Category Archives: CD Review

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

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

LinseyAlexanderComeBackBabyLinsey Alexander

Come Back Baby

Delmark

Released August 19, 2014

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

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

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

 

HeresNikkiHillNikki Hill

Here’s Nikki Hill

Deep Fryed Records

Released April 2014

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

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

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

 

TheReverendShawnAmosTellsItThe Reverend Shawn Amos

The Reverend Shawn Amos Tells It

Put Together

Released April 22, 2014

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

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

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

 

JohnnyWinterStepBackJohnny Winter

Step Back

Megaforce

Released September, 2, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

JohnnyWinterLiveBootlegSeries11Johnny Winter

Live Bootleg Series Volume 11

Friday Music

Released July 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

 

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – August 29, 2014

Welcome back folks. The Friday Fast Five is back after a week off. I hope you found the Two For Tuesday CD reviews we put up on Tuesday. This week we have a wide variety of styles from excellent musicians out there keeping the blues vibrant, potent, and relevant.

 

JayWillieRumblinSlidinJay Willie Blues Band

Rumblin’ And Slidin’

ZOHO Music

Released August 12, 2014

If I see a Firebird and a slide on an album cover, I’m in, and thus Jay Willie Blues Band had me interested before I ever heard a note of the new Rumblin’ And Slidin’ CD. I was not disappointed. This is fresh sounding music, even when it’s old. Jay Willie’s vocals have a bemused innocence that obfuscates the seasoned professional within. Rumblin’ And Slidin’ starts with a spacey version of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” Harpmeister Jason Ricci completely disguises his harmonica with effects until it sounds like Funkadelic playing the blues. “Key To The Highway” is a stomping dirge with more howling harp from Ricci. The relentless pounding beat takes this tune in a new direction and makes it a standout track on the album and among the myriad versions of this all-time classic.

“Fly Away” is a spirit-lifting take on the Edgar Winter tune. Guest Suzanne Vick sings it convincingly; urging us all to believe anything is possible. Jason Ricci blows his harp for all he’s worth in “It Hurts Me Too” which is given a stripped down arrangement. It sounds like it was recorded live in crystal cavern 60 feet underground. The resonant slide riffs entwine with the harmonica to create a demonic howl born in the depths of Hell. The covers are interesting but the originals are damned good too. On “Dirty 2:30” Willie’s slithery slide lubricates the proceedings and bassist Steve Clarke takes a funky solo as the tune closes. “Bad News” is rambunctious fun and “Rotten Person” is the best Johnny Winter song I’ve heard in a while. That’s a compliment. The Firebird and slide, Bobby Torello’s raspy vocal delivery, and the amusing subject wrap it all up in classic blues rock style. I love it.

The album closes with four bonus live tracks that make me long for more. The Jay Willie Blues band absolutely cooks on these tracks. “Hold Me Tight Talk Dirty” and “Tore Down” are raucous and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is turned into a funky hard rock jam. These four tunes make a great case for catching the band live wherever they’re Rumblin’ And Slidin’. Until then, this disc will more than tide you over.

 

DavinaVagabondsSunshineDavina & The Vagabonds

Sunshine

Roustabout Records

Released July 15, 2014

The blues genre is like a forest. There are many types of trees, all part of the larger landscape twisted together at root level and bound by the earth that surrounds them. Blues and jazz roots mingle below the soil and new hybrids occasionally emerge. Springing from this fertile ground comes Davina And The Vagabonds. Somehow they avoid convention while embracing tradition. There are no guitars; no harmonicas. No sax man. Instead they use trombones, trumpets, and tubas. Davina’s piano is, of course, prominent. The tone is earthy, dreamy and nostalgic. The musicians have changed a bit since their last disc, but the new disc Sunshine is brighter than a gleaming sousaphone.

The title track opens the disc with what sounds like Davina singing through an old wind-up Victrola and morphs into an upbeat anthem for rejuvenation. “Flow” is a bouncy track built on Davina’s piano figure, and chiming horns. It is New Orleans Jazz stripped to its core. “Fizzle Out” sounds impossibly contemporary, “Red Shoes” it a delightful romp that makes you want to stay home with Davina every night, and “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” is a defiantly strutting cover of the Eddie Miller track.

The music on Sunshine has camp, sass and coy sexuality. It could be played at 2 a.m. in a smoky jazz club or when throwing open the curtains at dawn. It will make you dance, writhe, and relax. The instrumentation is deceptively primitive, and the band conjures creative arrangements which prevent your ears from recognizing the con. The piano deftly connects the odd instrumentation and captures your attention in a web of delightful music you’d never expect to enjoy this much. It also helps that Davina writes clever songs and delivers them with panache. Davina And The Vagabonds are a throwback to the days before blues, when minstrels roamed the country side bringing entertainment and music to masses. Their ability to capture this spirit on tape is an accomplishment in itself. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it.

 

RipLeePryorNobodyButMeRip Lee Pryor

Nobody But Me

Electro-Fi Records

Released April 15, 2014

Rip Lee Pryor is the son of Blues legend Snooky Pryor. His new disc is his second foray into the music business. His first time around was spent touring and playing guitar with his dad. He put out an independent CD in 1999 and promptly left the music scene in 2000 to focus on carpentry. All the while, Rip wanted to play again. Some personal issues including a bout with cancer stopped him from returning. Today, Rip Lee’s cancer has been in remission since 2011 and he’s not wasting any more time. He’s been touring the world, taking his blues to South America, Europe, and across the USA. In 2013 he spent two days recording his re-entry disc, Nobody But Me. It mixes a handful of originals with tunes by his dad, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Elmore James. The result is an intimate, foot-tapping record that brings Rip Lee Pryor right into your living room.

Nobody But Me starts off rocking with “Shake Your Boogie.” She’s out there shaking her boogie, if you know what I mean. The title track is a one of three Rip Lee Pryor originals. It’s pure Rip Lee, just the man and his guitar, harp and voice doing what he does best. His rudimentary guitar strumming is propulsive as his thumb keeps the beat on the bottom strings and he puffs away on the harmonica into a handmade mic. His voice has a personal quality that draws you in even when the words are sparse as they are on “Nobody But Me.” “You Got To Move” is gentle and earthy yet emphatic. He’s not happy about it but still you got to go. Sorry. Here’s your hat. “Stuck On Stupid” is another of his originals and displays a keen wit. Rip Lee’s originals fit perfectly with the covers and it’s a shame he didn’t write more for the record.

My personal tastes lean more toward his songs with drums and bass, but I found myself draw into the solo performances in a way that doesn’t usually happen. Rip Lee Pryor may be the son of a famous blues man but, Rip Lee is his own man and it comes through in his music. Nobody But Me is appropriately titled. As you listen you get a clear portrait of the man and his music. With his quiet rasp, sparse guitar, and lonesome harmonica, Rip Lee Pryor strips away any pretense, shine, or clutter and gets to the heart of each song he performs.

 

SelwynBirchwoodDontCallNoAmbulanceSelwyn Birchwood

Don’t Call No Ambulance

Alligator Records

Released June 10, 2014

In 2013, Selwyn Birchwood won the International Blues Challenge and the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award which caught the eyes and ears of Alligator Records’ president Bruce Iglauer. The Florida native has been touring steadily since winning the IBC, building a fan base the old fashioned way. The Alligator debut Don’t Call No Ambulance should have no problem adding to that fan base especially in light of its presence near the top of the blues charts for weeks and weeks.

