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Fresh Biscuits! Weekly CD Reviews – February 20, 2015

We’re back again with some CD reviews for you. This week we have some exciting instrumental hi-jinks, kick-ass rockin’ blues, and a delightful R&B influenced album. If you’re in the Northeast like me, you’re probably frozen, snowed in, and offering bounties for Jack Frost on Craigslist. These hot Blues will hopefully warm you up. As always, I hope you find something interesting for your ears!

JohnGintyBadNewsTravelsLiveJohn Ginty

Bad News Travels Live

American Showplace Music

Release Date January 13, 2015

 

Organist John Ginty is a Morristown, NJ native who has traveled the world playing in the road bands of acts like Jewel and Dixie Chicks plus stints with Citizen Cope and several others. Ginty is a founding member of Robert Randolph and the Family Band with whom he received two Grammy nominations. In 2003, John appeared on the Blind Boys of Alabama’s Grammy Award winning album Higher Ground. Maybe it was just luck, but it’s more likely that John Ginty knows how to pick his musical partners. When it came time to record his first studio album, 2013’s Bad News Travels, he chose a host of superb musicians to join him. Recently, Ginty released a double disc live set recorded in front of a small audience in the studio where he created Bad News Travels –  Showplace Studios, in Dover, NJ. Reuniting with many of the guests from his album, Ginty presents the music in organic form – musicians in a room playing off each other and drawing energy from the joy of music making. Thus we have Bad News Travels Live.

Bad News Travels Live is not merely an exercise in replicating the studio album. Ginty and friends fine-tuned the running order and added a pair of Ginty originals not on the studio album. The result is an energetic, uplifting romp through timeless sounding music. The set starts with the funky driving rhythm of “Switch.” The whole band gets to stretch their fingers and preview the stellar musicianship about to be unleashed upon the crowd. The band includes Mike Buckman on guitar, Paul Kuzik on bass, Dan Fadel on drums, and Anrei Koribanics also on drums. The drummers are exceptional together and provide the finely tuned engine this band needs to perform at optimal magnitude. They are the drum corps, front line, back line and boogie crew laying down the beat for me and you! “Arrivals” is a raucous instrumental that reminds me of a revved up version of Buddy Guy’s “Man Of Many Words.” Ginty is man of many notes and I’m pretty sure I heard all of them in this tune. Luckily I am not Emperor Joseph II from Amadeus. I do not believe in too many notes. “Arrivals” is a breath taking experience but just as soon as it’s gone Albert Castiglia is out on stage firing up a mellower but no less brilliant “Elvis Presley.” The King is dead, long live the king! Apparently Elvae are popping up in visions all over town. This is a fun tune and adds levity to a session that people could interpret as serious business.

While there is no shortage of instrumental serious business here, John Ginty had the good sense to bring in a vocal powerhouse to match the fleet fingered fireworks. Dynamo Alexis P. Suter lends her inimitable voice to “Seven And The Spirit” along with her Alexis P. Suter Band partner in crime Jimmy Bennett on guitar. Bennett is a well-rounded tasteful player who seems to play exactly what the songs needs. “Seven And The Spirit” has plenty of hot jamming from Bennett and Ginty and winds down with a nod to Otis Redding’s “Can’t Turn You Loose.” Alexis also provides the perfect foil for Ginty and Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control.” This swampy boogie with scorching guitars fires up a crawfish boil that’ll have the whole neighborhood dropping by.

Speaking of dropping by, Todd Wolfe drops by for a pair of tunes and while I was hoping he would sing, he did not. He did however put on his There & Back Jeff Beck hat, cranked the overdrive on his Fender amp and blasted out Telecaster licks that would have made Roy Buchanan smile – and we all know that didn’t happen often. Wolfe plays on “Peanut Butter” and “Rock Ridge.” The latter sounds so familiar I thought it was a Jeff Beck tune for a moment. Wolfe’s slide playing is pitch perfect as he feeds the beasts that prowl out on “Rock Ridge.” Cris Jacobs takes a plunge into his old jam band days, ripping up wicked solos on “Mirrors” as well as trading blazing licks with Albert Castiglia on “Damage Control” and “The Quirk.” John Ginty is the perfect host, encouraging all his guests to shine by giving them plenty of musical space and pushing them higher with his own dynamic playing. Still, Ginty is the star of the show. He gets an amazing array of sounds from his Hammond B-3, Vintage Vibe piano, and an acoustic piano. There are no synthesizers – just a man who knows how to get the most from his instruments. He is a monumental talent who has thus far evaded the ears of too many. The music from this double CD is also available on DVD. With DVD you can watch up close as the maestro coaxes otherworldly notes from his keyboard. The DVD is a bird’s eye view of the live session and offers the opportunity to see how these performers interacted and created this powerful music.

