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Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – February 28, 2015

NickMossBandTimeAintFreeNick Moss Band
Time Ain’t Free
Blue Bella Records
Released on March 18, 2014

Nick Moss has been a fixture of the Chicago music scene since the early Nineties. He plays regular gigs at Buddy Guy’s Legends, he’s played with Jimmy Rogers and Jimmy Dawkins, and counts Ronnie Earl among his biggest fans. In 1993 he joined The Legendary Blues Band led by Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. Nick’s career as a bandleader kicked off with 1998’s First Offense and it’s been building slowly but surely into a proud legacy. This legacy has grown by leaps and bounds with the last few records and in many ways those were building toward the crowning achievement that is Time Ain’t Free.

I don’t know what in the Hell this music is called. It’s got Blues, Boogie, Soul, Gospel, and Rock & Roll. It’s Little Feat, Mavis Staples, Muddy Waters and Booker T. and that’s just in one song. It should be a mess but it’s marvelous. Nick Moss and his band have emptied the pantry and come up with one of the best damned recipes you’ve ever seen. This is musical comfort food. Nick’s records have always carried his influences but with Time Ain’t Free he has finally found the perfect balance. A major added dimension to the music is vocalist and second guitarist Michael Ledbetter.

Michael is a descendant of Huddie Ledbetter aka Lead Belly. He grew up hearing soul singers but at age 15 he decided to become an opera singer. He spent eight years in the Chicago Opera scene before deciding to focus his talents on Blues. The Blues scene and the Nick Moss Band are better for it. Nick moss deserves a lot of credit for inviting this talented young man into his band and slowly giving him a bigger share of the spotlight. I saw the band a few years ago at 2nd Story Blues in Bethlehem, PA and Michael was fairly new to the band. He sang a few songs and did terrific background vocals. After the show he was humble when complimented and was focused on paying his dues. Nick Moss knows all about paying dues and has obviously been a great mentor. Ledbetter sings six tunes on Time Ain’t Free and has or shares writing credit on a few as well. Of these tracks, “Fare Thee Well” is the benchmark by which all others shall be judged. This is a song that brings the whole band together for a glorious moment of aural perfection.

Time Ain’t Free captures your ears with the first raspy slide guitar licks of “She Wants It” and melts your face with album closing instrumental “[Big Mike’s] Sweet Potato Pie.” “Was I Ever Heard” is a rollicking march with swirling keyboards courtesy of Bryan Rogers. Drummer Patrick Seals propels this tune and Nick Moss lets loose torrents of raunchy guitar licks that contrast beautifully with the softness of the chorus and background vocalists Tina J. Crawley and Lara Jenkins. Bryan Rogers keyboards are like the gravy that ties it all together on a lot of these songs. I sure he hope he used a B-3 and not some digital reproduction. The music on Time Ain’t Free is so earthy and rich that I’d be heartbroken if it was infected with fake B-3. It sounds great whatever it is, but it’s the principal of it! I guess I could let it slide since the band covered “Bad ‘N’ Ruin” by the Faces and Mr. Rogers offers up stellar playing that would make the late, great Ian McLagan proud.

The decision to cover a song by the Faces gives you an idea where this band is and where they’re headed. No influence is avoided. Instead, all influences are blended into a distinct Nick Moss Band sound. When Moss solos, he is incandescent. His guitar playing is passionate, poisonous, and proud. His licks in “Been Gone So Long” are illegal in five states, yet in “Fare Thee Well” he uses a cleaner tone, inhabits the groove and releases soul stirring notes to the heavens. The riffs on title track “Time Ain’t Free” are a stuttering jolt of energy and Moss harnesses that energy to fuel his fiery solos.

Time Ain’t Free is a reminder that truly great music is still be made today. While the mainstream is giving accolades to auto-tuned pabulum spewing fashionistas, Nick Moss Band is cranking out honest, gripping music and taking it to the people one town at a time. Don’t waste your time on Celebutantes of Pop or any of the Blues Pretenders to the Throne out there, your Time Ain’t Free and it deserves the real deal.

