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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 – March 13, 2015

We’re back again with another round of CD reviews we like to call Fresh Biscuits. There’s a lot of great blues out there right now and here we have some of the best reviewed for you below. As always I hope you find something interesting for your ears!

 

BernardAllisonInTheMixBernard Allison Group

In The Mix

Jazzhaus Records

Release on January 26, 2015

 

Bernard Allison was born in Chicago in 1965 but spent a lot of time in Florida. He is the son of the late great Luther Allison and is the youngest of nine children. At age 13, he made his first appearance on a record and at 18, Bernard joined his father on-stage during the 1983 Chicago Blues Festival. Upon graduating from high school, Bernard was asked by Koko Taylor to be her lead guitar player. When the Queen of the Blues calls, you go. Bernard spent three years with Koko Taylor’s Blues Machine filling the gaps in his Blues education. By 1990 he was ready to release his first album as a solo artist, while still the bandleader for his father’s band. 25 years and thousands of gigs later, Bernard has stepped well beyond his father’s long shadow and secured his own place in the annals of Blues history. His latest album, In The Mix, on Jazzhaus records, is a welcome return after a long break since 2010’s The Otherside.

In the spirit of that long absence, In The Mix starts off with the hard driving Colin James-penned “Five Long Years.” This tune has terse riffs and a flame-throwing coda that finds Bernard cranking out guitargasmic joy. “Lust For You” is a slow burning jam, fueled by B3 and Bernard’s scorching lead guitar. “Call Me Momma” is a plea for help only a loving mother can answer. When your world is falling apart and your lover has walked out the door you have questions. Momma can help you find the answers. This is a tribute to strong women who have some seen some turmoil and made it through. They are wise and warm and all you have to be is humble enough to ask. Now go call your Momma so she doesn’t have to call you!

Bernard’s voice has a refined maturity that makes his singing an equal partner with his guitar playing on this album. However, great singing and guitar playing would be wasted if the songs were no good. Luckily, Bernard is a skilled writer who comes up with well-constructed songs of his own, and he has a knack for choosing covers that fit with his personal style. Among the Bernard Allison-written songs on In The Mix we get the poignant soul of “Tell Me Who” with its lonesome saxophone, the confident Jimmy Rogers swagger of “Something’s Wrong” where Bernard shows off his slide guitar chops with slick licks and buzzing riffs, and the cascading organ-filled “Set Me Free.” Mark “Muggie” Leach provides wonderful B3 playing throughout In The Mix. Sometimes it’s the focus and sometimes it’s bubbling below the surface, but without it this would be a very different, less enjoyable album.

“I’d Rather Be Blind” has been done by just about everybody, yet Bernard made something new out of it my mixing the crisp drum and bas sound out funky soul with stinging guitar runs. Stripping away all the big arrangements we’ve heard in the past, he brings it down to street level and gets greasy. Bernard also cover’s two of Papa Allison’s tunes – “Moving On Up” and “Move From The Hood.” I’ve always loved “Move From The Hood” and Bernard does a great, if not fundamentally different version of it. The message of the song is the most important part and as long as someone is out there spreading that message I’ll take it. Especially of it’s got sweet saxophone riffs and poetic guitar lines like this one.

I’ve been pondering the significance of the title In The Mix. What I’ve come up with is this: Bernard Allison pulls together all his influences, talent, and skills, adds top notch musicians and in the mix creates a fresh sounding modern album. It bears resemblance to what has come before but it follows no patterns or predefined limits. Bernard’s music is his own because everything he is and knows is In The Mix.