I get a lot of CDs to review and unfortunately I don’t have time to write about them all. I have to choose what to cover and I prefer to write about music I like. Even still, some of the records I’ve reviewed fall by the wayside after a short time. John Ginty’s Bad News Travels Live is not one of those records. I loved it from the first few notes. Last year I heard John playing live on B.B. King’s Bluesville on Sirius XM. I was beyond impressed and filed his name away to investigate. John’s talent on keyboards, his songwriting, and his musical perspective leave me wanting more. If I was a keyboard player, I don’t know if I’d want to quit or go practice more but this is one of those records that gets you musically fired up and ready to jam. The Bad News is Good News and it all travels at the speed of sound. Go hear some today!

 

EricSardinasBoomerangEric Sardinas

Boomerang

Jazzhaus Records

Release Date January 13, 2015

 

Eric Sardinas has been taking the world by storm one gig at a time for over 15 years. He looks like Ian Astbury’s cousin from Texas and plays guitar like he taught the Devil at some crossroads south of Hell. His voice is raspy and road weary; honest and bold, emitting emotion with every note. Born in Florida Sardinas first got his hands on a guitar at age six. Inspiration came from the roots music in his mother’s collection and his elder brother’s penchant for classic rock. As a teen, Eric dove head first into the Blues. His own music gave voice to the amalgamation of those influences. His music falls on the harder rocking side of blues and over a series of records he has honed his skills, wrestled with demons, logged the miles, and fought the good fight for music that comes from the heart and gut. His latest album with his band Big Motor is called Boomerang and it brings all those elements back around again for a triumphant, defiant set.

The electrified acoustic resonator is the first thing you hear on Boomerang and in many ways it’s all you need to know about Eric Sardinas’ new album. It is his signature instrument. It is ragged, gritty, down, and dirty. It is street level brilliance and elegant savagery. The song you’re hearing is “Run Devil Run” and it needs to be heard on big, loud speakers that used to fill living rooms with faux wood chic and big black rectangles daring you to tangle with them. Be prepared to listen to the whole damned thing this way because ear buds will never do this joyful noise any justice. All too soon, “Run Devil Run” is over but “Boomerang” is booming with positive waves of energy and more of that chugging guitar. Sardinas gets a variety of tones from his resonator on “Tell Me You’re Mine.” From the squonky wah-wah effects to white-washed wall of sound slides, he packs this tune with undeniably imaginative guitar licks. His voice is also in fine form all over Boomerang. Eric Sardinas voice and guitar playing make the rare perfect match in a singer/guitarist. Some guitar playing bandleaders sing because there is no other choice. Sardinas voice seems inextricably linked to his hands and tone. His hearty voice is as much a part of his musical charm as his guitar playing.

The disc is dedicated to Eric’s friend Johnny Winter who passed away last year. Eric’s Rock and Roll style of blues is akin to Johnny’s early 70s work. “If You Don’t Love Me” exemplifies this with its back breaking beat, high speed classic blues riffs, and white hot slide licks. Coupled with the next track, Leiber and Stoller’s classic “Trouble,” Sardinas seems to be offering a one two punch from his Johnny Winter bag of tricks. It’s a classic Rock & Roll original, served with grime and grease on a steaming hot Blue Plate with a side of kick-your-ass. You’re still listening through the 35” high Pioneers right?

