Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews September 26, 2014

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…

 

DevonAllmanRaggedAndDirtyDevon Allman

Ragged & Dirty

Ruf Records

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.

 

JoeBonamassaDifferentShadesOfBlueJoe Bonamassa

Different Shades Of Blue

J&R Adventures

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.

 

GaryClarkJrLiveGary Clark Jr.

Live

Warner Brothers

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.

 

MississippiHeatWarningShotMississippi Heat

Warning Shot

Delmark

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.

 

GaryMooreLiveAtBushHall2007Gary Moore

Live At Bush Hall 2007

Eagle Rock

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.

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For September 23, 2014

It’s another Tuesday and time for the New Releases rundown. There were only a few last week and I was incredibly busy so I skipped it. I included last week’s releases with this post so hopefully if you missed something, you’ll see it here.

Lots of new releases this week, from legends like Marcia Ball and Duke Robillard, to younger artists like Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Joanne Shaw Taylor and more. Happy hunting, we hope you find something new to enjoy.

New Releases For September 23, 2014

Marcia Ball

Marcia Ball Tattooed Lady & The Alligator Man

Duke Robillard

Duke Robillard Calling All Blues

Joanne Shaw Taylor

Joanne Shaw Taylor Dirty Truth

Joe Bonamassa

Joe Bonamassa Different Shades Of Blue

Big Joe Turner

Big Joe Turner The Night Time Is The Right Time: The Ronn Recordings & More

Jimmy Carpenter

Jimmy Carpenter Walk Away

Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr. Gary Clark Jr. Live

Gary Moore

Gary Moore Live At Bush Hall 2007

And now here’s what we missed last week…

New Releases For September 16, 2014

 

Mississippi Heat

Mississippi Heat Warning Shot

Markey Blue

Markey Blue Hey Hey

Louisana Blues Brothas

Louisana Blues Brothas Love On The Bayou

I’m trying to pin down a release date on this one because I like that kind of information, but it is available through CDBaby and on The Chief’s website  .

Eddy Clearwater

Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater Soul Funky Live

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Four CD Reviews – September 19, 2014

Well folks, it’s been a crazy week and I’ve been busy with all sorts of non-blues stuff. I do have a day job you know. Two, actually! Unfortunately, Friday is running out and I only had time to write up four reviews. I know, I know, you were really looking forward to that fifth review. What could it have been? Devon Allman? Duke Robillard? Norman Taylor? Bob Eike? Well, maybe you’ll find out next week if I do Fast Six. It kinda kills the alliteration though and that’s going a little too far right? Maybe not.

This week does mark the 44th anniversary of the death of Jimi Hendrix. He died on September 18, 1970, just weeks before I was born. Somehow, his music has moved me since before I was a teenager. So, this week I offer a run down of his first two posthumous albums, which were reissued on Tuesday September, 16th. Also featured is a hot new disc from a guy I never heard of before, and a live album from a modern blues guitar hero who is under-rated for his vocal talents. I hope you enjoy them and find some music you want to explore.

 

JimiHendrixTheCryOfLoveJimi Hendrix

The Cry Of Love

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

The Cry Of Love was long regarded as the most accurate approximation of Jimi Hendrix’ intended final album. After Jimi’s death, Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer compiled the completed tracks they had been working on for the Electric Ladyland follow up. While Hendrix had been hoping to put out another double LP, The Cry of Love is a single disc distillation of what was finished for the project. Naturally, Jimi could have changed any of these tunes or re-recorded them, as he often did, up until the album went to press but it’s generally accepted that he was satisfied with these as presented. The Cry of Love was available on CD until 1992 and all of the tracks re-appeared in re-mastered form later on.

The Cry of Love is a curious album and shows how diverse the planned double LP would have been. In 1997, Experience Hendrix attempted to create the double album and issued First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. Hendrix mention the First Rays name in a few interviews, but the last written title found on one of Jimi’s hand-written track lists, was Strate Ahead. Instead, the record was named for the last tour Jimi Hendrix and Mitch Mitchell did together, along with bassist Billy Cox, who also plays on the bulk of the album. The tracks range from the revved-up R&B of “Freedom” to silly blues jamming like “Belly Button Window.” Hendrix shows he hasn’t lost his touch with backwards guitar on “Drifting,” unleashed the funky Heavy Metal thunder on “EZY Rider,” and gave us the poignant ballad “Angel.” Over all, Jimi’s music was taking a turn toward R&B and funk, and his playing is less incendiary than on previous records but is no less masterful. His sonic palette was expanding rapidly and his ability to layer disparate guitar parts into an improbable whole was unparalleled. Just listen to all the parts in “Freedom.” His rhythm as lead style is prominent on “Drifting” and he adds Buzzy Linhart on vibes to the layers of forward and backward guitars. It creates an illusion of a sparse arrangement, yet it’s quite densely packed.

VH1 recently called The Cry Of Love the greatest posthumous classic rock record of all time. I can’t agree with them, but it is damned good. All the hallmarks of Jimi’s playing are here, his voice sounds great, and his guitar harmonies are soaring. It has been said that Jimi’s last year was directionless and frustrating as he tried to explore scattered arrays of new music but was stifled by his management, stressed by his legal battles, and irritated by touring demands. Jimi may have been looking for a new direction for his music but unfortunately he didn’t realize his music was the new direction. He brought it all together and that’s why it resonates with us over 40 years later. The Cry of Love reminds us all of what was lost on September 18, 1970.

