Thursday, December 11, 2008

2008 end of the year roundup

2008 has been a very good year for blues lovers, with an armload of great cds released. I heard really good releases this year by veteran artists like Magic Slim, Buddy Guy, BB King, and Byther Smith. I heard really good releases by newer artists like Moreland & Arbuckle and Eden Brent and Samuel James. I heard blues music that you might have missed from artists like D. Johnson, Jo Buddy & Down Home King III and Gina Sicilia. Those ten blues artists I just named each made worthy cds in 2008, each of them plenty good enough to capture an hour of your time. Let me speak a few words about the methodology I used. I eliminated the collection-sets, and I eliminated best of sets, and I eliminated re-issues. The ten artists following are all terrific, and, with one exception, should be making great music for years to come. These are my top ten cds of 2008.

1. Albert Castiglia “These Are The Days.” (Blues Leaf) Not necessarily because Albert made the single best blues song of 2008 in his remake of ‘Night Time Is The Right Time’ but because ‘Loan Me A Dime’ is just as good. And ‘Catfish’ is the best Dylan cover of the year. Albert made an entire cd without a weak link. His singing and his guitar work are both top-notch, and I expect in 10 years he will make 5 or 6 more cds just as good or even better than this one.

2. Sean Costello “We Can Get Together.” (Delta Groove) Sean’s cd came out in February and he left us in April. His death breaks my heart still, because Sean was a shining star on the rise. The cd he left us is just great, with great vocals, great guitar work, great writing-- but it will always be tinged with the lost promise. It is still hard for me to listen to’Going Home.’ Sigh.

3. Bernie Pearl “Old School Blues.” (Indy) After listening to Sean Costello this seems a joyful antidote. This 2 disc set is a shining musicology lesson of the history of the blues and a finger picking celebration of life and love and loss. Bernie makes good music and lifts the spirit. I wish this guy would come east and play at Eddie's Attic some night with an acoustic guitar--it would be great to hear him. A special shout out to Mike Berry for great bass playing throughout.

4. Dave Gross “Crawling The Walls.” (Vizztone) This cd was supposedly recorded live in the studio. At first I was doubtful, but then I listened to it again and again, and I began to say “well, maybe.” This disc snuck up on me--the more I let it talk to me, the more impressive it became. Dave Gross is one helluva good guitar player and singer, but he may be an even better arranger and producer. This is a fine fine release.

5. Janiva Magness “What Love Will Do.” (Alligator) For those of you who think this is a token pick, you don’t know Janiva. She can sing rings around ALL the other women singers out there, and this is the best cd she has yet made, and she is sexy as hell. This is my BMW pick--she belongs on this list every year on sheer talent. She may one day be the best of them all.

6. Ian Parker “The Official Bootleg.” (Indy) I was talking with Geoff Achison last summer about Guitar Player magazine naming him one of the Top 10 Guitar players, and he told me that his favorite guitar player was Ian Parker. After that, I stayed up one whole night listening to Ian through the headphones, and as the sun began to rise in the East I got what Geoff was talking about. He reminds me a little of the young Chris Whitley, which is high praise indeed.

7. Steve Guyger “Radio Blues.” (Severn) I first heard Steve when he did “Living Legends” with Paul Oscher. He is my favorite blues harmonica player, and he just keeps getting better. Don’t believe it? Listen to him. He made two great cds this year, and I love “Radio Blues.” It just barely beat out Dennis Gruenling's cd "I Just Keep Loving Him," which is a fine tribute to Little Walter.

8. Chris James & Patrick Rynn “Stop And Think About It.” (Earwig) The best road trip cd in the bunch. These two guys are half of the Rhythm Room All Stars in Phoenix Arizona, and the way they lay down the goods it tempts me to make a road trip all the way out there to catch them live. The most pleasurable trip I ever drove from Atlanta GA to St Louis MO was with this fine cd in the player on repeat. I may have to buy another copy of this just so I can listen to it in the house.

9. The Mannish Boys “Lowdown Feelin.’” (Delta Groove) This was a difficult choice for me. The Mannish Boys or Nick Moss & the Flip Tops? Both made fine music in 2008. I finally decided on The Mannish Boys because this is their fourth great cd. Good honest blues music. This collection of great West Coast players is built around the great drum work of Richard ‘Big Foot’ Innes, who has been making great blues music since the mid 60s. Nick Moss can look forward to being on the 2009 list.

10. Guitar Red “Lightnin’ In A Bottle.” (Backspace Records) Debut cd from an incredible street musician here in Decatur Georgia. Billy Christian Walls’ energy and joy at making music is infectious--I have seen people who missed appointments because they could not stop listening to him and go back to work. One man, one guitar, one voice. I think they only made 400 copies of this cd. I have now bought 5 of them at Decatur CD and given all but one away.

And while I'm wrapping up 2008, I'm already looking forward to the 2009 releases, especially the next cds from John Nemeth and Moreland & Arbuckle.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Anni Piper "Two's Company"

"Two's Company" is Anni Piper's 3rd release, after her self titled 2004 disc and 2006's "Texas Hold 'Em." There is something exciting about an artist's 3rd release. They finally come into their own, and there is a clarity and passion on a 3rd disc that was only hinted at in the earlier releases. Well, this disc is the real Anni Piper--after winning the 2005 Australian Blues Music Award for "Best New Talent" on this cd she brings the goods in abundance. She fronts a crackerjack band which features Richard Steele from the Austin Texas band "The Small Stars" on guitar. Piper starts this set with Leroy Carr's "Blues Before Sunrise" and it is a joy--tight, strong, confident. "Live to Play" comes up next, and it is fine--one of five songs here that also appear on her debut. Then there is a short but really good acoustic gem "Man's Woman" which features Allan Vander Linden on guitar. Then a vocal showcase "Untrue" which is followed by "Jailbait," featuring a nice nice guitar dual between Richard Steele and Marcus 'Bro' Adamson on slide. Absolutely smoking, the best song on the disc. And the entire second half of the cd continues the promise of the first....listen to "Mystery of Love" and "Love's Truly Blind." There are half a dozen songs here that would sound great on your favorite blues radio or on your cd player at a party. The thing I like best about Anni Piper is her vocals--she can sing anything from the deepest to the poppiest blues (i.e "Watchdog") and she makes it all work. On the title track she sounds like Bonnie Bramlett back about 1970, with those vocals framed beautifully by a guitar break by Vander Linden and Adamson doing their best Eric Clapton licks. "Come In My Kitchen" is not the Robert Johnson song but an original--ten of the 12 songs here are by Piper or Piper/Vander Linden.

