Archives

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

Fresh Biscuits! New Releases For February 10, 2015

Well, my little Biscuiteers, this week is a dry week for new releases. Maybe the industry is giving you some time to explore the music of the Best Blues Album nominees from the 2015 Grammys that were held this past weekend. Johnny Winter won this year. Personally I think it was a sympathy win since we lost him this year. For more of my thoughts on his new album check out our review here. For my money, of those nominated, Dave & Phil Alvin had the best record, with Charlie Musselwhite at a close second. Our review of Dave & Phil’s album is here. On the left side of our page we have a poll. Who do you think should have won the Grammy? Click your choice and vote! The other fine nominees are Ruthie Foster and Bobby Rush. Check out their latest albums too since this week is looking bleak for new releases to enjoy.

What we do have this week is a Stax/Volt Singles box set, a live set from recent Blues converts Spin Doctors, and a Vance Kelly live set that seems to have been available digitally since December. Check them out. The Spin Doctors last album – If The River Was Whiskey  – was their first Blues foray and is terrific. If they keep it up they just might make a successful transition into the glamorous world of Blues. I hope they like carrying their own gear and then getting it stolen! But they’ll never be as good as Joe Bonamassa – just ask him! Okay, okay, JB gets a lot of grief and he just got a little more. I still dig him. Bring back Black Country Communion, Joe!

Anyway, three big new releases. Enjoy:

 

 

Spin Doctors

Spin Doctors Songs From The Road

Vance Kelly

Vance Kelly Live At Kingston Mines

Stax/Volt Soul Singles

Various Artists The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1972-1975

Hot Biscuits! Our Favorite Blues CDs Of 2014

YearEndSleighFullOfCdsThe end of the 2014 is closing in and it’s been a great year for Blues fans. There was a ton of new albums this year. Some great debuts, terrific live albums, and a slew of interesting reissues. We at Blues Biscuits started this venture mid year and we’ve reviewed and covered a lot of great music since then. As most magazines do, we have compiled our list of favorite Blues CDs of 2014.

Our list is in no particular order, although I must say that for me, the album I keep playing over and over again this year is Dave & Phil Alvin’s Common Ground. It’s probably my favorite album this year in any genre. You can’t miss with these guys and their crack band covering Big Bill Broonzy. Phil & Dave singing and playing together is just as exhilarating as it was 35 years ago at the dawn of The Blasters’ career. If you didn’t get it yet, go get it right now or shoot an email to Santa and have him drop it in your stocking. If you already have it, you know what I’m talking about. Get a copy for all your roots and blues loving friends. You can find our review of the album here.

Thus, in no particular order, our 14 favorite Blues CDs of 2014:

 

Dave & Phil Alvin

Phil and Dave found Common Ground. Neither one wants to wear a pink bunny suit.

Jimmy Thackery

Whether it’s Jimmy Thackery playing music or Santa digging in his sack, the possibilities are Wide Open.

Indigenous

Time Is Coming for you to fill some stockings with this incredible album from Mato Nanji and Indigenous.

Chris Duarte

I’d gladly trade the 364 gifts from the 12 days of Christmas for one copy of Lucky 13.

Walter Trout

When The Blues Came Callin’ Walter Trout sang loud for all to hear.

Tedeschi Trucks Band

If you can’t decide on a last minute gift, TTB will help you with their Made Up Mind.

Gary Clark Jr.

Gary Clark Jr. Live – This one will roast your chestnuts real good.

Rory Gallagher

Santa kicks off his yearly ride with an Irish Tour. With all the raw energy in this deluxe box set, Santa will be done a little early this year.

Allman Brothers Band

While Santa is away, The Allman Brothers Band will Play. All Night.

Shane Speal

Santa lets loose a Holler! every time he rides through the threshold of Hell!

Harpdog Brown

What It Is is a F&#cking great album from a guy who looks a little bit like Burl Ives.

Selwyn Birchwood

Don’t Call No Ambulance, just put the suit on and get in the sleigh.

Alexis P. Suter Band

You’ll find this in your stocking if you’ve been good, because Santa will Love The Way You Roll.

————————————————————

That’s it Biscuiteers, 14 CDs from 2014 we keep going back to more than the others.

There’s still a sleigh full of great music to explore from 2014. What were your favorites? Share with us on Facebook and Twitter @BluesBiscuits.

Happy Holidays everyone. It’s a Festivus for the rest of us!!!

36th Annual Blues Music Awards 2015 Nominees Announced

BMAThe Blues Foundation has announced the nominations for its annual Blues Music Awards, which will be presented at the Cook Convention Center in downtown Memphis, Tennessee, on Thursday, May 7, 2015. The annual Blues Music Awards ceremony is the premier event for blues professionals, musicians, and fans from all over the world.

We’re glad to see many of our favorites made the list including Alexis P. Suter, Bruce Katz, Gary Clark Jr., Phil and Dave Alvin, and Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson. Receiving six nominations each are Elvin Bishop, John Németh and Sugar Ray NorciaRick Estrin and the Nightcats combined for four nominations in individual and band categories. Bobby Rush, Janiva Magness, The Mannish Boys and newcomer Jarekus Singleton each received three nominations. We saw Jarekus lay it down live this year and he is the real deal folks. Get out there and see him. We wish all the nominees the best of luck.