 

 

JimiHendrixRainbowBridgeJimi Hendrix

Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

Rainbow Bridge was the second posthumous Jimi Hendrix release and has been out of print for quite some time. While nominally a soundtrack from the horrible Rainbow Bridge file, to which Hendrix was loosely tethered when Hendrix’ manager Michael Jeffery realized his film project was dying a slow death. Hendrix, Mitch Mitchell, and Billy Cox appear briefly in the film, mostly through live concert footage filmed in Maui. None of the Maui concert is featured on Rainbow Bridge. None. Only about 17 minutes of highly edited footage of the concert made it into the film itself. So what is on Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack? Well, most of the songs on the soundtrack appear as incidental music in the film. Most of the music was intended for the planned sprawling double LP follow up to Electric Ladyland.

“Dolly Dagger,” “Earth Blues,” “Room Full Of Mirrors,” and “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun)” all turned up on Experience Hendrix’ 1997 effort to construct the great lost Jimi Hendrix album First Rays Of The New Rising Sun. “Pali Gap” and “Look Over Yonder” turned up on South Saturn Delta, the studio version of “Star Spangled Banner” was included on The Jimi Hendrix Experience box set, and “Hear My Train A Comin’” has been featured on Blues in 1994 and Voodoo Child: The Jimi Hendrix Collection in 2001, each with slightly different edits of Jimi’s introduction. If it seems like you need a scorecard, you’re right; especially if you have this album on vinyl and wanted a digital version.

There are plenty of reasons to want this album in its original configuration. It has no less than two now classic Hendrix tunes – “Dolly Dagger” and “Room Full Of Mirrors” – and an absolutely scorching version of “Hear My Train A Comin’” which was recorded live during the first show at Berkeley Community Center on May 30, 1970. In just under twelve minutes Jimi lays the groundwork for all the major blues heroes of the modern era. From Stevie Ray Vaughan to Eric Gales, it’s all here. If there is any doubt about Hendrix as bluesman, he crushes all your arguments in the first few minutes. The production on this live track is incredible too. Producers Mitch Mitchell and Eddie Kramer expertly meld it with the studio cuts. The whole album is surprisingly cohesive and there are no replacement musicians to be found as there are on Crash Landing and Midnight Lightning. Mitchell did do some drum overdubs however, but who’s to say those wouldn’t have been done anyway. Kramer and Mitchell were Jimi’s closest musical confidants and their love of Jimi and the music the made together comes through in the creation of this album. It’s nice to have it back in its initial form once again.

 

HarpdogBrownWhatItIsHarpdog Brown

What It Is

Dog Breath Records

Released March 4, 2014

 

I hate shrill harmonica. In fact, it kept me away from harmonica bands for a long time. I owe my new found love of harmonica bands to Dustin Arbuckle of Moreland & Arbuckle. I love his tone. But this is not about Dustin, or me for that matter. It’s about the glorious harp tone that opens What It Is by Harpdog Brown. It’s rich, thick, gritty, and grooving. Harpdog has been in the Blues business for thirty years and you hear them all in the opening moments of “Doncha Know I Loves Ya.” The first four bars are the mission statement, buy in, and hostile takeover. It kicks off an hour of blues from the gut that will hit you where it counts on every track.  

I don’t know how this guy from Vancouver sounds like he was raised in Mississippi but he does. The whole band melds styles from Chicago to Austin, and L.A. too. Guitarist Jordan Edmunds has a west coast blues feel, like a mix of T-Bone Walker and Little Charlie Baty, with just enough Texas shuffle to keep you guessing. John R. Hunter on drums and George Fenn on bass swing with delight, drop down low for the gutbucket shuffles, and march with pride. “If You Wanna Grow Old” sounds like the soundtrack to a train robbery murder mystery. Thematically it’s quite different. Harpdog relates lessons in moderation he’s learned in his quest to keep having birthdays. “No Money In The Till” talks about the hardships and travails of the 99% over a “.44 Blues” style riff. “Blue Lights” is a tour de force instrumental with Harpdog showing off how he earned his name. “Headin’ Out” closes the record with a definite Howlin’ Wolf vibe that was alluded to throughout the disc.

What It Is comes chocked full of classic blues tones, Harpdog’s robust vocals, colorful wordplay, and top notch playing. I admit I never heard of Harpdog Brown before last week, but I’m hooked now. This is honest, deep earth blues. These guys feel it; there is nothing forced. The blues seem to flow from these Canadians. Hail Canada, the new home of the Blues! What It Is is a harmonica lover’s dream. Harpdog digs deep, swings hard, and rocks the house. Hopefully it will find a home south of the border and worldwide.

 

 

CocoMontoyaSongsFromTheRoadCoco Montoya

Songs From The Road

Ruf Records

Released on July 8, 2013

 

Astonishingly, Songs From The Road is the first live release from the dynamic Coco Montoya. Coco has probably logged millions of miles and thousands of shows from his days with Albert Collins and John Mayall to his stellar solo career. Coco has been out there playing the blues for decades. Recently Ruf Records has been putting out these live Songs From The Road sets, usually featuring one CD and one DVD. Here we get two CDs recorded on two nights, almost a year apart. The result is like getting a full Coco Montoya show on tape and it is glorious.

The spirit of Coco’s mentor Albert Collins is alive and well in album. The set opens with Collins’ “I’ve Got A Mind To Travel” and it makes the perfect icebreaker, giving Coco and keyboardist Brant Leeper plenty of room to stretch out with their solos and get loosened up. Also on disc one is a cold fusion tribute to Albert called “Love Jail.” It’s a classic Collins Shuffle, complete with Jimmy McGriff style organ and a walking bass line that Albert loved to have underneath his blistering solos. Coco Montoya shows what he learned from the Master Of The Telecaster blending it skillfully with his own style. The tune is a ten minute foray into blues jamming that makes you forget the inane love jail lyrics.

