Monthly Archives: March 2015

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 3/25/15

Hump Day this week is brought to you by Muddy & The Wolf. Inspiration came in the form of Joe Bonamassa’s new live album Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks. Joe Bonamassa seems to inspire extreme feelings on both ends of the spectrum in the world of Blues fans. But love him or hate him, we should be happy he’s introducing his fans to the legends of Blues. If he steers just one kid away from Justin Bieber we can call it a win! It’s always a good thing when people acknowledge their influences and shine a light on their artistry.

This week, like Mr. Bonamassa, we celebrate the artistry, wit, humor, and machismo of the late greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Since we’re shining a light, I tried to steer off the main drag onto the seedy side streets of their catalogs. Of the two, I’d say Muddy was the more prolific womanizer in both song and real life. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved their Hoochie Coochie Man right back, especially when he got his Mojo Workin’. For Hump Day, Muddy is singing a warning to those Big Legged Women out there. Don’t be showing off the goods if you don’t want the attention ladies. It’s a public service announcement. Yeah, that sounds about right. In fact, Muddy cares so much about your well being he has become your doctor. He’s a got a powerful prescription and he’d like you to take it as often as possible. He’ll fill it for you any time you call. That sounds dirty.

Now, Howlin’ Wolf, on the other hand, was not as much of a ladies man as Muddy. He may have been your Back Door Man, but he was on your Evil ways of doggin’ him around. Where Muddy professed his powers of seduction, Howlin’ Wolf was keenly aware of the power of women. He took a skeptical view of their feminine wiles and their manipulations. For Hump Day, Wolf is singing about his Country Sugar Mama. She’s got sweet, sweet sugar and he needs it three times a day, but he wants to know where she got sugar that good. Her sugar is the best in town and everybody knows it, and everybody wants it. Wolf knows it’s too good for her to be true to him or anyone else and he’s got questions. Howlin’ Wolf was a thinker and often this part of his personality came into his songs. He’s definitely been thinking about where you were last night, spread out all over town doing the All Night Boogie. He knows exactly what you’ve been up to. You’ve been celebrating Hump Day all week long!

 

Muddy Waters Big Legged Woman

Muddy Waters I’m Your Doctor

Howlin’ Wolf My Country Sugar Mama

Howlin’ Wolf All Night Boogie

Here’s a little Hump Day bonus:

Joe Bonamassa You Shook Me from Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks

Check out Joe’s new album at music retailers everywhere.

Flashback Friday! Happy Birthday To Jimmie Vaughan

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter7Hey everybody, we haven’t done a Flashback Friday feature before but this Friday happens to be Jimmie Vaughan’s birthday. I thought it would be a great time to revisit a tremendous show Jimmie and his friends put on at Lincoln Center back in 2011. Billed as the Texas Blues Summit, the show featured Lou Ann Barton, W.C. Clark, and Billy Gibbons. A fun time was had by all and the talent was bigger than the republic of Texas itself!

 

Here we go folks, way way back to 2011…

 

TEXAS BLUES SUMMIT

When Jazz At Lincoln Center was planning it’s second annual Blues Summit, legendary guitarist and performer Jimmie Vaughan was chosen bring together a night of Texas Blues. A better choice would be hard to find. Jimmie Vaughan has been a fixture of the Texas blues scene for nearly 40 years. One of his first bands opened for Jimi Hendrix. In the mid-70’s he founded the Fabulous Thunderbirds, a band considered by many to be the most important white blues band of all time. The band became a fixture at the seminal Austin club Antone’s and backed up major figures of the blues like Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, Albert King, Gatemouth Brown, Albert Collins and countless others. Jimmie learned the blues from the masters and earned their respect in return. Since those days at Antone’s, Jimmie Vaughan has accumulated many devoted fans including some famous ones like Eric Clapton, Bonnie Raitt and B.B. King. Even Jimmie’s little brother Stevie Ray Vaughan often cited Jimmie as his favorite guitarist and biggest influence.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter5BnWJimmie Vaughan has experienced the blues in ways many can only imagine, not the least of which is the death of his younger brother in 1990 after a night of glorious music. He brought all his life experiences and musical influences to the stage of Jazz At Lincoln Center’s Rose Hall Theater on Thursday, June 16, 2011. He also brought some famous friends.

Lou Ann Barton has been a fixture of the Texas Blues scene for almost as long as Jimmie Vaughan. Her inimitable style, laced with a bit of Texas twang is still formidably robust and she wails the blues with the power of a singer half her age.

