Well friends, I managed to get back on track with the five reviews for this week even though I missed Hump Day. Somehow the Fast Five turned in to a guitar love-fest. We’ve got Devon Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, and Gary Clark Jr. We also have Mississippi Heat whose new disc has plenty of terrific guitar playing too.
This edition also marks the first time most of the reviews feature albums released during the same week. How do you like that? Fresh biscuits indeed! As always, I hope you find something new and interesting for your ears…
Ragged & Dirty
Release Date October 14, 2014
Devon Allman has been a busy man for the last few years. He wound down Honeytribe with Space Age Blues, recorded two studio albums and a live set with Royal Southern Brotherhood, and released Turquoise, the first disc under his own name. In October Devon will release his second solo album Ragged & Dirty. Devon chose to record the new album in Chicago and brought in Blues Producer Extraordinaire Tom Hambridge work on the disc. Hambridge pulls triple duty adding drummer and songwriter to his credits on the album. The core band on the project is rounded out by Felton Crews on bass, Giles Cory on guitar and Marty Sammon on keyboards. Together they put together a moody, surging disc that rivals anything out there today.
Ragged & Dirty is a bit of a misnomer though. I was a little disappointed at first. To me a ragged and dirty Chicago blues album is Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. That’s ragged and dirty and oh so glorious. Devon Allman’s Ragged & Dirty is syrupy sweet by comparison. But the songs are so damned good! While Turquoise was a solid effort, it was more of a singer/songwriter album. Ragged & Dirty is a fully realized blues rock record and plays to all of Devon Allman’s strengths. Gritty stomper “Half The Truth” opens the disc with a forceful punch. Your appetite for R&B gets a feast on a tremendous cover of “The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around” and Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” seems Taylor-made for Allman’s powerful voice, which seems even more emotive with female background accompaniment.
The centerpiece of Ragged & Dirty is a sprawling nine and a half minute instrumental called “Midnight Lake Michigan.” It burns with intensity hot enough to light Lake Shore Drive from dusk ‘til dawn. Devon also tips his hat to Windy City blues heritage with the title track, Luther Allison’s “Ragged & Dirty.” Allman’s own songs fit perfectly into the mix especially the funky “Blackjack Heartattack” which Devon delivers with a menacing vocal and snarling guitar licks. It segues into his smoldering blues called “Back To You.” His guitar chops have been honed by years of touring and dueling with Mike Zito in Royal Southern Brotherhood and it shows. He’s in great voice on Ragged & Dirty also, and delivers “Back To You” with a heavy weariness lesser singers could never conjure.
After about 45 minutes of intense blues rock, Devon closes the disc with an acoustic based balled reminiscent of “Left My Heart In Memphis” and “Turn Off The World.” It’s a great way to come down from what sounds like a high energy club set at Kingston Mines. Devon Allman has had the talent but recently he has honed his abilities and sensibilities and has come up with the best music of his already long career. I guess I’ll have to forgive him for it not being as ragged and dirty as I expected. I love it anyway.
Different Shades Of Blue
Released on September 23, 2014
Joe Bonamassa kicked off his solo career in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday. The title of his first album, in hindsight, reveals not just a tribute to Jethro Tull, but a mission statement for a career that continuously looks backward while firmly staking territory in the future. The music is not the only old-school influence on Joe Bonamassa. The old work ethic of making records frequently has rubbed off on him and he has compiled a lengthy discography in the last 14 years. In the liner notes Joe mentions that it’s been two years since his last solo studio album and that much has happened. He says he’s closed the first book of his career and Different Shades Of Blue is the first chapter in the new book. Maybe he’ll be taking it slower. He hints at enjoying the fruits of his intense labors and avoiding the blur.