Disc two has an extended 15 minute take on the tender ballad “Good Days, Bad Days.” Bassist Nathan Brown plays a sweetly melodic solo. Coco’s guitar work on this tune reminds me of Mark Knopfler. It is delicate, precise, tone rich, and perfect for the song. He builds his solo into a sizzling frenzy and reins it back in to finish with gentle tones and volume swells. If this one doesn’t make you want to see the band live you might be agoraphobic. It should be noted that the liner notes and back cover have incorrect running orders for disc two. “Good Days, Bad Days” and “I Need Your Love In My Life” are reversed, as are “My Side Of The Fence” and album closer “You’d Think I’d Know Better By Now.” This is of course not reflective of Coco Montoya. This is a record label mistake.

There may be some printing issues with Songs From The Road but the playing is top quality. Coco’s band is locked and loaded, ready to follow Coco anywhere. Coco Montoya gets accolades for his guitar playing but his smooth, soulful voice is a major asset. He sings with authority and finesse. He also wrote all but two of the tunes on Songs From The Road. The album gives a great overview of the band’s talents, Coco’s abilities, and his deep catalog of songs. Songs From The Road has been a long time coming but it showcases an artist at the top of his game. Go out and get it!

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 9/17/14

VictoriaSpiveyTime’s running out on Hump Day but it’s not too late for some black snake moaning. Black snakes crawling, black snakes creeping, and crawling king snakes everywhere. The snake, the serpent, the biblical slithering source of sin – it turns up often in blues and it’s offering fruit from the tree of carnal knowledge. “Black Snake Blues” by Victoria Spivey is the first known recorded reference to the Black Snake metaphor. Victoria recorded the song in 1926 for Okeh. It is thought that Blind Lemon Jefferson wrote his “Black Snake Moan” in response to Spivey’s tune. Response songs were common in the early days of recorded music. If a song became popular, others tried to capitalize by recording an answer song. This is a trend that continues today, for instance, 50 Cent recorded “21 Questions” and then Lil’ Mo recorded “21 Answers.” Also, all throughout the history of blues, but especially in the early days, musicians would capitalize on the popularity of a song by re-writing in slightly and issuing it. So, once the Black Snake was unleashed it started turning up in dark places everywhere.

One of the most famous uses of the snake in blues is John Lee Hooker’s “Crawling King Snake.” The Hook recorded several versions and so have a myriad of other artists including The Doors. Jim Morrison was considered a major sex symbol in the late sixties and he knew how to supercharge the music with sexuality. He, and The Doors brought the danger, mystery, and sexuality of blues into their apocalyptic rock music.

So today we have Victoria Spivey’s tune that started it all, Jefferson’s answer song, The Hook rocking out with Foghat and Paul Butterfield as he asserts his dominance, and some rare footage of The Doors recording John Lee’s classic. Maybe next time we’ll feature David Coverdale singing about his Whitesnake. Maybe not…

Victoria Spivey Black Snake Blues

 

Blind Lemon Jefferson Black Snake Moan

 

John Lee Hooker Crawling King Snake

 

The Doors Crawling King Snake

 

WAIT…

 

 

FOR…

 

 

IT…

 

 

 

 

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – September 12, 2014

My initial idea for the Friday Fast Five CD Reviews was to do quick reviews of about 300 words each. I knew I wouldn’t be able to rein it in that low. I hope you’ll stick with me and the longer reviews. I like to have context and some artist background to help you get into the mindset of the music and my opinions. Thanks for reading so far and I hope you gain some insight and interest in some new music over the course of the next 2600 words. Damn, 2600…

 

DavePhilAlvinCommonGroundDave & Phil Alvin

Common Ground

Yep Roc

Released June 3, 2014

 

Dave and Phil Alvin were at the vanguard of the early 80’s post-punk music scene in Southern California. They knew the value of simplicity and the Do-It-Yourself work ethic of punk but instead of cutting rock & roll down to a stump and burning it like the punks, the brothers were interested in cultivating the roots. With their band The Blasters, they dug deep in to Blues, Rockabilly, Country & Western and Rhythm & Blues. Armed with Dave Alvin’s timeless songs, and Phil Alvin’s distinct voice and incendiary delivery, The Blasters reminded everyone within earshot of the true nature of Rock & Roll. Unfortunately, brothers don’t always get along and by the mid-80’s Dave split and developed a rich legacy on his own and big brother Phil has kept The Blasters going lo these many years, including occasional reunions with Dave. In 2012, Phil Alvin almost died due to a complication from an abscess tooth that caused his throat to swell up during the last song of a show in Valencia, Spain. Phil was rushed to the hospital where he flatlined. Phil woke up two days later with a hole in his throat from a tracheotomy. In the meantime, Dave had been getting calls with bad and better news, from Phil being dead, to brain-dead, to alive and well. He described the experience as unnerving. Go figure.

The Brotherly love resurfaced and the two found Common Ground for fresh musical collaboration in the songs of Big Bill Broonzy. They went back to the blues, the heart of American Music, and came up with a stunning album. These tracks could be Blasters tunes. Big Bill’s influence is obvious when you hear this record. Maybe it’s Phil’s voice; he makes every song his own. His timbre, his inflection, his enunciation; it’s all distinctly Phil Alvin no matter who wrote the song. However one of the true highlights of the album is hearing Phil and Dave sing together. They trade verses in several tunes and Phil provides powerful background accents in “Stuff They Call Money.” The disc opens with “All By Myself” which finds Phil and Dave sharing vocals on this acoustic guitar driven track. The title and theme clearly doesn’t apply to the Brothers Alvin anymore, who are thankfully back to making music together.

