Another year for the Blues Music Awards is in the books. Elvin Bishop and Bobby Rush came out on top as big winners this year in Memphis. The even this year coincided with the opening of the long awaited Blues Hall of Fame. According to The Blues Foundation president Jay Sieleman, the foundation built the Blues Hall of Fame after raising nearly $3 million, finally providing a destination for fans and a location where blues legends are remembered for their contributions to America’s unique musical creation. The Blues Hall of Fame is located at 421 South Main St. in Memphis and is open 10a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is only $10 so get your Blues loving self to Memphis.
I see lots of my favorites on the list as winners but I still can’t figure out who voted for Joe Bonamassa over Ronnie Earl in the Guitarist category. Anyway, without further delay, the winners are…
B.B. King Entertainer Of The Year Bobby Rush Elvin Bishop
Band Of The Year Elvin Bishop Band
John Németh & the Bo-Keys
Rick Estrin & the Nightcats
Sugar Ray & the Bluetones
The Mannish Boys
Album Of The Year 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
Song Of The Year “Can’t Even Do Wrong Right” written and performed by Elvin Bishop
“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
“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
Contemporary Blues Album BluesAmericana – Keb’ Mo’ Can’t Even Do Wrong Right – Elvin Bishop Original – Janiva Magness Refuse to Lose -Jarekus Singleton Hornet’s Nest – Joe Louis Walker
Soul Blues Album Memphis Grease – John Németh Blues for My Father – Vaneese Thomas Decisions – Bobby Rush with Blinddog Smokin’ In My Soul – The Robert Cray Band Soul Brothers – Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls
Acoustic Album Timeless – John Hammond 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
Best New Artist Album Don’t Call No Ambulance – Selwyn Birchwood Chromaticism – Big Harp George Heavy Water – Fo’ Reel Making My Mark – Annika Chambers & the Houston All-Stars One Heart Walkin‘ – Austin Walkin’ Cane
Traditional Blues Album For Pops (A Tribute to Muddy Waters) – Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson Common Ground: Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin Play and Sing the Songs of Big Bill Broonzy – Dave Alvin and Phil Alvin 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
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
Historical Soul & Swagger: The Complete “5” Royales 1951-1967 – The “5” Royales (Rock Beat) From His Head to His Heart to His Hands – Michael Bloomfield (Columbia/Legacy) Live at the Avant Garde – Magic Sam (Delmark) The Modern Music Sessions 1948-1951 – Pee Wee Crayton (Ace) The Roots of it All-Acoustic Blues – Various Artists (Bear Family)
Acoustic Artist John Hammond
Contemporary Blues Female Artist Janiva Magness
Traditional Blues Male Artist Lurrie Bell
Billy Boy Arnold
Sugar Ray Norcia
Koko Taylor Award Ruthie Foster
Alexis P. Suter
Contemporary Blues Male Artist Gary Clark, Jr.
Joe Louis Walker
Soul Blues Male Artist Bobby Rush
Soul Blues Female Artist Sista Monica
Pinetop Perkins Piano Player Marcia Ball
Instrumentalist – Harmonica Charlie Musselwhite Kim Wilson
Sugar Ray Norcia
Instrumentalist – Guitar Joe Bonamassa Anson Funderburgh
Instrumentalist – Drums Jimi Bott
Instrumentalist – Horn Deanna Bogart
Instrumentalist – Bass Lisa Mann
Michael “Mudcat” Ward
Willie J. Campbell
We are back with our weekly CD reviews! There are a lot of Blues releases both out now and coming soon, and we will endeavor to cover a lot of ground in the coming weeks. This week we have five reviews for you. I hope you enjoy them and as always I hope you find something interesting for your ears!