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Austin native W.C. Clark has been called the Godfather of Austin Blues and has been involved in the city’s music since the late sixties. He originally left Austin. Believing the R&B music scene was dead, he hit the road with the Joe Tex Band. A chance meeting with Jimmie Vaughan and Paul Ray changed his mind. A few weeks later he was back in Austin and has remained ever since. He has served as a mentor to both Vaughan brothers, taught Charlie and Will Sexton how to play guitar, backed up superstars like B.B. and Albert King, played in Triple Threat Revue with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Lou Ann Barton, co-wrote “Cold Shot” – one of Stevie’s biggest hits – and toured the world with his own band.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenterBillyGibbonsThe Rev. Billy F. Gibbons is familiar to millions as the guitarist and singer from that little old band from Texas: ZZ Top. Billy and Jimmie have been friends since the early 70’s, sharing many experiences of the Texas music scene over the course of the last 40 years. All three musicians joined Jimmie Vaughan and his Tilt-A-Whirl Band for a salute to Texas Blues.

The night started off with upbeat instrumental “Comin’ And Goin’” from Vaughan’s recent Plays Blues, Ballads and Favorites album. It was a great way for the band to pick up a groove and each soloist got their moment in the spotlight, hinting at the level of musicianship and imagination that was to be heard over the next two-plus hours.

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The band, which features tenor saxophonist Greg Piccolo, baritone saxophonist Doug James, guitarist Billy Pitman, bassist Ronnie James, and drummer George Rains launched into Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown’s classic “Dirty Work At The Crossroads” and continued the nod to their regional partners in Louisiana with Guitar Junior’s (aka Lonnie Brooks) tune “Roll Roll Roll” which Jimmie Vaughan covered on Plays Blues Ballads And Favorites. Vaughan’s mastery of these songs is a heartfelt tribute to his influences and the music of his youth and is a testament to his talent and love of the idiom.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenterWCClarkJimmie Vaughan is a formidable guitarist and appreciation of his technique and approach to the instrument is greatly enhanced by seeing him live. His fingers work magic as they weave their way around the neck of his variably capoed guitar. His use of open strings, drone notes, and percussive picking attacks all add exponentially to the flavor of his musical gumbo. The guitar jams were a highlight of the show and W.C. Clark came out for a few songs before the end of the first set and kicked things up a notch as he tore through some down home blues and even threw in a vocal tribute to Little Milton with a few snippets of “Blues Is Alright.” W.C. Clark feels at home on the stage and became the de facto band leader almost as soon as he plugged in his guitar. Jimmie shared a story about his first gig with W.C. Clark being held at a converted funeral home. Their mutual admiration is obvious and during some extended jamming, they converse with their guitars like the old friends they are.

JimmieVaughanLouAnnBartonLincolnCenter8BnWLou Ann Barton joined the band at the start of set two. The Texas Blues Summit found the Queen of Austin in fine form as she belted it out gloriously. The Rev. Billy F. Gibbons joined the fray and together with Jimmie Vaughan and The Tilt-A-Whirl Band he barnstormed through two Night Caps tunes, “Thunderbird” and “Wine, Wine, Wine”. Gibbons joked about he and Jimmie having written “At The High School Dance” back in 1962. Billy was having fun and kept begging for Jimmie to play more and then feigned fanning the smoke coming from Vaughan’s guitar.

JimmieVaughanLincolnCenter2The most poignant moment of the evening came when the band left Jimmie Vaughan alone on stage as he performed a stirring tribute to his brother. Jimmie plucked the rhythm with his thumb and the melody with his fingers in a swampy, reverb drenched rendition of “Six Strings Down” from his Strange Pleasure album. The arrangement conjured apparitions from the ether and angels from the heavens as he belted out his salute to Stevie Ray and a host of other Blues Stringers including fellow Texans Freddie King, Albert Collins, Lil’ Son Jackson, and T-Bone Walker to a mesmerized crowd.

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After more songs with Lou Ann Barton including a few from their upcoming Plays More Blues Ballads And Favorites, Billy Gibbons and W.C. Clark came out for a revved up version of “DF/W” from the Family Style album. The three guitarists let loose the blues in New York City and they’re probably still running amuck in the Upper West Side. The spirit of the Texas Blues cannot be confined, reigned in or broken. Jimmie Vaughan, the Tilt-A-Whirl band and their guests were a perfect choice to showcase the history and vitality of the music that has influenced generations of musicians and listeners alike.

Fresh Biscuits! New CD Reviews – March 13, 2015

We’re back again with another round of CD reviews we like to call Fresh Biscuits. There’s a lot of great blues out there right now and here we have some of the best reviewed for you below. As always I hope you find something interesting for your ears!

