Category Archives: CD Review

Fresh Biscuits! New CD Reviews

There were a lot of great Blues albums that came out so far this year and unfortunately some that aren’t so great. I’ve been away from reviews for a while and focusing on other things but we’re back and our upcoming reviews will sort through the junk so you don’t have to. Let’s hit it!

JaneLeeHookerNoBJane Lee Hooker
No B!
Released on April 15, 2016

If Sass Jordan formed a blues band called AC/DC it would sound like Jane Lee Hooker and she’d make us all believers. The real Jane Lee Hooker is a no-nonsense, no frills, no-fucking-chance-of-hearing-anything-pretty street fighting New York City bunch of Rock & Rollers high on Blues power and Hell bent on riding on Howlin’ Wolf’s God damned shoulders out into the shadowy alleys of your soul. With their debut album No B! on Ruf Records they bring along tough original songs like “In The Valley” and high octane covers like “Mean Town Blues” and “Shake For Me,” and their version of “Mannish Boy” will have the North Carolina potty police checking their hardware, if you know what I mean.

Guitarists High Top and Tina ‘T Bone’ Gorin played together in Helldorado from 1997-2001 before a host of personnel issues killed that band. In 2013 they reconvened and have been bringing their raucous guitar sparring to the masses ever since with Jane Lee Hooker. Singer Dana “Danger” Athens earns her name on every track on No B! as the band courageously occupies an improbable space where Punk, Blues, and Rock & Roll collide. You can’t fake this music and anyone who tries will probably get run over by a biker with a Jane Lee Hooker tattoo. And it would serve them right.
AlbertCastigliaBigDogAlbert Castiglia
Big Dog
Released on May 20, 2016

Big Dog continues the upward march of Albert Castiglia’s career and reputation as a hard hitting singer and guitarist. Big Dog has all the blazing guitars you come you expect but every song is a keeper which is a high-water mark for any artist. The album blasts off with a solid punch in your slick, pop-blues loving face. “Let The Big Dog Eat” is strutting, grunting, fighting, biting, no-punches-pulled back alley dog fight with the leader of the pack coming to claim what has been rightfully surrendered. Much of Big Dog falls into the realm of funky, gritty, dirty, and stanky. From the grooves to the guitar tones and snarl in his voice Albert infects the music with a nasty South Side Trojan horse virus that will actually cure your Blues.

Harp maestro Johnny Sansone sits in on two tracks, getting mean and evil on “Where The Devil Makes His Deals.” Producer Mike Zito wrote and performs on “Don’t Let Them Fool Ya” and together they tag team that track like a college Lacrosse team on Saturday night. Zito has been a common thread in many of the best blues albums of the last few years including a few of his own. He certainly inspired to Albert to play his best and sing from the soul. Albert is clearly hitting his stride as a well-rounded musician. Albert’s voice sounds great on Big Dog. It is strong, deep, and authoritative. He sings with conviction and his emotions sell the songs regardless of the words. As for the guitar playing, this is is my kind of album. From gutbucket slide to razor sharp Albert King licks and all points in between Big Dog has it. if Albert Castiglia comes near your town, do not hesitate; just “Get Your Ass In The Van” and go.

 

MorelandArbucklePromisedLandOrBustMoreland & Arbuckle
Promised Land Or Bust
Released on May 6, 2016

Promised Land Or Bust is a return to the hard blues by this workhorse band from Kansas. They are ready to rumble and the rumble in these grooves is deep and wide. Once again this trio presents the Blues in a familiar yet fresh fashion which blends everything from Little Walter to Soundgarden into a denim and sweat smoothie that will put boots on your feet and hair on your face. The band eschews cliches of classic and modern blues and even though songs like “Mean And Evil” touch on common themes they are addressed from new perspectives. The lyrics examine loneliness, desperation, atonement, and redemption. Even their brilliant choice of covers like Mike Hosty’s murder ballad “Hannah” and Ryan Taylor’s bleak “Why’d She Have To Go (and Let Me Down)” blend seamlessly with their own meditations on the heart of darkness. Few bands can walk the tightrope between visceral and cerebral and even fewer can capture us in that nexus like Moreland & Arbuckle. Their songs will punch you in the gut, explain to you why it had to be done and by the way, it’s for your own good!

Drummer Kendall Newby is the unsung and un-named secret weapon of Moreland & Arbuckle. His powerful yet nuanced drumming makes him the John Bonham of Roots and Blues. He drives “Mean & Evil” to the precipice of Hell, lays down a full court press on “I’m A King Bee” and underscores the melancholic majesty of “Mount Comfort.” Since joining the band about five years ago he has put his stamp on their whole catalog but his contributions to the new music cannot be overlooked. Elsewhere, Promised Land Or Bust offers delicate beauty on “Waco Avenue,” and the raucous shuffle they have perfected is represented by “Woman Down In Arkansas” and the marauding “Long Way Home.”

Moreland & Arbuckle have been together under their own moniker for over ten years and they continue to move from strength to strength. For me, their last album 7 Cities was perfect in every way but it stepped away from the blues farther than any of their previous efforts. Promised Land Or Bust returns the band to the Blues. It is a crowd-funded effort through a Kickstarter campaign and their persistence and dedication to the music and the dedication of their fans paid off when Alligator Records picked them up. Their ten years of toils have landed them on the premier Blues label in the world. The Promised Land is on the horizon and closing fast. You owe it to yourself to join them for the journey.

 

JimSuhlerLiveAtTheKesslerJim Suhler & Monkey Beat
Live At The Kessler
Released On June 17, 2016

I love a good live album and Live At The Kessler doesn’t let me down. Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat are red hot, tight, and rocking. They blend Rock & Roll, Zydeco, Blues, Boogie Woogie, and more into a concert experience full of highlights and plenty of music that will make you dance. From the opening classic Texas Shuffle of “I Declare” to the new song “Doin’ The Best I Can” the tone is set to good times, big grooves, and deep rhythm pockets. About midway, they take it down for a bit to let you catch your breath. “Texassippi” is a sweet tea sipping back porch hymn, “Reverie” offer elegiac repose before the swirling storm of “Sunday Drunk.” The set is closed by a slide guitar tour de force called “Restless Soul” which interpolates “Bullfrog Blues” wherein Suhler name-drops Rory Gallagher and lets it rip for a Rory style rave up.

Suhler is a tasteful and skilled guitar player. He plays things that fit the songs but he unleashes the big guns at all the right times too. His licks can bring you in close and tight or knock the Stetson right off your head and pin it to the roadhouse rafters. The band is locked in like a fine Swiss watch. Each piece fits and elements like accordion blend to make a deceptively spicy gumbo. Altogether Live At The Kessler is rip roaring fun and an excellent overview of Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat’s catalog of tunes and styles. It’s a brilliant primer for those unfamiliar with their work. Be sure to check out Jim Suhler’s website where he is offering fans two special digital downloads: “Lipstick Pickup,” co-written by Jim with Ray Wylie Hubbard and performed by Jim Suhler & Monkey Beat and “Chasin’ Down the Devil,” written and recorded by Jim with the Tejas Brothers. For more live action from Jim Suhler, you can catch him and the band live in person or see Jim as a member of George Thorogood & The Destroyers.

 

AnniPiperMoreGuitarsThanFriendsAnni Piper
More Guitars Than Friends
Released on February 17, 2016

Anni Piper is a lovely woman and based on her album covers, she know it. All too often, if an artist is showing T&A on an album cover it’s to distract you from the music contained therein. Sadly that is again the case with More Guitars Than Friends. Truly, her songs are not bad but they are just too blah for the Blues. They take a rocket ship to the lowest common denominator and for music lovers looking for that elusive X-factor, it won’t be found here. We’ve heard all this before. After hearing this album for the first time I was surprised to learn Anni Piper won the Best New Talent award at the 2005 Australian Blues Music Awards. Australia gave us the Blues of Dave Hole and Fiona Boyes. The music on More Guitars Than Friends is far, far removed from what I imagine, at my peril apparently, all Australians worth their salt would like. I imagine rough and tumble rabblerousers with booming amps and wicked riffs but then again I probably listen to too much AC/DC.

Anni Piper sings in a sultry style and she is a capable singer. She would probably have a great career if she moved to Nashville. She has the look and voice that could make her a huge star of Pop Country. I don’t like writing reviews like this. I know artists put a lot of work into their music and they are rightfully proud of their success. I’ve never put out an album and I truly respect everyone who has taken the gamble and made it to that point. But this is Blues. This is the music of Son House, Charley Patton, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Bessie Smith, and Koko Taylor. I get countless discs from Blues musicians, some established and some weekend warriors hoping to quit the day jobs. Recently there have been too many albums with formulaic blues, slick production, vapid lyrics, and guitar soloists hitting me over the head with Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Albert King licks. Sometimes I have to wonder if they ever even heard Albert. I suppose I decided to take a stand on this one because of the cover. Anni flaunts her curves on other album covers and her promotional materials. When so much skin is uncovered you have to wonder what is being covered up, like bad music.

Eye catching covers are important but the music has to live up to the promise of a great album cover. When your cover is the singer in a sensual pose showing off her curves it seems you’re counting on sexual arousal for album sales. And if you look like a 10 your album better not be a 2. Sure, Blues has a glorious history of sexuality but it’s also about passion. Outer beauty invokes a response but inner beauty builds passion. There is no inner beauty here. If this slick pabulum fuels your passion then you may be a soulless, hollow cyborg ready-programmed for Clear Channel’s homogenized corporate radio. But you’re a Blues fan right? You deserve better than this.

 

Thanks for checking out our reviews. Here is a sampler of the music covered in this post. Let us know what you think on Facebook and Twitter!

Day Old Biscuits! The Long Lost CD Reviews

It’s been a while since I had the time to post reviews and I apologize for that. Blues Biscuits is a labor of love but it’s a one man operation and sometimes this one man is spread a little too thin. Circumstances conspired to keep me from writing much but I never stopped listening. I get a tremendous amount of new Blues to go through and review. I appreciate the work it takes, especially in this modern music industry, to get a CD together and actually make and distribute it. I like to give the music more than one listen before forming an opinion. Some of my favorite albums took time to grow on me and I often find those to be the most enjoyable. Based on that experience I feel I should give the artists and their music time to sink in and see if my first impressions were accurate. I want to give them a fair shake.

