Category Archives: CD Review

Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews

This week, Devon Allman announced he’ll be leaving Royal Southern Brotherhood. RSB is one of my favorite bands of the last few years and the second to crumble after a few short years (Black Country Communion was the other). RSB will be continuing to make music, adding Tyrone Vaughan – son of Jimmie Vaughan – to the lineup. The front line will now feature founding member Cyril Neville, Tyrone Vaughan, and Mike Zito’s replacement, Bart Walker. In light of these developments we decided to take a look at the most recent Royal Southern Brotherhood album, and the Ruf Records debut of new member Bart Walker.

heartsoulbloodRoyal Southern Brotherhood

heartsoulblood

Ruf Records

Release Date June 10, 2014

Royal Southern Brotherhood was put together by Thomas Ruff of Ruf Records. His idea was to bring together members of two of the most respected musical families in the South and see if they could revive the spirit and soul of Southern music in the modern era. The main players were Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers, Devon Allman – son of Gregg Allman and leader of Honeytribe, and bluesman Mike Zito who is an old friend of Allman’s from their days working in bands and at Guitar Center in St. Louis. The rhythm section features musical titans as well. Drummer Yonrico Scott is from Derek Trucks Band, and bassist Charlie Wooton is a veteran of the Louisiana music scene and started out playing with Zydeco icon Chubby Carrier. Their debut record, the self-titled Royal Southern Brotherhood, garnered rave reviews and their following road work turned them into a formidable live band. Earlier this year Mike Zito announced his departure from RSB to focus on his solo career. This week, Devon Allman announced the same. Thus their second studio album as a unit has become this line-up’s swansong.

heartsoulblood is the name of the recent disc and it also describes the vibe of the album. It’s almost like they knew this would be it for them and they poured everything into it. The record opens with “World Blues” which is a bayou stomping, greased lightning slide-guitargasm celebrating the universality of Blues. World Blues seems to be the music they are creating as a band as well. The percussive elements are drawn all around the world. Neville and Scott are percussionistas. They weave and their parts together and their inner clocks merge into one heart that beats under all the music Royal Southern Brotherhood creates. This is clear especially in “Here It Is” which showcases Cyrille Neville’s stripped down funk. The focus is dialed in on the rhythm section and Neville’s hypnotic vocal. Bassist Charlie Wooton and drummer Yonrico Scott lock into a zesty groove and sparse guitars give the tune a lot of room to breathe.

“Rock And Roll” is a barnstorming Rock and Roll song about Rhythm & Blues. The guitar tandem of Zito & Allman blow the roof off every Chitlin circuit joint left standing from Memphis to Macon, Georgia. Devon Allman leads the group through a beautiful wall of sound called “Groove On.” The dense arrangement is so unobtrusive you almost don’t realize how much you’re hearing. This effect is expertly achieved and is a testament to the talent of the band and producer Jim Gaines. “Callous” tells how a hard life will leave a callous on your soul, over an echo drenched, clean-tone riff that sounds like a mix of Cream’s “Crossroads,” Beatles’ “Come Together” and Albert King’s “Born Under A Bad Sign,” but mostly “Come Together.”

“Ritual” is a Hoodoos-and-Voodoo-on-the-bayou bit of nasty business involving a whip and a snake. This must be some kind of fertility ritual. The tune is dense as a Bitches Brew and twice as creepy, unless your motto is “Sticks and stones may break my bones but whips and snakes excite me.” “Let’s Ride” is an ode to bikers but it seems way too mellow for a Harley Rally. If you’re looking for a tune to help you relax while you’re parked at the Crazy Horse monument whilst taking a break from your trip to Sturgis, this is the one. “She’s My Lady” has some sweet soul vocals. It’s a mellow love song, with a Detroit via Nawlins vibe and some Grant Green style guitar playing. It sublimely showcases the vocal skills of the band and the signature harmonies that may be lost without Allman and Zito. Album closer “Love And Peace” seems to express the band’s motto. Even the guys who quit have proclaimed their love for the band and the individuals therein. There’s no acrimony, just well-wishing to all involved.

Like the South itself, the band has a beguiling laid back charm that draws you in with its warmth, salt water breezes, home cooking, and hospitality. Their music has a natural flow to it. It feels good to listen to this kind of music. I only hope the loss of Allman and Zito won’t change the dynamic too much. Allman provides the classic rock grit and soaring Les Pauls, and Mike Zito brings the swampy blues and fiery slide work. Both will be missed as vocalists, and if you’ve seen them live, you know their friendship and musical brotherhood ratchets up their stage presence considerably. We wish them both the best in their solo careers and we hope the Royal Southern Brotherhood continues to make engaging, positive music for years to come. We’ll always have their heartsoulblood and that alone might be enough.

 

BartWalkerWaitingOnDaylightBart Walker

Waiting On Daylight

Ruf Records

Release Date March 12, 2013

In 2012 Bart Walker represented Nashville at the Blues Foundation’s annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Bart and his band came in second overall and he won the top guitar title. The ES-335 Gibson Custom guitar he won for his efforts appears on his latest album, Waiting On Daylight. Waiting On Daylight may not have happened if Ruf Records owner Thomas Ruff wasn’t in the audience at the IBC. Ruff signed Walker to a contract and brought him together in the studio with the legendary Jim Gaines who has produced a long line of terrific albums for musicians like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Buddy Guy, Santana, and John Lee Hooker. Armed with a slew of songs and the guidance of a veteran like Gaines, Bart Walker has made a blistering record. This is tough, loud, gritty blues mixed with a little Nashville inflection, some hard rock drive, and down home storytelling.

“It’s All Good” opens the record in a hopeful way. The singer is content with his lot in life – maybe because he such a damned good slide player. The licks are so clean I had to rewind and see if I heard fretting in there. His intonation is sure-handed and he effortlessly mixes it up with fretted notes, not just in this song but in several on Waiting On Daylight. For instance, his slide power is all over J.B. Hutto’s “Hipshake It” which boasts a relentless riff and soaring slide licks giving the ladies all the incentive they need to shake what mama gave ‘em. “99%” is a fiery populist tune about the disparity between the haves and have-nots in our society. Walker’s playing matches the intensity of the anger and disgust felt in his vocals. “Waiting On Daylight” has soaring leads accenting Walker’s heartfelt vocals. Bart Walker is a guitar slinger and a hell of a player, but he can sing too. And not just the “somebody had to do it vocals” a lot of guitarists slip past us. Bart is a bonafide vocalist. It is an instrument he skillfully uses to present his songs.

Closing the album, Bart delivers a clever revision of The Allman Brothers Band’s “Whipping Post.” Gone is the bombastic bass rumble and quick stepping rhythm. In their places are a quarter time feel with guitars playing arpeggios instead of chords under the verses. Gregg Allman did a similar reworking on his solo album Searching For Simplicity, which is an arrangement his solo band still plays. Bart Walker took it a few steps further by removing any kind of signature riff, instead focusing on the voice and the rip roaring solos he fires off seemingly effortlessly. If you’re going to cover a classic song, this is the way to do it.

In many ways, Bart Walker’s approach to “Whipping Post” is apropos of his entire approach to making music. He mixes classic ingredients from tones and lyrical themes, to song structure and guitar licks, but he makes his own recipes. His sense of dynamics, powerful but friendly voice, and endless guitar chops fortify each tune making them something more than a random mash of influences. Clocking in around 48 minutes, Waiting On Daylight leaves the scraps on the cutting room floor and delivers 100% lean and mean blues.

Fresh Biscuits! Bruce Katz Band Homecoming CD Review

Well folks, I just have one review for you this week. I spent a lot of time with this disc recently and ended up writing 800 words on it and I could have kept going. But don’t let that scare you!

I hope you enjoy the review and I hope you find something interesting for your ears.

BruceKatzHomecomingBruce Katz Band
Homecoming
American Showplace Music
Released on November 11, 2014

Bruce Katz is an in-demand sideman and has been for over 25 years. He has appeared on over 70 albums including six with Blues Maestro Ronnie Earl. Bruce spent nearly six years as a member of Gregg Allman’s band and has recorded and/or performed with John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, Debbie Davies, and notably, Mighty Sam McClain. During Bruce’s nearly five year run with Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters, he toured the world, wrote and co-wrote many songs, such as “The Colour of Love,” “Ice Cream Man,” and “Hippology” and won the Downbeat Critics Poll for Best Blues Album of 1996 for Grateful Heart. Bruce Katz’ solo projects retain much of what makes Ronnie Earl’s music so powerful. It has emotional depth, integrity, and beauty. Plus, he’s not afraid to rock it up once in while either, and when he does you better hold on to your hat. Homecoming, the new album from Bruce Katz Band captures all those elements and through his power of sonic alchemy presents us with musical gold.

The title track gets things going with an easy beat shuffle, with Bruce laying down the chords on organ while guest guitarist Jimmy Bennett of Alexis P. Suter Band glides through the tune on lap steel. The tune reminds me of a lazy Sunday, sitting lakeside, and waiting on a fish to bite. Katz’ organ is the comfortable cushion on the porch glider, Ralph Rosen’s drums provide the swing, and Bennett and Bruce Katz Band guitarist Chris Vitarello trade licks like frogs snapping at flies while I sip a big old glass of Sweet Tea. “King Of Decatur” continues the laid back Southern feel, even with its funky Little Feat style of New Orleans funk. Drummer Randy Ciarlante sits in for an adhoc NOLA drum section and sings, while Jimmy Bennett’s lap steel conjures everyone from Lowell George to Sonny Landreth. How is it that Bruce doesn’t play accordion on this one?

“Santa Fe Blues” has an old style piano boogie feel, something you’d expect to hear in a saloon in a train town of the Old West. Bruce’s chops on piano are stellar. Every note is crisp and clear. The first time I listened to it I didn’t notice someone was singing. I was wrapped up in Bruce’s piano playing. I was looking at the liner notes and realized John Hammond sings the tune and plays guitar. I had to go back and listen again, and again, and… you get the picture. I love their treatment of this old Lightnin’ Hopkins tune. It’s a truly standout performance from Mr. Katz. I eventually realized John Hammond does a damned fine job singing too. Elmore James’ “Wild About You Baby” gets the Hound Dog Taylor roadhouse blues barrelhouse all night long treatment and it’s one of those moments you’ve always been waiting for. It’s great musicians playing ragged ass blues and getting it right.

“Amelia” is a playful piano driven tune Katz wrote for his granddaughter. The beat is relentless like a toddler might be and the music has a happy-go-lucky ebullience. “Time Flies” is a short and sweet swinging piece with quick moving unison playing between the guitar and organ. Rumor has it that Katz is one hell of a bass player. His left hand sure lays down a beauty of a bass line on “Time Flies.” It had me wondering who the bass player was, but to my surprise none was listed. Bruce is a dynamo. “Time Flies” captures the essence of his potent trio. It brings together telepathic playing, incredible chops, and memorable music.

Homecoming is split roughly half and half between instrumentals and songs with vocalists. Jimmy Bennett and John Hammond sing two songs each, Randy Ciarlante sings one and BKB guitarist Chris Vitarello sings his song “The Sky’s The Limit.” Chris sings well and is an exquisite guitarist. He finds the perfect style for each song and even his improvisations sound composed. He gets the right tones, the right notes, and the right attitude. Drummer Ralph Rosen certainly knows how to kick up some dust. He is more than a drummer though. He is a percussionist. He finds all the right accents, and plays eclectic beats that make perfect sense for the tunes.

Homecoming is a crowning achievement for Bruce Katz and his cohorts. The Bruce Katz Band’s music has the air of unflagging tradition yet it blurs the lines between genres. It is of itself and beyond itself at the same time. It’s like Mozart with a jazz trio playing at Junior’s Juke Joint on a Thursday night. There’s no name for it and it doesn’t really need one. At a recent show, Bruce was heard to say, several times, that “It’s all Blues.” I think we can go with that.

