Category Archives: CD Review

Fresh Biscuits! Alastair Greene Band – Trouble At Your Door CD Review

AlastairGreeneAlastair Greene Band

Trouble At Your Door

Eclecto Groove Records

Delta Groove Productions

Alastair Greene Band’s fifth studio album Trouble At Your Door was released June 17th, 2014 on Eclecto Groove Records. It’s blues; it’s rock; it’s rough and tumble hardy music from guys with loud guitars and a grand devotion to 70’s rock, and I like it.

“People” opens Trouble At Your Door with a stomping slide groove as Alastair Greene calls on people to make a stand or take a fall. “Back Where I Belong” is an updated take on the classic John Lee Hooker boogie riff with gritty tones and rasp-saw soloing. “Red Wine Woman” finds Greene plucking a resonator acoustic guitar while tempting the ladies with fermented grapes of joy.

“Love You So Bad” shows off the chops and makes a play for the Blues Speed Record; “Calling For You” is a spacey, atmospheric slow blues which belies his recent work with Alan Parsons, and “Pretty Price To Pay” calls out a woman on her ability to turn bullshit into art.

“Make The Devil’s Day” is my kind of blues rock song. It kicks in with a snappy drum beat, a chugging bass riff and a soloing electric guitar that fall in one after another and crank it up to rawk. Alastair Greene’s solo goes for the jugular with relentless attack and ferocious licks. Why are songs about the Devil so good?

If you like blues rock from Robin Trower to Gov’t Mule, you’re going to like Trouble At Your Door. Alastair Greene refuses to retread blues clichés in his lyrics, writes gripping songs with immaculately sparse arrangements and he makes every note count. Pop this CD in on the way home from work and you’ll forget all about those pesky TPS reports.

For information about touring and shows check Alastair Greene’s website.

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Fresh Biscuits! Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band – Holler CD Review

ShaneSpealHollerShane Speal’s Snake Oil Band
Holler!
C.B. Gitty Records

Shane Speal, the King Of The Cigar Box Guitar, and his Snake Oil Band has released, or should I say unleashed its new disc into the wild. The Snake Oil Band was born from weekly jam sessions and grew into one of York, PA’s biggest acts. Holler! brings together all the band’s favorites: sex, murder, booze, and Michael Jackson. Yeah, that Michael Jackson. Apparently the Snake Oil Band is known for its Prince covers too. Throw in some Son House, electricity, and a wicked sense of humor and you might start to fathom the depths of the musical depravity found in the Finest Bluest Blues Elixir this side of the Monongahela River. Holler!

I must confess I’ve never heard any of Shane’s previous discs. I didn’t know what to expect and had no frame of reference. I don’t usually go blind into these things but the album cover and the song titles pulled me in. The opening riffs and scorching slide of “49 YEARS” are menacing, mean and murderous; made in Hell, made in Heaven, made to make you dismayed. If Rob Zombie had a jug band it would sound like this. This is Captain Spaulding’s blues. He’s going to play this song while he chases you around the tunnels under his basement and you’ll like it. The song’s protagonist is spending “49 YEARS” in the pen and he’s not happy. Even the title is in CAPS; that’s mad. He’s got murdering in mind and you’ve got 49 MINUTES to live once he’s out. The sound is harsh, the percussion adds suspense, the shrieking slide and the howling harp add tension, and I’m pretty sure I heard finger-tapping around the 2:12 mark. If I never heard another song by this band I’d still consider them to be legendary. This might be the best blues song I’ll hear all year.

What’s really scary is the fact that all these sounds are made with jug band instruments. The band consists of Shane Speal on cigar box guitars, vocals and stomping foot, Ronn Benway on washboards, rubber chickens and stunts (stunts? I probably don’t want to know), Aaron Lewis on harmonica, vocals and confetti cannons, and Farmer Jon on electric washtub bass and high fives (for all those stunts, I suspect). The traditional instruments argument could be made from either side but these truly are traditional instruments. For ages humans have made music from re-purposed items. It’s the music that matters and the Snake Oil Band makes a glorious racket on their instruments of indeterminate origin. The “Holler! Medley: Holler, The Clapping Song, Line ‘Em Up, Black Betty” is menacing in its own right, “Strung Out, Drunk and Busted (And There’s A Body In The Trunk)” is the broken down, destitute blues you’d expect, and to brighten things up they throw in “How Long Will You Make Me Suffer.”

