We’re back again with some CD reviews for you. This week we have some exciting instrumental hi-jinks, kick-ass rockin’ blues, and a delightful R&B influenced album. If you’re in the Northeast like me, you’re probably frozen, snowed in, and offering bounties for Jack Frost on Craigslist. These hot Blues will hopefully warm you up. As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears!
Bad News Travels Live
Release Date January 13, 2015
Organist John Ginty is a Morristown, NJ native who has traveled the world playing in the road bands of acts like Jewel and Dixie Chicks plus stints with Citizen Cope and several others. Ginty is a founding member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band with whom he received two Grammy nominations. In 2003, John appeared on the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grammy Award winning album Higher Ground. Maybe it was just luck, but it’s more likely that John Ginty knows how to pick his musical partners. When it came time to record his first studio album, 2013’s Bad News Travels, he chose a host of superb musicians to join him. Recently, Ginty released a double disc live set recorded in front of a small audience in the studio where he created Bad News Travels – Showplace Studios, in Dover, NJ. Reuniting with many of the guests from his album, Ginty presents the music in organic form – musicians in a room playing off each other and drawing energy from the joy of music making. Thus we have Bad News Travels Live.
Bad News Travels Live is not merely an exercise in replicating the studio album. Ginty and friends fine-tuned the running order and added a pair of Ginty originals not on the studio album. The result is an energetic, uplifting romp through timeless sounding music. The set starts with the funky driving rhythm of “Switch.” The whole band gets to stretch their fingers and preview the stellar musicianship about to be unleashed upon the crowd. The band includes Mike Buckman on guitar, Paul Kuzik on bass, Dan Fadel on drums, and Anrei Koribanics also on drums. The drummers are exceptional together and provide the finely tuned engine this band needs to perform at optimal magnitude. They are the drum corps, front line, back line and boogie crew laying down the beat for me and you! “Arrivals” is a raucous instrumental that reminds me of a revved up version of Buddy Guy’s “Man Of Many Words.” Ginty is man of many notes and I’m pretty sure I heard all of them in this tune. Luckily I am not Emperor Joseph II from Amadeus. I do not believe in too many notes. “Arrivals” is a breath taking experience but just as soon as it’s gone Albert Castiglia is out on stage firing up a mellower but no less brilliant “Elvis Presley.” The King is dead, long live the king! Apparently Elvae are popping up in visions all over town. This is a fun tune and adds levity to a session that people could interpret as serious business.
While there is no shortage of instrumental serious business here, John Ginty had the good sense to bring in a vocal powerhouse to match the fleet fingered fireworks. Dynamo Alexis P. Suter lends her inimitable voice to “Seven And The Spirit” along with her Alexis P. Suter Band partner in crime Jimmy Bennett on guitar. Bennett is a well-rounded tasteful player who seems to play exactly what the songs needs. “Seven And The Spirit” has plenty of hot jamming from Bennett and Ginty and winds down with a nod to Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose.” Alexis also provides the perfect foil for Ginty and Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control.” This swampy boogie with scorching guitars fires up a crawfish boil that’ll have the whole neighborhood dropping by.
Speaking of dropping by, Todd Wolfe drops by for a pair of tunes and while I was hoping he would sing, he did not. He did however put on his There & Back Jeff Beck hat, cranked the overdrive on his Fender amp and blasted out Telecaster licks that would have made Roy Buchanan smile – and we all know that didn’t happen often. Wolfe plays on “Peanut Butter” and “Rock Ridge.” The latter sounds so familiar I thought it was a Jeff Beck tune for a moment. Wolfe’s slide playing is pitch perfect as he feeds the beasts that prowl out on “Rock Ridge.” Cris Jacobs takes a plunge into his old jam band days, ripping up wicked solos on “Mirrors” as well as trading blazing licks with Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control” and “The Quirk.” John Ginty is the perfect host, encouraging all his guests to shine by giving them plenty of musical space and pushing them higher with his own dynamic playing. Still, Ginty is the star of the show. He gets an amazing array of sounds from his Hammond B-3, Vintage Vibe piano, and an acoustic piano. There are no synthesizers – just a man who knows how to get the most from his instruments. He is a monumental talent who has thus far evaded the ears of too many. The music from this double CD is also available on DVD. With DVD you can watch up close as the maestro coaxes otherworldly notes from his keyboard. The DVD is a bird’s eye view of the live session and offers the opportunity to see how these performers interacted and created this powerful music.
I get a lot of CDs to review and unfortunately I don’t have time to write about them all. I have to choose what to cover and I prefer to write about music I like. Even still, some of the records I’ve reviewed fall by the wayside after a short time. John Ginty’s Bad News Travels Live is not one of those records. I loved it from the first few notes. Last year I heard John playing live on B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius XM. I was beyond impressed and filed his name away to investigate. John’s talent on keyboards, his songwriting, and his musical perspective leave me wanting more. If I was a keyboard player, I don’t know if I’d want to quit or go practice more but this is one of those records that gets you musically fired up and ready to jam. The Bad News is Good News and it all travels at the speed of sound. Go hear some today!
Release Date January 13, 2015
Eric Sardinas has been taking the world by storm one gig at a time for over 15 years. He looks like Ian Astbury’s cousin from Texas and plays guitar like he taught the Devil at some crossroads south of Hell. His voice is raspy and road weary; honest and bold, emitting emotion with every note. Born in Florida Sardinas first got his hands on a guitar at age six. Inspiration came from the roots music in his mother’s collection and his elder brother’s penchant for classic rock. As a teen, Eric dove head first into the Blues. His own music gave voice to the amalgamation of those influences. His music falls on the harder rocking side of blues and over a series of records he has honed his skills, wrestled with demons, logged the miles, and fought the good fight for music that comes from the heart and gut. His latest album with his band Big Motor is called Boomerang and it brings all those elements back around again for a triumphant, defiant set.
