Monday, June 19, 2017

Jeffrey Halford & The Healers -- "Lo Fi Dreams"

Jeffrey Halford & The Healers burst onto my radar back in 2015 when I became hooked by their album "Rainmaker." I didn't know then that Jeffrey Halford had made 6 albums before that one, and I didn't know anything about his background. All I knew was that the music on Rainmaker sounded authentic. That was enough for me--I made room in my life for a real good band. Well, here comes a new release from these guys. Lo Fi Dreams is all I have come to expect and even more.

The band here is Halford on vocals and guitar, Bill Macbeath on bass, and Adam Rossi on keys and drums. Guests include Jimmy Dewrance on harp on two songs, and Tom Heyman on steel and guitar on two tracks. The album was recorded in San Francisco.

Let me say this up front: This is a real good album. The songwriting is top-notch, and the guitar work, while sometimes a bit less flashy than it could be, is very solid. While this music may not be textbook blues-- i-tunes even calls it country--the music here strikes my ears as an example of "Cosmic American Music", a hybrid of country, rhythm and blues, soul, folk, and rock, a phrase used by the late and great musician Gram Parson. The feel of Lo Fi Dreams, like Rainmaker before it, is similar to music made by Tony Jo White, or Ray Wylie Hubbard, or early John Hiatt. It contains stories told with honest and sparse musical accompaniment. My favorite song here is Two Jacksons, a tale of a thrift store jacket.

I am going to give the final word to Paul Liberatore, who writes for the Marin Independent Journal:

"With this album, Halford stays the course he’s set as a troubadour of truth, writing songs in the tradition of the American storytellers who used their voices and their guitars to elevate ordinary people and comment on the human condition."

He got it exactly right.

You can buy this cd at i-tunes or at your favorite music outlet.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Bert Wray Blues -- "Gutbucket Radio"

Bert Wray Blues came to me on a tip from a friend. Don de Leaumont, who has been my friend since 2009 when we met at an Emory University seminar about the music of Bob Dylan, told me one day that I needed to hear this blues album by his friend in Charlotte North Carolina. Because of our friendship I told him to hook me up with it. Don sent me "Gutbucket Radio" that same day, and I listened to the first three songs.....which was all the time I had. The next day my brain was full of other chores and other music and it wasn't for another 6 days that I remembered and listened to the rest of the album. But at least there was one bit of good news--that second day I listened to it from the beginning! The first three songs sounded even stronger than they had the first time, and there was no letdown as I heard the rest of it.
Bert Wray is the leader of this band. He wrote the seven songs, sings and plays guitar and harmonica. Filling out the band are Dave Wall, on bass; and Mitch Cooper, on drums. They play a tight, yet loose-limbed music together that is blues, and folk, and rock 'n roll and country all at once. It is also utterly captivating. There are no weak songs here, no lame-o guitar wanking, nothing that makes me reach for the remote to hit "skip." Just fine music, honestly made by real human musicians who love to play.   
It really reminds me of another album I was given by a friend in about 2013: The Mojo Roots, from Columbia MO, were a fine bunch of guys and they made a really fine album they made called "What Kind Of Fool." I was knocked out. That album very rarely left my cd player for the next 18 months, even though The Mojo Roots broke up after the cd was out for about a year. 
I have played the Bert Wray Blues song "Like Johnny Winter Did" on my Mo' Blues Show at at least a couple of times, and every time I play it I have to get up and dance around a little bit in the studio. The same thing happens with the song "Got The Tennessee Blues" or "Midwood Blues" or "Whiskey In My Coffee Cup" or "Little Highway Girl".... every song here can be shuffled into a pile with your other favorite cds and it will keep things "MOVIN!      
You can buy this cd at I-Tunes, and you can follow Bert Wray Blues at their Facebook page. If you are ever near Charlotte North Carolina check them out--you will be glad that you did! 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Brody Buster -- Brody Buster's One Man Band

Brody Buster is still pretty young--he's 32--but his music is advanced far beyond those years. Originally a harp prodigy from Paola Kansas, Brody played on The Tonight Show and played several times with BB King, but he didn't really actively pursue his music--it was just for fun. Things began to take a more serious turn away from Blues Rock in late 2015 when Brody began developing himself as a One Man Band (solo voice, drums, guitar and harp) at a weekly gig at the Westport Saloon in Kansas City. After that effort earned him a second finish at the 2016 IBC in the solo/duo competition, and Brody won "Best Harmonica" honors, he released this One Man Band cd last July.

At the outset I want to say that I liked this release. There are eight tracks here, three originals and five covers. The originals are "Into The Wind," "Working For The Devil," and "2029." These are all interesting, and feature strong harp and guitar work, along with generally good singing. At times Brody seems to hurry through the lyrics to get to the next guitar part or the next harp part. I liked "Into The Wind" the best of the originals. The covers include four non-blues songs--"I'm On Fire" (Bruce Springsteen), "New Speedway Boogie" (Grateful Dead), "Nothing Compares 2 U" (Prince), and "Get Back" (The Beatles). The sole bluesy cover is "Get Out Of My Life" (Eugene Smiley Sr). The Beatles and Springsteen covers are sweet but lightweight, and the Prince cover is ok, but the Grateful Dead song is strong and the Eugene Smiley Sr song is quite good--IMO the best on the cd.

