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Fresh Biscuits! New Releases May 19, 2015

Greetings and salutations! It’s time for new releases again and this week we have four more exciting albums. The Amanda Fish Band debuts on VizzTone with Down In The Dirt. Amanda was part of the VizzTone showcase at Rum Boogie in Memphis as part of BMA week. She’s getting a lot of attention right now and we’ll have a full review of the new album posted soon. And yes, Amanda is related to Samantha. Amanda is Samantha Fish’s older sister and according many, is also Kansas City’s best kept secret. Make sure you check out Down In The Dirt.

Sugaray Rayford is back with Southside. Sugaray Rayford was nominated for the prestigious BB King Entertainer Award by the 36th Blues Music Awards. He was also nominated for Traditional Blues Male Artist and included in three Mannish Boys nominations. He has an incredible set of pipes and could probably sing the phone book and hold your attention. You do remember phone books right? Billy Price and Otis Clay are two other guys who could probably steal your date while singing the ingredients in a can of Campbell’s soup to them. This is definitely a week for fans of talented vocalists and tremendous interpreters of song. Don’t let that take your attention from the Texas Horns though. These guys will blow you away!

Texas Horns

Texas Horns Blues Gotta Holda Me

Billy Price and Otis Clay

Billy Price and Otis Clay This Time For Real

Amanda Fish Band

Amanda Fish Band Down In The Dirt

Sugaray Rayford

Sugaray Rayford Southside

Fresh Biscuits! CD Reviews – May 1, 2015

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!

 

JoeBonamassaMuddyWolfAtRedRocksJoe Bonamassa

Muddy Wolf At Red Rocks

J&R Adventures

Released on March 23, 2015

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.

 

JimiHendrixYouCantUseMyNameJimi Hendrix/ Curtis Knight & The Squires

You Can’t Use My Name – The RSVP/PPX Sessions

Experience Hendrix

Released on March 24, 2015

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.

 

JimmyCarpenterWalkAwayJimmy Carpenter

Walk Away

VizzTone

Released on September 23, 2014

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.

 

SlamAllenFeelTheseBluesSlam Allen

Feel These Blues

American Showplace Music

Released on April 14, 2015

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.

TheCashboxKingsHoldingCourtThe Cashbox Kings

Holding Court

Blind Pig

Released on April 28, 2015

 

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.

Songs For Saturday – Weekly CD Reviews

I hope you’re all enjoying your weekend. We have four new reviews for you. Yes, I’m a day late and a dollar short but I wrote a lot, went off the rails here and there and even threw in a rant! I hope you enjoy this week’s reviews and find something interesting for your ears!

OtisClayJohnnyRawlsSoulBrothersOtis Clay & Johnny Rawls

Soul Brothers

Catfood Records

Released Date: October 21, 2014

 

I am not the world’s biggest Soul music fan. I like it but I have to be in the mood for it, and I have conflicting feelings regarding its inclusion under the Blues umbrella. If I go to a Blues festival or show, I want to hear blues. I want to hear some poor bastard with a broken heart playing his guts out in 12 bars or less. I want it lean and mean, and not too clean. Soul music is just too nice. I’ve seen Johnny Rawls, and Otis Clay in concert and while both shows were enjoyable I wasn’t blown away by either. Then again, each set was at a Blues festival and I wasn’t really in the mood for Soul music. Hell, either could have been one of those times I listened to Soundgarden on the way to the show. Soul music doesn’t make its way into my purview all that often. I have my Otis Redding and Wilson Pickett records and that’s about as far as it goes. And now, across my desk comes a new album by two big names in Soul music – Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls. I had low expectations. I hear soul music in movies, or on SiriusXM once in a while for a change of pace, and a lot of it seems schmaltzy. Such was my state of mind when I popped Soul Brothers into the player.

Wow. The first song has these two Soul music gurus doing a classic Dave Mason track. It seems like a sellout to get people interested – the white people that unfortunately make up 90% of the Blues audience. But you know what? It doesn’t matter. The band gets a little funky and the vocal arrangement plays to the strengths of both vocalists and by the end of the first chorus I’m digging in and listening closer. What seemed like a pandering choice started to seem like a bold choice. They could have led off their first full length collaboration with any song but they went with this. I don’t know if it was their idea, the management, the label, or who, but it was a great choice. It helps that the band pulled it off. The band is The Rays featuring Richy Puga on drums, Bob Trenchard on bass, Johnny McGhee on guitar, Dan Ferguson on keyboards, Andy Roman on sax, Mike Middleton on trumpet, Robert Claiborne on trombone, Nick Flood on sax and The Iveys – Arlen, Jessica and Jillian – providing background vocals. I guess it worked on all levels and hopefully not just because I’m white. They definitely got me interested and in the mood to hear more.