Joe Bonamassa gets a lot of crap from Blues fans and while I may poke fun at his image once in a while, I know he is a dyed in the wool fan of the music. His performances on his latest live album Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks confirms this. Joe put together a crack band that manages to walk the tightrope between classic Chess Blues and Joe’s 70’s Blues Rock tendencies. The band features a three piece horn section, Anton Fig on drums, Reese Wynans on keyboards, Mike Henderson on harmonica, Michael Rhodes on bass, and the incredible Kirk Fletcher as Joe’s guitar sparring partner. Joe also goes to great lengths to showcase Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolf in their own words and image with introductory videos of the legends. The band swings and swaggers through a diverse selection of Muddy Waters tunes on disc one. They eschew the obvious and go for “Tiger In Your Tank,” they whip up a frenzy on “Real Love,” and everybody digs in deep on “Stuff You Gotta Watch”. Kirk Fletcher is a tone master and he plays with a classic touch that adds depth to every song.
Disc two is dedicated to Howlin’ Wolf with a bunch of Bonamassa mainstays rounding out the 77 minutes of music. “How Many More Years” starts off with Howlin’ Wolf’s original track then Joe and the band fall seamlessly into place after a few bars. Kirk Fletcher and Joe Bonamassa rip it up, tossing licks back and forth like musical hot potatoes. “Shake For Me” has a swinging horn arrangement, “Spoonful” digs up blues by the shovel load, and “Killing Floor” is sharp and sassy. Across two discs, the band gets plenty of time to shine but they all share a central purpose which is bringing Bonamassa fans into the circle of Muddy and the Wolf. The live album is a rousing musical success so let’s hope Joe’s fans will follow him to 2120 South Michigan Avenue.
In the mid-1960s Jimi Hendrix was a little known sideman, working with the Isley Brothers, Don Covay, Little Richard, and Curtis Knight & The Squires. Ed Chalpin was an entrepreneur and record producer. His business, PPX International, Inc., was built around recording cover versions of top US hits for foreign record companies who would overdub lyrics in other languages. Eventually Chalpin began to produce original material which led to him managing and producing Curtis Knight & The Squires. It was through Curtis Knight that Chalpin met Jimmy Hendrix. Chalpin signed Hendrix to a notorious three-year recording contract for $1.00 and a 1% royalty. Hendrix later said he thought he was signing a release to get paid for the sessions. He was way off. Dozens of authentic looking Hendrix records have been licensed from those sessions even after the infamous lawsuit was settled and the Band Of Gypsys LP was delivered as payment to Chalpin.
Sadly, album opener “How Would You Feel,” a song about civil rights, discrimination, and unrest in the streets is still relevant today, nearly 50 years later. There are some other decent vocal tracks on this set, however it’s the instrumentals that are most interesting. “No Such Animal” is an instrumental written by Hendrix with an intro reminiscent of Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman” but it quickly moves into a back breaking R&B groove. “Knock Yourself Out (Flying on Instruments)” is reminiscent of Booker T. & The MGs and “Station Break” provides a great look at Hendrix’ early rhythm guitar chops. “Hornet’s Nest” is a revved up, funky blues jam and Jimi’s solos have a wild streak he would later refine, focus, and ride to fame. Unfortunately the rest of the disc ranges from filler to outright garbage. “Simon Says” would be a stupid throwaway if not for Jimi’s chord comping behind the inane lyrics. You could probably still go without hearing it and never think twice about it. This disc is the first time this music has been presented in its original context and it serves the purpose of a historical document. The liner notes are extensive and go into great detail about Jimi’s trouble with Chalpin and PPX. Unfortunately it is a wonderful package with little compelling music to offer.
Saxophonist Jimmy Carpenter has been featured by Jimmy Thackery, Eric Lindell, Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington, Honey Island Swamp Band, and others, and he is currently on tour as a member of Mike Zito & The Wheel. However, his new disc, Walk Away, is the first album to carry his name on the marquee. The band Jimmy put together for Walk Away includes John Gros on keyboards, Cassandra Faulconer on bass, John Fohl on guitar, and Wayne Maureau on drums. Guests include percussionist Michael Skinkus, vocalist Reba Russell, trumpeter Antonio Gambrell, and guitarists Anson Funderburgh and Mike Zito who appear on one track each. Walk Away has been sitting on my desk and in my iTunes app. I’ll listen to an album in iTunes and occasionally it will be followed by Walk Away. I’d listen to a little, then, a little more, and then the whole thing several times through. I eventually realized I really like it so I wanted to include in our reviews. I love it when a record sneaks up on you and slowly but surely invades your consciousness.
