Welcome to the second installment of the Friday Fast Five! There seems to be a roadhouse theme that appeared as I was writing these reviews. Each artist featured would satisfy even the rowdiest of Hank Jr’s friends. They can all play sweet, soothing blues but it’s the barnburners that really set them free. If you’re looking for some good time, rough and tumble blues this weekend maybe one or all of these albums will kick it up a notch. As always, feel free to comment, argue, and tell me I’m way off base. Comment here, Facebook or Twitter.
A Special Life
Released on May 13, 2014
Another John Mayall record? Is there really such a thing as just another Mayall record? Let’s find out. John Mayall has spent his life playing and singing the blues and it has certainly been A Special Life indeed. The Godfather of the British Blues has become a legend just for introducing the world to legends like Eric Clapton, Peter Green, Jack Bruce, Mick Taylor, Walter Trout, and several others. However, along the way he has amassed a catalog of roots and blues music almost unparalleled by other blues musicians. Mayall is a consummate musician and bandleader and seems to never begrudge his students when they outshine the teacher. He is a gentleman of the blues.
A Special Life is the gentleman’s new album and it bristles with excitement and energy. “Why Did You Go Last Night” kicks off the album in New Orleans style as CJ Chenier sits in for a rollicking romp through his father Clifton’s tune. “Speak Of The Devil” revisits Sonny Landreth’s tunes with tough lead guitars and Mayall’s robust but plaintive tenor. “That’s All Right” takes us to Chicago via London and “Big Town Playboy” is a strutting Texas roadhouse shuffle. Too my ears, “Floodin’ In California” is Mayall’s shining moment on A Special Life. On this Albert King tune, Mayall’s levee breaks and the tune is flooded with waves of agonized organ artistry. It’s beautiful and immensely moving. Mayall also plays some lead guitar on the tune and leaves the King Albert licks to Rocky Athas.
A Special Life is well-produced, crisp, effervescing record from an 80 year old musician. Let that sink in for a moment. He’s singing great, playing well, and still writing excellent tunes about his passions. Whether he’s singing, blowing harp, or rocking out on the guitar, he’s putting younger men to shame. There will be a time someday when there will be no more new music from John Mayall, so to answer my own question, no. There is no such thing as just another Mayall record and this one proves it. Enjoy it.
Available at CDBaby
Released Spring 2013
570-Blues came across my desk last year and unfortunately I wasn’t able to place a review of it anywhere. We’re going to fix that right now. 570-Blues is a solid collection of modern electric blues. What does that mean? Is it generic blues? Far from it. Lee Delray mixes styles of his influences. You can’t really tell if he’s playing a B.B. King lick or an Albert Collins lick. Maybe it’s Luther Allison. Maybe you shouldn’t analyze it so much and just enjoy it. He’s a New York City white boy and he knows his way around the blues. He’s even been sanctified by the Chubb Fatha himself, Popa Chubby. “Don’t Tell me I Can’t Get The Blues” tells Lee’s tale of blues living and street-side schooling and displays a lot of the guitar chops he’s picked up along the way.
Lee Delray’s guitar playing is good; maybe too good. I hear him play and I just want to hear him cut loose and roughen the edges a little. Some of 570-Blues feels like Lee is holding back in his guitar playing. Maybe it’s the recording studio environment. To paraphrase John Lee Hooker, Lee you’ve got it in you and you gotta let it come out! Let that boy boogie! I had this feeling most of the way through 570-Blues and then came “No Time Blues” This was it. Lee’s playing on this one is incandescent and worth the wait. Lee rips it wide open and lets loose in a way the rest of the albums suggests he could but never did. How’s that for a convoluted sentence? My head was still spinning I guess. 570-Blues is a great jumping off point and promises a tremendous future for Lee Delray who has musical chops, good songs, and an expressive singing voice. Now let’s get out there and see him live!
Middle Mountain Music
Released on June 18, 2013
RB Stone’s voice sounds like Johnny Van Zant. You can say what you want about modern Lynyrd Skynyrd and I’d probably agree with most of it but Johnny has a hell of a voice and so does RB Stone. It’s got warmth even when singing lyrics that come with a wink and a nod. He sounds like he having fun, but he wants you to have fun right along with him. His singing style and intonation perfectly match his roadhouse ready tunes. His guitar playing ain’t to shabby either. His songs are adeptly constructed. He matches his bemused lyrics with just the right riffs.
The album also benefits from the sturdy production of “Producer of the Blues Stars” Tom Hambridge. Hambridge is also a fine musician and writer, and he pays drums on Loosen Up! The tunes range from the poignant “God Heals You When You Cry” to the hard driving “I Ain’t Buying That Bull Today.” “Texas Drunk Tank Blues” is exactly what it says and has an appropriately rollin’ and tumblin’ beat. Album opener “High Horse” sets the tone for the whole of Loosen Up! with its Telecaster shuffle and smirking lyrics about cutting loose and having a good time for once in your pontificating life. Loosen up indeed.