Brody Buster has created an interesting artistic turn with this release, and I think he has a huge upside ahead doing this One Man Band style. He also continues to perform around Kansas City in the Brody Buster Band. What is sure is that he can sure play harp and guitar and drums, and his singing and songwriting will continue to develop.       

You can buy this cd from Brody's website:

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Michael Hornbuckle -- "SoulRepo"

Michael Hornbuckle is a blues lifer. He started playing drums behind his father, the legendary Denver bluesman Bobby Hornbuckle, at the age of 13. After Bobby passed Michael picked up his Gibson guitar and carried on in the family business, developing over the years into a fine songwriter, an even better vocalist, and a pretty terrific guitarist. The triple threat! The music on SoulRepo is brought to life by Michael Hornbuckle on guitar and vocals, Andras Csapo on harp, Jeff Andrews on bass, and Desmond Washington on drums. Dave Fox plays drums on "Backseat" and Sarah Snead appears on backing vocals.

What I like best about SoulRepo is the way the songs are all well-written, well-played, and intelligent. Hornbuckle doesn't go for the too easy riff, or the ridiculous over the top guitar solo. Every song is presented on its own, and it gets whatever backing or solo or instrumentation it needs. As a result, this is blues music for grownups, with taste and style in abundance. It starts with "Sweat," a blues rocker. "Me And Melody" gets your attention with a nice drum riff and a strong melody hook. "Risin Sun" is the song I have been playing on my Mo' Blues shows--it has really good guitar work and a soulful vocal. "Candle For Mary" is another soulful blues rocker. "Angel" will be the next single for my show--it is an excellent soul song with a lot of swing and a great groove. "Backseat" closes things down with an easy blues shuffle. A very solid release.

Every few weeks, it seems, we hear of another blues artist passing on. That is sad, and those artists will be certainly missed. I still miss BB King and Johnny Winter. But there are a few up and coming folks out there who know how to keep the blues going, and they are doing it the right way. Michael Hornbuckle is one of those, and his music deserves your time and attention. Pick up SoulRepo.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Best releases of 2016 (Better late than never!)

I've been writing this blog since 2007, and in all that time I have never had so much trouble writing a post. Normally the annual "Best Of" post starts nearly writing itself in October-November, and I touch it up a bit in December and there you are. I might polish it a couple more times, but the hardest part is done long before I post it. But two things--first, this year I took a class from early September until January 11, and there just hasn't been the free time I am accustomed to. That's not just an excuse, but it's the truth. And this year I have been doing 8 hours live DJ-ing per week at (Unabashed plug: Two hours of blues music on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00pm eastern time, Mondays 8:00am-noon, also eastern time.)

Anyway, here's my top fifteen for the year...

15.) Trudy Lynn -- I'll Sing The Blues For You (Connor Ray Music) The veteran Houston native has brought forth an excellent album. From the first notes of "Alright Baby" to the last notes of "Down On Bended Knee" Lynn displays a great R&B sensibility and class and style.

14.) Frank Bang & The Cook County Kings -- The Blues Don't Care (Cleopatra Blues) I loved this one. The first blues release by Frank Bang after spending 25 years with Buddy Guy--with strong songs, strong playing and singing. He said "I have been waiting to make this record my whole life."

13.) Sari Schorr & The Engine Room -- A Force Of Nature (Manhaton Records) This came out in September, and it has all the feel of a debut--it seemed to me that they were going for broke with every note. When I first heard it I was exhausted before the end of the first song. There's a lot of energy here--vocal power, great guitar work, interesting songs. They have a world of promise ahead of them.

12.) Diana Rein -- Long Road (Self) This release took Diana eighteen months to create--she wrote everything, plays all the guitars, bass and sings all the vocals. The result was worth every bit of that effort. She channels a bit of Stevie Ray. The title track was the most played song on my Texas Blues Show in 2016.

11.) The Fabulous Thunderbirds -- Strong Like That (Severn Records) See review 1-4-17.

10.) Lex Grey & The Urban Pioneers -- Heal My Soul (Self)  See review 11-19-16.

9.) Lurrie Bell -- Can't Shake This Feeling (Delmark) See review 1-1-17.

8.) The Lucky Losers -- In Any Town (Self) Cathy Lemons and Phil Berkowitz and Kid Andersen and a top-notch rhythm section equalled a terrific release. Great songs, great singing, and great music.

7.) The Joey Gilmore Band -- Respect The Blues (Park Lane Productions Inc) This band of veterans made another very strong album. The best thing about this cd are the covers, especially "Night Time Is The Right Time" with lead vocals by the seriously talented Edlene Hart. In my mind Joey's vocals on this cd push this one just barely ahead of Biscuit Miller's Wishbone at the top of the Band category.