The songs run the gamut from roadhouse shuffles to swinging jazz and soulful ballads. “She’s Not You” is a poignant, reflective relationship song, while “Walk Away” is an amusing relationship song where Jimmy quips he wishes she’d leave him just so he can watch her walk away. He also enjoys following her up the steps. In case you’re not following along, he likes her ass. We like his sax, and he plays it mightily throughout Walk Away, especially in the jazzy “7th Street Shuffle.” Keyboardist John Gros gets to stretch his fingers on this one as does John Fohl on guitar. This tune has a terrific ensemble groove and gives everyone room to shine. “My Favorite Muse” sums up the loose theme running through the record which was clearly inspired by a woman. Everywhere he goes he hears songs that remind him of you. You’re his favorite muse. You may or may not be everyone’s favorite muse. Feel good about it! You inspired a slew of great tunes and terrific performances. Walk Away is a fun record. You can tell Jimmy Carpenter and his crew had a great time checking out their favorite Muse.
Slam Allen comes from a musical family. For a while he played drums in the family band The Allen Brothers. He spent nine years singing and playing lead guitar with James Cotton. He has fronted his own bands over the years and has produced several albums. His latest is Feel These Blues and he is making it mission to make sure you do. Slam’s vocals are strong, smooth, charming, and warm. He can sing any style under the Blues Bigtop with authority and authenticity. His guitar playing is a fully operational arsenal of licks, riffs, and tones. He can go gritty as in the album opening shuffle “Feel These Blues” or clean and supple like he does in “Can’t Break Away From That Girl.” The latter is such a slab of classic Soul I had to check the liner notes to see who wrote it. It was Slam. Damn. He is good. Very good. Slam Allen musters a vintage sound without feeling dated. There is a timeless quality to the songs and the sound to the music that resonates across the years.
Feel These Blues benefits from a great band that includes Jeff Anderson on bass, Dan Fadel on drums and the inimitable John Ginty on keyboards. John Ginty is the Maestro. I’d listen to anything he played even with the Dixie Chicks. Ginty’s keyboard accents are all over this record and if you know anything about John know this: he’s not playing synthesizers. His B3 matches Slam Allen’s songs perfectly and in combination with Slam’s sweet guitar it’s an unbeatable combination. Slam Allen writes excellent songs, he sings them from his soul, plays his guts out on his guitar, and delivers on every promise his music makes. It’s these things that have me scratching my head over his choice to cover Prince’s “Purple Rain.” I don’t care for Prince but I’ve always liked that song. The whole soundtrack was pretty good was in fact. But it just doesn’t translate to the Blues idiom. To me it’s seven wasted minutes. I’d rather have more Slam Allen music – you can feel those Blues.
The Cash Box Kings are like the Steely Dan of Blues in the sense there is a nucleus of harp master Joe Nosek and singer Oscar Wilson. The duo is the driving force and as long as they surround themselves with handpicked musicians who match their vision, it will always sound like The Cashbox Kings. Holding Court features many fine musicians including Mark Haines on drums, Joel Paterson and Billy Flynn on guitars, Beau Sample on bass, with a rotating cast including Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Gerry Hundt, Brad Ber, and Barrelhouse Chuck. And, man, these guys are good. If this was 1956, they’d be in cream of the crop. They’d be legendary by now. Alas we are in the early daze of the 21st Century and Blues isn’t as popular as it was in the post WWII era. There’s a copious amount of talk about keeping the blues alive, but The Cashbox Kings are out there doing it. Not just keeping it alive but keeping it vibrant. They do this by presenting the vintage sounds of the original Chicago Blues mixed with modern themes. They take the details seriously. Every element is in place and every note has purpose.
