician.
Rain Is Such A Lonesome Sound
Autoprod (Dist Ace Records)
Sometimes you get an album that grabs you by the throat (or is that ears?) From the very first note. Well this is one of those, except that this one is the first three notes of a particular track. The first track I listened to ('cause it's a fave of mine) from this acoustic album was Rev Gary Davis' Death Ain't Got No Mercy (Davis' version called Death Don't Have No Mercy) and it starts with three ringing bass notes imitating a funeral bell. It is both very brave and very effective to open any track like this. It augurs well for what else is on the CD.
Continuing the doomy theme is a delightful version of Eddie House's Death Letter. Want ragtime? Well check out ….Emelia Buck a delightful tune in the style of Blind Boy Fuller. This tune is GH original and there are some more of those:: Shadows Falling; and a stunning harp instrumental, Sidevalve Stroll, which features GH's capacity to play two harmonicas at once, one with his mouth and the second with his nose! The title track is Jimmy Witherspoon. There's Blind Willie Johnson's Let The Light From The Lighthouse. Want Ferdinand 'Jelly Roll' Morton? - Winding (Winin'?) Boy Blues is here too, and there is even a wonderful version of Glad Rag Doll that reminds me a lot of Leon Redbone.
In short, this an outstanding collection of acoustic tunes, most of them blues, all of them blues inflected, that should be part of any serious collectors, err.. collection, The production and recording quality by Richard Sadler, bassman in Hedley's band the Aviators, are as good as it comes. Fifteen tracks of auditory delight! Get it now!
PETE HARRIS R&B ALL STARS
Live At The Talking Heads, Southampton
Sotones Records (Release March 30, 2015\)
Sotones Records is a label operating in Southampton as a co-operative and already has a few acts under its belt. This is their first try at blues. However, on this showing it will not be their last.
Over the years I have heard and seen many bands with the appellation 'All Stars' attached to the name. Most of them are a massive disappointment because they are nothing of the sort. This band are truly deserving of the accolade.
Pete Harris (who has been entertaining audiences for more than 30 years) is an outstanding axe man with a searing tone and the chops to match anyone in the game. The band also includes the soulful vocals of exciting young vocalist Jeradine Hume, and the rock-solid, swinging rhythm section of Bob Manley (bass) and Steve Groves (drums), plus keyboard wizard Ray Drury and saxophone ace Paul Tasker. They make a great sound.
The Music? Well Mr Harris describes it as 'a blend of Uptown Blues (BB King style) and old-school R&B, with a hint of Soul and Rock and Roll' and its all that and more.
The tracks include every thing from the lascivious 'Rock Me Baby' through the Ruth Brown classic 'Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean' to Jimmy Reed's 'Honest I Do' and includes an outstanding version of the Elmore James song that Stevie Ray Vaughan made his own, 'The Sky Is Crying'.
Here is one hour, twelve minutes and twenty seconds of outstanding live music from a band truly deserving the name All Stars,
'Introducing' is exactly that, an intro to a new kid on the Scandinavian blues block. From Sweden, Felicia Nielsson, aka Shoutin' Red, is a new, young performer with a debut release that marries traditional 1930s acoustic blues with a few standard traditional folk songs to provide this 12-track album.
Red is already gaining prominence in the vibrant Swedish blues scene with festival appearances and gigs and with this interestingly, fresh release should also now reach a wider blues audience beyond the Baltic.
Tracks covered include Tom Dickson's 'Labour Blues'; When the Levee Breaks'; 'Hesitation Blues'; Willie McTell's classic 'Statesboro Blues'; 'Millman Blues' from Bily Bird; 'Crazy Blues' by Perry Bradford - a good, strong opener here - and John Hurt's 'Frankie and Albert'.
From the very off it's apparent where the moniker 'Shoutin' originates, as Nielsson's voice hammers out the lyrics alongside some fine, well aimed acoustic guitar-work. At times, the vocal delivery is reminiscent of Rory Block, another fine blues-woman with a strong voice and positive presence. While Red's fretwork has yet to reach the heights of Block's picking, there is clearly scope and time for development in that department.