Selwyn’s appearance and youth belies his deep voice and mature musical sound. He’s been touring since the age of nineteen when he was a member of Sonny Rhodes’ band. He displays a command of several blues styles and delivers a diverse album. “Addicted” is the opener and pumps hard in the fashion of many tunes in the Alligator catalog. It is especially reminiscent of Albert Collins’ work. Selwyn rips it up over a funky bass line that recalls Johnny B. Gayden. This tune mixes Collins with Freddie King and pulls together two and a half minutes of effervescence that perfectly opens this tour de force album. From there, the band lances into the Hill Country stomp of the title track. This one rocks and rolls at a frenetic pace that feels like it very well may require an ambulance.

Drummer Curtis Nutall spent five years in Joe Louis Walker’s band and his former boss turns up to play slide on the scorching “The River Turned Red.” “Love Me Again” is a gentle plea for forgiveness; “Brown Paper Bag” is a nine minute showcase explaining why he won the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award. “Queen Of Hearts” has a funky groove and shows off the talent of band saxophonist Regi Oliver. The bass is positively pulsating while Oliver plays a fat solo, then Selwyn jumps in with a solo on the edge of restraint. He has the opportunity to overplay but never does. “Overworked And Underpaid” is a quiet lonesome lament with guest RJ Harman on harmonica. Birchwood plays the blues lowdown and gritty on lap steel, glistening like the sweat on his brow. The disc closes back-porch boogie style with “Hoodoo Stew.” It’s a jumping slide guitar jam that will make your crawfish boil without ever lighting a fire. It closes the album on a high note for sure, and leaves you wanting more. Selwyn Birchwood is the total package. He has an identifiable, satisfying voice, finely honed songwriting skills, and outstanding guitar chops. He should be leading the vanguard of young blues players for years to come.

 

MannishBoysWrappedUpAndReadyMannish Boys

Wrapped Up And Ready

Delta Groove Records

Released June 17, 2014

The Mannish Boys are a loose collective of west coast blues all-stars spearheaded by Randy Chortkoff. Though the lineup may change, the quality of the music remains high and the dynamic membership keeps the it fresh. This time around, for Wrapped Up And Ready, coordinator-in-chief Randy Chortkoff is joined by Sugar Ray Rayford on vocals and harmonica, Kirk Fletcher and Frank Goldwasser on guitars, Willie J. Campbell on bass, and Jimi Bott on drums. Rotating in and out of the lineup on this disc are special guests including Candye Kane, Bob Corritore, Laura Chavez, Kim Wilson, Kid Ramos, Steve Freund, Monster Mike Welch, and Fred Kaplan among others.

“I Ain’t Sayin’” is a strutting opener with Monster Mike Welch sitting in on lead guitar. Mike plays on eight tracks and may as well join the band; he fits in seamlessly with the ensemble. Speaking of the ensemble, you need a score card to keep up with the personnel on this disc but the amazing feat is the cohesive sound and tone of the album. Everyone contributes their talents to the greater good, which turned out great. For instance, Steve Freund sits in as lead guitarist on “It Was Fun” and plays tasty licks that elevate the song and keep it interesting. Fred Kaplan plays piano on eleven tunes and his accents and fills add significant textures all over the album. His fills in the Candye Kane sung “I Idolize You” sparkle like Candye’s delivery. With Wrapped Up And Ready Chortkoff has created a blueprint for making a perfect blues album. You might expect such a contrivance to seem forced and lack personality, but therein lays his genius. While Chortkoff plays and sings occasionally, his real talent seems to lie in matching musicians to material for the best possible result.

Sugar Ray Rayford puts a lot of personality into his delivery and his harp playing is top notch throughout Wrapped Up And Ready. “You Better Watch Yourself” gives Rayford and guitarist Kirk Fletcher plenty of sparring room. Steve Freund returns to blaze a path through a tune he wrote and sang called “The Blues Has Made Me Whole.” While highlights abound on Wrapped Up And Ready, Kirk Fletcher’s closer “Blues For Michael Bloomfield” is a scorcher. Monster Mike Welch joins Fletcher and takes the second solo but truly the whole song is full of guitar soloing so listen close for the guitar tones to change. Clocking in over eight minutes, it serves up a stunning testament to Fletcher and Welch. They channel Bloomfield, filter it through their own styles and deliver an incredibly moving and scalding finale. This is a breathtaking way to end a superb record. I highly recommend picking this one up and I dare you to find all the personnel changes without looking!

Fresh Biscuits! Two For Tuesday CD Reviews

Well Biscuiteers, we were very busy last week and it was capped by a trip to Rochester to see Dan Baird & Homemade Sin so I didn’t get to the Friday Fast Five Reviews. So, today we’re going with a favorite American radio cliche and do Two For Tuesday. Fast Five should be back this week but we have some other things lined up too so we’ll see what happens. Until then…

BillyThompsonFriendCDCoverBilly Thompson

Friend

Soul Stew Records

Released September 2013

Friend is a fitting title for the new album from Billy Thompson. He is joined by many musicians he calls friend, and many of the songs address relationships in society that would benefit from amicable, friendly relations. In opener “Soldier of Misfortune” Thompson sings about the effect of the military industrial complex on our society and the lives it affects, including soldiers returning injured, both mentally and physically. They need a lot of things, not least of which is a friend. Thompson’s stinging guitar punctuates his points and he pours out his distress at the situation through his playing. “Many Faces” addresses racial and cultural divides that could be eliminated if we focused on our commonalities – a friendly notion indeed. Billy’s friend Ron Holloway sits in on sax, contributing a spirited solo and tasty fills.

Billy Thompson’s style reminds me of Little Feat so I wasn’t surprised to learn Kenny Gradney and Bill Payne sat in on Friend. “Garden” features Bill Payne on keys and has a churning beat and greasy slide. Thompson’s voice is a perfect blend of Lowell George and Paul Barrere and makes this sound like long lost 70’s Feat. That’s a good thing. “Satisfied” features both Gradney and Payne, and drummer Eric Selby lays down a driving, marching beat. Thompson’s guitar work is slippery, slick, and slithering. This is a fast paced rocker and will definitely get you moving. “Got To Be Did” has a Little Feat feel too and features no one from Little Feat at all. Four songs on Friend feature the keyboard talents of Mike Finnigan. You may have seen Finnigan’s name in the credits for Jimi Hendrix’ Electric Ladyland or from The Phantom Blues Band. Finnigan’s chops are in fine form on Friend. All the keyboard players on Friend, including Mike Peed and Wes Lanich, add depth and intrigue to the music. They keyboards serve as a great counterpoint to Thompson’s guitar and in other places provide layers of sound.

Friend is a highly satisfying album and covers a lot of bases. The stellar musicianship and the friendly attitude between the bandleader Billy Thompson, his guests, and his road band allowed the best possible music to be made. Friend came out in 2013, and if you missed it, here’s your chance to catch up with this tremendous music.

 

JBlakeWhenYouComingHome300x300J. Blake

When You Coming Home?

Independent release

Released August 2014

When Are You Coming Home? is the debut disc from New York City’s J. Blake. The title track is a slow burning blues tour de force. At five and a half minutes it’s the longest tune of the set and he leaves it all hanging out. Impassioned vocals, searing solos, and a broken relationship spin into a perfect storm. “When You Coming Home?” is one of three tunes written or co-written by Blake on the disc including opener “Ain’t No Good (At Lovin’ You)”. This swampy blues showcases J. Blake’s gritty vocals, and the lyrics are a twist on the classic tale of woe. Instead of the woman complaining about his running around and drinking, he’s laying it out for her instead, without apology and without remorse. There are several twists on the record and they make for an enjoyable listen, especially given his choice of covers.