 

BernardAllisonInTheMixBernard Allison Group

In The Mix

Jazzhaus Records

Release on January 26, 2015

 

Bernard Allison was born in Chicago in 1965 but spent a lot of time in Florida. He is the son of the late great Luther Allison and is the youngest of nine children. At age 13, he made his first appearance on a record and at 18, Bernard joined his father on-stage during the 1983 Chicago Blues Festival. Upon graduating from high school, Bernard was asked by Koko Taylor to be her lead guitar player. When the Queen of the Blues calls, you go. Bernard spent three years with Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine filling the gaps in his Blues education. By 1990 he was ready to release his first album as a solo artist, while still the bandleader for his father’s band. 25 years and thousands of gigs later, Bernard has stepped well beyond his father’s long shadow and secured his own place in the annals of Blues history. His latest album, In The Mix, on Jazzhaus records, is a welcome return after a long break since 2010’s The Otherside.

In the spirit of that long absence, In The Mix starts off with the hard driving Colin James-penned “Five Long Years.” This tune has terse riffs and a flame-throwing coda that finds Bernard cranking out guitargasmic joy. “Lust For You” is a slow burning jam, fueled by B3 and Bernard’s scorching lead guitar. “Call Me Momma” is a plea for help only a loving mother can answer. When your world is falling apart and your lover has walked out the door you have questions. Momma can help you find the answers. This is a tribute to strong women who have some seen some turmoil and made it through. They are wise and warm and all you have to be is humble enough to ask. Now go call your Momma so she doesn’t have to call you!

Bernard’s voice has a refined maturity that makes his singing an equal partner with his guitar playing on this album. However, great singing and guitar playing would be wasted if the songs were no good. Luckily, Bernard is a skilled writer who comes up with well-constructed songs of his own, and he has a knack for choosing covers that fit with his personal style. Among the Bernard Allison-written songs on In The Mix we get the poignant soul of “Tell Me Who” with its lonesome saxophone, the confident Jimmy Rogers swagger of “Something’s Wrong” where Bernard shows off his slide guitar chops with slick licks and buzzing riffs, and the cascading organ-filled “Set Me Free.” Mark “Muggie” Leach provides wonderful B3 playing throughout In The Mix. Sometimes it’s the focus and sometimes it’s bubbling below the surface, but without it this would be a very different, less enjoyable album.

“I’d Rather Be Blind” has been done by just about everybody, yet Bernard made something new out of it my mixing the crisp drum and bas sound out funky soul with stinging guitar runs. Stripping away all the big arrangements we’ve heard in the past, he brings it down to street level and gets greasy. Bernard also cover’s two of Papa Allison’s tunes – “Moving On Up” and “Move From The Hood.” I’ve always loved “Move From The Hood” and Bernard does a great, if not fundamentally different version of it. The message of the song is the most important part and as long as someone is out there spreading that message I’ll take it. Especially of it’s got sweet saxophone riffs and poetic guitar lines like this one.

I’ve been pondering the significance of the title In The Mix. What I’ve come up with is this: Bernard Allison pulls together all his influences, talent, and skills, adds top notch musicians and in the mix creates a fresh sounding modern album. It bears resemblance to what has come before but it follows no patterns or predefined limits. Bernard’s music is his own because everything he is and knows is In The Mix.

 

IgorPradoWayDownSouthIgor Prado Band

Way Down South

Delta Groove

Released on February 17, 2015

 

 

Who is Igor Prado? I had no idea. From the name I expected an Eastern European. I was way off. Igor Prado is a left-handed, guitar playing blues man from Sao Paolo, Brazil. As a youngster, he was into Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He credits a trip to a festival called Nescafe & Blues as influencing his love of Blues. He also cites the record collection of Chico Blues, who also works in the studio with Igor Prado Band. Chico is one of the biggest Blues collectors in South America and Igor was privy to the recordings of Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, Clarence ‘Gatemouth” Brown, Robert Lockwood Jr., Guitar Slim, Albert Collins, The Three kings and much more. In 2002, along with his brother Yuri, Igor started to play professionally with a band called The Prado Blues Band. They released a self-titled disc in 2003. By 2007, they were the Igor Prado Band and released the album Upside Down. Igor plays the lefty guitar strung like a righty the way Albert King, Coco Montoya, and Eric Gales play it. He plays the Hell out of that guitar just like those guys, too. He is a fan of West Coast blues and even made an album for Delta Groove Records with the late great Lynwood Slim in 2010 called Brazilian Kicks. Now, in 2015 comes Way Down South. The disc is billed as Igor Prado Band and Delta Groove Allstars, and features Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza, Sugaray Rayford, Mud Morganfield, Lynwood Slim and several others.

