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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! Friday Fast Five CD Reviews – August 29, 2014

Welcome back folks. The Friday Fast Five is back after a week off. I hope you found the Two For Tuesday CD reviews we put up on Tuesday. This week we have a wide variety of styles from excellent musicians out there keeping the blues vibrant, potent, and relevant.

 

JayWillieRumblinSlidinJay Willie Blues Band

Rumblin’ And Slidin’

ZOHO Music

Released August 12, 2014

If I see a Firebird and a slide on an album cover, I’m in, and thus Jay Willie Blues Band had me interested before I ever heard a note of the new Rumblin’ And Slidin’ CD. I was not disappointed. This is fresh sounding music, even when it’s old. Jay Willie’s vocals have a bemused innocence that obfuscates the seasoned professional within. Rumblin’ And Slidin’ starts with a spacey version of Link Wray’s “Rumble.” Harpmeister Jason Ricci completely disguises his harmonica with effects until it sounds like Funkadelic playing the blues. “Key To The Highway” is a stomping dirge with more howling harp from Ricci. The relentless pounding beat takes this tune in a new direction and makes it a standout track on the album and among the myriad versions of this all-time classic.

“Fly Away” is a spirit-lifting take on the Edgar Winter tune. Guest Suzanne Vick sings it convincingly; urging us all to believe anything is possible. Jason Ricci blows his harp for all he’s worth in “It Hurts Me Too” which is given a stripped down arrangement. It sounds like it was recorded live in crystal cavern 60 feet underground. The resonant slide riffs entwine with the harmonica to create a demonic howl born in the depths of Hell. The covers are interesting but the originals are damned good too. On “Dirty 2:30” Willie’s slithery slide lubricates the proceedings and bassist Steve Clarke takes a funky solo as the tune closes. “Bad News” is rambunctious fun and “Rotten Person” is the best Johnny Winter song I’ve heard in a while. That’s a compliment. The Firebird and slide, Bobby Torello’s raspy vocal delivery, and the amusing subject wrap it all up in classic blues rock style. I love it.

The album closes with four bonus live tracks that make me long for more. The Jay Willie Blues band absolutely cooks on these tracks. “Hold Me Tight Talk Dirty” and “Tore Down” are raucous and Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” is turned into a funky hard rock jam. These four tunes make a great case for catching the band live wherever they’re Rumblin’ And Slidin’. Until then, this disc will more than tide you over.

 

DavinaVagabondsSunshineDavina & The Vagabonds

Sunshine

Roustabout Records

Released July 15, 2014

The blues genre is like a forest. There are many types of trees, all part of the larger landscape twisted together at root level and bound by the earth that surrounds them. Blues and jazz roots mingle below the soil and new hybrids occasionally emerge. Springing from this fertile ground comes Davina And The Vagabonds. Somehow they avoid convention while embracing tradition. There are no guitars; no harmonicas. No sax man. Instead they use trombones, trumpets, and tubas. Davina’s piano is, of course, prominent. The tone is earthy, dreamy and nostalgic. The musicians have changed a bit since their last disc, but the new disc Sunshine is brighter than a gleaming sousaphone.

The title track opens the disc with what sounds like Davina singing through an old wind-up Victrola and morphs into an upbeat anthem for rejuvenation. “Flow” is a bouncy track built on Davina’s piano figure, and chiming horns. It is New Orleans Jazz stripped to its core. “Fizzle Out” sounds impossibly contemporary, “Red Shoes” it a delightful romp that makes you want to stay home with Davina every night, and “I’d Rather Drink Muddy Water” is a defiantly strutting cover of the Eddie Miller track.

The music on Sunshine has camp, sass and coy sexuality. It could be played at 2 a.m. in a smoky jazz club or when throwing open the curtains at dawn. It will make you dance, writhe, and relax. The instrumentation is deceptively primitive, and the band conjures creative arrangements which prevent your ears from recognizing the con. The piano deftly connects the odd instrumentation and captures your attention in a web of delightful music you’d never expect to enjoy this much. It also helps that Davina writes clever songs and delivers them with panache. Davina And The Vagabonds are a throwback to the days before blues, when minstrels roamed the country side bringing entertainment and music to masses. Their ability to capture this spirit on tape is an accomplishment in itself. Do yourself a favor and enjoy it.