There are too many highlights on Common Ground. “How You Want It Done” combines Rockabilly, Blues, and Country & Western into a fast pickin’ two-step boogie that proves Blues is the Mother of all those styles. Phil blows a mean harp behind Dave’s lead vocal on “Southern Flood Blues” which also features some incendiary lead guitar from Dave Alvin. “Truckin’ Little Woman” will have you checking all the truck stops to find her. “Key To The Highway” is epically jaunty, and the world weariness of both Phil and Dave’s vocal delivery give authenticity to the rambling itch. You can see them tossing guitars in the back of a long black Cadillac and hightailing out of town with the women waving goodbye in the distance.

As a long time Blasters fan, I had high hopes for Common Ground and it exceeded all my expectations. I would place it high on any best of 2014 list. The arrangements compliment the songs, which are performed with love and respect for Big Bill Broonzy evident in every note. More importantly, you can hear the love and respect Phil and Dave have for each other. There’s a strange comfort that comes from knowing Phil Alvin is singing along with his brother Dave’s guitar playing again. With Common Ground on the stereo, for 43 minutes everything is right with the world again.

 

JarekusSingletonRefuseToLoseJarekus Singleton

Refuse To Lose

Alligator Records

Released May 6, 2014

 

Jarekus Singleton is at the vanguard of young blues musicians. The Mississippi native is a former college basketball star and played three years as the starting point guard at the University of Southern Mississippi. Unfortunately, an ankle injury ended his basketball career. Jarekus then turned his attention full time to his music career. Jarekus got his musical start singing in church and his uncle had him playing bass in the church band at age nine. He performed as rapper for a while but eventually turned his attention the indigenous music of Mississippi: Blues. Jarekus’ wordplay and hip-hop background have helped him develop a fresh approach to lyrics that skips the tried and true couplets, and opens things up for more developed story telling. At 29, Jarekus has a surprising amount of stories to tell and he does so in a way that draws you in. Refuse To Lose is his debut on Alligator Records and it is a testament to Jarekus’ fortitude and positive attitude.

The disc opens with “I Refuse To Lose.” The band includes James Salone on organ, Ben Sterling on bass, and John “Junior” Blackmon on drums. They are spandex-tight and the guitars are searing as Jarekus sings his “soul is a weapon and I won’t conceal it.” “Keep Pushin’” is another autobiographical song which tells of his travails and trials as an upcoming basketball titan and his path to the blues. His singing and playing are powerful and impassioned as you’d expect but he crafted an excellent song. Jarekus Singleton’s guitar playing and singing are terrific but his strength as a songwriter will keep him relevant. The songs on Refuse To Lose are several steps forward from his independent debut album. Heartfelt was a promising start but Refuse To Lose shows immense growth in writing, performance, and arrangements. Bruce Iglauer, President of Alligator Records heard Jarekus at the 2013 International Blues Challenge, signed him to Alligator and took him under his wing. To his credit, Jarekus seems to have absorbed as much as possible so far from Mr. Iglauer, and applied it to his music.

“Hell” is a smoldering blues that recalls all the Kings of the blues and even invokes the name of Stevie Ray Vaughan in a creative lyrical twist. Jarekus plays custom instruments from Clevenger Guitars and he gets rich tones from guitars that have almost no bodies. “High Minded” and “Hero” seem linked by the allure of bling and flash either for you, or admiring it on others. In “Hero” Jarekus was impressed by someone who seemed to have it all, except an admirable moral center. In “High Minded” he sings about a woman with her mind on herself, superficial things, and little else. Obviously, Jarekus values a strong spirit and personal fortitude but also self-awareness and awareness of others. It comes through in his lyrics and his passionate guitar playing.

Altogether, Jarekus and the band have crafted a fine second album. There is no sophomore slump here. There has been a lot of hype surrounding Jarekus Singleton and label mate Selwyn Birchwood as keepers of the flame in the blues world. Sometimes it becomes hyperbole but sometimes the hype is matched by talent, ability, and originality. Such is the case with Refuse To Lose. Refuse To Lose isn’t just an album title but a credo. From triumph to tragedy and triumph again, this young man has faced adversity and simply refused to give up. In the crucible of those experiences, a seasoned performer, and writer, was forged. Give in to the hype, pick up Refuse To Lose, and get out there and see this band live.

 

KirbySewellBandGirlWithANewTattooKirby Sewell Band

Girl With A New Tattoo

Smelly Cat Records

Will be released on September 30, 2014

 

I’m not sure what’s been going on in Canada in the last ten years or so, but it has become a fertile breeding ground for Blues in the 21st Century. The music has followed the Mississippi River way up north and taken hold. Almost as an antidote to the bloated, big business popular music in the United States, it seems Canadians are looking deeper for more meaningful music that requires skill and attention to the craft. Kirby Sewell Band definitely fits into that movement. Hailing from Calgary, they released their first disc in 2010. Led by six foot six inch blues belter Kirby Sewell, the band has been spreading the word and sharing their mix of Americana roots music. Girl With The New Tattoo is their next step forward.

“The Devil’s in The Details” offers a churning riff and funky chords, and Sewell’s smooth honey-oak cured voice. “Simply Not Enough” has some sweet sounding guitar harmonies. The guitar team of Neil Gunhold and Morgan Turk put together well placed harmonies all over this record. Neil Gunhold is listed as producer and primary song writer. He certainly builds satisfying arrangements. Some great examples are “Carry Me Home” and “Stop And Go” which provide a back to back study in layering and intertwining instrumental parts. The pieces fit like an exquisite jigsaw puzzle that appears seamless when complete.