Way Down South features tracks recorded between 2012 and 2014 when some Northern Hemisphere Blues greats ventured Way Down South to Brazil. The result is a blistering good time. Maybe the best time you could have in Brazil without site-seeing on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. The band and guests cover a lot of ground, from Chicago to Cali to ole Mississip’, creating a travelogue of this now North and South American art form. Ike Turner’s enduring classic “Matchbox” kicks off the disc and boasts Sugaray Rayford on vocals and Mike Welch on guitar. Rayford was born to sing a song like this and Prado and Welch throw licks back and forth like a grenade without a pin while the horn section swings away just waiting for it all to explode. Elmore James’ “Talk To Me Baby” features Rod Piazza on harp and vocals and Honey Piazza on piano but Igor and the band fuel this gut-bucket boogie. The guests and the band are elevated by the synergy of the collaboration. Prado doesn’t take the bait of an Elmore James tune and play slide either. This is fretted wizardry drenched in reverb, glorious reverb! Damn, what a tone. I think I’ll listen to this track again. I’ll be right back.

Long John Hunter and the Lone Star State are represented by a rollicking romp through “Ride With Me Baby.” Here, the band is joined by another legendary Texan, Kim Wilson. Kim sings this one for all the glory and the song ends before you realize he didn’t even play his harp. Junior Walker’s “Shake & Fingerpop” swings through a classic Soul and R&B groove and Prado’s impassioned vocals are a revelation especially after hearing so many other fine vocalists on the first five tracks. Prado’s voice is full-bodied and emotive, easily on par with the stellar guests on Way Down South.

The production on Way Down South lets the instruments breath and the mix is never cluttered. The disc has a very open air feel, like a band playing in a big room and grooving. Rodrigo Mantovani plays acoustic bass on a lot of these tracks and the boom of that enormous instrument provides more than just bottom end. Even though the tracks were recorded over a long stretch of time, the production and sound are consistent. Igor Prado, Chico Blues and their team know how to make great sounding records that embody the spirit of classic sides yet exemplify modern recording capabilities. Simply put, this is a great sounding record. Luckily the songs match the effort put into making the record and the band and guests give every bit of energy to the project. It’s pretty early in the year, but Way Down South is currently my favorite of 2015.

 

KubekKingFatMansShineParlorSmokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King

Fat Man’s Shine Parlor

Blind Pig Records

Released on February 3, 2015

I first heard of Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King in the mid-nineties while I was searching for something to fill the gaping hole in my musical heart left by the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was looking for anyone who could make a Strat swagger, swing, scream, and sing. I found a lot of guys trying, but very few have stuck with me. They were copy cats. They knew the how but were utterly lost when it came to the why, but not Smokin’ Joe. He was the real deal. A genuine Texas guitar slinger who played in Freddie King’s band, played every BBQ Pit and roadhouse in the great Republic of Texas, and was personally encouraged by B.B. King. Smokin’ Joe has played Lucille. Let that sink in for a moment while I tell you about Bnois King. Bnois is a damned fine guitar player too, with a jazzy approach to chords and a more laid back style than his partner Kubek. Bnois is a gifted, witty lyricist and a smooth vocalist who could sing his way into any pair of pants he chooses. This pair is arguably the most complementary team of opposites to ever play the Blues. I look forward to every new record from this duo and I have yet to be disappointed. Sometimes I’m even impressed. Their return to Blind Pig Records, the new Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is definitely impressive.

A boogie riff leads us into the disc and Bnois tells a tale of woe over a broken heart. “Got My Heart Broken” he says as he sings about bedding married women. It’s a Blues topic older than Robert Johnson but Bnois’ tongue in cheek, laid back delivery makes you wonder if it really happened. He’s only 72 so I’m betting on Bnois! The song has Texas swagger all over it and pithy guitar licks punctuate Mr. King’s claims of conquest. This song ends and leads into a track about the thing a traveling musician thinks about the other 20% of the time: food. “Cornbread” is the lead single from the album and captures all the hallmarks of Kubek & King’s great partnership. Kubek’s tough rock riffs, King’s relatable lyrics, and plenty of sparring guitar licks. The two trade off during the solo sections heating up the kitchen to the boiling point. Check those ribs, we don’t want ‘em overcooked.

There’s a good sense of dynamics on Fat Man’s Shine Parlor. Mixed between the strutting rockers like the big riffing twin guitar powerhouse “Brown Bomba Mojo” and the appropriately swinging “Lone Star Lap Dance” are mellow moments like “Diamond Eyes” and Bnois’ honest plea for a one night stand in “Don’t Want To Be Alone.” Bnois is getting busy out there on the road. I’m starting to think the Fat Man’s Shine Parlor was a brothel. However, even his lusty songs have good messages. They’re warnings to men and women alike. Don’t take things so seriously and don’t expect to marry someone with whom you only had a fling. Road relationships and late-night hook-ups are not promises and don’t expect them to be. Keep it casual, people.