SteveEarleTerraplaneSteve Earle
Terraplane
New West Records
Released on February 17, 2015

According to the liner notes, Steve Earle only believes two things about the Blues: they are the common denominator of the human experience, and someday he would make this album. Damn if he wasn’t right on both accounts. Terraplane is that album. Not only can Steve play the Blues, but he can write engaging songs that seamlessly fit into the tapestry started on a plantation over 100 years ago. Arguably the album is named for Robert Johnson’s “Terraplane Blues” and ol’ Bob Johnson is named checked on “Tennessee Kid” so it’s no surprise Steve Earle has taken Johnson’s approach to Blues. Johnson melded music from all around into his own distinct sound. You all remember “They’re Red Hot” right? On Terraplane, Earle takes common themes, common patterns, and common words and much like the rest of his catalog, stirs them into something wholly uncommon.

I thought the best thing about a Blues album from Steve Earle would be the utter lack of re-tread lyrics, but the best thing about Terraplane is the sound. It’s a big, wide open sound. The instruments have room to breathe, the guitars get gritty, the drums can be felt coming through the speakers, and Earle’s voice is expertly captured, retaining all the snarl, melancholy, and loss. The feeling of dread is undeniable when he all but whispers the awful truth that “the balance comes due someday” at the end of “Tennessee Kid.” While the lyrics of the songs on Terraplane are sometimes clever and often poignant, there is the seemingly throw-away chorus of “Baby Baby Baby (Baby).” It must be a tongue-in-cheek tip of the hat to classic blues that were more about the feeling conveyed than the actual words. Still the song has one of my favorite lines in “I got a little girl that live way down south, a little town they call ‘shut my mouth’” and it’s a strutting harmonica fueled shuffle that would have sat comfortably between Little Walter and James Cotton at a Muddy Waters show.

Earle was joined in the studio by his faithful compatriots Kelly Looney on bass, Will Rigby on drums, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle, and Chris Masterson on guitar. Steve sings of course, and plays harmonica, guitar, and mandolin. Eleanor duets with Steve on “Baby’s Just As Mean As Me” and ups the ante considerably. She has a classic voice for blues, somewhere between Billie Holliday and Lil’ Johnson. Chris Masterson plays beautifully crafted solos and fills. He never over-steps, over-plays, nor over compensates for having no sense of the music. He knows the music and from his guitar work you can tell he feels it. The whole band seems to play like hive mind hell bent on groove. Terraplane is a testament to their collective artistry.

Steve has made a lot of music over the decades and a lot of it has been indefinable even though everyone has tried. But Steve Earle knows the Blues. He knows it isn’t defined by twelve bar shuffles, minor sevenths, never-ending Elmore James slide licks, or blowing through the Blues Box guitar scale as fast as you can. It’s a feeling, and you can’t fake it no matter how hard you try. Over the last eight years or so of writing about blues I’ve seen a lot of bands and heard a landfill full of questionable blues records. There’s a lot of crap out there. If you want to save the Blues, you better start feeling it because without the feeling isn’t worth a good god damn. Maybe the Blues will be saved by aging artists and fans that come to realize they need more authentic music in their lives. Today’s One Direction and Beyonce fans will eventually be 50 and looking for a greater meaning in their world and the music they choose to fill the empty spaces. They may turn to the Blues if it isn’t over-run by self-congratulatory musical masturbators singing “Woke up this morning” between 100 bars of speed exercises. Steve Earle knows all this. He’s known it for a long time. Steve has lived the blues. He’s fought demons inside and demons in Nashville. He’s had everything and he’s had nothing. He’s had the blues and he’s always made music with hints of blues. He writes honest songs. He’s not pretentious but he isn’t afraid to step up on the soapbox either. He’s me and you and we all have the Blues. With Terraplane he’s put those Blues together in one record. With an eye to the past put rooted firmly in the present, Steve Earle has offered an authentic document that defies description and pigeonholes, but is quite obviously blue. I knew Steve Earle wouldn’t let us down.