Fresh Biscuits! New CD Reviews

When I started this weekly review feature I thought I’d be able to rein in my ramblings and turn out five short reviews each week. I was way off. I’d rather be thorough and give the work of the artists the time it deserves. So, some weeks we might have five, some weeks less. This week we have four. I hope you enjoy them and find something interesting for your ears.

AlteredFiveBluesBandCryinMercyAltered Five Blues Band

Cryin’ Mercy

Omnivibe Records

Release Date: October 28, 2014

The Alternate Five Blues Band formed in 2002 and quickly gained a reputation as a powerhouse live band from Milwaukee to Minnesota and all around the Midwest. Their 2008 debut album focused on the band’s ability to re-arrange popular covers. Titled Bluesified, the album featured juke joint versions of songs like Jane’s Addiction’s “Been Caught Stealing” and The Romantics “What I Like About You.” Their 2012 release Gotta Earn It featured original material and received rave reviews. 2014 brings us their third record Cryin’ Mercy. The disc is produced my Tom Hambridge, the writing is mature, and the performance is white hot. Cryin’ Mercy is their best yet.

The music is tight but loose and the grooves are deeply in the pocket. The lyrical content avoids clichés and even when singling out modern excesses like Prada shoes and Coach purses, the sentiments are timeless. And you just have to smile at lyrics like this phrase from “Demon Woman” – “I bet an x-ray of your body shows your head has two horns!” In “I Got You” vocalist Jeff Taylor sings “I don’t need your trust but I’d like your fortune cookie.” I don’t know if that’s dirty, sexy, or dangerous. Maybe it’s all three.

Mark Solveson provides fat bass riffs, powering “Stay Outta My Business” and “Demon Woman” with low down rumbling force. Solveson’s inventive bass playing is compelling and is a breath of fresh air in the modern blues genre. “Demon Woman” has a taut riff that lands on a devilish sounding chord. Guitarist Jeff Schroedl’s playing burns like Hell fire and keyboardist Raymond Tevich puts a nefarious twist on some Brimstone fueled Gospel organ riffing. “I’m In Deep” is a swift shuffle with Raymond Tevich whipping up a Jimmy Smith style sermon. Jeff Schroedl is a guitarist’s guitarist. He plays for the song, but shows off his chops occasionally. He doesn’t over-play and chooses tones that match the tune. The MVP of Altered Five Blues Band is keyboardist Raymond Tevich. His playing and phrasing is tremendous and he uses a full range of keyboard timbre. He melds his influences into a greasy giblet gravy that makes everything better.

Vocalist Jeff Taylor is a powerful singer. Minor cracks in his otherwise smooth voice give it character and add poignancy to a song like “Find My Wings.” Taylor’s voice is just gruff enough to lend gravitas to his words. It makes it all real. This is Blues, people. We want imperfections. We want the real deal. Luckily Altered Five Blues Band gives us more than just the real deal. Their Maximum Groove Blues will have you Cryin’ Mercy for sure!

 

ChrisDuarteLucky13Chris Duarte Group

Lucky 13

Blues Bureau International

Release Date: October 14, 2014

Chris Duarte seemed to burst onto the music scene in 1994 but he was far from an overnight sensation. He’d been playing music in Austin, Texas for most of the 80’s. He’d been in a number of bands and even released an album in 1987 called Chris Duarte & The Bad Boys. After seemingly endless lineup and name changes with The Bad Boys, Chris put together the first Chris Duarte Band and since 1991 he hasn’t looked back. The new disc Lucky 13 on Blues Bureau International is indeed the thirteenth record from Chris Duarte Group. Whether it will be lucky or not is yet to be seen, but the band’s sound is fully realized and Chris seems to get better every year.

Early on, short-sighted critics dismissed Chris as a Stevie Ray clone. Over the years Chris has had to overcome this one-dimensional stigma but it has focused his musical vision. In the modern era of blues, guitar is king and kings of guitar influence almost everyone. From Albert, Freddie, and B.B. to Hendrix, Albert Collins, and Johnny Winter, players of a certain age have similar influences. But it’s all about how you make them your own that counts. Chris Duarte plays big bad Texas blues. The shuffles strut with pride, the minor blues dig deep in the Texas sand, and his licks are as spicy and smoky as Lockheart barbecue.

“You Know You’re Wrong” fades in to start the album, building from a quiet, gentle lead-in blowing up into an alternating high-low riff that will spin your head. Chris’ rhythm playing is tighter than an oil baron’s purse strings. One song into the disc and you know it’s going to be a fun listen. “Angry Man” is a rockin’ shuffle tune with some stop time maneuvers that’ll give you whiplash. The infectious chorus will make this one a great live song. Chris is in great voice too, and he fits about six minutes of guitar notes into this five minute romp. Damn, that man can play!

For all the Big Texan fireworks, Chris Duarte also has serious jazz chops. From his chord voicing to his lead phrasing, Chris demonstrates a deep connection with guys like Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, and Charlie Christian. On “Who Loves You” Chris blurs the lines between Jazz and Blues for a fun, upbeat tune that will have you smiling while you shake your head at his guitar mastery. “Let It Go” is a slow minor key blues a la “Tin Pan Alley” and it too spends time in Jazz territory. There’s a slight echo to Chris’ tone on “Let It Go” that gives it a damp, late night alley feel. Chris plays delicate fluid lines whose attainment should be the desire of any serious guitar player.

There are fourteen songs on Lucky 13 and they range from full-on rock to smoky jazz. He has some sonic fun with “Not Chasing It” and lyrical fun on “Ain’t Gonna Hurt No More” singing lines like “your Daddy wants to see me dead.” “Minefield Of My Mind” gets into Jazz Fusion territory. Not crappy 80’s jazz fusion either; we’re talking Mahavishnu Orchestra/RTF barnstorming. The disc closes with another ride into Jazzland. This time Chris and the band “Jump The Trane” for a twisting journey through the wilds of Texas Blues Be-Bop. It’s sick. You shouldn’t be allowed to end a record this way. It’s like kissing someone good night and then punching them in the face. I love it.

The record may be called Lucky 13 but Chris Duarte’s success has more to do with hard work, incredible talent, intense focus, and solid song writing than any mystical fates. Chris has put the time in. Now it’s your turn. Get yourself some Lucky 13.

 

NormanTaylorBlueSoulNorman Taylor

Blue Soul

Soul Stew Records

Release Date: February 3, 2014

Damn! Norman Taylor’s voice is smooth. I never heard of this guy until his new disc Blue Soul crossed my path. Acoustic Blues is not really my thing. I like to play it but listening to it throws me off. I don’t know why. I can appreciate the artistry; I just don’t want to hear it. We all have our shortcomings. Sometimes I hear some that hold my attention though. Norman Taylor has a deep, emotive voice that defies categorization. He sounds like a Soul Man, a Preacher, and a Blues Belter. His guitar playing is exquisite too. The combination held my ear and sent me to the worldwide web to learn more about Mr. Taylor. I didn’t feel too bad about my ignorance once I found that even the almighty Google knows next to nothing about this excellent musician.

I did learn that “Norman Taylor is a Singer/Songwriter/Acoustic Blues performer from the South Jersey/Philadelphia area. His style is entrenched in the country blues of people like Robert Johnson and Skip James, and contemporary acoustic blues men like Keb’ Mo’, Eric Bibb and Guy Davis.” It’s not much but it is spot on, although I would put him more in the Guy Davis camp.

He may be from the greater Philadelphia area but he takes us on a road trip to Memphis on disc opener “100 Miles From Memphis.” He name drops all the hot spots he’s dreaming of to keep his mind off the last 100 miles. Taylor’s finger picking, combined with accompanists Steve Goldstien on guitar and Roycee Martin’s rumbling bass give the song a rotary feel like wheels on asphalt spinning toward the Mississippi Bridge. As he sang about ribs at the Rendezvous and breakfast at the Blue Plate I got pretty damned hungry by the time the song was over. Road trip!

The disc features two versions of “Betrayed Blues.” The first is a slow, sad acoustic ballad and the second, which closes the disc, is the only full band electric song on the album. It’s also my favorite. The tune is rearranged into a funky stuttering shuffle with stinging lead guitar and pulsating bass. Acoustic guitarists often chose different phrases on electric guitar than those who play electric most of the time. The acoustic players regularly have to choose notes and combinations that will fill spaces. They use more chord shapes than scales. They think outside the Blues Box, so to speak. It makes it really interesting when they switch to electric. Taylor and Goldstien play off each other with both playing tasty leads and the rhythm work is elegantly brilliant. This is an interesting way to close an acoustic record but it effectively showcases the range of Norman Taylor and his cohorts including drummer Tom Callan who provides the funk.

Altogether, Blue Soul is worthy of your attention. To me, it seems perfect for late night listening, or while sipping a cold drink and sitting on the porch on a warm summer’s day. Norman Taylor’s rich voice will draw you in and focus your attention. All your troubles will fall away for a while and all will be right with the world.

 

MagnusBergCutMeLooseMagnus Berg

Cut Me Loose

Screen Door Records

Release Date: November 11, 2014

18 year old Norwegian Magnus Berg received his first guitar at the age of seven. The instrument was built by his grandfather and set young Magnus on his musical path. Initially infatuated with Angus young, Magnus eventually developed an interest in the roots of Angus’ playing and started moving backward in time toward the Blues. He found some favorites of his own like B.B King, Howlin Wolf, Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Otis Rush and Jimmy Reed. Berg’s family spent time in Florida each year and during one stay in late 2012 he caught the ear of singer/songwriter Kirsten Thien during a sit-in with Mike Zito. Thien and Berg became songwriting collaborators and she eventually brought him into her live band. Together they have toured together in the USA, Norway, France, Germany, Belgium and The Netherlands giving young Mr. Berg a trial by fire on stages around the world. Their relationship also led to Berg’s signing with Thien’s Screen Door Records which has just released Magnus Berg’s debut album, Cut Me Loose.

Aside from the tough, gritty riffing on the opener “Cut Me Loose” the most noticeable aspect of the music is Magnus Berg’s voice. 18 years old or otherwise, Magnus has a perfect voice for blues. His phrasing is developed well beyond his years and there is no hint of a teenager’s under-developed voice and range. His love of Muddy Waters is apparent from the first notes of “One Way To Please You.” Stylistically it owes as much to Nashville as it does to Chicago, but the harp is all Little Walter and they definitely have their mojo working on the vibe. Later in the record they turn “Hoochie Coochie Man” on its ear by removing the signature riff. They replaced with an equally authentic and rustic sounding arrangement and Berg’s Telecaster slide work is refreshingly simplistic and organic. “When You Leave Me” is a lonesome dirge with killer harmonica playing from Bjørn Tore “Daffy” Larsen. The whole band is solid and plays great together. Beyond “Daffy” and Magnus there are Håvard Sunde on drums and Roy Oscar Pettersen on bass. The quartet has the feel of a true band and not just wunderkind plus back up musicians. The interplay is tight and intuitive, and everyone gets a chance to shine.

The maturity level is high on Cut Me Loose. It doesn’t feel like a debut record and Magnus doesn’t seem like a teenager. I hate to focus on his age but it could be a sticking point for a lot of people, including me. I think it’s great that young people are interested in Blues and I strongly encourage it, but teens as bandleaders often fall short. In this case, Magnus Berg delivers in a big way. So far, he seems like the total package. He writes good songs, comes up with credible re-arrangements of classics, sings well beyond his age, and is confident enough to be part of the band. It will be great to see him grow as an artist and I bet he’ll have one Hell of a voice ten years from now. It’s way too soon to cut him loose, he’s got a lot of miles to go and I suggest you get on the train sooner than later.

Fresh Biscuits! Three For The Road – New CD Reviews

This week we have Three For The Road featuring new live albums from Dana Fuchs and Mike Zito, plus a look at the new 8 disc Rory Gallagher Irish Tour ’74 40th Anniversary Deluxe Edition. All these are a treat for live music fans. I hope you enjoy this week’s reviews and find something interesting for your ears!