They mix a slew of below-the-radar covers with masterful originals. Compositions like “Cash Box Boogie” and “I Miss You Miss Anne” are on equal footing with John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues” and Big Smokey Smothers’ “I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man.” Two originals really stand out to me and it’s because of the lyrical content more than anything else. “Gotta Move Out To The Suburbs” explores the plight of inner city citizens being over-run by crime. They can’t live in the neighborhoods of their youth because of fear and violence. The gang activity stretches beyond the inner city and has infested many suburbs too. It is a harsh reality that faces many metropolitan areas and really needs more attention. The other explores the plight of working musicians in the brave new world of digital music. All aspects are covered from streaming service royalties, with lines like “Downloads don’t pay me, not even half a cent” and “People think music on the net should be free, it might as well ‘cause they sure ain’t payin’ me” to jackasses at shows telling their buddies not to buy the CDs – “People standing in line, to buy my CD. One said don’t buy it, I will burn it for you free.” I have heard this conversation. What possesses these idiots? The one offering is bad enough but what about the one with his cash out to buy the CD? Did you dislike the show? You’re in line to buy a CD, so you must have liked it. Are you really going to listen to your buddy and pocket the 20 bucks, or worse, go spend it on $10 cups of beer while you complain about the high cost of music and high-five each other over keeping the Blues alive? Alright, end of rant. Just think about it. And buy a Cashbox Kings Holding Court CD. You won’t regret it.
March was a fairly quite month for new releases. Hopefully April will see more Blues music coming out as we head into festival season for 2015. What did arrive in March was fairly interesting though. Joe Bonamassa released a live tribute to Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Danielle Nicole (aka Danielle Schnebelen from Trampled Underfoot) put out an EP featuring her first solo recordings, and Ian Siegal delivered The Picnic Sessions featuring impromptu jams with Alvin Youngblood Hart, Cody Dickinson, Luther Dickinson, and Jimbo Mathus.
As always, we try to keep you up to date on the new releases, even if there aren’t many on a weekly basis. Once the new releases start rolling in we’ll be back to our weekly schedule instead of these monthly updates.
Hump Day this week is brought to you by Muddy & The Wolf. Inspiration came in the form of Joe Bonamassa’s new live album Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks. Joe Bonamassa seems to inspire extreme feelings on both ends of the spectrum in the world of Blues fans. But love him or hate him, we should be happy he’s introducing his fans to the legends of Blues. If he steers just one kid away from Justin Bieber we can call it a win! It’s always a good thing when people acknowledge their influences and shine a light on their artistry.
This week, like Mr. Bonamassa, we celebrate the artistry, wit, humor, and machismo of the late greats Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Since we’re shining a light, I tried to steer off the main drag onto the seedy side streets of their catalogs. Of the two, I’d say Muddy was the more prolific womanizer in both song and real life. He loved the ladies and the ladies loved their Hoochie Coochie Man right back, especially when he got his Mojo Workin’. For Hump Day, Muddy is singing a warning to those Big Legged Women out there. Don’t be showing off the goods if you don’t want the attention ladies. It’s a public service announcement. Yeah, that sounds about right. In fact, Muddy cares so much about your well being he has become your doctor. He’s a got a powerful prescription and he’d like you to take it as often as possible. He’ll fill it for you any time you call. That sounds dirty.
Now, Howlin’ Wolf, on the other hand, was not as much of a ladies man as Muddy. He may have been your Back Door Man, but he was on your Evil ways of doggin’ him around. Where Muddy professed his powers of seduction, Howlin’ Wolf was keenly aware of the power of women. He took a skeptical view of their feminine wiles and their manipulations. For Hump Day, Wolf is singing about his Country Sugar Mama. She’s got sweet, sweet sugar and he needs it three times a day, but he wants to know where she got sugar that good. Her sugar is the best in town and everybody knows it, and everybody wants it. Wolf knows it’s too good for her to be true to him or anyone else and he’s got questions. Howlin’ Wolf was a thinker and often this part of his personality came into his songs. He’s definitely been thinking about where you were last night, spread out all over town doing the All Night Boogie. He knows exactly what you’ve been up to. You’ve been celebrating Hump Day all week long!
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 Songs From The Road
Vance Kelly Live At Kingston Mines
Various Artists The Complete Stax/Volt Soul Singles: 1972-1975
Well friends, I managed to get back on track with the five reviews for this week even though I missed Hump Day. Somehow the Fast Five turned in to a guitar love-fest. We’ve got Devon Allman, Joe Bonamassa, Gary Moore, and Gary Clark Jr. We also have Mississippi Heat whose new disc has plenty of terrific guitar playing too.