Unlike Johnny Winter, Eric doesn’t go for the extended solos and wild jams. Boomerang is a succinct ten song record clocking in at just under thirty-five minutes. This is old school, wham bam, thank you ma’am, hit ‘em hard, hit ‘em again and go rockin’ blues. There’s no special edition, no bonus tracks, and no songs you don’t want to hear. They left the scraps on the cutting room floor and we’re all better for it. This band is on fire, the playing is powerful and the songs just might get you in trouble with the law. Big Motor runs on high octane fuel and Boomerang is it.

 

BennyTurnerJourneyBenny Turner

Journey

NOLA Blue

Released on October 27, 2014

 

Benny Turner is from Gilmer, TX. His family later decided to move to the Windy City where his brother Freddie King eventually rose to fame. Benny played in Freddie’s band for a long time and after Freddie’s passing, Benny went on the road with Mighty Joe Young and later Marva Wright. He’s made some Soul singles in the past and released a few blues CDs recently as well. Benny Turner is a bassist and singer with quite a pedigree and musical history. He brings together all those experiences on his most recent album called simply, Journey.

Journey follows divergent paths that weave in and around each other on this genre-bending set. A classic Blues shuffle called “Breakin’ News” is our first step on the path and it’s a rollicking roller with thumping bass and pulsing organ that will have you skipping down the road like you just dropped a house on a witch. The horn section swings and Jellybean Alexander pounds out the rhythm giving this tune a robust arrangement full of hidden charm. Someday I absolutely must be in a band with a guy named Jellybean. “Don’t Ride My Mule” sounds dirty and “I Wanna Give It To You” is dirty. If you’re familiar with our Hump Day features you know we love dirty blues. I wonder if Turner’s significant other is aware of being compared to a Mule. It probably explains the romantic evening he has planned in “I Wanna Give It To You.”

“How I Wish” is an old-style Blues a la Bobby Blue Bland. The big background vocals, horn section, and gliding minor chords make it a lush genre-jumping arrangement. The tune is beautifully delivered and Turner’s vocals are sublime. “My Mother’s Blues” takes us back to the porch of his childhood home. The rustic approach and sparse arrangement is a welcome break from the Big City Blues that make up the bulk of this set. It also shows Turner is comfortable and adept with all styles of Blues. Turner plays the blues on Kazoo here and makes it not only palatable but welcome. This is also one of two songs on which Benny plays guitar on the album. He is a genuine jack of all trades and plays guitar with laid back confidence. “My Mother’s Blues” is bouncy, catchy, and oddly beautiful.

Benny also plays guitar on “My Uncle’s Blues (Fannie Mae).” He plays a perfect cadence and Patrick Williams howls on the harmonica. I guess Benny’s uncle like chasing women through the hay. This is a robust rabble rouser, strident and strong, strutting like the king of the barnyard. With this song, “Don’t Ride My Mule,” and “I Wanna Give It To You” Benny Turner shows there has been and always should be fun in the Blues. Unfortunately, Blues is also about the hard times too. Our Journey ends with a poignant minor blues/gospel combination called “What’s Wrong With The World Today.” Vocalists Tara Alexander, Deanna Bernard, Ellen Smith, and Bruce “Sunpie” Barnes form a choir around Turner’s plea for peace, love, and understanding. Turner calls out cities like Detroit, Baltimore, and Chicago to “lay your pistols down boys.” The verse calling out cities is a goose bump moment. It is a chilling reminder that our struggles are greater than ourselves and need to be addressed from sea to sea. It’s a message of peace from a man whose Journey in life has been from the Jim Crow south the Obama administration. However, Benny Turner’s musical Journey is just getting started again and I suggest you join him.

Fresh Biscuits! Bruce Katz Band Homecoming CD Review

Well folks, I just have one review for you this week. I spent a lot of time with this disc recently and ended up writing 800 words on it and I could have kept going. But don’t let that scare you!

I hope you enjoy the review and I hope you find something interesting for your ears.