DanaFuchsSongsFromTheRoadDana Fuchs
Songs From The Road
Ruf Records
Release Date: November 11, 2014

Dana Fuchs hit the streets of New York City at age nineteen. Almost twenty years later she is something of a local hero. Some know her for her portrayal of Janis Joplin in the off-Broadway musical Love, Janis. Some know her from her mesmerizing role as Sadie in the film Across The Universe. But after three acclaimed albums and thousands of performances, most people know Dana for her own body of work and dynamic shows. When it came time to capture one of those shows on tape and film, Dana Fuchs naturally chose to do so in front of a New York City crowd. The new live CD/DVD Songs From The Road was recorded at Highline Ballroom on March 14, 2014. It captures the dynamic performer and her road-tested band at the height of their power.

Dana’s voice is in fine form and it is indeed Dana’s voice. There are hints of Janis Joplin, sure, and a little Aretha and Otis Redding too, but she blends the familiar into her own natural phrasing and intonation. And you’ll notice on the DVD that Dana Fuchs leaves it all on the stage. She gives you every ounce of energy she has. The band is tight and delivers the goods in every song. Guitarist Jon Diamond is a former session player who met Dana shortly after her arrival in New York. They have a distinct chemistry which has led to a highly successful and satisfying songwriting partnership. From Stonesy rockers like “Set It On Fire” and “How Did Things Get This Way” to the heartbreaking ballad “So Hard To Move” and the hopeful Gospel groove of “Sad Salvation.” The band also features Matt Beck on guitar, Jack Daley on bass, Pete Levin on keyboards and Joe Daley on drums. Back up vocalists known collectively as the Screaming Sirens, featuring Elaine Caswell, Nicki Richards and Bette Sussman, intertwine with Dana voice creating a beautiful quilt of sound that will warm you to your soul.

Together, these musicians cover a lot of ground. “Tell Me I’m Not Drinking” and “Sad Salvation” reach back to the debut album Lonely For A Lifetime. From 2011’s Love To Beg they bring out “Set It On Fire,” “Summersong” and an intense cover of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long.” 2013’s highly acclaimed Bliss Avenue is represented by “Livin’ On Sunday,” “Handful Too Many,” “So Hard To Move,” “Vagabond Wind,” and the incendiary show-opener “Bliss Avenue.” For fans of her work in Across The Universe, Dana closes with a gutsy, soul-stirring “Don’t Let Me Down.”

Inexplicably, the running order on the CD and DVD are different. The song “Love To Beg” appears only on the DVD, while “Keep On Walkin’” is only on the CD. The DVD avoids the ADHD frame transitions of the MTV era. You get a clear view of the energy Dana brings to each song and which she shares with her audience. On stage she is part temptress, part whirling dervish. She is a full body singer, drawing power from her entire being. She has presence, fortitude, and stirring voice. She is visual, visceral, and versatile. Songs From The Road is a tour de force for the Dana Fuchs Band and leaves you wanting more.

MikeZitoSongsFromTheRoadMike Zito & The Wheel
Songs From The Road
Ruf Records
Release Date: November 11, 2014

Mike Zito has been steadily building his audience, building a career in music, and playing honest songs to devoted fans around the world. A few years ago he co-founded a new band called Royal Southern Brotherhood with Devon Allman and Cyril Neville. RSB took off like a rocket and threatened to derail the hard won solo career Mike had developed. Staying true to his heart and his art, Mike announced his departure from RSB this year. His studio albums have gone from strength to strength with 2013’s Gone To Texas being one of the best yet. Zito and the Wheel put on powerful, passionate shows and it seemed like it was time to capture the road show on tape. The new live album, Songs From The Road, was recorded on January 10th, 2014 at Dosey Doe in The Woodlands, TX. The Wheel features sax man Jimmy Carpenter, bassist Scot Sutherland, keyboard wiz Lewis Stephens and drummer Rob Lee. When speaking about the band recently, Mike Zito said “We’re all on the same page. We’re not interested in solos, we want to play together.” On the CD and DVD, you hear and see this is a true band. The songs and performances are the stars, with the whole group of musicians giving everything to serve them.

Mike Zito & The Wheel hit their stride in the live environment. The interplay gets intense on several occasions. Sax player Jimmy Carpenter sometimes manages to sound like a horn section unto himself. He and Zito go toe to toe and it reminds me I’m really going to miss Mike Zito’s guitar dueling with Devon Allman in RSB. Carpenter is perfect sparring partner though and together they make extraordinary music. Lewis Stephens is the keyboard filled center of this sweet jelly donut, adding flourishes, layering tones, and holding everything together. He is a master at work. It’s a shame we don’t get to see all their performances on the DVD or hear them on the CD. Between the CD and DVD, Songs From The Road features 17 songs. Appearing on the CD only are “C’Mon Baby,” a stark, earthy, melancholy version of Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and the uplifting and rockin’ “Rainbow Bridge.” Appearing only on the DVD is the poignant “I Never Knew A Hurricane,” plus “One Step At A Time,” “Let Your Light Shine On Me,” “Natural Born Lover,” and “Texas Flyer.”

Don’t miss the bonus features on the DVD. Along with fan interviews, you get six Storyteller style performances from Mike Zito. He talks about the songs and sings them to his own acoustic guitar accompaniment. The stripped down versions of these songs draws out the quality of Zito’s writing and plaintive expression in his voice. The stories are honest and informative too. Mike goes into great detail, describing the events that led to the song “Greyhound” which in turn influenced “Gone To Texas.” He relates his love of history and the fact that “Gone To Texas” is an old slang expression indicating someone left to get their head together, which turns out to be exactly what happened to Mr. Zito. The bonus material is as compelling as the main show and makes this set comprehensive in its presentation of Mike Zito as a writer, instrumentalist, and singer.

RoryGallagherIrishTour74DeluxeRory Gallagher
Irish Tour ’74 – 40th Anniversary Expanded Deluxe Edition Box Set
Sony Music/Capo/Eagle Records
Release Date: October 21, 2014

By 1974, Rory Gallagher had been performing around the world for the better part of a decade. He had been in the big Irish show bands in the mid 60’s, played Isle Of Wight with his trio Taste, was courted by The Rolling Stones when Mick Taylor left, and had been the subject of a rumored Jimi Hendrix quote about the best guitar player in the world. Still, he and his band were slugging it out night after night, playing anywhere that would have them. They found fame on the European continent and amassed a rabid following. In winter 1973 and 1974, they headed back to their home country of Ireland for a string of highly anticipated sold-out shows with Tony Palmer in tow to document the trek.

While Rory had accomplished a great deal and was at a career high point, Ireland, and specifically Belfast had been taking a beating. The political climate of Northern Ireland left Belfast ripped apart from what many consider the most destructive violence in the country’s history. This era of unrest came to be known as The Troubles and didn’t really end until 1998’s Good Friday Agreement. The Troubles divided the Irish people along religious, ethnic, and political lines and by winter 1973, when Rory embarked on his now famous tour, Belfast was decimated. Roy Hollingworth, noted writer with Melody Maker described the city as “a shattered, deserted and frightened place.” Live music was pretty much absent in Belfast but Rory Gallagher was willing to bring his show to his beloved city, an endeavor which forever won him the hearts of people across the country no matter their political views. About the decision, Rory was very matter-of-fact and plain spoken, as he usually was, “I see no reason for not playing Belfast. Kids still live here.” And so, Rory and his band, bassist Gerry McAvoy, drummer Rod De’ Ath and keyboardist Lou Martin set out on a tour in Ireland when almost no one else would, and gave the people momentary respite from The Troubles.

The now famous album Irish Tour ’74 says it was recorded on tour in Ireland but we now know most of the tracks came from the Cork City Hall shows on January 3rd and 5th 1974. The new box gives us eight unreleased tracks from these Cork shows, plus 35 more unreleased tracks over the course of the next five discs. Discs three and four were recorded at Dublin Carlton Cinema on January 2nd 1974, five and six were recorded at Belfast Ulster Hall on December 28th and 29th 1973, and disc seven is a wonderful revelation comprised of music recorded on the afternoon of January 4th 1974 in Cork City Hall during an extended jam session held to get the sound levels right for recording. On disc seven the band is relaxed and having fun. There’s no pressure and they are playing for the pure joy of it. They absolutely tear it up on “Just A Little Bit” and they stomp their way through a previously unreleased version of Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Rory’s deft touch on slide is stunning.

Rory was a product of the show bands of the sixties and as such he played similar sets every night with his own band. Most bands of the era did the same. They rehearsed an hour and a half of songs and that was it. What this means to we people of the future in 2014 is there’s a lot of repeated tracks on the Deluxe Edition. This should not scare you away. The band may have played the same songs, but each performance has something special to recommend it. Rory and his band were tremendous improvisers and the nature of their repertoire meant every night would be different. As lead guitarist, Rory especially had the opportunities to stretch his solos, change his tones, modify his attack, and keep everything fresh.

The Belfast shows are especially exhilarating and it’s a wonder they were captured at all. Rory’s brother and manager Donal Gallagher tells the story in the extensive booklet that comes with the set. “For the opening shows at Belfast’s Ulster Hall, the booked Ronnie Lane mobile unit had failed to turn up, citing insurance difficulties.” Apparently it would have been parked on a street nicknamed Bomb Alley and the insurance company was having none of it. Donal continues, “in order that the audio could still be recorded, we utilized the two fold-back monitor channels on our newly designed German ‘Stramp’ audio desk.” The audio quality did suffer a little and gets a little noisy but the performance more than makes up for any hi-fidelity issues. Rory and the band feed the music-starved Belfast crowd and create a continuous loop of energy between the stage and hall. “Cradle Rock” is furious, “Tattoo’d Lady” is poignant especially since Belfast could be considered the land of the musical circus Rory ran to as a teenager, “Million Miles Away” is soaring, and Rory’s slide work and finger picking during “In Your Town” are propelled by the monstrous power of Gerry McAvoy and Rod De‘ Ath. Just when you think they couldn’t have any more to give the raving Belfast crowd, the band finishes with the eleven and a half minutes of frenzy known as “Bullfrog Blues.” The Catholics and Protestants could all agree that Rory gave them everything he had.

The band is ferocious throughout this set. Keyboardist Lou Martin gets a lot of soloing time and keeps up with Rory all the way. Gerry McAvoy was with Rory from 1971 to 1991 and is a sadly under-rated bassist. His parts on these tracks alone are enough to earn him legendary status and on the DVD you can see how his energy and spirit powered the band and drove Rory to keep playing better and better. Rod De‘ Ath was a drum titan and known well to musicians everywhere. He had power when needed and subtlety often required for blues. The Rory Gallagher Band was a force to be reckoned with on any night, but during this Irish tour they were as dangerous as the streets of Belfast. All their energy is captured in these tapes and the Tony Palmer film included as disc eight.

RoryGallagherIrishTour74ExpandedOne last thing I have to mention is the packaging. The booklet is well done, very informative, and has lots of pictures. However, the construction of the box is entirely too flimsy. The spine of the set is a thin piece of cardboard that gets no support from the flaps that fold in to create the square. Since many brick and mortar retail outlets, especially in the US, won’t have this set in-store you will most likely have to get it shipped to you. The cheap cardboard spine and outer sleeve will not hold up well in shipping if they just put it in a padded envelope as Amazon did with mine. Buyer beware. The music, on the other hand, stands up strong and proud 40 years on. This set is a must have for Rory fans, guitar fans, blues fans… oh Hell, this is just great music by great musicians and everyone should have a copy.

Allman Brothers Band Retrospective – A Look At The Reviled And Underrated Albums

DSCN0287

2014 marks the 45th anniversary of the Allman Brothers Band and it has become their final year. The band did not embark on an extensive final tour. Instead they played their annual residency at the Beacon Theatre in New York City, which was cut short due to Gregg Allman being ill, plus they played a handful of festival dates and scheduled no more shows until the make-up dates were announced for the Beacon run. The Allman Brothers Band is now in the midst of its final 6 shows, including make-up dates from March plus a few extras, all being played at the Beacon Theatre. Fans, like me, hoping for a big blowout at a large venue have been left disappointed. The band has not even made arrangements to stream the shows on line for their worldwide legion of devoted fans, many of whom have never seen the band live due to the limited geographical area of their yearly touring over the last 15 years.