This edition also marks the first time most of the reviews feature albums released during the same week. How do you like that? Fresh biscuits indeed! As always, I hope you find something new and interesting for your ears…
Devon Allman has been a busy man for the last few years. He wound down Honeytribe with Space Age Blues, recorded two studio albums and a live set with Royal Southern Brotherhood, and released Turquoise, the first disc under his own name. In October Devon will release his second solo album Ragged & Dirty. Devon chose to record the new album in Chicago and brought in Blues Producer Extraordinaire Tom Hambridge work on the disc. Hambridge pulls triple duty adding drummer and songwriter to his credits on the album. The core band on the project is rounded out by Felton Crews on bass, Giles Cory on guitar and Marty Sammon on keyboards. Together they put together a moody, surging disc that rivals anything out there today.
Ragged & Dirty is a bit of a misnomer though. I was a little disappointed at first. To me a ragged and dirty Chicago blues album is Hound Dog Taylor and the HouseRockers. That’s ragged and dirty and oh so glorious. Devon Allman’s Ragged & Dirty is syrupy sweet by comparison. But the songs are so damned good! While Turquoise was a solid effort, it was more of a singer/songwriter album. Ragged & Dirty is a fully realized blues rock record and plays to all of Devon Allman’s strengths. Gritty stomper “Half The Truth” opens the disc with a forceful punch. Your appetite for R&B gets a feast on a tremendous cover of “The Spinners’ I’ll Be Around” and Otis Taylor’s “Ten Million Slaves” seems Taylor-made for Allman’s powerful voice, which seems even more emotive with female background accompaniment.
The centerpiece of Ragged & Dirty is a sprawling nine and a half minute instrumental called “Midnight Lake Michigan.” It burns with intensity hot enough to light Lake Shore Drive from dusk ‘til dawn. Devon also tips his hat to Windy City blues heritage with the title track, Luther Allison’s “Ragged & Dirty.” Allman’s own songs fit perfectly into the mix especially the funky “Blackjack Heartattack” which Devon delivers with a menacing vocal and snarling guitar licks. It segues into his smoldering blues called “Back To You.” His guitar chops have been honed by years of touring and dueling with Mike Zito in Royal Southern Brotherhood and it shows. He’s in great voice on Ragged & Dirty also, and delivers “Back To You” with a heavy weariness lesser singers could never conjure.
After about 45 minutes of intense blues rock, Devon closes the disc with an acoustic based balled reminiscent of “Left My Heart In Memphis” and “Turn Off The World.” It’s a great way to come down from what sounds like a high energy club set at Kingston Mines. Devon Allman has had the talent but recently he has honed his abilities and sensibilities and has come up with the best music of his already long career. I guess I’ll have to forgive him for it not being as ragged and dirty as I expected. I love it anyway.
Joe Bonamassa kicked off his solo career in 2000 with A New Day Yesterday. The title of his first album, in hindsight, reveals not just a tribute to Jethro Tull, but a mission statement for a career that continuously looks backward while firmly staking territory in the future. The music is not the only old-school influence on Joe Bonamassa. The old work ethic of making records frequently has rubbed off on him and he has compiled a lengthy discography in the last 14 years. In the liner notes Joe mentions that it’s been two years since his last solo studio album and that much has happened. He says he’s closed the first book of his career and Different Shades Of Blue is the first chapter in the new book. Maybe he’ll be taking it slower. He hints at enjoying the fruits of his intense labors and avoiding the blur.