BruceKatzHomecomingBruce Katz Band
Homecoming
American Showplace Music
Released on November 11, 2014

Bruce Katz is an in-demand sideman and has been for over 25 years. He has appeared on over 70 albums including six with Blues Maestro Ronnie Earl. Bruce spent nearly six years as a member of Gregg Allman’s band and has recorded and/or performed with John Hammond, Delbert McClinton, Duke Robillard, Joe Louis Walker, Little Milton, Maria Muldaur, Debbie Davies, and notably, Mighty Sam McClain. During Bruce’s nearly five year run with Ronnie Earl’s Broadcasters, he toured the world, wrote and co-wrote many songs, such as “The Colour of Love,” “Ice Cream Man,” and “Hippology” and won the Downbeat Critics Poll for Best Blues Album of 1996 for Grateful Heart. Bruce Katz’ solo projects retain much of what makes Ronnie Earl’s music so powerful. It has emotional depth, integrity, and beauty. Plus, he’s not afraid to rock it up once in while either, and when he does you better hold on to your hat. Homecoming, the new album from Bruce Katz Band captures all those elements and through his power of sonic alchemy presents us with musical gold.

The title track gets things going with an easy beat shuffle, with Bruce laying down the chords on organ while guest guitarist Jimmy Bennett of Alexis P. Suter Band glides through the tune on lap steel. The tune reminds me of a lazy Sunday, sitting lakeside, and waiting on a fish to bite. Katz’ organ is the comfortable cushion on the porch glider, Ralph Rosen’s drums provide the swing, and Bennett and Bruce Katz Band guitarist Chris Vitarello trade licks like frogs snapping at flies while I sip a big old glass of Sweet Tea. “King Of Decatur” continues the laid back Southern feel, even with its funky Little Feat style of New Orleans funk. Drummer Randy Ciarlante sits in for an adhoc NOLA drum section and sings, while Jimmy Bennett’s lap steel conjures everyone from Lowell George to Sonny Landreth. How is it that Bruce doesn’t play accordion on this one?

“Santa Fe Blues” has an old style piano boogie feel, something you’d expect to hear in a saloon in a train town of the Old West. Bruce’s chops on piano are stellar. Every note is crisp and clear. The first time I listened to it I didn’t notice someone was singing. I was wrapped up in Bruce’s piano playing. I was looking at the liner notes and realized John Hammond sings the tune and plays guitar. I had to go back and listen again, and again, and… you get the picture. I love their treatment of this old Lightnin’ Hopkins tune. It’s a truly standout performance from Mr. Katz. I eventually realized John Hammond does a damned fine job singing too. Elmore James’ “Wild About You Baby” gets the Hound Dog Taylor roadhouse blues barrelhouse all night long treatment and it’s one of those moments you’ve always been waiting for. It’s great musicians playing ragged ass blues and getting it right.

“Amelia” is a playful piano driven tune Katz wrote for his granddaughter. The beat is relentless like a toddler might be and the music has a happy-go-lucky ebullience. “Time Flies” is a short and sweet swinging piece with quick moving unison playing between the guitar and organ. Rumor has it that Katz is one hell of a bass player. His left hand sure lays down a beauty of a bass line on “Time Flies.” It had me wondering who the bass player was, but to my surprise none was listed. Bruce is a dynamo. “Time Flies” captures the essence of his potent trio. It brings together telepathic playing, incredible chops, and memorable music.

Homecoming is split roughly half and half between instrumentals and songs with vocalists. Jimmy Bennett and John Hammond sing two songs each, Randy Ciarlante sings one and BKB guitarist Chris Vitarello sings his song “The Sky’s The Limit.” Chris sings well and is an exquisite guitarist. He finds the perfect style for each song and even his improvisations sound composed. He gets the right tones, the right notes, and the right attitude. Drummer Ralph Rosen certainly knows how to kick up some dust. He is more than a drummer though. He is a percussionist. He finds all the right accents, and plays eclectic beats that make perfect sense for the tunes.

Homecoming is a crowning achievement for Bruce Katz and his cohorts. The Bruce Katz Band’s music has the air of unflagging tradition yet it blurs the lines between genres. It is of itself and beyond itself at the same time. It’s like Mozart with a jazz trio playing at Junior’s Juke Joint on a Thursday night. There’s no name for it and it doesn’t really need one. At a recent show, Bruce was heard to say, several times, that “It’s all Blues.” I think we can go with that.