In many ways it seems like the band is going out with a whimper and catering to the most affluent among their fans. The tickets sold out quickly, yet as of Tuesday October 21, 2014, Stub Hub had 1193 tickets available ranging from $177 to a whopping $11,005. Obviously the band doesn’t set prices on Stub Hub, but if they played a big venue with 20,000 seats available they could have curbed the costs and made the final show more accessible to their fans. Yes, I’m a little aggravated by the demise of my favorite band and their nonchalant attitude as they fade away. Maybe it’s best they’re calling it a day. They may play different sets every night but they lean heavily on their first four albums, play way too many Van Morrison covers, and in recent years have performed the At Fillmore East album in full several times as well as their first two records and Eat A Peach. The band regularly ignores a large part of its discography, for personal and musical reasons, and often so does the press. It’s almost like the band stopped making new music in 1973. While the band has made musical missteps since 1973, it has also made incredibly vital music, and some of it, especially in the 1990’s, eclipses the classics and radio staples.

As a tribute to The Allman Brothers Band on the occasion of their retirement, I am taking a look at some of the reviled and under-rated records in their catalog. We’re looking at the first reunion, “Arista years,” and the live albums that stand in the shadow of At Fillmore East – which, for the record, is not titled Live At Fillmore East, Live At The Fillmore, Fillmore East, or any of the other variants I’ve seen and heard fans use. If you’re going to claim an album as your absolute favorite, learn the title of it!

 

AllmanBrothersBandEnlightenedRoguesThe Allman Brothers Band

Enlightened Rogues

Capricorn Records

Released February 1979

 

Enlightened Rogues, named after Duane Allman’s description of the band, is a buried masterpiece in the Allman Brothers Band’s discography. From the gritty opening slide notes of “Crazy Love” to the final mournful strains of “Sail Away,” the record delivers the perfect balance of its first two eras – hard blues and swinging jazz rock. The tracks are streamlined and there are no long jams, but there never really were on the studio albums. On Enlightened Rogues, everyone seemed focused on making the best possible album and it paid off for a while.

The band had been split for several years and made their first appearance together on August 16, 1978 as part of a Dickey Betts & Great Southern show. Shortly after they decided to regroup and pick up where they left off. Chuck Leavell and Lamar Williams declined to rejoin, instead focusing on their band Sea Level, so the first reunion lineup added Great Southern members Dan Toler and David “Rook” Goldflies on guitar and bass, respectively. The legendary Tom Dowd was brought in to produce the album and pulled a terrific album out of a band learning to fly again. The overall sound and the tightness of the musicians on the record owe much to the two previous Great Southern records. Dickey Betts had put together a twin-guitar band modeled on the original Allman Brothers lineup and been on the road playing bluesy rock boogie tunes and mega-jams with Toler and Goldflies. When it came time to get down to business, the front line of guitarists had been playing together for a while.

The band tears through a host of bluesy tunes on Enlightened Rogues, momentarily stepping away from the country rock sound of Win, Lose, Or Draw. Gregg Allman is menacing on B.B. King’s “Blind Love” and plays a spirited Hammond B3 solo. The guitar team burns bright and hot on “Need Your Love So Bad,” and they funk up the John Lee Hooker boogie on “Can’t Take It With You.” Gregg Allman’s only composition on the record is “Just Ain’t Easy” which is a scathing look at his time lost in Los Angeles with Cher. It is harrowing, haunting and beautiful. “Try It One More Time” is a bit of a mission statement from the band and a mark of solidarity between Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman. The two share lead vocals which had not been done before. The sound of their voices together on this rollicking, defiant rocker is perfect. Given all we know now about their relationship it’s a wonder they were able to pull it off.

The musical highlight of Enlightened Rogues is “Pegasus.” This instrumental is the return to form every fan was hoping for. The lilting Dickey Betts melody played by two lead guitarists, churning drums, and scorching solos all contribute to the greatness of this lost highpoint. The combination of the title and music give it a feeling of flying above the Grand Canyon on the mythical beast. If you do one thing today, find this song and listen to it. A lot.

My only problem with this album is the lack of distinction in the guitar tones of Dickey Betts and Dan Toler. Dan Toler was a hell of a guitar player and you’ll see this if you watch live clips of the band or listen to the Gregg Allman band records from the 80’s, but on Enlightened Rogues he sounds like Dickey Betts. Dickey plays a lot of slide guitar on the record and has noted that the Allman Brothers’ sound was built on Duane’s slide mixed with own iconic tone. Maybe the band was trying to capture this. It didn’t quite work because Dickey’s tone seems to come out of him whether he’s playing a Les Paul, SG, or Strat so on Enlightened Rogues we end up with Dickey Betts and a guy who sounds like Dickey Betts. It’s a damned shame because the playing on this record is red hot and I’d like to know who’s who without studying it. Still, the songs are solid and the performances are spirited. Enlightened Rogues is stands on equal footing with the bands early records. Unfortunately, the band doesn’t think so and has all but ignored it since 1982. Don’t be like them, check it out.

 

AllmanBrothersBandReachForTheSkyThe Allman Brothers Band

Reach For The Sky

Arista Records

Released August 1980

 

1979 to 1982 was a crazy time for the Allman Brothers Band. It is an era that has become known as The Arista Years and the band, as well as many fans, never acknowledges it. I became a fan in the 80’s while the band was defunct. I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to like the Arista Years. I found the two Arista albums and Enlightened Rogues early on and enjoyed them quite a bit. I still do. It was a tumultuous time for the band and the new record company wanted the band to modernize its sound. As the 80’s crept in so did the synthesizers – and the dreaded Keytar. However, if you take away the poppy synths there’s a pretty solid rock and roll record underneath.

Even with their lives in total disarray, these guys managed to write good songs with some even bordering on great. The record starts with churning organ and gospel “oohs.” It’s a tent revival in Macon, Georgia folks and the Reverends Forrest Richard Betts and Gregory Lenoir Allman are about to start a Pentecostal fire under your ass that will most likely end in a fist fight. The two men share vocals on this semi-autobiographical funky gospel romp. The words include the phrase “they might even name a street after us one of these days.” The line sums up the entitled rock star attitude they had at the time, but this year (2014) Duane Allman had a street named after him in Macon, GA so it was slightly prophetic as well. “Mystery Woman” starts off sounding a little lightweight, but it turns into a punchy tune. It has excellent vocal work from Gregg Allman and backup singers. “I Got A Right To Be Wrong” is a rocking tune from Dickey Betts, but unfortunately it confirmed that his guitar playing was growing stagnant. It marks the second album in a row to use the same slide riff as a primary lick. The riff is the same one used on “Crazy Love,” which itself was derived from the Dickey Betts & Great Southern song “Out Ta Get Me.” You hear stock Dickey Betts licks all over Reach For The Sky which is a shame. It does make it easier to know when Dan Toler is playing since his tone remains the same as Dickey’s. Most of the fiery, hard hitting soloing is Dan’s.

Once again Dickey Betts crafted a terrific instrumental for the record. “From The Madness Of The West” is a sonic poem, traveling in the air over the American plains. The drumming is superb. Butch Trucks and Jaimoe have said this song was the only time they composed their drum parts. Their work on this track is probably the highlight of the album. Dickey Betts and Dan Toler go for the speed records during the transitional phrases between the melodic themes. It sounds like Al DiMeola jamming with the Allmans and it’s terrific. The song is marred only by Mike Lawler’s synthesizer solo. The keyboard was not meant to have its notes bent. Stop doing it. Immediately. Thank you. I now return you to Dickey and Dan. Rip it up boys.

A lot of side two suffers from the pop-rock movement desired by Arista Records. “Famous Last Words” would be a cool stomping rocker if not for the horrible synthesizer ruing the riff. “Keep On Keepin’ On”is a tune that would seem at home on one of Gregg Allman’s 80’s solo albums. It’s a solid song with a sweet guitar solo. “So Long” also sounds like it would have fared better on I’m No Angel. It’s a mournful ballad that comes alive nicely with an extended jam as a coda. Unfortunately the harmonica player sounds like he may have never heard of Little Walter, which is just criminal.

Reach For The Sky is not a great record but it is an enjoyable record. Fans clinging to the glory days of At Fillmore East will find nothing to like here. However, if you can get past the fact that Duane and Berry are dead, the music business is a business first and foremost, and sometimes you just have to do what the record company wants you might enjoy this album. You also have to get past the Keytar. Did I mention the Keytar? Stick with side one and “So Long” from side two and you won’t feel like you’ve ventured too far from “Enlightened Rogues” territory.

 

AllmanBrothersBandBrothersOfTheRoadThe Allman Brothers Band

Brothers Of The Road

Arista Records

Released August 1981

 

Gregg Allman in a Hawaiian shirt, a guy in camouflage, and no Jaimoe on the cover pretty much signifies the end of the line for most people. It looks like they took everybody from the DMV waiting room outside on a hill and took their picture. If you never got past the cover I can’t blame you. It’s horrible. But again, it is not a bad record. Yeah, maybe it’s a bad Allman Brothers record but when taken in context of the business at the time, the state of the members, and the sound and styles of their collective output – including solo albums – up to this point, it is quite Allmany. And hey, the Keytar seems to have been boxed up and sent to Hell where it belongs.

“Brothers Of The Road” starts off with some terse chords and an answering riff. The synthesizers of Reach For The Sky have been replaced with a piano, there are harmony guitars all over the place, and Dickey and Dan both put a few blisters on the fingers from the heat coming off their fretboards. This is one of my favorites from the Arista Years. “Leavin’” has a churning riff and bass line and Gregg Allman delivers a tough vocal performance. “Leavin’” is a great song and I always thought it would kick all kinds of ass in the hands of the modern line-up. “Leavin’” is also the last song performed live before the band broke up in 1982. They played the song on Saturday Night Live in January 1982 and this lineup was never heard from again. Who said “good riddance?”

Gregg Allman is the star of this record even though he only wrote three songs for it. He delivers strong performances throughout. He gives his all, even on a song like “Straight From The Heart.” Again, if you look at his solo output, you’ll see Gregg likes this kind of song – a wistful love song. Yes, it’s a little poppy, and they lip synched it on Solid Gold but why let that keep you from enjoying it? His composition “Never Knew How Much” became a staple of their live set for a while. Usually Gregg, and Dan Toler would perform it on acoustic guitars. It’s an excellent song and it too deserves your attention.

Would you like to hear the “Out Ta Get Me/Crazy Love/ I Got A Right To Be Wrong” slide riff again? You get the chance in “The Heat Is On.” If Dickey played any other slide lick, this song would be a hundred times better. He does play some nice slide fills in “Things You Used To Do” which is another solid track. Dickey did come through with some good tunes though even if his leads are lacking anything bordering on new. “The Judgment” is a barnstormer. Dickey sings his ass off. His voice is strong and proud as he sings about standing your ground.

Of the two Arista records, Brothers Of The Road is stronger. The synthesizers are almost completely absent. Mike Lawler plays a lot of piano on this record and it makes everything sound better. The songs are well crafted and played with energy you wouldn’t expect from a band in turmoil. Again, if you’re someone advocating playing At Fillmore East for the aliens when they land, you’ll probably hate this record. The moral of the story is this: the Allman Brothers Band is more than their first few albums. All of their albums have memorable moments and musical magic. You do yourself, and the band, a disservice by ignoring it.