Different Shades Of Blue opens with a short instrumental tribute to Jimi Hendrix’ with “Hey Baby (New Rising Sun).” Joe lists the gear used on the album but leaves you to figure which vintage Strat he used for this short but sweet tip ‘o the hat. “Oh Beautiful!” follows, with a heavy riff that would have made a perfect Black Country Communion track. As it is, Joe and the band tear into with gusto and leave you wondering Black what? The recent single, “I Gave Up Everything For You, ‘Cept The Blues” is a blues rock interpretation of the classic Elmore James shuffle. From the title it seems like it might not sing well, but Joe has become quite a vocalist and put the emphasis in exactly the right spots and they seem so obvious, you’ll be singing along in no time. The title track opens with a melancholy, descending acoustic riff with mournful electric wailing over it. The chorus has harmony vocals that elevate the spirit of the song with a brave defiance that sees you through the “Different Shades Of Blue.” The song is capped by a full on Bonamassa solo full of strings bent to Hell and rapid fire notes raining down like Armageddon.
You don’t get a lot of surprises with Different Shades Of Blue but that’s not a bad thing. The songs are well developed, keep you interested, and sound crisp. There are meaty riffs and blinding solos. Joe Bonamassa has never denied his love of 70’s Blues Rock and he carries the torch with pride. Why not? He plays the bejesus out of it and sings it more and more like Paul Rodgers as the years go by. Joe is not a one trick pony however, and this album showcases all his loves from Chicago Blues to electric folk tunes and smoky jazz piano balladry. Bonamassa has his share of detractors and I think a lot of them just don’t want to like his music. I think they see him as generic, but they just aren’t going deep enough. Joe Bonamassa is a lasting talent who has conducted himself with professionalism missing from many people his age, he has an enthusiasm for music that is tangible and the will to share Different Shades Of Blues with the masses.
Gary Clark Jr. seemed to come out of nowhere around 2011 with his EP on Warner Brothers but as is often the case, no one arrives fully formed. The 30 year old Clark got his start, like many Texas blues players, with some help from Austin legend Clifford Antone. He’s had some independent releases and made his major label debut on Warner Brothers late in 2010 with The Bright Lights EP. His Blak And Blu album really put him on the map and he’s been riding a wave of big name recognition ever since. His live shows with his powerhouse band are not to be missed but in case you haven’t made it, or just want to relive it, there’s the new album Gary Clark Jr. Live.
The set opens with a dense, murky take on “Catfish Blues.” This fish is swimming in filthy pond of Robin Trower residue from 1973. It’s terrific. Clark even sounds a little bit like James Dewar, Trower’s vocalist from long ago. There’s all sorts of garage blues on this Live set though, from the stomp of “Next Door Neighbor Blues,” Memphis late nite “3 O’Clock Blues,” and a pair of Albert Collins jams including “If Trouble Was Money” and “If You Love Me Like You Say.” Little Johnny Taylor probably never expected his tune to be bookended by “Third Stone From The Sun” but it works pretty well. Let’s call it a glorious juxtaposition!
We’re covering some intense guitar playing this week and Gary Clark Jr. Live may be the most intense. Second guitarist King Zapata and Gary Clark Jr. send each other soaring higher with shocking regularity. The guitar tones are angry, and aggressive, and sweet, and soothing. There’s a density of sound that two guitars, bass, and drums rarely achieve without sacrificing clarity. Yet, they do it and they do it well. “Third Stone From The Sun” has the sound of a bulldozer gleefully destroying your house and “Bright Lights” is the dance they do around the fire they just started with its remains. It’s malevolently magnificent music making.
Gary Clark Jr. Live transcends blues, roots, soul, and rock. Gary Clark Jr. says it’s all soul music. He certainly seems to pour his soul into making it and the band, featuring Zapata, bassist Johnny Bradley, and drummer Johnny Radelat, are right there with him, giving their all for the higher power of music. Together they leave it all on the stage. With the energy level captured on this live disc, I don’t know how they do it night after night but I’m glad they do.
Led by harmonica master Pierre Lacocque and fronted by vocalist Inetta Visor, Mississippi Heat has become one of the most consistently excellent bands in recent memory. Based in Chicago, they have their finger on the pulse of Big City Blues. They deftly handle all styles of Blues and do so with integrity, honesty, and a convincing authority. Warning Shot, on Delmark, is the band’s latest release. It’s out now on CD and will soon be available on vinyl.