With strong emotional and enthusiastic support from another couple of Sweden's better known players who both fancy her chances in the big, bad blues world, - Brian Kramer and Sofie Reed - Shoutin' Red looks like she'll be needing little more introduction in the near future. If there's a weakness in this release, it probably lies in the folk-based material which is largely unnecessary here. Overall a new voice worth catching and a more than decent first album.
I Am Not Lost
Now this is a little different; the opener makes it clear that the music is blues-based, with its wailing harmonica and bent guitar strings behind Alex's relaxed vocals. Moving on further into the album, UK singer, guitarist and songwriter Alex and his multi-instrumentalist producer Rich Young turn their hands to folk, soul and Americana, occasionally hinting at a rootsy rock sound. Together, and with the benefit of overdubbing, they can produce a full-band sound, and the blurb accompanying this release even mentions The Faces for the final number, 'Begged, Stole & Borrowed' but they had already come to mind as early as the second track, 'Bright Lights'. With around two decades worth of experience in the music business, initially working as a busker, Alex has a unique voice and individual approach. 'Bankers Boy' is an apt topical commentary, whilst 'I Think I'll Walk Anyway' is a response to those days of playing on the street for passers-by. Maybe this album is not one for the strict blues purists, but this should certainly please those whose tastes are a little wider.
Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks (Double CD
There was a time (not so long ago) when the mention of Bonamassa's name produced a mild contempt of the "that ain't the blues" kind. I must admit that I was in that gang. There was always something in Bonamassa's music that gave me the feeling that there was a real bluesman in there somewhere (he always had a cover of an old blues song in the track line-up that gave me hope that some of his 'fans' would seek out the original and get hooked on 'proper' blues. Well no need to wonder (or worry) about that anymore, for here is Joe, recorded in a live gig at the magnificent Red Rocks Amphitheatre near Denver, Colorado, with the blues channel, for the best part ,wide open and the 'Rock God', turned right back.
For one night only, Joe celebrated the music of blues legends Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf in front of a 9000 strong audience, playing selected songs from the recorded catalogue of McKinley Morganfield and Chester Burnett and he killed it. I take back all I ever said about Bonamassa, he is a blues man extraordinare and when one realises that he reveres - and can play - the music of these two blues giants, Joe's contemporary work takes on a new sheen. Here, he is with a magnificent band dubbed the "Muddy Wolf Band" which includes Anton Fig (drums), Michael Rhodes (bass), Reese Wynans (piano, Hammond organ), Lee Thornburg (trumpet, horn arrangements), Ron Dziubla (saxophone), Nick Lane (trombone), Mike Henderson (harmonica), and Kirk Fletcher (guitar) and they kill it too.
The recording quality is excellent and the CDs also includes the 30 minute set (in a 2.5 hr gig) of some tracks from Joe's own back catalogue. This one gig I wish I could have gone to and the CD is strongly recommended as an outstanding blues record.