It seems that a lot of women blues singers start out trying to sell their looks, trying to get seen more than heard. Well, Anni Piper looks good--but she sounds even better. I write here often about new artists that are coming up, and Anni Piper has the goods. This is the kind of cd that I wish Sheryl Crow and Todd Wolfe could have made together 15 years ago.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Dave Gross "Crawling The Walls" *****

Vizztone has a winner in Dave Gross, guitarist, vocalist, producer, bandleader, songwriter. Only 23 years old, his third cd "Crawling The Walls" follows his 2007 release "Take The Gamble." "Take The Gamble" was a really good disc, produced by and featuring the great Duke Robillard. It was clear by the interplay between Gross and Robillard on the first song on that disc that Gross was not intimidated by the company he was keeping. I did not expect him to be this much better this soon, but "Crawling The Walls" ups the ante in every way. The first time I put it in the cd player I was thinking" this will be good," but I wasn't expecting a whole lot from it. But my jaw dropped--this disc is jumping from beginning to end! It's not "slap you in the face" obvious, but this is a deeply satisfying piece of music-making art.

The core band has Scott Hornick on bass, Michael Bram on drums, Mike Lattrell and Conal Fowkes on piano, Matt Munisteri on 2nd guitar and guitar-banjo, Rob Chaseman on alto sax, Jon-Erik Kellso on trumpet, Gerry Niewood on clarinet sax and baritone sax, and Doug Sasfai on tenor sax. Dennis Gruenling guests on harmonica on two songs. The label says everything was recorded "live" with no overdubs--all I can say it sounds really good, organically right. There are five originals and six covers--by such stellar artists as John Willie Henry, Ike Turner, the unjustifiably overlooked Don Robey and Charles Warfield. The subject matter and the tone varies widely: from a nice rock song "Rock In My Shoe" to smooth R&B in "It's My Life, Baby" and "You're Not The One" and "Find Yourself Another Man" with a couple of old fashioned 1920"s swing and jazz in "It Was Born In The 20s" and my favorite song on the disc "Baby Won't You Please Come Home?".

The varied themes and styles are all linked together by Gross's masterful guitar work and vocals. I can tell you--I've been listening to blues for over 35 years-- making music of this quality is simply not as easy as he makes it look. There are maybe a handful of acts out there who might be able to make a record this good--and none of them are 23 years old. Hopefully this guy will be making music for several more decades. I look forward to the future of the blues with Dave Gross in it. This is one of the very best cds of 2008. Everybody who reads this--go buy this disc.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Review: Jon Paris "Blue Planet" Blues Leaf Records

The thing about blues music is there are always deeper roots to be explored. Before James 'Blood' Ulmer there was Howling Wolf. Before Howling Wolf there was Elmore James. And before Elmore James there was Robert Johnson. And before Robert Johnson there was Charley Patton.

Well, lately I've been listening to newer stuff, particularly Chris James & Patrick Rynn and Ian Parker and Matthew Stubbs and Todd Wolfe--and all this listening seems to lead me back to Albert Castiglia and Michael Bloomfield and Peter Green. And to one other guitar slinger, who may not be as well known as these others I've mentioned: Jon Paris.

Jon Paris is well known as a guitar ace to blues fans around New York City, but he might not be as familiar to those of us out in the "flyover zone." He played with Johnny Winter for ten years. He also toured with Mick Taylor, who was with a little band you might remember called Rolling Stones. Well, after all that, Jon Paris put out a great cd in 2002 called "Blue Planet." The band is Jon Paris–guitar, harp & vocals; Amy Madden– bass; Sandy Gennaro-Drums. Yessir Mark, this is a slammin' three piece, and they lay down some of the heaviest blues yet done in this 21st Century! The guitar and vocals are double heavy, the drumming kicks, and the bass is rock solid. I've listened to this cd a bunch lately and it gets better every time through. The opener "Good To Go" could have been a radio hit in 2002--it sounds a little like The Fabulous Thunderbirds tune "Wrap It Up." Then Paris does the John Lee Hooker number "The Boogie" and "Til I Lost You" which sounds like Robin Trower should have done it. There is a Muddy Waters number, "the Blues Had A Baby" a Sonny Thompson number, "the Sad Night Owl" and an Elmore James number "Talk To Me, Baby" and several fine originals. Paris does an especially fine Bo Diddley-styled treatment of "Big Big City." Even though this cd shows its roots, two things stand out--it sounds like great stuff, and it does a great job of blowing on those embers to make the fire HOT!

You can buy this cd at Blues Leaf Records. Pick it up--you'll see what I'm talking about.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Matthew Stubbs and Ian Parker

I have a couple of artists I want to tell you about--some really good new players coming on the scene and bringing an energy and craft to their music. Matthew Stubbs and Ian Parker both have new cds out--Matthew Stubbs' cd is "Soul Bender" and it is on Vizztone, and Ian Parker's new cd is "The official Bootleg" and it is as best I can tell an Indy release.

Let me talk about each cd a bit. Matthew Stubbs may only be 25 years old, but he is a fine electric guitarist. "Soul Bender" is my introduction to this artist, and this cd is a rarity--all original instrumentals played over a tight solid rhythm section and with soulful horn accompaniment which includes "Sax Gordon" Beadle. He starts things off with an uptempo surf-ish workout on the title cut, and then he does a nice Bo Diddley-ish number, and then with "Rivelli's Mood" things start getting GOOD. I keep thinking I'm listening to a Steve Cropper record. "Jacksonville Jerk" and "20 Gallons of Beadle Juice" wouldn't be out of place on a mid 60's soul record coming out of Stax--& that's high praise. There's a sax and guitar number "Stomping on Thru" that could be from an old Boots Randolph record. "Stubbs Sauce" burns smooth and sweet like the BBQ sauce it's named after. This cd just pulls you in--there aren't any extra notes, there aren't any any cliched riffs--all there is here is good cool instrumental music. Matthew Stubbs is now playing in Charlie Musselwhite's band, as well as playing with the "Soul Bender" band. A real good cd. An up and comer.

Now let me talk about Ian Parker. He is a fine young English guitar player with taste and touch rare for anyone twice his age. "Bootleg" is recorded live in the UK February 2008. Seven of the ten songs here are originals--there are also covers of Memphis Slim's "Everyday (I Have The Blues)" and Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" and perhaps most curiously, a cover of U2's "With or Without You." It's a 4 piece band--Ian on guitar, 'Morg' Morgan on keyboards, Steve Amadeo on bass, Wayne Proctor on drums. They make up a really good band--they play tight like they've played together for years, yet loose enough for Parker to twist the melody here and there without kurfluffle. The band just pulls you along with their fine playing. Several of the songs are near 9 minutes; "Don't Hold Back" is the longest cut here, just over 11 minutes, and it is the only one that might have improved with some editing. But things pick up when the band kicks off "Everyday"--this song has been a guitar showcase forever--before this I always thought Robben Ford's version was my favorite. But Ian Parker here floats like a young BB King, flat out burning it up. After that comes a beautiful version of "Little Wing." I know there are great versions of this song--Jimi's original, Stevie Ray, Eric Clapton--but it is amazingly beautiful here. I found myself leaning towards the speakers just to hear Ian better. Following these two great performances the band does two nicely played but generic boogie blues tunes, "If It Must Be" and "In The Morning" which has a terrific guitar solo. Then they close with the U2 cover on Ian on acoustic guitar. It's a breathtaking moment--I can almost see the lighters swaying over the crowd.