 

IgorPradoWayDownSouthIgor Prado Band

Way Down South

Delta Groove

Released on February 17, 2015

 

 

Who is Igor Prado? I had no idea. From the name I expected an Eastern European. I was way off. Igor Prado is a left-handed, guitar playing blues man from Sao Paolo, Brazil. As a youngster, he was into Little Richard and Chuck Berry. He credits a trip to a festival called Nescafe & Blues as influencing his love of Blues. He also cites the record collection of Chico Blues, who also works in the studio with Igor Prado Band. Chico is one of the biggest Blues collectors in South America and Igor was privy to the recordings of Charlie Christian, T-Bone Walker, Clarence ‘Gatemouth” Brown, Robert Lockwood Jr., Guitar Slim, Albert Collins, The Three kings and much more. In 2002, along with his brother Yuri, Igor started to play professionally with a band called The Prado Blues Band. They released a self-titled disc in 2003. By 2007, they were the Igor Prado Band and released the album Upside Down. Igor plays the lefty guitar strung like a righty the way Albert King, Coco Montoya, and Eric Gales play it. He plays the Hell out of that guitar just like those guys, too. He is a fan of West Coast blues and even made an album for Delta Groove Records with the late great Lynwood Slim in 2010 called Brazilian Kicks. Now, in 2015 comes Way Down South. The disc is billed as Igor Prado Band and Delta Groove Allstars, and features Kim Wilson, Rod Piazza, Sugaray Rayford, Mud Morganfield, Lynwood Slim and several others.

Way Down South features tracks recorded between 2012 and 2014 when some Northern Hemisphere Blues greats ventured Way Down South to Brazil. The result is a blistering good time. Maybe the best time you could have in Brazil without site-seeing on the beaches of Rio de Janeiro. The band and guests cover a lot of ground, from Chicago to Cali to ole Mississip’, creating a travelogue of this now North and South American art form. Ike Turner’s enduring classic “Matchbox” kicks off the disc and boasts Sugaray Rayford on vocals and Mike Welch on guitar. Rayford was born to sing a song like this and Prado and Welch throw licks back and forth like a grenade without a pin while the horn section swings away just waiting for it all to explode. Elmore James’ “Talk To Me Baby” features Rod Piazza on harp and vocals and Honey Piazza on piano but Igor and the band fuel this gut-bucket boogie. The guests and the band are elevated by the synergy of the collaboration. Prado doesn’t take the bait of an Elmore James tune and play slide either. This is fretted wizardry drenched in reverb, glorious reverb! Damn, what a tone. I think I’ll listen to this track again. I’ll be right back.

Long John Hunter and the Lone Star State are represented by a rollicking romp through “Ride With Me Baby.” Here, the band is joined by another legendary Texan, Kim Wilson. Kim sings this one for all the glory and the song ends before you realize he didn’t even play his harp. Junior Walker’s “Shake & Fingerpop” swings through a classic Soul and R&B groove and Prado’s impassioned vocals are a revelation especially after hearing so many other fine vocalists on the first five tracks. Prado’s voice is full-bodied and emotive, easily on par with the stellar guests on Way Down South.

The production on Way Down South lets the instruments breath and the mix is never cluttered. The disc has a very open air feel, like a band playing in a big room and grooving. Rodrigo Mantovani plays acoustic bass on a lot of these tracks and the boom of that enormous instrument provides more than just bottom end. Even though the tracks were recorded over a long stretch of time, the production and sound are consistent. Igor Prado, Chico Blues and their team know how to make great sounding records that embody the spirit of classic sides yet exemplify modern recording capabilities. Simply put, this is a great sounding record. Luckily the songs match the effort put into making the record and the band and guests give every bit of energy to the project. It’s pretty early in the year, but Way Down South is currently my favorite of 2015.

 

KubekKingFatMansShineParlorSmokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King

Fat Man’s Shine Parlor

Blind Pig Records

Released on February 3, 2015

I first heard of Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King in the mid-nineties while I was searching for something to fill the gaping hole in my musical heart left by the death of Stevie Ray Vaughan. I was looking for anyone who could make a Strat swagger, swing, scream, and sing. I found a lot of guys trying, but very few have stuck with me. They were copy cats. They knew the how but were utterly lost when it came to the why, but not Smokin’ Joe. He was the real deal. A genuine Texas guitar slinger who played in Freddie King’s band, played every BBQ Pit and roadhouse in the great Republic of Texas, and was personally encouraged by B.B. King. Smokin’ Joe has played Lucille. Let that sink in for a moment while I tell you about Bnois King. Bnois is a damned fine guitar player too, with a jazzy approach to chords and a more laid back style than his partner Kubek. Bnois is a gifted, witty lyricist and a smooth vocalist who could sing his way into any pair of pants he chooses. This pair is arguably the most complementary team of opposites to ever play the Blues. I look forward to every new record from this duo and I have yet to be disappointed. Sometimes I’m even impressed. Their return to Blind Pig Records, the new Fat Man’s Shine Parlor is definitely impressive.