Since my summer was a bit of a wash out and early fall has been hectic, I have quite a stock pile of CDs to go through. I had a few in mind to review and others I picked mostly because of the covers. I’ve said many times that covers are important. Don’t short change your music, your passion, your life’s work, with a lousy album cover. Anyway, I’ve changed up the format of the reviews a little bit to streamline them so I can cover as much ground as possible and still give these artists the attention they deserve.

VictorWainwrightBoomTownVictor Wainwright & The WildRoots
Boom Town
Blind Pig Records
Release Date May 26, 2015

Victor Wainwright & The WildRoots have served up one of the best of 2015 with Boom Town. If your brain can’t have fun on Boom Town, the drugs will never help. During “Two Lane Blacktop Revisited” Victor shouts “let’s put this thing on two wheels!” and you know that turn is coming way too fast and it’s gonna be wild. Boom Town is train robbery music. It is Old West saloon blues and the soundtrack to the James Gang’s bank heist highlights reel. Yes, it’s criminal. This may well be the devil’s music. By the time you get to “Wildroot Rumble” you’re cheering them on as you boogie around the house, banging on the air pianner and looking for your six-guns. The rumble is exactly what it says. The band engages in all-in, no holds barred shootout at the Boom Town Corral, delivering a non-stop high energy jam that slaps your damned mouth as it hangs slack-jawed at glory of the album you just experienced. It is bodacious. Saddle up and ride off into the sunset, this thing is over.

STANDOUT TRACKS: Two Lane Blacktop Revisited, Saturday Night Sunday Morning, Wildroot Rumble, Boom Town, If It Ain’t Got Soul – Part 1

EdenBrentJigsawHeartEden Brent
Jigsaw Heart
Yellow Dog Records
Release Date May 6, 2014

When I first saw and heard Eden Brent I was stunned that such a powerful and dynamic sound was being generated by the small frame person behind the keyboard. I had no idea she had been nicknamed “Little Boogaloo” by her mentor Boogaloo Ames, but damn if it isn’t perfect. She is a revered writer and has earned eleven Blues Music Award nominations since 2009. Her voice has power and her playing runs from sullen to bombastic in a turn of a chorus. It’s wonderful. Yet somehow I missed her latest album Jigsaw Heart when it came out last year and I now lament the time I’ve spent without it. While there are examples of rollicking boogie wherein Brent showcases her finger-pumping chops, much of Jigsaw Heart straddles the fence between Country and Blues. There is a twang in the songs and palpable pain. Eden delivers the words with all the emotion they imply and we couldn’t ask more from her. There is unreleased tension in many of these songs. I don’t know if it’s by design or happenstance but I suspect she did it on purpose. Sometimes the song goes right up to the line, refusing to play that one last chord that will thrust away the pain. Instead the songs soak in the heartbreak, absorb it, and turn it on itself. This is melancholy blues at its sultry best.

STANDOUT TRACKS: Jigsaw Heart, Tendin’ To A Broken Heart, Better This Way, Everybody Already Knows, Locomotive

NathanielRateliffNightSweatsNathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats
Stax
Release Date August 21, 2015

Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were big in Memphis in 1950, Chicago in ‘55, Detroit in ‘65, Philly for the Bicentennial, and New Orleans since France held the deed. This is music that exists outside time. 2075 will be a great year to hear this album. I haven’t been this excited by a record in years. I feel it in my bones and it makes me want to dance. I never want to dance. Rateliff is a folkie singer/songwriter/guitarist who fell in with a bunch of musicians who seem to unconsciously know exactly what to play. They are in the pocket, deep in a groove, and making you move. The tones are vintage, the beats are irresistible, and the lyrics will sear your heart with pain as you tap your foot, shake your hips, and cry out “Somebody get me a god damned drink!” Their music is not necessarily Blues but it shares more with Howlin’ Wolf and Little Milton than most of the Blues you heard at every festival this year. They play Soul and R&B as it was when Aretha Franklin was young. Nathaniel Rateliff’s voice tingles the spine and the brilliant arrangements highlight strength upon strength making the complex seem simple and memorable. They are best known for the Gospel infused hit “S.O.B.” but it’s not the best song on the album. I can’t even pick a best – I love everything about this album. It will be difficult to follow up this modern masterpiece and if they never do I just don’t care. I’ll still have this sweaty, greasy, bristling, bulging, and beautiful album, and I’ll listen to it until the day I die.

STANDOUT TRACKS: all of Side One, most of Side Two.

LaraPriceIMeanBusinessLara Price
I Mean Business
Vizztone
Release Date November 13, 2015

Lara Price was born and sadly, abandoned in Vietnam in 1975 but was rescued by Operation Baby Lift. She discovered music at the age of six and took piano lessons from Howard Jones. She eventually began to sing and has been perfecting her craft ever since, becoming a fixture of the San Francisco Bay music scene. Lara has been picked up by Vizztone and her new album I Mean Business is out soon. The new album has a classic 70s vibe with punchy horns, surging guitars, and simmering keyboards pulsating behind the sultry songstress. Lara has many musical irons in the fire, performing Folk music, Pop/Rock, Blues and more, keeping her schedule full and her chops sharp. She brings lessons of those other genres and bands to bear on her new album and it shows in the exemplary songwriting and arrangements. She brought in guests Jim Pugh, Chris Cain, and Mighty Mike Schermer to round out her usual group of cohorts. Lara Price co-wrote several of the songs on I Mean Business, and together with producer Kid Anderson, captured a modern take on classic Soul and R&B. This isn’t Beyonce’s Rhythm & Blues and we’re all better for it.

STANDOUT TRACKS: I Get It When I Want It, Undone, I Mean Business

CrookedEyeTommyButterfliesSnakes Crooked Eye Tommy
Butterflies & Snakes
Independent Release
Release Date August 1, 2015

Crooked Eye Tommy are the brainchild of Tommy and Paddy Marsh and arrived on the scene in 2013. Their debut album Butterflies & Snakes comes on like swampy North Florida Skynyrd Style Blues. It’s played by Southern California guys and it all makes perfect sense. There are slinky slide guitars, arpeggio riffs, spot-on vocal harmonies, and Latinesque grooves that mix perfectly. Crooked Eye Tommy is another example of a band that isn’t necessarily Blues but gets categorized under the rapidly expanding Blues Big Top. It’s okay. We welcome them in, point them to the stage and say show us what ya got. They got it. And Butterflies & Snakes proves it. Crooked Eye Tommy pull together a variety of influences and make music that will make you shake your hips slowly through a sultry summer night. The guitars simmer, Jimmy Calire’s sax is seductively soothing, and the vocals keep you in the moment. There’s a unifying thread holding all the disparate influences together and it seems to be that it is Crooked Eye Tommy are skilled musicians who care about making quality music that isn’t stale, repetitive, or cliché. Their first CD, Butterflies & Snakes, is a terrific introduction to a band ready to break out of Southern California and bring their brand of Blues and Roots music to the masses.

STANDOUT TRACKS: Come On In, I Stole The Blues, Mad And Disgusted, Over And Over

BobMaloneMojoDeluxeBob Malone
Mojo Deluxe
Delta Moon Records
Released on August 21, 2015

Keyboard maestro Bob Malone has issued a new album called Mojo Deluxe. From the cover to the music, this record is witty, tough and retro. There are real instruments, boys and girls, and plenty of Mojo. Bob’s keyboard chops are in fine form but this is not just an occasion show off. The songs are potent, memorable and well-crafted. It makes me wonder if Mr. Malone’s time playing in John Fogerty’s band has influenced his songwriting. You can’t play three minute masterworks every night without having them seep into your psyche. Whatever the source of the Mojo, Malone has made a fun record with a somehow timeless feel. From strong vocals, gritty guitars, and swirling keyboards there is something for all Blues fans on Mojo Deluxe. Stan Behrens plays the Hell out of the harmonica on Mojo Deluxe and is a highlight of every song he’s on. Kudos must be given for listing the keyboards used in the liner notes. He played an old upright piano, a Wurlitzer, and more. These instruments make all the difference in the music and it’s great to know what he used on a particular tune. Malone is definitely not a synthesizer guy and I thank him from the bottom of my heart.

STANDOUT TRACKS: Certain Distance, Looking For The Blues, Rage & Cigarettes, Don’t Threaten Me (With A Good Time), Chinese Algebra

ChristianCollinSpiritOfTheBluesChristian Collin
Spirit Of The Blues
Independent release
Release Date July 10, 2015

Big, fat, fiery, and funky. That’s the Spirit Of The Blues as presented by Christian Collin, Chicago based blueslinger who recently released his latest disc. When I see guys in hats wielding Strats I immediately suspect them of being SRV cloning disasters. Based on Collin’s music on Spirit Of The Blues I can safely say he just likes hats. And Strats. But the tunes are all over the Blues map. He does touch down at D/FW once in a while but he lands at O’Hare too and takes a few wild rides down Highway 41. Like Stevie Ray, Christian gives credit to his influences and name checks a few like Lightnin’ Hopkins here and there. He knows where he comes from and instead of copying, he integrates and makes something fresh with old ingredients. His singing inflection calls to mind Johnny Winter, but his voice reminds me of Johnny Van Zant from Lynyrd Skynyrd. Yes, Johnny. And that’s fine with me. If Skynyrd made records like Spirit Of The Blues they wouldn’t be out flogging their past every summer. Collin however is up and coming and we need to keep an eye on him. He crafts solos skillfully and with purpose and his songs are adeptly arranged. He lets them breathe.