Icehouse JCPX 62606
The back sleeve photograph for this CD shows Jeff and Little Milton together – aptly so, as Milton was Jeff's mentor and his influence certainly shows on this overview of Jeff's four preceding albums. Jeff was born in Lake Charles, Louisiana, but came to the blues by a circuitous route that takes in California, New Orleans, and Memphis Tennessee. On this collection though he follows his illustrious teacher by offering sweet soul, Memphis soul and hard blues all together, occasionally with a tinge of jazz – 10 tracks, all originals. Like Milton, he often throws unexpected, rather sophisticated changes into his guitar playing, and his singing is passionate and soulful. There is much to enjoy about this release; for the blues, look no further than the second track, 'Instrument Of Pleasure', a big, big sounding slow number, or the up tempo 'Hello Blues', both of which have echoes of Albert King in the guitar work, whilst 'I've Got To Be Clean' owes a little more to Freddie King. 'I Smell Something Funky' is a self-explanatory title and 'Dreams Don't Lie' is a jazz inflected sophisticated blues ballad, a little too slow for my taste, though that is a minor criticism, and certainly off-set by the likes of the catchy blues of 'The Scent Of A Woman' – "is the nonsense of a man" as he sings. Worth checking out…
The Real Thing
American label Vizztone is rapidly becoming the place to go to for exciting contemporary blues; D. A . Foster is a new name to me, but I do recall that back in the 70s, American blues magazines and books often featured photographs of the leading blues performers taken at the Shaboo Inn – and a bit of internet digging revealed that Mr. Foster was one of the owners of the Shaboo Inn in Connecticut between 1971 and 1982, frequently jamming with many of the music's true greats and eventually leading a band that included the guitarist Matt Murphy (who has played with everyone from Howling Wolf to The Blues Brothers). This experience has left its mark on this set too – unusually D.A. is a stand-up vocalist in the vein of Bobby Bland. D.A. even turns in a very creditable cover of Bland's 'Ain't Doing Too Bad' to emphasise the point, and he also tackles Z.Z. Hill's biggest hit, 'Down Home Blues' – maybe Curtis Salgado could also get away with it as well as D.A. does, but there aren't too many others. Elsewhere there are hints of Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles, and Lou Rawls – yes, D.A. is good! Eddie Hinton's 'Super Lover' provides another good reference point, with a bit of humour thrown in too. This set is based in strong blues and R&B, with occasional soul touches, and with some truly world-class musicians in support, this is an early contender for my CD of the Year.
Shoulder To Cry On
What a treat this is! Thomas Ford hails from Plymouth and BiTS was please to be able to support him in his bid to be recognised as the 'breakout' artist of the year in last year's British Blues Awards. Unfortunately he was unsuccessful. However, this album, which is IMHO outstanding, must hold him in good stead for at the very least, a nomination in the acoustic category of the BBAs this year.
Thomas excels in the traditional role of one-man-band and many of the tracks in this album are just that. Finger picking a guitar and playing blues harp and percussion at the same time is not easy. Thomas does that with both acoustic guitars and those of the electric persuasion. With a couple of exceptions, all the songs are self-composed, Check out the exceptional Please Don't Fool With Mine, which comes with a spare slide-guitar part and sounds like it could have been recorded in the 1920s/30s. The next track, Everybody Wants The Same has an excellent fuzzed guitar and some outstanding harp work. Lightnin' Seed. is both an excellent song and features some more outstanding harp work. Somehow Thomas manages to do wha-wah harp without using his hands. All-in-all this is an outstanding piece of work and is strongly recommended to all fans of roots-blues, forged deep in the delta tradition. Get it now! You won't regret it.
When The Cat's Away…..
For some time Matt Woosey has had a residency at the Gallimaufrey in Bristol, a gig that he sometimes does solo but often undertakes as a duo with Dave Sweet an accomplished drummer and percussionist. This CD is a live recording of one of those gigs on June 18, 2014.
Here we have twelve tracks, not surprisingly, the majority of which are Matt's own songs plus one cover. Let me start with the cover. Because much of Matt's own material, whilst delivered with many of the vocal and instrumental conventions of the blues, is outside the pale of hard blues, it is an eye (or maybe that's ear) opener to hear him tackle a twelve bar. The song in question is Willie Dixon's Little Red Rooster and Matt and Dave deliver a tour-de-force with a quite remarkable slide-backed piece of work, Remarkable, because Matt adventurously, plays a big part of the excellent middle section slide solo in the highest position possible, well above the fret markers (where it is difficult to play in tune) and does so with remarkable skill, even managing harmonics at the same time. The CD is worth the money for that avant-garde track alone but the remainder, delivered with Matt's trade mark throaty vocals and pick and slap guitar make the album indispensable for anyone wanting to know where contemporary British blues music is going. I have heard the future and it is Matt Woosey!
GEORGE SHOVLIN BLUES BAND
Got Blues…If You Want It
Shovlin hails from the North East of England. Blues music seems to course through his veins. This album is a simply marvellous mix of old traditional numbers given a singularly individual and fresh lick of paint and colour.