Different Shades Of Blue opens with a short instrumental tribute to Jimi Hendrix’ with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Joe lists the gear used on the album but leaves you to figure which vintage Strat he used for this short but sweet tip ‘o the hat. “Oh Beautiful!” follows, with a heavy riff that would have made a perfect Black Country Communion track. As it is, Joe and the band tear into with gusto and leave you wondering Black what? The recent single, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues” is a blues rock interpretation of the classic Elmore James shuffle. From the title it seems like it might not sing well, but Joe has become quite a vocalist and put the emphasis in exactly the right spots and they seem so obvious, you’ll be singing along in no time. The title track opens with a melancholy, descending acoustic riff with mournful electric wailing over it. The chorus has harmony vocals that elevate the spirit of the song with a brave defiance that sees you through the “Different Shades Of Blue.” The song is capped by a full on Bonamassa solo full of strings bent to Hell and rapid fire notes raining down like Armageddon.
You don’t get a lot of surprises with Different Shades Of Blue but that’s not a bad thing. The songs are well developed, keep you interested, and sound crisp. There are meaty riffs and blinding solos. Joe Bonamassa has never denied his love of 70’s Blues Rock and he carries the torch with pride. Why not? He plays the bejesus out of it and sings it more and more like Paul Rodgers as the years go by. Joe is not a one trick pony however, and this album showcases all his loves from Chicago Blues to electric folk tunes and smoky jazz piano balladry. Bonamassa has his share of detractors and I think a lot of them just don’t want to like his music. I think they see him as generic, but they just aren’t going deep enough. Joe Bonamassa is a lasting talent who has conducted himself with professionalism missing from many people his age, he has an enthusiasm for music that is tangible and the will to share Different Shades Of Blues with the masses.
Released September 23, 2014
Gary Clark Jr. seemed to come out of nowhere around 2011 with his EP on Warner Brothers but as is often the case, no one arrives fully formed. The 30 year old Clark got his start, like many Texas blues players, with some help from Austin legend Clifford Antone. He’s had some independent releases and made his major label debut on Warner Brothers late in 2010 with The Bright Lights EP. His Blak And Blu album really put him on the map and he’s been riding a wave of big name recognition ever since. His live shows with his powerhouse band are not to be missed but in case you haven’t made it, or just want to relive it, there’s the new album Gary Clark Jr. Live.
The set opens with a dense, murky take on “Catfish Blues.” This fish is swimming in filthy pond of Robin Trower residue from 1973. It’s terrific. Clark even sounds a little bit like James Dewar, Trower’s vocalist from long ago. There’s all sorts of garage blues on this Live set though, from the stomp of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” Memphis late nite “3 O’Clock Blues,” and a pair of Albert Collins jams including “If Trouble Was Money” and “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Little Johnny Taylor probably never expected his tune to be bookended by “Third Stone From The Sun” but it works pretty well. Let’s call it a glorious juxtaposition!
We’re covering some intense guitar playing this week and Gary Clark Jr. Live may be the most intense. Second guitarist King Zapata and Gary Clark Jr. send each other soaring higher with shocking regularity. The guitar tones are angry, and aggressive, and sweet, and soothing. There’s a density of sound that two guitars, bass, and drums rarely achieve without sacrificing clarity. Yet, they do it and they do it well. “Third Stone From The Sun” has the sound of a bulldozer gleefully destroying your house and “Bright Lights” is the dance they do around the fire they just started with its remains. It’s malevolently magnificent music making.
Gary Clark Jr. Live transcends blues, roots, soul, and rock. Gary Clark Jr. says it’s all soul music. He certainly seems to pour his soul into making it and the band, featuring Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, and drummer Johnny Radelat, are right there with him, giving their all for the higher power of music. Together they leave it all on the stage. With the energy level captured on this live disc, I don’t know how they do it night after night but I’m glad they do.
Released September 23, 2014
Led by harmonica master Pierre Lacocque and fronted by vocalist Inetta Visor, Mississippi Heat has become one of the most consistently excellent bands in recent memory. Based in Chicago, they have their finger on the pulse of Big City Blues. They deftly handle all styles of Blues and do so with integrity, honesty, and a convincing authority. Warning Shot, on Delmark, is the band’s latest release. It’s out now on CD and will soon be available on vinyl.