“Crash And Burn” is full of Bnois’ astute observations of modernity’s fascination with fashion and appearances, and musically the track contains some sweet unison and harmony lines from the guitarists. Smokin’ Joe and Bnois are joined in the studio by Shiela Klinefelter on bass and Eric Smith on drums, with Kim LaFleur adding guitar to a trio of tunes. The duo has worked with a lot of rhythm sections but Shiela and Eric work well with Joe & Bnois. I know Shiela has played with them on the road for a few years and she really has a feel for the groove these guys create. Musical chemistry or the lack thereof can make or break an album even when the songs are good. This is a performance art and the musicians have to be in sync. They got the right band together on Fat Man’s Shine Parlor and it shows from start to finish. Kubek’s production, the duo’s guitar gymnastics, potent songwriting, and a tight band make this a high water mark in a recording career that started 25 years ago. If you’re looking for smart, strutting, energetic blues your first stop should be at Fat Man’s Shine Parlor.

 

 

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 3/11/15

Heyyy, how you doin'?
             Heyyy, how you doin’?

Today’s selections for Hump Day were inspired by an impromptu trip to the veterinarian this morning with one of our foster dogs. I was listening to the terrific new disc from Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King, called Fat Man’s Shine Parlor, and Bnois is a witty lyricist so I was thinking about blues lyrics, and howling dogs and it hit me! Dog references!

Men have been referred to as dogs since before the Blues began and it didn’t take long for horny guys to turn up in songs in the form of their other best friend, if you know what I mean. While there were previous examples, Big Mama Thornton‘s “Hound Dog” from 1952 was arguably the first widely popular song to focus on the dog reference. It was right there in front of you too, sniffing your back side and making you nervous in a mid-twentieth century repression kind of way. When Big Mama sang these lines you knew exactly what that dog was hungry for:

“You ain’t nothing but a hound dog
Been snoopin’ ’round my door
You can wag your tail
But I ain’t gonna feed you no more”

Ten years later, Rufus Thomas introduced us to something called “Walkin’ The Dog.” Rufus wasn’t merely talking a stroll with his favorite pooch. No, no, this was some kind of dance that with a sly wink and nod became something dirty. I’m pretty sure Ol’ Rufus would have put Baby in a corner and had the time of his life. If you don’t know how to do it, he will definitely show you how to walk the dog.

Since Smokin’ Joe Kubek and Bnois King were unwittingly involved in deciding today’s Hump Day topic, I had to see what they had in their catalog that fit. It turns out Bnois King may have been walking his dog a little too much. His woman is giving him the boot for snoopin’ around too many of the wrong doors and all over town too. She’s gonna set him free to roam and now he’s got the “K9 Blues.” 

Big Bill Morganfield would love you to take his dog for one more walk before you go baby. You know his dog loves you best. His dog is always happy to see you and loves the way you stroke it (I may have added that part). Johnny Winter is no stranger to Hump Day, but this time he says there will be “No More Doggin'” around with you. He’s gonna let you out baby, and don’t come back. Go hump the neighbor’s leg for a while.

Finally, this Hump Day, we have the band who introduced me to “Walkin’ The Dog” – Aerosmith. Yeah, it’s not exactly Blues, but the band, along with a host of others, got me interested in Blues all while singing along in a teenage hormone frenzy and proclaiming that “I’ll show you how to walk the dog!” I didn’t know a damned thing but it sure felt good to sing it. This is a recent version which shows the band still has the swagger and testosterone that fueled the version on their 1973 debut. Rockers doing blues isn’t always a bad thing.

Now, get those leashes and collars on and walk that dog! Happy Hump Day!

 

Big Mama Thornton Hound Dog

Rufus Thomas Walkin’ The Dog

Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King K9 Blues

Big Bill Morganfield My Doggy’s Got The Blues

Johnny Winter No More No Doggin’

 

Aerosmith Walkin’ The Dog

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 3/4/15

MagicSlimPABluesFest2011February 21, 2015 marked the second anniversary of the passing of Magic Slim. Slim was a true living legend and one of the last purveyors of the raucous variety of Chicago Blues. The first time I saw Magic Slim was on March 13, 1994 at the New Regal Theater in Chicago where he was opening for Pearl Jam. Yes, that Pearl Jam. Before you cry heresy, remember that Pearl Jam were arguably the biggest band in the world at the time and could have picked anyone to open the show. They chose a man who represented the musical history of the city and introduced him to their fans. Magic Slim’s set was filled with powerhouse blues and boogie and he surely rocked the house.