Alexis P. Suter Band Brings Blues Power To The Chandelier Lobby

On Saturday November 15 marked the launch of the second season of the “Live from the Chandelier Lobby” concert series at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, PA. The Chandelier Lobby series will feature one performance per month beginning in November and run through April 2015. This year, Michael Cloeren, founder of the Pocono/Pennsylvania Blues Festival and director of the Philadelphia Folk Festival, will serve as emcee for each performance. Michael will be introducing the performers and conducting brief Q&A sessions with the artists. The setting is the intimate Chandelier Lobby of the F.M. Kirby Center, with soft lighting and general admission seating featuring some tables, soft cushioned benches, and other chairs. Every seat gets terrific sound and there are multiple opportunities to meet the artists.

2014-11-15-03NormanTaylorAlexis P. Suter Band and special guest Norman Taylor kicked off the second season with hot sets of blues on a cold November night. Norman Taylor released his CD Blue Soul earlier this year and he performed several tracks from the disc for an appreciative crowd. Taylor later said he received his first standing ovation that night and it was well deserved. His powerful and deep voice resonated throughout the lobby and his intricate guitar picking provided depth for his one-man performance. Taylor is a throwback to the early days of Blues and traveling musicians. He is a lone musician with guitar and voice, using both to great effect as he entertains the crowd with originals, traditionals, spirituals, and popular covers. Mr. Taylor took a few steps out from under the blues umbrella and treated the audience to a plaintive version of Bobby Womack’s tale of urban struggle “Across 110th Street.” Mr. Taylor’s set, however, was the calm before the storm.

2014-11-15-08JohnGintyThe Alexis P. Suter Band is Blues rockin’ force of nature and cannot be denied. Their new album Love The Way You Roll has been on top of the charts since it came out last summer. The band has been touring around the East Coast, building their following one show at a time. Brothers Jimmy and Peter Bennett, on guitar and bass respectively, and drummer Ray Grappone is the power trio at the heart of the band. They work together like a well-oiled machine. A machine that takes full flight once Alexis P. Suter starts to sing. Back-up vocalist Vicki Bell provides the high harmony that keeps the music soaring. On the evening of November 15th, the band was joined by keyboardist extraordinaire John Ginty. Ginty and the band are old friends and he locked right into the APSB groove.

Alexis P. Suter Band covers a lot of ground in their live shows. They will take you up to the mountain top and kick your ass – in the best way possible of course! Alexis’ Gospel roots and message of love permeates the music yet the band still rips it up with Devil’s music riffs flying fast and furious. They presented many tunes from their hot new album Love The Way You Roll but it was the stunning, heart wrenching performance of “Let It Be” that left the crowd slack-jawed and dazed. Alexis’ mother had been ill for a while and concern for her mother came through crystal clear in her impassioned performance. Her voice cracked with emotion as Alexis belted out “Mother Mary comes to me!” toward the end of the songs. With tears in her eyes and love in her heart she took ownership of Sir Paul’s Beatles classic. This is her song now and she shares it, and herself, with the audience every time she sings it.

2014-11-15-18AlexisPSuterThe night ended with the band’s trademark closer of Slim Harpo’s “Shake Your Hips.” Showing she is a woman of good humor, Alexis demonstrated the proper way to shake that booty. After an emotionally powerful set, it was a great way to cut loose and send everyone home smiling and in high spirits. The Alexis P. Suter Band is the real deal. Their original songs are compelling, the musicians give everything they have, and the smiles all across the stage let everyone know they’re music is a labor of love. If you love live music with heart, energy, and road-tested grit this is your band. Shake your hips on out to see them as soon as possible.

For more information about “Live from the Chandelier Lobby” concert series at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre, PA visit their website at http://www.kirbycenter.org. The next act on the roster is Cabinet, who will play two nights – December 19th and 20th 2014.