There are plenty of moments of good fun on Holler! too. “Judy Got A Booty” chugs along at a steam train pace. This is a stomper for sure. Shane works the slide in and around the beat and the harp pulses and pumps as the train rolls on. Catch a glimpse of that caboose if you can. “When She Gets Drunk, She Gets Horny” isn’t the love ballad you’d expect and “A Fat Man Will Love You (Like No Skinny Boy Can)” pretty much is. “Simulated Sadie” shows off the vocal talents of the band over an acoustic jug band arrangement. Sure, it’s about a woman who had a little too much work done and can’t move her lips any more, but what else would it be about? I doubt Sadie will voice any complaints.

Holler! closes with another frenetic thumping rocker called “Don’t Give Me None Of Yo’ Business” that, in a way, defines the mission of these musicians. They’re making music they want to make, on instruments they made and want to use, and they refuse to be penned in by convention. It is in this kind of setting that truly interesting and engaging music is made and Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band has done it. There is nothing fake here, no chicanery, no blatant salesmanship, no promises not kept. They aren’t selling Snake Oil but they are selling the cure for what ails you. Holler!

Please support the artists. For Shane Speal’s Snake Oil Band show dates click here.

Fresh Biscuits! Walter Trout – The Blues Came Callin’ CD Review

Walter Trout The Blues Came CallinWalter Trout
The Blues Came Callin’
Provogue

Walter Trout’s recent health issues and liver transplant have become common knowledge in the blues world, with fans and fellow musicians marshaling their forces and raising money to help Walter pay the bills. Astonishingly Walter Trout was able to not just make a record during this period, but maybe it’s the record of his life. It is no surprise to find the desperation, reflection, and introspection triggered by his travails made their way into his music. The Blues Came Callin’ is Truth with a capital “T”. Walter lays it all out, sings from the heart and plays from gut.

The Blues Came Callin’ was recorded between April 2013 and January 2014. Walter Trout’s uncertain life expectancy seems to have freed him to express himself in the most thorough way since his career began. The poignant lyrics of album opener “Wastin’ Away” seem at odds with the defiant, hard charging riffs and wild soloing. If Walter’s going down, he’s going out in a blaze of glory. “Wastin’ Away” throws down the gauntlet, accepts the challenge and kicks ass all the way to finish.

“The World Is Goin’ Crazy (And So Am I)” is getting airplay on SiriusXM at B.B. King’s Bluesville, but it features one of the weaker vocals from Walter on the record. He sounds bit frail and strained. I’m guessing it was recorded later in the sessions as he was getting weaker. I can’t imagine a life-long traveling musician like Walter being tied down with illness, unable to work, support his family, support his band, or even make sense of a world turned upside down. While his voice isn’t what it used to be, his guitar playing – and let’s be honest, we love Walter for his guitar playing – is ferocious. The tone is gritty, the notes are bent to Hell and back, and his usual speed is kicked into overdrive. Singing? What singing?

The influence of Walter Trout’s mentor and former employer John Mayall is all over The Blues Came Callin’. Mayall introduced Walter to the music of J.B. Lenoir, and here Walter cover’s Lenoir’s “The Whale Have Swallowed Me.” Co-producer Eric Corne captured a spontaneous jam that started with John Mayall at the piano laying down the boogie woogie. According to the liner notes, the rest of the band fell in behind him and what you hear on the disc in the one-take, no-rehearsal jam, and it is smokin’ hot. John Mayall turns up again on the title cut playing Hammond B-3. Walter Trout is a blues man who doesn’t always work within traditional blues formulas but this track is five and a half minutes of pure blues catharsis. It is twelve bars at a time of pain and suffering unleashed.

Elsewhere on The Blues Came Callin’, Walter Trout explores his past and present battles. “The Bottom Of The River” finds a drowning man realizing he wants to live. It starts out with steel guitar – presumably the one shown on the album cover – and Walter sings about “where I met my soul” and how the near death experience flashed his life before his eyes. Walter blows a lonesome harp before letting loose some fiery electric guitar licks. “Born In The City” explores his youth and his perpetual love of, and comfort in metropolitan communities. Walter describes “Take A Little Time” as a classic Chuck Berry rocker and he ain’t lyin’. The band captures the swing of Berry’s early Chess recordings with Sasha Smith tickling the ivories and drummer Michael Leasure laying down the Berry shuffle oh so well. Walter sings it like he means it, having learned the value of making time for love, but it surely applies to all aspects of life neglected due to the constant hustle and bustle pace of life.

The Blues Came Callin’ is mature record. Walter Trout and the band are focused, free, and on fire. There’s not a dud in sight. From touring band members Sammy Avila, Rick Knapp, and Michael Leasure, to guests including Kenny Gradney, Skip Edwards, Taras Prodaniuk, Deacon Jones, and the legendary John Mayall, all rose to the occasion and made the best music possible. Consciously or not, they made what could still be Walter’s last album and it not only enhances his legacy, it puts a mighty exclamation point on it. I am among those who hope and believe Walter Trout will be back in action soon. If the fire and defiance found on The Blues Came Callin’ is any indication, he will be back and better than ever in no time.