“$1.11” boogies with a classic stomping jive beat while Sewell laments “I sold my soul for a dollar, I sold my dreams for a dime. I sold my heart for a penny in a pawnshop on the corner. Now I got a $1.11.” I hope he doesn’t spend it all in one place. I can’t tell if Sewell is scornful of the “Girl With A New Tattoo” or if he’s shining her on to get lucky. He says he hasn’t seen a tattoo of a unicorn in a while so I’m guessing it’s the latter. He’s obviously smitten either way and it seems any tattoo gets his motor running. The disc cover is adorned with lovely Betties showing their ink and it’s quite eye-catching, but there’s nary a unicorn in sight. Maybe it has been a while after all.

Girl With A New Tattoo is not strictly blues. If you’re looking for Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, or Son House this isn’t where you’ll find it. But hey, there are plenty of Muddy Waters songs to listen to after you give Kirby Sewell Band a spin or two. If you like neatly arranged songs with plenty of energy and instrumental interplay to follow, and smooth, but rousing, hot-blooded vocals this is a great place to start.

 

RobStoneGottaKeepRollinRob Stone

Gotta Keep Rollin’

VizzTone

Released September 9, 2014

 

Rob Stone is a Boston native who caught the blues bug at a Charlie Musselwhite show. Stone spent some time learning from Jerry Portnoy and playing with Rockabilly legend Sleepy LaBeef. During his four yearstint with Sam Lay, Stone met Chris James and Patrick Rynn. Together they left Sam’s band and have been playing together ever since, churning out Chicago Blues in classic style, with high energy and authenticity. While they have dropped the C-Notes from the Rob Stone & The C-Notes band name, the core of Stone, James, and Rynn is very much intact on Gotta Keep Rollin’. Their chemistry is undeniable and they have produced a tour de force of Post War Blues revelry.

“Anything Can Happen” features Chicago Blues legend Eddie Shaw on saxophone. In a show of deference and class, Stone’s harp sits out and he allows his guest to shine. Eddie Shaw guests on two tracks, as does another legend, John Primer. Both men served as long time sidemen and as band leaders so they know how to make the song the centerpiece. All egos are left in the alley. On “Lucky 13” Stone and Primer trade licks in a stirring harp and guitar conversation. “Move Baby Move” has a “Shake Rattle & Roll” rhythm and Patrick Rynn’s bass keeps the beat surging. Chris James rips it up on guitar and Eddie Shaw offers up a hard-charging Rock and Roll sax treatment. This is the boogie woogie flu you won’t mind catching. John Primer sits in again on a mid-tempo eight bar blues called “Cold Winter Day.” There are not enough good eight bar blues these days. It’s like a lost art and I applaud them for doing this Willie McTell tune and doing it well.

Every Blues album needs a song about Bigfoot and Gotta Keep Rollin’ comes through with “Strollin’ With Sasquatch.” Stone’s harp is howlin’ like the Northwest winds as we slowly, softly shuffle through the redwoods in search of the elusive lost chord known as Sasquatch. I just want to say Sasquatch a lot. Sasquatch. What the title really says is that Rob Stone doesn’t take himself too seriously and wants to have some fun, even if it’s just the title of smoking instrumental. His brand of Chicago Blues is fun. The tempos get you moving, the lyrics make you smile, and playing with get you shaking your head and playing air piano. This is not downtrodden misery. It the music that makes you forget about the misery and puts a little swing in your step because if you’ve got the blues you Gotta Keep Rollin’.

 

JeffDaleGoodMusicJeff Dale And The South Woodlawners

Good Music

Pro Sho Bidness

Released July 8, 2014

 

Jeff Dale is from the South Side of Chicago. He’s an award winning songwriter and performer who learned to play the blues from West Side Chicago musicians around age 13. He wrote his first blues tune at 14 and eventually became an accompanist for legendary blues performers Lowell Fulson and Etta James. He put out two records in the ‘80s and pretty much disappeared. In 2009, Jeff returned with a new band, The South Woodlawners and the album Blues From The Southside Of My Soul. This year, Jeff Dale and his band put out their third album in five years, Good Music. You can really open a can of worms calling your record Good Music. It takes a fair amount of confidence and thick skins to endure the flogging you might get if it falls short of the title. I know my first reaction to the title was “I hope so.” After a look at the song titles, Dale’s grizzled visage on the cover, and a cigar box guitar on the inside cover I felt much better about the chances.

Trouble with Femme Fatales figures prominently on Good Music, and I’ve often said people happy and in love can’t make good music, so I was encouraged by this development. “Naked Woman In My Bed,” “Murder,” “She Love Me,” and “My Brain Took The Night Off” all describe the myriad effects of women. I must say I love it that Dale made the first line of “Naked Woman In My Bed” “I woke up this morning.” It’s a cliché turned on its head when he completes it with “there’s a naked woman in my bed.” Dale’s lyrics have a wry smile and reflect real life, which is sometimes funny and sometimes not. Dale is a keen observer and translates his findings into illustrative words. For instance in “Town Line Road” he sings “just because I can’t bathe you in diamonds baby, don’t mean that I’m no good.” He punctuates the sparse words with searing guitar licks reinforcing his frustration with the separation of sides on Town Line Road.

As Producer, Dale takes chances and brings in unexpected instrumentation. He has Dane Little on cello as the lead instrument on the slow burning “Final Destination.” The mournful cello weaves through the tune following Dale like a Hellhound on his trail. On “Murder,” Dale brought in Marilyn Schram to solo on oboe. Good Music is all about the unexpected, from instrumentation to topics, it will keep you guessing. You may even expect the title to be hype, but through clever writing, stylistic divergence, and songs about naked women you’ll come out the other side agreeing and shouting “Yeah, yeah! I like Good Music.”

