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