Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Billy Hector -- "Old School Thang"

Billy Hector's "Old School Thang" is his 11th release for the Ghetto Surf label, and this one is good stuff! Hector is one of New Jersey's guitar treasures, and after 35 years he sounds better than ever. This time out Hector is on guitar and vocals, backed by a core band of veterans Tim Tindall on bass and Sim Cain on drums, along with a number of other musical guests.

Here's the way they describe it on his website:

“She’s Gone” is a story of heartbreak, sugar coated by a sumptuous layering of fierce blues guitar and horns on a bedrock Latin groove. “Goin’ Down” is Billy Hector’s tribute to Freddie King’s interpretation of the Don Nix iconic tune with horns and piano.“Old School Thang” , a funkified fan favorite, showcases the expertise and high level of musicianship the Billy Hector power trio delivers every night it performs.  “Fake I.D” is a sly and humorous ode to taking life as it comes and letting the chips fall where they may. This track also features Billy’s signature killer slide guitar work with a sparkling assist from Mickey Melchiondo on guitar. “Vitamin Big Daddy” is a healthy dose of bawdy horn driven blues that meets or exceeds the recommended daily intake of musical nutrients.  Just what the doctor ordered. “Come On Home” is an infectious slide driven groove accented with the harp stylings of Ken Sorensen."Evil, Slick ‘n Sly”, is a slow grinder with a sexy groove that conjures up the pitfalls of amorous relationships.“Hammer” grabs you in with it’s funky foot tapping intro. If your love needs fixing,  Hector’s Albert Collins-esque guitar work gets the job done. “Rita” is a rowdy old time barroom blues in the tradition of St. James Infirmary that tells the tragic tale of a fading barfly.  “Short and Sweet Blues” is just that. Two and three quarter’s minutes of slow blues bliss. “People of the World” is a funk-drenched plea for peace on earth featuring a soulful sax solo by Stax recording artist Mel Taylor.

You can read all that and you may be be convinced, but if you listen to "Vitamin Big Daddy" once I know you'll find a place for this cd in your collection. Billy Hector has been a top-notch guitarist for a long time, and this is a very fine album. Turn it up!

You can buy this cd at http://www.billyhector.com/

Monday, May 25, 2015

Dave Specter -- "Message In Blue"

Dave Specter's 10th album, "Message In Blue" is a soulful and compelling collection of the Chicago blues he has played for the past 15+ years, and a solid serving of soul blues, and some great moments of R&B. It was released on May 20, 2014 on Delmark Records.

Specter is in wonderful form. His guitar work is clean and assured. And the veteran band--Harlan Terson (bass) and Marty Binder (drums) back him flawlessly. Guests on this set include the great Otis Clay (vocals) and Brother John Kattke (keyboards and vocals) and Bob Corritore (harmonica). Theresa Davis and Diane Madison add backup vocals on one song.

Things kick off with "New West Side Stroll," an updated version of Specter's 1995 instrumental track. The next two songs feature Otis Clay's soul vocal style on covers--he brings glorious life to Harold Burrage's "Got To Find A Way," featuring horns and that great Otis Clay magic. Then Clay adds sweet soul to "This Time I'm Gone For Good," a slow minor key blues recorded here as a tribute to Bobby Blue Bland. Then comes the title track, a very tasty instrumental in which Specter channels some melodic Jimi Hendrix. The next song is the name-dropping "Chicago Style," which features Kattke on piano and vocals, a full horn section and a very strong guitar break. From there, things return to Otis Clay and a great cover of Wilson Pickett's "I Found A Love," which is one of the highlights of the cd--everything about this track is superb--worth the price of the cd all by itself. Then a Specter original, "Funkified Outta Space," which he channels The Meters sound in all their New Orleans glory. Next up is a cover of the Don Nix-penned "Same Old Blues." I didn't really think  I needed another version of this one, but with vocals and piano by Kattke and killer guitar work by Specter--this one is better than Eric Clapton's version.