STANDOUT TRACKS: Blues For You, Dead Man Walking, Only You, Old 109

KenTuckerLookMyWayKen Tucker
Look My Way
Music Access Inc.
Release Date June 2, 2015

As I mentioned above, I picked a few CDs from the stack based on their covers. I don’t even know where this CD came from and I can’t find the info sheet that comes with most arrivals. I never heard of Ken Tucker and still know almost nothing about him. I think Ken Tucker’s cover subliminally reminded me of Roy Buchanan. I didn’t expect him to sound like Roy but I figured it would be something I liked. Well damn if I wasn’t right again. This band is probably dynamite live. Look My Way has a live feel even with the guitar overdubs. The band is a three piece and they boogie hard, rock out, and roll through the blues like a jack-knifed 18 wheeler on I-95. Tucker lacks a distinct vocal quality and I suspect that like many guitar players he chose to do it himself instead of dealing with Lead Singer Syndrome. However, the trio’s jams are the key to their success and they win the day every time. They are a tight band but loose enough to follow Ken Tucker wherever he takes these tunes. Look My Way isn’t going to change the world but it lights it on fire real nice for 50 minutes or so.

STANDOUT TRACKS: What I Need, Best Bad Habit, Brother Whiskey Sister Nicotine

You can get a taste of these fine albums by checking out our playlist on Spotify. Thanks for checking out this and our playlists. They are a great way to hear new music and revisit some classics, but please keep in mind that artists get very little money from streaming media. If you hear something you like, please buy it and support the artists.

Barry Levenson – The Visit – Featured CD Review

BarryLevensonTheVisitBarry Levenson

The Visit

Rip Cat Records

Released on July 17, 2015

Barry Levenson is a Los Angeles-based producer, arranger, studio musician, and live performer. After you hear him you get the impression he could play anything and he does. You could say his day job is making music as a hired hand for a multitude of projects from up and coming Popsters to movie soundtracks and TV bumpers. His hands may be required to do it all but his heart makes its home in the realm of Blues and Jazz. Originally from Pittsburgh, he’s been all over the geographical map as well. He studied music in Boston, toured the world with Canned Heat and currently works in Los Angeles. Barry is into old school tones and tunes and he concocts masterful musical excursions which perfectly suit his tasteful, sometimes delicate, and always melodic playing. On his new album, The Visit, from Rip Cat Records, Barry brings his vast library of licks, riffs, and tones over to your house for a late night listening party.

The album opens with the genre defining riff of “I Wonder Why.” Several of Barry’s influences have done this song from Earl Hooker to Freddie King but Levenson offers a masterful instrumental version much like Otis Rush did on Right Place, Wrong Time. In one complete, cogent track Barry sets forth his mission statement for The Visit. He’s bringing all his musical inspirations together for your listening pleasure. Barry’s music exists in the sweet spots of Blues and Jazz. The notes are blue but the feeling is positive and uplifting. It’s the musical equivalent of one door opening as another closes. “I Wonder Why” has all these elements, with Barry exquisitely combining styles of Otis, Freddie, T-Bone and others into a Barry Levenson brew that hits all the right notes.

On “Ice Cold Kiss” Barry takes a vocal turn adding smooth, jazzy vocals over a smoky layer of late night blues accented by cascading piano and horn lines courtesy of Mike Thompson and Phil Krawzak respectively. It’s a mid tempo tune that evokes images of a smoky, dimly lit late night jazz club, the air thick with cigarette smoke, stale beer, and pheromones. Many of songs we hear during The Visit exude late night melancholy with some exception like opener “I Wonder Why,” and “It’s Mighty Crazy” which is just plain fun. Being a creature of the studio and Los Angeles, Barry’s personal musical pursuits probably find their reality in late night jams. The late night jams are an improviser’s playground and Barry’s knowledge and encyclopedia of guitar licks make him the top choice in any pick-up game, but that circumstance surely informs the music he creates. This is big city late night music.

The title track, “The Visit,” expertly weaves together jazz and blues. The breakdown in the middle starts with a jazzy rhythmic chorded solo that builds into a West Side Chicago Blues head cutting contest big finish before slipping into a swinging coda. You have to go back and listen to this one a few times to hear everything you missed. “This Time I’m Gone For Good” and album closer “You’re Gonna Need Me” features Billy Price on vocals. Billy is a well-known and respected soul singer whose latest album, This Time for Real, was recorded with Chicago soul singer Otis Clay. Guitar aficionados may remember Billy from his stint with Roy Buchanan. Barry Levenson is a player on par with Roy Buchanan and it’s great to hear Billy working with a less histrionic, but equally evocative player. The two men form a sympathetic duo that makes each song a special moment during The Visit.

Even before you hear the music, you get a hint of what is to come. The cover of The Visit looks like you’ve opened the front door around 10 pm to find Barry and his trusty guitar. He’s brought his friends Magic Sam, Otis Rush, and T-Bone Walker with him. He even brought along his old pal from Pittsburgh Billy Price to sing a few. “Have you heard of Grant Green?” Barry asks, and then plays some licks to remind you. It’s like the old days when people would bring records to a party and would actually listen to them and discuss what they heard. One song would inspire the next in a Round Robin of pre-internet music sharing. To me that’s what The Visit is all about. Don’t wait for Barry to knock on your door, schedule a visit for yourself and some friends with this terrific musical love letter to a time before playlists, Pandora, and ear buds.

The Visit is available at iTunes, Amazon, Rip Cat Records, and other outlets.

Fresh Biscuits! Hot New CD Reviews

Our CD reviews this week turned into a guitar fest. I didn’t even plan it that way. I grabbed bunch off the stack and boom! Glorious guitars showering us with notes covered in grease, grime, grits, and gall. The music featured this week is sometimes audacious, sometimes laid back, but just right for whatever ails you. Collect them all!

As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears.

 

JohnMayallLiveIn67John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers

Live In ‘67

Forty Below Records

Released on April 21, 2015

 

If Corey Harris really wants to know if white people can play Blues, all he needs to do is listen to Peter Green emote liquid hot pain and turmoil on the Bluesbreakers archival release called Live In ’67. The answer he will find may confound him, but it will be a resounding Yes. Much more than Eric Clapton’s replacement, Green transcends musical genres and unleashes the raw hellish nightmare of post WWII Great Britain in a tidal wave of musical expression that will have you listening for the air raid sirens over London. John Mayall is known as the Godfather of British Blues, and along with guys like Cyril Davies and Alexis Corner brought Blues to the attention of the devastated, disaffected youth of England who grew up in abject poverty, standing in line for rations, and stealing to get basics like food and shoes. The industrial cities of the Midlands had ghettos full of workers who would never escape their toils and lived in an unofficial state of indentured servitude. The emotional music of blacks who were exploited for their labor in the American South resounded in the children of the WWII survivors in Britain. They knew the despair and hopelessness first hand and dreamed of more. The Blues provided a way to channel the frustrations and find moments of pure joy amid their miserable existence. Live In ’67 captures some of those moments as delivered by John Mayall, Peter Green, John McVie, and Mick Fleetwood.

This band is where Fleetwood Mac was born. Yes, Fleetwood Mac was a blues band kids, before Green checked out and Jeremy Spencer went religious. The triumvirate of Green, McVie, and Fleetwood dominate these recordings which is a testament to Mayall as a band leader. Even in his early days he showcased his band and was willing to step out of the spotlight. Green leads the band through fiery renditions of Otis Rush classics “All Your Love” and “Double Trouble” but he brings down the house over the course of eight minutes of “Have You Ever Loved A Woman.” As for Mayall, his tenor is in fine form and his organ playing anchors the songs that Green stretches six ways from Sunday. One of Green’s jams gets so intense you’ll forget it started out as “The Stumble.” When he kicks back into the song proper, it’s a jolt. There is nothing sleek, pretty, or cute on these recordings. The source material for Live In ’67 is one-channel reel to reel tapes sent to Mayall by a fan from Holland who covertly recorded the shows 50 years prior. Mayall cleaned up the tapes but be warned, this a bootleg recording, albeit a damned good one. This version of the Bluesbreakers only existed for about three months and thankfully the anonymous fan was there to capture one of the most intense Blues line-ups ever, be they white or black. Yes, Corey Harris, white people can play the blues, however very few can play like Peter Green. Represent!

DeltaMoonLowDown

Delta Moon

Low Down

Jumping Jack

Released on May 5, 2015

 

Tom Grey and Mark Johnson of Delta Moon met by chance many (delta) moons ago when Tom tried to sell a Dobro to Mark. Phone numbers were exchanged and soon the two were playing together all around Atlanta. The guitar interplay between Gray and Johnson is magical. After almost a dozen Delta Moon albums, the duo has cemented its place in guitar tandem history. It is rare for a band to have even one skilled slide guitarist but Delta Moon boasts two. Their styles seem to mesh effortlessly and the sum sounds larger than their individual parts. The music also benefits from Tom Gray’s voice which has a mellow whispery rasp which draws you in and makes you listen closely. He was the Roots Music Association’s 2008 Blues Songwriter of the Year so you may want to listen closely anyway. He has a knack for creating insidious hooks that dig deep into your consciousness the more you listen to them. The duo is joined in the band by bassist Franher Joseph and drummer Marion Patton. These two musicians could have been great engineers because they build perfect foundations for every song on Low Down.

Low Down starts with the steady chug and side-winding slide of “Wrong Side Of Town.” “Spark In the Dark” is a fitting title to this energetic tune. It has a driving beat, terse chords, and greasy slide. These guys get incredibly warm tones from their instruments and amps, and the loping stand-up bass in songs like “Nothing You Can Tell A Fool” creates a stomping on the floor boards kind of low end you don’t hear much anymore. I must really hate Tom Waits’ voice because I can’t listen to him, but when I often love his songs when done by others. Delta Moon’s cover of “LowDown” is one of those great covers. The amusing wordplay in the song is perfect for this band and their style and feel makes it pure Delta Moon. If there is a complaint to be made about Low Down it’s this: it’s almost too mellow. It’s relaxing. This is Monday through Thursday Blues. When Friday and Saturday night come around you’ll probably want something more rambunctious and if all goes well, on Sunday you’ll have some explaining to do. At least you can feel sure when Monday night comes around again you can relax on the porch with a tall glass of lemonade or sweet tea and fall into the friendly Low Down groove of a Delta Moon.