Tracks included in this 13-track self-produced release include classic blues masterpieces from Blind Boy Fuller, Lightnin' Hopkins, Skip James, Furry Lewis, Leadbelly, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rodgers and Jimmy Witherspoon. All are given a fabulously refreshing make-over, with some striking guitar cover and gravel pit vocals.
Shovlin and his band are clearly aware of the limits of blues norms and unafraid to break the mould and push ahead, beyond the usual constricting confines of traditional form and structures that these revered classics normally generate. And while the usual twelve-bar blues proliferates, the originality of the musical interpretations make this an inspired and inspiring recording.
Coming from the region that produced Eric Burden and the Animals many moons ago, it's hardly surprising to find Shovlin also pushing the blues boundaries to the limit and beyond. This is one of those rare things, a cracking album of classic traditional blues played with enormous flair, confidence and originality.
STEVE EARLE AND THE DUKES
New West Records
Steve Earle has found the blues. According to Chuck Armstrong of Diffuser FM (http://diffuser.fm/album-review-steve-earle-terraplane/) "Terraplane could be the definitive blues album of the 21st century," Well…..maybe. But no more than that. Just maybe
Steve references Sam Hopkins in his liner notes and Robert Johnson in a lyric and in the CD title, plus, the album comes off the back of his divorce (from his seventh wife) and thus includes songs like 'Better Off Alone". The opener is Baby, Baby Baby (Baby) (nice joke!) the bluesiest song on the album and the next one You're The Best Lover I Ever Had, is up there on a par, There is a quiet wonderful, almost talked and sung piece called The Tennessee Kid, in which the subject of the song meets "Satan, Mephistopheles, Beelzebub," and justifies a deal made with Lucifer: "I ain't set foot in a church since I was just a little ol' thang / Reckoned I was headed straight to hell by the highway / No matter how long and how hard that I prayed / So I might as well learn how to make this guitar talk / Somebody said ol' Bob Johnson came down this way". And that sort of sums this one up for me, This is a CD ABOUT THE BLUES, not, however much Steve may wish it to be, a BLUES CD. Mostly acoustic but with some electric guitar, Steve might have been well advised to get one of the great contemporary Texas guitarists (Buddy Whittington or Guy Forsyth spring to mind) to add some Texas Fiery Hot Sauce to the mix.
Way Back in the Country Blues
Arhoolie CD 548
This excellent CD, subtitled "The Lost Dr. Oster Recordings", presents a little known bluesman from the Baton Rouge, Louisiana area: Robert Brown aka Smoky Babe. He had recordings on two albums in the early 60s (including one issued on 77 Records, run by the famed Dobell's Record Shop in London). The notes point out that much of what was recorded by Harry Oster (the "discoverer" of Robert Pete Williams and several others, and the founder of Folklyric Records) remained unissued, and Arhoolie has cherry-picked the tapes he made with Smoky between February 1960 and August 1961 for this set. Unlike some of the others Oster worked with, Smoky never broke into the blues revival, and these days he is only really recalled by Lazy Lester, who remembers him as "just a little street guitar player". He was not a swamp-blues man though; rather he was a solo performer with a fine repertoire, which included a cover of Robert Johnson's 'Terraplane Blues', something of a rarity back in those days. Smoky's guitar playing is rhythmic and vibrant and his vocals are strongly rural, with his Mississippi origins – he was born in 1927 in Itta Bena, B.B. King's home town - quite evident on most of these numbers. At times, he recalls the great Big Joe Williams, especially on 'Chicago Bound' and 'Arkansas Blues'. Deep Mississippi country blues – this is truly roots music.
SEAN WEBSTER & THE DEAD LINES
See It Through
This is the fifth release in about ten years from Webster, who spent a good few years in Australia but was finally tempted back into the studio in 2013 to record this excellent ten-track album.
Two of his previous efforts, the debut 'Long Time Coming' (2004) and follow-up 'If Only', both won critical acclaim with Webster being tipped for great things. Instead, the Brit seems to have adopted a less ambitious and quieter life Down Under for some years. Given his musical pedigree and style, however, it appears clear that any suggestion of a quiet life is far from likely and with 'See It Through' Webster again throws his hat into the ring with considerable flair.