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 9/10/14

TennyTuckerI recently had the opportunity to attend one of Teeny Tucker’s “Women In The Blues” presentations and it was quite informative and entertaining. I had never heard of Alberta Hunter and Teeny showed a video of the rediscovered, 82 year old blues singer. She was spunky, slyly humorous, winked at the audience, and sang about how her castle’s always rockin’. Even at 82, you believed it was true. Then, over this past weekend I was listening to B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius/XM and who comes on but Alberta Hunter with another bawdy tune – “You Can’t Tell The Difference After Dark.” Always being on the lookout for Blues filth, I made a mental note. Fast forward to Hump Day. This is a great opportunity to introduce you to Alberta Hunter, if like me, you never heard of her. I also included a Teeny Tucker song at the end, however, it is not bawdy. I just wanted you to hear her too if you have not.

On the subject of Women Of The Blues, many people don’t realize Blues was very much a woman’s domain in the early days. Researchers looking for info on Charley Patton, Son House, Robert Johnson, and many other prominent males, have often found that the women were remembered by more people and in greater detail. Women were also recorded earlier. In fact, Mamie Smith’s “Crazy Blues” is widely regarded as the first blues recording and was made on August 10, 1920. So how does this relate to Hump Day? You may have noticed most of the risque tunes are sung by women. It’s not that the women were more sexually charged than men, although they may have been (wink wink nudge nudge), but the women were making more records in general. Maybe the men were just tired from shaking ashes, greasing griddles, chopping meat, and trimming the lawn, if you know what I mean…

 

Alberta Hunter You Can’t Tell The Difference After Dark

Alberta Hunter My Handy Man Live – 1981

Alberta Hunter Two-Fisted Double-Jointed Rough And Ready Man

And here’s a sample of Teeny Tucker, taken from her performance at Sun Studios for their Sessions series.

Teeny Tucker Keep the Blues Alive

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For September 9, 2014

What does the new release schedule have in store for us this week?

This week’s new releases include Mike Zito & The Wheel’s live CD/DVD combo (only ten bucks on Amazon). Zito recently announced he’s leaving Royal Southern Brotherhood which really “Hurts My Heart” but I’ll get over it. RSB is picking up Bart Walker which should be an interesting combination.

Danny Bryant has a new disc out. Danny has been busy fronting Walter Trout’s band whilst Walter recovers from a liver transplant. There’s also a T-Bone Walker collection and an interesting collection contrasting and comparing God’s gospel and the Devil’s blues. We have a photo of the back cover so you can check out the 37 tracks.

 

Mike Zito

Mike Zito And The Wheel Songs From The Road – Live In Texas

Rob Stone

Rob Stone Gotta Keep Rollin’

Danny Bryant

Danny Bryant Temperature Rising

T-Bone Walker

T-Bone Walker Ultimate Collection 1929-57

Absolution

Absolution Dusty Road

Brownie McGhee
Sonny Terry

Rev. Gary Davis, Brownie McGhee, Sonny Terry, Louisiana Red, Jemima James and Bob Malenky The Blues & Salvation

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – September 5, 2014

It’s that time again Biscuiteers. Friday means CD reviews and today we have a Tale Of Two Winters – two recent Johnny Winter release battling it out for the soul of his legacy. Beyond that epic struggle, we have a brand new release from Linsey Alexander and two auspicious debut releases. 

LinseyAlexanderComeBackBabyLinsey Alexander

Come Back Baby

Delmark

Released August 19, 2014

Come Back Baby is the new album from Linsey Alexander on Delmark. Linsey is one of the leading artists performing Chicago Blues today. This album cover captures the nostalgic look of past Blues records but the music inside takes us to Chicago’s North Side clubs last weekend. “Booze And Blues” is lowdown and gritty with Linsey’s live guitar tone prominent in the mix. On some of Linsey’s recordings, his guitar tone is smoothed out and loses the elusive ‘it’ quality. Here Linsey has kept his sound intact and he rips it up in this funky club style workout. “I Got A Woman” is a slow burning tune that also highlights Linsey’s wonderful tone and deep Blues roots. His bends say everything you need to know, and the rest of his licks are exactly what you want to know. His vocal delivery is impassioned, burning with desire. He’s dazzling her with his finger work on the fret board and you just know he’s taking her downtown tonight.

On Come Back Baby, Linsey demonstrates his range and skill with deep Blues cuts, strutting shuffles, and funky uptown boogies like “Booty Call.” They don’t call him the Hoochie Man for nothing. He has an eye for the ladies and he’s not ashamed to let them know. Saxophonist Chris Neal dazzles on this one as does Linsey. His guitar riffs are blues club mating calls and according to the song, they’re drawing responses all around town. “Things Done Changed” is a poignant look at the changes in racial strife over the years since Linsey was a young man getting served food out back instead of inside a restaurant. He couldn’t sit where he wanted on the bus, or use just any public restroom. By singing about the positives in his life now, he seems to be making the point that others can be successful by embracing the changes and working toward more.

Come Back Baby closes with “Goin’ Out Walkin’” wherein Linsey proclaims, near the end of the tune and album, “I ain’t got no time to waste.” At 70 years old, he certainly feels the truth of that statement. However, Linsey wrote all but two songs on his new album, his voice sounds strong, and his guitar playing is authoritative and sharp. Come Back Baby is the best Linsey Alexander record I’ve heard. I haven’t heard them all, but of the four I have, this is the best. There have been other high points, but I finally feel the energy, fun and dynamics of his live sets have been captured on disc. The horns are unobtrusive and don’t water down the songs. The keyboards don’t smooth out the rough edges of the core quartet and Billy Branch guesting on three tracks makes it a jam. If you want to hear today’s Chicago blues played by a master of the form, Linsey Alexander’s Come Back Baby is the place to start.