So with all this in mind, I have found my listening choices drifting back to Magic Slim over the last two weeks. Therefore, I am dedicating this week’s Hump Day installment to Magic Slim and his band The Teardrops which always had talented musicians playing the leanest, meanest, groovingest, movingest blues in town. Now, Slim didn’t really get down and outright dirty, but that’s half the fun sometimes right? He sang a few tunes where the metaphors are solid as a rock and ready to get hammered. Slim put his indelible stamp on Muddy Waters’ “Can’t Get No Grindin'” and with lines like “One had a bush and one had a peck” you know they aren’t really talking about a mill.

Now ladies, if your mill is broken down and you can’t get no grindin’, maybe you should meet up with Magic Slim. He may not be the man you want, but he is damned sure “The Man You Need.” When it comes to getting your lovin’ Slim says all you need to do is “Wake Me Up Early.” He’ll have a breakfast sausage all ready for you, if you know what I mean. The last song we have for this week’s Hump Day is Slim’s cover of Bobby Rush’s “Chicken Heads.” What in the name of Sam Hill is a chicken head? Apparently it’s a woman. A woman whose head is bobbing up and down like a chicken head. You can guess what she’s bobbing up and down on. Maybe it’s a creamscicle.

MagicSlimPABluesFest2011-2

I hope you enjoy our Hump Day tribute to Magic Slim & The Teardrops. If Slim and his band can’t get you grinding and binding you may be in a coma. Tell me if you feel this…

Magic Slim & The Teardrops Can’t Get No Grindin’

Magic Slim & The Teardrops The Man You Need

Magic Slim & The Teardrops Wake Me Up Early

Magic Slim & The Teardrops Chicken Heads

Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – February 28, 2015

NickMossBandTimeAintFreeNick Moss Band
Time Ain’t Free
Blue Bella Records
Released on March 18, 2014

Nick Moss has been a fixture of the Chicago music scene since the early Nineties. He plays regular gigs at Buddy Guy’s Legends, he’s played with Jimmy Rogers and Jimmy Dawkins, and counts Ronnie Earl among his biggest fans. In 1993 he joined The Legendary Blues Band led by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Nick’s career as a bandleader kicked off with 1998’s First Offense and it’s been building slowly but surely into a proud legacy. This legacy has grown by leaps and bounds with the last few records and in many ways those were building toward the crowning achievement that is Time Ain’t Free.

I don’t know what in the Hell this music is called. It’s got Blues, Boogie, Soul, Gospel, and Rock & Roll. It’s Little Feat, Mavis Staples, Muddy Waters and Booker T. and that’s just in one song. It should be a mess but it’s marvelous. Nick Moss and his band have emptied the pantry and come up with one of the best damned recipes you’ve ever seen. This is musical comfort food. Nick’s records have always carried his influences but with Time Ain’t Free he has finally found the perfect balance. A major added dimension to the music is vocalist and second guitarist Michael Ledbetter.

Michael is a descendant of Huddie Ledbetter aka Lead Belly. He grew up hearing soul singers but at age 15 he decided to become an opera singer. He spent eight years in the Chicago Opera scene before deciding to focus his talents on Blues. The Blues scene and the Nick Moss Band are better for it. Nick moss deserves a lot of credit for inviting this talented young man into his band and slowly giving him a bigger share of the spotlight. I saw the band a few years ago at 2nd Story Blues in Bethlehem, PA and Michael was fairly new to the band. He sang a few songs and did terrific background vocals. After the show he was humble when complimented and was focused on paying his dues. Nick Moss knows all about paying dues and has obviously been a great mentor. Ledbetter sings six tunes on Time Ain’t Free and has or shares writing credit on a few as well. Of these tracks, “Fare Thee Well” is the benchmark by which all others shall be judged. This is a song that brings the whole band together for a glorious moment of aural perfection.

Time Ain’t Free captures your ears with the first raspy slide guitar licks of “She Wants It” and melts your face with album closing instrumental “[Big Mike’s] Sweet Potato Pie.” “Was I Ever Heard” is a rollicking march with swirling keyboards courtesy of Bryan Rogers. Drummer Patrick Seals propels this tune and Nick Moss lets loose torrents of raunchy guitar licks that contrast beautifully with the softness of the chorus and background vocalists Tina J. Crawley and Lara Jenkins. Bryan Rogers keyboards are like the gravy that ties it all together on a lot of these songs. I sure he hope he used a B-3 and not some digital reproduction. The music on Time Ain’t Free is so earthy and rich that I’d be heartbroken if it was infected with fake B-3. It sounds great whatever it is, but it’s the principal of it! I guess I could let it slide since the band covered “Bad ‘N’ Ruin” by the Faces and Mr. Rogers offers up stellar playing that would make the late, great Ian McLagan proud.