This is good-time rock-blues with a raucous feel, driving energy and high-energy soloing from a guy who is not afraid to fly high. Webster's guitar soars and sings - it even sighs, when required - with polished licks aplenty and remarkable riffs. His voice is powerful, growling and gutsy. And his songwriting skills are evident here with a maturity and virility that matches his driving vocal delivery.
All in all 'See It Through' is a very fine bit of work featuring an accomplished musician in his prime, clearly enjoying a return to the stage and the studio.
Message In Blue
Delmark DE 836)
This is Chicago blues guitarist Dave Specter's tenth album and it is as tasteful as Dave always is. It helps when you call on the great Otis Clay to handle the vocals on three wonderfully soulful tracks, as Otis pays tribute to Harold Burrage, Wilson Pickett, and the late, great Bobby Bland – the latter with the deep soul of 'This Time I'm Gone For Good'. Keyboards player Brother John Kattke also has three vocals – not quite Otis, but his style is different. Take a listen to his name-dropping homage on the lovely, swinging 'Chicago Style'. Dave also drafts in some of Chicago's finest horn men, and with the experienced rhythm section of Harlan Terson on bass and Marty Binder on drums, the musical quality is always high. This is Dave's album though, and besides his ringing solos and fills on the vocal numbers, there are seven instrumentals. Some could struggle with this, but there are no such worries here: from the opening, Magic Sam inflected 'New West Side Stroll' to the Hendrix influenced (that's Jimi's gentler side, by the way) title track, a self-explanatory 'Funkified Outta Space', with its shades of The Meters and Albert Collins, a solidly grooving 'The Stinger' and the Latin flavoured 'The Spectifyin' Samba' there is plenty to maintain interest and to impress. Note also the presence of harmonica great Bob Corritore, providing exemplary backing for Dave's slide playing and taking a fine solo on the early 50s styled 'Jefferson Stomp' as well as getting low-down on the closing 'Opus De Swamp'. An excellent release all round.
ALTERED FIVE BLUES BAND
Omnivibe OVR 0001
This band was new to me, though they have been making a few waves around the Milwaukee area since they came together in 2002. I'm not surprised either – in singer Jeff Taylor they have a fine frontman who can handle straight Albert King styled blues (though Jeff himself sounds more like BB King), the classic soul style – take a listen to 'Find My Wings', a rock inflected 'Counterfeit Lover' (echoes of Joe Cocker's version of 'With A Little Help From My Friends' on this one, thanks to the organ playing of Raymond Tevich) or the driving, nicely nasty rock blues of 'Who's Your Lover?'. The eleven songs are all originals, mostly from the pen of the band's excellent guitarist Jeff Schroedl, and good ones they are too; production is by Tom Hambridge, the man to go to for many top blues artists these days, and his presence is perhaps an indicator of the promise shown by these five guys. This as an excellent modern blues set, with little blues-rock influence but Albert King obviously impressed them, and on this evidence Altered Five Blues Band is a name to certainly look out for – we'll hopefully be hearing more from them.
Editor's note: The Altered 5 Band won the self-produced album of the year at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January 2015
JACK ROBERTS HARVEY BAND
Devil On A Dirt Road
Superlatives simply prevail here. Stunning debut album of great blues with strong Americana and gutsy down and dirty Rock tinges from the JRHB. From LA, this hugely talented Californian trio - only a trio, seems unbelievable with this sound - comprises only Tony Jack Grigsby on Bass - the Jack of the band - Jim Roberts on guitar and vocals, and Mike Harvey on Drums.
Material ranges from the old traditional US standard, 'Amazing Grace', here cooked in a refreshingly different slippery, slide sauce, to another nine self-written songs with a great groove going throughout. This is a band that clearly knows its way around the music with a capacity to produce material of enormous quality.
If anything, the most surprising thing about this outfit is probably - why haven't we heard of them before now?! Genuinely amazing debut from a truly talented US band. Can't wait to hear their next effort. Onward and upwards, I reckon.