 

AllmanBrothersBandWipeTheWindowsCheckTheOilDollarGasThe Allman Brothers Band

Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas

Capricorn Records

Released November 1976

 

Wipe The Windows, Check The Oil, Dollar Gas was shortly released after the Allman Brothers Band dissolved in a stew of acrimony, drug addiction, Federal convictions, rock star egos, and record company avarice. Unfortunately this meant the band had little or no input in their second live album. When the band broke up they were still riding the wave of popularity created by “Ramblin’ Man” and the Brothers And Sisters album. They were one of the most popular bands in the United States and were selling out stadiums around the country. To many, this was a hasty, rough-shod album slapped together to make money off the band’s name and it probably was exactly that. However it contains incredible music.

The tracks are taken from a handful of concerts recorded between December 1972 and October 1975. Sides one and two are taken from a now legendary show at Winterland in San Francisco on September 26, 1973. The full show has since been released as part of the Brothers And Sisters anniversary box set. The four songs make a tremendous case for the mid-70’s lineup of Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe, Butch Trucks, Chuck Leavell, and Lamar Williams. The hard blues has been left behind and in its place is a softer, happier jazzy sound. “In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” clocks in at 17 minutes and features extended soloing from pianist Chuck Leavell. In his hands the piece becomes a Latin jazz classic as his lines bop, dip, and swing over the caliente drumming of Trucks and Jaimoe. Dickey Betts proceeds to hold a master class in solo building that amply illustrates why he is routinely included in Greatest Guitarist lists. This is Allman Brothers Fusion at its best. “Wasted Words” spits venom in the lyrics but the music is upbeat and the band seems hell bent on having a good time. Leavell’s piano lines cascade like waterfalls and Betts lays down hot licks on slide reminiscent of his late sparring partner Duane Allman. “Ramblin’ Man” gets an extended treatment and Dickey soars with a roller coaster rush of hexatonic soloing that will leave you breathless.

“Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More” was recorded at The Warehouse in New Orleans on December 31, 1972, just two months after the loss of bassist Berry Oakley. Once again they defiantly picked themselves up and grieved through their music. Gregg Allman puts a lot of passion and pain in his singing, and Dickey Betts slide playing approaches the heavens. The album closes with a rousing version of “Jessica” that seems impossible given the bad blood in the band at the time of its recording in October 1975. I’ve heard many versions of “Jessica” over the years and while this one is not the best it is damned good and any version with Chuck Leavell is worth hearing. He gives us our money’s worth here. His piano work is supreme. This version of the band often gets over looked and while Chuck Leavell is known and loved by many fans, Lamar Williams gets almost no love. His bass playing is ferocious, funky, and harmonically interesting. He plays what every song needs and on occasion he drives the jams on Wipe The Windows… You can hear more of his great playing on the archival release Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale, NY: 5/1/73 and on the Brothers And Sisters 40th Anniversary Super Deluxe Edition Box Set.

Wipe The Windows… isn’t the heavy blues/jazz workout of At Fillmore East and it shouldn’t be. They already did that. Comparisons are ill advised and detract from the value of everything that has come since. Wipe The Windows… captures a swinging, jazzy, country-tinged, rock band at the height of its success. The record features great songs and many stunning performances from everyone in the band. To forget this album is to forget a masterful band and its beautiful music.

 

AllmanBrothersBandAnEveningWithFirstSetThe Allman Brothers Band

An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 1st Set

Epic Records

Released June 9, 1992

 

The Allman Brothers Band returned in 1989 for a tour to support their Dreams box set and celebrate their 20th anniversary. The surviving original members Gregg Allman, Dickey Betts, Jaimoe, and Butch Trucks were joined by newcomer Allen Woody on bass and Dickey Betts Band alums Warren Haynes and Johnny Neel. Warren Haynes and Allen Woody were students of the Allman Brothers Band, wearing out the old records and learning the songs front to back. No one knew where it would go but the tour was successful, the band was happy playing powerful music again and decided to record an album – Seven Turns. After a few years and another studio record – Shades Of Two Worlds – they were feeling pretty good about the band and decided the third record from this lineup, like the original lineup, would be a live album. Keyboardist Johnny Neel was gone and percussionist Marc Quinones was added. This new lineup recorded shows in Macon, GA, Boston, MA and New York, NY for the album. The result is a blistering tour de force of improvisation that crushed any doubts that the Allman Brothers Band of old had been resurrected.

The album leans heavily on newer material, with three of nine songs coming from Shades Of Two Worlds. This shows the band was confident about their new material and they had good reason. Opener “End Of The Line” has two incredibly bad-ass riffs. Gregg Allman sings from his soul about his continuing trouble with drugs and alcohol, Warren Haynes’s slide solo sings the saddest song you’ve ever heard, and the coda has Dickey Betts and Warren Haynes sparring like Rocky Balboa and Apollo Creed. You can’t open a live album any better. “Get On With Your Life” is a modern blues classic from the band. Dickey Betts tone is so rich and thick and glorious it will make you cry.

The truly astonishing moments on this album come during “Nobody Knows.” “Nobody Knows” is one of the best songs ever recorded by the Allman Brothers Band. Its power is rivaled only by “Whipping Post” from which it drew inspiration and is a bit of a contentious point between Messrs. Allman and Betts. This fifteen minute workout extends the tune by half. If you play it too loud you may incite the apocalypse. Dickey Betts plays some of his greatest licks ever in this song. He builds crescendo after crescendo, pummeling you into submission. Just when you can’t take it anymore they kick back into the main riff just long enough for you to catch your breath and then boom goes the Warren Haynes. This is the dream team Duane and Dickey would have become if Duane lived. They are powerful, harmonic, melodic, and demonic.

Other high points include a funkier arrangement of “Southbound” with Dickey Betts singing and a colossal rending of “Dreams.” “Dreams” is a thing of beauty. It is a lullaby for giants. Warren Haynes captures the feel and spirit of Duane Allman’s original slide work and adds his own brilliance to it. Warren’s incredible talent, boundless energy, and immeasurable command of improvisation drove Dickey Betts to be a better player and in the early 90’s this guitar tandem was matchless. An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 1st Set rarely leaves the CD player in my guitar room. It is without a doubt the Allman Brothers album I have listened to most. I love At Fillmore East and I understand its historic importance, and I agree it is one of the greatest live albums of all time, but it was a snapshot of an evolving band. They were young and still learning. If Duane Allman and Berry Oakley didn’t die who knows where it would have led? With 1st Set I think we get a pretty good glimpse of where it would have gone. The band is matured, playing better with the benefit of years on the road together and apart, and with injection of some young players the band is energetic, powerful, and soaring.

 

AllmanBrothersBandAnEveningWith2ndSetThe Allman Brothers Band

An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 2nd Set

Epic Records

Released May 9, 1995

 

Supposedly 2nd Set was to come out shortly after 1st Set but we’re talking about the Allman Brothers Band and one constant in their universe is trouble. Dickey Betts and Gregg Allman were drinking and drugging and not getting along. Warren Haynes put out a solo album in 1993 creating speculation he was leaving the band. Dickey Betts did leave the band on occasion for various reasons, sitting out a few tours here and there. All these things led to the delay. When Dickey came back full time, the band recorded the stellar Where It All Begins album and embarked on a tour. A few dates in summer of 1994 were recorded and in 1995 came An Evening With The Allman Brothers Band 2nd Set. This time four of eight songs would be from the latest album.

The baddassery begins with the thunderous drop-D riffing of “Sailin’ ‘Cross The Devil’s Sea.” Gregg Allman is in strong voice, belting out his tale of woe and Warren Haynes slides up and down the fretboard. Percussionist Marc Quinones adds dramatically to this song with his accents and flourishes. Betts and Haynes have the gain turned way up and the tones are as nasty as Tijuana toilet seat. “You Don’t Love Me” is shortened considerably from its At Fillmore East version and it is all the better for it. The Brothers deliver six and a half minutes of barnstorming blues, with Dickey and Warren upping the ante bar after bar. “Soulshine” has taken on a life of its own since its emergence. This live version is uplifting and heartbreaking and the interwoven solos at the end with cut you to the core. This is music as release; pure and simple.

“In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” is an acoustic performance and is simply brilliant. The recording is crystal clear and Allen Woody manages to bring the thunder even on acoustic bass. The Latin feel of the song lends itself to an acoustic arrangement and the band exceeds already high expectations for this song. Warren Haynes takes lead vocal on his arrangement of Willie Dixon’s “The Same Thing.” The arrangement features harmony guitars and riffs never heard in the original. It is a terrific re-write; at once a blues standard and Allman Brothers classic. The disc closes with the Grammy winning performance of “Jessica.” For as much as I love the Betts/Haynes duo, I still can’t get all the way into “Jessica” without Chuck Leavell. This is an epic version but it’s all guitar, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s got to have piano. I’d take the version from Wipe The Windows… over this one any day.

While this album is full of intense music, the best part for me is “Back Where It All Begins.” Dickey’s peaceful ode to the band’s audience turns into a churning juggernaut of full-band musical exploration. “Back Where It All Begins” is a perfect song. The melody is catchy, the structure is simple, and the lyrics invite a singalong. For my money, this song contains Warren Haynes’ greatest guitar solo. He spent years as an apprentice with David Allan Coe and in Dickey Betts Band. He came into the Allman Brothers as the hot young guitarist, fired up and ready to go. He went toe to toe with the master night after night and in “Back Where It All Begins” he brings everything he learned together in one epic solo that became part of the DNA of the song. Live he stretches the solo out but the changes from the studio version feel like they should have been there all along. He builds his solo to a crescendo and signals its end with a dynamic motif based on the main melody and chords of the bridge. It is brilliant. I almost feel bad for Dickey Betts having to follow it, but it’s Dickey Betts. He rises to the occasion beautifully. The heights achieved in this song and this album are a fitting cap on the legacy of this lineup.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Songs For Saturday – Weekly CD Reviews

I hope you’re all enjoying your weekend. We have four new reviews for you. Yes, I’m a day late and a dollar short but I wrote a lot, went off the rails here and there and even threw in a rant! I hope you enjoy this week’s reviews and find something interesting for your ears!

OtisClayJohnnyRawlsSoulBrothersOtis Clay & Johnny Rawls

Soul Brothers

Catfood Records

Released Date: October 21, 2014

 

I am not the world’s biggest Soul music fan. I like it but I have to be in the mood for it, and I have conflicting feelings regarding its inclusion under the Blues umbrella. If I go to a Blues festival or show, I want to hear blues. I want to hear some poor bastard with a broken heart playing his guts out in 12 bars or less. I want it lean and mean, and not too clean. Soul music is just too nice. I’ve seen Johnny Rawls, and Otis Clay in concert and while both shows were enjoyable I wasn’t blown away by either. Then again, each set was at a Blues festival and I wasn’t really in the mood for Soul music. Hell, either could have been one of those times I listened to Soundgarden on the way to the show. Soul music doesn’t make its way into my purview all that often. I have my Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett records and that’s about as far as it goes. And now, across my desk comes a new album by two big names in Soul music – Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls. I had low expectations. I hear soul music in movies, or on SiriusXM once in a while for a change of pace, and a lot of it seems schmaltzy. Such was my state of mind when I popped Soul Brothers into the player.

Wow. The first song has these two Soul music gurus doing a classic Dave Mason track. It seems like a sellout to get people interested – the white people that unfortunately make up 90% of the Blues audience. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. The band gets a little funky and the vocal arrangement plays to the strengths of both vocalists and by the end of the first chorus I’m digging in and listening closer. What seemed like a pandering choice started to seem like a bold choice. They could have led off their first full length collaboration with any song but they went with this. I don’t know if it was their idea, the management, the label, or who, but it was a great choice. It helps that the band pulled it off. The band is The Rays featuring Richy Puga on drums, Bob Trenchard on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, Robert Claiborne on trombone, Nick Flood on sax and The Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – providing background vocals. I guess it worked on all levels and hopefully not just because I’m white. They definitely got me interested and in the mood to hear more.