 

DebbieDaviesLoveSpin

Debbie Davies

Love Spin

VizzTone

Released on April 21, 2015

 

Love Spin is the latest from the tremendously talented Debbie Davies. The title is drawn from the grimy, slinky title track that brandishes a hopeful attitude about all the crap that comes your way. This seems like it might be her personal philosophy. Debbie tackles many personal issues and demons on Love Spin but presents them in a positive way. “A Darker Side Of Me” is the most pleasant song about self-destructive behavior I’ve ever heard. Other topics include getting traded in for “Two Twenty-Five-Year-Olds” and handling a deficiency in the romantic health of a relationship with “I’m Not Cheating Yet.” Yet, of course, is the operative word so get it together buddy.

The record is full of Davies road tested guitar playing. You can tell she’s played with and learned the greats because she is right there with them. Davies is a tasteful, intelligent player with wide ranging tones, imaginative licks, and fully developed solos. Every note means business. Davies’ work is succinct, tasteful, and accessible. She resists the urge to overplay and knows she made the right decision. Guitar players don’t agree on much but I’m sure most of us would agree that on Love Spin and all her records, she plays exactly what the songs need. On “Two Twenty-Five-Year-Olds” Debbie channels her old boss Albert Collins with some icy, sharp picking. She must be playing daggers for the idiot who wants to trade her in. “A Darker Side Of Me” has delicately strummed chords and gentle fills, and “Life Of The Party” opens with a blast of joyously spiky single note jabs. On the album closer, Debbie plays some mean and gritty slide guitar. I don’t know which guitar and amp combo she used but I want it and I want it today!

Overall, Love Spin lives up to its name as Debbie Davies plays and sings for us a set of happy sounding, reassuring songs. Debbie is in strong voice, singing and playing with verve and style. This is another solid effort from the sassy, guitar slinging road warrior. Give it a (Love) spin.

 

GuitarHeroesJames Burton, Albert Lee, Amos Garrett, David Wilcox
Guitar Heroes
Stony Plain
Released on May 5, 2015

Guitar Heroes is pure, unadulterated joy. Albert Lee, James Burton, Amos Garrett, and David Wilcox spend an hour four twisting and turning your mind through 60 years of Rock, Roll, and Hillbilly Rhythm & Blues guitar licks, tricks, and trapeze flips. Gathering these Masters of the Telecaster was the brainchild of Doug Cox, artistic director of the Vancouver Island MusicFest. In the liner notes Cox says “As Artistic Director of the Vancouver Island MusicFest, I get to dream up collaborations like these for what will hopefully become once-in-a-lifetime musical experiences. This one worked. It’s truly rock and roll heaven, right here on Earth where there is indeed, a hell of a band!”

Beyond the pickers, that band consisted of the members of Albert Lee’s touring band including keyboardist Jon Greathouse, bassist Will MacGregor and drummer Jason Harrison Smith. The 11 tracks were recorded live on stage at the Vancouver Island MusicFest and are presented as-is. There are no edits, overdubs, or studio touch up. This is the real thing and the interplay suggests a band that plays together seven nights a week, not four guys who just met and decided to jam. It is a testament to their abilities and attitudes. There is room for everyone and even though everyone seems to be playing their best stuff, it never sounds like a competition. The playing remains tasteful and the boys never get in the way of the others. Often they play amazingly complimentary bits that give the familiar material unexpected freshness. All the signature tunes are here from rollicking opener “That’s All Right Mama” to “Susie Q” and an all-out jam on set closer “Country Boy.” Stony Plain had the good sense to provide track by track performance credits and a quicksilver set like this needs one so we can keep up. And while the solos are dazzling some of the most interesting work is done to the rhythm guitar parts as these guys deconstruct the songs on the spot and build them back up again while we listen.

Albert Lee has over 20 solo albums, played with Heads, Hands and Feet, the Everly Brothers, Eric Clapton and more. James Burton is responsible for the classic “Susie Q” lick. He was a longtime member of Ricky Nelson’s band and then joined Elvis Presley’s band and stayed until the King died in 1977. He also worked with Jerry Lee Lewis, John Denver, Merle Haggard, Roy Orbison and countless others. Amos Garrett was in Paul Butterfield’s Better Days and has played with Maria Muldaur, Doug Sahm, Gene Taylor Band, Bonnie Raitt, Emmylou Harris, Jerry Garcia and a host of others. David Wilcox is a veteran of Nashville North and The Ian Tyson TV show. he also played with Maria Muldaur, has had many Canadian hits and gold and platinum albums. David is regarded as one of Canada’s most influential roots musicians. The four men got to town one day early to rehearse. One day. One. Day. The result is an incredible set that defies description and must be heard to be fully appreciated. This isn’t just for blues fans. This is for anyone who can appreciate the artistry of master musicians capable of delivering the highest caliber performances just for fun.

JBHuttoHawkSquatJ.B. Hutto With Sunnyland Slim
Hawk Squat
Delmark
Released on March 17, 2015

Delmark has been putting out some great reissues recently and Hawk Squat does not disappoint. Hawk Squat was originally issued in 1968 on Delmark and now contains the re-mastered original album and six additional previously unreleased tracks. Hutto is regarded by those in the know as a standout of the second generation of Chicago Blues greats but his output was sporadic and his catalog is filled with recordings of questionable origin and quality. Luckily he occasionally recorded for reputable labels like Delmark. Recorded at sessions separated by roughly three months, from May to August 1968 plus one track recorded in December 1966, Delmark managed to capture lightning in a bottle. J.B. Hutto’s energy is tangible and his mastery of the Elmore James style of slide is more joyful celebration than emulation. His voice is plaintive and full of anguish on slower numbers like “If You Change Your Mind” and confidently strong on “The Same Mistake Twice” and “Speak My Mind” which appears three times in total. The final version closes the disc and is a full minute longer than the previous two. It is slowed down slightly and is played without the strutting shuffle but is no less intense. These variants offer a wonderful glimpse into the creative process and in this case make the bonus tracks enjoyable additions instead of filler.

Sunnyland Slim is present for the sessions and plays a lot of organ. His piano takes center stage on “Too Much Pride.” This song is also represented by an alternate take which isn’t significantly different but Sunny’s piano seems to sound brighter on the bonus version and his intro sounds higher in pitch. “I’ll Cry Tomorrow” is the only bonus track without a counterpart on the original album. Sunnyland Slim plays some swirling organ under Hutto’s biting guitar licks as J.B. sings about drowning his sorrow and telling his hear he’ll cry tomorrow.

As for the original album, it is fiery, feisty, and fickle. Sunnyland Slim’s organ playing is effervescent, and J.B. Hutto is a whirlwind slurry of Blues Power, sly wit, and toastmaster general. The sessions included Lee Jackson on guitar, Junior Pettis and Dave Myers on bass, frank Kirkland on drums and Maurice McIntyre on tenor sax. Herman Hassell plays bass on “Hip Shakin’” the sole track from 1966. Together these musicians created a Blues classic that still sounds fresh and relevant today. If you are not familiar with J.B. Hutto, do yourself a favor and start right here with Hawk Squat!

Fresh Biscuits! CD Reviews – May 1, 2015

We are back with our weekly CD reviews! There are a lot of Blues releases both out now and coming soon, and we will endeavor to cover a lot of ground in the coming weeks. This week we have five reviews for you. I hope you enjoy them and as always I hope you find something interesting for your ears!

 

JoeBonamassaMuddyWolfAtRedRocksJoe Bonamassa

Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks

J&R Adventures

Released on March 23, 2015

Joe Bonamassa gets a lot of crap from Blues fans and while I may poke fun at his image once in a while, I know he is a dyed in the wool fan of the music. His performances on his latest live album Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks confirms this. Joe put together a crack band that manages to walk the tightrope between classic Chess Blues and Joe’s 70’s Blues Rock tendencies. The band features a three piece horn section, Anton Fig on drums, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Mike Henderson on harmonica, Michael Rhodes on bass, and the incredible Kirk Fletcher as Joe’s guitar sparring partner. Joe also goes to great lengths to showcase Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf in their own words and image with introductory videos of the legends. The band swings and swaggers through a diverse selection of Muddy Waters tunes on disc one. They eschew the obvious and go for “Tiger In Your Tank,” they whip up a frenzy on “Real Love,” and everybody digs in deep on “Stuff You Gotta Watch”. Kirk Fletcher is a tone master and he plays with a classic touch that adds depth to every song.

Disc two is dedicated to Howlin’ Wolf with a bunch of Bonamassa mainstays rounding out the 77 minutes of music. “How Many More Years” starts off with Howlin’ Wolf’s original track then Joe and the band fall seamlessly into place after a few bars. Kirk Fletcher and Joe Bonamassa rip it up, tossing licks back and forth like musical hot potatoes. “Shake For Me” has a swinging horn arrangement, “Spoonful” digs up blues by the shovel load, and “Killing Floor” is sharp and sassy. Across two discs, the band gets plenty of time to shine but they all share a central purpose which is bringing Bonamassa fans into the circle of Muddy and the Wolf. The live album is a rousing musical success so let’s hope Joe’s fans will follow him to 2120 South Michigan Avenue.

 

JimiHendrixYouCantUseMyNameJimi Hendrix/ Curtis Knight & The Squires

You Can’t Use My Name – The RSVP/PPX Sessions

Experience Hendrix

Released on March 24, 2015

In the mid-1960s Jimi Hendrix was a little known sideman, working with the Isley Brothers, Don Covay, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight & The Squires. Ed Chalpin was an entrepreneur and record producer. His business, PPX International, Inc., was built around recording cover versions of top US hits for foreign record companies who would overdub lyrics in other languages. Eventually Chalpin began to produce original material which led to him managing and producing Curtis Knight & The Squires. It was through Curtis Knight that Chalpin met Jimmy Hendrix. Chalpin signed Hendrix to a notorious three-year recording contract for $1.00 and a 1% royalty. Hendrix later said he thought he was signing a release to get paid for the sessions. He was way off. Dozens of authentic looking Hendrix records have been licensed from those sessions even after the infamous lawsuit was settled and the Band Of Gypsys LP was delivered as payment to Chalpin.