J. Blake has a knack for making covers interesting. Sometimes I hate covers, especially when a million and one people have done the song, like “Spoonful.” A lot of people know the Howlin’ Wolf version and maybe even more know the Cream version and somewhere in between you get the style of most covers. Blake deconstructs “Spoonful” and rebuilds it as a smoky jazz club tune to be played around 2 am when booze soaked patrons are looking around at their final options to stave off loneliness yet again. Keyboardist Stephen Hastings owns this version and his cascading runs make you forget about the guitar heavy versions of “Spoonful” you’ve heard all your life. The rhythm section of Mike Berman on bass and Scott Hamilton on drums work magic on this track too, as does J. Blake, who avoids the guitar histrionics and overwrought vocals in exchange for a gentler delivery all around. This is a great re-imaging of a classic tune.

Blake twists another classic around in knots too with Led Zeppelin’s “Rock And Roll.” He puts it to a Bo Diddley beat and his almost whispered vocals are the antithesis of the wailing Robert Plant. It’s a fitting tribute to a band notorious for keeping lyrics and eschewing the original music in exchange for the more dynamic Page riffery. Blake makes great use of the Diddley beat and you’ll be scratching your head wondering what other Led Zeppelin tunes could be turned on their heads this way. Blake may have only a few original compositions on the disc, but his rearrangements of others are inventive and certainly original. This is an auspicious first step and I look forward to the future.

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – August 15, 2014

Welcome to the second installment of the Friday Fast Five! There seems to be a roadhouse theme that appeared as I was writing these reviews. Each artist featured would satisfy even the rowdiest of Hank Jr’s friends. They can all play sweet, soothing blues but it’s the barnburners that really set them free. If you’re looking for some good time, rough and tumble blues this weekend maybe one or all of these albums will kick it up a notch. As always, feel free to comment, argue, and tell me I’m way off base. Comment here, Facebook or Twitter.

JohnMayallASpecialLifeJohn Mayall

A Special Life

Forty Below Records

Released on May 13, 2014

Another John Mayall record? Is there really such a thing as just another Mayall record? Let’s find out. John Mayall has spent his life playing and singing the blues and it has certainly been A Special Life indeed. The Godfather of the British Blues has become a legend just for introducing the world to legends like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, and several others. However, along the way he has amassed a catalog of roots and blues music almost unparalleled by other blues musicians. Mayall is a consummate musician and bandleader and seems to never begrudge his students when they outshine the teacher. He is a gentleman of the blues.

A Special Life is the gentleman’s new album and it bristles with excitement and energy. “Why Did You Go Last Night” kicks off the album in New Orleans style as CJ Chenier sits in for a rollicking romp through his father Clifton’s tune. “Speak Of The Devil” revisits Sonny Landreth’s tunes with tough lead guitars and Mayall’s robust but plaintive tenor. “That’s All Right” takes us to Chicago via London and “Big Town Playboy” is a strutting Texas roadhouse shuffle. Too my ears, “Floodin’ In California” is Mayall’s shining moment on A Special Life. On this Albert King tune, Mayall’s levee breaks and the tune is flooded with waves of agonized organ artistry. It’s beautiful and immensely moving. Mayall also plays some lead guitar on the tune and leaves the King Albert licks to Rocky Athas.

A Special Life is well-produced, crisp, effervescing record from an 80 year old musician. Let that sink in for a moment. He’s singing great, playing well, and still writing excellent tunes about his passions. Whether he’s singing, blowing harp, or rocking out on the guitar, he’s putting younger men to shame. There will be a time someday when there will be no more new music from John Mayall, so to answer my own question, no. There is no such thing as just another Mayall record and this one proves it. Enjoy it.

 

LeeDelray570-BluesLee Delray

570-Blues

Available at CDBaby

Released Spring 2013

570-Blues came across my desk last year and unfortunately I wasn’t able to place a review of it anywhere. We’re going to fix that right now. 570-Blues is a solid collection of modern electric blues. What does that mean? Is it generic blues? Far from it. Lee Delray mixes styles of his influences. You can’t really tell if he’s playing a B.B. King lick or an Albert Collins lick. Maybe it’s Luther Allison. Maybe you shouldn’t analyze it so much and just enjoy it. He’s a New York City white boy and he knows his way around the blues. He’s even been sanctified by the Chubb Fatha himself, Popa Chubby. “Don’t Tell me I Can’t Get The Blues” tells Lee’s tale of blues living and street-side schooling and displays a lot of the guitar chops he’s picked up along the way.

Lee Delray’s guitar playing is good; maybe too good. I hear him play and I just want to hear him cut loose and roughen the edges a little. Some of 570-Blues feels like Lee is holding back in his guitar playing. Maybe it’s the recording studio environment. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker, Lee you’ve got it in you and you gotta let it come out! Let that boy boogie! I had this feeling most of the way through 570-Blues and then came “No Time Blues” This was it. Lee’s playing on this one is incandescent and worth the wait. Lee rips it wide open and lets loose in a way the rest of the albums suggests he could but never did. How’s that for a convoluted sentence? My head was still spinning I guess. 570-Blues is a great jumping off point and promises a tremendous future for Lee Delray who has musical chops, good songs, and an expressive singing voice. Now let’s get out there and see him live!

 

RBStoneLoosenUpRB Stone

Loosen Up!

Middle Mountain Music

Released on June 18, 2013

RB Stone’s voice sounds like Johnny Van Zant. You can say what you want about modern Lynyrd Skynyrd and I’d probably agree with most of it but Johnny has a hell of a voice and so does RB Stone. It’s got warmth even when singing lyrics that come with a wink and a nod. He sounds like he having fun, but he wants you to have fun right along with him. His singing style and intonation perfectly match his roadhouse ready tunes. His guitar playing ain’t to shabby either. His songs are adeptly constructed. He matches his bemused lyrics with just the right riffs.

The album also benefits from the sturdy production of “Producer of the Blues Stars” Tom Hambridge. Hambridge is also a fine musician and writer, and he pays drums on Loosen Up! The tunes range from the poignant “God Heals You When You Cry” to the hard driving “I Ain’t Buying That Bull Today.” “Texas Drunk Tank Blues” is exactly what it says and has an appropriately rollin’ and tumblin’ beat. Album opener “High Horse” sets the tone for the whole of Loosen Up! with its Telecaster shuffle and smirking lyrics about cutting loose and having a good time for once in your pontificating life. Loosen up indeed.

RB Stone’s guitar playing is impressive and he’s equally adept on slide, punctuating the title track “Loosen Up” with appropriately greasy licks. RB unleashes the slide on a cigar box guitar too, which appears on “Harley Heart,” the breakneck album closer. This is fun, booze-drinkin’, pool-shootin’, dust-kickin’, duck-walkin’, house-rockin’ boogie on a Saturday night and Sunday’s comin’ much too soon music. Loosen Up! has also been floating around my desk and made it into my car a few months ago and I’ve been enjoying the Hell out of it since. Send all your speeding tickets to RB. They’re his fault.

 

Nighthawks444The Nighthawks

444

EllerSoul Records

Released on June 17, 2014

I’ve always thought of the Nighthawks as a Rock & Roll band. Hell, their first album 40 years ago was called Rock ‘n’ Roll. It comes as no surprise that 40 years on The Nighthawks are still out there beating the drum for early Chuck Berry and Elvis-style Rock & Roll. Sure they play the blues and sure they’ve backed up every Blues legend who ever rode through the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and sure they’ve spawned a pair of legends themselves in Mark Wenner and Jimmy Thackery, but at their heart is a Rock & Roll band. This is a good thing. It keeps moneymakers moving and grooving way until the break of dawn. 444 is a throwback to the early days of Rock & Roll. Please note I’m not saying “Rock.” We’re talking Rock & Roll: boogie that swings, bounces, bops, and pops. It’s Chuck Berry’s sped up blues and the Nighthawks know it inside out.