This dynamic collaboration started last year when Otis Clay was a guest on three tracks on Johnny Rawls’ O.V. Wright tribute album Remembering O.V. They both put their hearts into Soul Brothers which for my money is better than anything I’ve heard from them individually. The biggest surprise for me is the seamlessness of the originals and covers. Sure you’ve heard “Only You Know And I Know” and “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” before but it feels like you’ve heard “Road Dogs” and “Poor Little Rich Girl” too. They’ve crafted a “Best Of Soul” record using original material. It’s quite a feat and a testament to the artistry of these two men. Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are both in excellent voice and this is one of those recordings where you can hear the smiles going back and forth between these guys. “Road Dog” has them exploring their parallel travels in the business and in Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” Rawls calls on Taylor to take us back to 1966 just as Otis belts out his testimony as the tune closes. “Hallelujah Lord” finds both men embracing their gospel roots, “Voodoo Queen” is the closest they come to a blues song, and “Living On Borrowed Time” has big bad horn arrangements straight out of Memphis. To call Soul Brothers a tour de force may see like hyperbole and maybe it is, but with Soul Brothers Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have delivered a timeless Soul and R&B album that needs to be heard by everyone on Pop radio calling themselves Soul singers. Soul Brothers is the real thing.

DukeRobillardCallingAllBluesDuke Robillard Band

Calling All Blues

Stony Plain

Released on September 23, 2014

 

Duke Robillard’s history is in many ways the history of modern blues. He’s been in Roomful Of Blues and Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Blues Music Awards named him “Best Blues Guitarist” four out of five years from 2000 to 2004, and even B.B. King has called him “one of the great players.” Over the years Duke has been a champion for all forms of Blues and has covered most of them. The new record from the Duke Robillard Band is “Calling All Blues” and once again Duke brings together many styles on to one disc.

The music has a classic sound and Duke’s gruff raspy vocals are the perfect complement to the songs. His name may be Duke Robillard but he is the King of Tone. Even if he wrote horrible songs they would sound great. I would hate Techno less if they sampled Duke’s tones. Every blues tone you could want is on this new disc. And the acoustic bass? Damn, that thing sounds good. It was recorded perfectly too. It’s unobtrusive but if it was gone you’d probably cry until they put it back. It’s warm, fuzzy, and groovy – this music swings with style. Duke addresses the tones lyrically too, with “Nasty Guitars.” In the liner notes he mentions that he’ll occasionally be playing some beautiful passage in a nice clean tone and people will be looking bored. He knows it’s time to rip it up with some Nasty Guitars.

“Down In Mexico” is a laid back shuffle that suits the fun in the sun vibe. “I’m Gonna Quit My Baby” is a swinging bopper that will have you moving like a tilt-a-whirl. Duke’s open string fills and gritty tone are superb. The beat is countered by stuttering piano lines courtesy of Bruce Bears. It’s delightful. “Svengali” is a mind bending carnival of sound. I don’t know what the Hell is going on in this song but I love it. There are echoes, slides, stomps, string bends, and the machine that goes “ping.” It will make you dizzy, twist your mind, and make you wish you were Big. Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times please. “Emphasis On Memphis” is as advertised and “Motor Trouble” seems to be a veiled reference to losing a little bit of your get up and go power. As producer and guest guitarist on many Stony Plain releases, and with his own prolific output, this surely can’t apply to the Duke himself.

I love the tones and tunes on Calling All Blues but “Confusion Blues” is too soft and smooth. It sticks out among the gritty vocals from Duke and all the grimy, low-down grooves on the rest of the album. It’s not a bad song or performance, but it pulls you out of the moment. Otherwise this is a perfect album. It clocks in around 40 minutes and makes the most of it. Even Sunny Crownover turns up to sing her guts out for you on “Blues Beyond The Call Of Duty.” Calling All Blues is calling all blues fans far and wide, mobilizing the troops and bringing in new recruits. Get in line with the Duke and move, people. It’s boogie time.

 

SkylaBurrellBandBluesScarsSkyla Burrell Band

Blues Scars

VizzTone

Released On October 7, 2014

 

Skyla Burrell Band. Never heard of them. It’s a big blues world out there and new contenders appear constantly. I was surprised to learn the band has been in existence for quite some time. The band was formed by Skyla Burrell and Mark Tomlinson in 2002. Their first album was 2004’s Working Girl Blues. The new disc, Blues Scars, is their fifth! The good thing about discovering a band five records into a career is that you don’t have to wait a few years to hear more, if you want to. I want to. The Sklya Burrell Band is tight. They don’t just lay it down; they knock it down and kick it. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s swinging good time Saturday night fist fight low down hoe down get down and boogie music. Even the ballads have a fair amount of strut and swagger.

The disc kicks off with little fanfare and dives right in to the title cut which features a stuttering riff under Skyla’s vocal. She belts it out and fills in the gaps on lead guitar. Skyla Burrell shares lead guitar duties with Mark Tomlinson. Thankfully the liner notes let us know Skyla takes the first solo in each song and Mark takes second. Their styles mesh like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. The rhythm guitars are just as important as the leads in this band and they masterfully weave around each other. “Shut You Down” has a marching stomp beat with a sidewinding riff and terse lead guitars. “Love Letter In Blue” is a wistful ballad with tender sentiments and mournful lead guitar lines permeating the soul of the song. On “6 Mile Cemetery Road” they unleash some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins hoodoo and “Juke Joint Tonight” has all the tilted swing of the finest Chuck Berry records. Drummer Ezell Jones, Jr. reminds me of Steve Jordan on this tune, and a few others, from the style to the tuning of the snare. Mr. Jones is a jazzy rocker deep in the pocket. It’s a beautiful thing.

When this disc showed up I had no idea what to expect. The CD cover’s Windows Paint lettering screams low budget ambivalence and the band shot looks like a Prom photo gone wrong, with the band leader looking like she just stepped off the Walk Of Shame. Is it wrong to complain about album covers? I know budgets are tight but still, you want something representative of the music. You don’t want somebody putting the CD down or passing it by altogether because it looks like maybe you just didn’t give a damn how your hard work was represented on the cover. The high energy, rough and tumble spirit of the band would have been better captured almost any other way. I have mad Photoshop skills. I volunteer to do the next cover for them, free of charge. And it’s not just this band. There are several out there with album covers of dubious origin and it obviously irritates me. Maybe the record labels are to blame. I don’t know, just fix it! Okay, end of rant. It’s the music that matters and I want people to be interested enough by the cover to want to hear the music.

Blues Scars is a Rock & Roller’s blues album. It swings, it bops, it zips, and it dips. It’s old style Rock & Roll that came straight from the Blues. This band hits it fast, hard, and often. Most of the songs are between two and a half and four minutes. They fill the songs with hot licks, sweet tones, impassioned vocals, and undeniable spirit. Between Skyla’s tremendous voice, twin blazing guitars and deeply grooving rhythm section you have a recipe for all night boogie marathons that are guaranteed to leave a few Blues Scars behind. Get yours today!

 

MarkusJamesHeadForTheHillsMarkus James

Head For The Hills

Firenze Records

Released Date: October 28, 2014

 

Markus James loves percussion and he loves the blues. Markus has been playing blues-based music with traditional West African musicians since 1994. In that year he made his first visit to Niafunke, the northern Mali home of the legendary Ali Farka Toure. Markus James has studied the West African rhythms, cadences, and styles as well as their blues counterparts in the United States, particularly in Mississippi. As he traveled around Mississippi after a successful 2003 appearance University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, he encountered familiar music and was drawn in by the old-school drummers. At one point, after performing in Mali, West Africa, Markus James made a realization, “I came back to the US, saw the Deep Blues film, and was amazed to see the exact same thing that I had just seen in the sand dunes outside Timbuktu: three drummers and a guy playing what they call a cane flute. It was just such an obvious connection between the musical traditions I had been immersed in in West Africa and some of the traditional music in North Mississippi.” On his new album, Markus chose to Head For The Hills. The North Mississippi Hills.

Markus James recruited Junior’s son Kinney Kimbrough, Calvin Jackson who played with R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough, Aubrey “Bill” Turner from Otha Turner’s fife and drum band, and R.L. Boyce who played with Jessie Mae Hemphill. In addition to these A-list rhythm makers he brought in Marlon Green, who was the last drummer for John Lee Hooker, and who is currently working live shows with James. The drummers, who split duties on the album, are the only instrumentalists aside from Markus James on the album but James plays a plethora of instruments himself. He sings and plays electric slide guitar, 3-string cigar box guitar, gourd banjo, slide dulcimer, acoustic guitar, harmonica, beatbox, and a snakeskin-covered 1-string diddley bow. The result is an earthy, primitive, and complex combination. Everything about this music is percussive, even James guitar playing. The way he plucks the strings and slaps the guitar while playing slide belie the heart of a drummer. Even the most stripped down tracks on Head For The Hills will give you plenty to hold on to and will keep your foot tapping.

You can’t get much more primitive than “Diddley Bow And Buckets” which has only the instruments named in the title. Still it is a compelling track, solidifying the notion that excellent music can come from unlikely objects. Album opener “Just Say Yes” is a driving, thumping Hill Country trance-inducer, “Gone Like Tomorrow” is a spacey, wide open adventure in dreamland, and “Nomo” is an anguished dirge. “Woke Me” which features Kinney Kimbrough has a “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” groove. Head For The Hills closes with an appropriately organic acoustic piece called “Green.” Most of the music can’t really be described. The tones and beats come at you in unfamiliar combinations and every song raises your expectations for the next. Head For The Hills is a wonderful exploration of primordial music in a high tech world and makes the musical connection from future to past.

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews October 3, 2014

Hello again. It’s time for our weekly Fast Five reviews. I dug a little deeper into the Blues Bin this time for a few albums that came out earlier this year. I think they deserve our attention and hopefully you will be interested enough to give them a shot – Bob Corritore’s Taboo and Luther Dickinson’s Rock ‘n Roll Blues. We’re ahead of the game with the new Billy Boy Arnold disc and we also have Sena Ehrhardt and Too Slim & The Taildraggers. As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears.

TheBluesSoulOfBillyBoyArnoldBilly Boy Arnold

The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold

Stony Plain

Release Date October 21, 2014

Chicago Blues stalwart Billy Boy Arnold has returned to Canadian label Stony Plain. The new disc marks Arnold’s second album for the label, the last being 2001’s Boogie ‘n’ Shuffle. Over the years, Arnold has built quite a catalog. The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold showcases Billy’s love of Soul and R&B, along with his brand of Chicago Blues. Billy Boy is backed by producer/guitarist Duke Robillard and his band, with the Roomful Of Blues horns sitting in on a few tracks.

As a teenager, Billy Boy got a personal harmonica lesson from his hero John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. His life trajectory changed at that moment and before long Billy was playing with Bo Diddley. During sessions for Bo’s “I’m A Man” Billy was offered time to record the single “You Got To Love Me” which got his solo career off to a running start. His classic “I Wish You Would” has been recorded several times, including stand out versions by The Yardbirds, Canned Heat, and John Hammond. The Yardbirds had a big hit with his tune “I Ain’t Got You” which has also been recorded and performed by a host of artists from Aerosmith to Sugar Blue.

This time around, Billy Boy has recorded some of his favorites. One of the highlights is a moving, melancholy “St. James Infirmary.” The tune keeps the minor key tones of Louis Armstrong’s famous version and starts off with a lonesome harmonica howling over some minor chords on the piano. Billy’s conversational, low-key delivery accents the despair and heartbreak, and Robillard plays some gritty licks over the loping shuffle. Chuck Berry’s “Nadine” is revved up and rockin’, and Billy Boy tips his hat to Ray Charles with a swinging, swirling take on “Don’t Set Me Free.”

Mixed among other covers like Joe Tex’ “A Mother’s Prayer” and Ted Taylor’s “You Give Me Nothing to Go On” are some new Billy Boy Arnold gems like the sly, shuffling “What’s On The Menu Mama” and tongue-in-cheek album closer “Keep On Rubbing.” These two are prime examples of the fun, good-time Blues that made Billy Boy Arnold famous. Duke Robillard gets to flex his considerable blues muscles on B.B. King’s “Worried Dream.” This tune really brings home the vintage sound that permeates The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold. There is no new ground broken here, but at this point in his career does Billy really have anything to prove? He’s out there going strong, making music, and bringing joy to the people. At a time he could be relaxing, it’s good to know he’s still willing to share The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold with us.