6.) Tweed Funk -- Come Together (Tweed Tone Records) One terrific high-powered horn driven ensemble from Milwaukee. This is their best release so far, although everything they have made since 2010 has been worthwhile. This was the feel bad/feel good story of the year with vocalist Joseph "Smokey" Holman's cancer scare--but with things looking up for the band in this new year, I toast Tweed Funk's strength and resilience.  

5.) Toronzo Cannon -- The Chicago Way (Alligator) For one of the few times, I agree with the rest of the blues world. This is a terrific release. That first vocal "Woooooo" in the song "Walk It Off" makes it Bruce's Song Of The Year.

4.) Guy King -- Truth (Delmark) Wonderful jazz-influenced blues. Guitar and vocals to enjoy in any mood or occasion. Would have almost made this list for the opening track along, the Ray Charles song "The Same Thing That Makes You Laugh (Can Make You Cry)." In my mind, this release stood out as the antidote this year to losing B B King.

3.) Dave Keller -- Rick Back Atcha (Self) This one has been in my cd player an awful lot last year, mostly just for the joy of Dave Keller's voice. Tied with Guy King for best vocals of 2016. Special shout out to the Mo' Sax Horns--I love horns on a blues album.

2.) Albert Castiglia -- Big Dog (Ruf) This one came out at # 3 in the annual Roots Music Report, behind only Tedeschi Trucks Band's "Let Me Get By" and Janiva Magness' "Love Wins Again." I liked Albert's cd better than both of those. This cd is the best work Albert has done so far. Cudos to Mike Zito for helping Albert achieve just that little bit extra. My pick for best blues-rock cd of the year.

1.) Deb Ryder -- Grit Grease & Tears (Bejab Music) Deb Ryder's wonderful vocals and a cast of terrific guest artists make this a stellar release. "Prisoner Of War" is my favorite song here, but they're all simply excellent. 

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

The Fabulous Thunderbirds -- Strong Like That

The Fabulous Thunderbirds have been around for over 30 years now, which in musical terms is a very long time; and, in my humble opinion, they have never sounded better than now.

For this new cd, the focus seems to be a mix of blues and old-time soul music--Motown and Stax--and this combination works really well.  The band is just wonderful, tight where they need to be tight, smooth where they need to be smooth, and loose enough to dance to. The key is, of course, Kim Wilson, who shows again on this outing why he must be counted among the very best singers, harp players and band leaders anywhere. The band is Kim Wilson (vocals and harmonica) Johnny Moeller (guitars) Kevin Anker (keyboards) Steve Gomes (bass) and Robb Stupka (drums). Special guests include Aason Funderburgh (lead guitar on "Don't Burn Me") Roosevelt Collier (steel guitar on "I Know (I'm Losing You)") Wes Watkins (drums on "I Know (I'm Losing You)") and Sara Mia (background vocals on "I Know (I'm Losing You)" and Christal Rheams and Caleb Green (background vocals on "Don't Burn Me," "Somebody's Getting It," "Where's Your Love Been" and "I've Never Found a Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)".

Every song here is worth your time, your money, and more importantly, the investment of your ears.
You can buy this cd at all your usual cd outlets.  

01 – (I Know) I’m Losing You (Feat. Roosevelt Collier & Wes Watkins)
02 – Don’t Burn Me (Feat. Anson Funderburgh)
03 – You’re Gonna Miss Me
04 – Drowning On Dry Land
05 – Smooth
06 – Somebody’s Getting It
07 – Meet Me On The Corner
08 – Where’s Your Love Been
09 – I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)
10 – Strong Like That

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Lurrie Bell -- "Can't Shake This Feeling"

Lurrie Bell is one of the greats of Chicago Blues. The son of the great Carey Bell, he began playing guitar at the age of five. Now, many years later, this new release is a shining gem.  This Delmark Records cd features Lurrie on vocals and guitar and his regular band: Willie Hayes on drums and Melvin Smith on bass, writing partner Matthew Skoller on harmonica, and the great Roosevelt Purifoy on piano, organ and Rhodes.
Six of the thirteen songs are originals, along with "Drifting" by Eddie Boyd, "I Get So Weary" by T Bone Walker, "One Eyed Woman" by Maxwell Street Jimmy Davis, "Sit Down Baby" by Willie Dixon, "Hold me Tight" by Little Milton-Oliver Sain Jr, "Sinners Prayer" by Lowell Fulson-Lloyd C Glenn, "Born With The Blues" by Buster Benton, "Do You Hear" by Carey Bell, and "Hidden Charms" by Willie Dixon. I print out the names of these covers to illustrate one point--Lurrie pretty much covers the waterfront--they are all great songs brought forward and played with reverence and respect.The originals fit in well with the covers--Lurrie is a veteran bluesman now. His singing and guitar work are both personal and warm, and his songwriting is an extra special bonus.

This is a really good cd, pure Chicago blues by some of the best musicians out there. Belongs in any 2016 Top Ten list. Any time you are shopping for blues music--if you see the name Lurrie Bell on something, go ahead and buy it. You will never be disappointed.

You can buy this cd at