DaveAlvinLiveInLongBeach1997Dave Alvin with Billy Boy Arnold,Gatemouth Brown, and Joe Louis Walker
Live In Long Beach 1997
Rock Beat Records
Released on February 17, 2015

Flying in under the radar recently is a new release on Rock Beat Records that features a live set recorded in 1997 during one of many in a series of Blues Unplugged show at Cal State University Long Beach. The shows were put together by KLON program director Gary Chiachi who had been involved in the Long Beach Blues Festival. On this particular night in 1997, founding member of The Blasters and CSULB alum, Dave Alvin was on the bill along with Blues luminaries Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, Billy Boy Arnold, and Joe Louis Walker. Dave Alvin may not be the first name that pops into your head when you think Blues Unplugged but in this setting, Alvin’s blues roots come to the surface and crack every sidewalk in town.

Last year Dave and his brother Phil released Common Ground, an album of Big Bill Broonzy tunes, so it is not surprising that Dave covered a Big Bill Broonzy song on that night long ago. “Tell Me How You Want It Done” also turned up on Common Ground but here it is stripped down to just Dave and his guitar. Dave quips to the audience that it’s a guitar song he’s never managed to play correctly all the way through. He does a damned fine job though and his earnestness comes through. Even before the days of The Blasters, Dave and his brother Phil would follow blues musicians around and talk their way into the gigs. They spent a great deal of time with Big Joe Turner who Dave calls “maybe the greatest human who ever lived” as he introduces “Chains Of Love.” Dave puts all his heart and soul into this sublime version of the tune. Dave ends his set with a slow, earthy version of The Blasters tune “Long White Cadillac.”

As good as Dave Alvin’s set is, the magic really starts with the collaborations. First up, Dave joins Billy Boy Arnold on a chugging Bo Diddley style number called “I Wish You Would” that Arnold actually wrote back when he was playing with Bo Diddley in the 50’s. This is a veritable classic, with a great hook that hangs around long after the tune is over. This stripped version is a little slower, but Arnold’s harp howls and moans over Dave’s rhythm that rolls on steady like a southbound train. When Dave joins Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown, they play an impromptu tribute to such a train, the “Wabash Cannonball.” According to Brown, Dave didn’t even know they were going to do that tune prompting Gate to say “man this guy’s great.. I pulled that one out, he didn’t know I was gonna do it!” Gate’s fiddle and Dave’s guitar combine for two minutes of train-hopping hobo blues that ends all too soon. Leave it to Gatemouth Brown to whip out “Beer Barrel Polka” at a Blues show and play it in a Hillbilly fashion on a fiddle. He takes a few moments to tell Dave how they’ll be playing it and ten away they go. Dave’s strumming is percussive and steady as Gate fiddle’s fiery and furiously, better than any kid in Georgia giving the Devil the business. Johnny, when you’re done bring that fiddle made of gold over to Gate’s house. It’s his.

The disc ends with Billy Boy Arnold, Joe Louis Walker, Gatemouth Brown, and Dave Alvin playing a pair of tunes. Oddly, the back cover leaves gate out of the credits for the last two tracks, but he is mentioned in the liner notes and by the MC on the disc. The first tune is a loose jam that ended up named “Long Beach Blues.” Obviously impromptu, its cohesion is a testament to the language of the Blues and the ability of the performers to converse musically. For guitar enthusiasts this jam is the go-to track on here. Walker blazes on slide, Dave rips out some fiery licks he became famous for in the Blasters and Gate trades his fiddle for his guitar and rips it up with the boys. This is a blues jam the fans always hope for but rarely get. It is off the cuff and brilliant with guys who never played together, listening to each other, playing for fun, and having a great time. The set ends with Gatemouth Brown’s “It’s A Long Way Home.” The song recalls Big Bill Broonzy’s “Key To The Highway” and the wide open feel provides a perfect close of this meeting of journeymen. For me, these last two tracks with all four musicians makes this set worth the price of admission. Live In Long Beach 1997 is a rare time capsule of an authentic Blues jam between masters of the form who leave their egos at the door and just have a good time playing honest, satisfying music. Don’t let this one pass you by.

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For February 2015

It’s new releases round up time again. This week we’re combining the last two weeks’ new releases because there wasn’t much for either one but we want to let you know about what’s new. It seems Steve Earle has joined the ranks of Blues musicians, at least for this record. Steve has always had a fair amount of Blues in his music so this one should be interesting. I never really saw Steve as a country artist; to me he is a roots rockin’ singer/songwriter and no matter the genre he always comes up with good music. Keep an eye out for this one. 