 

BobCorritoreTabooBob Corritore

Taboo

Delta Groove Music

Released on April 15, 2014

So, I was listening to the new Bob Corritore disc Taboo, grooving along, thinking man, this really calls to mind a 60’s get together with friends, and playing records in the living room. I can see the brightly colored drapes, the wood and stone décor, the contrasting colors, the miniskirts. Did I mention the miniskirts? This tune completely put me in a sixties TV state of mind. Since the new disc is all instrumental I had no clue to the song title so I had to look. I picked up the CD jacket, flipped it over whilst bobbing my head along with track and what do I see as the title? “Mr. Tate’s Advice.” Mr. Tate. As in Larry Tate on Bewitched? It has to be. I really want it to be Larry Tate. Everything about this song says Bewitched, especially once you know the title. It’s subtle, but it’s there and you hear it at once if you have that frame of reference. That’s great instrumental writing. To convey mental images through music is certainly a difficult task but Bob Corritore does it here and all through Taboo.

Several of the tunes on Taboo have a vintage feel. “Fabuloco (For Kid)” sounds like a bit like the Latin craze mid 60’s pop instrumentals. It’s a fun, percolating tune that will surely get you moving. Another throwback is the beach party romp called “Harmonica Watusi.” If you’re not picturing Annette Funicello’s pointy bathing suit while you do the Mashed Potato and The Watusi around your living room you aren’t living. Blues fans need not be worried; it’s not all Beach Party Playboy After Dark Shindig music. There are blues tunes on this new record. “5th Position Plea” is not a sexual reference as far as you know. It probably takes its name from the 5th position harmonica playing which is fairly uncommon in blues. “Shuff Stuff” is a Texas Style shuffling blues with Jimmie Vaughan as the featured guitarist. Jimmie and Bob lead the band on a road trip around the great Republic of Texas. Saxophonist Doug James and Papa John Defrancesco take solos tasty as Central Texas BBQ and twice as fiery. Jimmie Vaughan delivers his usual peerless perfection. He gives exactly what the song needs every time.

Bob Corritore has become one of the most acclaimed harmonica players in the world. He has shared stages and recorded with the who’s who in blues. His interest in Blues was sparked by hearing Muddy Waters on the radio at age 12. Bob was born in Chicago and made it to many blues shows around town getting to know major and minor players alike and soaking up everything he could. Bob Corritore is steeped in blues and blues tradition so it is no surprise that this eclectic mix of instrumentals would have a retro vibe and classic tones. If this was 1960, this music would be “cool.” Hell, it’s still cool today. Maybe that’s why it’s Taboo. Check it out; it’s a gas!

 

TooSlimAnthologyToo Slim & The Taildraggers

Anthology

Underworld Indie Records

Released on June 17, 2014

Tim “Too Slim” Langford has been a fixture of the American music scene for about 25 years and has put out 15 albums. That’s amazingly prolific, especially by recent standards with bands taking two or more years to make new records. This new Anthology brings together songs from Too Slim’s Underworld Records catalog featuring songs from his last decade of recordings. Anthology includes three new songs produced by Grammy Award winning Producer Tom Hambridge. Also included are some previously unreleased versions of familiar songs. The liner notes are skimpy and only give details for the new songs. The fact the songs are new is more implied than explicit. For a sprawling, 34 track Anthology I expected more song information, especially for the previously unreleased songs. Personally, I enjoy the music more when I have some context and usually an Anthology is accompanied by some reflections from the artist or, at a minimum, an essay by someone well acquainted with the music and band. It may seem like a minor sticking point, but I could make my own anthology in iTunes or the like. Sure it wouldn’t have the alternate versions or new songs, but alternate versions are often unreleased for a reason. I’d like some inside information on the songs to read while I reminisce over decade spanning collection. Okay, end of complaints section. Moving on…

The music runs the gamut from swampy Blues to Cowpunk to Country & Western and all points in between. “Mississippi Moon” is the kind of swamp rock slide guitar driven tune I could listen to all day long. “When Whiskey Was My Friend” crosses into modern rock territory and has some stinging lead guitar from Too Slim. “Mexico” is weird Jimmy Buffett blues but it’s catchy. It has sultry slide guitar and steel drums (or a close approximation). It had me looking for my salt shaker and a cheeseburger. “Devil In A Double Wide” has guitar riffs as Hellish as the title suggests. “She Sees Ghosts” has a sick single-coil guitar tone and a tight horn arrangement. The song closes out disc one which seems to highlight the harder rocking tunes from Too Slim & The Taildraggers.

Disc two has more of the deep Blues tracks like the gut wrenching “Everybody’s Got Something” to some acoustic tracks like the haunting “La Llorona.” Slim’s slide work on “La Llorona” is a study in intonation and left hand control. It also helps that he plays a beautifully sad melody. “Good To See You Smile” is the kind of blues I love the best. Wicked tones, churning Hammond organ, and caustic solos with notes bent to Hell and back. The three new songs are spread around the set and fit in well. “Big Ole House” is a mournful tale of emptiness echoed in the tremolo guitar effects and wistful piano. Strategically placed guitar glissandi appear like apparitions in the night. Everything in Too Slim’s voice says he wants them to stay, but the apparitions are fleeting at best. Another new song, “Wishing Well” opens disc one with a disgusted look at the charlatans disguised as spiritual advisers and faith healers. His repulsion is underscored by sparring solos from Too Slim and Nashville guitarslinger Bob Britt.

By the end of Anthology, you have to catch your breath and reflect on the diversity of the music you just experienced. It’s a little uneven and they’re not all keepers but you get an overflowing plate of Blues on Anthology that is sure to satisfy most of your musical appetites. Here’s to Tim “Too Slim” Langford and the Taildraggers for keeping the faith for 25 years and pouring their hearts into an impressive catalog of music.

 

SenaEhrhardtLiveMyLifeSena Ehrhardt

Live My Life

Blind Pig Records

Released on September 2, 2014

 

Sena Ehrhardt’s debuted in 2011’s Leave the Light On from Blind Pig records. Since then she’s been collecting accolades from around the music industry. Sena lists Luther Allison as a major influence, having experienced the power of his live show and the raw emotion in his voice. She got her start singing with her father’s band Plan B but in 2010 she formed her own band and began to shape her destiny. Sena has certainly focused Luther Allison’s influence and she pours her all into every note she sings. Her new disc Live My Life shows incredible growth and focus. She’s formed a new band and wrote much of the album with new guitarist Cole Allen.

From the opening guitar riffs this band sounded to me like the Robert Cray Band via Austin, TX. I like it. The band is tight and guitarist Cole Allen cuts a wide swath of territory. Sena gives the band plenty of room to shine and together they have come up with interesting riffs and song structures. “Everybody Is You” has a stuttering riff and the words work their way around to a glaring twist. The guitar solo recalls Alberts King and Collins. The opening tune “The Stakes Have Gone Up” strides through Cray’s “Smoking Gun” territory, picks up the still hot weapon and fires again. This is a menacing opener, laying it down in no uncertain terms that they are here to play and here to stay. Smokin’ Joe Kubek sits in on “Things You Shouldn’t Need To Know” and delivers a blistering slide solo perfect for the desert hot shimmering shuffle. The twin guitars build to a crescendo under Sena’s vocals until she brings it all down with the flirtatious “take it off babe.” Wait, she was talking about a blindfold? I have to listen to that one again.

For the purpose of full disclosure, I usually don’t like female vocalists who aren’t also instrumentalist. Yes, yes, the voice is an instrument, I get it, but I mean guitarist, pianist, and so on. For some reason unknown to me, they don’t always seem to be able, or allowed, to sing honestly. They go full-on sex kitten or gruff whiskey and cigarettes Janis Joplin style. Sena Ehrhardt is able to balance her delivery in an honest manner. She sings high notes when the song demands it, gives the coy come hither tones when appropriate, and has impeccable phrasing and note control. Her lyrics are smart and sing well. Nothing seems forced. Maybe it’s the industry that tries to back female singers into one corner or another but Sena dances around the ring like Ali. She’s staking her claim in the Blues scene and doing it her way. Live My Life isn’t just an album title, it’s a mission statement and it’s a mission you’ll want to get in on.

 

LutherDickinsonRocknRollBluesLuther Dickinson

Rock ‘n Roll Blues

New West Records

Released on March 18, 2014

 

With a title like Rock ‘n Roll Blues, you might expect to be getting North Mississippi Allstars Part Deux. Not so. Luther Dickinson is a talented guy with eclectic tastes and an ear for fresh tones. He plays roots music in a variety of musical configurations. On Rock ‘n Roll Blues he is joined by upright bassist Amy LaVere, Sharde Thomas on drums and fife, and Lightnin’ Malcolm on drums with all contributing vocals. Rock ‘n Roll Blues has songs that date back twenty years and gives the listener a sense of Luther’s journey from young punk in the Mississippi Hills to seasoned performer and respected musician.

The focus of the album seems to be on rhythms. The opener is a manic tale of teen rebellion set to tin can percussion. Luther proclaims with raw abandon “I grew up on punk rock when I was young, Lived in the country was the only one, For miles and miles nobody around me, Rockin’ solo skateboard anarchy.” And continues with “I get so excited, have to vandalize!” it’s the portrait of a pent-up misunderstood teen with no other outlet for his frustration. It would be funny if it didn’t hit home for so many. “Blood ‘n Guts (The Ballad Of Boots And Dixie)” puts Luther out on the road and finding his way. This is another heavily rhythmic tune with Luther playing a churning acoustic guitar figure over a bouncing bass line. The ebb and flow of relationships on the road is reflected in the words as well with lines like “Take A bullet for any one of these, can’t stand these sons of bitches.” “Bar Band” takes shots at the naysayers.

On “Rock ‘n Roll Blues” Luther rails against the slave trade-like recording industry and the harsh realities of being under a recording contract. On “Goin’ Country” Dickinson sings about defying Dad and hanging up the rock ‘n roll shoes. The disc closes with a delicate yet rhythmically throbbing ballad called “Karmic Debt.” In enigmatic fashion, his words don’t tell you if it’s all been worth it or not but you get the sense he’s at ease with his decisions. Rock ‘n Roll Blues is raw, rough, and rhythmic, but it’s alternately quiet, chilling, and beautiful. The music and words are much more intricate than the simple instrumentation and laid back delivery make them seem. This is an unexpectedly beautiful album which gives us a deeper sense of Luther Dickinson as artist and fellow traveler in the land of Rock ‘n Roll Blues.

 

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

Well friends, I managed to get back on track with the five reviews for this week even though I missed Hump Day. Somehow the Fast Five turned in to a guitar love-fest. We’ve got Devon Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, and Gary Clark Jr. We also have Mississippi Heat whose new disc has plenty of terrific guitar playing too.

This edition also marks the first time most of the reviews feature albums released during the same week. How do you like that? Fresh biscuits indeed! As always, I hope you find something new and interesting for your ears…

 

DevonAllmanRaggedAndDirtyDevon Allman

Ragged & Dirty

Ruf Records

Release Date October 14, 2014

 

Devon Allman has been a busy man for the last few years. He wound down Honeytribe with Space Age Blues, recorded two studio albums and a live set with Royal Southern Brotherhood, and released Turquoise, the first disc under his own name. In October Devon will release his second solo album Ragged & Dirty. Devon chose to record the new album in Chicago and brought in Blues Producer Extraordinaire Tom Hambridge work on the disc. Hambridge pulls triple duty adding drummer and songwriter to his credits on the album. The core band on the project is rounded out by Felton Crews on bass, Giles Cory on guitar and Marty Sammon on keyboards. Together they put together a moody, surging disc that rivals anything out there today.

