Category Archives: Friday Fast Five Reviews

Fresh Biscuits! CD Reviews – May 1, 2015

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

 

JoeBonamassaMuddyWolfAtRedRocksJoe Bonamassa

Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks

J&R Adventures

Released on March 23, 2015

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

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

 

JimiHendrixYouCantUseMyNameJimi Hendrix/ Curtis Knight & The Squires

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

Experience Hendrix

Released on March 24, 2015

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

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

 

JimmyCarpenterWalkAwayJimmy Carpenter

Walk Away

VizzTone

Released on September 23, 2014

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

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

 

SlamAllenFeelTheseBluesSlam Allen

Feel These Blues

American Showplace Music

Released on April 14, 2015

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

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

TheCashboxKingsHoldingCourtThe Cashbox Kings

Holding Court

Blind Pig

Released on April 28, 2015

 

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

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

Fresh Biscuits! New CD Reviews

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

AlteredFiveBluesBandCryinMercyAltered Five Blues Band

Cryin’ Mercy

Omnivibe Records

Release Date: October 28, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

ChrisDuarteLucky13Chris Duarte Group

Lucky 13

Blues Bureau International

Release Date: October 14, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

NormanTaylorBlueSoulNorman Taylor

Blue Soul

Soul Stew Records

Release Date: February 3, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

 

MagnusBergCutMeLooseMagnus Berg

Cut Me Loose

Screen Door Records

Release Date: November 11, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

TheBluesSoulOfBillyBoyArnoldBilly Boy Arnold

The Blues Soul Of Billy Boy Arnold

Stony Plain

Release Date October 21, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

BobCorritoreTabooBob Corritore

Taboo

Delta Groove Music

Released on April 15, 2014

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

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

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

 

TooSlimAnthologyToo Slim & The Taildraggers

Anthology

Underworld Indie Records

Released on June 17, 2014

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

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

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

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

 

SenaEhrhardtLiveMyLifeSena Ehrhardt

Live My Life

Blind Pig Records

Released on September 2, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

LutherDickinsonRocknRollBluesLuther Dickinson

Rock ‘n Roll Blues

New West Records

Released on March 18, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

DevonAllmanRaggedAndDirtyDevon Allman

Ragged & Dirty

Ruf Records

Release Date October 14, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

JoeBonamassaDifferentShadesOfBlueJoe Bonamassa

Different Shades Of Blue

J&R Adventures

Released on September 23, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

GaryClarkJrLiveGary Clark Jr.

Live

Warner Brothers

Released September 23, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

MississippiHeatWarningShotMississippi Heat

Warning Shot

Delmark

Released September 23, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

GaryMooreLiveAtBushHall2007Gary Moore

Live At Bush Hall 2007

Eagle Rock

Released September 23, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

JimiHendrixTheCryOfLoveJimi Hendrix

The Cry Of Love

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

 

JimiHendrixRainbowBridgeJimi Hendrix

Rainbow Bridge Original Motion Picture Soundtrack

Experience Hendrix/Sony Legacy

Released September 16, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

HarpdogBrownWhatItIsHarpdog Brown

What It Is

Dog Breath Records

Released March 4, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

 

CocoMontoyaSongsFromTheRoadCoco Montoya

Songs From The Road

Ruf Records

Released on July 8, 2013

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

DavePhilAlvinCommonGroundDave & Phil Alvin

Common Ground

Yep Roc

Released June 3, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

JarekusSingletonRefuseToLoseJarekus Singleton

Refuse To Lose

Alligator Records

Released May 6, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

KirbySewellBandGirlWithANewTattooKirby Sewell Band

Girl With A New Tattoo

Smelly Cat Records

Will be released on September 30, 2014

 

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

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

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

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

 

RobStoneGottaKeepRollinRob Stone

Gotta Keep Rollin’

VizzTone

Released September 9, 2014

 

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

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

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

 

JeffDaleGoodMusicJeff Dale And The South Woodlawners

Good Music

Pro Sho Bidness

Released July 8, 2014

 

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

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

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

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! 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.