The electrified acoustic resonator is the first thing you hear on Boomerang and in many ways it’s all you need to know about Eric Sardinas’ new album. It is his signature instrument. It is ragged, gritty, down, and dirty. It is street level brilliance and elegant savagery. The song you’re hearing is “Run Devil Run” and it needs to be heard on big, loud speakers that used to fill living rooms with faux wood chic and big black rectangles daring you to tangle with them. Be prepared to listen to the whole damned thing this way because ear buds will never do this joyful noise any justice. All too soon, “Run Devil Run” is over but “Boomerang” is booming with positive waves of energy and more of that chugging guitar. Sardinas gets a variety of tones from his resonator on “Tell Me You’re Mine.” From the squonky wah-wah effects to white-washed wall of sound slides, he packs this tune with undeniably imaginative guitar licks. His voice is also in fine form all over Boomerang. Eric Sardinas voice and guitar playing make the rare perfect match in a singer/guitarist. Some guitar playing bandleaders sing because there is no other choice. Sardinas voice seems inextricably linked to his hands and tone. His hearty voice is as much a part of his musical charm as his guitar playing.
The disc is dedicated to Eric’s friend Johnny Winter who passed away last year. Eric’s Rock and Roll style of blues is akin to Johnny’s early 70s work. “If You Don’t Love Me” exemplifies this with its back breaking beat, high speed classic blues riffs, and white hot slide licks. Coupled with the next track, Leiber and Stoller’s classic “Trouble,” Sardinas seems to be offering a one two punch from his Johnny Winter bag of tricks. It’s a classic Rock & Roll original, served with grime and grease on a steaming hot Blue Plate with a side of kick-your-ass. You’re still listening through the 35” high Pioneers right?
Unlike Johnny Winter, Eric doesn’t go for the extended solos and wild jams. Boomerang is a succinct ten song record clocking in at just under thirty-five minutes. This is old school, wham bam, thank you ma’am, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em again and go rockin’ blues. There’s no special edition, no bonus tracks, and no songs you don’t want to hear. They left the scraps on the cutting room floor and we’re all better for it. This band is on fire, the playing is powerful and the songs just might get you in trouble with the law. Big Motor runs on high octane fuel and Boomerang is it.
Released on October 27, 2014
Benny Turner is from Gilmer, TX. His family later decided to move to the Windy City where his brother Freddie King eventually rose to fame. Benny played in Freddie’s band for a long time and after Freddie’s passing, Benny went on the road with Mighty Joe Young and later Marva Wright. He’s made some Soul singles in the past and released a few blues CDs recently as well. Benny Turner is a bassist and singer with quite a pedigree and musical history. He brings together all those experiences on his most recent album called simply, Journey.
Journey follows divergent paths that weave in and around each other on this genre-bending set. A classic Blues shuffle called “Breakin’ News” is our first step on the path and it’s a rollicking roller with thumping bass and pulsing organ that will have you skipping down the road like you just dropped a house on a witch. The horn section swings and Jellybean Alexander pounds out the rhythm giving this tune a robust arrangement full of hidden charm. Someday I absolutely must be in a band with a guy named Jellybean. “Don’t Ride My Mule” sounds dirty and “I Wanna Give It To You” is dirty. If you’re familiar with our Hump Day features you know we love dirty blues. I wonder if Turner’s significant other is aware of being compared to a Mule. It probably explains the romantic evening he has planned in “I Wanna Give It To You.”
“How I Wish” is an old-style Blues a la Bobby Blue Bland. The big background vocals, horn section, and gliding minor chords make it a lush genre-jumping arrangement. The tune is beautifully delivered and Turner’s vocals are sublime. “My Mother’s Blues” takes us back to the porch of his childhood home. The rustic approach and sparse arrangement is a welcome break from the Big City Blues that make up the bulk of this set. It also shows Turner is comfortable and adept with all styles of Blues. Turner plays the blues on Kazoo here and makes it not only palatable but welcome. This is also one of two songs on which Benny plays guitar on the album. He is a genuine jack of all trades and plays guitar with laid back confidence. “My Mother’s Blues” is bouncy, catchy, and oddly beautiful.
Benny also plays guitar on “My Uncle’s Blues (Fannie Mae).” He plays a perfect cadence and Patrick Williams howls on the harmonica. I guess Benny’s uncle like chasing women through the hay. This is a robust rabble rouser, strident and strong, strutting like the king of the barnyard. With this song, “Don’t Ride My Mule,” and “I Wanna Give It To You” Benny Turner shows there has been and always should be fun in the Blues. Unfortunately, Blues is also about the hard times too. Our Journey ends with a poignant minor blues/gospel combination called “What’s Wrong With The World Today.” Vocalists Tara Alexander, Deanna Bernard, Ellen Smith, and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes form a choir around Turner’s plea for peace, love, and understanding. Turner calls out cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago to “lay your pistols down boys.” The verse calling out cities is a goose bump moment. It is a chilling reminder that our struggles are greater than ourselves and need to be addressed from sea to sea. It’s a message of peace from a man whose Journey in life has been from the Jim Crow south the Obama administration. However, Benny Turner’s musical Journey is just getting started again and I suggest you join him.