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!
Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks
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.
Jimi Hendrix/ Curtis Knight & The Squires
You Can’t Use My Name – The RSVP/PPX Sessions
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.
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.
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.
The Cashbox Kings
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.