Sadly, album opener “How Would You Feel,” a song about civil rights, discrimination, and unrest in the streets is still relevant today, nearly 50 years later. There are some other decent vocal tracks on this set, however it’s the instrumentals that are most interesting. “No Such Animal” is an instrumental written by Hendrix with an intro reminiscent of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” but it quickly moves into a back breaking R&B groove. “Knock Yourself Out (Flying on Instruments)” is reminiscent of Booker T. & The MGs and “Station Break” provides a great look at Hendrix’ early rhythm guitar chops. “Hornet’s Nest” is a revved up, funky blues jam and Jimi’s solos have a wild streak he would later refine, focus, and ride to fame. Unfortunately the rest of the disc ranges from filler to outright garbage. “Simon Says” would be a stupid throwaway if not for Jimi’s chord comping behind the inane lyrics. You could probably still go without hearing it and never think twice about it. This disc is the first time this music has been presented in its original context and it serves the purpose of a historical document. The liner notes are extensive and go into great detail about Jimi’s trouble with Chalpin and PPX. Unfortunately it is a wonderful package with little compelling music to offer.

 

JimmyCarpenterWalkAwayJimmy Carpenter

Walk Away

VizzTone

Released on September 23, 2014

Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter has been featured by Jimmy Thackery, Eric Lindell, Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington, Honey Island Swamp Band, and others, and he is currently on tour as a member of Mike Zito & The Wheel. However, his new disc, Walk Away, is the first album to carry his name on the marquee. The band Jimmy put together for Walk Away includes John Gros on keyboards, Cassandra Faulconer on bass, John Fohl on guitar, and Wayne Maureau on drums. Guests include percussionist Michael Skinkus, vocalist Reba Russell, trumpeter Antonio Gambrell, and guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Mike Zito who appear on one track each. Walk Away has been sitting on my desk and in my iTunes app. I’ll listen to an album in iTunes and occasionally it will be followed by Walk Away. I’d listen to a little, then, a little more, and then the whole thing several times through. I eventually realized I really like it so I wanted to include in our reviews. I love it when a record sneaks up on you and slowly but surely invades your consciousness.

The songs run the gamut from roadhouse shuffles to swinging jazz and soulful ballads. “She’s Not You” is a poignant, reflective relationship song, while “Walk Away” is an amusing relationship song where Jimmy quips he wishes she’d leave him just so he can watch her walk away. He also enjoys following her up the steps. In case you’re not following along, he likes her ass. We like his sax, and he plays it mightily throughout Walk Away, especially in the jazzy “7th Street Shuffle.” Keyboardist John Gros gets to stretch his fingers on this one as does John Fohl on guitar. This tune has a terrific ensemble groove and gives everyone room to shine. “My Favorite Muse” sums up the loose theme running through the record which was clearly inspired by a woman. Everywhere he goes he hears songs that remind him of you. You’re his favorite muse. You may or may not be everyone’s favorite muse. Feel good about it! You inspired a slew of great tunes and terrific performances. Walk Away is a fun record. You can tell Jimmy Carpenter and his crew had a great time checking out their favorite Muse.

 

SlamAllenFeelTheseBluesSlam Allen

Feel These Blues

American Showplace Music

Released on April 14, 2015

Slam Allen comes from a musical family. For a while he played drums in the family band The Allen Brothers. He spent nine years singing and playing lead guitar with James Cotton. He has fronted his own bands over the years and has produced several albums. His latest is Feel These Blues and he is making it mission to make sure you do. Slam’s vocals are strong, smooth, charming, and warm. He can sing any style under the Blues Bigtop with authority and authenticity. His guitar playing is a fully operational arsenal of licks, riffs, and tones. He can go gritty as in the album opening shuffle “Feel These Blues” or clean and supple like he does in “Can’t Break Away From That Girl.” The latter is such a slab of classic Soul I had to check the liner notes to see who wrote it. It was Slam. Damn. He is good. Very good. Slam Allen musters a vintage sound without feeling dated. There is a timeless quality to the songs and the sound to the music that resonates across the years.

Feel These Blues benefits from a great band that includes Jeff Anderson on bass, Dan Fadel on drums and the inimitable John Ginty on keyboards. John Ginty is the Maestro. I’d listen to anything he played even with the Dixie Chicks. Ginty’s keyboard accents are all over this record and if you know anything about John know this: he’s not playing synthesizers. His B3 matches Slam Allen’s songs perfectly and in combination with Slam’s sweet guitar it’s an unbeatable combination. Slam Allen writes excellent songs, he sings them from his soul, plays his guts out on his guitar, and delivers on every promise his music makes. It’s these things that have me scratching my head over his choice to cover Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I don’t care for Prince but I’ve always liked that song. The whole soundtrack was pretty good was in fact. But it just doesn’t translate to the Blues idiom. To me it’s seven wasted minutes. I’d rather have more Slam Allen music – you can feel those Blues.

TheCashboxKingsHoldingCourtThe Cashbox Kings

Holding Court

Blind Pig

Released on April 28, 2015

 

The Cash Box Kings are like the Steely Dan of Blues in the sense there is a nucleus of harp master Joe Nosek and singer Oscar Wilson. The duo is the driving force and as long as they surround themselves with handpicked musicians who match their vision, it will always sound like The Cashbox Kings. Holding Court features many fine musicians including Mark Haines on drums, Joel Paterson and Billy Flynn on guitars, Beau Sample on bass, with a rotating cast including Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Gerry Hundt, Brad Ber, and Barrelhouse Chuck. And, man, these guys are good. If this was 1956, they’d be in cream of the crop. They’d be legendary by now. Alas we are in the early daze of the 21st Century and Blues isn’t as popular as it was in the post WWII era. There’s a copious amount of talk about keeping the blues alive, but The Cashbox Kings are out there doing it. Not just keeping it alive but keeping it vibrant. They do this by presenting the vintage sounds of the original Chicago Blues mixed with modern themes. They take the details seriously. Every element is in place and every note has purpose.

They mix a slew of below-the-radar covers with masterful originals. Compositions like “Cash Box Boogie” and “I Miss You Miss Anne” are on equal footing with John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues” and Big Smokey Smothers’ “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man.” Two originals really stand out to me and it’s because of the lyrical content more than anything else. “Gotta Move Out To The Suburbs” explores the plight of inner city citizens being over-run by crime. They can’t live in the neighborhoods of their youth because of fear and violence. The gang activity stretches beyond the inner city and has infested many suburbs too. It is a harsh reality that faces many metropolitan areas and really needs more attention. The other explores the plight of working musicians in the brave new world of digital music. All aspects are covered from streaming service royalties, with lines like “Downloads don’t pay me, not even half a cent” and “People think music on the net should be free, it might as well ‘cause they sure ain’t payin’ me” to jackasses at shows telling their buddies not to buy the CDs – “People standing in line, to buy my CD. One said don’t buy it, I will burn it for you free.” I have heard this conversation. What possesses these idiots? The one offering is bad enough but what about the one with his cash out to buy the CD? Did you dislike the show? You’re in line to buy a CD, so you must have liked it. Are you really going to listen to your buddy and pocket the 20 bucks, or worse, go spend it on $10 cups of beer while you complain about the high cost of music and high-five each other over keeping the Blues alive? Alright, end of rant. Just think about it. And buy a Cashbox Kings Holding Court CD. You won’t regret it.

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.

 

 

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.

Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – February 20, 2015

We’re back again with some CD reviews for you. This week we have some exciting instrumental hi-jinks, kick-ass rockin’ blues, and a delightful R&B influenced album. If you’re in the Northeast like me, you’re probably frozen, snowed in, and offering bounties for Jack Frost on Craigslist. These hot Blues will hopefully warm you up. As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears!

JohnGintyBadNewsTravelsLiveJohn Ginty

Bad News Travels Live

American Showplace Music

Release Date January 13, 2015

 

Organist John Ginty is a Morristown, NJ native who has traveled the world playing in the road bands of acts like Jewel and Dixie Chicks plus stints with Citizen Cope and several others. Ginty is a founding member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band with whom he received two Grammy nominations. In 2003, John appeared on the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grammy Award winning album Higher Ground. Maybe it was just luck, but it’s more likely that John Ginty knows how to pick his musical partners. When it came time to record his first studio album, 2013’s Bad News Travels, he chose a host of superb musicians to join him. Recently, Ginty released a double disc live set recorded in front of a small audience in the studio where he created Bad News Travels –  Showplace Studios, in Dover, NJ. Reuniting with many of the guests from his album, Ginty presents the music in organic form – musicians in a room playing off each other and drawing energy from the joy of music making. Thus we have Bad News Travels Live.

Bad News Travels Live is not merely an exercise in replicating the studio album. Ginty and friends fine-tuned the running order and added a pair of Ginty originals not on the studio album. The result is an energetic, uplifting romp through timeless sounding music. The set starts with the funky driving rhythm of “Switch.” The whole band gets to stretch their fingers and preview the stellar musicianship about to be unleashed upon the crowd. The band includes Mike Buckman on guitar, Paul Kuzik on bass, Dan Fadel on drums, and Anrei Koribanics also on drums. The drummers are exceptional together and provide the finely tuned engine this band needs to perform at optimal magnitude. They are the drum corps, front line, back line and boogie crew laying down the beat for me and you! “Arrivals” is a raucous instrumental that reminds me of a revved up version of Buddy Guy’s “Man Of Many Words.” Ginty is man of many notes and I’m pretty sure I heard all of them in this tune. Luckily I am not Emperor Joseph II from Amadeus. I do not believe in too many notes. “Arrivals” is a breath taking experience but just as soon as it’s gone Albert Castiglia is out on stage firing up a mellower but no less brilliant “Elvis Presley.” The King is dead, long live the king! Apparently Elvae are popping up in visions all over town. This is a fun tune and adds levity to a session that people could interpret as serious business.