The decision to cover a song by the Faces gives you an idea where this band is and where they’re headed. No influence is avoided. Instead, all influences are blended into a distinct Nick Moss Band sound. When Moss solos, he is incandescent. His guitar playing is passionate, poisonous, and proud. His licks in “Been Gone So Long” are illegal in five states, yet in “Fare Thee Well” he uses a cleaner tone, inhabits the groove and releases soul stirring notes to the heavens. The riffs on title track “Time Ain’t Free” are a stuttering jolt of energy and Moss harnesses that energy to fuel his fiery solos.

Time Ain’t Free is a reminder that truly great music is still be made today. While the mainstream is giving accolades to auto-tuned pabulum spewing fashionistas, Nick Moss Band is cranking out honest, gripping music and taking it to the people one town at a time. Don’t waste your time on Celebutantes of Pop or any of the Blues Pretenders to the Throne out there, your Time Ain’t Free and it deserves the real deal.

SteveEarleTerraplaneSteve Earle
Terraplane
New West Records
Released on February 17, 2015

According to the liner notes, Steve Earle only believes two things about the Blues: they are the common denominator of the human experience, and someday he would make this album. Damn if he wasn’t right on both accounts. Terraplane is that album. Not only can Steve play the Blues, but he can write engaging songs that seamlessly fit into the tapestry started on a plantation over 100 years ago. Arguably the album is named for Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” and ol’ Bob Johnson is named checked on “Tennessee Kid” so it’s no surprise Steve Earle has taken Johnson’s approach to Blues. Johnson melded music from all around into his own distinct sound. You all remember “They’re Red Hot” right? On Terraplane, Earle takes common themes, common patterns, and common words and much like the rest of his catalog, stirs them into something wholly uncommon.

I thought the best thing about a Blues album from Steve Earle would be the utter lack of re-tread lyrics, but the best thing about Terraplane is the sound. It’s a big, wide open sound. The instruments have room to breathe, the guitars get gritty, the drums can be felt coming through the speakers, and Earle’s voice is expertly captured, retaining all the snarl, melancholy, and loss. The feeling of dread is undeniable when he all but whispers the awful truth that “the balance comes due someday” at the end of “Tennessee Kid.” While the lyrics of the songs on Terraplane are sometimes clever and often poignant, there is the seemingly throw-away chorus of “Baby Baby Baby (Baby).” It must be a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to classic blues that were more about the feeling conveyed than the actual words. Still the song has one of my favorite lines in “I got a little girl that live way down south, a little town they call ‘shut my mouth’” and it’s a strutting harmonica fueled shuffle that would have sat comfortably between Little Walter and James Cotton at a Muddy Waters show.

Earle was joined in the studio by his faithful compatriots Kelly Looney on bass, Will Rigby on drums, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle, and Chris Masterson on guitar. Steve sings of course, and plays harmonica, guitar, and mandolin. Eleanor duets with Steve on “Baby’s Just As Mean As Me” and ups the ante considerably. She has a classic voice for blues, somewhere between Billie Holliday and Lil’ Johnson. Chris Masterson plays beautifully crafted solos and fills. He never over-steps, over-plays, nor over compensates for having no sense of the music. He knows the music and from his guitar work you can tell he feels it. The whole band seems to play like hive mind hell bent on groove. Terraplane is a testament to their collective artistry.

Steve has made a lot of music over the decades and a lot of it has been indefinable even though everyone has tried. But Steve Earle knows the Blues. He knows it isn’t defined by twelve bar shuffles, minor sevenths, never-ending Elmore James slide licks, or blowing through the Blues Box guitar scale as fast as you can. It’s a feeling, and you can’t fake it no matter how hard you try. Over the last eight years or so of writing about blues I’ve seen a lot of bands and heard a landfill full of questionable blues records. There’s a lot of crap out there. If you want to save the Blues, you better start feeling it because without the feeling isn’t worth a good god damn. Maybe the Blues will be saved by aging artists and fans that come to realize they need more authentic music in their lives. Today’s One Direction and Beyonce fans will eventually be 50 and looking for a greater meaning in their world and the music they choose to fill the empty spaces. They may turn to the Blues if it isn’t over-run by self-congratulatory musical masturbators singing “Woke up this morning” between 100 bars of speed exercises. Steve Earle knows all this. He’s known it for a long time. Steve has lived the blues. He’s fought demons inside and demons in Nashville. He’s had everything and he’s had nothing. He’s had the blues and he’s always made music with hints of blues. He writes honest songs. He’s not pretentious but he isn’t afraid to step up on the soapbox either. He’s me and you and we all have the Blues. With Terraplane he’s put those Blues together in one record. With an eye to the past put rooted firmly in the present, Steve Earle has offered an authentic document that defies description and pigeonholes, but is quite obviously blue. I knew Steve Earle wouldn’t let us down.