This dynamic collaboration started last year when Otis Clay was a guest on three tracks on Johnny Rawls’ O.V. Wright tribute album Remembering O.V. They both put their hearts into Soul Brothers which for my money is better than anything I’ve heard from them individually. The biggest surprise for me is the seamlessness of the originals and covers. Sure you’ve heard “Only You Know And I Know” and “What Becomes Of The Broken Hearted” before but it feels like you’ve heard “Road Dogs” and “Poor Little Rich Girl” too. They’ve crafted a “Best Of Soul” record using original material. It’s quite a feat and a testament to the artistry of these two men. Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls are both in excellent voice and this is one of those recordings where you can hear the smiles going back and forth between these guys. “Road Dog” has them exploring their parallel travels in the business and in Tyrone Davis’ “Turn Back The Hands Of Time” Rawls calls on Taylor to take us back to 1966 just as Otis belts out his testimony as the tune closes. “Hallelujah Lord” finds both men embracing their gospel roots, “Voodoo Queen” is the closest they come to a blues song, and “Living On Borrowed Time” has big bad horn arrangements straight out of Memphis. To call Soul Brothers a tour de force may see like hyperbole and maybe it is, but with Soul Brothers Otis Clay and Johnny Rawls have delivered a timeless Soul and R&B album that needs to be heard by everyone on Pop radio calling themselves Soul singers. Soul Brothers is the real thing.

DukeRobillardCallingAllBluesDuke Robillard Band

Calling All Blues

Stony Plain

Released on September 23, 2014

 

Duke Robillard’s history is in many ways the history of modern blues. He’s been in Roomful Of Blues and Fabulous Thunderbirds, The Blues Music Awards named him “Best Blues Guitarist” four out of five years from 2000 to 2004, and even B.B. King has called him “one of the great players.” Over the years Duke has been a champion for all forms of Blues and has covered most of them. The new record from the Duke Robillard Band is “Calling All Blues” and once again Duke brings together many styles on to one disc.

The music has a classic sound and Duke’s gruff raspy vocals are the perfect complement to the songs. His name may be Duke Robillard but he is the King of Tone. Even if he wrote horrible songs they would sound great. I would hate Techno less if they sampled Duke’s tones. Every blues tone you could want is on this new disc. And the acoustic bass? Damn, that thing sounds good. It was recorded perfectly too. It’s unobtrusive but if it was gone you’d probably cry until they put it back. It’s warm, fuzzy, and groovy – this music swings with style. Duke addresses the tones lyrically too, with “Nasty Guitars.” In the liner notes he mentions that he’ll occasionally be playing some beautiful passage in a nice clean tone and people will be looking bored. He knows it’s time to rip it up with some Nasty Guitars.

“Down In Mexico” is a laid back shuffle that suits the fun in the sun vibe. “I’m Gonna Quit My Baby” is a swinging bopper that will have you moving like a tilt-a-whirl. Duke’s open string fills and gritty tone are superb. The beat is countered by stuttering piano lines courtesy of Bruce Bears. It’s delightful. “Svengali” is a mind bending carnival of sound. I don’t know what the Hell is going on in this song but I love it. There are echoes, slides, stomps, string bends, and the machine that goes “ping.” It will make you dizzy, twist your mind, and make you wish you were Big. Keep your hands and feet inside the ride at all times please. “Emphasis On Memphis” is as advertised and “Motor Trouble” seems to be a veiled reference to losing a little bit of your get up and go power. As producer and guest guitarist on many Stony Plain releases, and with his own prolific output, this surely can’t apply to the Duke himself.

I love the tones and tunes on Calling All Blues but “Confusion Blues” is too soft and smooth. It sticks out among the gritty vocals from Duke and all the grimy, low-down grooves on the rest of the album. It’s not a bad song or performance, but it pulls you out of the moment. Otherwise this is a perfect album. It clocks in around 40 minutes and makes the most of it. Even Sunny Crownover turns up to sing her guts out for you on “Blues Beyond The Call Of Duty.” Calling All Blues is calling all blues fans far and wide, mobilizing the troops and bringing in new recruits. Get in line with the Duke and move, people. It’s boogie time.

 

SkylaBurrellBandBluesScarsSkyla Burrell Band

Blues Scars

VizzTone

Released On October 7, 2014

 

Skyla Burrell Band. Never heard of them. It’s a big blues world out there and new contenders appear constantly. I was surprised to learn the band has been in existence for quite some time. The band was formed by Skyla Burrell and Mark Tomlinson in 2002. Their first album was 2004’s Working Girl Blues. The new disc, Blues Scars, is their fifth! The good thing about discovering a band five records into a career is that you don’t have to wait a few years to hear more, if you want to. I want to. The Sklya Burrell Band is tight. They don’t just lay it down; they knock it down and kick it. It’s blues, it’s rock, it’s swinging good time Saturday night fist fight low down hoe down get down and boogie music. Even the ballads have a fair amount of strut and swagger.