Thankfully The Nighthawks aren’t as rhythmically repetitive as Chuck became, and they cover a lot of ground, from the acoustic roots of Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” to The Du Droppers’ vocal workout “Walk That Walk.” The title track “444” is one of those classic “had the girl out to late” tunes that were popular in the era before profanity. It chugs along with the urgency of a young man being chased by her angry daddy. “Got A Lot Of Livin’” absolutely pops. Mark Wenner’s howling harp is all over the record. He has a rich, thick tone that never gets to the fingernails-on-chalkboard screeches employed by lesser mortals. The band’s line-up has been somewhat unstable over the years but Wenner has held it all together and still puts out excellent Nighthawks music. If you’ve got the blues and need a pick-me-up, grab your girl and keep her out late cuttin’ the rug to 444.

 

ChrisOLearyLiveAtBluesNowChris O’Leary Band

Live At Blues Now!

VizzTone Label Group

Released on August 12, 2014

Chris O’Leary is the former front man of Levon Helm’s Barnburners. The Chris O’Leary band was formed in 2007 around a tight group of road warriors. Chris’ years spent with the Barnburners, backing up an eclectic mix of musicians at Levon Helm’s New Orleans club, and touring the country afterward, turned him into a musical medium. He channels a multitude of blues & soul styles authoritatively. It’s hard to believe he grew up closer to Albany, New York than New Albany, Mississippi. The blues pours out of his fuzz-drenched, raspy harp and his band is right there with him at every twist and turn. After two successful and acclaimed studio albums, this red hot combo has unleashed a sizzling live album.

Live At Blues Now! has tunes from both studio albums and a grooving, bouncing version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Wish You Would.” Chris sings some of it through the harp mic and his vocals take on a Howlin’ Wolf snarl. I was really excited to have a live version of “Tchoupitoulas” (that’s “Chop-ih-too-liss” to you and me). If “Tchoupitoulas” doesn’t get you moving you may be dead. Have someone take your pulse immediately. Administer mouth to mouth as desired. It should have you singing and dancing like you’re down at Tipitina’s with the second-line hot on your heels. The whole album, from the opener “Give It” to the closer “History” has incredible drumming. The beats are almost tribal, churning and chopping, like waves of the sea surging and receding, thrusting the band forward, reeling rocking in rhythmic ecstasy.

On “Trouble,” special guest guitarist Alex Schultz rides the rhythmic waves like a man who’s conquered the Pipeline. Chris O’Leary’s harp cuts through like a thrusting oar and keeps the band on course. The shimmering guitars of “Louisiana Woman” and lonesome harp conjure a hoodoo mist across the bayou and “Water’s Risin’” swings, rocks and reels. This is rock & roll blues at its best, combining gospel vocals, Chuck Berry rhythms, and dueling guitars into a spicy gumbo of American music which pretty much encapsulates the Chris O’Leary Band. This band is the real deal. Bring the band into your living room, car, or bayou back porch with Live At Blues Now!

If you are interested in these or any other Fresh Biscuits! click on our link to buy from Amazon or visit the artists pages linked in the reviews. As always, please support the artists!

Fresh Biscuits! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews August 8, 2014

Welcome to the first installment of Friday Fast Five CD Reviews. I hope to do this every week. There’s a lot of music out there to sort through and we’re here to help you find something appealing. The idea is to present five short and to-the-point reviews in 300 words or less. Yeah, I didn’t think I could do it either!

Maybe you’ll love something I don’t and maybe you won’t like something I love. Be sure to comment here, or on Facebook or Twitter. Alright, let’s get to it…

 

AndyTNickNixonBand-LivinItUpAndy T & Nick Nixon Band
Livin’ It Up
Delta Groove
Released June 17, 2014

Livin’ It Up is the follow up to Andy T & Nick Nixon’s 2013 breakout album Drink Drank Drunk. It’s big but uncluttered, crisp, clean Rhythm & Blues. Nick Nixon has a smooth voice and a heartfelt delivery. Andy T mixes classic guitar influences from T. Bone Walker to Jimmy Rogers into a personal style with rich tone that avoids being derivative. These guys know the importance of creating your own music beyond your influences and they do it well. They claim to play Chicago, Texas, and New Orleans Blues and R&B. Somehow they manage to wrap all those styles into a singular package without getting messy or losing the plot.

“Livin’ It Down” is ostensibly the title track. She undoes everything he has and while she’s out there livin’ it up, he’s trying to live it down. He had his “ducks in a row and she shot ’em.” That’s cold! The words are playful and fun even though Nixon gets continuously dumped on by his erstwhile love. Nick Nixon is a consummate vocalist and varies his intensity according to the song. He can be silky smooth or rasp saw rugged and Andy T plays exactly what’s needed to accompany his partner’s voice. Both men work for the song, making every track a keeper. The band falls in behind and consistently delivers big grooves and deep blues. Larry Van Loon is a master of Hammond B3 dynamics and Ron Jones and Dana Robbins shine on saxophone. Producer Anson Funderburgh puts it all in the blender and serves up fresh organic blues with the finest ingredients. If you want fun, good time blues with a vintage feel this is your band.

 

AnthonySherrodRedsJukeJointSessionsAnthony “Big A” Sherrod & The Cornlickers
Red’s Juke Joint Series Vol. 2
Independent
Unknown release date – Summer 2014

Anthony “Big A” Sherrod is around 30 years old, plays guitar like a man possessed, sings from his soul, and entertains a crowd like he was born for the stage. He’s the total blues package and very few people have heard of him outside Clarksdale, MS. Very little about him can be found on line and if not for his two stellar performances at Briggs Farm Blues Festival this past July I’d know even less about him. This CD was, as the title suggests, recorded at Red’s Lounge. Red’s is one of the last true jukes in Clarksdale and is featured heavily in the film We Juke Up In Here. Big A is also featured in the film and wrote the title song for the film. This disc captures the energy of Big A’s live show, backed by Big Jack Johnson’s former band, The Cornlickers. The Cornlickers are tight and know every blues lick ever played, every rhythm, every chord. The music in their collective soul and they get the house rockin’ every time.

Sherrod works the crowd like Buddy Guy, and even covers one of Guy’s latter day tunes “Midnight Train.” In his hands it becomes a raucous down home jam instead of the Jonny Lang-overwrought-singing, big-production crossover blues. Anthony plays it so funky you could smell it – something Buddy should have done. “Big A” personalizes “Have You Ever Been Mistreated,” bends the notes long and hard and heats things up by having Rita Engedalen join in for a vocal duet. At the center of the album is a nine minute excursion called “The Blues Is Serious.” Even though Big A has some fun with it and the crowd, you can tell this young man is a serious rising star. The set closes with a raucous “Got Something On My Shoulder,” with Anthony digging deep and playing from the gut. This is good time, Mississippi groove music and it translates well to disc. Keep an ear to the ground for Anthony “Big A” Sherrod. His train will be leaving the Delta shortly and hopefully coming to a stop near you.

Roger Stolle has informed us that Anthony’s CD is available to order from his store in Clarksdale, MS – the legendary Cat Head.