I really like both of these cds--and I urge you to go hear these guys live. Both deserve your support.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Chris James and Patrick Rynn--"Stop And Think About It"

This is my favorite cd right now. When I had friends over the other evening, I slipped this cd into the player and conversation just stopped and smiles appeared all around the room. Chris James (vocals and guitar) and Patrick Rynn (bass and 2nd vocal) put a lot of good energy into these songs, an energy that's infectious. They are both stellar musicians in their own right--half of the Blue Four--and they have played together for 18 years. On this disc James and Rynn are both in top form. Here's how well it goes over--my friends couldn't tell whether it was a new cd or a slice of obscure late 50s Chicago Blues. Quite a compliment.

This disc is mostly original songs, and they are good. Then there are some outstanding covers. Bo Diddley's "Confessin' The Blues" and "Mona" are here, along with two from Elmore James--"Hawaiian Boogie" and "Got To Move." And there are several top-flight guests here as well--including Bob Corritore playing harp on five songs, Sam Lay and and Eddie Kobek splitting up the drum chores, David Maxwell and Julien Brunetaud splitting up the piano duties. If you are a fan of the blues and read the credits on the back of your blues cds all of these names will be familiar. This is an all-star quality band making some really good blues music.

This cd is on Earwig Records--you can access it online at

Monday, September 15, 2008

Review: Todd Wolfe "Borrowed Time"

Todd Wolfe is a heavy blues guitar slinger. He was the lead guitarist in Sheryl Crow's band 1993-1998, and then he led the Todd Wolfe Blues Project, and here is a solo disc. There are a lot of things to like about this disc--some of it seems to echo Santana, some of it echoes Leslie West circa Mountain, some of it sounds like Cream. In tone and style of guitar, this disc also reminds me a little of Albert Castiglia's latest, "These Are The Days." (see my review of Albert's disc on this blog in 2007.) Both discs feature good fretwork, lots of original songs, good backing bands. They are both well worth buying.

The drumming by Dave Hollingsworth III here is a highlight throughout. Suavek Zaniesienko plays bass, keeping things full in the bottom, and Michael Fossa plays keyboards with taste and restraint. There are guest appearances on "Borrowed Time" by Leslie West, Susan Cowsill, Mary Hawkins. Susan Cowsill adds distinctive backing vocals on "California," a song co-written by Sheryl Crow. Mary Hawkins sings on "If This is Love," which is terrific--one of the best songs here. Wolfe's slide guitar work had me smiling and thinking of Ronnie Earl. "Baby I'm Down" has a southern rock, Allman Brothers Band feel. "You're Not The Only One" has a Cream vibe, with heavy echo on the vocals and very sweet guitar work. Wolfe tackles the Peter Green Fleetwood Mac tune "Oh Well" and does it quite well, with a train-pulling-into-the-station ending. The other cover here is Howling Wolf's song "Who's Been Talking," and I think the master would approve of this take.

Taken all together, this is a very good disc. If I gave stars, this one would be a 5 star disc. I'm excited about Todd Wolfe. He can play guitar great and he sings really well, and the future looks bright. This disc is on Blues Leaf Records.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Scissormen "Luck In A Hurry" (Vizztone)

Scissormen is a two man group based in Nashville--Ted Drozdowski on slide guitar and vocals, Rob Hulsman on drums. I've been listening to these guys since 2006 and they just keep getting better. "Luck in a Hurry" is their best cd yet. Ted D is a GREAT slide guitar player coming from the R L Burnside tradition, and Hulsman is a really good drummer. This time out they bring forth nine originals and two covers of live in the studio, high-energy blues. Guests on this set include Billy Conway, drummer for Morphine, on "Junior's Blues," veteran blues pianist Teo Leyasmeyer, and Dicky Barrett, vocalist for the Mighty Mighty Bosstones on "Whiskey And Maryjane," which also guests Ted D's psychedelic rock band The Devil Gods. Highlights include the great opener from their live shows "Tupelo," and "Mattie Sweet Mattie" is full of menace and control, the best thing on the disc. There is a howling guitar break on "Preachin' the Blues," the great vocal on "The Devil is Laughing." Everything Teo Leyasmeyer touches here is improved by his tasteful piano work. The cover of "John The Revelator" is great Bo Diddley-styled hot rockabilly blues. Quibbles? I wish they hadn't done "Death Letter," which is starting to get stale for me. Need to know more? Anthony DeCurtis has proclaimed Ted "a guitarist of spellbinding invention and intelligence. His slide playing shears the skin off your bones...." High praise. "Luck in a Hurry" is available at

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Review: Jo' Buddy & Down Home King III

I found this great blues cd by a guy from Finland! The new cd is "Whole Lotta Things To Do" (Ram-Bam Records, 2008) and it is a cooker! If you like blues, or rock, or Americana--this cd can wake you up and make you smile.

Jo' Buddy (real name Jussi Raulamo) plays electric guitar and sings, and Down Home King III (real name Tyko Haapala) plays drums and percussion. That's it--just the two of them--but they make a roomful of raw blues music. Jo' Buddy writes all the lyrics and plays an East German Klira guitar through a tube radio and the result is a bit of distortion, some grit and howl. On first listen you may think this is classic hill country Mississippi blues, and these guys are from Finland! Jo Buddy sings like he just swallowed a cup of sterno. And Down Home King III plays the drums with urgency and heavy hands--it's stripped down blues music. This is the duo's second cd together, following "Grits and Rattles" (2006). You may not have heard of these guys but you need this cd. This is the real deal, good honest rootsy blues. You can get this cd at:

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Review: "Live From Bluesville" (Blue Empress Records)

This disc brings together the triple threat of top notch talent--Fiona Boyes on guitar, Mookie Brill on bass and harmonica, and Rich DelGrosso on mandolin. All three also contribute vocals. It is an acoustic session recorded live at the studios of XM Radio on July 22, 2007. There are 6 covers and 5 original tunes--three by Boyes and 2 by DelGrosso. Things start out strongly with a cover of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Early In The Morning" with Brill on lead vocal and harp. Then Boyes shares her original "Homegrown Sin" and DelGrooso takes the lead on "Hard To Live With." "Hard To Live With" sounds something like Bernie Pearl would do--and that is a compliment. Next come 2 covers with Boyes on lead--Howling Wolf's "Smokestack Lightning" and Magic Sam's "Easy Baby." Each of these feature good lively interplay between the guitar and mandolin--and Brill's work on upright bass is an absolute joy, as it is throughout the disc. Then the three absolutely tear it up on Lightning Hopkins' "Shotgun Blues" with vocals by DelGrosso--it is the highlight of the disc for me. You can feel the joy as the dig into this tune. After that there's just more of the same--good blues music played live by people who can do it well. There's a hill country gospel blues feel on Boyes'
Good Lord Made You So," and DelGrosso's "Get Your Nose Outta My Bizness!" has some fabulous mandolin playing and shared vocals with Boyes and DelGrosso.