There are still five tracks to go, but I think you all get the idea--this is a great cd. You can buy this at http://www.delmark.com/


Sunday, May 24, 2015

Johnny I. Band -- Johnny I. All Star Blues Revival EP

I've been enjoying this EP for long enough--I should share this gem with you as well. This little EP has three songs which were written by the team of John A. Ingrassia and his father John E. Ingrassia.
Johnny A. plays guitar on all the songs. Johnny E. sings on two songs and plays bass on one. They play just fine, but the real treat is the rest of the musicians. An impressive group--on "Avery's Tune" Johnny A. and Johnny E. are joined by Glen Graham (from Blind Melon) on drums, and Doug Ferrara on Hammond B3 organ. It is mixed by Brad Smith (also from Blind Melon). This instrumental starts things off with a bang! The guitar on this track is strong--it clearly illustrates that Johnny I. has a fine melodic style, and he can also rip it up when that is needed. It starts out sounding a little bit like Blind Melon, but about halfway through the song Graham's drums break in and right after that things get moving in the right direction.

The next song is "Life Is Better ( 2nd Time Around) "  and here Johnny I. (guitar) and Johnny E. (vocals) are joined by Billy Cox on bass (yes, that Billy Cox--he played with Jimi Hendrix) and Chris Layton on drums and Reese Wynans on the Hammond B3 organ (both from Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble). Johnny E.'s vocals are quite good--he reminds me a little of Doyle Bramhall, but without Bramhall's Texas accent. The rhythm section pushes the pocket and Johnny I. on guitar doesn't try to imitate SRV--he just plays great from beginning to end. Wynans on organ here is very good--he fills everything out with style. A fine song. Mixed By Jim Gaines.

The third song is "Late Nite," and it is probably my favorite of them all. Here Johnny I. (guitar) and Johnny E. (vocals) are joined by Bruce Katz on Hammond B3 organ, Tommy Shannon on bass (Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble), and Jaimoe on drums (The Allman Brothers). This song features strong work by Bruce Katz at the opening before Johnny I. does some great (but brief) stringbending fretwork before the vocals and the rhythm section take it away. The vocals are good. This song is also mixed by Jim Gaines.  

I really like this EP, and I think all three songs are strong solid work in a rock/blues style. Johnny I. says in an email that he is in rehearsals with Jaimoe and writing to add more songs.


Monday, January 5, 2015

Top Cds From 2014

This time of year I always post the best of the best cds from the previous year. 2014 was a tumultuous year in the blues, a year marked with highs and lows--new bands and new releases. How did we get along before Gary Clark Jr's "Live!" and John Nemeth's "Memphis Grease"? We also saw a bunch of important artists dying in the blues community. This year we lost three of my favorites in Johnny Winter, Finis Tasby and Joe Cocker. And I even changed my DJ gig to a new internet radio station--http://www.caldoniascrossroad.com/ Come by and check it out.  

Don't worry about the numbers. Almost any of these cds could have been listed as # 20 or #1. But in my opinion these were the best blues releases of 2014:

20. (tie) Otis Clay & Johnny Rawls -- Soul Brothers" Catfood Records
This is a great soul blues record from two veteran singers with a talented sympathetic band and a full horn section. I love the way they cover Dave Mason's "Only You Know And I Know," but the other nine songs keep that high level of heart and skill.

20. (tie) No Refund Band -- "Current State Of Blue" Self Release
This is the second release from this Texas band, and CSOB is a big step up. Ricky Jackson & Mike Crownover wrote 8 of the 12 songs here--the originals are really good, and the covers include Eric Clapton's "Bell Bottom Blues," Leslie West's "Mississippi Queen," Gary Moore's "Still Got The Blues" and Jim Brady's "I Gotta Play." Any band brave enough to cover those 4 has major cojones, and this is a great band. Favorite track is "St Louis Bound."        