Joe-Louis-WalkerStonyPlainJoe Louis Walker
The Best Of The Stony Plain Years
Stony Plain
Released June 17, 2014

Joe Louis Walker has been on his share of labels, which happens with a lot of blues artists. Stony Plain has released a selection of tunes from his tenure there. From 2008 to 2010, Joe Louis Walker made three records, 2008’s Witness To The Blues, 2009’s Between A Rock and The Blues, and Live On The Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise in 2010. I like it best when Joe rocks it up a little and there is plenty here to scratch that itch from “Eyes Like A Cat” and “I’m Tide” to “Slow Down GTO” but there’s something for everyone here. There’s the big band R&B of “Black Widow Spider,” the jazzy jam of “Highview,” the heart-wrenching soul of “You’re Gonna Make Me Cry” featuring Curtis Salgado, and acoustic back porch blues on “Send You Back.”

JLW’s plaintive vocals and outstanding guitar playing are mainstays of the collection no matter what direction Joe sends the music. Part of the fun of a Joe Louis Walker record is wondering where it’s going next. He’s a blues man by trade but he is a well-rounded musician who draws inspiration from a multitude of sources. He has become a master of compiling those sources on record and keeps them coherent. The Best Of The Stony Plain Years gives a glimpse of all Joe’s styles and because of his eclectic tendencies, this works well as a standalone album.

 

RickEstrinNightcatsLiveRick Estrin & The Nightcats
You Asked For It…Live!
Alligator Records
Released July 8, 2014

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats are the result of Little Charlie Baty retiring in 2009. The band Little Charlie & The Night Cats changed the name, added Chris “Kid” Anderson on guitar and took off with their new moniker. The sound has remained familiar as Estrin has always been the singer, harp player, and principal writer. His sly lyrics, self-deprecating humor, and astute word play make the songs interesting and the band can play anything. They can get deep in the pocket, funk it up, or dust up the boards with a rollicking shuffle. The new disc, by popular demand, is You Asked For It…Live!

There’s a lot of good humor here including “My Next Ex-Wife,” “New Old Lady,” ‘Dump That Chump,” and “That’s Big.” Estrin’s harp playing is in fine form all over this album and it no surprise that he is every bit as good live as he is on record. Kid Anderson has settled into his role whether comping behind the soloist or burning up the fret board. He’s a full-blown Nightcat by now and brings a lot of energy to the band. “Smart Like Einstein” gives everyone a chance to jam and keyboardist/bassist Lorenzo Farrell plays his ass off, and effortlessly covers the deep end even when working his magic on the keys.

Surprisingly, the disc has no tracks from the band’s two albums as Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, so I’m not sure how well it represents their live show, but it’s only one disc and maybe they didn’t want to repeat recent offerings. What we do get on You Asked For It…Live! is energetic and entertaining especially with Estrin’s stage banter and stories. Whatever the reason, if You Asked For It…Live!, you got it: 76 minutes of fun.

 

SuitTyThurrstyPeopleInTheStreetCDSuit Ty Thurrsty
People In The Street
FYI Music
Released December 16, 2013

Suit Ty Thurrsty play Blues, Rock, Funk, Soul, & Hip-Hop. I don’t know if it’s a new hybrid or not but they are convincing. The trio is named for its members Tom “The Suit” Forst, Tyree “TY” Pope, and Pedro “Bigg Thurrsty” Johnson. Their assorted backgrounds meet in R&B and Soul and their music weaves in and out of the modern R&B idiom. This isn’t James Brown’s R&B nor it is blues, but it’s not not-blues either. It’s a peculiar mix. Many songs have group vocals that maintain the R&B/Soul vibe, however, much like the real People In The Street, there is a lot of diversity here. “You Make Me Real” draws from ballads of sidewalk soul singers and “Drawers” rips everything wide open with its punky metal blues. There are nods to Jimi Hendrix all over this record, most obviously on “Diamonds” which has parallels with “Purple Haze,” especially during the verses. “Same Old Song” is the closest to straight blues but it also has a 70’s blues rock feel and squealing ZZ Top style guitar leads.

Suit Ty Thurrsty is trying to be a lot of things at once and while I can appreciate the desire to avoid being pigeon-holed, sometimes you need to establish a tone for your music and build from there. People In The Street has the feel of throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks. It’s messy and scattered and even includes a bonus track alternate version of “Same Old Song.” It’s like they’re saying “if you didn’t like the hard blues version here’s a funky urban version.” Their overall success might be better served if they pick one and stick with it. They do offer samples on their website so check it out.

Fresh Biscuits! Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson – For Pops CD Review

ForPopsMudMorganfieldKimWilsonCDCoverMud Morganfield & Kim Wilson

For Pops: A Tribute To Muddy Waters

Severn Records

I have mixed feelings about tribute albums, and about children of legends attempting to carry on the legacy. I think it’s great that the heirs are interested in music, and it makes sense they would engage in music similar to their parents. However, if they try to clone the past work it often falls flat or comes off as dishonest because the music isn’t theirs. It is their parents’ music. Whether it is Muddy Waters, Luther Allison, Elmore James, John Lee Hooker, Lonnie Brooks, Johnny Copeland or a host of others, that music was theirs. It came from their experiences, their relationships, their toils, triumphs and tribulations. The children of these musicians had different experiences, and trying to re-create the music of their elders will never resonate as much as making music of their own. Luckily, Blues is a big tent and those who stick with the family business have plenty of space to stake out their own claim.

Larry “Mud” Morganfield got started late in the game, but with his live shows and two critically acclaimed albums he has begun to develop his own version of traditional Chicago Blues. I was pleasantly surprised by his Severn Records debut, Son Of The Seventh Son. I was initially dubious of Larry Morganfield due to his “Mud” moniker and what I suspected was an attempt to cash in on his father’s legacy. However, the music changed my mind. At first I couldn’t tell if it was flattery or forgery; it was too damned good. The amount of care that went into the music could not come from anything other than the genuine article.

Apparently many people picked up on Mud’s sincerity and Severn was flooded with requests to get him and Kim Wilson on record together. According to Severn Records president David Earl, they “couldn’t ignore all the requests. After we released Mud Morganfield’s Son Of The Seventh Son album and The Fabulous Thunderbirds’ On The Verge disc, the phone was ringing off the hook and the inbox was flooded with emails. The topic was always the same: ‘You have to get Mud and Kim to do an album together!” Mud and Kim were in agreement and the duo set forth to commemorate the 100th anniversary of McKinley Morganfield’s birth, ambiguous as it is.

Mud captures the spirit of his father’s vocals, but even more so, he captures the tone and phrasing so well that if you close your eyes and listen close you’d swear it was Muddy reborn with his 21st Century mojo working. However, if you keep your eyes closed and ears open you’ll also hear Mud loud and clear. The variations are there and somehow they make me smile. I want to know Mud is in there, giving us his version of this treasured music. Mud’s partner for this outing, Kim Wilson, is a music legend in his own right. Wilson successfully evokes all of Muddy’s harp players from Little Walter and James Cotton to Junior Wells, Paul Oscher and Jerry Portnoy yet remains very much Kim Wilson. The rest of the band is also top notch and features Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn on guitars, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. The album was produced by David Earl and Steve Gomes and recorded at Severn Sound Studios in Annapolis, Maryland.

For-Pops-Mud-and-Kim-hi-res-by-Sam-HoldenMud Morganfield and Kim Wilson picked a great mix of songs, avoiding almost all obvious choices. They chose just enough hits to draw people in but then hit them with some equally great rarities. Muddy Waters had a vast reserve of songs and rehashing his biggest tunes would have been a major misstep. Instead we have Mud and Kim bringing you in with “I Just Want To Make Love To You” and capturing you with “My Dog Can’t Bark” and “Gone To Main Street.” The songs were recorded live with the band in one room and Mud in a vocal booth. The interplay and tightness of this band is incredible and their dedication to their craft is palpable. If Chess Records had modern equipment, this is how these tracks would have sounded. There is just enough mix of old and new to hold your attention and side by side comparisons will reveal the contributions of all involved.