Ragged & Dirty is a bit of a misnomer though. I was a little disappointed at first. To me a ragged and dirty Chicago blues album is Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. That’s ragged and dirty and oh so glorious. Devon Allman’s Ragged & Dirty is syrupy sweet by comparison. But the songs are so damned good! While Turquoise was a solid effort, it was more of a singer/songwriter album. Ragged & Dirty is a fully realized blues rock record and plays to all of Devon Allman’s strengths. Gritty stomper “Half The Truth” opens the disc with a forceful punch. Your appetite for R&B gets a feast on a tremendous cover of “The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around” and Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” seems Taylor-made for Allman’s powerful voice, which seems even more emotive with female background accompaniment.

The centerpiece of Ragged & Dirty is a sprawling nine and a half minute instrumental called “Midnight Lake Michigan.” It burns with intensity hot enough to light Lake Shore Drive from dusk ‘til dawn. Devon also tips his hat to Windy City blues heritage with the title track, Luther Allison’s “Ragged & Dirty.” Allman’s own songs fit perfectly into the mix especially the funky “Blackjack Heartattack” which Devon delivers with a menacing vocal and snarling guitar licks. It segues into his smoldering blues called “Back To You.” His guitar chops have been honed by years of touring and dueling with Mike Zito in Royal Southern Brotherhood and it shows. He’s in great voice on Ragged & Dirty also, and delivers “Back To You” with a heavy weariness lesser singers could never conjure.

After about 45 minutes of intense blues rock, Devon closes the disc with an acoustic based balled reminiscent of “Left My Heart In Memphis” and “Turn Off The World.” It’s a great way to come down from what sounds like a high energy club set at Kingston Mines. Devon Allman has had the talent but recently he has honed his abilities and sensibilities and has come up with the best music of his already long career. I guess I’ll have to forgive him for it not being as ragged and dirty as I expected. I love it anyway.

 

JoeBonamassaDifferentShadesOfBlueJoe Bonamassa

Different Shades Of Blue

J&R Adventures

Released on September 23, 2014

 

Joe Bonamassa kicked off his solo career in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday. The title of his first album, in hindsight, reveals not just a tribute to Jethro Tull, but a mission statement for a career that continuously looks backward while firmly staking territory in the future. The music is not the only old-school influence on Joe Bonamassa. The old work ethic of making records frequently has rubbed off on him and he has compiled a lengthy discography in the last 14 years. In the liner notes Joe mentions that it’s been two years since his last solo studio album and that much has happened. He says he’s closed the first book of his career and Different Shades Of Blue is the first chapter in the new book. Maybe he’ll be taking it slower. He hints at enjoying the fruits of his intense labors and avoiding the blur.

Different Shades Of Blue opens with a short instrumental tribute to Jimi Hendrix’ with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Joe lists the gear used on the album but leaves you to figure which vintage Strat he used for this short but sweet tip ‘o the hat. “Oh Beautiful!” follows, with a heavy riff that would have made a perfect Black Country Communion track. As it is, Joe and the band tear into with gusto and leave you wondering Black what? The recent single, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues” is a blues rock interpretation of the classic Elmore James shuffle. From the title it seems like it might not sing well, but Joe has become quite a vocalist and put the emphasis in exactly the right spots and they seem so obvious, you’ll be singing along in no time. The title track opens with a melancholy, descending acoustic riff with mournful electric wailing over it. The chorus has harmony vocals that elevate the spirit of the song with a brave defiance that sees you through the “Different Shades Of Blue.” The song is capped by a full on Bonamassa solo full of strings bent to Hell and rapid fire notes raining down like Armageddon.

You don’t get a lot of surprises with Different Shades Of Blue but that’s not a bad thing. The songs are well developed, keep you interested, and sound crisp. There are meaty riffs and blinding solos. Joe Bonamassa has never denied his love of 70’s Blues Rock and he carries the torch with pride. Why not? He plays the bejesus out of it and sings it more and more like Paul Rodgers as the years go by. Joe is not a one trick pony however, and this album showcases all his loves from Chicago Blues to electric folk tunes and smoky jazz piano balladry. Bonamassa has his share of detractors and I think a lot of them just don’t want to like his music. I think they see him as generic, but they just aren’t going deep enough. Joe Bonamassa is a lasting talent who has conducted himself with professionalism missing from many people his age, he has an enthusiasm for music that is tangible and the will to share Different Shades Of Blues with the masses.

 

GaryClarkJrLiveGary Clark Jr.

Live

Warner Brothers

Released September 23, 2014

 

Gary Clark Jr. seemed to come out of nowhere around 2011 with his EP on Warner Brothers but as is often the case, no one arrives fully formed. The 30 year old Clark got his start, like many Texas blues players, with some help from Austin legend Clifford Antone. He’s had some independent releases and made his major label debut on Warner Brothers late in 2010 with The Bright Lights EP. His Blak And Blu album really put him on the map and he’s been riding a wave of big name recognition ever since. His live shows with his powerhouse band are not to be missed but in case you haven’t made it, or just want to relive it, there’s the new album Gary Clark Jr. Live.

The set opens with a dense, murky take on “Catfish Blues.” This fish is swimming in filthy pond of Robin Trower residue from 1973. It’s terrific. Clark even sounds a little bit like James Dewar, Trower’s vocalist from long ago. There’s all sorts of garage blues on this Live set though, from the stomp of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” Memphis late nite “3 O’Clock Blues,” and a pair of Albert Collins jams including “If Trouble Was Money” and “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Little Johnny Taylor probably never expected his tune to be bookended by “Third Stone From The Sun” but it works pretty well. Let’s call it a glorious juxtaposition!

We’re covering some intense guitar playing this week and Gary Clark Jr. Live may be the most intense. Second guitarist King Zapata and Gary Clark Jr. send each other soaring higher with shocking regularity. The guitar tones are angry, and aggressive, and sweet, and soothing. There’s a density of sound that two guitars, bass, and drums rarely achieve without sacrificing clarity. Yet, they do it and they do it well. “Third Stone From The Sun” has the sound of a bulldozer gleefully destroying your house and “Bright Lights” is the dance they do around the fire they just started with its remains. It’s malevolently magnificent music making.

Gary Clark Jr. Live transcends blues, roots, soul, and rock. Gary Clark Jr. says it’s all soul music. He certainly seems to pour his soul into making it and the band, featuring Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, and drummer Johnny Radelat, are right there with him, giving their all for the higher power of music. Together they leave it all on the stage. With the energy level captured on this live disc, I don’t know how they do it night after night but I’m glad they do.

 

MississippiHeatWarningShotMississippi Heat

Warning Shot

Delmark

Released September 23, 2014

 

Led by harmonica master Pierre Lacocque and fronted by vocalist Inetta Visor, Mississippi Heat has become one of the most consistently excellent bands in recent memory. Based in Chicago, they have their finger on the pulse of Big City Blues. They deftly handle all styles of Blues and do so with integrity, honesty, and a convincing authority. Warning Shot, on Delmark, is the band’s latest release. It’s out now on CD and will soon be available on vinyl.

Pierre Lacocque blows a mean harp and his flourishes are all over the disc. He’s also the principal songwriter for the band and he has conjured several excellent tunes for the new disc. Warning Shot kicks into high gear immediately with an Elmore James style boogie called “Sweet Poison.” I like the lyrical touches in ‘Sweet Poison” and duality of enjoying the thing that’s dangerous to you. It’s not an entirely new way to phrase it, but it flows in the song and it’s a sentiment everyone can relate to. In many ways, the song encapsulates what’s great about Mississippi Heat. They play familiar music with new twists and remain approachable to listeners. “Come To Mama” has Latin percussion and a Cuban beat, conjuring images of the band leading a dancing audience up and down Rush Street. “Swingy Dingy” is a rockin’ Chicago shuffle, “Too Sad To Wipe My Tears” is a dose of low down back porch blues, and the title track “Warning Shot” is an uptown swing number complete with big background vocals, a horn section, and some hot guitar playing from Carl Weathersby.

Michael Dotson, formerly of Magic Slim & The Teardrops, provides plenty of stellar guitar licks and keeps the band grounded in Chicago Blues territory. He takes lead vocal on a few tracks including the Mississippi Hill Country via Chicago heart-pounder “Yeah Now Baby.” He also rips it up in festive style on the Latin-style “Happy Birthday” which also features percussionist Ruben Alvarez. Vocalist Inetta Visor is a consummate singer and puts her stamp on every song, as if she wrote them herself, which is a testament to her talent and vision as part of Mississippi Heat.

Mississippi Heat have a dedicated following in the Blues community and Warning Shot is might be the one that breaks them open to a wider audience. They captured the raucous spirit of a live show and showcased their ability to meld their influences into a cohesive sound of their own. The mix of instruments and shared lead vocals keep everything from sounding the same and holds your interest over the course of 64 minutes. Warning Shot is an impressive album with something for just about any blues fan.

 

GaryMooreLiveAtBushHall2007Gary Moore

Live At Bush Hall 2007

Eagle Rock

Released September 23, 2014

 

When the world lost Gary Moore on February 6, 2011 it lost a major musical force. Gary was one of the much maligned Rock & Roll ex-patriots the Blues purists love to hate, but Gary was accepted by two Kings of the Blues and the Master of the Telecaster, all of whom were guests on his records, and stages around the world. Gary truly appreciated the music and those who made it before he did. He was always respectful of the art form and played it with his usual individuality. Freedom of expression has always been a hallmark of blues and roots music and Gary managed to forge a blues sound of his own. His blues were never more dynamic than in the live setting and the proof is in the new album Live At Bush Hall 2007.

This show, recorded on May 17, 2007 at London’s picturesque 400-person capacity Bush Hall, was originally broadcast by Planet Rock radio. Gary had just released Close As You Get This and to promote it, he worked with Planet Rock to give away tickets for this intimate show. This CD release marks the first time the complete show has been available since its original broadcast. The concert features a handful of tunes from Close As You Get such as “Eyesight To The Blind” and “If The Devil Made Whiskey,” which he rarely played live afterward. For all his storied guitar histrionics Moore was able to bring it down and deliver beautifully delicate songs like “I Had A Dream” and “Still Got The Blues.” “I Had A Dream” is a master class in playing for the song and keeping the melody in mind while soloing.

Gary Moore also tips his hat to his blues mentors with a contrarily energetic version of Albert Collins’ “Too Tired,” a snarling “Walking By Myself,” and a nine minute romp through Little Milton’s “Blues Is Alright.” For the Thin Lizzy faithful, Moore plays a blistering “Don’t Believe A Word.” Gary Moore was a musician like Johnny Winter, in the sense that he could come out and play anything and hold the audience captive. It wasn’t about hits. It was about great songs, exciting playing, and engaging the crowd. The music world lost a unique and talented player when Gary Moore died. Luckily, through his albums and archival live releases like Live At Bush Hall 2007, we can continue to appreciate the genius of his craft.

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

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

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

 

JimiHendrixTheCryOfLoveJimi Hendrix

The Cry Of Love

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

 

JimiHendrixRainbowBridgeJimi Hendrix

Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

HarpdogBrownWhatItIsHarpdog Brown

What It Is

Dog Breath Records

Released March 4, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

 

CocoMontoyaSongsFromTheRoadCoco Montoya

Songs From The Road

Ruf Records

Released on July 8, 2013

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DavePhilAlvinCommonGroundDave & Phil Alvin

Common Ground

Yep Roc

Released June 3, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

JarekusSingletonRefuseToLoseJarekus Singleton

Refuse To Lose

Alligator Records

Released May 6, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

KirbySewellBandGirlWithANewTattooKirby Sewell Band

Girl With A New Tattoo

Smelly Cat Records

Will be released on September 30, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

RobStoneGottaKeepRollinRob Stone

Gotta Keep Rollin’

VizzTone

Released September 9, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

JeffDaleGoodMusicJeff Dale And The South Woodlawners

Good Music

Pro Sho Bidness

Released July 8, 2014

 

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

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

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