19. Too Slim And The Taildraggers -- "Anthology" Underworld Indie Records
This is a band that has been out there making great music for almost thirty years. Stop and think on that for a second. The songs on this set are from the past 15 years. The quality of these 34 songs is staggering. Cudos to Tim "Too Slim" Langford for writing almost all these songs and playing guitar and singing like a banshee sometimes and an angel other times. Fabulous. Favorite track is "Cowboy Boot."      

18. Low Society -- "You Can't keep A Good Woman Down" Icehouse Records
A happy surprise. This is a Memphis primer of how to do the blues right. Gut bucket blues vocals, blistering slide guitar, a solid rhythm section. Vocalist Mandy Lemons is going to be a big star. I'll bet Low Society is a terrific band to see live. Favorite track is "Crammed & Jammed."  

17. George Taylor -- "Rain Or Shine" Self Release
Let me say up front I don't know if this is blues or country music. Doesn't matter--one listen and it belongs on this list. The most beautiful music I heard in 2014 no matter what you call it. As Texas as Buddy Holly, as honest as Hank Williams. Favorite track is "Harvest Moon."   

16. Dave Fields -- "All In" Self Release
The number one blues-rock cd of the year. Eleven songs--only three covers--and Dave gives the deepest grittiest performances of his career on both guitar and vocals. A live cover of Led Zeppelin's "Black Dog," has been extensively re-imagined to expose its blues roots. I would have loved to be a fly on the wall in the studio--those walls were COOKIN'. Favorite track is "Black Dog."

15. Little Mike And The Tornadoes -- "All The Right Moves" Self Release
See my review June 2.

14. Tweed Funk -- "First Name Lucky" Self Release
See my review June 27.

13. Damon Fowler -- "Sounds Of Home" Blind Pig Records
See my review Dec 16.

12. Selwyn Birchwood -- "Don't Call No Ambulance" Alligator Records
This is such a fresh-sounding and energetic release--I hear it in all the reasons I got excited about the blues way back in the day. Selwyn comes out of Florida, and he was born in 1985. (I have socks older than that!) In 2013 he won the IBC and since then he has exploded on the blues scene. He plays a real good guitar and lap steel, and his voice is gritty and good. He was signed to Alligator Records last July. Favorite track is "Overworked And Underpaid," with great harp work by RJ Harmon. Joe Louis Walker guests on “The River Turned Red.” Looking forward to his next steps. 

11. Walter Trout -- "The Blues Came Callin'" Mascot Music
This one makes a place on this list for two reasons--the playing on the cd is terrific, and the human interest story of Walter's liver transplant. The surgery was on May 26, and the cd was released on June 10. You can read about the liver transplant in detail at his website www.waltertrout.com. Read the story, but also go immediately and buy this cd. Walter has been a great blues musician for 25 years, and I hope he can share his gifts with us for 25 more. Great guitar playing, great singing on this one. John Mayall guests on Hammond B-3 and harp.

10. Robert Cray -- "In My Soul" Mascot Music
This is the first Robert Cray Band release since back in the 80s that grabbed my ear. Robert has been making great blues music for 4 decades now. The opener "You Move Me" and "Nobody's Fault But Mine" just blast my head wide open, and I can't stop listening until the cd is over. The band includes Cray (vocals/guitar), Richard Cousins (bass), Les Falconer (drums), and Dover Weinberg (piano/keyboards). An American treasure.    

9. Old Grey Mule -- Have Mercy" Cotton Patch Disco Music
This is not your father's old school blues--this is a modern blues tornado duo. CR Humphrey (vocals/guitar) and JJ Wilburn (drums/vocals) mix a lot of Mississippi Hill Country blues with some zydeco. They make electric blues dance music. In previous years this spot on the countdown might have been filled by Moreland & Arbuckle or JJ Grey & Mofro. Like them, Old Grey Mule make great music. Favorite track is "Have Mercy."   