“She’s Got It” has the classic “Mannish Boy” call and response riff with Mud’s hum over top. Wilson and the band have a raw edge that rocks this tune hard. “Just To Be With You” finds Wilson pushing the tune, going deep into his gut and bellowing the blues through his Mississippi Saxophone while Barrelhouse Chuck sublimely tickles the ivories, and Mud energetically and emphatically declares he would do anything, honey, just to be with you. On “I Love The Life I Live, I Live The Life I Love” Kim Wilson’s harp is howling like the highway wind around a tour bus heading South on I-55. Barrelhouse Chuck’s piano takes “I Don’t Know Why” into Chicago boogie territory and he burns up the 88’s with a lot more energy than the original and transforms this fairly obscure tune into a true contender.

“Nineteen Years Old” gives the guitar players some time to shine and again Barrelhouse Chuck steals the show with his ebullient fills. The liner notes don’t say which guitarist takes the slide leads but Mud calls Billy Flynn by name in the song so I suspect it’s him. He has the perfect tone and touch. Muddy’s slide playing was deceptively simplistic. He didn’t play a lot of notes but he knew exactly how to play them. Billy Flynn, if it was him, made Muddy proud for sure with his succinct, impeccable playing. The record closes with another slide guitar driven tune “She Moves Me.” This time, it’s a slow blues dirge and Wilson’s lonesome harp and the forlorn slide play unison runs that will make your hair stand on end.

This particular group of musicians, hand-picked by Mud Morganfield, Kim Wilson and David Earl, is one of the best tribute bands I’ve ever heard. I love this record, and I usually don’t give much attention to tribute albums after a few listens. They are usually superfluous and lacking understanding of the original music and/or musicians. I knew Mud’s style and sense of history already, and what can you say about Kim Wilson? Someday people will be making albums in tribute to him. Even still, I had only moderate expectations of For Pops – A Tribute To Muddy Waters. However, these two men and their band have served up an album that just might serve as the ultimate tribute to McKinley Morganfield. The familiar songs sound so authentic you’ll be digging out the originals in disbelief, and the wide variety of tunes on For Pops will expose listeners to the breadth of Waters’ catalog, hopefully opening their ears to other hidden gems from the late blues master. This is a fitting birthday present to Mud’s Pops and a great way to celebrate the 100th birthday of the father of modern electric blues. You will not find a better tribute to Pops Morganfield than For Pops – A Tribute To Muddy Waters.

Follow this link to hear the opening track on For Pops – A Tribute To Muddy Waters, courtesy of Severn Records:
https://soundcloud.com/jill-kettles/gone-to-main-street-for-pops-mud-morganfield-and-kim-wilson

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Fresh Biscuits! MonkeyJunk – Tiger In Your Tank CD Review

MonkeyJunkTigerInYourTankMonkeyJunk
Tiger In Your Tank (2014 Reissue with Bonus Tracks)
Stony Plain

Tiger In Your Tank is MonkeyJunk’s first album and has now been reissued by their current label, Stony Plain, and the new version includes two bonus tracks recorded in 2014. It’s hard to believe this is a debut album. Their sound seems so fully realized and they play together intuitively like it’s been years but they were a relatively new band at the time of the recording. MonkeyJunk formed around Steve Marriner and Tony Diteodoro, two old friends who enlisted drummer Matt Sobb to round out the trio. Together, they developed their rustic, no-bass sound over a few months of playing live. They were nominated for awards before their debut album came out and the buzz has built to a roar since then.

The album opens with a lonesome harmonica and the Son House quote that gave the band its name. “I’m talkin’ ’bout the Blues. . . I ain’t talkin’ ’bout monkey junk!” and then launches into a high energy take on Muddy Waters’ “I Wanna Put A Tiger In Your Tank.” The insistent beat and snarling guitars propel the song and Marriner’s harp signals the arrival of the chugging freight train MonkeyJunk calls their debut album.  “Pay the Cost” is like a modern day take on “Mother Earth.” No one makes it out alive and the mournful harp and earthy guitar tones remind us of the inevitable dirt nap we all get for playing. “’If You Were Mine” sounds like a Stevie Ray Vaughan take on Otis Rush which probably says more about Otis’ influence on SRV than anything else. MonkeyJunk turn in a fun version with a brisk shuffle pace with some badass barroom blowing on harp from Steve Marriner and a barnstorming solo from Tony D.

Tony D is a skilled slide guitar player which reminds me that guys like Duane Allman, Sonny Landreth, Derek Trucks, Lowell George and the late, great Johnny Winter get all the accolades when it comes to slide guitar but there are a ton of great slide players hiding in plain sight. Unfortunately, with the music business the way it is, you have to actively seek them out. If you are looking for a good one carrying the torch of the legends but melding styles and playing with a masterful touch and intonation listen to Tony D. His slide chops are all over Tiger In Your Tank but he plays in such a natural, organic way that you can hear it and not realize the skill it takes to make it sound that way. For instance, “Blues For Anna” is a classic Chicago Elmore James style slide tune, except that it isn’t. James’ signature riff is missing but not missed because Tony weaves together licks from the Hill Country to the Delta for a swampy, gritty romp through the bayou of Chicago’s South Side.

“Beefy” indeed has a big, bold tone with lyrical playing from Tony D. “Beefy” is a showcase tune for the whole band. Steve Marriner howls and moans on harp, and percussionist Matt Sobb adds a little hoodoo to the big beat. Speaking of hoodoo, “Boogie Man” is surprise take on Freddie King’s Blackwell/Russell composition. This is what cover songs should be: a near reinvention. Any bar band can faithfully reproduce a song and they’ll always be a bar band. MonkeyJunk deconstructs “Boogie Man” and rebuilds it as a swampy, murky stomp that reminds us more of the scary phantom of childhood nightmares than a womanizer in the 70’s discothèques. It might be my favorite Freddie King cover ever.

The additional bonus songs illustrate the continuity of sound this band has had since its debut album. The first is “Lucky One” and is a high energy rocking tune starting off with the fuzzed out guitar riff that fits in well with the 2009 tones on Tiger In Your Tank. It sounds like Sobb is playing a full kit and it’s missing some of the more interesting accents he uses to great effect on other tracks but everything about this tunes says the boys just wanted to rock and I’m right there with them. This is not a throwaway bonus track that leaves you wish the bonus was cash. Well maybe you still want the money, but the song is excellent and doesn’t musically disappoint. “Pueblo” closes the disc with all the hallmarks of this great debut album. Howling, menacing harp, rich rhythmic elements, and sweet guitar tones for miles. I don’t know where this Pueblo is but it’s got to be somewhere in the swamps of Louisiana, among the cypress, tupelo and alligators. For some reason, it reminds me of the way “When The Levee Breaks” ends Led Zeppelin’s fourth album. It’s dark and eerie and keeps you wondering what’s coming next.

So who are MonkeyJunk? Steve Marriner is a multi-instrumentalist supplying vocals, baritone guitar (baritone guitar? yes, please!), and is perhaps known best as one of Canada’s finest purveyors of harmonica blasting and back porch blowing. Steve has toured and performed with Harry Manx and Sue Foley. He’s appeared on Harry Manx recordings, as well as records from JW Jones Blues Band, and Steve Dawson. He also released his own album, Going Up, in 2007. He won the Ottawa Blues Harp Blow-Off at age 14 and got a spot on stage at that summer’s Ottawa Cisco Blues Festival. But is he any good? Yes, he’s good. He also produced the album and played organ on a few tracks. No, he’s not just showing off.