RB Stone’s guitar playing is impressive and he’s equally adept on slide, punctuating the title track “Loosen Up” with appropriately greasy licks. RB unleashes the slide on a cigar box guitar too, which appears on “Harley Heart,” the breakneck album closer. This is fun, booze-drinkin’, pool-shootin’, dust-kickin’, duck-walkin’, house-rockin’ boogie on a Saturday night and Sunday’s comin’ much too soon music. Loosen Up! has also been floating around my desk and made it into my car a few months ago and I’ve been enjoying the Hell out of it since. Send all your speeding tickets to RB. They’re his fault.
Released on June 17, 2014
I’ve always thought of the Nighthawks as a Rock & Roll band. Hell, their first album 40 years ago was called Rock ‘n’ Roll. It comes as no surprise that 40 years on The Nighthawks are still out there beating the drum for early Chuck Berry and Elvis-style Rock & Roll. Sure they play the blues and sure they’ve backed up every Blues legend who ever rode through the Washington, DC metropolitan area, and sure they’ve spawned a pair of legends themselves in Mark Wenner and Jimmy Thackery, but at their heart is a Rock & Roll band. This is a good thing. It keeps moneymakers moving and grooving way until the break of dawn. 444 is a throwback to the early days of Rock & Roll. Please note I’m not saying “Rock.” We’re talking Rock & Roll: boogie that swings, bounces, bops, and pops. It’s Chuck Berry’s sped up blues and the Nighthawks know it inside out.
Thankfully The Nighthawks aren’t as rhythmically repetitive as Chuck became, and they cover a lot of ground, from the acoustic roots of Muddy Waters’ “Louisiana Blues” to The Du Droppers’ vocal workout “Walk That Walk.” The title track “444” is one of those classic “had the girl out to late” tunes that were popular in the era before profanity. It chugs along with the urgency of a young man being chased by her angry daddy. “Got A Lot Of Livin’” absolutely pops. Mark Wenner’s howling harp is all over the record. He has a rich, thick tone that never gets to the fingernails-on-chalkboard screeches employed by lesser mortals. The band’s line-up has been somewhat unstable over the years but Wenner has held it all together and still puts out excellent Nighthawks music. If you’ve got the blues and need a pick-me-up, grab your girl and keep her out late cuttin’ the rug to 444.
Live At Blues Now!
Released on August 12, 2014
Chris O’Leary is the former front man of Levon Helm’s Barnburners. The Chris O’Leary band was formed in 2007 around a tight group of road warriors. Chris’ years spent with the Barnburners, backing up an eclectic mix of musicians at Levon Helm’s New Orleans club, and touring the country afterward, turned him into a musical medium. He channels a multitude of blues & soul styles authoritatively. It’s hard to believe he grew up closer to Albany, New York than New Albany, Mississippi. The blues pours out of his fuzz-drenched, raspy harp and his band is right there with him at every twist and turn. After two successful and acclaimed studio albums, this red hot combo has unleashed a sizzling live album.
Live At Blues Now! has tunes from both studio albums and a grooving, bouncing version of Billy Boy Arnold’s “Wish You Would.” Chris sings some of it through the harp mic and his vocals take on a Howlin’ Wolf snarl. I was really excited to have a live version of “Tchoupitoulas” (that’s “Chop-ih-too-liss” to you and me). If “Tchoupitoulas” doesn’t get you moving you may be dead. Have someone take your pulse immediately. Administer mouth to mouth as desired. It should have you singing and dancing like you’re down at Tipitina’s with the second-line hot on your heels. The whole album, from the opener “Give It” to the closer “History” has incredible drumming. The beats are almost tribal, churning and chopping, like waves of the sea surging and receding, thrusting the band forward, reeling rocking in rhythmic ecstasy.
On “Trouble,” special guest guitarist Alex Schultz rides the rhythmic waves like a man who’s conquered the Pipeline. Chris O’Leary’s harp cuts through like a thrusting oar and keeps the band on course. The shimmering guitars of “Louisiana Woman” and lonesome harp conjure a hoodoo mist across the bayou and “Water’s Risin’” swings, rocks and reels. This is rock & roll blues at its best, combining gospel vocals, Chuck Berry rhythms, and dueling guitars into a spicy gumbo of American music which pretty much encapsulates the Chris O’Leary Band. This band is the real deal. Bring the band into your living room, car, or bayou back porch with Live At Blues Now!
If you are interested in these or any other Fresh Biscuits! click on our link to buy from Amazon or visit the artists pages linked in the reviews. As always, please support the artists!