Walter-Trout-BCCLong

Addendum:
For those interested, The Blues Came Callin’ is available as a Special Edition CD/DVD. The DVD is a 40 minute documentary about Walter Trout’s career. John Mayall appears, as does Fito de la Parra of Canned Heat who shares some vintage photos of Walter with Canned Heat. The story is compelling and when you see Walter’s frail body, the music you just heard on the CD seems impossible. I highly recommend the special edition.

Please support the artist. We usually have an Amazon link here but in this case I urge you to buy the CD direct from Walter. The price may be a little higher, but he will get more of the money if you buy it from him directly and he certainly needs it more now than ever. You can also donate here: http://www.youcaring.com/medical-fundraiser/walter-trout-needs-a-new-liver-you-can-help-/151911

Fresh Biscuits! Dudley Taft – Screaming In The Wind CD Review

Dudley TaftDudley Taft

Screaming In The Wind

American Blues Artist Group

Dudley Taft has been a member of hard rock bands Sweetwater and Second Coming. He sounds like a rocker convert to the blues in love with Robin Trower, but he has been getting a lot of play on B.B. King’s Bluesville on SiriusXM since his new CD Screaming In The Wind came out in May. Taft dug into the history of the blues for his lead single and mined an old tune called “Hard Time Killing Floor Blues” by Skip James. Taft’s gravelly voice and meaty riffs convert this old time number into something the Post-Grunge Zombie Generation can sink their teeth into.

Title track “Screaming In The Wind” traverses a dreamy Trower-esque landscape after a lonesome Hendrix style intro and riff. The vocal effects give the song a spooky ambiance to match the topic; the guitar tones and layers call to mind a Victorian era autumn forest, thick with fog and rich with the eerie din of a thousand forest dwellers.

For Screaming In The Wind, Dudley Taft was joined in the studio by Reese Wynans on organ, John Kessler on bass, Jason Patterson on drums, and Grammy winning producer Tom Hambridge. Hambridge has become the go-to guy for artists like Buddy Guy, Joe Louis Walker, George Thorogood, and James Cotton. Hambridge knows how to get the best out of the artists and his songwriter’s ear helps mold the tunes. His ear and Taft’s obvious skills make a powerful combination.

Dudley Taft has a knack for making the music fit the lyrics; he doesn’t over-play and appreciates the value of well-crafted arrangements. His playing can remind you of everyone from Stevie Ray Vaughan to Jerry Cantrell, but Taft melds them all together, creating a coherent personal style. This is not a straight blues album by any means, but it has enough blues style and spirit to count it. Screaming In The Wind is a diverse construct, with a tight band, skillful performances, and hot guitar licks that will keep you coming back.

Find Dudley Taft on tour this year:

Date Event Location
Jazzbones Tacoma, WA
Highway 99 Blues Club Seattle, WA
Schmölzer Blues Festival Schmölzer, DE
Satyr Blues Tarnobrzeg, PL
Polski Dzień Bluesa Otwock, PL
Blue Note Poznan, PL
Chacharnia Czechowice-Dziedzice, PL

Fresh Biscuits! Ronnie Earl – Good News CD Review

RonnieEarlGoodNewsCDCoverRonnie Earl

Good News

Stony Plain Records

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters new disc Good News, on Stony Plain Records, is out today. Ronnie Earl won Best Instrumentalist Guitar at the 2014 Blues Music Awards in Memphis on May 8, 2014 – pretty good for a guy who started playing guitar at the age of 20. His musical life was changed by Muddy Waters and eventually so was his name. Apparently Muddy could never remember Ronnie’s original surname “Horvath.” Ronnie changed his last name to “Earl” as a tribute to the great Earl Hooker. Ronnie Earl joined Roomful Of Blues in 1979, made a few solo albums in the 80’s and went solo full time with the Broadcasters in 1988. The band has changed lineups over the years, but the lineup on Good News, featuring Jimmy Mouradian on bass, Dave Limina on organ, and Lorne Entress on drums, has been playing together for over a decade and it shows.