In my opinion this is a perfect Saturday morning disc--great music to put on while recovering from a Friday night and getting ready for Saturday night. Others in this category are the acoustic disc of Bernie Pearl's "Old School" set and Albert Castiglia & Graham Wood Drout's duet work "Bittersweet Sessions." Put this one in the company of those--it's good.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Review: LLuis Coloma "Boogie Portraits"

I got a package in the mail the other day, and in it I found the new cd by Lluis Coloma. I was listening to it and my wife walked by. She said "That's real good." Now you wouId have to know my wife to understand, but that's HIGH PRAISE. Normally I review guitar based discs, and when I play one of those somehow she seems to find an excuse to go out for a while. Not only did she listen to this one, but she sat down and listened to it with me. This has never happened before!

This is a great disc if you like boogie woogie style piano. Lluis Coloba is a leading European blues pianist, and he has made a great cd of hot energetic accessible blues piano music. I was exhilerated after listening to the first song here, "Coloma's boogie," but I couldn't wait to hear more! The rest of the songs on the disc are all duets with other great pianists, recorded live at Nova Jazz Cava Terrassa & Centre Cultural Barradas L'Hospitalet in Europe between September 2007 and January 2008.

This may be the best recorded live piano disc you'll ever hear--Coloma's piano comes out through the left channel, the guest pianinsts' come out the right channel. "Coloma's Boogie" starts things off at a high level, and the performances just keep getting better. Next up is a wonderful take of "Just A Closer Walk With Thee" with August Tharrats that sounds like they are channelling Big Joe Duskin. Then a rollicking New Orleans style "Red Beans" with Mitch Woods on 2nd piano and vocal, and then a slow and beautiful "C C Rider" with Carl Sonny Leyland. Things reach a high water mark with the Ivory Joe Hunter tune "I Got To Learn To Do the Mambo" with Julien Brunetaud on 2nd piano and vocal--just great. Other highlights are "Honky Tonk Blues Bar Boogie with Frank Muschalle and "School Days On My Mind" with Barrelhouse Chuck on 2nd piano and vocals.

This disc is on the Swing Alley label and it should be out soon. Pick it up for a great disc of piano mastery.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Review: Sum' Mo' Chikan

James "Super Chikan" Johnson and his band, the Fighting Cocks, have come out with a new cd, "Sum' Mo' Chikan." At first I thought Super Chikan was some kind of comedy act, a wanna be player, sort of like Bruce Willis or Steven Segal, and I just didn't want to have time for his act. Then I sat down and began to listen to Super Chikan's music. I heard this album, and after 2 or 3 listens I am a man with a changed mind. I was wrong about SuperChikan. (I might still be right about Steven Segal, but we'll take that up another time.) According to Wikipedia, Super Chikan is the nephew of Big Jack Johnson, and he got his start playing bass with the Jelly Roll Kings. Well, that's a pretty good pedigree. Nowadays Super Chikan plays regularly at Morgan Freeman's Ground Zero Blues Club in Clarksdale Mississippi. I bet he makes skeptics into fans every time he turns on his guitar and steps up to the mic. This is a good cd--it starts out with "Freddy's Thang," which is just "Hideaway" done over a bit sideways, and then it follows with two songs "Crystal Ball" and "Hookin' Up," two autobiographical songs that still make me laugh out loud. These songs remind me of my childhood in the best way. Then the songs, the guitar, and the vocals all just keep getting better. By the time you get to the last song, "Coochie Daddy," you feel like you're listening to a friend. There are lots of upbeat joyful tunes here, it's well written and well played. Give it a chance and you'll probably like it. If you think your blues world is already full without letting this guy in, you're just missing out. This cd is on the Vizztone Record label.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Last night I saw Nicole Hart & NRG (energy) Band

They were live at Darwin's in Marietta Georgia--a fantastic room--and they put on a really good show! Let me admit that I have championed Nicole Hart for nearly 2 years now, but wow! She was coming home last night--she is a native Atlanta girl--and she made everyone at Darwin's feel like a member of the family. Nicole is now fronting a new band with one terrific exception: she still has Lance Ong, keyboard player extrordinaire and musical arranger. The new members include Jared Kahn on Guitar and Alvin Harrison on bass and a new drummer whose name I couldn't catch. This new NRG band gives Nicole's vocals a much younger louder and more NRGetic (energetic--get it?) "launching point" than the band captured on the "Live" Nicole Hart & NRG Band cd that came out in 2006. Comparing the show I saw last night with that album showed me that somebody needs to get this band into the studio right away. They have improved by leaps and bounds in the last two years. I was impressed last night by every part of the show. Tonight they are at Harry A's club in St George Island, Florida, and they will soon (July 17-18-19) be playing at Pineapple Willie's at Panama Beach, Florida. Keep up with Nicole Hart & theNRG Band--they have a MySpace page, and they are represented by Blues Boys & Divas, and their website is:

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Live shows and bootlegs available for trade

I know this has nothing to do with the blues, but with this post I want to list the live shows and bootleg cds I have in my collection. These are the result of almost a year of blogging and following leads and visiting with people. These came to me without cost. If you who read this list see anything you would like, send an email to me at and let me know. I'll get back to you, and maybe we can work out a trade. I want to try and do this without any money exchanging hands for either of us--my intent is not to get rich. I just want to make these available to other music lovers.

Here's what I've got:

Bob Dylan Live at Finjan Club Montreal Canada 1962
Fleetwood Mac Live at the Carousel Ballroom San Francisco CA 6-8-68
Hubert Sumlin & the Butanes Live at Famous Dave's Barbecue & Beer Minneapolis MN 9-22-07
Bob Marley & the Wailers Live at the Record Plant Sausalito CA 10-31-71
Derek & the Dominos Live with Duane Allman Soul Mates Tampa FL 12-1-70
Paul MacCartney Live at Amoeba Records Hollywood CA 6-27-07
Bob Dylan Darkness at the Break of Noon 1978
Rolling Stones Exile on Main Street Outtakes aka "Exile Stones"
The Replacements Live at CBGB's 10-12-84
REM Live at Florida Atlantic University 9-29-84

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Review: austin "walkin' cane"--murder of a blues singer

This is one fine blues disc. Austin "Walkin' Cane" Charanghat comes out of Cleveland playing acoustic and electric and slide guitars and singing with a great full-of-life baritone voice. This is his fourth cd under his own name since 1997--he participated on Chris Allen's 2007 cd "Lonesome Stars." From the website: "The Walkin' Cane Band featuring Mike Barrick on bass, Michael Bay on guitar & Jim Wall on drums captured the perfect "live in the studio" feeling that Charanghat & co-writer Chris Allen had envisioned for these songs. The band is a "well oiled machine" & has been writing, recording & performing together since 1998. Special guests on "Murder of a Blues Singer" include Colin Dussault (Colin Dussault's Blues Project), Eric "Eroc" Sosinski (Michael Stanley, Wish You Were Here) and one of Cleveland's finest gospel groups, the Prayer Warriors." This is the sort of collection of songs that Sonny Boy Williamson and Son House and the old timers made--it sounds absolutely effortless, the kind of music that Eric Clapton could never dream of making. There is a lot of authentic honest music making happening here--the band and the songs bring together a great tight sound and they tell a story. There are ten songs here: eight originals by Charanghat and/or Allen, and a cover of Blind Lemon Jefferson's "See That My Grave is Kept Clean" and a cover of Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' On My Mind." The cd is on Lazy Eye Records and the website is: Http://