While there is no shortage of instrumental serious business here, John Ginty had the good sense to bring in a vocal powerhouse to match the fleet fingered fireworks. Dynamo Alexis P. Suter lends her inimitable voice to “Seven And The Spirit” along with her Alexis P. Suter Band partner in crime Jimmy Bennett on guitar. Bennett is a well-rounded tasteful player who seems to play exactly what the songs needs. “Seven And The Spirit” has plenty of hot jamming from Bennett and Ginty and winds down with a nod to Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose.” Alexis also provides the perfect foil for Ginty and Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control.” This swampy boogie with scorching guitars fires up a crawfish boil that’ll have the whole neighborhood dropping by.

Speaking of dropping by, Todd Wolfe drops by for a pair of tunes and while I was hoping he would sing, he did not. He did however put on his There & Back Jeff Beck hat, cranked the overdrive on his Fender amp and blasted out Telecaster licks that would have made Roy Buchanan smile – and we all know that didn’t happen often. Wolfe plays on “Peanut Butter” and “Rock Ridge.” The latter sounds so familiar I thought it was a Jeff Beck tune for a moment. Wolfe’s slide playing is pitch perfect as he feeds the beasts that prowl out on “Rock Ridge.” Cris Jacobs takes a plunge into his old jam band days, ripping up wicked solos on “Mirrors” as well as trading blazing licks with Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control” and “The Quirk.” John Ginty is the perfect host, encouraging all his guests to shine by giving them plenty of musical space and pushing them higher with his own dynamic playing. Still, Ginty is the star of the show. He gets an amazing array of sounds from his Hammond B-3, Vintage Vibe piano, and an acoustic piano. There are no synthesizers – just a man who knows how to get the most from his instruments. He is a monumental talent who has thus far evaded the ears of too many. The music from this double CD is also available on DVD. With DVD you can watch up close as the maestro coaxes otherworldly notes from his keyboard. The DVD is a bird’s eye view of the live session and offers the opportunity to see how these performers interacted and created this powerful music.

I get a lot of CDs to review and unfortunately I don’t have time to write about them all. I have to choose what to cover and I prefer to write about music I like. Even still, some of the records I’ve reviewed fall by the wayside after a short time. John Ginty’s Bad News Travels Live is not one of those records. I loved it from the first few notes. Last year I heard John playing live on B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius XM. I was beyond impressed and filed his name away to investigate. John’s talent on keyboards, his songwriting, and his musical perspective leave me wanting more. If I was a keyboard player, I don’t know if I’d want to quit or go practice more but this is one of those records that gets you musically fired up and ready to jam. The Bad News is Good News and it all travels at the speed of sound. Go hear some today!

 

EricSardinasBoomerangEric Sardinas

Boomerang

Jazzhaus Records

Release Date January 13, 2015

 

Eric Sardinas has been taking the world by storm one gig at a time for over 15 years. He looks like Ian Astbury’s cousin from Texas and plays guitar like he taught the Devil at some crossroads south of Hell. His voice is raspy and road weary; honest and bold, emitting emotion with every note. Born in Florida Sardinas first got his hands on a guitar at age six. Inspiration came from the roots music in his mother’s collection and his elder brother’s penchant for classic rock. As a teen, Eric dove head first into the Blues. His own music gave voice to the amalgamation of those influences. His music falls on the harder rocking side of blues and over a series of records he has honed his skills, wrestled with demons, logged the miles, and fought the good fight for music that comes from the heart and gut. His latest album with his band Big Motor is called Boomerang and it brings all those elements back around again for a triumphant, defiant set.

The electrified acoustic resonator is the first thing you hear on Boomerang and in many ways it’s all you need to know about Eric Sardinas’ new album. It is his signature instrument. It is ragged, gritty, down, and dirty. It is street level brilliance and elegant savagery. The song you’re hearing is “Run Devil Run” and it needs to be heard on big, loud speakers that used to fill living rooms with faux wood chic and big black rectangles daring you to tangle with them. Be prepared to listen to the whole damned thing this way because ear buds will never do this joyful noise any justice. All too soon, “Run Devil Run” is over but “Boomerang” is booming with positive waves of energy and more of that chugging guitar. Sardinas gets a variety of tones from his resonator on “Tell Me You’re Mine.” From the squonky wah-wah effects to white-washed wall of sound slides, he packs this tune with undeniably imaginative guitar licks. His voice is also in fine form all over Boomerang. Eric Sardinas voice and guitar playing make the rare perfect match in a singer/guitarist. Some guitar playing bandleaders sing because there is no other choice. Sardinas voice seems inextricably linked to his hands and tone. His hearty voice is as much a part of his musical charm as his guitar playing.

The disc is dedicated to Eric’s friend Johnny Winter who passed away last year. Eric’s Rock and Roll style of blues is akin to Johnny’s early 70s work. “If You Don’t Love Me” exemplifies this with its back breaking beat, high speed classic blues riffs, and white hot slide licks. Coupled with the next track, Leiber and Stoller’s classic “Trouble,” Sardinas seems to be offering a one two punch from his Johnny Winter bag of tricks. It’s a classic Rock & Roll original, served with grime and grease on a steaming hot Blue Plate with a side of kick-your-ass. You’re still listening through the 35” high Pioneers right?

Unlike Johnny Winter, Eric doesn’t go for the extended solos and wild jams. Boomerang is a succinct ten song record clocking in at just under thirty-five minutes. This is old school, wham bam, thank you ma’am, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em again and go rockin’ blues. There’s no special edition, no bonus tracks, and no songs you don’t want to hear. They left the scraps on the cutting room floor and we’re all better for it. This band is on fire, the playing is powerful and the songs just might get you in trouble with the law. Big Motor runs on high octane fuel and Boomerang is it.

 

BennyTurnerJourneyBenny Turner

Journey

NOLA Blue

Released on October 27, 2014

 

Benny Turner is from Gilmer, TX. His family later decided to move to the Windy City where his brother Freddie King eventually rose to fame. Benny played in Freddie’s band for a long time and after Freddie’s passing, Benny went on the road with Mighty Joe Young and later Marva Wright. He’s made some Soul singles in the past and released a few blues CDs recently as well. Benny Turner is a bassist and singer with quite a pedigree and musical history. He brings together all those experiences on his most recent album called simply, Journey.

Journey follows divergent paths that weave in and around each other on this genre-bending set. A classic Blues shuffle called “Breakin’ News” is our first step on the path and it’s a rollicking roller with thumping bass and pulsing organ that will have you skipping down the road like you just dropped a house on a witch. The horn section swings and Jellybean Alexander pounds out the rhythm giving this tune a robust arrangement full of hidden charm. Someday I absolutely must be in a band with a guy named Jellybean. “Don’t Ride My Mule” sounds dirty and “I Wanna Give It To You” is dirty. If you’re familiar with our Hump Day features you know we love dirty blues. I wonder if Turner’s significant other is aware of being compared to a Mule. It probably explains the romantic evening he has planned in “I Wanna Give It To You.”

“How I Wish” is an old-style Blues a la Bobby Blue Bland. The big background vocals, horn section, and gliding minor chords make it a lush genre-jumping arrangement. The tune is beautifully delivered and Turner’s vocals are sublime. “My Mother’s Blues” takes us back to the porch of his childhood home. The rustic approach and sparse arrangement is a welcome break from the Big City Blues that make up the bulk of this set. It also shows Turner is comfortable and adept with all styles of Blues. Turner plays the blues on Kazoo here and makes it not only palatable but welcome. This is also one of two songs on which Benny plays guitar on the album. He is a genuine jack of all trades and plays guitar with laid back confidence. “My Mother’s Blues” is bouncy, catchy, and oddly beautiful.

Benny also plays guitar on “My Uncle’s Blues (Fannie Mae).” He plays a perfect cadence and Patrick Williams howls on the harmonica. I guess Benny’s uncle like chasing women through the hay. This is a robust rabble rouser, strident and strong, strutting like the king of the barnyard. With this song, “Don’t Ride My Mule,” and “I Wanna Give It To You” Benny Turner shows there has been and always should be fun in the Blues. Unfortunately, Blues is also about the hard times too. Our Journey ends with a poignant minor blues/gospel combination called “What’s Wrong With The World Today.” Vocalists Tara Alexander, Deanna Bernard, Ellen Smith, and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes form a choir around Turner’s plea for peace, love, and understanding. Turner calls out cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago to “lay your pistols down boys.” The verse calling out cities is a goose bump moment. It is a chilling reminder that our struggles are greater than ourselves and need to be addressed from sea to sea. It’s a message of peace from a man whose Journey in life has been from the Jim Crow south the Obama administration. However, Benny Turner’s musical Journey is just getting started again and I suggest you join him.

Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – January 30, 2015

We’re back again for our weekly CD reviews. This week we’re featuring a reissue, a terrific album from 2014, and a biscuit so fresh you can’t even get it in a store yet. We hope you can check them all out and find something interesting for your ears!

JuniorWellsSouthSideBluesJamJunior Wells

Southside Blues Jam

Delmark

Release Date November 18, 2014

 

What can you say about Junior Wells that hasn’t already been said? He is a legend truly deserving of his stature. Junior took over the harmonica slot in Muddy Waters’ band when Little Walter left the group. Together with Buddy Guy, Junior Wells made one of the greatest Blues records in history with Hoodoo Man Blues. Junior and Buddy – the original Blues Brothers – worked together on and off until the time of Junior’s death in 1998 but along the way, Junior forged his own style, was a master of the harmonica, and a powerfully passionate singer.

Southside Blues Jam was Delmark’s attempt to capture on tape the feel of Junior’s regular working band that had a weekly Monday night gig at Theresa’s Lounge on Chicago’s South Side. The band you could find weekly at Theresa’s featured a Who’s Who of Blues legends. Buddy Guy and Louis Myers on guitar, Fred Below on drums, Ernest Johnson on bass and the incredible Otis Spann on piano. You almost have to wonder what Junior had to contribute. One listen to Southside Blues Jam and it becomes apparent what Junior had. Beyond the obvious, Junior was a band leader who could draw great performances out of his band. He can be heard directing the soloists, calling out arrangements and tempos, and he lends a tremendous presence to the proceedings.