There’s also a great 1997 live set from Dave Alvin where he joined Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold & Joe Louis Walker for a rousing Blues jam. Other archival releases include a Leadbelly box set and a Mississippi Fred McDowell live album with recordings from 1971.  Igor Prado Band with Delta Groove Allstars offers a set of collaborations including two songs featuring the late great Lynwood Slim performing Lowell Fulson’s “Baby Won’t You Jump with Me” and Paul Gayten’s “You Better Believe It.” There’s also brand new music from Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band, and Little Freddie King. It’s not a big new releases list but there’s plenty of exciting possibilities for your ears this time around.

Steve Earle

Steve Earle Terraplane

Dave Alvin

Dave Alvin, Gatemouth Brown, Billy Boy Arnold & Joe Louis Walker Live In Long Beach 1997

The Reverend Peyton's Big Damn Band

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band So Delicious

Igor Prado Band with Delta Groove Allstars

Igor Prado Band with Delta Groove Allstars Way Down South

Little Freddie King

Little Freddie King Messin’ Around Tha Living Room

Fred Mcdowell

Mississippi Fred Mcdowell Live 1971

Lead Belly

Lead Belly The Smithsonian Folkways Collection

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 2/18/15

Ah, Hump Day. Hump Day this week falls on Ash Wednesday, the official beginning of Lent for Christians. Of course, that means giving up something near and dear to your heart for 40 days or so. Some things are easier to give up than others. Usually on Hump Day we focus on the sexual nature of the blues but other vices have played a large role in the Blues as well. So this week we are expanding our illicit horizons to a few things you might not want to give up until Good Friday.

Since Fat Tuesday was yesterday and we’re celebrating excess this Ash Wednesday Hump Day, we have six tunes for your enjoyment. Billy Boy Arnold will start us off with a song about a woman hopelessly in love with “Whiskey, Beer And Reefer.” She was probably a fun girl for a while. It sounds like he’s not ready to give her up yet. We know Otis Rush isn’t ready to give up his woman yet. Otis is hooked! He works through his struggle with “I Can’t Quit You, Baby.” Jimmy Rogers has a liquid solution for the broken heart; any heart, really. He’d rather be “Sloppy Drunk” and I don’t see him giving it up for forty minutes let a lone forty days. 

George Thorogood relates a tale of woe regarding his woman and a bit of cocaine. If only he’d fasted on the cocaine and stuck to bourbon, scotch, and beer he would have avoided prison and his lady friend might still be alive – especially if she gave up nagging for Lent. Sometimes you just have to step away from the situation and get tall. Moreland & Arbuckle are getting taller by the hour. Cruisin’ the back roads and getting high have a history as old as the automobile itself. Drive carefully boys and girls, Moreland & Arbuckle could be out there driving Tall just when you least expect it.

Last but definitely not least, we have Albert Collins and his crowd pleasing exercise in denial “I Ain’t Drunk.” Since we’re celebrating sins of all kinds this week, I feel I should mention the sin committed in this video: excessive synthesizer. I’m pretty sure I see the keyboard player stroking the wheel (that sounds dirty) to bend the keyboard notes. He’s one drink away from whipping out the keytar and there would be no forgiveness, from God or anyone else, for that indiscretion! And shame on Debbie Davies who appears to be enjoying this extravagant synth shower of notes. I blame the 80’s and the drinkin’.

Alright, Biscuiteers, enjoy Hump Day and leave that cocaine be.

 

SPECIAL NOTE: If you enjoy Moreland & Arbuckle, please consider supporting their Kickstarter campaign. The band has produced a brand new record and are looking for supporters to help them get it distributed. Please click HERE to support the band.

 

Billy Boy Arnold Whiskey, Beer And Reefer

Otis Rush I Can’t Quit You Baby

Jimmy Rogers Sloppy Drunk

George Thorogood & The Destroyers Cocaine Blues

Moreland & Arbuckle Tall Boogie

Albert Collins I Ain’t Drunk

 

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.