Tickets for the award ceremony are on sale at The Blues Store at www.blues.org. Blues Foundation members have the privilege of deciding which nominees will actually take home the Blues Music Award in May and will be receiving their ballots shortly. Are you a member? Join at blues.org.

The 36th Blues Music Award nominees are:

Acoustic Album
Hard Luck Child: A Tribute to Skip James – Rory Block
Jericho Road – Eric Bibb
Jigsaw Heart – Eden Brent
Son & Moon: A Tribute to Son House – John Mooney
Timeless – John Hammond

Acoustic Artist
Doug MacLeod
Eric Bibb
John Hammond
John Mooney
Rory Block

Album
Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop
Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
Memphis Grease – John Németh
Refuse to Lose – Jarekus Singleton
Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys

B.B. King Entertainer
Bobby Rush
Elvin Bishop
John Németh
Rick Estrin
Sugaray Rayford

Band
Elvin Bishop Band
John Németh & the Bo-Keys
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Mannish Boys

Best New Artist Album
Chromaticism – Big Harp George
Don’t Call No Ambulance – Selwyn Birchwood
Heavy Water – Fo’ Reel
Making My Mark – Annika Chambers & the Houston All-Stars
One Heart Walkin‘ – Austin Walkin’ Cane

Contemporary Blues Album
Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop
Original – Janiva Magness
Refuse to Lose -Jarekus Singleton
Hornet’s Nest – Joe Louis Walker
BluesAmericana – Keb’ Mo’

Contemporary Blues Female Artist
Beth Hart
Bettye LaVette
Janiva Magness
Marcia Ball
Shemekia Copeland

Contemporary Blues Male Artist
Elvin Bishop
Gary Clark Jr.
Jarekus Singleton
Joe Bonamassa
Joe Louis Walker

Historical
From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Michael Bloomfield (Columbia/Legacy)
Live at the Avant Garde – Magic Sam (Delmark)
Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951-1967 – The “5” Royales (Rock Beat)
The Modern Music Sessions 1948-1951 – Pee Wee Crayton (Ace)
The Roots of it All-Acoustic Blues – Various Artists (Bear Family)

Instrumentalist-Bass
Bob Stroger
Lisa Mann
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Patrick Rynn
Willie J. Campbell

Instrumentalist-Drums
Jimi Bott
June Core
Kenny Smith
Tom Hambridge
Tony Braunagel

Instrumentalist-Guitar
Anson Funderburgh
Joe Bonamassa
Johnny Winter
Kid Andersen
Ronnie Earl

Instrumentalist-Harmonica
Charlie Musselwhite
Kim Wilson
Mark Hummel
Rick Estrin
Sugar Ray Norcia

Instrumentalist-Horn
Al Basile
Deanna Bogart
Jimmy Carpenter
Sax Gordon
Terry Hanck

Koko Taylor Award
Alexis P Suter
Diunna Greenleaf
EG Kight
Ruthie Foster
Trudy Lynn

Pinetop Perkins Piano Player
Barrelhouse Chuck
Bruce Katz
David Maxwell
Eden Brent
Marcia Ball

Rock Blues Album
Step Back – Johnny Winter
Goin’ Home – Kenny Wayne Shepherd Band
Time Ain’t Free – Nick Moss Band
heartsoulblood – Royal Southern Brotherhood
The Blues Came Callin’ – Walter Trout

Song
“Another Murder in New Orleans” written by Carl Gustafson & Donald Markowitz, performed by Bobby Rush and Dr. John with Blinddog Smokin’
“Bad Luck Is My Name” written and performed by John Németh
“Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” written and performed by Elvin Bishop
“Let Me Breathe” written by|Janiva Magness & Dave Darling, performed by Janiva Magness
“Things Could Be Worse” written by Ray Norcia, performed by Sugar Ray & the Bluetones

Soul Blues Album
Blues for My Father – Vaneese Thomas
Decisions – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’
In My Soul – The Robert Cray Band
Memphis Grease – John Németh
Soul Brothers – Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls

Soul Blues Female Artist
Candi Staton
Missy Andersen
Sharon Jones
Sista Monica
Vaneese Thomas

Soul Blues Male Artist
Bobby Rush
Curtis Salgado
John Németh
Johnny Rawls
Otis Clay

Traditional Blues Album
Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin
For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters) – Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson
Livin’ it Up – Andy T-Nick Nixon Band
Living Tear To Tear – Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Hustle is Really On – Mark Hummel
Wrapped Up and Ready – The Mannish Boys

Traditional Blues Male Artist
Billy Boy Arnold
John Primer
Lurrie Bell
Sugar Ray Norcia
Sugaray Rayford

Blues And Roots Grammy Nominations Announced

GrammyLogoBluesBlues Grammy nominations are included with the American Roots Music category. Most of the Grammy nominations were announced today, leaving only the Album of the Year which will be announced tonight at 9 p.m. ET/PT during “A Very GRAMMY Christmas” on CBS.