 

RipLeePryorNobodyButMeRip Lee Pryor

Nobody But Me

Electro-Fi Records

Released April 15, 2014

Rip Lee Pryor is the son of Blues legend Snooky Pryor. His new disc is his second foray into the music business. His first time around was spent touring and playing guitar with his dad. He put out an independent CD in 1999 and promptly left the music scene in 2000 to focus on carpentry. All the while, Rip wanted to play again. Some personal issues including a bout with cancer stopped him from returning. Today, Rip Lee’s cancer has been in remission since 2011 and he’s not wasting any more time. He’s been touring the world, taking his blues to South America, Europe, and across the USA. In 2013 he spent two days recording his re-entry disc, Nobody But Me. It mixes a handful of originals with tunes by his dad, Sonny Boy Williamson II, and Elmore James. The result is an intimate, foot-tapping record that brings Rip Lee Pryor right into your living room.

Nobody But Me starts off rocking with “Shake Your Boogie.” She’s out there shaking her boogie, if you know what I mean. The title track is a one of three Rip Lee Pryor originals. It’s pure Rip Lee, just the man and his guitar, harp and voice doing what he does best. His rudimentary guitar strumming is propulsive as his thumb keeps the beat on the bottom strings and he puffs away on the harmonica into a handmade mic. His voice has a personal quality that draws you in even when the words are sparse as they are on “Nobody But Me.” “You Got To Move” is gentle and earthy yet emphatic. He’s not happy about it but still you got to go. Sorry. Here’s your hat. “Stuck On Stupid” is another of his originals and displays a keen wit. Rip Lee’s originals fit perfectly with the covers and it’s a shame he didn’t write more for the record.

My personal tastes lean more toward his songs with drums and bass, but I found myself draw into the solo performances in a way that doesn’t usually happen. Rip Lee Pryor may be the son of a famous blues man but, Rip Lee is his own man and it comes through in his music. Nobody But Me is appropriately titled. As you listen you get a clear portrait of the man and his music. With his quiet rasp, sparse guitar, and lonesome harmonica, Rip Lee Pryor strips away any pretense, shine, or clutter and gets to the heart of each song he performs.

 

SelwynBirchwoodDontCallNoAmbulanceSelwyn Birchwood

Don’t Call No Ambulance

Alligator Records

Released June 10, 2014

In 2013, Selwyn Birchwood won the International Blues Challenge and the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award which caught the eyes and ears of Alligator Records’ president Bruce Iglauer. The Florida native has been touring steadily since winning the IBC, building a fan base the old fashioned way. The Alligator debut Don’t Call No Ambulance should have no problem adding to that fan base especially in light of its presence near the top of the blues charts for weeks and weeks.

Selwyn’s appearance and youth belies his deep voice and mature musical sound. He’s been touring since the age of nineteen when he was a member of Sonny Rhodes’ band. He displays a command of several blues styles and delivers a diverse album. “Addicted” is the opener and pumps hard in the fashion of many tunes in the Alligator catalog. It is especially reminiscent of Albert Collins’ work. Selwyn rips it up over a funky bass line that recalls Johnny B. Gayden. This tune mixes Collins with Freddie King and pulls together two and a half minutes of effervescence that perfectly opens this tour de force album. From there, the band lances into the Hill Country stomp of the title track. This one rocks and rolls at a frenetic pace that feels like it very well may require an ambulance.

Drummer Curtis Nutall spent five years in Joe Louis Walker’s band and his former boss turns up to play slide on the scorching “The River Turned Red.” “Love Me Again” is a gentle plea for forgiveness; “Brown Paper Bag” is a nine minute showcase explaining why he won the Albert King Guitarist Of The Year Award. “Queen Of Hearts” has a funky groove and shows off the talent of band saxophonist Regi Oliver. The bass is positively pulsating while Oliver plays a fat solo, then Selwyn jumps in with a solo on the edge of restraint. He has the opportunity to overplay but never does. “Overworked And Underpaid” is a quiet lonesome lament with guest RJ Harman on harmonica. Birchwood plays the blues lowdown and gritty on lap steel, glistening like the sweat on his brow. The disc closes back-porch boogie style with “Hoodoo Stew.” It’s a jumping slide guitar jam that will make your crawfish boil without ever lighting a fire. It closes the album on a high note for sure, and leaves you wanting more. Selwyn Birchwood is the total package. He has an identifiable, satisfying voice, finely honed songwriting skills, and outstanding guitar chops. He should be leading the vanguard of young blues players for years to come.