Pierre Lacocque blows a mean harp and his flourishes are all over the disc. He’s also the principal songwriter for the band and he has conjured several excellent tunes for the new disc. Warning Shot kicks into high gear immediately with an Elmore James style boogie called “Sweet Poison.” I like the lyrical touches in ‘Sweet Poison” and duality of enjoying the thing that’s dangerous to you. It’s not an entirely new way to phrase it, but it flows in the song and it’s a sentiment everyone can relate to. In many ways, the song encapsulates what’s great about Mississippi Heat. They play familiar music with new twists and remain approachable to listeners. “Come To Mama” has Latin percussion and a Cuban beat, conjuring images of the band leading a dancing audience up and down Rush Street. “Swingy Dingy” is a rockin’ Chicago shuffle, “Too Sad To Wipe My Tears” is a dose of low down back porch blues, and the title track “Warning Shot” is an uptown swing number complete with big background vocals, a horn section, and some hot guitar playing from Carl Weathersby.
Michael Dotson, formerly of Magic Slim & The Teardrops, provides plenty of stellar guitar licks and keeps the band grounded in Chicago Blues territory. He takes lead vocal on a few tracks including the Mississippi Hill Country via Chicago heart-pounder “Yeah Now Baby.” He also rips it up in festive style on the Latin-style “Happy Birthday” which also features percussionist Ruben Alvarez. Vocalist Inetta Visor is a consummate singer and puts her stamp on every song, as if she wrote them herself, which is a testament to her talent and vision as part of Mississippi Heat.
Mississippi Heat have a dedicated following in the Blues community and Warning Shot is might be the one that breaks them open to a wider audience. They captured the raucous spirit of a live show and showcased their ability to meld their influences into a cohesive sound of their own. The mix of instruments and shared lead vocals keep everything from sounding the same and holds your interest over the course of 64 minutes. Warning Shot is an impressive album with something for just about any blues fan.
Live At Bush Hall 2007
Released September 23, 2014
When the world lost Gary Moore on February 6, 2011 it lost a major musical force. Gary was one of the much maligned Rock & Roll ex-patriots the Blues purists love to hate, but Gary was accepted by two Kings of the Blues and the Master of the Telecaster, all of whom were guests on his records, and stages around the world. Gary truly appreciated the music and those who made it before he did. He was always respectful of the art form and played it with his usual individuality. Freedom of expression has always been a hallmark of blues and roots music and Gary managed to forge a blues sound of his own. His blues were never more dynamic than in the live setting and the proof is in the new album Live At Bush Hall 2007.
This show, recorded on May 17, 2007 at London’s picturesque 400-person capacity Bush Hall, was originally broadcast by Planet Rock radio. Gary had just released Close As You Get This and to promote it, he worked with Planet Rock to give away tickets for this intimate show. This CD release marks the first time the complete show has been available since its original broadcast. The concert features a handful of tunes from Close As You Get such as “Eyesight To The Blind” and “If The Devil Made Whiskey,” which he rarely played live afterward. For all his storied guitar histrionics Moore was able to bring it down and deliver beautifully delicate songs like “I Had A Dream” and “Still Got The Blues.” “I Had A Dream” is a master class in playing for the song and keeping the melody in mind while soloing.
Gary Moore also tips his hat to his blues mentors with a contrarily energetic version of Albert Collins’ “Too Tired,” a snarling “Walking By Myself,” and a nine minute romp through Little Milton’s “Blues Is Alright.” For the Thin Lizzy faithful, Moore plays a blistering “Don’t Believe A Word.” Gary Moore was a musician like Johnny Winter, in the sense that he could come out and play anything and hold the audience captive. It wasn’t about hits. It was about great songs, exciting playing, and engaging the crowd. The music world lost a unique and talented player when Gary Moore died. Luckily, through his albums and archival live releases like Live At Bush Hall 2007, we can continue to appreciate the genius of his craft.