I can’t say I agree with the Blues Album Of The Year nominees, although Common Ground and Juke Joint Chapel will make our Top 20 for the year. Maybe I’m jaded but I can’t help thinking Johnny Winter’s inclusion is solely because of his death. The record just isn’t that good.  At least Buddy Guy wasn’t nominated again. He’s like the Oprah of Blues Grammy category. I love Buddy Guy but he doesn’t have the best blues album every time he puts one out. I’m probably too cynical to be writing about Grammys. Anyway…

The Nominees are as follows:

BLUES ALBUM

“Common Ground – Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin Play And Sing The Songs Of Big Bill Broonzy,” Dave Alvin & Phil Alvin

“Promise Of A Brand New Day,” Ruthie Foster

“Juke Joint Chapel,” Charlie Musselwhite

“Decisions,” Bobby Rush With Blinddog Smokin’

“Step Back,” Johnny Winter

 

AMERICAN ROOTS PERFORMANCE

“Statesboro Blues,” Gregg Allman & Taj Mahal

“A Feather’s Not A Bird,” Rosanne Cash

“And When I Die,” Billy Childs Featuring Alison Krauss & Jerry Douglas

“The Old Me Better,” Keb’ Mo’ Featuring The California Feet Warmers

“Destination,” Nickel Creek

 

AMERICAN ROOTS SONG

“A Feather’s Not A Bird,” Rosanne Cash & John Leventhal (Rosanne Cash)

“Just So Much,” Jesse Winchester (Jesse Winchester)

“The New York Trains,” Woody Guthrie & Del McCoury (The Del McCoury Band)

“Pretty Little One,” Edie Brickell & Steve Martin, songwriters (Steve Martin And The Steep Canyon Rangers Featuring Edie Brickell)

“Terms Of My Surrender,” John Hiatt (John Hiatt)

 

AMERICANA ALBUM

“The River & The Thread,” Rosanne Cash

“Terms Of My Surrender,” John Hiatt

“Bluesamericana,” Keb’ Mo’

“A Dotted Line,” Nickel Creek

“Metamodern Sounds In Country Music,” Sturgill Simpson

 

BLUEGRASS ALBUM

“The Earls Of Leicester,” The Earls Of Leicester

“Noam Pikelny Plays Kenny Baker Plays Bill Monroe,” Noam Pikelny

“Cold Spell,” Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen

“Into My Own,” Bryan Sutton

“Only Me,” Rhonda Vincent

Hump Day! Risque Tunes For Your Midweek Blues 10/08/14

BluesBiscuitsHumpdayIt’s Hump Day again boys and girls and it’s time to get truckin’, if you know what I mean. If you’re not sure, these lewd, crude blues will surely get you into gear.

Ah, truckin’, the age old rhyming slang for its f-word counterpart – and I don’t mean fruckin’. Blind Boy Fuller referred to truckin’ in a few songs including “Truckin’ Little Baby” and “Truckin’ My Blues Away.” He liked to have some truckin’ fun! “Truckin’ My Blues Away” also gave rise to another song of his called “What’s That Smells Like Fish Mama” and you can all guess what it is. SPOILER ALERT! It rhymes with “sprunt.”

A few years after “Truckin’ Little Baby,” Big Bill Broonzy pulled a Led Zeppelin (or is it the other way around?) and came up with “Truckin’ Little Mama” albeit with somewhat different lyrics. Blind Boy Fuller’s influence reached far into the 20th Century and beyond. Hot Tuna regularly played a version of “Truckin’ My Blues Away” they called “Keep On Truckin’.” Blind Boy Fuller is widely credited as the originator of the phrase “keep on truckin'” so his reach is far beyond the musical realm. Nowadays, the term seems to mean “keep going” or “carry on” and the intercourse angle has been put to bed. It’s a truckin’ shame.

DavePhilAlvinCommonGroundBig Bill Broonzy has had a major influence on music of the 20th Century and beyond as well. He was a huge influence on Muddy Waters who in turn revolutionized Blues, Rock & Roll, and even popular music, of every era since. In early 80’s southern California the Alvin brothers put together a band called The Blasters which was greatly influenced by Big Bill Broonzy. Dave and Phil Alvin have rekindled their musical relationship and released a tribute to Big Bill Broonzy (our review of it can be found here). Today we have a video from their recent tour doing a truckin’ great version of “Truckin’ Little Woman.”

If all goes well you’ll find yourself a truckin’ little woman for Hump Day who hopefully doesn’t have anything that smells like fish. if you are a truckin’ little woman, keep your cabin clean and keep on truckin’. For our final entry (that sounds dirty) we have a tune I found that doesn’t really fit in except that Kokomo Arnold seems to be happy to engage a Sissy Man if he can’t find a lady. So, if you can’t find a truckin’ little woman, maybe try a sissy man. Good luck with all that…

Blind Boy Fuller She’s A Truckin’ Little Baby

Big Bill Broonzy Truckin’ Little Woman

Hot Tuna Keep On Truckin’

Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Truckin’ Little Woman

Kokomo Arnold Sissy Man Blues

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.”