Tony Diteodoro (aka Tony D) has spent 20 years on the Canadian blues scene with his own band as guitar player, singer, and songwriter. He has played festivals on both sides of the Atlantic, toured Europe several times, and played for Canadian Forces troops stationed around the World. He has released six CDs and is active with Blues In The Schools and other charities. So, he’s been around and seems like a nice guy, but can he play? Let’s ask the eight ball… Sources say yes, and they’re quite right.

Last but not least, the engine driver Matt Sobb was a busy Ottawa-based freelance drummer before he joined MonkeyJunk. He has played with Jeff Healey, Johnnie Johnson, Kim Wilson, Colin Linden, and Lee Oskar just to name a few. He can play any style and uses a variety of percussive instruments to add texture and accents to the MonkeyJunk sound. But can he play the blues? Well if Kim Wilson is calling you, you can play the blues.

Together these gentlemen have created a unique sound beyond classification; breaking blues barriers and building a reputation as custodians of the modern blues. Their sound is at once Chicago Blues, swampy Louisiana Blues, Mississippi Hill Country meets Delta Blues with a dash of Folk, Country, and Funk. It could be a disaster musically but they deftly pull it off, seemingly with no effort at all and that’s how you know they’re good. It takes work, practice, and skill to create something so fresh from forms so old. If Son House was around, he’d surely be talking about MonkeyJunk now.

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Fresh Biscuits! Alexis P. Suter Band – Love The Way You Roll CD Review

APSBLoveTheWayYouRollAlexis P. Suter Band
Love The Way You Roll
American Showplace Music

Alexis P. Suter is the owner of that big, booming voice you can hear roaring out of Brooklyn into the heart of the North American continent. The Alexis P. Suter Band’s star is certainly on the rise as accolades continue to pour in and they continue to beguile audiences from town to town. The band burst on to the music scene via Levon Helm’s legendary Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, NY. Levon was captured by what he called Alexis’ wonderful spirit and had the band open for him around 90 times.

By 2012, Alexis was nominated for Best Soul Blues Female Artist at the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards. The band was known for its mix of Blues, Soul, and Gospel influences and continued to build momentum by releasing Two Sides in 2011 and taking the new music to the stage. Perhaps now more than ever the band is poised for a national and international break. Love The Way You Roll is the new album from Alexis P. Suter Band on American Showplace Music and it has all the hallmarks of a classic benchmark album.

“Nuthin’ In The World” drags us onto the boards with a hot jam filled with tasty guitar licks and is built on a churning riff with unexpected changes. The vocals are gritty and the harmonies are loose. This is a stage song and they captured it expertly. “25 Years” is about a significant other sitting in the jailhouse and it looks like they’ll be getting 25 years. It’s another tough barroom blues with a circular riff that accents the futility of waiting 25 years for some idiot who got pinched. Forget making the bail, Alexis, time to move on. If I have any real problem with this album it’s in this song. The words make no reference to unjust accusations or innocence, so the singer seems to weighing the pros and “cons” of waiting for this delinquent. Maybe it was murder and the victim really deserved it. I don’t know, but thinking about is distracting me.

Two songs later I’ve forgotten all about the jailbird and his bail because the John Lee Hooker boogie of “Big Mama” has me enthralled with its chunky riffs and elastic slide guitar. Jimmy Bennett is a helluva guitar player and his work fires just about every song on Love The Way You Roll. In fact, it may be Alexis’ name on the APSB freight train but the engine room is manned by the power trio of Bennett, Bennett & Grappone. The Bennett Brothers, Jimmy on guitar and Peter on bass, interact like they’ve been doing this since the womb. They were truly born to play together, never missing a move the other one makes. Drummer Ray Grappone and Peter Bennett lay down the groove like a heavy duty Rhythm and Blues machine on the verge of Rock and Roll. Jimmy Bennett knows how to write the thick sounding riffs a trio needs and his soloing ranges from passionately restrained to full blown psychedelic bluster. He uses a wide variety of implements from a wah-wah pedal to slide guitar and always has the right tool for the job. He is more than capable of over playing and hogging the spotlight with guitar wizardry but he doesn’t. That’s the mark of a master musician. His contributions, as well as Peter’s and Ray’s, make the whole sound better than the sum of its parts. They are a musical tandem, stretching and twisting in perfect synchrony, and they’re even better live. What was I complaining about again?

The title track “Love The Way You Roll” also features a snarling slide guitar with Alexis sounding imposing and almost evil. This perplexing juxtaposition of subject matter and musical presentation adds tension to the song and really makes it kick. “Gonna Love You” is a sultry slow burn with simmering organ added by journeyman extraordinaire John Ginty. Suter dives into this one and gives a provocative performance. Alexis is credited on only a few songs as a writer, and “Gonna Love You” is one of them, but whoever the author is, from Big Mama Thornton to ASPB vocalist Vicki Bell, Alexis has the innate ability to inhabit the songs and become their essence. Her delivery is impassioned, intense and inspired. Her range of emotions is palpable and she will take you along for the ride through the ups and downs, the joy, the sorrow, the anger; you’ll feel it all in your soul if your heart can take it.

Love The Way You Roll is the antidote to boring retreads of old blues styles. The band is tight, the songs are road-tested, and the energy of this emergent blues power sizzles through the speakers. Most of the songs on Love The Way You Roll are under four minutes and pack a lot of punch. The band hit ‘em hard and get out. The tracks are perfectly tailored, emphasizing all their strengths and any song on Love The Way You Roll could be pulled for airplay or to share with your friends and turn them on the Alexis P. Suter Band juggernaut. I hope the band really likes these songs because they will be playing them for a long time to come.

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Fresh Biscuits! Thorbjorn Risager And The Black Tornado CD Review

ThorbjornRisagerTooManyRoadsThorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado

Too Many Roads

Ruf Records

CD Review by Todor Kenov

One doesn’t need a Master’s Degree in Music to safely state that Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado is one of Denmark’s most successful music exports today. The band was formed by now 42-year old Risager back in 2003. Known for his distinctive powerful and gravelly voice he was first introduced to the blues by a neighbor and friend of his parents, a middle-aged gentleman who played him records by the likes of B. B. King and Ray Charles. Risager started playing the saxophone at the age of 12 and then moved on to guitar while the singing was more of a coincidence at first. By the time he went to high school he was already playing paid gigs.

Thorbjorn Risager studied to be a school teacher and even worked as such for several years. Later on he graduated from the Rhythmic Conservatory in Copenhagen, all the while composing songs, singing and playing with various local musicians. He started his own seven piece band in 2003, composing most of the band’s music himself. Mixing styles from blues, soul, gospel, rock and R&B to funk was his deliberate choice as was the distinctive sound of the band with its horns, individual solos and rolling, almost big-band like grooves.

The Thorbjorn Risager Band released its first album back in 2005 and toured extensively throughout Europe. As of 2013 the band has performed in no less than 17 countries and has released seven successful albums. In 2013 the band, with its name changed to Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, signed a record deal with Ruf Records, a Germany based label founded by Luther Allison’s manager, Thomas Ruf, placing Risager and company among the rows of other famous artists such as Royal Southern Brotherhood, Ana Popovic and Canned Heat.

The new album from Thorbjorn Risager and The Black Tornado, Too Many Roads, was released in March 2014. The album was recorded by Thorbjorn Risager – guitar and vocals, Peter Kehl – trumpet and background vocals, Kasper Wagner – saxophones, Martin Seidelin – drums and background vocals, Peter Skjerning – guitar and background vocals, Emil Blasgaard – keyboards and Soren Boigaard – bass. This time the band chose to self-produce the album.