1 Devil On A Dirt Road
2 Tears In The Dust
4 Soul Worth Saving
6 New Day
7 Alligator Shoe
9 Hurricane Road
10 Amazing Grace
Live In The '70s
Retro World FLOATM6241
If ever a man knew how to bend a guitar string, it was Albert King – pick any track completely at random! This set draws from concerts in New York, and Hollywood California (the "Wattstax" concert, I think), when Albert was in the midst of his Stax contract and the line-up – at least a couple of horn players – and the material reflects that. This was the high point of his career, with his tough, ringing guitar playing way out front – this is the sound that has influenced so many of today's blues guitarists, his dry comments delivered in an almost speaking voice, and the material often managing to be both funky and low-down. There are also three titles from 1974 and the closing 'I'll Play The Blues For You' from 1978. Well known numbers like 'Crosscut Saw', 'Oh Pretty Woman', 'Born Under A Bad Sign' and the introductory 'Blues Power' can all be found here, with the live situation allowing Albert to stretch out for longer than he generally did in the studio. He also turns in a version of Ray Charles' 'I Believe To My Soul' – "that was just to break the monotony", he quips! The sound quality is generally fine. Albert King is always worth a listen, and particularly when he is in as good form as he is here.
Live & Loud 1968
Retro World FLOATM6243
OK, first things first – the date – 1968? Well, that seems an unlikely year for this set, recorded mostly at the Fillmore West. You see, Freddie closes out with the heavy blues-rocker 'Going Down', a staple of his 70s gigs. It was drawn from his first album for the Shelter label, "Getting Ready", released in 1971 –it was not on his set list at the Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969, when he would certainly have included it if possible (don't confuse it with his later 1972 appearance) but the real clincher is that the original version of the song only first appeared in 1969, on an album by Memphis band Moloch. So we're probably looking at the early 70s for this. Now that's out of the way, don't let it mar your enjoyment as we are left with a fine album. Freddie was the youngest of the Three Kings (the others being BB and Albert), with an energetic guitar style that massively influenced Eric Clapton and many others. He provides two versions of his big instrumental hit 'Hideaway' here, and there is plenty of hot, rocking blues guitar or his slow, impassioned playing (try the opening 'Ain't Nobody's Business'), and although the sound is a little muddy in places his big, strong voice comes across well too. There are bonus tracks from the aforementioned Ann Arbor Festival in 1969 and another from Sweden in 1973, rounding out a release that may not be essential but that will certainly please all blues lovers.
R. Music, no issue number
Let's have a sax player for a change! Bobby Spencer is from Oakland, California, but now lives further south along the West Coast in Los Angeles. Besides being a fine tenor sax player, he also possesses a warm singing voice and writes some good original songs – take a listen to the fine rocking blues of 'Camarillo' which namechecks jazz legend Charlie Parker. Do you like soul music? Then try the smooth ballad 'You're All I Need' and the southern tinged 'Lover's Hill', both of which fit the description "sweet soul music", though some may well find 'You Make Me Crazy' just a little too saccharine. 'Little Mama' is a Latin-tinged blues, and this CD also includes four bonus tracks from Bobby's 2003 debut album "I Got The Blues" – all of which fit that description perfectly (vocally he sounds very like BB King on 'Big Maybelle', and he lets loose his King Curtis licks on 'Call Your Dogs Off'). Bobby has many years of experience of playing the blues with the likes of Sonny Rhodes, Jimmy McCracklin, Etta James and ZZ Hill, and it shows on this varied, entertaining and very satisfying CD.
THE DAMNED AND DIRTY
Rolling In To Town
Kevin de Harde and Micha Sprenger are the duo The Damned and Dirty. They hail from Holland a country with a massive support for blues music of all kinds. Both of the duo members hav long histories of working in bands and solo of a long time. Their first eponymous album was released as a free download on the internet in 2012 and proved to be a resounding success. Their second album Sell Your Soul was released 2013 . BOTH of the CDs won the Dutch Blues Award for Best Album in each respective years, 2012. 2013. Quite an achievement.