8. Dick LeMasters -- "One Bird Two Stones" Self Release
Texan Dick has released a real home run--he says One Bird Two Stones "includes what I consider to be my best 11 original songs." Depending on the setting, he works as a solo artist, as part of an acoustic duo with Douglas Greer, and with the band Longneck Road. The guitar work, the songwriting and the singing here are all top notch. This record is a favorite of all the DJs at www.caldoniascrossroad.com/  Favorite track is "Three Fifty Seven." 
7. Albert Castiglia -- "Solid Ground" Ruf Records
The best release from Albert so far in his career. Every time I put together one of these lists he's on it, and every year the cd is better than the one prior to it. Dave Gross produced, mixed and recorded, in addition to guesting on guitar and bass and mandolin. Other guests include Jeremy Baum on keyboards, Lou Bevere on guitar, and Debbie Davies on guitar and vocals. Throughout, the stars are Albert's guitar and his voice. An underrated songwriter. Favorite track is "Little Havana Blues (Arroz Con Mango)."
6. Gary Clark Jr -- "Live!" Warner Brothers
One of the anticipated releases of 2014 was this killer set. The Texan came through in a big way with "Live!" This is a seriously hot 2 cd set, and his guitar work burns and cooks every step of the way. Gary will have a long and glorious career and he might never touch these high moments again. Favorite track is "When My Train Comes In."

5. Ruthie Foster -- "Promise Of A Brand New Day" Blue Corn Music
I have been a fan of Ruthie Foster's gospel-influenced blues americana ever since 2006's "The Truth According To Ruthie Foster." Like Albert Castiglia, she gets better with every release. Evidently I am not alone in my admiration. Ruthie has been Best Female Vocalist in 2007, 2008 and 2013 from the Austin Music Awards, a 2012 and 2009 Grammy nomination for Best Contemporary Blues Album, the 2010 Living Blues Music Award Critic’s Poll for Female Blues Artist of the Year and recent Blues Music Award wins for Best Contemporary and Best Traditional Blues Female Artist of the Year. Favorite track is "Let Me Know" featuring Doyle Bramhall II on guitar. 
4. Alexis P Suter Band -- "Love The Way You Roll" American Showplace Music
This cd has been at the top of Blues Charts since it came out in August, and it led to the discovery of a major new vocal talent. Alexis has a one in a generation voice, and the APS Band can seriously play any kind of blues right alongside her. As BB King said, "It's a rare thing to share the stage with great talent like that young lady." 

3. Keb' Mo' -- "Bluesamericana" Kind of Blue Music
Bluesamericana is my favorite cd in Keb' Mo' career. These songs came out of some troubled times in Kevin Moore's life, and the resulting cd seems to have brought forth both more sharpness in his playing and songwriting and more inner peace to share with his audience. Favorite track is "The Old Me Better."   

2. John Nemeth -- "Memphis Grease" Blue Corn Music
This set is recorded in Memphis with the Bo Kays. Great band, great horns, and John brings great soulful singing and harp. Favorite track is the cover of Roy Orbison's "Crying." Sure it's over the top. But when John almost hits those high notes and the horns come in it gives me chills. Every time.    

1. Johnny Winter -- "Step Back" Megaforce Records
The Texas guitar great left us in July, but this cd shows he left us with all his skills intact. Johnny's singing and playing are strong on every track. Favorite track is "Can't Hold Out (Talk To Me Baby)" with Ben Harper. Absolutely deserving of the top spot.

Before I stop writing, let me name my song of the year. It is "All Night Long" by Pork Chop Willie from the cd "Love Is The Devil" (2014, Self Release).   

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Damon Fowler -- "Sounds Of Home"

Damon Fowler's new "Sounds Of Home" is a smorgasbord of great guitar work and fine singing and songwriting. Recorded at Tab Benoit's studio in Louisiana--and with Tab's typically understated production work--this is Damon's sixth cd and his third for for Blind Pig Records. It is also his best.  Fresh from a year touring with the Southern Blues-Rock Royal Southern Brotherhood, Damon has raised his game in every direction---and he has been pretty doggone good for several years already.