A boogie riff leads us into the disc and Bnois tells a tale of woe over a broken heart. “Got My Heart Broken” he says as he sings about bedding married women. It’s a Blues topic older than Robert Johnson but Bnois’ tongue in cheek, laid back delivery makes you wonder if it really happened. He’s only 72 so I’m betting on Bnois! The song has Texas swagger all over it and pithy guitar licks punctuate Mr. King’s claims of conquest. This song ends and leads into a track about the thing a traveling musician thinks about the other 20% of the time: food. “Cornbread” is the lead single from the album and captures all the hallmarks of Kubek & King’s great partnership. Kubek’s tough rock riffs, King’s relatable lyrics, and plenty of sparring guitar licks. The two trade off during the solo sections heating up the kitchen to the boiling point. Check those ribs, we don’t want ‘em overcooked.

There’s a good sense of dynamics on Fat Man’s Shine Parlor. Mixed between the strutting rockers like the big riffing twin guitar powerhouse “Brown Bomba Mojo” and the appropriately swinging “Lone Star Lap Dance” are mellow moments like “Diamond Eyes” and Bnois’ honest plea for a one night stand in “Don’t Want To Be Alone.” Bnois is getting busy out there on the road. I’m starting to think the Fat Man’s Shine Parlor was a brothel. However, even his lusty songs have good messages. They’re warnings to men and women alike. Don’t take things so seriously and don’t expect to marry someone with whom you only had a fling. Road relationships and late-night hook-ups are not promises and don’t expect them to be. Keep it casual, people.

“Crash And Burn” is full of Bnois’ astute observations of modernity’s fascination with fashion and appearances, and musically the track contains some sweet unison and harmony lines from the guitarists. Smokin’ Joe and Bnois are joined in the studio by Shiela Klinefelter on bass and Eric Smith on drums, with Kim LaFleur adding guitar to a trio of tunes. The duo has worked with a lot of rhythm sections but Shiela and Eric work well with Joe & Bnois. I know Shiela has played with them on the road for a few years and she really has a feel for the groove these guys create. Musical chemistry or the lack thereof can make or break an album even when the songs are good. This is a performance art and the musicians have to be in sync. They got the right band together on Fat Man’s Shine Parlor and it shows from start to finish. Kubek’s production, the duo’s guitar gymnastics, potent songwriting, and a tight band make this a high water mark in a recording career that started 25 years ago. If you’re looking for smart, strutting, energetic blues your first stop should be at Fat Man’s Shine Parlor.

 

 

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For February 3, 2015

It’s time for another new releases listing. The new releases this week are a guitar blues extravaganza. I can’t wait to hear all these CDs! Tinsley Ellis has a new disc called Tough Love out today. You can read our review by clicking here. Beyond Tinsley’s fretboard fireworks, there’s Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King’s latest platter. I had the thrill of jamming with these legends a few years ago and while it went by in the blink of an eye I am forever grateful to them for inviting me onto their stage.

Bernard Allison is back this week with his funky fury and Jeff Michaels offers an homage to Texas Blues, which his website says came out last summer. Maybe this is a reissue too, or a wider release. Last up is a reissue of Kenny Parker’s 1998 record Raise The Dead. They seem to have renamed it during the reissue process, maybe to trick you into buying it again if you already have it. Maybe not.

Everybody get your air guitars out and be ready to boogie…

Smokin' Joe Kubek & Bnois King

Smokin’ Joe Kubek & Bnois King Fat Man’s Shine Parlor

Tinsley Ellis

Tinsley Ellis Tough Love

Bernard Allison

Bernard Allison In The Mix

Jeff Michaels

Jeff Michaels Long Live Texas Blues

Kenny Parker

Kenny Parker Raising The Dead