Pierre Lacocque blows a mean harp and his flourishes are all over the disc. He’s also the principal songwriter for the band and he has conjured several excellent tunes for the new disc. Warning Shot kicks into high gear immediately with an Elmore James style boogie called “Sweet Poison.” I like the lyrical touches in ‘Sweet Poison” and duality of enjoying the thing that’s dangerous to you. It’s not an entirely new way to phrase it, but it flows in the song and it’s a sentiment everyone can relate to. In many ways, the song encapsulates what’s great about Mississippi Heat. They play familiar music with new twists and remain approachable to listeners. “Come To Mama” has Latin percussion and a Cuban beat, conjuring images of the band leading a dancing audience up and down Rush Street. “Swingy Dingy” is a rockin’ Chicago shuffle, “Too Sad To Wipe My Tears” is a dose of low down back porch blues, and the title track “Warning Shot” is an uptown swing number complete with big background vocals, a horn section, and some hot guitar playing from Carl Weathersby.
Michael Dotson, formerly of Magic Slim & The Teardrops, provides plenty of stellar guitar licks and keeps the band grounded in Chicago Blues territory. He takes lead vocal on a few tracks including the Mississippi Hill Country via Chicago heart-pounder “Yeah Now Baby.” He also rips it up in festive style on the Latin-style “Happy Birthday” which also features percussionist Ruben Alvarez. Vocalist Inetta Visor is a consummate singer and puts her stamp on every song, as if she wrote them herself, which is a testament to her talent and vision as part of Mississippi Heat.
Mississippi Heat have a dedicated following in the Blues community and Warning Shot is might be the one that breaks them open to a wider audience. They captured the raucous spirit of a live show and showcased their ability to meld their influences into a cohesive sound of their own. The mix of instruments and shared lead vocals keep everything from sounding the same and holds your interest over the course of 64 minutes. Warning Shot is an impressive album with something for just about any blues fan.
When the world lost Gary Moore on February 6, 2011 it lost a major musical force. Gary was one of the much maligned Rock & Roll ex-patriots the Blues purists love to hate, but Gary was accepted by two Kings of the Blues and the Master of the Telecaster, all of whom were guests on his records, and stages around the world. Gary truly appreciated the music and those who made it before he did. He was always respectful of the art form and played it with his usual individuality. Freedom of expression has always been a hallmark of blues and roots music and Gary managed to forge a blues sound of his own. His blues were never more dynamic than in the live setting and the proof is in the new album Live At Bush Hall 2007.
This show, recorded on May 17, 2007 at London’s picturesque 400-person capacity Bush Hall, was originally broadcast by Planet Rock radio. Gary had just released Close As You Get This and to promote it, he worked with Planet Rock to give away tickets for this intimate show. This CD release marks the first time the complete show has been available since its original broadcast. The concert features a handful of tunes from Close As You Get such as “Eyesight To The Blind” and “If The Devil Made Whiskey,” which he rarely played live afterward. For all his storied guitar histrionics Moore was able to bring it down and deliver beautifully delicate songs like “I Had A Dream” and “Still Got The Blues.” “I Had A Dream” is a master class in playing for the song and keeping the melody in mind while soloing.
Gary Moore also tips his hat to his blues mentors with a contrarily energetic version of Albert Collins’ “Too Tired,” a snarling “Walking By Myself,” and a nine minute romp through Little Milton’s “Blues Is Alright.” For the Thin Lizzy faithful, Moore plays a blistering “Don’t Believe A Word.” Gary Moore was a musician like Johnny Winter, in the sense that he could come out and play anything and hold the audience captive. It wasn’t about hits. It was about great songs, exciting playing, and engaging the crowd. The music world lost a unique and talented player when Gary Moore died. Luckily, through his albums and archival live releases like Live At Bush Hall 2007, we can continue to appreciate the genius of his craft.
It’s another Tuesday and time for the New Releases rundown. There were only a few last week and I was incredibly busy so I skipped it. I included last week’s releases with this post so hopefully if you missed something, you’ll see it here.
Lots of new releases this week, from legends like Marcia Ball and Duke Robillard, to younger artists like Gary Clark Jr., Joe Bonamassa, Joanne Shaw Taylor and more. Happy hunting, we hope you find something new to enjoy.