Nine of the songs here are Damon originals, sometimes with the help of writing partner Ed Wright and Tab; and there are two covers: Johnny Winter's "TV Mama" and Elvis Costello's "Alison." The album closes with the traditional "I Shall Not Be Moved."

Damon's voice is country-ish, clear with an agreeable roughness on some songs, and his writing shows plenty of pop-music smarts. But my favorite part of this set is Damon's guitar--he gives the entire fretboard a good workout with an endless supply of razor sharp hooks.

Favorites? The centerpiece of the cd is "Old Fools, Bar Stools, and Me," which sounds like it should have been written by John Hiatt or Willie Nelson. One of the best songs of the year, for sure."Thought I Had It All" is an excellent song, as is the title track. "Trouble" has a tasteful solo around lyrics about being addicted to a lover. "Spark" is an energetic rock song--back in the good old days of real radio, every song here would be on a playlist somewhere. This is a Top Ten cd of the year candidate.

You can buy this cd at http://www.blindpigrecords.com


Monday, December 15, 2014

Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson -- "For Pops"

Those of us who have been connected to the blues for a long time will hear all they need to know when I say that this cd is a tribute to the 100th birthday of Muddy Waters by his son Mud Morganfield & Kim Wilson backed by an all-star band of Chicago blues players.

But those of you whose love for the blues may have developed rather recently--like maybe beginning in 1995--may need some more encouragement. This is a cd of really great old school songs and music. Like twenty years older than The Black Keys. Older than the Blues Brothers movie.

But not old like a museum exhibit. This music is not stodgy or creaky or stiff. This music roars out of the gate and burns from beginning to end. Part of that is Kim Wilson's doing--his Little Walter styled harp work here very nearly raises the dead--and part of it is that Mud Morganfield is one of the better singers out there, especially when singing Muddy's songs. And a huge part of it is the band that brings these songs to full, uproarious life: Rusty Zinn and Billy Flynn on guitar, Barrelhouse Chuck on piano, Steve Gomes on bass and Robb Stupka on drums. The album was produced by David Earl and Steve Gomes and recorded in four days at Severn Sound Studios in Annapolis, Maryland. 

Everybody plays together with the same sense of balance and taste that you hear in those great Muddy Waters bands from back in the 50s. Every note of every song is blues perfection. Nothing extraneous, nothing out of place, no showing off. Love it.

You can get this cd at http://www.severnrecords.com/

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Jim Suhler -- "Panther Burn"

Let's skip over the fact that this was released last February. I need to say how terrific it is, and I need for you to hear how terrific it is. I have loved Jim Suhler's work for over 15 years now--in fact, two cds he made, one with Alan Haynes, "Live At Blue Cat Blues," (2000) and the solo acoustic "Dirt Road," (2002) are among my all time favorites. 

And this new cd is as good as anything he has released over the twenty-plus years he has been making Texas music.

The band this time out includes Carlton Powell and Buddy Momed on bass, Beau Chadwell, Kevin Schermerhorn and Jimmy Morgan on drums, Tim Alexander on piano, organ and accordian, and Shawn Phares on organ, Jim Elmore on guitar, Kim Wilson on harmonica, and Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson on vocals, along with Suhler on guitar and vocals. There are thirteen original songs and one cover, "Remember Mama" from To Kill A Mockingbird.

My favorite song here is the wonderful gospel "Amen Corner," which segues into "All God's Children Get The Blues Sometimes." Great organ work by Tim Alexander and great acoustic slide guitar by Mr Suhler. Carolyn Wonderland and Ray Benson add some great vocals.

Jim Suhler is a great singer, songwriter and guitarist. Give "Panther Burn" a listen, and you'll be hooked. You can buy this cd at http://www.jimsuhler.com