 

HeresNikkiHillNikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records

Released April 2014

I never would have heard of Nikki Hill if not for my love of her husband Matt’s records and live shows. When I heard he was giving up his career as a bandleader and joining her band full time I was dubious. Then I checked out some videos on line and got a sense of her talents. Fast forward to the arrival of Here’s Nikki Hill, the new album from the Hill’s own label Deep Fryed Records. Nikki and Matt Hill are hosting a rock and soul revival. The songs hit hard and fast, with most clocking in around three minutes. Those three minutes pack a lot of punch, like their early Rock & Roll and Blues predecessors. The songs harken back to the days of Chess, Sun Records, and Stax. Nikki Hill’s voice is powerful, energizing every tune and Matt Hill fuels the fire with his incandescent rhythm guitar and lead work. The rhythm section, Ed Strohsahl on bass and Joe Meyer on drums, plays simple and perfectly effective back up. In the Nikki Hill Band, less is more and these guys back up the boss in style.

“Ask Yourself” kicks off the record by throwing down the gauntlet to her suitor. In essence, he better ask himself if he can handle a strong woman. “Ask Yourself” sets the tone for the rest of the album. Nikki Hill is very much the focus of the record, as she should be. The songs are stripped down, uncluttered, and keep your attention on Nikki’s voice. “I’ve Got A Man” gets the boogie going Mississippi Hill Country style. Matt Hill’s guitar tone is lean, clean, and mean as he leads the band through the hypnotic groove. In “Right On The Brink,” Nikki Hill sounds menacing and dangerous. ”I Know” is an authoritative cover of the great Barbara George track.

“Strapped To The Beat” is a swinging R&B tune and features a completely different band. Felix Reyes is on guitar, Ted Beranis on bass, Kenny Smith on drums, and Steve Eisen on saxophone. They cook up a rocking good track and Nikki Hill’s timeless voice makes the whole thing sound new yet nostalgic. The whole disc has a retro feel but it has an authenticity that elevates it above mere imitation. Everything about Nikki Hill is convincing, from her stage attire to her voice. She is the genuine article and Here’s Nikki Hill will make you a believer.

 

TheReverendShawnAmosTellsItThe Reverend Shawn Amos

The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It

Put Together

Released April 22, 2014

Shawn Amos was an A&R executive at Rhino Entertainment and vice president of A&R at Shout! Factory, where he produced and recorded multiple Grammy-nominated projects. He is founder and CEO of the digital content studio Freshwire, and is considered an “up and comer” by Forbes magazine. He’s the son of Wally “Famous” Amos and he plays a mean harp. The Rev is joined on his first outing, The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It, by his “gut bucket power trio” – Don Medina on drums, Chris Roberts on guitar and Ed Terrio on bass. They are occasionally joined by Anthony Marinelli on Hammond B-3 and vocalists Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough. The band makes a mission statement with “Hoodoo Man Blues.” They conjure the spirits of the past as Amos channels Junior Wells and the gut bucket power trio earns its nickname. On “(The Girl Is) Heavy” Gia Ciambotti and Kim Yarbrough add a touch of gospel soul to a song clearly about sinning.

“I’m The Face” is a full blown Chicago Blues treatment of an early High Numbers B-side. You might know The High Numbers as The Who. The Reverend Shawn Amos and his band give this tune the Maximum R&B for which it was destined. This is my favorite track on the EP. “Something Inside Of Me” is a low down and lonesome take on the Elmore James tune. At five minutes, it is the longest track of the set and gives everyone room to shine. Chris Roberts shimmering guitar ripples through the tune like waves loneliness. Amos gives his vocals everything he has and the anguish is palpable. “Good Morning Little School Girl” is a tried and true blues classic and it’s a little creepy. It has an awesome riff that draws people in, but damn, it is a lecherous sexualization of children and I pretty much wish people would stop covering it.

The EP closes with an Amos original called “Sometimes I Wonder.” It’s a slow R&B ballad that harkens back to Otis Redding. The Rev belts it out and brings it down real low. He puts his heart and soul into the song and it’s clear this captain of industry may have found his true calling. The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It has only six songs, clocks in around 21 minutes and shames almost every popular record pressed in 2014. This is organic music played with love, skill, and dedication and it’s out there right now waiting for you to discover it.

 

JohnnyWinterStepBackJohnny Winter

Step Back

Megaforce

Released September, 2, 2014

Step Back is the new record from Johnny Winter, who passed away this past July. Like his previous record, 2011’s Roots, this one is all covers and features a myriad of guests. Fortunately no pop stars showed up and it doesn’t devolve into Santana territory but it still doesn’t quite ring true as a Johnny Winter album. Johnny’s rhythm guitar is noticeably absent as is his signature guitar tone which has been a mainstay since the early 80’s. You know the one; it sounds a little thick and chorusy, and it’s all high-end from having the bass and mids dialed down on his Music Man 410 combo. On Step Back, much like on Roots, you’re hard-pressed to pick out what’s Johnny and what isn’t, which is probably why each track lists who solos when. On some tracks the guests are obvious but only because guys like Billy Gibbons and Brian Setzer came in with their signature tones intact.

Johnny Winter was pushing 70 when he made this record. He had a lifetime of health and personal issues. Compared to other active musicians at or around 70, like Buddy Guy, Linsey Alexander, Bobby Rush, Warner Williams, Bob Dylan, Stephen Stills, Dr. John, and others, Johnny was frail and feeling his age more than his peers. Still, when he sat down and played that guitar he was impressive. Maybe this was the best record he could make in his state of health. If you follow the credits, you can tell Johnny still had the chops even if his diminished tone is obscuring his identity. His voice is surprisingly strong, but sometimes he sounds disinterested in the material which makes me wonder who chose some of the songs.