So far Risager and his band mates have been famous mainly in Europe and the new album is their first attempt to bring their music to a non-European audience. The album comprises twelve songs melting together blues, rock, soul and more than a pinch of New Orleans sound. The general feeling is that of well controlled energy and tight interplay, all the arrangements being the result of teamwork. All in all, the listener gets the typical “Risager sound.”

The album opens with “If You Wanna Leave,” a dynamic rocker about being left by the one you love but being able to cope with this sad situation. As far as influences go, look no further than Bob Seger and his Silver Bullet Band. Another notable song is “Drowning,” which describes the devastating feeling after a break-up, where there’s simply nothing left but sorrow. The distinctive New Orleans vibe helps convey the general feeling of the song.

“Long Forgotten Track” is a ghost story, while the music is in the vein of the late great and sadly missed J. J. Cale. “Through The Years” is a song about a man looking back to a long lost love. It brings together B. B. King’s style of guitar playing and tone, paying tribute to one of Risager’s blues heroes as well as the soul music of the 60’s. “Rich Man” is a socially charged ode to the financial crisis and all those who are profiting from it. The song is characterized by a rich big-band sound. “Play On” closes the album by paying tribute to classic Jerry Lee Lewis style rockabilly.
All in all, Too Many Roads is an album that will appeal not only to blues aficionados, but also to the general music-loving public with its varied moods and styles and brilliant musicianship. Could the next blues sensation come from Denmark? We will live and see.

Meanwhile, you can preview, buy and download the album at Amazon and iTunes.

Fresh Biscuits! Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers – Wide Open CD Review

JimmyThackeryWideOpenCDJimmy Thackery & The Drivers
Wide Open
Jamthack (CD Baby)

Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers are back again, this time with a full CD of all original music. Work began on Wide Open in 2012 at Tony’s Treasures in Cadiz, OH but apparently the band wasn’t happy with the results and only two songs were held over from those sessions. As much as I’d love to hear what they kept in the vault, Wide Open clearly demonstrates the care the band puts into the music. Jimmy Thackery & The Drivers have delivered a stellar, boundless record that captures the spirit of cross country road trip into the big unknown.

The disc starts off with a drum roll and a clean toned guitar, settling into a laid back groove perfectly suited to Thackery’s conversational vocals. “Change Your Tune” is an exercise in restraint, from the tempo to the guitar tones and slowly bent notes of the guitar fills and solos. Jimmy Thackery shows off his mastery of the instrument without showing off and keeps you hanging on each note, especially in the outro solo. The mid tempo blues continue with “Minor Step” which finds the master of the Stratocaster playing a Gibson arch top. The instrumental piece has elements from the jazz greats like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, 50’s rock tunes like “Sleepwalk”, and Latin blues in its rhythms.

While the first two tracks have you thinking this is going to be a mellow trip on I-80 west of Cheyenne with the top down and Big Sky over head, “Coffee And Chicken” finds the band getting greasy and low down, on a dusty road outside of town, on the trail of something resembling a fresh cup of Joe and the Colonel’s greatest achievement. Jimmy turns up the gain, gets gritty with the tones, and he affects a Howlin’ Wolf rasp as he professes his chicken affliction and caffeine addiction.

Thackery’s lyrics are his secret weapon. He sings about common subjects, but his wordplay provides twists and turns of phrase that might leave you shaking your head, smiling, cringing, and laughing; maybe all at the same time. “Coffee And Chicken” might have him praying to the Colonel for a yardbird and cup of mud, but “King Of Livin’ On My Own” further shows off his deft wordplay and storytelling. The song is performed Jug Band style, with a jaunty gait, and almost Vaudevillian lyrics about a man who’s not unhappy to be recently thrust into living on his own. With a sly smile, Thackery delivers lines like “I threw the dishes in the tub, instead of all that rub a dub dub, I sprayed ‘em down with a high pressure garden hose.” Who hasn’t wanted to that once in a while? The king of living alone does it whenever damn well pleases. Altogether it’s a lyrical and musical treat, with Jimmy Thackery playing some engaging acoustic guitar licks under his tale of bachelorhood supremacy.

Jimmy Thackery pulls out the acoustic guitar again in “Run Like The Wind” and in “Shame, Shame, Shame” where it is accented by weeping slide licks that return us to the laid back road trip feel of Wide Open after the sharp, rough and rockin’ “Hard Luck Man” which put us in the passing lane for 5:47 with the pedal to the metal power chords and combustible fretwork. “Keep My Heart From Breakin’” is another tough blues rocker and Thackery unleashes some his most caustic soloing on Wide Open, with whammy bar dives and bent notes flying fast and furious.

“You Brush Me Off” is another low key instrumental, full of nuance and nimble fingered mood making guitar licks. Jimmy Thackery is obviously known for his guitar playing and on Wide Open he displays less histrionics and more subtlety. He expertly sets the moods, makes all the notes count and gives them plenty of room to breathe in the Wide Open. It’s a side of his playing that can be overlooked when discussing his talents. Jimmy Thackery plays fast, he plays wild, he plays loud; but he plays for the song and this record seems to be all about giving the notes space. After a few listens, you’ll pick up on the impact this approach has on the music and it will hopefully enhance your own enjoyment.

The disc closes with a shimmering instrumental that reminds us the heat coming off the highway on the horizon and that our trip through the Wide Open continues into the distance. The track was inspired by and named for the new Thackery home, called “Pondok” by the builders/previous owners. The translation from the South African/Indonesian is “shack or house with a tin roof” and it seems the previous owner and the Thackerys alike realize it’s not the materials that make a home.

Wide Open explores landscapes, soundscapes, homes, tones, and chicken bones. It takes us on the road, shows us the open spaces, and urges us to leave them alone. The Drivers display their knack for understated brilliance. Together, Jimmy Thackery and the band deliver an excellent new album that is not to be missed.

Find Jimmy Thackery And The Drivers on tour. You’ll be sorry you didn’t.

July 10, 2014
Sellersville Theatre – Sellersville, PA
July 11, 2014
Chan’s – Woonsocket, RI
July 12, 2014
Bull Run – Shirley, MA
July 13, 2014
North Atlantic Blues Festival – Rockland, ME
July 15, 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Syracuse, NY
July 16, 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Rochester, NY
July 17. 2014
Dinosaur BBQ – Buffalo, NY
July 18, 2014
Turning Point – Piermont, NY
July 19, 2014
Stanhope House – Stanhope, NJ
July 21, 2014
Iridium – New York, NY
July 23, 2014
St Georges Country Store – St Georges, DE
July 25, 2014
Birchmere – Alexandria, VA w/ Sonny Landreth!
July 26, 2014
Acoustic Stage – Hickory, NC
July 30, 2014
Midway Tavern – Mishawaka, IN
July 31, 2014
Callahan’s – Auburn Hills, MI
Aug 01, 2014
Reggie’s Music Joint – Chicago, IL
August 02, 2014
Famous Dave’s – Minneapolis, MN
Aug 06, 2014
Uncle Bo’s – Topeka, KS
August 08, 2014
George’s – Fayetteville, AR
Aug 09, 2014
Knucklehead’s – Kansas City, MO
Aug 14, 2014
Saint Andrew’s Market Place – Dothan, AL
August 16, 2014
Great American Blues Fest – Panama City Beach, FL
October 11, 2014
Daytona Blues Festival – Daytona, FL
Dec 06, 2014
Bradenton Blues Festival – Bradenton, FL