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Byther Smith "Blues On the Moon" (Delmark)

This welcome new set by Byther Smith, venerable Chicago south-side guitarist, hits the streets today. It was recorded live last August 2007 at the Natural Rhythm Social Club. It seems like an easy idea. Take Byther Smith and his crackling good, sympathetic band, place them in front of a small audience at a working class club, plug them in and let them entertain by playing electric blues. But give Delmark Records credit--it may be an obvious idea, but it works great. Byther Smith may have been 74 years old when he recorded this, but this is no oldies show. Smith's guitar playing is sure and light and supple, his voice is rich with passion, and he still has it. Byther Smith is captured here making vital music, real music, and the joy of being alive just radiates off him. There is a moment towards the end of the DVD when Smith leans back a bit and looks out over the crowd and smiles. It is a timeless moment. It reminds me of a retired minister in the little town where I grew up. He was in his early 90s the last time I saw him, a tall thin black man in a black suit that was probably older than I was. He may even have been napping during the early part of the worship service, but when he approached that pulpit to bring the message you could just see the years fall off him, and the man who preached was exactly where God intended him to be, was exactly who God wanted him to be, and in that pulpit he was in the right place for him. In this DVD Byther Smith is exactly where he is supposed to be, doing exactly what he is supposed to do, and it is good. GOOD! Yes, sure I wish I had the companion to this set--the same sort of live DVD when Byther was a young man full of transcendent fire, but better to celebrate what you do have than to moan about what you don't. This DVD captures one night with style and class, and it should be on the shelf of everyone who loves the Chicago blues.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Review: Kenny Neal "Let Life Flow"

"Let Life Flow" marks Kenny Neal's first cd on Blind Pig Records. It is really good to welcome him back. I've been a fan of Kenny Neal since 1989's "Devil Child." His swampy harp and guitar playing have always sounded good to me. This disc is his first release since he came back from hiatus. In September 2006 Kenny announced he was taking a year off from recording and touring because of an undisclosed illness. He returned to the public eye at the Monterey Blues Festival in June 2007 and the illness was disclosed as Hepatitis C. But let me tell you, he must have gotten himself healed of it--this is the best cd he has ever made. It is recorded with his regular band--Kenny on vocals, guitar, harp, and lap steel, Lucky Peterson on organ & piano, Frederick Neal on keyboards, Ken Johnson on drums, Darnell Neal on bass, and a crack horn section led by Joe Campbell on trumpet. The vocals are sweet, the guitar is exactly right on the money, the rthymn section keeps everything moving along, the piano and organ sound like they're being channelled from the bordello or from the church--whatever each song requires is right there sounding exactly right. I especially recommend the track "Since I Met You Baby." This Ivory Joe Hunter tune is given the definitive treatment--Kenny Neal does it better than anybody ever has. He sounds more confident, stronger, more soulful than ever. This is one of those cds that should be BLASTING out of every radio station in the USA. It deserves to be a big hit--you should buy five or six copies and give them to your friends.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Review: Bernie Pearl "Old School Blues"

I have to thank my friend Chris Puyear for tipping me onto Bernie Pearl. Chris is a DJ at KOPN in Columbia MO--he does the Blues on Broadway show on Saturday nights. He played this great version of a song--"Automobile Blues" which was originally done by Lightnin' Hopkins. l have heard everybody do this song, but I had never heard it so cool and soulful. I called Chris while he was on the air and asked him "Who was that?" We ended up talking for a while & it was Bernie Pearl. Bernie is not a kid--he has been playing guitar in the Los Angeles area since the 50s. He learned to play hanging out in his brother's club, learning from the greats as they travelled thru--from Mance Lipscomb, Lightnin' Hopkins, Brownie McGhee. Mr Pearl is VERY excellent on both acoustic and electric guitars. He describes this set "Old School Blues" as typical of his live shows recorded live in the studio. There is one disc of acoustic and one disc of electric, and they were recorded earlier this year. By now I hope i have dropped enough hints to get you excited--you need to hear this guy play the blues. The acoustic disc is especially great--Bernie plays "Blues in a Bottle" and "Goin' Down Slow" and "Country Sugar Mama" and "Pawnshop Blues" and they're all great. I think the only acoustic guitar player that compares is the great Doc Watson. This is the way Doc Watson would play blues if he played blues. On the electric disc Pearl plays "Cherry Ball' and the aforementioned "Automobile Blues" and "Crosscut Saw and "Drivin' Wheel" and a bunch of others. It is terrific blues music played with soul and taste and command. This is a worthy disc for every blues-lover's library. You can find out more about Bernie Pearl, and you can buy his cds, at his website:

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Review: "Meet Me in the Cotton Fields"

Terry "Big T" Williams & Wesley "Junebug" Jefferson have joined a long and illustrious blues tradition with "Meet Me in the Cotton Fields"--the duet record. It is as old as Brownie & Sonny and as new as Moreland and Arbuckle--but the general outlines are two people sharing vocals and instruments to express what life is like. Telling what one person could not express. Well, these two guys share and it sounds real good. Four of these songs are written by Wesley Jefferson, two are by Terry Williams, three are traditional and one is a Muddy Waters cover. These two haven't played together for a long time, but they grew up in the same place, (Clarksdale, Mississippi) they have similar backgrounds, and they have both played the country blues as an art form and an avocation. These guys know how to play the blues and they do these songs proud. This is one of those cds to pack if you are driving from Memphis south thru the Delta on hIghway 61, and if you are ever near Clarksdale Mississippi stop in at Cathead Music and say Hello to Roger Stolle, one of the really good guys helping keep the blues alive.

This release is on Broke and Hungry Records, which is a new label from St Louis, Missouri specializing in the country blues. The website is at

Thursday, April 24, 2008

R.I.P. Jeff Healey & Sean Costello

I've been struggling to write about the loss of these two fine blues artists for a few weeks now, and I never can get the peace in my soul to finish writing. I start listening to their music and I'm so sad that such creative talents are gone. In some way it is even harder to say Goodbye because the last cd each of them released ("Mess of Blues," 2008, Ruf Records) are both among the very best music each of them produced. The Jeff Healey disc is a rip-roaring punch list of the songs that drew the most audience response, and there's not a stinker in the bunch. This guy loved to be on stage--you can see it in all the videos on You Tube--and he loved entertaining the audience with music. We are left with smoking versions of "How Blue Can You Get" and "Sitting On Top Of The World" (which in my opinion are the best things on "Mess of Blues") and a yawning hole of "what might have been" with Jeff. He truly loved old timey jazz and he was frustrated by the limitations that were involved in playing the blues, but if you see those as the two directions he was growing towards, what a cool synthesis he might have brought forth if he had lived. The man had another 30 years ahead of him!