There are some moments of brilliance on Step Back. “Who Do You Love?” is reinvented as a rockabilly tune with snarling slide guitars and bouncing roadhouse piano from Mike DiMeo. “Who Do you Love?” is a true step forward in every way and stands out far above most others on Step Back. Elmore James’ tune “Can’t Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby)” gets a rave-up featuring Johnny’s molten slide and guest Ben Harper ripping it up on a lap steel. There’s a lot of energy in this tune it kicks up a lot of dust in its wake. “Long Tall Sally” actually has Johnny playing rhythm guitar and it is immediately obvious. I knew before I looked at the notes because Johnny Winter had an inner rhythm all his own. It was his western swing rock and roll rhythm and blues heart beat coming through his hands and out in his music. It is a terrible loss for this album to have Johnny relegated only to solos and fills. Leslie West guests on this one and the two continue their streak of exciting collaborations. Check out Johnny sitting in on “Busted, Disgusted Or Dead” from Leslie’s excellent new disc Still Climbing.

My favorite track on Step Back is Son House’s “Death Letter.” The only performer on the track is Johnny Winter, playing slide on a steel guitar and belting out an emotional vocal take. This is the record he should have made. Ditch the guests and the band and Step Back in time to the dawn of the blues Johnny loved so much. Instead, we get a tepid foray back into guest-o-rama and it comes up short. Step Back does little to advance Johnny’s legacy. Maybe the guests like Eric Clapton, Joe Perry and Joe Bonamassa will entice people to check this out, but they won’t be getting music representative of Johnny’s stellar career. Hopefully they will look further.

 

JohnnyWinterLiveBootlegSeries11Johnny Winter

Live Bootleg Series Volume 11

Friday Music

Released July 29, 2014

One of the best things manager Paul Nelson did for Johnny Winter’s legacy was to start the Live Bootleg Series. Now at Volume 11, the series remains a treasure trove of unreleased live recordings, but for archivists it is an absolute nightmare. The liner notes provide no dates or locations, and much of the time no band members are listed. For instance, on Volume 11, the only musician listed is Johnny Winter on vocals and guitar, even though all the tracks are full band performances. But then there’s the music. Oh, the music. If you want to explore Johnny Winter’s musical legacy, forget about star-studded pabulum and dig into the Bootleg Series.

Volume 11 spends a lot of time exploring Johnny’s fascination with Muddy Waters. Johnny performs blistering versions of two Muddy classics – “Long Distance Call” and “She Moves Me.” Before “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” Johnny mentions that he’s done it twice and Muddy’s done it a couple times. The archivist in me knows I have that intro on tape somewhere. I’ll eventually find it. This track sounds like it was recorded with a larger group of musicians than his usual trio, but even in a trio Johnny and the band would raise a ruckus. “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” is a Johnny Winter slide guitar tour de force that will leave you exhausted and in need of a smoke. It’s no wonder it closes the disc; nothing could follow it.

There are several other stunning moments that will remind you of the power and intensity that was once Johnny Winter. Around 1:28 into “Boot Hill” all Hell breaks loose as Johnny blasts open the cemetery gates and unleashes the screamin’ demons. It’s spine-tingling, head-shaking, finger-aching blues as only Johnny could play. The source tape for this performance is a little rough, but so is singing about sending someone out on “Boot Hill.” You’ll get over it once you hear it. Another hair-raising, eye-glazing, happy-facing moment comes around 6:28 in “She Moves Me” as Johnny’s solo kicks into even higher gear with a flurry of notes flying so fast you can’t even hear them all the first time.

Every track on Live Bootleg Series Volume 11 is a keeper. The recordings are archival and not necessarily professionally done. Most sound like they came from soundboard recordings or FM transmissions. This is a bootleg series after all. One curiosity is the existence of track one, “Opening.” It is just ten seconds of crowd noise and utterly pointless. Otherwise, musically, this is a near perfect glimpse of Johnny Winter in his prime. The Live Bootleg Series is must-own music for any serious Johnny Winter fans and would provide many lessons to budding guitar players everywhere. Go out and get it!

 

 

 

 

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 9/3/14

JuniorKimbroughWelcome back to Hump Day. We skipped last week in honor of Stevie Ray Vaughan and a special post about his impact but we’re back this week. There’s not really a theme, but we have Junior Kimbrough wanting to try you, girl, and two ladies who have some advice for him if he wants to keep trying, if you know what I mean.

 

 

 

Junior Kimbrough “I Gotta Try You Girl”

Julia Lee “Don’t Come Too Soon”

Barbara Carr “Bone Me Like You Own Me”

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For September 2, 2014

After last week’s disappointing lack of new releases, this week comes back strong with new music from the late great Johnny Winter, promising guitarist Philip Sayce, and some soulful blues from Grady Champion and Otis Clay. Vinyl fans will find some reissues below too.

On to the round-up, Biscuiteers!

Johnny Winter

Johnny Winter Step Back

Sena Ehrhardt

Sena Ehrhardt Live My Life

Grady Champion

Grady Champion Bootleg Whiskey

Philip Sayce

Philip Sayce Influence

Otis Clay

Otis Clay Walk A Mile

Karl S. Williams

Karl S. Williams Heartwood

 

For the vinyl addicts out there, we have a few LP reissues this week:

Lightnin' Slim

Lightnin’ Slim Bell Ringer

B.B. King

B.B. King The Blues

Jackie Wilson

Jackie Wilson He’s So Fine

There you have it folks, go forth and enjoy some new blues this week!