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters recorded their eighth Stony Plain album, Good News, over December 20th & 21st, 2013 at Wellspring Studios in Acton, MA. They invited some friends to join including vocalist Diane Blue, Detroit guitarist Nicholas Tabarias, and guitarist Zach Zunis of the Janiva Magness band. Together, they turned out a soulful, spiritual, uplifting record, just as the title suggests. Good News starts off fast, rolling south on the tracks toward Mississippi. “I Met Her On That Train” recalls “Mystery Train” but mixes in a dash of Tennessee Two-stepping Folsom Prison boogie. Dave Limina digs deep, taking us to the clubs on Saturday and church on Sunday. Guests Zach Zunis takes the first guitar solo of the disc – a classy move by Mr. Earl – and keeps us moving southbound with some countrified licks. Nicholas Tabarias takes the second guitar solo; playing licks that would make Carl Perkins and Scotty Moore smile, and the inimitable Mr. Earl takes the third solo of the disc. All the solos add to the song, but Ronnie Earl’s exquisite touch on rhythm guitar makes the song. He plucks out a lone bass note followed by fast moving chorded riffs on the high strings that keep the tune moving like a steam train fireman stoking the coal.

The title Good News celebrates Sam Cooke’s album, Ain’t That Good News, released 50 years ago in 1964. After getting arrested down South in 1963, Cooke was inspired to write the song, “Change is Gonna Come.” Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters also pay tribute by covering the song on Good News. They invited vocalist Diane Blue to put her stamp on the track and she sings it with power and conviction. As the song progresses and picks up energy, Mr. Earl punctuates Diane Blue’s pleas with aggressively strummed outbursts that capture the defiance of the civil rights movement and the urgency that comes from knowing you might have to bring on the change yourself. This is a powerful rendition of “Change Is Gonna Come” and is not to be missed.

On “Blues for Henry,” a song co-written with Hubert Sumlin, Mr. Earl leans into the bent notes and squeezes them for all they’re worth. He exercises perfect control without sounding like he’s trying. He wrenches your guts like your grandma died and makes you smile like you just found a puppy. He is precise even when he seems on the edge of becoming unglued. Listening to him play can be an exercise in frustration for guitar players because he is just that good. “In The Wee Hours” is another song full of Earlisms on guitar that will make you shake your head. Zach Zunis admirably sets up with master, playing a superb solo of his own but Mr. Earl now owns this Junior Wells classic. He captured in music the dreamy, transitory consciousness found in the wee hours as sleep beckons and the mind struggles to resist the call.

“Time To Remember” features delicate piano and captivating organ playing from Dave Limina. “Marje’s Melody” is a melancholy guitar workout with Nicholas Tabarias again sitting in and taking the second solo. “Puddin’ Pie” brings up the energy level with a strutting shuffle, as does the Gospel march of the title track “Good News.” The album closes with “Runnin’ In Peace” featuring words written by The band’s friend Ilana Katz Katz who was only 50 feet from the first Boston marathon bombing on April 15, 2013. Ilana and Ronnie Earl wrote the song together and Diane Blue again put her heart into the words as vocalist as she pleads for a higher power to save us from ourselves. Ronnie’s guitar has an edgier tone with a little more gain than usual and his torrid playing captures the heartbreak, confusion, and sorrow of the Boston Marathon bombing. It is beautiful music born of an ugly tragedy.

I’ve spent a lot of time with this disc since it came in the mail. It arrived the night before Mr. Earl’s scheduled performance at the Western Maryland Blues Festival. I waited for the three hour ride to check it out and I was only marginally disappointed. I’m not a big fan of female vocalists – it’s a character flaw, I know – and the albums featured vocalist is female. The Good News is that I’ve since gotten over it with this new disc. The amazing news was Mr. Earl’s Saturday evening performance. It was stunning, it was sublime; it was any superlative you can imagine. He is one with his instrument and coveys his heart and soul through his playing. He is pure inspiration. Since then, Good News has been played a dozen times or more. I’ve lost count. I hear the notes and see Mr. Earl in my mind’s eye, on stage, hands moving in tandem, face contorted by ecstatic conscription, kneeling in genuflection to the higher power of the music that seems to flow through him. I feel that joy and hear it all throughout Good News. Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters has captured its spirit and presented it to you as the Good News you’ve been waiting for. Wait no longer. And if this band turns up anywhere within a day’s drive make sure you get there.

 

Ronnie Earl & The Broadcasters have some shows coming up this summer:

Sat June 28 Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Saratoga Springs, NY  1:20pm
Thur July 3 Payomet Performing Arts  Truro, MA  8:00pm
Sat July 26 PA Blues Festival  Palmerton, PA 6:15pm
Sat Aug 2 Jonathan’s  Ogunquit, ME 9:00pm
Fri Aug 15 Evanston Space Chicago, IL 8:00pm
Sat Sept 6 The Knickerbocker  Westerly, RI 8:00pm
Fri Sept 12 Natick Center for the Arts  Natick, MA  8:00pm
Fri Oct. 17 The Newton Theater Newton, NJ 8:00pm