The first sound you hear on South Side Blues Jam is Otis Spann’s piano. Spann is a master pianist and if you didn’t know it before, you’ll know it by the end of this album. His work provides the harmonic backbone of every song. His triplets, trills, and tangents add flair to the songs and make his a standout performance. “Stop Breaking Down” is the lead track and Junior blows his harp like Hell, fired by the spirit of Otis Spann. Junior emotes the words as much as he sings them, pleading the blues like no other. “I Could Have Had Religion” is another powerful performance. Junior seems to be improvising lyrics about then recent blues tragedies like Howlin’ Wolf’s heart attack, Muddy Waters’ car accident, and the death of Magic Sam. At the end you hear him talking like it was a rehearsal take. The informality in the studio gives it the feel of a true late night blues jam but Junior sang those improvised words with fire and passion. This is the real blues.

Let’s say a few things about Buddy Guy. Buddy is a show-off. He’s a head cutter, a ball buster, and an all-round son of a mother, but when he takes on the role of sideman he checks his ego at the door. His playing here is exceptional, but it never overpowers Junior or any of the other musicians. Buddy plays in the open spaces and never detracts from the main event. Buddy stretches out on “Lend Me Your Love” and hearing it now I can easily understand why guitar heroes like Clapton, Beck, Page, Hendrix, and Vaughan all worshiped at the feet of Buddy Guy.

The original album ends with track eight on this reissue which is a fantastic duet/duel between Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. They share the vocals and go toe to toe with their solos. Their rapport transcends music. It transcends the bandleader/sideman dynamic, and their obvious friendship. It’s nearly eight minutes of pure blues improvisation with Junior, Buddy, and Otis at their finest. If this is what was witnessed on Monday nights at Theresa’s, get my time machine ready, we’re going to hear some Blues!

The reissue features seven previously unreleased tracks, nearly doubling the amount of music on the original album. The biggest difference is the absence of Buddy Guy. Louis Myers handles the guitar work on most of the bonus tracks and proves to be a more than capable foil for Junior Wells. Junior dedicated “Rock Me” to Muddy Waters and Spann pulls out all the stops. Junior whips up a fierce Windy City bluster as he plays his harp in honor of his old boss. “Lexington Movies” is an amusing bit of studio chatter, and the disc closes with an upbeat tune called “Got To Play The Blues” which belies Junior’s fascination with James Brown.

The bonus tracks are less formal than the cuts on the original LP. However, it is during these bonus tracks that you get a feel for Junior as band leader. You can hear him directing Spann and Myers during “It’s Too Late Brother” and on a rambunctious, and thematically very different alternate take of “I Could Have Had Religion” you hear Junior direct the band to do it “funky, low down, and dirty – just like that.” This simple, off the cuff directive from Junior perfectly sums up this record. Funky, low down, and dirty – just like that.

 

 

tinsley_ellis_tough_love_square_largeTinsley Ellis

Tough Love

Heartfixer Music

Release Date February 3, 2015

 

Tinsley Ellis has been making music for a long time. He got started on guitar at a young age and by his teenage years he was already an accomplished musician. Tinsley was born in Atlanta but spent his early years in south Florida. He left Florida behind, returning to Hot ‘lanta in 1975. He formed a band with future Fabulous Thunderbird Preston Hubbard and in 1981 formed a new band called The Heartfixers with Chicago Blues man Bob Nelson. By the time of The Heartfixers’ 1983 platter Live At The Moonshadow, the Washington Post declared Tinsley to be a “legitimate guitar hero.” By the end of the 80s, Tinsley was picked up by Alligator Records and hasn’t stopped. He tours consistently and since starting his own label, Heartfixer Music, he has put out a new album every year. The latest is Tough Love and Tinsley’s scowl on the cover is letting you know he’s not fucking around.

While Tinsley may be deadly serious about his music and his gruff expression on the cover might make you think he’s going to be pissed if you even point at it, Tough Love is a welcoming album. He brings you in right away with “Seven Years.” This funky lead track features slinky, clean lead guitar licks that bring to mind Robert Cray. Ellis’ voice is in terrific form here and throughout the new disc. Somehow it is simultaneously raspy and smooth as he delivers his tales and punctuates them with biting commentary from his guitars.

“Midnight Ride” is a hard strutting shuffle and Tinsley unleashes the beast during his solos, bending the Hell out the high notes until they’re screaming like over-heated tires burning rubber and launching the midnight ride. “Give It Away” is an acoustic guitar based ballad that is an exact match for Tinsley’s older and wiser crooning. “Hard Work” reminds me of J.J. Cale and features plenty of grooving slide licks. Like anything Tinsley does, his slide playing is not a retread of someone else’s ideas. His slide licks are just far enough outside the box to sound fresh. Maybe it’s because he is not primarily a slide guitarist. His approach is different and the results speak for themselves.

Ellis is joined on Tough Love by a core band of Lynn Williams on drums, Steve Mackey on bass, and Kevin McKendree on keyboards. “Should I Have Lied” is a piano ballad that gets set ablaze when Tinsley lets loose on his guitar. It sounds like he’s using a hollow body guitar and it has an earthy tone. Tinsley is a master at matching the guitar to the song. This tune pulls together all his strengths as a singer, player and writer. It is superb. The set closes with another smoldering slow blues called “In From The Cold.” McKandree plays a mellotron, of all things, on this one and it’s a delight. I’m pretty sure they won’t be bringing the ancient behemoth on tour but damn it sounds great on the record. It’s like King Crimson meets B.B. King at John Paul Jones’ house. I don’t know who had the idea, but kudos to Tinsley for running with it. This mix of old sounds spurred some damned fine, fresh-sounding music.

Somehow, Tinsley Ellis manages to consistently present engaging new music. It seems like stepping away from big blues labels and making music for his own record company has freed his spirit. The music of his last few albums has been filled with joy. Anyone wondering if Blues is just depressing songs needs to look no further than Tough Love. Tinsley tells it like it is. Sometimes it’s rough and ugly but sometimes it’s the best thing in the world. It’s all here.

 

 

JPSoarsFullMoonNightInMemphisJ.P. Soars

Full Moon Night In Memphis

Soars High Productions

Release Date September 18, 2014

 

J.P. Soars came to the Blues world from the south Florida heavy metal scene. Soars credits a trip to Memphis and a meeting with the legendary Jessie Mae Hemphill as a life altering experience that eventually led to his career in the Blues. By chance, Soars met cigar box guitar pioneer John Lowe and was smitten by the rustic instruments. Soars traveled to Memphis again as a member of David Shelley and Bluestone for the 2007 International Blues Challenge. The band made it to the top ten. Soars was inspired to form his band, the Red Hots. With the Red Hots, he won the South Florida Blues Society competition two years in a row and represented the group at the IBCs where in 2009 they won. Soars also took home the Albert King Blues Guitar award. The heavy metal kid has mixed influences from Django Reinhardt and Guitar Slim to Black Sabbath and Jimi Hendrix into a signature sound that capitalizes on his distinct voice as much as his guitar prowess.

J.P. Soars’ latest foray is Full Moon Night In Memphis. The title track and album opener is an urban mixture of Hill Country cigar box guitar, driving rhythms, and howling Mississippi saxophone courtesy of rising star Brandon Santini. Soars’ voice reminds us of a guy who got his start in Memphis all those years ago. J.P. has a Howlin’ Wolf style rasp that serves the music well. It seems to be his natural voice. It doesn’t come across as shtick. It definitely fits with the grinding tones of the cigar box guitars. It’s a match made on the wrong side of the tracks somewhere in Hell and I can’t get enough.

The next tune is called “Back To Broke” and it is one of the catchiest sing-along Blues I’ve come across in a long time. Sometimes you hear a song and think “that’s catchy” but then it disappears as quickly as it arrived. “Back To Broke” will stick with you for a few days. The music is funky and it will get you moving while you join J.P. in singing “I’m back to broke, it ain’t no joke. I had some money in my pocket but it went up in smoke.” Mark “Muggy Doo” Leach adds some Memphis style B3 BBQ sauce to this tasty musical concoction and J.P.’s fingers dance their way through a jaunty solo. It’s refreshing to hear such a happy memorable tune about a dire situation. That’s Blues at its best, right?

“Somethin’ Ain’t Right” is another standout tune. It is built around a monster riff that could have been born in 1970 at Leslie West’s house. I hope Leslie wasn’t home because this thing is ripping up everything in sight. J.P. feeds the monster with freewheeling solos while drummer Chris Peet and percussionist Raul Hernandez propel the beast. Somethin’ ain’t right if you don’t like this song.

Full Moon Night In Memphis isn’t all bluster and blooze. Soars covers a lot of ground. There’s a trip through that other famous Tennessee music city on “The Road Has Got Me Down” which also features the wonderful harp playing of Brandon Santini. J.P. works his full moon magic on Lap Steel and the backup singers croon like the Carter Family. Again, this is a well-constructed song; it feels fun, and uplifting even when the subject would otherwise seem very sad. He’s on the road and missing home but turns it into a sprightly song. Soars seems to have a knack for songwriting. All his prowess as a guitarist would be for naught if he couldn’t wrap great songs around it. Luckily he can. He successfully takes on Latino guitar instrumentals with “Lil’ Mamacita” which features his incredible chops on acoustic guitar, and closes the album with a jump blues number that would make Louis Jordan proud. It’s a Full Moon Night In Memphis and anything can happen. With this new album from J.P. Soars, you can be certain something will.

 

Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – January 16, 2015

It’s time again for our weekly CD reviews. This is our first installment of 2015. I took a little break over the holidays but now we’re back! This week I’m taking a look at a pair of albums that evaded our pages last year and a brand new disc out just this week.