The disc kicks off with little fanfare and dives right in to the title cut which features a stuttering riff under Skyla’s vocal. She belts it out and fills in the gaps on lead guitar. Skyla Burrell shares lead guitar duties with Mark Tomlinson. Thankfully the liner notes let us know Skyla takes the first solo in each song and Mark takes second. Their styles mesh like Keith Richards and Mick Taylor. The rhythm guitars are just as important as the leads in this band and they masterfully weave around each other. “Shut You Down” has a marching stomp beat with a sidewinding riff and terse lead guitars. “Love Letter In Blue” is a wistful ballad with tender sentiments and mournful lead guitar lines permeating the soul of the song. On “6 Mile Cemetery Road” they unleash some Screamin’ Jay Hawkins hoodoo and “Juke Joint Tonight” has all the tilted swing of the finest Chuck Berry records. Drummer Ezell Jones, Jr. reminds me of Steve Jordan on this tune, and a few others, from the style to the tuning of the snare. Mr. Jones is a jazzy rocker deep in the pocket. It’s a beautiful thing.

When this disc showed up I had no idea what to expect. The CD cover’s Windows Paint lettering screams low budget ambivalence and the band shot looks like a Prom photo gone wrong, with the band leader looking like she just stepped off the Walk Of Shame. Is it wrong to complain about album covers? I know budgets are tight but still, you want something representative of the music. You don’t want somebody putting the CD down or passing it by altogether because it looks like maybe you just didn’t give a damn how your hard work was represented on the cover. The high energy, rough and tumble spirit of the band would have been better captured almost any other way. I have mad Photoshop skills. I volunteer to do the next cover for them, free of charge. And it’s not just this band. There are several out there with album covers of dubious origin and it obviously irritates me. Maybe the record labels are to blame. I don’t know, just fix it! Okay, end of rant. It’s the music that matters and I want people to be interested enough by the cover to want to hear the music.

Blues Scars is a Rock & Roller’s blues album. It swings, it bops, it zips, and it dips. It’s old style Rock & Roll that came straight from the Blues. This band hits it fast, hard, and often. Most of the songs are between two and a half and four minutes. They fill the songs with hot licks, sweet tones, impassioned vocals, and undeniable spirit. Between Skyla’s tremendous voice, twin blazing guitars and deeply grooving rhythm section you have a recipe for all night boogie marathons that are guaranteed to leave a few Blues Scars behind. Get yours today!

 

MarkusJamesHeadForTheHillsMarkus James

Head For The Hills

Firenze Records

Released Date: October 28, 2014

 

Markus James loves percussion and he loves the blues. Markus has been playing blues-based music with traditional West African musicians since 1994. In that year he made his first visit to Niafunke, the northern Mali home of the legendary Ali Farka Toure. Markus James has studied the West African rhythms, cadences, and styles as well as their blues counterparts in the United States, particularly in Mississippi. As he traveled around Mississippi after a successful 2003 appearance University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, he encountered familiar music and was drawn in by the old-school drummers. At one point, after performing in Mali, West Africa, Markus James made a realization, “I came back to the US, saw the Deep Blues film, and was amazed to see the exact same thing that I had just seen in the sand dunes outside Timbuktu: three drummers and a guy playing what they call a cane flute. It was just such an obvious connection between the musical traditions I had been immersed in in West Africa and some of the traditional music in North Mississippi.” On his new album, Markus chose to Head For The Hills. The North Mississippi Hills.

Markus James recruited Junior’s son Kinney Kimbrough, Calvin Jackson who played with R.L. Burnside, and Junior Kimbrough, Aubrey “Bill” Turner from Otha Turner’s fife and drum band, and R.L. Boyce who played with Jessie Mae Hemphill. In addition to these A-list rhythm makers he brought in Marlon Green, who was the last drummer for John Lee Hooker, and who is currently working live shows with James. The drummers, who split duties on the album, are the only instrumentalists aside from Markus James on the album but James plays a plethora of instruments himself. He sings and plays electric slide guitar, 3-string cigar box guitar, gourd banjo, slide dulcimer, acoustic guitar, harmonica, beatbox, and a snakeskin-covered 1-string diddley bow. The result is an earthy, primitive, and complex combination. Everything about this music is percussive, even James guitar playing. The way he plucks the strings and slaps the guitar while playing slide belie the heart of a drummer. Even the most stripped down tracks on Head For The Hills will give you plenty to hold on to and will keep your foot tapping.

You can’t get much more primitive than “Diddley Bow And Buckets” which has only the instruments named in the title. Still it is a compelling track, solidifying the notion that excellent music can come from unlikely objects. Album opener “Just Say Yes” is a driving, thumping Hill Country trance-inducer, “Gone Like Tomorrow” is a spacey, wide open adventure in dreamland, and “Nomo” is an anguished dirge. “Woke Me” which features Kinney Kimbrough has a “Rollin’ And Tumblin’” groove. Head For The Hills closes with an appropriately organic acoustic piece called “Green.” Most of the music can’t really be described. The tones and beats come at you in unfamiliar combinations and every song raises your expectations for the next. Head For The Hills is a wonderful exploration of primordial music in a high tech world and makes the musical connection from future to past.