Fresh Biscuits! Alexis P. Suter Band – Love The Way You Roll CD Review

APSBLoveTheWayYouRollAlexis P. Suter Band
Love The Way You Roll
American Showplace Music

Alexis P. Suter is the owner of that big, booming voice you can hear roaring out of Brooklyn into the heart of the North American continent. The Alexis P. Suter Band’s star is certainly on the rise as accolades continue to pour in and they continue to beguile audiences from town to town. The band burst on to the music scene via Levon Helm’s legendary Midnight Rambles in Woodstock, NY. Levon was captured by what he called Alexis’ wonderful spirit and had the band open for him around 90 times.

By 2012, Alexis was nominated for Best Soul Blues Female Artist at the 33rd Annual Blues Music Awards. The band was known for its mix of Blues, Soul, and Gospel influences and continued to build momentum by releasing Two Sides in 2011 and taking the new music to the stage. Perhaps now more than ever the band is poised for a national and international break. Love The Way You Roll is the new album from Alexis P. Suter Band on American Showplace Music and it has all the hallmarks of a classic benchmark album.

“Nuthin’ In The World” drags us onto the boards with a hot jam filled with tasty guitar licks and is built on a churning riff with unexpected changes. The vocals are gritty and the harmonies are loose. This is a stage song and they captured it expertly. “25 Years” is about a significant other sitting in the jailhouse and it looks like they’ll be getting 25 years. It’s another tough barroom blues with a circular riff that accents the futility of waiting 25 years for some idiot who got pinched. Forget making the bail, Alexis, time to move on. If I have any real problem with this album it’s in this song. The words make no reference to unjust accusations or innocence, so the singer seems to weighing the pros and “cons” of waiting for this delinquent. Maybe it was murder and the victim really deserved it. I don’t know, but thinking about is distracting me.

Two songs later I’ve forgotten all about the jailbird and his bail because the John Lee Hooker boogie of “Big Mama” has me enthralled with its chunky riffs and elastic slide guitar. Jimmy Bennett is a helluva guitar player and his work fires just about every song on Love The Way You Roll. In fact, it may be Alexis’ name on the APSB freight train but the engine room is manned by the power trio of Bennett, Bennett & Grappone. The Bennett Brothers, Jimmy on guitar and Peter on bass, interact like they’ve been doing this since the womb. They were truly born to play together, never missing a move the other one makes. Drummer Ray Grappone and Peter Bennett lay down the groove like a heavy duty Rhythm and Blues machine on the verge of Rock and Roll. Jimmy Bennett knows how to write the thick sounding riffs a trio needs and his soloing ranges from passionately restrained to full blown psychedelic bluster. He uses a wide variety of implements from a wah-wah pedal to slide guitar and always has the right tool for the job. He is more than capable of over playing and hogging the spotlight with guitar wizardry but he doesn’t. That’s the mark of a master musician. His contributions, as well as Peter’s and Ray’s, make the whole sound better than the sum of its parts. They are a musical tandem, stretching and twisting in perfect synchrony, and they’re even better live. What was I complaining about again?

The title track “Love The Way You Roll” also features a snarling slide guitar with Alexis sounding imposing and almost evil. This perplexing juxtaposition of subject matter and musical presentation adds tension to the song and really makes it kick. “Gonna Love You” is a sultry slow burn with simmering organ added by journeyman extraordinaire John Ginty. Suter dives into this one and gives a provocative performance. Alexis is credited on only a few songs as a writer, and “Gonna Love You” is one of them, but whoever the author is, from Big Mama Thornton to ASPB vocalist Vicki Bell, Alexis has the innate ability to inhabit the songs and become their essence. Her delivery is impassioned, intense and inspired. Her range of emotions is palpable and she will take you along for the ride through the ups and downs, the joy, the sorrow, the anger; you’ll feel it all in your soul if your heart can take it.

Love The Way You Roll is the antidote to boring retreads of old blues styles. The band is tight, the songs are road-tested, and the energy of this emergent blues power sizzles through the speakers. Most of the songs on Love The Way You Roll are under four minutes and pack a lot of punch. The band hit ‘em hard and get out. The tracks are perfectly tailored, emphasizing all their strengths and any song on Love The Way You Roll could be pulled for airplay or to share with your friends and turn them on the Alexis P. Suter Band juggernaut. I hope the band really likes these songs because they will be playing them for a long time to come.

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