Rolling Into Town is in one sense 'more of the same' but with a vengeance. I was critical of their Sell Your Soul release, because of IMHO an inordinate amount of gratuitous swearing. Not too much of that here. But be warned it is not expletive free. That aside, the album is filled with outstanding guitar licks (finger picked and slide) and some searing harp work. Fifteen tracks, all self-penned, ranging from "The Meanest Woman" an oustandingly good song, that IMHO will be covered many times before too long, through the relaxed, small group blues, of "Sounds Of Eyes" The title song "Rolling Into Town" opens with some compelling harp work by Kevin while "The Devil Again" gets down and funky with some tight drumming by Frank Travertine. "Seventeen" evokes the sounds of Mississippi John Hurt.. This is an outstanding album which I expect to win a shed-load of awards. Well done indeed.
Benny Turner is the (half?) brother of the late Freddie King. As you might expect, he was born and bred in Texas and was exposed to early influences not just from his brother's work but also from a family steeped in the blues. Benny can remember his mother playing guitar and here we have that reminisence in the form of "My Mother's Blues" a delightful instrumental piece of jazzy, funky blues which of course honours Ella Mae (King) Turner. The album also inclues "My Uncle's Blues (Fannie Mae)" honoring his uncle Leon King. The music draws on a wide range of influences like doo-wop, R&B, gospel, soul, and blues and binds them all together in an excellent gumbo (Turner now lives and works in New Orleans) which is strongly recommended . The lyrics of the songs come with dashes of humour and the expected added undertones of saddness and trouble.
Check out 'What's Wrong With The World Today' and the foot-tappingly funky 'Don't You Ride My Mule'. Benny is a bass player with occasional stabs at guitar work, but, he has surrounded himself with some excellent musicians who gell well. Benny calles his band "Real Blues", a great name as that is what they deliver. More please.
ANDY FAIRWEATHER LOW & THE LOW RIDERS
Proper Records: PRPCD110
Andy Fairweather Low is a Welsh superstar, without doubt. Think Wales and Tom Jones probably comes to mind. But think again: AFL is the guy who brought the 1960s hits 'Paradise', Bend Me, Shape Me' etc to the musical table as frontman of Amen Corner.
In the 70s he again hit the UK charts with the wonderfully colourful and wittily emotional, 'Wide Eyed And Legless', before going on to help Clapton put together the arrangements for the multi-million selling, 'Clapton Unplugged' release. Indeed, for the past couple of decades, Low has been a permanent annual touring fixture, as guitarist, with Clapton's own band.
In addition, he tours regularly with ex-Pink Floyd Roger Waters, and former Rolling Stone bassman, Bill Wyman. He has also played with a veritable who's who of rock and modern music royalty: Bob Dylan, Elton John, Dave Crosby, BB King, Joe Cocker, Bonnie Raitt, The Who, Jimmy Page, Van Morrison, Phil Collins, The Bee Gees. The list is virtually endless, impressive and illustrates the importance and high esteem with which this guy is held among his critical contemporaries. A major figure who, despite the astonishing credentials and CV, somehow always seems to ride and roll just below the radar.
Now actively touring with his own excellent band, The Low Riders, 'Zone-O-Tone' is a 13-track album featuring Fairweather Low's strong and subtle songwriting skills together with marvelous ensemble performances from a fabulous foursome. This must be one of the most enjoyable, polished albums of the year. An absolute winner! A sparkling gem from a true genius.
WILY BO WALKER & KARENA K
A Long Way From Heaven
Mescal Canyon Records: MCREX019
A Long Way From Heaven maybe a bit closer to the fires below with this very strong bit of blues and grit from a talented duo. The Devil's music at its best in this six-track extended EP or short CD album. It's really take your pick here.
All tracks are gripping and wonderfully produced to provide an excellent overall result.Fretwork is excellent, swampy and slithery at times with Wily K Walker's vocals rasping along like a road-repair crew shoveling aggregates. This guy has a voice that would make Dean Martin seem gritty! Luckily his vocals are perfectly counterbalanced by the sweeter notes of his partner, Karena K.
A positively recommended effort from an exciting, dynamic pair of quality musicians. Worth checking out.
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