 

MannishBoysWrappedUpAndReadyMannish Boys

Wrapped Up And Ready

Delta Groove Records

Released June 17, 2014

The Mannish Boys are a loose collective of west coast blues all-stars spearheaded by Randy Chortkoff. Though the lineup may change, the quality of the music remains high and the dynamic membership keeps the it fresh. This time around, for Wrapped Up And Ready, coordinator-in-chief Randy Chortkoff is joined by Sugar Ray Rayford on vocals and harmonica, Kirk Fletcher and Frank Goldwasser on guitars, Willie J. Campbell on bass, and Jimi Bott on drums. Rotating in and out of the lineup on this disc are special guests including Candye Kane, Bob Corritore, Laura Chavez, Kim Wilson, Kid Ramos, Steve Freund, Monster Mike Welch, and Fred Kaplan among others.

“I Ain’t Sayin’” is a strutting opener with Monster Mike Welch sitting in on lead guitar. Mike plays on eight tracks and may as well join the band; he fits in seamlessly with the ensemble. Speaking of the ensemble, you need a score card to keep up with the personnel on this disc but the amazing feat is the cohesive sound and tone of the album. Everyone contributes their talents to the greater good, which turned out great. For instance, Steve Freund sits in as lead guitarist on “It Was Fun” and plays tasty licks that elevate the song and keep it interesting. Fred Kaplan plays piano on eleven tunes and his accents and fills add significant textures all over the album. His fills in the Candye Kane sung “I Idolize You” sparkle like Candye’s delivery. With Wrapped Up And Ready Chortkoff has created a blueprint for making a perfect blues album. You might expect such a contrivance to seem forced and lack personality, but therein lays his genius. While Chortkoff plays and sings occasionally, his real talent seems to lie in matching musicians to material for the best possible result.

Sugar Ray Rayford puts a lot of personality into his delivery and his harp playing is top notch throughout Wrapped Up And Ready. “You Better Watch Yourself” gives Rayford and guitarist Kirk Fletcher plenty of sparring room. Steve Freund returns to blaze a path through a tune he wrote and sang called “The Blues Has Made Me Whole.” While highlights abound on Wrapped Up And Ready, Kirk Fletcher’s closer “Blues For Michael Bloomfield” is a scorcher. Monster Mike Welch joins Fletcher and takes the second solo but truly the whole song is full of guitar soloing so listen close for the guitar tones to change. Clocking in over eight minutes, it serves up a stunning testament to Fletcher and Welch. They channel Bloomfield, filter it through their own styles and deliver an incredibly moving and scalding finale. This is a breathtaking way to end a superb record. I highly recommend picking this one up and I dare you to find all the personnel changes without looking!

Fresh Biscuits! Alastair Greene Band – Trouble At Your Door CD Review

AlastairGreeneAlastair Greene Band

Trouble At Your Door

Eclecto Groove Records

Delta Groove Productions

Alastair Greene Band’s fifth studio album Trouble At Your Door was released June 17th, 2014 on Eclecto Groove Records. It’s blues; it’s rock; it’s rough and tumble hardy music from guys with loud guitars and a grand devotion to 70’s rock, and I like it.

“People” opens Trouble At Your Door with a stomping slide groove as Alastair Greene calls on people to make a stand or take a fall. “Back Where I Belong” is an updated take on the classic John Lee Hooker boogie riff with gritty tones and rasp-saw soloing. “Red Wine Woman” finds Greene plucking a resonator acoustic guitar while tempting the ladies with fermented grapes of joy.

“Love You So Bad” shows off the chops and makes a play for the Blues Speed Record; “Calling For You” is a spacey, atmospheric slow blues which belies his recent work with Alan Parsons, and “Pretty Price To Pay” calls out a woman on her ability to turn bullshit into art.

“Make The Devil’s Day” is my kind of blues rock song. It kicks in with a snappy drum beat, a chugging bass riff and a soloing electric guitar that fall in one after another and crank it up to rawk. Alastair Greene’s solo goes for the jugular with relentless attack and ferocious licks. Why are songs about the Devil so good?

If you like blues rock from Robin Trower to Gov’t Mule, you’re going to like Trouble At Your Door. Alastair Greene refuses to retread blues clichés in his lyrics, writes gripping songs with immaculately sparse arrangements and he makes every note count. Pop this CD in on the way home from work and you’ll forget all about those pesky TPS reports.

For information about touring and shows check Alastair Greene’s website.

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