And so did Sean Costello, at least. Sean Costello was doing it right--he had released four cds and every one of them shone with promise. He understood that playing the blues was to follow in the footsteps of those who had gone before him. Step by step Sean was making good music, interesting music, music that had history and truth in the grooves. His last cd ("We Can Get Together" 2008, Delta Groove) is by far his best--his fretwork is glowing, and the vocals sound like a much older soul, singing with love and passion. He wrote all but two of the songs. He sings and plays great. He does two songs with the Northside Men's Choir from the Northside Tavern, which was like Sean's second home. He does a song called "Going Home" which just makes me cry. Again, the hardest part is that Sean could have, would have, made so much more great music over the next thirty years.

These guys did the blues world proud, and there is no easy explanation of their passing. No hint of drugs, no stupid behavior, no reason that we can pin our grief on. Jeff died of cancer and we don't know why Sean died. The passing of both these young men is a terrible loss--on both musical and personal levels. I lift up prayers for their families and friends.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Review: Fathead "Building Full of Blues"

Fathead is a 5 piece band that has been making blues music in Canada since 1995. I have to thank Jon Norton, music director at WGLT-FM in Normal, Illinois, for bringing them to my attention. Their latest cd, "Building Full of Blues" (Electro-Fi, 2007) is an unexpected treat. The band consists of John Mays (lead vocals), Al Lerman (harp & tenor saxophone, vocals), Omar Tunnoch (bass, vocals), Darran Poole (guitar) and Bucky Berger (drums). They won the Juno award (the Canadian Grammy) for Blues Recording of the year in 1998 for their second cd " Blues Weather." The first time I listened to this cd I laughed out loud with joy. Fathead is a PRIMO blues band--they make beautiful tight music, music to enjoy whatever your mood might be. This cd reminds me in the best way of another great cd--John Namath's "Magic Touch" (Blind Pig, 2007). Both cds are all so well-played, so well-written that it is hard for me to imagine a time when this music, this cd, this band did not exist. How did I get along without this? It seems like I have to ask--what took me so long to discover Fathead? Check out their website at

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Review: Albert Castiglia's "These Are The Days"

This cd will not be available until April 1st, but I've just got to tell you--make plans now to buy it. It's that good! Albert Castiglia (pronounced "Cas-steeel-lia") and band bring forth a well-done electric blues set on this, their third cd. Everything here is terrific. On every song Castiglia wrings every ounce out of great lyrics and brings his guitar passion front and center. The band consists of Albert Castiglia on guitar and lead vocals, Susan Lusher on keyboards, Steve Gaskell on bass and Bob Amsel on drums. Kenny "Stringbean" Sorenson adds smoking great harmonica on tracks 4, 5 and 11. Rio Clemente adds a churchy organ to track 9, and Sweet Suzi Smith & Nicole Hart add great soulful backing vocals on "Night Time Is The Right Time." Things kick off with the humorous original "Bad Year Blues" and then comes Robert Guidrey's "He's Got All The Whiskey," a lament of loss on several levels, and then a fiery "Loan Me A Dime," the Fenton Robinson song you may remember from the Boz Scaggs version with the Muscle Shoals House Band and Duane Allman from Boz Scaggs' self-titled debut album. Castiglia doesn't quite reach those esteemed heights here, but he doesn't get embarrassed by the comparison either. There is a loving original tribute to his late mentor, Junior Wells, on "Godfather of the Blues," and then the centerpiece of the cd--three great tunes done absolutely great--"Celebration" by Graham Wood Drout, "Night Time Is The Right Time" and Bob Dylan's "Catfish." The guitar solo on "Catfish" is, all by itself, a sign of Albert's promise of a bright future. And things don't drop off after that--there are a couple more Castiglia originals, ("Another Bloody Day" and "Twister") the wonderful "Need Your Love So Bad" and the cd wraps up with "Blues For Evan," an impressive instrumental that features Stringbean and Albert trading licks like they've played together forever. I've been listening to Albert play and grow and develop for years now, and this is the cd I've been waiting for. It should catapult Albert Castiglia to the top rank of blues artists.

Friday, March 7, 2008

REVIEW: "Recapturing The Banjo" Otis Taylor

Can I tell you something? I have to admit that for a long time in my younger days I believed comedian Steve Martin's adage "you can't play the blues on the banjo." Steve, I'm sorry, but you were wrong. Exhibit A is this new cd by Otis Taylor "Recapturing the Banjo" (2008, Telarc) Please don't pass this up because you can't get your head around blues and banjo at the same time. It's loaded with good music, good BLUES music, good banjo music and guitar and mandolin and harmonica and everything else--just good music. Otis brings in Guy Davis, Corey Harris, Keb Mo, Don Vappie and Alvin Youngblood-Hart and they all let it rip. It's a cornocopia of joys--if you like Keb Mo he's in here. If you like Alvin Youngblood-Hart he's in here. If you like Guy Davis, he's in here. Everybody takes a turn at lead, everybody plays banjo, everybody plays guitar. There are places on this cd where you'll hear 4 banjos playing great at the same time--and if you can stay seated you ought to check your pulse. You might be dead! Included here is a great version of Gus Cannon's "Walk Right In" and what I think is THE best version of "Hey Joe" since Hendrix or Roy Buchanan strapped on a guitar.

I'm feeling a bit hesitant--I've written 4 or 5 rave reviews in a row. I can hear one of you saying "But Bruce, help me out here. What should I get if I can only get ONE?" Well, there are stacks of cds in the world and I know everybody has a limited amount of disposable cash, but hey, skip a meal and buy something, ok? You won't be disappointed with anything I review.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Review: "Hope Radio" by Ronnie Earl

I've been listening to it nonstop for almost a week, and this is a great cd. Of course, every cd by Ronnie Earl is a great cd. This cd was recorded over two days in April 2007 in front of a live audience at Wellspring Sound in Acton, Massachusetts with Earl's long-time band the Broadcasters--Dave Limina (piano, Hammond B3), Jim Mouradian (bass), Lorne Entress (drums), and guest Michael 'Mudcat' Ward (bass, piano). It was filmed as well, so expect a DVD, probably this summer. This all instrumental set kicks off with "Eddie's Gospel Groove" featuring a Santana-like tone and a marvelous clear jazzy groove. I expect this one to be a highlight in concert. Then Earl leads the group into "Bobby's Bop" and "Blues For the Homeless," two more up-tempo burners where Earl clearly shows that a great artist doesn't need words to convey emotion. "I Am With You" gets awfully quiet at times, but it leads into the centerpiece of the cd: "Katrina Blues." This is the only song on the disc with the word blues in the title, and it's the shortest cut on the disc, but here Earl switches to acoustic guitar and shows why he is such a treasure: his touch, his tone, his TASTE is so perfect. Earl then does a tribute to Howlin' Wolf and Hubert Sumlin on "Wolf Dance," and a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan on "Kay My Dear" followed by the glorious "Blues For the West Side" which to my ears sounds like a tribute to Magic Sam. Earl dedicates "Beautiful Child" to "the sick and suffering alcoholics in the world." Then the beautiful "Blues for Otis Rush" is a ten minute valentine from one guitar genius to another, and there is not one wasted note. By the time the last notes of "New Gospel Tune" fade out you know that Ronnie Earl is without a doubt one of the very top guitarists out there in blues or jazz.