A lot of CDs come in the mail and the unfortunate reality is the bigger names get preference. I try to cover as much ground as possible though, so I make a pile of interesting stuff for those times I can include something off the beaten path. I make a lot of these decisions based on the covers. Album covers are important, ladies and gents. I’ll go off on a tangent about that soon enough in the reviews below but if your cover is eye-catching that will give you the edge almost every time, whether it’s in a store, a web site, or a merch table at a festival. Remember that next time your manager has your band standing next to a tree in their back yard. Anyway…

Without further adieu, I present Terry Quiett Band, Brent Johnson, and Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers

 

TerryQuiettBandTakingSidesTerry Quiett Band

Taking Sides

Lucky Bag Records

Released on March 25, 2014

 

I didn’t know anything about Terry Quiett Band but I was intrigued by the cover of their 2014 album Taking Sides when I came across it in a stack of discs I ran out of time for last year. Make no mistake: covers are an important part of the package. Since I am a reviewer, there’s a higher chance than usual that I’ll give it a listen no matter what. Still, there are hundreds of Blues releases each year, often from artists you’ve never heard of, even if, like the Terry Quiett Band they’ve had a long career already. The front cover of Taking Sides melds the big sky heartland and resonator guitar with the luminous big city skyline and a three pick-up electric guitar. The guitars meet in the middle implying this band is proudly fusing elements of the blues into a hybrid. Your imagination fills in the details until you plop the disc in your player and you’re greeted by the raspy electrified resonator as Quiett peels off riff after riff. It’s exactly as advertised and it’s glorious. But maybe I would have missed this one if the cover was a band shot, up against a pick-up truck in a parking lot somewhere. The cover brings you in; it’s a hook almost as important as the hooks in the music. Personally I’m sick of boring blues album covers, but when you see a cover like this you know the band is serious and they want to make a statement. Hopefully you’ll like the statement, but at least they were bold enough to go for it and try to catch your eye in the midst of a sea of unknown entities releasing CDs with nothing more than their picture and generic Arial font lettering.

Thankfully, the music within meets the expectations set by the cover. The album opens with slide on steel as the resonator is caught in a rollin’ and tumblin’ groove that just won’t stop. Immediately you realized the promise of the cover is being realized. The track has the frantic energy of a city and the tone center of Grandma’s back porch. “Cut The Rope” is sinister psychedelic blues. If you’re going to play slide through a wah-wah pedal I’ll probably follow you like a puppy dog chasing down bacon. The accelerated rave-up toward the end will leave you howling for more.

The back cover makes a clear distinction between Side A and Side B, as if this were a record. In many ways, the tunes marked for Side B represent another side of the band’s style. It starts off with a smoldering minor key blues that burns the whole damned barn down by the time it’s over. Much of Side B brings the tempo down, and gives the band a chance to shine on some extended cuts that are in many ways more intense than the hard driving Side A. The two sides provide an additional surprise by not being what you might expect. I admit I was thinking I’d be hearing acoustic driven music on Side B after the rampaging first half. I was pleasantly surprised. Whether it’s Side A or B, the songs are superbly crafted and arranged. Mississippi Hal Reed blows a mean harp on “Come The Morning” and the horns on “Gimme Some” deliver knock out blows.

Terry Quiett is an evocative singer and a Hell of a guitar player whether he’s playing standard or slide. Sometimes it seems like everybody’s playing slide guitar these days, like it was just discovered and it has to be tried. The results are good, bad, and often ugly. Slide guitar playing requires your attention. Proper intonation is the key, but you have to dampen the strings, limit the noise, and for the love of Elmore James find a new lick to play. Terry Quiett sounds like he has put in the time and effort. He plays some borrowed lines and who can blame him. Some classic slide riffs are so fun to play, you just have to. But he incorporates all kinds of slide licks into his songs; sometimes for accent, sometimes to make a full statement. His hands are steady. He’s probably at a point where he doesn’t think about it much which allows the music to flow from within. The feel of this album and his playing makes all the difference. The feel is honest. This band brings out all sides and somewhere in the middle is the Truth, which is this: Taking Sides gathers inspiration from all sides of the blues and makes up one terrific album.

 

BrentJohnsonSetTheWorldOnFireBrent Johnson

Set The World On Fire

Justin Time Records

Released on April 8, 2014

 

Brent Johnson was a guitar prodigy as a child. When New Orleans’ legendary “Braille Blues Daddy” Bryan Lee heard Brent’s playing, Lee invited him into his Blues Power Band. With Lee’s band, Brent has recorded and toured the globe for the last ten years. Between tours with Bryan Lee, Brent hit the road with John Perkins on drums and Bill Blok on bass. They played Brent’s original compositions of which he is very proud. The group was met with an enthusiastic response from crowds. Bolstered by the appreciation of the fans, the band decided to go into the recording studio. Together, with Wayne Lohr on keyboards and a few special guests like Sonny Landreth and Alvin Youngblood Hart, they put together the blazing new record, Set The World On Fire.

Johnson is committed to writing his own songs which stems from a long-time love of guitarist/singer bandleaders. Johnson has said his favorite music is “raw, honest and dirty.” This attitude surely informs the songs he writes and the few covers he chose for the album. The production captures a live band feel with earthy vintage tones and all the jagged edges sticking out daring you   Lyrically, he does not use elaborate metaphors. He prefers simple and direct such as “Don’t buy a ticket if you don’t want to take a ride.”

Brent Johnson’s guitar playing is lyrical. He sings, but his guitar is another voice for him and the two work together like Siamese twins line cooking at the local diner. From his tones to his notes, he finds the right combination of flavors for every song. Not every song is raw and dirty however, but they all come off as honest. Unfortunately you can hear when a band is going through the motions. Thankfully that does not occur with Brent and his band. Even the guests come to play their best. Alvin Youngblood Hart trades blows with Johnson like Frank Costanza on Festivus, and Sonny Landreth lights up “Long Way Back To New Orleans” with his inimitable slide guitar sound and style. Brent Johnson is a fine slide player too and he revs it up like a ’57 Big Block Chevy on John Lee Hooker’s “Meet Me In The Bottom.”

The record’s tour de force is a grinding 13 minute workout on “As The Years Go Passing By.” This emotional roller coaster should probably be accompanied by Jack Daniels and Prozac. It is an impassioned performance that will bring guitar worshipers to the album. However, based on Johnson’s passion for original material I have to wonder why he didn’t write a minor key Blues of his own for this showcase. Maybe it just felt right to do it this way. It sure sounds right. Actually, all of Set The World On Fire sounds right. It sounds like a band of brothers laying down music they love. It is free of pretense and schtick. It aims at the core of the Blues ideology of lightening your load through music. Brent Johnson’s debut album will help you. Hucklebuck your way out to the store and get one.

 

JoshHoyerLivingByTheMinuteJosh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers

Living By The Minute

Silver Street

Released on January 13, 2015

 

Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers is an up and coming Soul/R&B/Funk band from Lincoln, NE. Successes in their first two years of playing include being nominated for Blues Blast Awards Debut of the Year, entering the top ten of RMR Charts for Soul AND R&B for over 30 weeks, being named the 2013 Omaha Entertainment Winner for Soul Artist of the Year, and a nomination for Artist of the Year for 2014. The band formed in late 2012 in Lincoln, Nebraska. As a talent buyer and bartender at the world-famous ZOO Bar for the last ten years or so, bandleader Hoyer has witnessed and joined several of the top roots and blues artists touring the country. As a bandleader he has won numerous local music awards and his current band, The Shadowboxers, includes some of the areas most revered and accomplished musicians. The Midwest has become fertile ground for talented young blues and roots players over the last decade. Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers continue the trend with their new album Living By The Minute.

I don’t know how, but Hoyer, a white guy from Nebraska, sounds like a black guy from Philly. The band has a soul sound like the finest MFSB mixed with New York City Funk, and Memphis Rhythm & Blues. The backing vocals from Hanna Bendler, Kim Moser, and Megan Spain are beautiful. Their harmonies are rich yet sparse and can cut you to the core. They have a definite Sixties tone to their voices, reminiscent of the Delfonics and other groups of the era. Bassist Josh Bargar seems like the driving force in many of the songs. His bass playing blurs the line between percussion and melody. He plays lead bass but it’s never over-powering. Even in a slow tune like the title track “Living By The Minute” Bargar’s bass lines give the song a little punchiness that if provided by drums would be too much. All the songs on the disc are expertly arranged and mixed. In “Misfit Children” the bass again centers the song while the horns and guitars bring the funk. Hoyer’s organ playing, especially his Hammond B2 – yes B2 – is tremendous. He weaves his lines in between the rhythm section and lays chords on top like gravy.

On “Over The City” Hoyer’s voice sounds like John Bell from Widespread Panic. In my mind I could hear Panic covering this tune. “Let it Out” does what it says. The first 20 minutes of the record are fairly mellow, mid-tempo R&B songs but this one rocks out a little with a fast pace, stop-time rhythm changes, hot guitar solos, and Hoyer belting it out with help from the energetic backup vocalists. The disc closes with three up-tempo tunes. I don’t know if “11:11 333” is some oddball Numerology reference or what, but the damned song is funky. I caught myself repeating the numbers like a babbling fool along with Hoyer as he sang. “Blood And Bone” is another showcase for Bendler, Moser, and Spain, and “Don’t Turn Away” brings it to a close with all the traits that make this band special – percolating bass, swirling organ, funky beats, swooping horns, dynamic songwriting, and those amazing voices. You might as well put this album on repeat; don’t turn away!

About midway through my second listen of this disc I realized I was completely drawn in, which surprised me because the first time it wasn’t doing much for me. Yes, first impressions are important but Living By The Minute reminded me of the importance of recorded music. It is there to explore, experience, and examine. Sometimes you need to live with it a few times before you truly get it, and when you do it is very much worth the effort and can make all the difference in your outlook in general. Josh Hoyer and The Shadowboxers have made one of those records that reveal more of itself with each listen. This quality makes it a more significant achievement and means this band is on the right track. Give Josh Hoyer And The Shadowboxers and their new album Living By The Minute all the time they deserve.