DaveAlvinLiveInLongBeach1997Dave Alvin with Billy Boy Arnold,Gatemouth Brown, and Joe Louis Walker
Live In Long Beach 1997
Rock Beat Records
Released on February 17, 2015

Flying in under the radar recently is a new release on Rock Beat Records that features a live set recorded in 1997 during one of many in a series of Blues Unplugged show at Cal State University Long Beach. The shows were put together by KLON program director Gary Chiachi who had been involved in the Long Beach Blues Festival. On this particular night in 1997, founding member of The Blasters and CSULB alum, Dave Alvin was on the bill along with Blues luminaries Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, and Joe Louis Walker. Dave Alvin may not be the first name that pops into your head when you think Blues Unplugged but in this setting, Alvin’s blues roots come to the surface and crack every sidewalk in town.

Last year Dave and his brother Phil released Common Ground, an album of Big Bill Broonzy tunes, so it is not surprising that Dave covered a Big Bill Broonzy song on that night long ago. “Tell Me How You Want It Done” also turned up on Common Ground but here it is stripped down to just Dave and his guitar. Dave quips to the audience that it’s a guitar song he’s never managed to play correctly all the way through. He does a damned fine job though and his earnestness comes through. Even before the days of The Blasters, Dave and his brother Phil would follow blues musicians around and talk their way into the gigs. They spent a great deal of time with Big Joe Turner who Dave calls “maybe the greatest human who ever lived” as he introduces “Chains Of Love.” Dave puts all his heart and soul into this sublime version of the tune. Dave ends his set with a slow, earthy version of The Blasters tune “Long White Cadillac.”

As good as Dave Alvin’s set is, the magic really starts with the collaborations. First up, Dave joins Billy Boy Arnold on a chugging Bo Diddley style number called “I Wish You Would” that Arnold actually wrote back when he was playing with Bo Diddley in the 50’s. This is a veritable classic, with a great hook that hangs around long after the tune is over. This stripped version is a little slower, but Arnold’s harp howls and moans over Dave’s rhythm that rolls on steady like a southbound train. When Dave joins Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, they play an impromptu tribute to such a train, the “Wabash Cannonball.” According to Brown, Dave didn’t even know they were going to do that tune prompting Gate to say “man this guy’s great.. I pulled that one out, he didn’t know I was gonna do it!” Gate’s fiddle and Dave’s guitar combine for two minutes of train-hopping hobo blues that ends all too soon. Leave it to Gatemouth Brown to whip out “Beer Barrel Polka” at a Blues show and play it in a Hillbilly fashion on a fiddle. He takes a few moments to tell Dave how they’ll be playing it and ten away they go. Dave’s strumming is percussive and steady as Gate fiddle’s fiery and furiously, better than any kid in Georgia giving the Devil the business. Johnny, when you’re done bring that fiddle made of gold over to Gate’s house. It’s his.

The disc ends with Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker, Gatemouth Brown, and Dave Alvin playing a pair of tunes. Oddly, the back cover leaves gate out of the credits for the last two tracks, but he is mentioned in the liner notes and by the MC on the disc. The first tune is a loose jam that ended up named “Long Beach Blues.” Obviously impromptu, its cohesion is a testament to the language of the Blues and the ability of the performers to converse musically. For guitar enthusiasts this jam is the go-to track on here. Walker blazes on slide, Dave rips out some fiery licks he became famous for in the Blasters and Gate trades his fiddle for his guitar and rips it up with the boys. This is a blues jam the fans always hope for but rarely get. It is off the cuff and brilliant with guys who never played together, listening to each other, playing for fun, and having a great time. The set ends with Gatemouth Brown’s “It’s A Long Way Home.” The song recalls Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” and the wide open feel provides a perfect close of this meeting of journeymen. For me, these last two tracks with all four musicians makes this set worth the price of admission. Live In Long Beach 1997 is a rare time capsule of an authentic Blues jam between masters of the form who leave their egos at the door and just have a good time playing honest, satisfying music. Don’t let this one pass you by.