This may be the blues record of the year. Buy it--you will not be disappointed.

Friday, February 22, 2008

Review: Andrew Black & the Naturals

The name of the cd is "14TH & CRESCENT" and it is very fine. I bought it from Andrew's manager Terry Reeves last Sunday at the monthly meeting of the Atlanta Blues Society and I want to get the word out to the world--you need to check these guys out! The band is made up of Andrew Black, on vocals and guitar, Dustin "Big Red" Sargent on bass, Jack "Chill" Jones on drums, and Will "Bigheart" Scruggs plays saxophones. This cd is a time capsule of AB & the Naturals' Sunday Brunch gig on the patio at Front Page News on Crescent Avenue in midtown Atlanta, and here the band is truly an ensemble meshing all their gifts in service to the songs--the way I think the blues should be played. Don't buy this cd looking for guitar theatrics--Andrew Black can play a mean guitar, but here his playing is complementary and restrained except on "Red Baron" where he lets it loose a little. Instead, buy this cd for the horn work and the vocals. Will Scruggs almost steals this cd, playing great saxophone on horn charts by Wes Funderburk. The instrumental "Red Clay" is one of the highlights of the disc, and how often can you say that? But the vocals of Andrew Black are the heart of this cd. Many times I hear about this or that person having great solos--often I feel like something important has been left out. Blues is not first an exercise in soloing. Blues is a feeling, and that feeling is best shared by singing. The vocals and the songs are key for the blues to catch your ear and then your heart! Listen to Blind Lemon or Muddy Waters or Billie Holliday. I'm not trying to compare Andrew Black to those immortals, but he sings really well. Here he shows his ability to push a song along on "Treat A Dog" and does a soulful almost jazzy "Everyday I Have The Blues." He doesn't quite showcase his ability to get "down and dirty" on this cd--this is a Sunday Brunch set so he keeps things smooth and light. It's a good cd. Believe me Andrew Black is one of Atlanta's musical gems.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Another acoustic guitar blues masterpiece

Two days ago I listened to a cd that featured acoustic guitar and vocals, and it impressed me--"Doney Blues" by D. Johnson. I did not expect to be that impressed by another cd in that style for a long time. Well, get ready--here's another great cd that features old-timey acoustic guitar and vocals--"Songs Famed For Sorrow And Joy" by Samuel James. James is from Portland, Maine and this is his debut cd for Northern Blues. James uses an energetic finger-picking, Piedmont guitar style whereas D. Johnson seems to use more slide and open tunings, but the guitar playing on both cds is uniformly excellent. James' guitar pIaying recalls to me Jamie Brockett's early 70's talking blues accompaniment. The biggest difference between the two, however, is in the area of song writing. While D. Johnson's cd is predominately old songs, (9 out of 11) this James cd is all originals. James writes narrative songs, contemporary songs like "Big Black Ben," a tale of integration and its aftermath, and "One-Eyed Katie," who is "all woman but not one bit lady." Let me try and explain it this way--listening to "Doney Blues" you feel like you are in that old dark smoky barroom in 1930s Mississippi. It's time travel, and D. Johnson is the master. Listening to Samuel James you feel like you're listening to a master storyteller who also plays a guitar. The fact that James' stories happen to be on a blues cd seems almost incidental. This is the way the Northern Blues website describes Samuel James: "Here is a young man, still a few years away from 30, whose debut cd is a set of 12 original songs, and by original I do not simply mean “not covers.” I mean truly original. This is his voice. Each song is a story, an often humorous tale, of love gone haywire, or small town racism, or a folk tale of mythical symbolism."

Sounds about exactly right. I've listened to "Songs Famed For Sorrow and Joy" all the way through four times today, and I am still enjoying it. Seems like these two blues artists are keeping the blues alive by taking them both back and forward....

Monday, February 18, 2008

Review: "Doney Blues" by D. Johnson

If you ever wanted to hear Robert Johnson or Son House bring to life their immortal songs of the 20s and 30s, there is now a way to "time travel." Get "Doney Blues" (Indy, 2008) the new cd by D. Johnson. Put it on your cd player and and you're there. Johnson presents 32-20 Blues, My Black Mama, They're Red Hot, Doney Blues, Levee Camp Moan, Needed Time, Terraplane Blues, Pony Blues, That's Not Right, Crossroads, Death Letter, Kindhearted Woman Blues. (That's five Robert Johnson songs, four Eddie "Son" House songs, 2 originals, and one Sam "Lightning" Hopkins song if you're keeping track.) The singing and the playing make them all sound richly authentic and darkly honest--the songs don't sound old or stuffy and this is no museum set. These are just great songs done really well with great respect to the style of the original artists. There are few opportunities in blues to hear this kind of artistry, to enjoy traveling back in time. Mr D. Johnson, thank you for making a great cd of some of my blues heroes. Everybody go buy this cd, and go hear this man if he plays close by. You will not regret it.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Blues and Barbeque just go together!

I know I'm supposed to be writing about Blues, and I love the Blues. And I love Barbecue too. Back in 2006 I actually took the class and became a certified Barbecue Judge in the Kansas City Barbecue Society. And if you care much for either the Blues or Barbecue you know they both take time and passion to come out just right. Sometimes a lot of time and passion! Well, I have been living here in Decatur, Georgia ever since last September, and you know that means I have been hunting for good Blues and good Barbecue for the entire time!

And the other evening I finally found some first-quality Barbecue at Southern Soul Barbeque at St Simon's Island, Georgia. They have two locations at St Simon's Island, which means they are easy to find. The locations are at: 318 Mallory Street, 912-634-7516; and 2020 Demere Road. They get extra points with me because they're closed on Sundays. You can tell when there is real Barbecuing going on somewhere--there is big a stack of hardwood somewhere close by, and the whole city block smells great! The folks at Southern Soul Barbeque are doing it up right. Eating one sandwich here is actually worth the 5 hour drive from Decatur. The pulled pork shoulder is really GOOD. The Brunswick Stew is really GOOD. These guys have been awarded a Silver Spoon by Georgia Trend magazine. They're the best I've found in Georgia--so far.

And if you happen to be there on the second Friday of the month you are in for a real treat, because around 8:00pm the Neptune Park Rangers play bluegrass music at Southern Soul Barbeque. It is a real family atmosphere, and a good time.

Check it out. I wouldn't steer you wrong.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Review: "Blues For Theresa" (Indy, 2004)

Steve Ditzell & the Blue Lightning Band have produced both a good blues cd and an important historical document in "Blues For Theresa." This Chicago blues release features some of the last sessions by the late great Junior Wells, but it is anything but a sad outing. Over the course of six covers and four Ditzell-penned originals, this band flat out cooks! Dave Kaye on bass and Marty Binder on drums play seamlessly, leaving a wide and deep pocket for the guitar and vocals of Steve Ditzell and Junior Wells on harmonica and vocals. Check out the cover of Hound Dog Taylor's "Sadie," where Ditzell & Wells share the vocals and both the guitar and the harp work sizzles. Kudos, too, for their cover of Big Mama Thornton's "Had My Fun," just exactly the kind of song I need to get me through when the winter winds blow cold! The Blue Lightning Band is nominated for a RAMI this year--they have already won two. This is fine blues. This cd should be in your collection, but if it isn't you can buy it online at

Sunday, January 27, 2008

What Blues Have You Been Listening To?

Lately I have been listening to a LOT of good blues. I heard Albert Cumming's cd "Working Man" (2006, Blind Pig) and Jeremy Spencer's cd "Precious Little" (2006, Blind Pig) and The Mannish Boys' cd "Big Plans" (2007, Delta Groove). All of these are good cds, with good music. But then yesterday I heard Muddy Waters' cd "Live at Newport 1960" (2001, MCA) and man, oh man it was sweet. Whenever I spend a few weeks or a month listening to blues by other artists I am amazed again when I put on some Muddy Waters. What a great voice! What a great band! Guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Sammy Lawhorn and Luther Johnson, harmonica players Little Walter, Junior Wells and James Cotton, pianists Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins surround Muddy's magnificent voice and slide guitar to make great music. From 1948 to 1979 nobody made as much great music as Muddy Waters and his band.

There is a new rule in my blues listening--now at least one day each week I listen to the GIANTS of the blues--Muddy, John Lee, the Wolf, Robert Johnson, Little Walter. It helps me remember how incredible this music can be.

Keep on keepin' the blues alive.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Check out your Public Library

I remember back in the first Blues Brothers movie Dan Aykroyd said something like "In the future you will only be able to hear blues music by checking out records at your local public library." He was right--the public library is a good place to look for blues music. I finally went to my public library the other day, filled out the forms, and got my library card. Remember when you were a kid and that getting your first library card was a big thrill? I immediately wandered over to the cd racks and started browsing...... In about 5 minutes I was able to check out "New Orleans Piano" by Professor Longhair, (1972, Atlantic) a really good cd made up of sessions in 1949 and 1953; and Hubert Sumlin's cd "About Them Shoes" (2004, Tone Cool Records) an all-star set featuring Levon Helm on drums, Mudcat Ward on bass, James Cotton and Paul Oscher on harp and Eric Clapton, Keith Richards and Bob Margolin on guitar. l felt like I was stealing when I checked out those cds and walked to my car!

Two common sense reminders: First, you should always treat the cds you check out with proper care--the next person who wants to check out that cd is depending on it. Second, take only what you need and keep it only as long as you need. At my local public library you can check out 5 cds for 3 weeks, but my personal rule is to only take two at a time and take them back in just a few days.

I'd say that your local public library in one of the three foundations to your blues collection, along with the your local independent record shop (you do have one of these, right?) and borrowing music from your blues loving friends.

Keep the blues alive.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Review: Robert Lighthouse - Deep Down in the Mud

Robert Lighthouse is originally from Sweden, and has been playing blues for nearly 20 years in and around Washington DC/Baltimore. He presents a loving history lesson of the blues in his second cd "Deep Down in the Mud" (2007, Right On Rhythm). The first half of the cd is acoustic guitar, harmonica and high hat--a one man band. He starts things off with two Robert Johnson covers and the delta-influenced original "Stuck in the Mud." The title track is about Hurricane Katrina, a Bob Dylan-esque folk blues. Unlike some other songs on this subject, it remains musical. The second half of the cd is electric, with a three piece band, recorded live at the Club Oxford in Washington DC. Lighthouse offers covers both well known and obscure--Muddy Waters' "Champagne and Reefer," Willie Dixon's "Meet Me in the Bottom," and two songs called "Red Hot Mama"--one by Elmore James done quite traditionally, and one by George Clinton done up in the funky Parliament style. The history lesson concludes with a 7 minute cover of Jimi Hendrix' "Spanish Castle Magic" which shows Lighthouse's impressive ability to play electric guitar--though it may be more rock than blues to some ears. But taken all together, this is a really good cd. He ranges widely through the blues and presents an authentic delta blues for this day and age. If you like this cd also check out Lighthouse's debut cd "Drive-Thru Love (1997, Right On Rhythm).

Monday, January 7, 2008

Review: Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings-- "Blues Evolution"

I recently received in the mail the latest cd by Charles "Big Daddy" Stallings--"Blues Evolution." (2007, Tai Jeria Record Co) When I put the cd in the stereo and hit PLAY I was instantly swept away by the sound--this is a blues band with a big sound! "Big Daddy" and this band have been playing the Baltimore/Washington DC circuit for a while now, and they know how to bring the blues to an audience. "Big Daddy" plays guitar and sings. The keyboards are by Bill Pratt, aided on a few cuts by Glenn Workman on piano. Excellent harmonica work by Mark Wenner of the Nighthawks. Gail Parrish plays bass and Ron Jenkins is on drums. The horn section is Joe "E Flat" Thomas on trumpet and Kelvin O'Neal on sax, and these guys are a highlight of the disc--they really sizzle and swing. This disc seems made for a hot Friday night party. I really like the vocals--"Big Daddy" has an impressive delivery, sort of how I imagine Jimmy Reed would sound with a modern band backing him. That said, the lyrics are sometimes weak. But the energy this band brings covers that nicely.

"Big Daddy" represented the Baltimore Blues Society at the IBC in Memphis in 2006, and they will represent the DC Blues Society at IBC this year for "Best Self Produced CD."

All in all, a very fine effort.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Review: Harmonica Red and the New Heard "I Was Born in Louisiana"

I recently received this cd in the mail for preview--and it has not left my cd player since then! Everybody who listens to this cd should dig it! This is a very fine cd of harmonica-driven blues music, quite suitable for driving across town in traffic. Harmonica Red, aka George R. Heard, is clearly a harmonica player to watch. And he can sing, too--he has an everyman's voice that pushes the songs right along. The band is really good--these guys know how to play the blues right, and they play like they love to play it. Donnie Pick is on guitar, Jeff Mills is on drums, and Steve Rayburn is on bass. The music is sometimes Louisiana zydeco-inflected, and sometimes straight blues classic, and sometimes a touch of rockabilly--it's not sloppy but it's loose. Bonus points to the band for a great cover of one of my all time favorite tunes--"Mercy Mercy Mercy."

With the recent passing of Gary Primich and Carey Bell, both harp aces extra-ordinaire, the world of blues needs the next generation of harp players to rise up to the opportunity. I think Harmonica Red & the New Heard are ready to move up to the major leagues.

Next time, I'll review another cd that I received recently in the mail.

Happy New Year, and

Keep the blues alive!